The Tao of Pooh uses the characters from the stories of Winnie the Pooh to exemplify the teachings of Taoism. Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that focuses on the natural order of the universe as a guide for living, known as The Way. In Taoism, there are no preconceived notions about how life should be and no manipulation of the world to force it into what you want to happen. In the everyday world, people often use knowledge and cleverness to explain and justify behavior, rather than paying attention to the ebb and flow of the power that lives within everything. By giving your mind over to the power held within you and nature, you can find contentment and joy in simply living.
Six principles guide a Taoist life, and many elements from the stories of Pooh articulate the concepts held within them.
The Taoist principle of P’u is translated into the image of the Uncarved Block, meaning that things in their original state carry their own natural power. When you manipulate that thing, or carve the block, you ruin its power.
Pooh is the embodiment of the Uncarved Block because he is simple-minded and doesn’t think too much about what life means or how to change the world to suit his desires. He simply exists in the world and takes life for what it is. The fact that Pooh is the hero of every story, not the other characters who do a great deal of thinking, such as Owl, Rabbit, and Eeyore, legitimizes his behavior.
Cottleston Pie is a song sung by Pooh that expresses the principle of Inner Nature in Taoism. Inner Nature is the thing existing inside everything that makes it unique. The Cottleston Pie Principle has the following three doctrines:
1. Allow things to be what they are.
Everything and everyone has a purpose, and when that purpose is recognized and celebrated, things will happen as they are meant to happen. Ignoring Inner Nature is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Life will be full of struggle and never turn out as it should.
For example, a gnarled tree will be difficult to turn into lumber. If you only see the value of the tree as a means offor building something else, you will be disappointed. If you acknowledge that the unique shape of the tree makes it beautiful and the wide branches are good for shade, you will find value in the tree.
2. Everyone has limitations.
Limitations are only weaknesses if you want them to be. Everyone has things they are not traditionally made for or that they don’t like about themselves. But if you acknowledge them, you can understand how to use them to work for you. In contrast, ignoring your limitations puts your life and those around you in jeopardy.
For example, Tigger wanted to prove that tiggers can do anything, even climb trees better than bears. He climbed to the highest branch, but he was unable to come down. Pooh and the other characters had to risk their own safety to help Tigger get down from the...
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Taoism is a way of living that is free from preconceived notions about how you should be living. The Way of the Taoist is a way guided by intuition, sensitivity to the natural world, and a willingness to be guided by wisdom, rather than knowledge.
Does this type of character sound familiar? In Western culture, one of the best examples of Taoism is Winnie the Pooh. Pooh is a simple bear with simple thoughts. He wanders around happy and open to whatever the day brings without expectations or accumulation of knowledge. He merely is, and it always works out for him.
By looking at the theoretical aspects of Taoism and ancient examples of Taoism at work, as well the adventures of Pooh and his family of friends in the forest, you can gain insight into why the Taoist way may be the most beneficial way to live.
The “Vinegar Tasters” is a popular Chinese painting that helps elucidate how Taoism differs from other belief systems. The painting shows three men surrounding a pot of vinegar. Each man represents one of the three prominent teachings of Chinese wisdom—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism—and the vinegar represents the “essence of life.” Each man...
There are several principles that express the teachings of Taoism, which are exemplified in elements from Winnie-the-Pooh or The House at Pooh Corner. As we’ll see, the main antagonists to the Way of the Tao are knowledge and cleverness. These two characteristics are represented by Owl, Rabbit, and Eeyore and often get in the way of growth and wisdom.
The first is the Taoist concept of P’u (pronounced like Pooh), which says that things in their original state carry their own natural power. This concept is represented as the “Uncarved Block” and is a significant principle of Taoism. Pooh is the epitome of P’u because his simple-minded nature allows him to move through life and accomplish things without trying. He doesn’t know enough to question life or manipulate the world around him. His desires are simple; therefore, he lives simply.
Being simple does not mean being stupid in Taoist culture. It means being wise, which is different from having knowledge or cleverness. The fact that Pooh is always the hero in his stories, rather than the more knowledgeable Owl, Rabbit, and Eeyore, is significant.
An example from one of their adventures helps explain the...
It’s easy to become controlling and want to manipulate all aspects of life as you see fit, but as you’ve learned, this behavior often leads you astray.
Have you ever experienced a time when a situation turned out differently than hoped or in a surprising way? What were the circumstances?
In the world of Pooh, the Cottleston Pie Principle represents the Taoist ideal of Inner Nature, which encompasses the unique aspects inside everything. Everyone and everything has characteristics inside that differentiate them from others, similar to the way that no two snowflakes are the same. Inner Nature is difficult to comprehend through language, but the ideas are more approachable through the meaning held within Pooh’s song Cottleston Pie.
(Shortform note: Although the song is much longer, for the sake of understanding the principle, we’ll only cover the relevant lines.)
