In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff utilizes characters from Winnie the Pooh to attempt to explain the fundamentals of Taoism.
By observing Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, and Pooh, it is easy to see that the actions of the character Pooh best describe Taoism. One of the most important principles of Taoism used in the book is the un-carved block. Hoff uses the characters from A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books to illustrate and explain the basics of Taoist philosophy, showing how Pooh himself is the epitome of the Taoist thinker, enjoying life with simplicity but not stupidity.
The author explains that Taoists try to appreciate, learn from, and work with whatever happens in life, whereas, in contrast, Confucianism attempts to impose order, and Buddhists see life’s tribulations as obstacles to be overcome before achieving Nirvana. He describes how Tao is the Way, which can be understood but not defined, and illustrates key elements of Tao such as P’u, the uncarved block, and Wu wei, going with the flow. In case you should think that this book is altogether too simplistic, I should add that Hoff touches on the writings of Lao-Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching), Chuang-tse, the poet Li Po, and other Taoist philosophers, giving his own interpretations of the passages. Hoff shows how Pooh best explains the Uncarved Block. The principle of the Uncarved Block is that things that are simple contain their own natural power, power that can be spoiled and lost when overcomplicated.
Using the characters he shows how our lives can be sabotaged by errors in thinking and how it can be prevented. Hoff uses Rabbit to show when you are racing through life you can miss out on the valuable things that make up life itself. We seem to jeopardize ourselves by thinking too much of the self. Owl is used to show that when trying to find underlying meaning for everything you overcomplicate it. Hoff uses Piglet in the sense that Piglet is always scared and as a result scared to try things, if Piglet wouldn’t dwell in worry, he would accomplish more, and find happiness .Sometimes staying less in your head is an advantage. Hoff goes on to show that the character of Eeyore is always depressed and dwells in negativity. If he abstained from this life would be completely different. Now finally we come to Pooh. The author exemplifies how Pooh doesn’t stay in worry, nor is he over-analytical, he stays in the spontaneous. As a result of staying in “the way” he finds everything goes its own course and works out as a result of his “non-action”.
Pooh goes with the flow of nature and doesn’t interfere. He leads a life of simplicity and one free of worry. This is a perfect reflection of someone who follows the Tao. I think this is more or less a basic explanation of Tao and how to apply it to our lives by modeling out behavior in a likewise manner. There aren’t any obscure references here only face value application. The use of the cartoon characters that we all are familiar with is a very useful strategy. It is a way of explanation that transcends all racial, sexual, gender barriers. For example, we won’t try too hard or explain too much, because that would only Confuse things, and because it would leave the impression that it was all only an intellectual idea that could be left on the intellectual level and ignored. He uses each chapter of the book to teach a new principle of the Uncarved Block of Taoism.
In each chapter he tells a Winnie the Pooh story and then explains how it relates to Taoism. Hoff writes a chapter teaching how cleverness does not always help, but it sometimes destroys things and is the reason that things do not work out. Hoff teaches that the Taoist believe that if you understand Inner Nature it is far more effective than knowledge or cleverness. He uses a poem called “Cottleston Pie”. The poem explains how things just are as they are and how people try to violate these principles with their everyday lives.
There is also the story of Tigger and Roo.
Tigger tries to be what he is not and as a result everything goes wrong and he always ends up getting stuck in a tree. Hoff also explains that working with Nature is best in the sense that you do not screw things up with a story about Eeyore getting stuck in the river. Everybody had been trying to think of clever ways to get Eeyore out of the river when Pooh said that if they just dropped a big stone into it, then it would just wash Eeyore ashore. He did it without even thinking, because thinking would complicate things, and of course it worked. Pooh worked with Nature and things worked out for him. As you can see, Hoff uses many different Winnie the Pooh stories to teach the uncomplicated ways of the Taoist. The only argument that Hoff really presents is whether or not the Taoist way is the best way and whether or not it really works. When you look at it from the point of Pooh and the stories he is a part of, you are able to see how easily the Taoist ideology fits snuggly into Pooh and his world. Obviously if you do not believe that cleverness and knowledge are not important, then you will not agree with anything Hoff is saying, but he makes you believe in showing you how it always works out with Pooh. He argues whether or not cleverness and knowledge really are important. For example, it can be explained in the story when Eeyore gets stuck in the river.
Clever ways do not work, but Pooh’s simple way always seem to work surprisingly well. Hoff also argues how the Taoist believes that over exhausting ourselves needlessly only works against us. He uses Rabbit to explain this. Quite simply, Rabbit is always in a hurry, he is the very face of stress itself. Hoff explains these so called creatures like a shadow. Shadows are always rushing along. They are also always trying to lose their shadows. They try to run from them not realizing that they cannot, that they are one and the same.
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