Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's With Dude Then?

The original dude, the O.D. if you will, was surely Lao Tzu, the author of the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu was so incredibly dudeish that no one is even sure if he existed or not. All that we know of him comes from a tale, possibly apocryphal, in which the great sage got fed up with Chinese civilization, and was asked to scribble down his accumulated wisdom before he split, never to be heard from again. Hardly a self-promoter, the ephemeral Lao Tzu never really engendered an iconography – virtually the only enduring image of him can be found in a painting called “The Vinegar Tasters.” And this picture says a thousand words – a sum not much greater than in the entire Tao Te Ching, in fact. In the painting, the three prime movers of Chinese religion are found sticking their fingers in a pot of vinegar and tasting it. The Buddha finds it bitter, that it represents the suffering of mankind. Confucius finds it sour, a symbol of the corrupted state of the world since the legendary Chinese golden age. But Lao Tzu is grinning from ear to ear. To his palate, it is marvelous. If nothing else, vinegar is a crucial ingredient in that most allegorical of Chinese condiments: sweet and sour sauce. “All sunshine all the time makes the desert” goes the Arab proverb. And all sugar all the time, Lao Tzu knew, will make your teeth fall out. More


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