Stanza 1—“A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.”
Stanza 2—“A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.”
Stanza 3—“Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.”
The three lines translate into the three main principles of Cottleston Pie.
1. Allow things to be what they are.
Everything on earth, including people, have their own purpose and place in the world. When you listen to your Inner Nature, you’re always where you’re supposed to be. But people often try to fit a square peg in a round hole. When you ignore the power of your purpose, you end up where you don’t belong. Think of all the people stuck in...
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Wu Wei, or the Pooh Way, is one of the fundamental elements of Taoism and most appropriately describes the habits of Pooh. Roughly translated, this principle means “without acting” or acting without expending energy or struggle. Think of Wu Wei as water in a stream naturally gliding over or around obstacles in its way.
Wu Wei occurs when you acknowledge your Inner Nature and work with the rhythm of life. You expend minimal energy and experience no mistakes because nature does not make mistakes. Mistakes happen when you use your knowledge to interfere with the natural path laid before you.
The Pooh Way means allowing each peg to fit inside its corresponding hole. The action is easy because things are taken for what they are. Conversely, knowledge wants to analyze the shape of the holes and pegs to determine which go where. Cleverness will attempt to find imaginative ways to force pegs where they don’t belong. These are the actions are those of someone trying too hard to make something work. When you try too hard, you become tense, confused, and uncomfortable. You’re too much in your head, which is exhausting and inevitably ineffective.
A story from the writings of...
If the Pooh Way is the way of inaction, then the opposite behavior would be overaction. In the world of Pooh, a person who is always moving, always searching for something they don’t have or a way to get more is called a “Bisy Backson,” which translates to “Busy, Back Soon!” A Bisy Backson is someone who is never at peace or content. They’re the ones pacing the floor, fidgeting, or rattling the change in their pockets. They must always be exerting the full capacity of their energy and feel like there’s never enough time.
A story from the writings of Chuang-tse provides a description of a Backson:
A man hated seeing his footprints behind him and his shadow. He thought he could outrun them, so he ran fast. But the footprints and shadow were still there. He reasoned he wasn’t running fast enough and increased his speed. He kept running faster and faster until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died. If he’d simply stopped moving, there would have been no footprints. If he’d stopped in the shade, there would have been no shadow.
So what drives the Bisy Backson? Likely, they expend this energy in search of a reward. Science, business, and religion all perpetuate the...
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. With so much going on, we often forget to stop and smell the roses. How has your busy schedule affected your life?
What are one or two ways you attempt to save time each day?
The Tiddely Pom Principle, named after one of Pooh’s songs, is similar to the idea of the “Snowball Effect.” It relates to taking the first step of believing in yourself to allow the natural momentum of life to build toward happiness and contentment.
We all have something special and useful that we can offer the world. Often, we require some outward result or someone else to show us what our specialness is. But if you want to be the architect of your own life, you must find a way to believe in your power and learn how to wield it. You can use your gifts to make life work for you, rather than striving to be like others or waiting for fate to deliver what you want.
You are less likely to take risks when you don’t understand your power. You will come to unfamiliar circumstances with fear, and nothing new will be accomplished. This disbelief in your power makes you unable to believe in the power of the natural order of life, as well, and you miss out on opportunities to evolve.
An example from the world of Pooh expresses this concept.
Pooh and the gang went on an expedition to find the North Pole. Along the way, Roo fell into a rushing stream and was swept away....
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In Taoism, nothing equals something, and what we actually think of as something is nothing. Taoists call this T’ai Hsu, or “The Great Nothing,” which represents being able to see what’s in front of you when you’re not busy looking for something else. This idea is also known as the empty mind.
When the mind is full, there is no room for what simply is to exist. A full mind cannot hear or see clearly because knowledge and cleverness divert your focus to unnecessary aspects of things. You seek more than what is actually there or what needs to be there, which leads you down a path away from truth. Think of a bird singing. An empty mind hears the bird and enjoys the beautiful sound. A full mind will try to determine what kind of bird it is. Knowledge and cleverness will seek a way to validate the song, rather than simply allow it to exist.
The truth of a thing is found within it. With an empty mind, you can see it, marvel at it, and acknowledge the usefulness of it. This is because emptiness in the mind triggers your spiritual energy. In this place, you are in tune with the natural order of things.
Emptiness is a difficult proposition for many people because it seems...
If, as a collective people, we cannot turn our search for wisdom and contentment away from knowledge and cleverness and toward the natural order of things, we will suffer immensely. The great thinkers of the world have learned too much and lost compassion for others. Knowledge and cleverness have steered us away from reality because of the prominence given to information. We’ve all heard that “Knowledge is power,” and it’s true. Our powerful brains can think us into any idea or feeling we want.
But what has this thinking been used for?...
Now that you’ve learned some of the principles of Taoism, how do they relate to your life?
Is there a square peg in your life you try to put in a round hole? What is it?