How Sweet the Vinegar!

In the classic painting The Vinegar Tasters the Buddha finds the vinegar bitter. His perception of bitterness is supposedly an allegory for how he views life. Many people find Buddhism to be a strange combination of pessimism and pacifism. Life is suffering is kind of a depressing tagline.

The idea that the objective of life might not be happiness is positively terrifying to people. In a relentless pursuit of comfort, a good night’s sleep is often more appealing than a day of drudgery. Buddhism is actually about living life fully. So how come no alcohol? That’s easy it clouds the mind and thus dilutes the experience. Coping mechanisms are dangerous because we rely on them to take away the pain and rarely address the issues that necessitate them. For example someone who eats for emotional comfort will gain weight and eventually incapacitate themselves. The amount of food necessary for the high increases with time. Even exercise can be taken to extremes when its being used as a tool for repression.

Here is a quote for you to ponder by Jeff Martin leader of The Tea Party “Getting your freedom’s easy surviving it’s harder still”

No one wants to lose weight. What they want is to be thin. Taken another way people say they want to learn but what they really mean is that they want to know, they want to be right. You might think I am splitting hairs but there is a huge difference. I am one of those people who simply wants to know but when it comes to applying myself to a pursuit I am very likely to give in at the first sign of resistance.

When Isadora plays video games she wants to win. She craves the positive and immediate reinforcement the games provide. She doesn’t really care about technique, a win based on luck is completely legitimate and currently she is unable to distinguish the difference. She isn’t good at Super Mario Brothers so she doesn’t play it. She is more than happy to watch someone else play but she doesn’t want to lose.

When Isadora was around 4 years old she became very interested in writing. She would practice her letters for hours at a stretch. She even forfeited recess to practice! She got frustrated but she was highly motivated. She genuinely wants to learn to write. She does not genuinely want to learn how to play Super Mario Brothers she simply wants to be good at it.

We always assume that people are born with a particular talent. Whenever we try something for the first time we are either good or bad at it and that determines largely if we will continue. Very rarely do we think of all the effort that goes into proficiency. As a child I was interested in language but I had to learn to read and write same as an other kid. If you read some of my earlier poems and stories  you wouldn’t find even an inkling of my current ability. I started with an interest but I still had to start from scratch.

One of the reasons heaven is so appealing is because it promises everlasting happiness but what would the world be like if all we ever thought about was our personal and immediate comfort? Take a look around. Depleted resources. Wars (everyone wants more and needs more to get the same effect, everyone wants to be right, everyone wants to have just a little more than their neighbor has, everyone wants to win). I am not disputing the existence of heaven here (though it’s not my personal belief) but the search for unlimited pleasure/joy might not be working out too well for us here on earth.

I am sure I am not the only one whose had this experience. Everything seems to be going fine. I think to myself I am making progress, I am getting my shit together, I am on course. I am right, I am living correctly. Then the pain kicks in. I notice that my body is full of crippling muscular tension. I start to have trouble sleeping. Then, I get sick. So what happened? How did I go from successful to invalid in a matter of hours, days, weeks? It’s called Mara. When you think you’re right you’re usually on the wrong path (seeking miracles, diversions, comfort, and quick fixes). But how could that be? When you think you’re wrong you are going against your nature. But how could that be?

What does the right path feel like? It doesn’t that’s the thing, it just doesn’t. You don’t have a sense of right or wrong, good or bad when you are doing what you are meant to be doing, it just is, you are just there, you are in the moment. If you think you can stay on the path strait to the end you are wrong about that too because we do get off course and there is a lot to learn from the detours. If you think being good at something means you stop making mistakes, getting slack from others then you will never progress.


What I like about Buddhism is that it entreats us to embrace life as it is, it doesn’t seek perfection but urges us instead to be inquisitive. What I like about Taoism is that it embraces the duality. The necessity of contrasts. What I like about Shintoism is that it recognizes that each person has their own truth. They all embrace human nature in a very honest and compassionate way.


One response

  1. Pingback: Mara | mindlovemisery

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