“I would certainly recommend The Tao of Pooh to anyone looking for a beginner’s guide to Eastern philosophy,”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Written by Benjamin Hoff and published in 1982, The Toa of Pooh aims to give Western readers an introduction into the Eastern belief system of Taoism by having the author explain the various beliefs and concept to Winnie the Pooh and his friends, while often using them and their characteristics to highlight certain ideas and philosophies found in Taoism.
For most, diving into the rich belief system of Taoism will seem like a daunting task, I’d certainly shirk at the idea, but The Tao of Pooh manages to give readers an insight into Taoism without bombarding them with overly complicated stories, dates, and philosophies which, satisfyingly, is a very Tao way of doing things.
The idea of breaking down a complex topic such as an entire religion by explaining it to beloved children’s characters is certainly a novel one, and this is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to learn more about Eastern philosophies.
Despite being non-religious myself, I have always been interested in theology and I’ve always been particularly attracted to Eastern philosophies. While I’ve read a number of books on Buddhism, Taoism was quite new to me and, while I don’t go along with all the points this book made, I did at the very least find it interesting, and there were certainly more than a few nuggets of wisdom I was left to ponder on.
While I did overall enjoy my time with The Tao of Pooh, I will admit that I took issue with certain points the book makes. I understand that I’m unlikely to agree with every point a entire religion makes, but there were a handful of moments where I couldn’t help but feel Hoff began to feel biased towards saying Taoism’s way of looking at the world is the correct way, and that those who choose another path are making a mistake. Sure, much of Taoism revolves around not trying to resist the flow of the world, and there’s certainly a lot to be said for that, but at certain points I couldn’t help but feel Hoff came across as somewhat arrogant in how he presented Taoist ways of thinking.
For instance, there is an element of Taoism that encourages people not to over think things. There’s certainly a lot of wisdom to be had in this way of thinking, and many problems, slights and worries are indeed the product of an overworked mind. However, a few times Hoff seemed to be saying that this means we shouldn’t strive to understand the world but simply go with it. He goes into more detail by saying that, if you asked a scientist why birds fly South during the winter, they’d say it’s just their instinct, the implication being that scientists explain without actually knowing. I have to take issue with this as Hoff runs the risk of seeming quite anti-intellectual, if you can call knowing why birds fly South in winter to be the mark of an intellectual. I’m all for going with the flow, but were it not for curious minds investigating and examining the world around them, then we’d be in a much sorrier state today. To answer the question, birds fly South in Winter because they would freeze or starve to death if they didn’t.
Despite the previous paragraph, I did find The Tao of Pooh to be an enjoyable read and there were plenty of good points made by Hoff that did give me pause for thought. Much of the issues we face in our lives are, at the very least, exacerbated by our unquiet minds and, much like Buddhism, Taoism can be an excellent way to tune out unwanted thoughts. I particularly enjoyed one chapter which pointed out that everyone is useful in some way, and that those of us who might feel or appear incompetent or unskilled are simply applying ourselves in the wrong way, liker trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s nice to be reminded that just because you’re not on a six figure salary or the CEO of a company, doesn’t diminish your worth, especially in these modern times.
I would certainly recommend The Tao of Pooh to anyone looking for a beginner’s guide to Eastern philosophy, though I would encourage readers to challenge any points they’re not totally sold on and not to take everything at face value. The idea of breaking down a complex topic by having the writer explain it to the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood is certainly an inspired way to break things down and I would like to see more books tackled in a similar manner.
Added 12th February 2020