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” and “How should we treat one another?” have long been staples of many (if not all) great thinkers in history, be they from the east side of the west side of our world. This approach to ethics has taken man through both glorious and terrible times. Taoism, an eastern philosophy, attempts to answer those questions in a much more relaxed, accepting manner than many other philosophies. It tries to preach acceptance of one’s true person and true nature, as well as acceptance of the way the world truly is and how mankind should go about living their lives in it. The Tao of Pooh, a work by Benjamin Hoff, tries to help the less learned in Taoism understand the philosophy by related through a well known group of characters, especially in the west: Winnie the Pooh and the creatures of the Hundred Acres Wood. Through these eyes will be related Taoism, the Philosophy of the Way. Taoism is a philosophy that “earth was in the same essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws – not by the laws of men.” (Hoff 4) Thus, to Lao-tse, why should man ever interfere with it? This is the principle of Wu Wei, or “Without doing, causing, or making” (Hoff 68) and is at the very core of Taoism, and is the primary factor in understanding the relationship between man and nature, thereby then prescribing how man should treat himself, fellow man, and, especially some could argue, the world. Reaching utter harmony with nature, thus with Taoism, requires man to live life without interfering with the working of the world around him. “When we learn to work with our own inner nature, and the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei... Since the natural world follows [a principle of minimal effort,] it does not make mistake.” (Hoff 69) After all, what else in life is there? This distinguishes Taoism very clearly from its more scrutinizing brothers (though more like distant cousins) in eastern
philosophy, Confucianism and Buddhism. As Hobbs describes, “Rather than turn away from “the World of Dust,” Lao-tse advised others to, “join the dust of the world.” (Hobbs 5) One of the main ideas for the “dust mites” of the world to follow in their actions is the idea of the P’u, translated to the Uncarved Block. The concept of the Uncarved Block, relating very closely with Hoff’s Cottleston Pie principle, is very simple, yet it seems so many can’t, or won’t follow it. The Uncarved Block states in very simple terms that everything, including man should exist in his natural state. This concept is why Hoff chose Winnie the Pooh as the central idea of his book. Winnie the Pooh has an extraordinary ability, which he was born with, that it takes many masters of Tao a lifetime, if even then, to accomplish: He’s simple minded. “No matter how he seems to others… Pooh, the Uncarved Block, is able to accomplish what he does because he is simpleminded... It’s rather significant that the Taoist ideal is that of the still, calm, reflecting, “mirror-mind” of the Uncarved Block.” (Hoff 12) In other words, Pooh is Pooh, and nothing else. He doesn’t try to be a clever-thinker, like Rabbit, or the wise master, like Owl, simply because he isn’t either of those things. He’s Pooh, and that’s the best he can do. That’s a rhyme. Like the Uncarved Block, the rhyme is just a rhyme and knows that it can only be a rhyme, so it doesn’t try to be a math problem, just like Pooh doesn’t try to be an aviator, astronaut, or aardvark. “As we have likely recognized by now, no two snowflakes, trees, or animals are alike. No two people are the same, either. Everything has its own inner nature.” (Hoff 57) Once we recognize this, like Pooh, we can truly be ourselves. If man acts as he is supposed to act, and as that who he is, then the path of true happiness is what he is on. To further oneself along that path, many old thinkers of Confucianism and Buddhism would have the world believing that knowledge forms the stepping stones of the path. This is not the case, however, in Taoism. Taoism does indeed believe that knowledge is very important, but
not in the way Confucianists would. Hoff explains as such, referring to a Confucianist scholar, “ Rather than learn from Taoist teachers and from direct experience, he learns intellectually and indirectly, from books. And since he doesn’t usually put Taoist principles into practice in an everyday sort of way, his explanations of them tend to leave out some important details, such as how they work and where you can apply them.” (Hoff 25-26) How can one enjoy life and all of its majestic experiences if he only stays behind a library’s doors and reads about them? It’s like watching a Discovery channel special about New Zealand. A person may know that it has beautiful landscapes and scenes, and that Lord of the Rings was filmed there, but how can that person ever experience and truly know the beauty of the landscape and the majestic green hills if she’s never been there? Leave the couch, experience life first hand, and the path of Tao will continue to a happy ending. What would be done once New Zealand is reached, though? Well, clearly, the next logical choice must be to first visit the Auckland domain, then Goat Island, Beehive building, Mount Eden, Rangitoto, City Center, call in with Dad, One Tree Hill, check the account, Rotarua, write that report and biography, Parnell, all in two days, and Taoism will be appeased! Wrong. In fact, that’s quite the opposite of what Taoism would prefer. Taoism would suggest you go to two, maybe three or four of these, enjoying them to their fullest with no rush, and no schedule that must be strictly adhered to or else! No. Hoff refers to these people as the “Busy Backson’s” due to a story in the Pooh books that refers to a note left by Christopher Robins which read: GON OUT BACKSON BISY BACKSON.
