Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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25/01/2016

The Vinegar Tasters

Below is a short story I've borrowed, tweaked and embellished - ahead of a Unitarian service I'm delivering this coming Sunday. It's based on the 'Vinegar Tasters', a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting. 

The picture and the accompanying story are reportedly written from a Daoist perspective. Whereas some view it as a Daoist critique of Confucianism and Buddhism, others view it as an affirmation of the way these three ancient Chinese spiritual / philosophical traditions converge together to represent the Chinese mindset.


Three wise monks were travelling across the country, going from town to town to teach wisdom. They were age-old friends, even though they saw the world very differently and would sometimes fall into dispute.

At one town in particular, they were welcomed warmly by the townsfolk, and offered gifts of the town's produce. 

The grandest of the gifts was a large pot of vinegar. The first of the wise monks, a Confucian, dipped his finger into the vinegar, tasted it, and a disapproving expression came across his face. "This vinegar is too sour," he warned, going further to instruct the elders of the town, "Please, be careful how you use it, and make sure others use it carefully too…" 

The second of the wise monks, a Buddhist, dipped his finger into the vinegar, tasted it, and a concerned frown came across his face. "This vinegar is sharp, it leaves a bitter taste,” he observed, before advising those who cared to listen, “Please, use it sparingly - do not come to rely on it….”

Then the third monk, a Daoist, dipped his finger into the vinegar, tasted it, and smiled. "Mmm!" The other two monks looked on at him, confused. He remarked, "Now, this vinegar may seem sour and sharp, but I see there is sweetness within it… This is vinegar!”

The original version of this tale can be found here. You will note, if you care to look more closely at the two versions, that I have included a nod towards how these three traditions approach the transmission of their ideals. This is based on my (admittedly somewhat simplistic) understanding that Confucianism values the elder as guide for the community, Buddhism seeks to work with those called - a self-selected few essentially, and finally, the Daoist tends to travel more individually and has no real concern for proselytization

The Unitarian and Free Christian tradition is one that welcomes insights from other faiths - encouraging its adherents to explore and borrow from other faiths. It is richer, I think, for doing so but there is also a risk that we can ultimately pillage other faiths. For this reason, I am happy to take criticism of my attempts with this story and to try improve it.

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