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The virtue of the small
on 22 December 2005
If Pooh is the embodiment of the Tao, the Piglet is the embodiment of the Te, the Chinese word and principle for Virtue. Benjamin Hoff, in his first book `The Tao of Pooh' talks about the religio-philosophical tradition of Taoism, and in this follow-up book, he explores in more detail with Piglet, who felt neglected in the first volume, but felt it only natural considering he's a Very Small Animal (and life is not always easy for a Very Small Animal), the concept of virtue, or the Te.
The Te is not so easily contained in the word virtue, however. `It is instead a quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential unique to the individual--something that comes from the Inner Nature of things. And something, we might add, that the individual who possess it may be quite unaware of--as is the case with Piglet through most of the Pooh stories.'
Of course, virtue un-enacted is a Very Small Virtue, indeed, so it become the responsibility of those with a Te to bring it forward in transformation. A Very Small Virtue, like a Very Small Animal, can be a good thing if the dreaded Heffalump comes by -- it might not get squashed; it might be ignored. But this is not the way of the Te.
The Te such as Piglet's can overcome distraction such as the Tigger Tendency -- the tendency to bounce off in different directions simply because they feel good. It can also help overcome the increasing drive toward acquisition (a Very Small Animal doesn't need Very Many Things; a society with cares for Virtue must not have an overpowering care for Things).
The modern person tends to overlook the small virtues in favour of Progress, in pursuit of reaching a potential, which `is seen as an increase of tools'. Of course, with more tools we can do more stuff! And with more stuff, we can make yet more tools!
The trend is not only material, but academic and philosophical, too. `Western philosophy, having little connection with everyday living, is (to this observer, at least) comparatively egocentric and impractical, with much Arguing and Theorising, and much bounding back and forth across the intellectual landscape--a pleasant, part-time diversion formulated by and aimed at the likes of Owl, Rabbit, and sometimes Eeyore, but not particularly supportive of the likes of Piglet and Pooh.'
Of course, one has an image to maintain, too. This is the point of existence of some Owls, who must be able to spell TUESDAY to gain respect, even if they postulate that any 'variant' of the spelling is sufficient. (Some lessons are repeated from The Tao of Pooh, because they are Very Important Lessons, and some people won't read both books, being of Very Little Time).
The Te is subtle and compassionate. It is not vocal, it is not loud. Lao-tse wrote, 'The skilled worker leaves no tracks' -- the worker is so at one with nature that no disturbance is made. Certainly making a broad show of Virtue is to cause a disturbance.
And yet, it is vital that virtue be prominent in action and life. What is a Very Small Animal to do?
After much more searching and being, Piglet arrives at the stage where he can finally be positive, to ward off the Eeyore effects, and thus attract positive with positive, attract virtue with virtue, in a low-key and subtle form. And finally, Piglet, a Very Small Animal of seemingly no consequence, attains recognition: `Piglet, Esq. My Dear Sir: The Board of Regents of Sandhurst University wish me to inform you of their desire to grant you an honorary degree of Brave Animal (B.A.). We should be most pleased if you could be present at the awards ceremony, which shall be held on...'
Piglets in the world, unite! Take a lesson, perhaps from one of the most Piglet-y figures of our century, Mohandas Gandhi -- a frail and shy man, frightened by crowds and a Very Small Animal in many ways. But with a great and irresistably subtle Te, virtue, that defeated the greatest empire on earth (a Very Big Animal indeed) without an army, and without backing down.
Every ending is a beginning. Now Piglet's tale is over. Now you must begin.