Taoism (also called Daoism), according to Dictionary.com, is "the philosophical system [emphasis added] evolved by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, advocating a life of complete simplicity and naturalness and of noninterference with the course of natural events, in order to attain a happy existence [emphasis added] in harmony with the Tao."
In simpler words, Taoism is a Chinese philosophical tradition (and not specifically a religion) that encourages harmony in human relationships, for the sole purpose of sustaining peace, elevating communal happiness, and fostering individuality and neutrality (Elizabeth et al, 2014).
In this article, our focus will be on Taoism and Winnie The Pooh. Therefore, to understand this rather unique Chinese philosophy and how it relates to the fictional character, Winnie The Pooh, we're also going to be examining a book by Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, with our primary focus on how Hoff uses some of the characters in his book to represent the philosophy of Taoism.
In doing this, our major aim is to fully understand how these two entirely different, but literarily related phenomena relate and can be totally understood in themselves.
Before we go into that, let us briefly explain Taoism: that is, what are the philosophical ideals embedded in the Chinese tradition of Taoism?
Daoism or Taoism originates from the word, "dao", a Chinese word used in many of the schools of Chinese philosophy to literally mean, "the way". It was also used as a synonym to mean, "method", "process", "path", etc (Zai, 2015).
Taoism is an elusive concept. It is quite difficult to define as a result of the multiple meanings different Chinese philosophical schools attach to it. However, among most of these schools of thought, dogma and judgment are two of the prominent ideals of human reflection that are widely promoted. For most schools, the concept, "tao" or "dao" itself is elusive and must only be realized individually by members. That is, individuals in different schools (or religions, as the case may be) must be left to discover their individual meanings of the abstract term, "tao". The idea behind this philosophy is that "tao" is "the way" (something beyond human perception and experience) that must be discovered individually through some practices, like learning to live, with others, in harmony for the mere sustenance of peace and unity in our society.
Only until recently, Taoism as a philosophical movement did not exist in 4th century China BCE, during the time of the classical Daoist (Confucians, Legalists, Yin-yangs, Mohist, and so on). Taoism can be traced to the Ying-yang (Naturalists) tradition, and, like many of the philosophical schools based on the tenets of Taoism, it was deeply influenced by one of the most ancient Chinese culture scripts, the "I Ching (i.e., Yi Jing). This ancient philosophy text expounds on how to balance human behavior with the "alternating cycles of nature" (Hon, 2019).
Today, Taoism is widely recognized in China, and in other parts of the world, as a religion, as well as a philosophical thought based on the ideals of Zhuangzi and Tao Te Ching and which emphasize on the following ethics, such as simplicity, spontaneity, naturalness, extraordinariness, chastity, and most importantly the "wu we", nonaction or action without action.
Benjamin Hoff's In The Tao of Pooh
In understanding Taoism and Winnie The Pooh, we must first understand the book, The Tao of Pooh. This book was written by Benjamin Hoff to specifically introduce, to the Westerners, the Chinese traditional belief of Taoism. Hoff uses the fictional character, Winnie The Pooh (also called Pooh Bear or simply Pooh), an anthropomorphic teddy bear created by the English writer, Alan Alexander Milne, as a major representation of the principles and ideals of Taoism to his readers.
The book, published in 1982, contains 158 pages and was a New York Bestseller for a duration of 49 weeks.
Hoff opens The Tao of Pooh with the central ideas of renunciation and enlightenment/awakening upon which the philosophies of Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu (one of the famous advocators of Taoism in China) are built. Hoff employs characterization, in his book, to symbolize and emphasize most of the tenets and fundamental principles of the Chinese Taoism (Archer, 2004).
Relationship Taoism and Winnie The Pooh
In Hoff's The Tao of Pooh, the major focus of Taoist fundamental principles presentation is the character, Winnie the Pooh. Pooh Bear, described as a "bear of very little brain, can be viewed as a simple literal representation of one of the Taoist principles, P'u, also known as the "the Uncarved Block". This principle suggests that humans in their simple state are powerful, the power in simplicity. Pooh, in contrast to regular humans, does not seem to have the emotional complexities often expressed in human characters. He is simple—in his "Uncarved" state— but rather extremely powerful.
Another character worthy of note in the book is Owl, who is an opposite representation of Pooh. Owl is particularly concerned with acquiring "book knowledge" rather than experiential knowledge, which, in accordance with the principles of Taoism, is the best knowledge base. He is a seeker of knowledge who is otherwise unconcerned with enlightenment or transfer of his acquired knowledge to others. Eeyore is also another contrastive representation of Pooh. He's pessimistic and only lives life for the moment, and not what could be.
Essentially, Pooh the Bear is the ultimate representation of all Taoist tenets and philosophies. The other characters are an extension of his character and are a representation of what Pooh—as a representation of Taoism—is not. He is a balanced audience with different worldviews. His simplicity, neutrality, and renunciation of the different conventional belief systems that seem to hold the society together are the themes Hoff employs in his character development to present the Taoist belief system to his readers.
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