To Confucius (left), life seemed rather sour.
He believed that the present was out of step with the past and that the world would be a much better place if there were strict rules.
Confucius emphasized a strict order which ruled the affairs of all in his land.
Anything that did not fit into the established order was considered bad.
The second figure (middle) in the painting - Buddha - considered life on earth to be bitter.
He saw this world to be filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering; a setter of traps, a generator of illusions and a revolving wheel of endless pain.
In order to find peace, Buddha maintained that it was necessary to transcend this world.
The Buddhist sees the path to happiness constantly being interrupted by the bitterness of this world.
Lao Tzu is the third man (right) in the painting.
According to Lao Tzu, the world was governed by the laws of nature, not by those of men.
He maintained that the more man interfered with the natural order of things, the more out of balance the world became.
As things became unbalanced, trouble followed.
Lao Tzu is smiling because sourness and bitterness comes 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