Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Hoff’

The Te of Piglet

Posted by nliakos on February 5, 2017

by Benjamin Hoff (Dutton 1992)

This is the sequel to and companion of The Tao of Pooh, which I re-read and blogged about recently. Pooh’s friend Piglet (“a very small animal”) exemplifies virtue in action: “a quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential. . . that comes from the Inner Nature of things. . .”

Say what? Hoff points out that Piglet “agonizes” over everything, unlike Pooh, who simply is.  He represents the underdog, the unfortunate, the outcast, the maligned in society, who traditionally have been appreciated and protected by the Taoists, who see “Heavenly Power at work in the world” as primarily feminine: gentle, humble, generous, subtle–kind of like Piglet, if you think about it. Humble Piglet longs to be important, and at the end of The House at Pooh Corner, he achieves this goal. Hoff points out that of all the characters in Winnie the Pooh, Piglet is the only one to develop into something more than he is at the beginning, which he manages to do by “applying” his smallness for the benefit of others.

Eeyore again personifies the pessimist who is never satisfied. Tigger is the overachiever, the seeker of instant gratification (the typical Westerner). Hoff reminds us that these kinds of personalities will never achieve either wisdom or happiness, because they are incapable of being satisfied with what they have.

Hoff also rants about the media, education, feminism, science and technology,  nuclear devices, Chinese inventions vs. Western ones (the same things, but centuries earlier)–which I could have done without. He mourns the destruction of the environment. He prefers the natural (“material”) world to the artificial (man-made) one. That sounds great, and I am all for living a natural life in theory, but I must confess I like living in a house and sleeping in a bed, and running water, and a lot of things that are completely unnatural, but to which I have become accustomed!

Hoff summarizes Taoist teachings thusly: Observe, Deduce, Apply. Look at things with a fresh eye. See the basic parts of things, connections between things, patterns. Use the natural laws that operate in these things. In this way, Hoff advises, “you will learn the morality of modesty, moderation, compassion, and consideration. . . , the wisdom of seeing things as they are (not of merely collecting ‘facts’ about them), and the happiness of being in harmony with the Way.” So we should see things as they are, without judging them. And like Piglet, we should cultivate in ourselves the power of the Sensitive, the Modest, and the Small.

Taoists take a negative and change it into a positive: “You work with whatever comes your way. If others throw bricks at you, build a house. If they throw tomatoes, start a vegetable stand. You can often change a situation simply by changing your attitude toward it.” Hoff gives Charles Dickens as an example of this. Having experienced poverty and brutality, he created stories which entertained people while gently exposing them to the concept of social injustice; in the end, his readers began to see the poor in a different light, and society began to change for the better.

In the end, as you know if you have read The House at Pooh Corner, Piglet summons the courage to save the day when Owl’s tree falls, trapping Owl, Pooh, and Piglet inside. Later, Pooh composes a Hum to commemorate Piglet’s heroism. Piglet has achieved his wish, but he remains modest and self-effacing.

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The Tao of Pooh

Posted by nliakos on January 2, 2017

by Benjamin Hoff (Dutton 1982)

I read this little gem long before I began learning t’ai chi ch’uan back in 2010, but I remember loving it, so I recently purchased a used copy from ThriftBooks, my latest find on the web (cheap prices, great customer service), and reread it. Using Winnie the Pooh as a kind of model (and Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, and Rabbit as counter-models), Hoff explains the basic tenets of Taoism:

  • The principle of the Uncarved Block: things in their original simplicity are naturally powerful (Winnie the Pooh being “the very Epitome of the Uncarved Block”)
  • Knowledge and education cannot provide deep understanding or happiness.
  • Things are as they are. Don’t try to change them into something they aren’t. (“A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.”) Accept your limitations.
  • Wu Wei, “without doing, causing, or making”: working with natural laws and our own inner nature without stress or struggle. Acting according to circumstances and your own intuition. (This “can be seen in the practice of the Taoist martial art T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the basic idea of which is to wear the opponent out either by sending his energy back at him or by deflecting it away, in order to weaken his power, balance, and position-for-defense. Never is force opposed by force; instead, it is overcome with yielding.”)
  • People who are constantly busy are missing out on a lot. They are never at peace. (Rabbit is an example of this kind of person.)
  • We should believe in our own power and use it, rather than trying to be like others.
  • Caring/Compassion (Tz’u) give us courage and wisdom.
  • Appreciating ourselves for who and what we are brings us contentment; dissatisfaction brings only misery.
  • An empty mind is receptive to what is truly important. “While the Clear mind listens to a bird singing, the Stuffed-Full-of-Knowledge-and-Cleverness mind wonders what kind of bird is singing.” (This one really made me sit up and pay attention, because that’s me: instead of just appreciating the beauty of the fallen leaves in the park, I try to identify the tree they fell from.) Nothing has value.

Throughout, Hoff quotes lengthy passages from Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, invents dialogues with Pooh and among Pooh and his fellow denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, and intersperses it all with E. H. Shepard’s original illustrations from the Pooh books. So the reader of this book had better be familiar with those books.

Hoff followed the Tao of Pooh with The Te of Piglet, which I also own and have read, but it might be time to reread that too. I didn’t like it as much as The Tao of Pooh, though, when I read it before.

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