The Pooh books of A.A. Milne had their influence on me when I was slipping into being a teenager. They were not books of my childhood. A girl friend who I wanted to be a girlfriend was a big fan of Pooh and so I started reading them. My relationship with Milne has lasted a lot longer than my relationship with that girl.
I always thought there was something wise in the words of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, and their friends. The Tao of Pooh was published after I had stopped being a student in classrooms, but it would have been on my bookshelf in those days. When it was published (1982), I was married, teaching, and a few years from having my own children. I had rediscovered Pooh because the books were also a favorite of my wife-to-be. It was also a time that I was rediscovering Buddhism which I had started to study in college. This book about Pooh’s “philosophy” by Benjamin Hoff is an introduction to the Eastern belief system of Taoism intended for Westerners.
The book does use the Milne characters’ words but more so it allegorically uses the characters to illustrate the basic principles of Taoism.
Tao (or Dao) is a Chinese word meaning the “way” or “path” and sometimes more loosely “doctrine.”
I like the story (hopefully true) that Hoff wrote the book at night and on weekends while working as a tree pruner in the Portland (Oregon) Japanese Garden in Washington Park. Pruning and weeding my garden are two of my favorite practical meditations.
Hoff later wrote The Te of Piglet, a companion book – both are available in one volume.
But Hoff’s relationship with publishers was far less pleasant than a day in the Hundred Acre Wood.
In 2006, he denounced the publishing industry and announced his resignation from book-writing. He has published five books including The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow which won the American Book Award in 1988.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” – A.A. Milne
The character of Winnie-the-Pooh is a good personification of wu wei. Don’t confuse this Taoist concept of “effortless doing” with laziness. Imagine if you could do your work “effortlessly.”
Pooh also illustrates for us pu. This Chinese word means “unworked wood” or “simple” and was an early Taoist (or Daoist) metaphor for the natural state of humanity. Pooh is an exemplar of this concept of being open to, but unburdened by, experience.
Owl and Rabbit are characters that are quite the opposite. They over-complicate and over-think situations and problems.
Eeyore (who I fully identified with for a long time) is a pessimist. always complaining and fully burdened.
Piglet: “How do you spell ‘love’?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”
― A.A. Milne
The Te of Piglet is the 1992 companion book to The Tao of Pooh. It was also a bestseller. In this book, Piglet acts as our model of living Te.
The Chinese concept of Te, which means “power” though often interpreted as “virtue,” is particularly suited to Piglet in the Taoist concept of “virtue of the small.” This second volume is really an elaboration on the first book’s introduction to Taoism, so they should be read together.
Piglet has power, though small, because he has a great heart or, in Taoist terms, Tz’u.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” – A.A. Milne
The Hundred Acre Wood of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is based on the Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England. Milne’s country home was just north of Ashdown Forest. That Wood is one that young Christopher Robin Milne would explore.
I am still wandering in my own One Hundred and Fifty-Seven Acre Wood on a regular basis. I can be found there practicing (rather badly) Qigong and Tai Chi and trying to identify plants, playing Pooh Sticks in a creek and picking up plastic bottles and trash so that I leave the Wood cleaner than when I entered.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – A.A. Milne
I have learned that Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is “not a name for a thing” but the underlying natural order of the Universe. That order is perhaps impossible to describe as it is peskily non-conceptual. But it must exist.
Laozi also said that the Tao is “eternally nameless” in a world filled with named things that are manifestations of the Tao. The universe is a confusing place to wander.
“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” – A.A. Milne