25 June 2008


I claim that we Tivo the show everyday "for the kids" ... but I get just as excited about the new episodes as they do.
I pretend to buy the CDs "so the kids can listen to it in the car" ... but I have "Born to Play" in my favorite playlist on my MP3 player.
I say that sing along and dance around the living room to "play with the boys" ... but I really just can't help myself.
I have to face the facts: I'm hooked on this show.
I should point out that I am not a "fan" of kids shows in general. Most of them make me feel like my brains are oozing out of my head. Barney gives makes me twitch - not in a good way.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I've helped the kids find Blues Clues (and I admit to preferring Steve to Joe), and I know the theme song to Little Einsteins and the magic words to make the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse appear as well as any preschooler mom.
But I make myself watch those because the kids like them.
I watch Backyardigans because I like them. I love the imaginative stories, the cute dialogue, the great dancing ... and especially the music!
I love how they use so many different kinds of music - and how it's never what you'd expect ... like mixing hip-hop with a cowboy story, funk with a scifi plot or rockabilly with a viking voyage.
I would never have believed four years ago (pre-kids) that I could be a "fan" of a kid's show ... especially one featuring a blue penguin in a propeller hat, a shy purple kangaroo, a mellow orange moose, a girlie yellow hippo and a pink ... thing playing make-believe in their backyard. But I am. I love it.
Shhhh. Don't tell the kids.

02 June 2008


A friend of mine asked the other day for a good "starter book" about Taoism. I told her - don't laugh - that one of my favorites is "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff.

I also shared with her the Taoist allegory of "The Vinegar Tasters". That story was one of the first things that led me to want to learn more about Taoism - and Buddhism.

Taoism is a philosophy similar to Buddhism, but with a few differences. "The Vinegar Tasters" illustrates those differences.

And I like the way Benjamin Hoff tells it in "The Tao of Pooh":

"We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped his finger into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man's face shows his individual reaction.

Since the painting is allegorical, we are to understand that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters, but are instead representatives of the "Three Teachings" of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are K'ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism.

The first has a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression, but the third man is smiling.

To Kung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of, the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth.

Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K'ung Fu-tse: "If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit." This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.

To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to transcend "the world of dust" and reach Nirvana, literally a state of "no wind." Although the essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism considerably after it was brought in from its native India, the devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.

To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated in his Tao To Ching (DAO DEH JEENG), the "Tao Virtue Book," earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws - not by the laws of men.

These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.

To Lao-tse, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons. Its lessons needed to be learned, just as its laws needed to be followed; then all would go well. Rather than turn away from "the world of dust," Lao-tse advised others to "join the dust of the world."

What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao (DAO), "the Way."

A basic principle of Lao-tse's teaching was that this Way of the Universe could not be adequately described in words, and that it would be insulting both to its unlimited power and to the intelligent human mind to attempt to do so. Still, its nature could be understood, and those who cared the most about it, and the life from which it was inseparable, understood it best.

Over the centuries Lao-tse's classic teachings were developed and divided into philosophical, monastic, and folk religious forms. All of these could be included under the general heading of Taoism.

But the basic Taoism that we are concerned with here is simply a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. From the Taoist point of view, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness.

You might say that happy serenity is the most noticeable characteristic of the Taoist personality, and a subtle sense of humor is apparent even in the most profound Taoist writings, such as the twenty-five-hundred-year-old Tao Te Ching. In the writings of Taoism's second major writer, Chuang-tse (JUANGdsuh), quiet laughter seems to bubble up like water from a fountain.

"But what does that have to do with vinegar?' asked Pooh.

"I thought I had explained that," I said.

"I don't think so," said Pooh.

"Well, then, I'll explain it now."

"That's good." said Pooh.

In the painting, why is Lao-tse smiling? After all, that vinegar that represents life must certainly have an unpleasant taste, as the expressions on the faces of the other two men indicate. But, through working in harmony with life's circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet.

That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.