(Hoff 92) Bisy? Backson? What possibly could that mean? Unless…? Ah, he was too busy to take the time to write the note correctly. “You see them almost everywhere you go, it seems. On practically any sunny sort of day, you can see the Backsons stampeding through the park, making all kinds of loud Breathing Noises.” “He makes you tired just looking at him. The chronic Backson always seems to be going somewhere, at least on a superficial, physical level. He doesn’t go out for a walk, though; he doesn’t have time.” (Hoff 93-96) To use a more American phrase to explain this, “Stop and smell the roses.” The Path of Taoism is much prettier that way. How should an adept begin his study, then, of Tao? What should she do? What should we think? The answer, of course, is nothing. “Nothing is something, and something is really nothing at all.” (Hoff 143) This nothing that should be focused on is actually “T’ai Hsu,” the Great Nothing. It is necessary to clear your mind of all the junk that day to day life fills it with to find that nothing, and thus, to find true happiness. Forget the bills, that weird smell on the subway coming to work, the whiny boss, the loud neighbors… It all only clouds the mind and shelters it away from the things that will truly matter: Joy, happiness, peace. This is the way explained in Taoism. “Within each of us there is an Owl, a Rabbit, an Eeyore, and a Pooh. For too long, we have chosen the way of the Owl and Rabbit. Now, like Eeyore, we complain about the results. But that accomplishes nothing. If we are smart, we will choose the way of the Pooh.” (Hoff 155) Pooh is Tao. The problems with Tao seem to pertain to the very essence of Taoism itself. One quote from the book is that, “Tao does not do, but nothing is not done.” It seems like a philosophy that would bring problems to the world, such as laze, “A spill? Someone else will clean it.” “They’re going to tear down that forest for a strip mall! What a shame.” No action seems like it would be accomplished. For it to work, people would have to not want to create the strip mall, and that
would mean that, improbably, everyone would have to dedicate themselves to the idea of Taoism. It could be understandable that it is meant of a more superficial level of inaction, such as let nature run its course without interference, or don’t bother tampering with another’s life, but wouldn’t pure Taoism requite more from it’s followers? On top of that, how would anything be invented or discovered? Man in the form of the Uncarved Block is a very uneducated creature at first. Eventually, it goes through the day to day of learning from example and discovery. However, who would believe that they could become nuclear physicists? Who would become a biophysicist? A brain surgeon? Who would seek to continue the study of medicine and advanced cures for diseases and otherwise? Most people would not wish to become this purely on the basis that it is not the way of the Uncarved Block, pure nature. In a very morbid reality, pure nature does not cure cancer, it dies from it. Taoism is a very unique and peaceful philosophy, some may say art. It provides to its followers a very deep sense of peace and purity. It reveals and highlights mans inner nature and character, as well as lights the way to true perfection of ethics and morals, and does so often, if not invariably, through the most simple an obvious, yet also the most overlooked methods. It is truly an admirable philosophy. Perhaps we should all practice the Way?
Citations H o ff , B en jam in. T he Tao of Pooh . H arris onburg, Va: R .R . D onnell ey & S ons C o . , 1 9 8 2. P rint.