Tao Of Pooh Essay, Research Paper
The Wu Way, the Pooh Wei
Winnie the Pooh has a certain way about him, a way of doing things which has made him the world’s most beloved bear. And Pooh’s Way, as Benjamin Hoff brilliantly demonstrates, seems strangely close to the ancient Chinese principles of Taoism. The ‘Tao of Pooh’ explains Taoism by Winnie the Pooh and explaines Winnie the Pooh by Taoism. It makes you understand what A.A. Milne probably meant when he said he didn’t write the Pooh-books for children in the first place.
In chapter one, the How of Pooh, Hoff touches upon The Vinegar Tasters, a proverb about three men who represent the Three Teachings of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the essence of life. The first of the tasters Kung Fu-Tse (Confucius) believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of step with the Way of Heaven. 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. To Buddha, the second figure, the world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. To Lao-tse, the third figure, the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at anytime, but not by following the rules of confucianists.
Taoism is not a religion, nor a philosophy – it is a Way of life, it is a river. Traditionally, Taoism has been attributed to three sources, the oldest being the legendary ‘Yellow Emperor’, but the most famous is Lao Tse’s Tao Teh Ching. According to tradition, Lao Tse was an older contemporary of Kung Fu Tse (Confucius). The third source is Chuang Tse’s (untitled) work. But the original source of Taoism is said to be the ancient I Ching, The Book Of Changes.
Hoff shows us in chapter two, The Tao of Who, that Pooh is the perfect representation of the Taoist principle of the uncarved block. Through semantic changes, perfectly in keeping with the Tao, we find that Pooh, or P’u, is actually a tree in the thicket, or a wood not cut, or finally, an Uncarved Block. And this, of course, is what pure being is.
The essence of the principle of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when that simplicity is changed. Winnie-the-Pooh is the Uncarved Block: he is able to accomplish what he does because he is simpleminded. As any old Taoist walking out of the woods can tell you, simpleminded does not necessarily mean stupid. It’s rather significant that the Taoist ideal is that of the still, calm, reflecting “mirror-mind” of the Uncarved Block, and it’s rather significant that Pooh, rather than the thinkers Rabbit, Owl, or Eeyore, is the true hero of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. If it were Cleverness that counted most, Rabbit would be the hero of the chapter In which Tigger is unbounced, but that’s not the way things work. On the contrary Rabbit is the one that really loses his way, and Pooh is the one that finds his way home by listening to his calling pots of honey. From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously, like the wishing of a Very Happy Thursday and the wondering in a Thoughtful spot. Wisdom lies in the way of Pooh, who shirks the busy-ness of Rabbit, the intellectual hubris of Owl, and the doom-saying of Eeyore. Pooh simply is, and enjoys being who he is. Pooh is a Master, who knows the Way. Learn from him. Learn to be with him.
Chapter six brings us The Cottleston Pie Principle, that everything has its own place and function. When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don’t belong. One man’s food is often another man’s poison. Qualities can never be too bad, too useless or too limited. We only have to recognize What’s There. The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not. Tigger is the example of someone who doesn’t know his limitations, and becomes stuck in a tall pine tree, while Tiggers can’t even climb trees. Because of his thinking, Rabbit is too much distracted of his own Inner Nature, and the Inner Nature of others. While he is trying to unbounce Tigger and let him lose his way, Rabbit is the one who got everyone lost, including himself, and Tigger is the Large and Helpful Tigger who knows the way home.
Once you face and understand your limitations, you can work with them, instead of having them work against you and get in your way, which is what they do when you ignore them, whether you realize it o not. And then you will find that, in many cases, your limitations can be your strengths. An example is Piglet, a Very Small Animal, who was able to escape out of Owl’s blown down house, through the letter-box.
In The Pooh Way, Hoff asserts that literally, Wu Wei means: ‘without doing, causing or making’. But practically speaking, it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort. When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes. Mistakes are made – or imagined – by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard. Not like Pooh, the most effortless Bear we’ve ever seen.
