“One day, I was walking on Portobello Road. I entered a small booth where some antique objects were exhibited. Rummaging in the bits and pieces, I found a scroll in a bronze case. I took it out. To my surprise, it was a copy of an ancient Chinese painting, The Vinegar Tasters. I unrolled the scroll and spread it out on a little table. I was very happy to find so excellent a copy with the colors still vivid and brilliant. Three different characters were portrayed in the act of licking their finger after dipping it into a pan containing vinegar. After tasting it, they showed a different expression on their faces. Obviously, the painting had an allegorical meaning. The three men were not common and ordinary tasters, but the masters of the most important schools of thought in China. Vinegar symbolized life itself in that painting. The three masters were Kung Fu (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao Tzu. This last is the author of the most ancient book about Tao. After tasting the vinegar, Confucius assumed a sour expression, Buddha showed a bitter look, and Lao Tzu had a smiling face. Apparently, each of them expressed a different way of intending life. For Confucius, life on this earth is sour and not up to heavenly life. According to Buddha, life is bitter because it brings suffering. For the third master, Lao Tzu, there exists a natural harmony between heaven and earth. According to him, life is an incomparable teacher. There is a paramount force over heaven and earth, called Tao (the way). This cosmic principle or force can’t be described correctly in words. But why is Lao Tzu smiling instead of assuming a sour or bitter countenance like the other two? Because Lao Tzu lives in harmony with the circumstances, without fighting or forcing the events. He thinks that unfavorable situations are a source of personal growth. In Taoism, the sourness and bitterness of life are not caused by life itself, but by our minds, which don’t know how to transform the unfavorable situations into favorable ones.”
“Who is right among them?” I asked.
“I think all of them are right. We can’t say which way is the best.”
“So far, you haven’t answered my question about life after death.”
“I can say once more that you have to find the answer by yourself, inside yourself. Even if I knew the right answer, I wouldn’t tell you. This is a path that each one has to cover individually. It is an inner journey that everybody has to experience alone!”
Then he took a leaflet about tai chi chuan out of his pocket and wrote the titles of four books in the corners. Two of them were about Tao, one was about the concept of time and space, and the last was about the search for mindfulness through breathing meditation.
In the meantime, it was getting late, very late. The conversation had lasted a long time, maybe more than two hours. I felt like time had stopped. The caretaker of the gymnasium hurried us to go out because he had to lock the room. We said goodbye to each other, and I have never seen that young man again…
This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind