Book Reviews

Review: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

This week I’m reading The Tao of Pooh, a fun little book that explores Taoism through the wisdom of the Bear of Little Brain. Benjamin Hoff uses stories from the classics Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner to introduce the principles of Taoist philosophy, with original illustrations by E.H. Shephard plus loads of quotes from the books by A.A. Milne.

The Way of Winnie the Pooh is strangely close to the Way of Taoism. No matter what’s going on in the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh has a way about him where things seem to work themselves out without much effort. Eeyore is gloomy and always assumes the worst, Piglet worries and is filled with anxiety, and Owl thinks he knows everything already. But Pooh just is.

Pooh is the epitome of the Uncarved Block, or P’u, which means that things in their original state have their own natural power. It seems simple and basic, but it’s just about being present and allowing things to be as they are without imposing your ideas on them.

Pooh’s way of being is called Wu Wei, which means “without doing, causing, or making.” Wu Wei is effortless action, without interference from the ego or the mental chatter that usually fills your mind. The ideal is to practice Wei Wu Wei – to “Do Without Doing” – in other words, to allow things to happen spontaneously without meddling or getting in your own way. Here’s a quote:

“An Empty sort of mind is valuable for finding pearls and tails and things because it can see what’s in front of it. An Overstuffed mind is unable to. While Clear mind listens to a bird singing, the Stuffed-Full-of-Knowledge-and-Cleverness mind wonders what kind of bird is singing. …

“Gathering, analysing, sorting, and storing information – these functions and more the mind can perform so automatically, skilfully, and effortlessly that it makes the most sophisticated computer look like a plastic toy by comparison. But it can do infinitely more. To use the mind as it’s all too commonly used, on the kinds of things that it’s usually used on, is about as inefficient and inappropriate as using a magic sword to open up a can of beans. The power of a clear mind is beyond description. But it can be attained by anyone who can appreciate and utilise the value of Nothing.

“Let’s say you get an idea – or, as Pooh would more accurately say, it gets you. Where did it come from? … If you are able to trace it all the way back to its source, you will discover that it came from Nothing. And chances are, the greater the idea, the more directly it came from there. … Practically everyone has had some sort of an idea like that sometime, most likely after a sound sleep when everything was so clear and filled with Nothing than an Idea suddenly appeared in it. …

“The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning, and filled with the wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe.”

The Tao of Pooh is a great introduction to Taoist principles, revealed with humour and clarity through the exploits and adventures of Pooh and his friends. Perfect whether you’re a fan of Pooh or not (and why wouldn’t you be?!).

You can see Pooh ‘in action’ here: The Art of Doing Nothing

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