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The Tao of Pooh

Updated on April 23, 2012

Winnie-the-Pooh: Taoist Master?

Benjamin Hoff sets out to explain the principles of Taoism (pronounced DAOism) through Winnie-the-Pooh, and to explain Winnie-the-Pooh through Taoism, in a conversational style between himself and the self-confessed 'Bear of Very Little Brain', who proves to be far wiser than he might realise....

Detail from the front cover of the
1998 UK edition of The Tao of Pooh
Photograph by the author

Life is full of different characters: the hesitant, like Piglet, the scholar, like Owl, the clever and always busy like Rabbit. But it is the seemingly simpleminded Pooh Bear, who unconsciously appreciates today and what is around him, that Hoff uses to illustrate and explain 'the Way' of Taoism, and its basic tenet of appreciating, learning from and working with whatever happens in everyday life.

Although written 30 years ago, it remains at least as relevant, if not more so, to today's world. Hoff's description of, in Christopher Robin's words, the 'bisy backson', the busy person constantly running to keep up with things, seeking to change everything except themselves while maintaining their youthful looks and appearance through the use of cosmetics and surgery, surely rings all the more true today.

So, little has changed since the book was written: the frenetic pace of life has only become more so; the attempt to cram more and more into life has accelerated. In keeping with other thoughts on Quality (Robert Pirsig), the value of Slow (Carl Honore) and the beauty of Small (E. F. Schumacher), this book provides an opportunity to step off the accelerating merry-go-round of modern life and consider through the prism of 2,500 years of wisdom (and the thoughts of a small yellow bear) whether there is a better 'Way'....

As Lao-tse (LAOdsuh) famously put it in the Tao The Ching (DAO DEH JEENG): "A thousand mile journey begins with the first step." Hope you enjoy the journey.

“What’s it about?” asked Pooh, leaning forward and smearing another word.

“It’s about how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances!” I yelled.

“Have you read it?” asked Pooh.

10 Good Reasons to Read This Book

  1. Like Taoism, its strength is in its simplicity.
  2. You don't need to be a student of philosophy to understand it, but some knowledge of Winnie-the-Pooh might be useful!
  3. It'll make you want to re-read the Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner books.
  4. Like any book that features Pooh, it'll make you laugh!
  5. If Pooh can understand it, you can too.
  6. If you think about it, you'll recognise a lot of your own life in it.
  7. It's short, so it won't give you a headache.
  8. You'll be able to quote old Chinese philosophers, and impress your friends.
  9. It's completely Heffalump free!
  10. And if all the above fail, it will have at least made you take time out to think.

Want to know more? Here's a walk through the chapters....

The How of Pooh?

Hoff starts with a simple introduction to Taoism.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Photograph by the author

Unlike Confucianism, which uses ritual and ceremony to achieve harmony, and Buddhism, which seeks to transcend the distractions of the world to achieve Nirvana, Taoism holds that living harmoniously with the world, and working with it rather than against it, is the way to happiness and understanding. Life, when understood, is sweet.

Chinese symbol for Tao
Chinese symbol for Tao

The Tao of Who?

One of the important principles of Taoism not only sounds like 'Pooh', but is very much like the simpleminded bear in essence too: P'u - the Uncarved Block, meaning something simple, plain, honest and in its natural state.

Chinese symbol for Tao
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discarding arrogance and complexity leads to spontaneity, and the ability to enjoy the simple, quiet, plain and everyday.

Spelling Tuesday

Early Taoist writers, such as Lao-tse and Chuang-tse (JUANGdsuh), held that scholarly analysis was useful to a point, but that when confronted with wider and deeper issues scholars were limited by their own learning:

"A well-frog cannot imagine the ocean, nor can a summer insect conceive of ice. How can a scholar understand the Tao? He is restricted by his own learning." Chuang-tse

The problem with a lot of knowledge is that is knowledge for its own sake, and without experience, it is limited in value, and often fails to see its own limitations.

The Vinegar Tasters - An allegorical comparison of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism

The Vinegar Tasters
The Vinegar Tasters

The Vinegar Tasters
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The three men depicted in the picture are Confucius, Buddha and Lao-tse. The 'vinegar' they are tasting represents the Essence of Life.