For a basic example of the Pooh Way, let’s recall something that happened in The House at Pooh Corner when Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, and Roo were playing Poohsticks. They’d dropped their sticks off the bridge into the river, and had gone to the other side to see whose stick would come out first. Then Eeyore floated out, he was waiting for somebody to help him out of the river. Pooh got a idea. They could drop some stones into the river, the stones would make waves, the waves would wash Eeyore over to the river bank.
Cleverness, as usual, takes all the credit it possibly can. But it’s not the Clever Mind that’s responsible when things work out. It’s the mind that sees what’s in front of it, and follows the nature of things.
Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done. The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much. The mind of Wu Wei flows like water,, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo. Just like Pooh, who gives Eeyore an empty honey pot as a present. Without thinking of it, he had, on his way to Eeyore, eaten all the honey out of the jar. By chance this worked out very well: Eeyore was very happy because the bursted balloon, he has got from piglet, fitted exactly in the empty pot, he has got from Pooh.
Of course, all of the knowledge of the Owl, accompanied by the variable helpfulness of Rabbit who cannot stop activity in favor of just being something, couldn’t figure out what had become of Christopher Robin, who left the Very Clear Note on his door:
Who or what is a Backson? Backsons are those people trying to outrun their shadows and their footprints, not realizing that to stand still and rest in the shade defeats the power of both. And of course, the Bisy Backson is never at a standstill. And of course, one cannot experience the Tao, be the Tao, know the Tao if one is perpetually on the run.The Bisy Backson is always:
or, maybe GONE SOON. Anywhere. Anywhere he hasn’t been. Anywhere but where he is. Of course, the idea of not going anywhere is abhorrent to him, and there is no concept of being able to do nothing. Nothingness frees the mind. Nothing works like nothing. For there is nothing to distract you. Nothing to get in the way. Nothing to hinder you. Nothing means anything. Any thing is by definition itself, but when it is no thing, it can become potentially any thing.
The two fearless rescues of That Sort of Bear bring up Tz’u which is one of the most important terms of Taoism. Tz’u can be translated as “caring” or “compassion” and which is based upon the character for heart. From caring comes courage and wisdom. Just like when Pooh saved Roo, discovered the North Pole and rescued Piglet when he was entirely surrounded by water. It also gave Piglet the courage to go get help for Pooh and Owl when Owl’s house blew over. Now Benjamin Hoff explains us the Tiddely-Pom Principle, which comes from a song by Pooh:
The more it snows (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom)
The Tiddely-Pom Principle is sometimes referred to as the Snowball Effect. Now Piglet has recognized his fears, and has discovered that he had more courage than he had thought he had, he appreciates himself more. And out of this feeling of respect, it is a lot easier to have eyes for others and to be brave the next time again. Just like when Uninformed Eeyore discovered a new house for Owl to move into, and it turned out to be Piglet’s. Then Piglet did a Noble Thing, he didn’t embarrass Eeyore, and gives his house to Owl.
The basic thesis of The Tao of Pooh (and maybe the basic message of Taoism, if Hoff’s description is accurate) is that you will be at your happiest and your life will flow most smoothly if you don’t fight it — let life happen to you, flow with it, use its momentum to your best advantage. Life is a river, says Hoff’s Taoism, so you’d best swim with the current instead of struggling against it.
One of the problems with Hoff’s philosophy is that it assumes you can analyze your own life and easily see the best way to flow with it. But what about when life throws you a curve? How would Pooh react if Piglet started selling his very small body to pay for his very small but growing crack habit? What is the “simple” response to abortion, or child abuse, or your right to bear arms versus the right not to get shot by someone else who also has the right to bear arms? I know it’s just a children’s book, but you can’t pull an adult philosophy out of it unless you can apply it to adult problems.
The Tao of Pooh- Hoff, Benjamin, copyright 1982
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