The Tao Of Pooh Summary

Benjamin Hoff

The Tao Of Pooh

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The Tao Of Pooh Summary

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The Tao of Pooh is a 1982 non-fiction religious theory book by Benjamin Hoff that uses the work of Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne to introduce readers to the basics of the religion of Taoism. Based around the principles of Taoism’s most sacred text, Tao Te Ching, it illustrates the concepts by relating them to the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. Hoff has stated that he believes the parallels between Winnie the Pooh and the other characters, and the principles of Taoism to be intentional, and ties that into Milne’s statement that he didn’t write the Winnie the Pooh books originally for children.

The book begins with a description of the iconic Chinese religious painting The Vinegar Tasters, which portrays the three iconic Eastern religious thinkers Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu standing over a vat of vinegar and tasting it. According to the parable accompanying the painting, Confucius says the vinegar is sour, Buddha finds it bitter, while Lao Tzu pronounces it satisfying. Hoff takes this way of looking at the world, and applies it to the characters of Winnie the Pooh and ties each of into a basic principle in Taoism.

In a format that combines experts from Tao Te Ching with excerpts and illustrations from Milne’s work, Hoff begins by exploring the main character, Winnie the Pooh himself. According to Hoff, Pooh represents two concepts of Taoism. First, he represents wu wei, which states that beings that are in total harmony with nature are able to act effortlessly and naturally, as easily as the planets rotate around the sun. He also finds Pooh to be a representative of P’u, which may have been intentional given that the words sound the same. P’u stands for “the uncarved block”, and means the concept of being open to experiences but unburdened by them. This represents Pooh’s innocence in Milne’s story, as well as the natural state of humanity before they are burdened by cynicism. According to Piglet, “Pooh hasn’t much brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things, and they turn out alright.”

By contrast, Hoff sees the other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood to be representatives of what happens when someone is not in sync with Tao. Owl represents the opposite of Pooh, knowledge for the sake of appearing wise. Owl studies knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and keeps what he learns to himself, rather than using it for the betterment of the whole group. He represents the scholar who learns so much but loses touch with the actual experience of living, so their knowledge no longer has any practical base.

Eeyore, meanwhile, only uses his knowledge for the purpose of complaining. He is so focused on what is wrong with life that he doesn’t allow himself to enjoy what is right. The Eeyore attitude to life gets in the way of things like happiness and wisdom. If one like Eeyore is constantly fixated on what is wrong in life, they will not be able to seize the opportunities for true accomplishment and wisdom that appear before them.

Much like Owl, Rabbit cares primarily about being seen as wise. Rabbit represents knowledge for the sake of appearing clever. This is why in Milne’s stories, he is always the first to propose a complex solution, but his schemes rarely come to much. He is unable to see beyond his own cleverness and admit that the things he doesn’t know are as important as the things he does. Rabbit represents wisdom without humility.

The final two major characters in Milne’s work, Tigger and Piglet, represent opposite sides of the same coin. The Tao is very clear about the need to know one’s limitations and not to try to blindly do things one isn’t equipped for. However, Tigger rushes headlong into all sorts of situations he is not prepared for, and thus causes big problems for himself and the rest of his friends. The Tao states that the wise know their limitations, and the foolish do not. By contrast, the small Piglet is generally portrayed as the most timid character in Milne’s books, but in multiple situations he has surprised everyone and proven very brave when his skills were truly needed. When someone clearly knows their limitations, they are often able to possess incredible confidence when the time is right.

Although Hoff points out the flaws of many of these characters, he believes that the central theme of The Tao of Pooh is that we all need to know and trust our own inner nature. He states that there is something special inside each of us, and that is what we need to keep and nurture above all else.

The Tao of Pooh was a massive sales success, spending 49 weeks on The New York Times’ bestseller list. It is considered one of the best primers on the basic concepts of Taoism, and is frequently used as required reading in college courses on religion. Benjamin Hoff published a sequel, The Te of Piglet, in 1992 that explores further themes of Tao Te Ching using the title character. He is also the author of Taoism guide The Way to Life, Opal Whiteley biography The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, and Hardy Boys homage The House on the Cliff, although The Tao of Pooh remains his most popular and enduring work.