To Confucius life was sour, the present was out of step with the past, and man was out of harmony with the universe. He therefore advocated reverence for ancestors and ancient rituals.

To Buddha life was bitter, full of attachments that led to suffering. It was necessary to transcend the "world of dust" and reach Nirvana.

To Lao-tse the harmony between all things could be found by anyone at any time. This harmony governed everything, and only when man interfered was it disrupted. It was necessary for man to "join the dust of the world", and work with the Tao ('the Way') which was evident in all things. Life, when understood, was sweet.

The Taijitu symbol, or Yin Yang, is closely associated with Taosim
The Taijitu symbol, or Yin Yang, is closely associated with Taosim

Cottleston Pie

Everything has its own place and function. People often forget this simple principle, and continue to try to fit square pegs in to round holes. As Chuang-tse explained, a tree that is no good to a carpenter for lumber is still good for providing shade while you rest - it only appears useless if you want to make it into something else and not use it in its proper way.

The Taijitu symbol, or Yin Yang, is closely associated with Taoism
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Once you have recognised and faced your weaknesses and limitations, you can work with them, rather than have them work against you. This does not mean simply accepting them, but recognising opportunities where they may actually be beneficial, and the correct way to improve on them. Only the foolish do not know their limitations.

Understanding your inner nature, and listening to it, helps you understand what works best for you. Rather than confronting undesirable characteristics or emotions head-on, which often results in failure or relapse, it is better to endeavour to transform them into something beneficial, by pointing them in a different direction. The easiest way to get rid of a minus is to turn it into a plus.

The Pooh Way

When you learn to work with your inner nature, and the natural laws around you, you reach the level of Wu Wei - working effortlessly with the natural order of things. Tao doesn't force or interfere with things, it lets them work in their own way, to produce results naturally.

"Tao does not do, but nothing is not done." Tao The Ching

It's when you try too hard, and force things, that things go wrong. Things happen in the right way, at the right time, when you work with circumstances, not against them. Wu Wei is about being sensitive to circumstances. In describing Wu Wei, Chuang-tse said the mind should "flow like water, reflect like a mirror, and respond like an echo". In other words, let your mind flow with the circumstances and reflect what it sees, then it will be able to respond with the answer.

The Taoist martial art T'ai Chi Ch'uan using the Wu Wei principle by sending the opponents energy back at them, or deflecting it away; force is not opposed with force. To illustrate this, Hoff uses the example of hitting a cork in water. The harder you hit it, the more it yields, and the harder it bounces back; without expending energy the cork will eventually wear you out.

The Ba Gua consists of eight trigrams, which in Taoism represent the fundamental principles of reality
The Ba Gua consists of eight trigrams, which in Taoism represent the fundamental principles of reality

Bisy Backson

In the original Pooh books Christopher Robin left a note on his door which read:

"GON OUT

BACKSON

BISY

BACKSON."

The Ba Gua consists of eight trigrams, which in Taoism represent the fundamental principles of reality
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Modern society encourages people to keep 'bisy', striving for more, that which is just out of reach. They are always going somewhere, and will be 'backson', although if they stopped to think about it they wouldn't be quite sure where they were coming back from, or why. It's easy for busy people to miss what is around them, or even directly in front of them. They're busy trying to change the world, or others, but forget that real growth and development involves changing inside themselves.

The Bisy Backson culture is full of time saving devices, so it seems strange that we do not more time available. The truth is it is not possible to save time, only to spend it, and when you realise this it is easier to spend it more wisely.

When the reward is just out of reach, people work harder, and faster, to reach it. In doing so they miss the journey, and forget that without enjoying the journey along the way the pleasure of the receipt of the reward itself is only fleeting. Life is made up of long journeys, and brief rewards; if you only enjoy the reward and not the journey you are missing much of what life has to offer.

Read the book for yourself....

In the UK:

The Tao of Pooh

Taoism: living without preconceived ideas about how life should be lived; appreciating and being sensitive to what is around you; making the most of what you find; enjoying both the moment and the journey.

