The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

What an interesting way to explain Taoist principles. I will be honest though. I liked the book for its philosophical anecdotes and citations from actual Taoist stories and writings, not the interspersing of Winnie the Pooh. In a way, trying to use Pooh and his mates as illustration for the supposedly simplest Eastern model of thought is, in the words of Joey Tribiani, a moo point. (Useless, like a cow’s opinion. You know, moo).

I read this a couple months back, and when I decided to blog about it, I couldn’t remember one damn thing. Rereading it, I found that I skimmed over all of the Pooh stories and just found what Hoff was trying to get at, which were very easily understood and useful Taoist principles. But you can’t fault the guy for trying.

He explains the principle of the uncarved block, or simplicity of life. The power of wisdom and not of knowledge or “useless learning”. The awareness of our inner nature. One excerpt in particular I enjoyed:

While sitting on the banks of the P’u River, Chuang-tse was approached by two representatives of the Prince of Ch’u, who offered him a position at court. Chuang-tse watched the water flowing by as if he had not heard. Finally, he reamrked, “I am told that the PRince has a sacred tortoise, over two thousand years old, which is kept in a box, wrapped in silk and brocade.” “That is true,” the officials replied. “If the tortoise had been given a choice,” Chuang-tse continued, “Which do you think he would have liked better–to have been alive in the mud, or dead within the palace?” “To have been alive in the mud, of course,” the men answered. “I too prefer the mud,” said Chuang-tse. “Good-bye.”

We can see from this that if we have an inner purpose or inner nature, it would be pointless to go against it. Rather than trying to cut a particularly knotted tree which would have required vast amounts of work to turn into lumbar, Chuang-tse recommends realizing the tree’s inner nature and using it for shade, or protection from the wind. LIke this, Hoff points out we shouldn’t stay in jobs or relationships or cities that don’t match up with our inner nature.

Another principle, Wu Wei, literally “without doing, causing or making”. It is to go with the flow. To not fight against the current, like when you’re caught in a riptide along the beach, you swim with it to get out. We shouldn’t fight our inner nature or circumstances, but go with them, and things naturally will work themselves out.

Hoff seems to have some disdain for the Puritans and other early settlers of America, for they seemed, in his eyes, miserable. They were so busy changing everything around them, they didn’t notice that everything was already beautiful. They couldn’t live off the land like the American Indians, but had to work desperately to till it, and couldn’t find happiness because they were waiting for it somewhere else. Like them, we spend most of our time running from one thing to another to do, and miss out on being aware of our lives, and being aware of the contentment and happiness we could enjoy day to day. Tao, or the way, is realizing that goals are important not for their attainment, but for the path towards them, which is really what we should reap our enjoyment from. Once the goal is attained, the excitement is over. Much like Christmas morning, when all of the presents are being opened, it’s over in a moment, and the real enjoyment was the anticipation of opening the actual presents.

True, but opening presents is still fun.

Chuang-tse said, “It is widely recognized that the courageous spirit of a single man can inspire to victory an army of thousands. If one concerned with ordinary gain can create such an effect, how much more will be produced by one who cares for greater things!” This is very beautiful. It makes me think of all the things that happen in the world that we just don’t care about. If we did, we could make such a difference.

The Great Nothing can be described with the writings of Lao-Tse in the Tao Te Ching:

To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” So, the Great nothing is something Hoff says. Instead of being so busy, we should fill our lives with emptiness. We will find wisdom and tranquility.

We realize that all of the characters of the book: Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Piglet, and Pooh, are in all of us. They all have their pitfalls. We should become more like Pooh, and Hoff shows us the Tao, or the Way, with Pooh’s stories.

I find this great truth in my life, that I learn many valuable principles and seek them out constantly, but the mere application of a few would be sufficient to change my life dramatically. Why not cut out everything else and focus on the few? Why not simplify? Maybe doing so is the Way. The Tao of Pooh.

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One thought on “The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

  1. Kate says:

    I’m glad you wrote down some of the lessons from this book since I didn’t get the chance to read it. Although some of it sounds Hedonistic, the parts about wisdom and finding your true path were great. I’m telling you, this new blog layout makes things far easier for me! Little chunks, pictures… your average blog reader is like a child when it comes to this stuff.

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