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HALL OF FAMEon 22 December 2005
`The Tao of Pooh', a fascinating synthesis of Eastern philosophy and Western children's literature, is done largely in conversational style between Benjamin Hoff, erstwhile writer, photographer and musician with a penchant for forests and bears. Thus, Pooh makes a natural philosophical companion. But, more than a companion, Pooh is, for Hoff, the very embodiment of the Tao.
`It's about how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances!' I yelled.
'Have you read it?' asked Pooh.
This is two-way book: to explain Taoism through Winnie-the-Pooh, and to explain Winnie-the-Pooh (not always an easy task itself) through Taoism. Taoism, more academically, is a religion indigenous to China, built upon teachings primarily of Lao-tzu, with significant influence from Buddha and K'ung Fu-tse. It is in the teachings of harmony and emptiness and being of Lao-tzu, however, that Taoism draws its meaning, believing that earth is a reflection of heaven, and that the world `is not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons.'
As with many religions, this one took various guises: philosophic, monastic, structural, folk. But through them all, the imperceptible Tao, the essence of being, essentially undescribable, shapes the universe continually out of chaos, with a yin and yang alteration of perpetual transformation, in which nothing remains eternal save the Tao.
This makes Pooh a perfect example and exemplar. `For the written character P'u, the typical Chinese dictionary will give a definition of 'natural, simple, plain, honest.' P'u is composed of two separate characters combined: the first, the 'radical' or root-meaning one, is that for tree or wood; the second, the 'phonetic' or sound-giving one, is the character for dense growth or thicket.'
Through semantic changes, perfectly in keeping with the Tao, we find that Pooh, or P'u, is actually a tree in the thicket, or a wood not cut, or finally, an Uncarved Block. And this, of course, is what pure being is.
Pooh, in his journey through the Tao, with the Tao, of the Tao (it is a hard one to nail down, isn't it?) encounters many. This includes Eeyore, the terminally morose, who represents Knowledge for the sake of Complaining about Something. It also includes Owl, the Western successor of the 'Confucianist Dedicated Scholar', who believes he has all truth as his possession, and studies Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge (even if it isn't always the best knowledge). `You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.'
Of course, all of the knowledge of the Owl, accompanied by the variable helpfulness of Rabbit who cannot stop activity in favour of just being something, couldn't figure out what had become of Christopher Robin, who left the Very Clear Note on his door:
GON OUT
BACKSON
BISY
BACKSON
Who or what is a Backson? Backsons are those people trying to outrun their shadows and their footprints, not realising that to stand still and rest in the shade defeats the power of both. And of course, the Bisy Backson is never at a standstill. And of course, one cannot experience the Tao, be the Tao, know the Tao (well, you get the Tao) if one is perpetually on the run.
The Bisy Backson is always
GONE OUT
BACK SOON
BUSY
BACK SOON
or, maybe GONE SOON. Anywhere. Anywhere he hasn't been. Anywhere but where he is. Of course, the idea of not going anywhere is abhorrent to him, and there is no concept of being able to do nothing.
Nothingness frees the mind. Nothing works like nothing. For there is nothing to distract you. Nothing to get in the way. Nothing to hinder you. Nothing means anything.
Now, read that last sentence again, carefully.
Nothing means anything.
Any thing is by definition itself, but when it is no thing, it can become potentially any thing.
'Oh, I see,' said Pooh.
Wisdom lies in the way of Pooh, who shirks the busy-ness of Rabbit, the intellectual hubris of Owl, and the doom-saying of Eeyore. Pooh simply is, and enjoys being who he is. Pooh is a Master, who knows the Way. Learn from him. Learn to be with him.
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