Three things I learned from...

“The Tao of Pooh”

by Benjamin Hoff
Published on March 17, 2012 · Written by Josh Pause · Categorized as Spirituality

Discussing The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff is not going to be an easy task. It combines two subjects about which I know very little: Tao, which is an ancient Chinese philosophy, and Winnie the Pooh, who is a silly ‘ole pooh bear; once the product of A. A. Milne, now intellectual property wholly-owned by the Disney corporation.

In this book, Benjamin Hoff uses the original texts of various “Winnie-the-Pooh” stories, complete with the outstanding original illustrations by E. H. Shepard, to illustrate the basic concepts of Taoism. Speaking personally, I found it extremely accessible, which is a smarty-pants way of saying it was an “easy read”. The prose is clever and witty, the classic characters (Tigger, Rabbit, and everyone’s favorite, Eeyore) are all present, and the analogies between ancient China, and the Hundred Acre Wood, make a lot of sense to a western-rooted reader, such as myself.

The Original Emo

The Original Emo

In a nutshell, the Tao of Pooh breaks down into three core concepts: embrace your Uncarved Block, be mindful of the Cottleston Pie Principle, and follow the Pooh Way.

Do you have any idea what any of that means? No? Good! Keep reading:

1. Respect the power of the Uncarved Block

The Taoist refer to the Pu, the uncarved block. This is the primordial state of tao, a place where there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, no beauty or horror. It is the original state of all things. And in this book, Pooh is the perfect representation of Pu.

Pooh... Pu... Get it?

Pooh... Pu... Get it?

As with most things Tao, it can be frustratingly hard to explain concepts so simple. A passage from the book offers this explanation:

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”

There was a long silence.

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Rabbit is a classic “type-A” personality, rushing around, trying to get things done, barking orders at the other characters, and in general, making an ass of himself. Pooh, on the other hand, ends up the accidental hero.

E.H. Sheppard was the man.

Original illustration by E.H. Sheppard

Imagine a blank painting canvas. Before you start applying paint, that canvas has the potential to become any image that ever was, or ever could be. However, the very moment you dab your brush in a specific color and begin streaking it across- you have permanently biased the image- the Pu of the original canvas is gone.

2. The Cottleston Pie Principle

Once upon a time A. A. Milne penned the following poem:

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken? I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Now, to be completely honest here, I’m not 100% sure that the above poem isn’t total gibberish, being falsely praised as literary genius.

It wouldn't be the first time...

It wouldn't be the first time...

That said, if there is any meaning to the above poem, it seems to have something to do with understanding our limitations. Everything, and everyone, has a place. An incident in the life of Chuang-tse can serve as an example:

While sitting on the banks of the P’u Rover, Chuang-tse was approached by two representatives of 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 remarked, “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.”

Pictured: Enlightenment

Pictured: Enlightenment

A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.

3. The Pooh Way is Wu Wei

Taoists achieve the state of Pooh Pu by following the practice of Wu Wei. Imagine the crashing waves of the ocean as they lap against the shore again and again and again. Consider the planets as they rotate around the sun. Imagine the Pooh bear as he gorges himself on hunny.

That's the cutest eating disorder I ever saw.

That's the cutest eating disorder I ever saw.

Wu Wei is the natural action. The process by which a tree grows. The means by which a bird flies. It is the state whereby you are exactly where the universe needs you to be.

Have you ever had a day where you were “on”? The elevator doors opened just as you approached; the red light turned green just as you spotted it. It was as if you were dancing with the universe itself, with natural flow and order. This is the practice of Wu Wei.

Also known as "Fonzie-ism"

Also known as "Fonzie-ism"

Still confused? Don’t worry- you’re in good company. Adding to the confusion, most westerners seem to use terms of Eastern philosophy interchangeably. For example, I find a lot of my friends use the term “Zen” to describe this concept. But Zen is something else entirely: a branch of Buddhism, literally translated to “meditative state”. By comparison, Wu Wei is what you call it when you are doing exactly what comes naturally to you, when you find your life “clicking” in all the right ways.

So now you know. And what could be more enlightened than starting petty semantic arguments regarding the nature of the universe?

Want to read the book? Want to support your friends at 3 Things I Learned? You can do both at once when you order “The Tao of Pooh” via Amazon.com. Got no money for books? Get it at your local library instead.

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Looking for more books on spirituality? Check out “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller or “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. This article included references to , , , , , , , and hopefully that will impress the nice folks at Google.

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