The Tao of Pooh - by Benjamin Hoff
I have been carrying the book Tao of Pooh around with me for more than 25 years, but, I never read it. The book has lived in Philadelphia, Connecticut, and San Diego unopened. When I saw it on the reading list for Paulie Zink’s: Yin Yoga teacher training I thought now is the time. It turns out that I was carrying it for a good reason. In fact, it is a marvelous book about life and Taoism.
I don’t remember reading any Winnie the Pooh when I was young. But, after reading the Tao of Pooh I think I will pick it up and learn more about the marvelous bear and his adventures.
The book goes over some concepts in Taoism: the uncarved block/P’u, the Cottleston Pie Principle/Inner Nature, the Pooh Way/Wu Wei and That sort of bear.
I have been taking a two year program on Buddhism at Insight LA, and I am struck to see the difference between Buddhism and Taoism. The optimist in me embraces Taoism, while, my internal pessimist clings to Buddhism. I was intrigued by Hoff’s parable of the vinegar tasters. When tasting the vinegar the Buddhist and Confucist look sour and bitter while the Taoist is smiling. “From the Taoist point of view, the natural result of (this) harmonius living is happiness. (p.5)”
There is a Confucist saying “If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit.” It reminds me of my Iyengar yoga class when the teacher is so concerned about the fold in the blankets and the straightness of the mat that I think they forget the joy of actually practicing yoga.
The Uncarved Block/ P’u
The first principle the Benjamin Hoff investigates is the P’u translated as the Uncarved Block.
“. . . things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when the simplicity is changed. (p.10)”
“. . . the Taoist ideal is that of the still, calm, reflecting “mirror-mind” of the Uncarved Block.
He says that Winnie the Pooh is a version of the Uncarved Block in action.
Anti-Intellectualism of Taoism or Spelling Tuesday or Being Owl
Hoff’s talks of the Confucianists as busy ants spoiling the picnic of life. He quotes Lao-tse, “The wise are not learned and the learned are not wise.” Owl represents these “intellectuals” in Winnie the Pooh.
“. . . you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling Tuesday isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday doesn’t count.”
I was taking a workshop with Dakini Yuan Miao about a month ago and people kept asking her these deep changes. And part of me was mad at myself because I didn’t have any “deep questions” I was just doing the yoga and enjoying her energy and her singing. Maybe I was being a Taoist and just not concerned about how to spell Tuesday. Maybe I just wanted to eat the honey like Pooh.
Cottleston Pie/Inner Nature
Taoism as explained by Benjamin Hoff is against cleverness. He claims that the lens of cleverness is superficial way of looking at things. The confuscists were very clever.
“Fortunately for everyone, the plan failed, as Clever Plans do, sooner or later. (p.37)
The Taoist believed that “ . . . everything has its own place and function. (p.40)
Hoff’s talks of people not respecting their inner nature and how because of this they are stuck in the wrong house, marriage, job, etc. . . He says on p. 41, “When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong.”
This is something I definitely have to work on because there are a lot of wrongs for me in my life right now. Hoff’s also asks us not to blindly do what we aren’t designed to do. He says this doesn’t mean we need to stop changing and improving but we need to recognize what’s there.
In my yoga practice I struggle with my flexibility but when I push too hard sometimes I get tighter or injured. I have to strike a balance between pushing but not going too far.
“The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not. (p.43)”
He also brings up a Chinese saying, “One disease, long life; no disease, short life.(p. 48)” Meaning people who know their weaknesses and work on them will live longer. Weaknesses and limitations can work in our favor if we acknowledge that they are there. I have found this to be true with my knees. If I never had the “unsuccessful” knee surgeries I wouldn’t have found yoga. Whenever I leave yoga my knees ache again. The aching knees are keeping me consistent in my practice.
“What we need to do is recognize Inner Nature and work with things as they are. (p. 50)”
“The first thing that we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it. For within the Ugly Duckling is the Swan, inside the Bouncy Tigger is the rescuer who knows the Way, and in each of us there is something special, and that we need to keep. (p. 65)”
I think this is a powerful idea that we have this Inner Nature, who we are, and we can use this to our advantage and work from who we are.
The Pooh Way aka The Wu Wei
Wu Wei is translated to “without doing, causing, or making. (p.68).” It also means no clever tampering or monkeying around. Wei Wu Wei is doing without doing. Things will happen by themselves spontaneously. Things happen in the right way at the right time if you let them.
According to Chuang-tse, “the mind of Wu Wei flows like water, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo (p.85)” Wu Wei is about following intuition.
This concept is truly difficult for me. I always want to work hard to make things the way I want them to be. I am very clever in all my tampering.
“By the time it came to the edge of the Forest the stream had grown up, so it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew where it was going, and it said it itself, ‘There is no hurry. We shall get there some day. P. 67)’”
I am also often in a hurry and forget that I will get there someday.
I see myself very clearly in the Bisy Backson, a person who is almost desperately active. Yes, I do too much. “The Athletic sort of Backson . . . confuses exercise with work. He works when he works, works when he exercises, and . . .works when he plays. P. 94)” Yes, that’s me.
“The Bisy Backson is always going somewhere, somewhere he hasn’t been. Anywhere but where he is. (p.97)”
The antithesis of the Bisy Backson is Li Chung Yun reported to have lived over 200 years. He said his favorite way of travelling was walking lightly. He advised those who wanted to be healthy to “sit like a turtle, walk like a pidgeon, and sleep like a dog. P.110)”
Enjoying Life and Being Special aka That Sort of Bear
“We simply need to believe in the power that’s within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us. (p.121)”
“The play-it-safe pessimists of the world never accomplish much of anything, because they don’t look clearly and objectively at situations, they don’t recognize or believe in their own abilities, and they won’t stretch those abilities to overcome even the smallest amount of risk. (p.122)”
Nowhere and Nothing or T’ai Hsu
T’ai Hsu in Taoism is the “Great Nothing.” An empty mind listens to birds sing while a full of knowledge clever mind wonders what kind of bird is singing. But, emptiness is not the same thing as loneliness.
“To have no thought and put forth no effort is the first step towards understanding the Tao. To go nowhere and do nothing is the first step towards finding peace in the Tao. To start from no point and follow no road is the first step towards reaching the Tao. (p.143)
The 48th chapter of the Tao says, “To attain knowledge, add something every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” We are urged to see like a child. Find the clear minded, independent, all seeing child. Too often it is our brain that sends us off in the wrong direction.
Although, it appears to be a little book, with its red edges and Pooh flying the kite on its cover, The Tao is Pooh is a big book full of life lessons and really important philosophy. I’ve read it three times since the fall and I keep getting more and more and more out of it. I am glad a carried it for all those years. And I am even happier that I opened it. Now, can I absorb its teachings. I hope so.