The Vinegar Tasters is an allegorical painting created by an artist, presumably a Taoist, in ancient China. It consists of three men, standing around a large vat of vinegar, and each has tasted it. Each of these men has a different expression on his face: The first has a "sour" expression, the second has a "bitter" expression, and the third is smiling.

Allegorically speaking, the vinegar is said to represent life itself, and the three aforementioned men are to be representative of the "Three Teachings" of China. The first figure represents K'ung Fu-Tse (Confucius), the second is of Buddha, and the third represents Lao-Tse (Lao Tzu), purported author of Taoism's oldest writings.

The expressions on each of the mens' faces is said to be representative of their worldviews. From Confucius' viewpoint, the world is sour, out of sync with the past. Thus, the world (and governing bodies) require much structure, and inhabitants must strive to fit within the constraints of structure; Anything that does not conform to this structure is bad, or dirty.

The expression on the face of Buddha represents a worldview that suggests the world is "bitter", full of traps and snares, designed to entangle and confuse its inhabitants, specifically attachments and material things. The Buddhist's world is surrounded by pain and suffering; Thus, it is the Buddhist who tries to escape these attachments, and indeed, this world of suffering, to nirvana.

Why then, does Lao-Tse have a different expression? Because, despite everything, the Taoist lives in the world, however it may exist, in a harmonious manner, because heaven and earth themselves already exist in a natural harmony. Thus, rather than attempt to structure any disorder in the world, or attempt to abandon the world, the Taoist attempts to blend in with the world, become a part of it, live life with as little disturbance as possible. From Lao-Tse's perspective, the world is neither sour, nor bitter; Instead, it is sweet, and should thus be lived with enjoyment and wonder

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