All explained in straightforward terms by that great Western Taoist......Pooh Bear. So, if a Bear of Very Little Brain can understand it, you can too!




And in the US:

The Tao of Pooh
The Tao of Pooh

Still think it all sounds a bit abstract? Let Pooh explain:

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.

What do you say?

 

That Sort of Bear

Even if we are a Very Small Animal like Piglet, we are still useful and each have our own value. We just need to believe in it, and use what we already have and what we find along the way. Pooh seems to manage this effortlessly. Lao-tse wrote, in the Tao The Ching: " From caring comes courage." Chuang-tse described the potential impact this could have as follows:

"It is widely recognised 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!"

Detail from the back cover of the 1998 UK edition of the Tao of Pooh.
Detail from the back cover of the 1998 UK edition of the Tao of Pooh.

Nowhere and Nothing

To the Taoist nothing is something, and something, at least the sort of things many consider to be important, is nothing at all. An empty mind can see what's in front of it. The clear mind listens to a bird singing, while the overburdened clever mind wonders what sort of bird is singing.

Detail from the back cover of the 1998 UK edition of The Tao of Pooh
Photograph by the author

Emptiness is often feared, since it is frequently equated with loneliness. It's an inaccurate comparison though: think of all the busy people in big cities, where loneliness is often more prevalent, filling the space with noise and things in an unsuccessful attempt to blot out loneliness.

Lao-tse wrote in the Tao The Ching: "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day."

The Now of Pooh

Abstract cleverness separates the thinker from reality, and thinking must be coupled with caring if it is to be constructive. Many people choose to be an Owl or a Rabbit. Like Eeyore they complain about the results. It’s time to choose the way of Pooh.

Are you tempted to read The Tao of Pooh?

See results

You might also like....

In the UK:

The Te of Piglet

(The wisdom of Pooh)

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance:

In Praise of Slow:

Challenging the Cult of Speed

Small Is Beautiful:

A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

Winnie the Pooh:

Complete Collection of Stories and Poems






And in the US:

The Te of Piglet
The Te of Piglet

The sequel to the Tao of Pooh explores the virtue of small.

"Its hard to be brave," said Piglet, sniffling slightly, "when you're only a Very Small Animal."

Rabbit, who had begun to write very busily, looked up and said:

"It is because you are a very small animal that you will be Useful in the adventure before us."

 
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

A motorcycle road-trip, and a journey through philosophy, science, religion and motorbike mechanics from the perspective of the meaning of 'quality'. Impossible to sum up its many facets in a paragraph, you'll just have to read it. And then read it again.

 
In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed
In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed

Feel the world is spinning ever faster around you? You're not alone. A growing movement of people are taking action to slow the pace, and appreciate that less really is more. "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Gandhi

 
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

Although written nearly 40 years ago, Schumacher's call for smaller working units utilising local labour and resources as a way to reduce environmental damage, improve working conditions and increase prosperity seems even more relevant in the face of today's ever-expanding mega-coporations.

 
The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner
The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner

The original Pooh books - you've probably forgotten how good they are!

 

What do you think? Does the philosophy of Taoism and a fictional bear have something to offer today's world?

Reader comments: please leave a comment!

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    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 5 years ago

      'Once you have recognised and faced your weaknesses and limitations, you can work with them, rather than have them work against you'

      Very good point

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Your lens has whet my appetite for learning more about Taoism. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      great review. great book. flow with it!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Yes - and Pooh is the best teacher for the Tao.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes, great review. Love the book quote up above.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      How sweet and what a wonderfully simplistic way to write it

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I think this lovely little book is going to have to go on my must read list! Great review. :)

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      I love this book! I must read it again soon.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      I love the Tao. It has got to be one of the most imitated books ever printed.

    • gatornic15 profile image

      gatornic15 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your review of the book. It sounds very interesting.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 5 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      This sounds great...love philosophy from Winnie the Pooh!!

    • belinda342 profile image

      belinda342 5 years ago

      I've been tempted by this book before...now I have to read it. Great job on this lens!