Benjamin Hoff,
The Tao of Pooh
(Penguin, 1982)

It's all so simple when you reduce it to the level of Pooh.

Let's face it, it's rarely easy to understand the nuances of religions and philosophies other than one's own. For many people, the beliefs and rituals of faraway lands -- or even of the folks next door -- are a jumble of mixed-up oddities. But understanding a people's system of faith is vital to understanding the people.

In the case of the mysterious Eastern philosophy known as Taoism, Winnie the Pooh is here to help.

The Tao of Pooh boils the Taoist faith down into simple truths, each using Pooh and his friends to explain them in easy, bite-sized pieces. Some of the examples are original to author Benjamin Hoff's book, while others are lifted directly from the original text by A.A. Milne.

Passages from The House at Pooh Corner blend surprisingly well with the tenets of Chinese philosophy, including religious maxims and excerpts from the writings of Chuang-tse. The result is a charming explanation of faith that even Pooh -- a notorious bear of little brain -- can understand, particularly since he exemplifies the Taoist way so perfectly.

Those around him -- Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Tigger and of course Piglet -- are less serene in their activities in the Hundred Acre Wood. Hoff handily explains why they do not fit the Taoist mold, and how Pooh would have handled similar situations. As he explains on the back cover of the book, "While Eeyore frets, and Piglet hesitates, and Rabbit calculates, and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is." There, a lesson learned and you haven't even opened it yet. You'll learn more when Hoff explains the Taoist concept of P'u, the Uncarved Block, and the many facets of Cottleston Pie.

At the same time, Hoff avoids diminishing his message by dumbing it down. While much of the slim book is written in the childlike prose of a Pooh story, it is still surprisingly deep, thought-provoking and grown-up at its root. By book's end, readers should have a fairly solid understanding of basic Taoist principles and how they relate to contemporary life.

This book is a marvel, in that you don't have to embrace its philosophies to learn something from it, and chances are good it will have a positive impact on your life.

by Tom Knapp
14 January 2006

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