Monthly Archives: November 2014


In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff utilizes characters from Winnie the Pooh to attempt to explain the fundamentals of Taoism.

By observing Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, and Pooh, it is easy to see that the actions of the character Pooh best describe Taoism. One of the most important principles of Taoism used in the book is the un-carved block. Hoff uses the characters from A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books to illustrate and explain the basics of Taoist philosophy, showing how Pooh himself is the epitome of the Taoist thinker, enjoying life with simplicity but not stupidity.

The author explains that Taoists try to appreciate, learn from, and work with whatever happens in life, whereas, in contrast, Confucianism attempts to impose order, and Buddhists see life’s tribulations as obstacles to be overcome before achieving Nirvana. He describes how Tao is the Way, which can be understood but not defined, and illustrates key elements of Tao such as P’u, the uncarved block, and Wu wei, going with the flow. In case you should think that this book is altogether too simplistic, I should add that Hoff touches on the writings of Lao-Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching), Chuang-tse, the poet Li Po, and other Taoist philosophers, giving his own interpretations of the passages. Hoff shows how Pooh best explains the Uncarved Block. The principle of the Uncarved Block is that things that are simple contain their own natural power, power that can be spoiled and lost when overcomplicated.

Using the characters he shows how our lives can be sabotaged by errors in thinking and how it can be prevented. Hoff uses Rabbit to show when you are racing through life you can miss out on the valuable things that make up life itself. We seem to jeopardize ourselves by thinking too much of the self. Owl is used to show that when trying to find underlying meaning for everything you overcomplicate it. Hoff uses Piglet in the sense that Piglet is always scared and as a result scared to try things, if Piglet wouldn’t dwell in worry, he would accomplish more, and find happiness .Sometimes staying less in your head is an advantage. Hoff goes on to show that the character of Eeyore is always depressed and dwells in negativity. If he abstained from this life would be completely different. Now finally we come to Pooh. The author exemplifies how Pooh doesn’t stay in worry, nor is he over-analytical, he stays in the spontaneous. As a result of staying in the way” he finds everything goes its own course and works out as a result of his non-action”.

Pooh goes with the flow of nature and doesn’t interfere. He leads a life of simplicity and one free of worry. This is a perfect reflection of someone who follows the Tao. I think this is more or less a basic explanation of Tao and how to apply it to our lives by modeling out behavior in a likewise manner. There aren’t any obscure references here only face value application. The use of the cartoon characters that we all are familiar with is a very useful strategy. It is a way of explanation that transcends all racial, sexual, gender barriers. For example, we won’t try too hard or explain too much, because that would only Confuse things, and because it would leave the impression that it was all only an intellectual idea that could be left on the intellectual level and ignored. He uses each chapter of the book to teach a new principle of the Uncarved Block of Taoism.

In each chapter he tells a Winnie the Pooh story and then explains how it relates to Taoism. Hoff writes a chapter teaching how cleverness does not always help, but it sometimes destroys things and is the reason that things do not work out. Hoff teaches that the Taoist believe that if you understand Inner Nature it is far more effective than knowledge or cleverness. He uses a poem called Cottleston Pie”. The poem explains how things just are as they are and how people try to violate these principles with their everyday lives.

There is also the story of Tigger and Roo.

Tigger tries to be what he is not and as a result everything goes wrong and he always ends up getting stuck in a tree. Hoff also explains that working with Nature is best in the sense that you do not screw things up with a story about Eeyore getting stuck in the river. Everybody had been trying to think of clever ways to get Eeyore out of the river when Pooh said that if they just dropped a big stone into it, then it would just wash Eeyore ashore. He did it without even thinking, because thinking would complicate things, and of course it worked. Pooh worked with Nature and things worked out for him. As you can see, Hoff uses many different Winnie the Pooh stories to teach the uncomplicated ways of the Taoist. The only argument that Hoff really presents is whether or not the Taoist way is the best way and whether or not it really works. When you look at it from the point of Pooh and the stories he is a part of, you are able to see how easily the Taoist ideology fits snuggly into Pooh and his world. Obviously if you do not believe that cleverness and knowledge are not important, then you will not agree with anything Hoff is saying, but he makes you believe in showing you how it always works out with Pooh. He argues whether or not cleverness and knowledge really are important. For example, it can be explained in the story when Eeyore gets stuck in the river.

Clever ways do not work, but Pooh’s simple way always seem to work surprisingly well. Hoff also argues how the Taoist believes that over exhausting ourselves needlessly only works against us. He uses Rabbit to explain this. Quite simply, Rabbit is always in a hurry, he is the very face of stress itself. Hoff explains these so called creatures like a shadow. Shadows are always rushing along. They are also always trying to lose their shadows. They try to run from them not realizing that they cannot, that they are one and the same.


Recent Readerlings

The Tao of Pooh is a book written by Benjamin Hoff. The book is intended as an introduction to the Eastern belief system of Taoism for Westerners. It allegorically employs the fictional characters of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories to explain the basic principles of philosophical Taoism. Hoff later wrote The Te of Piglet, a companion book.

Hoff wrote the book at night and on weekends while working as a tree pruner in the Portland Japanese Garden in Washington Park.

The book starts with a description of the vinegar tasters, which is a painting portraying the three great eastern thinkers, Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi over a vat of vinegar. Each tasting the vinegar of life,” Confucius finds it sour, the Buddha finds it bitter, but Laozi, the traditional founder of Taoism, finds it satisfying. Then the story unfolds backing up this analogy.

Hoff presents Winnie-the-Pooh and related others from A. A. Milne’s stories as characters that interact with him while he writes The Tao of Pooh, but also quotes excerpts of their tales from Milne’s actual books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, in order to exemplify his points. Hoff uses many of Milne’s characters to symbolize ideas that differ from or accentuate Taoist tenets. Winnie-the-Pooh himself, for example, personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of effortless doing,” and pu, the concept of being open to but unburdened by experience. In contrast, characters like Owl and Rabbit over-complicate problems, often over-thinking to the point of confusion, and Eeyore pessimistically complains and frets about existence, unable to just be. Hoff regards Pooh’s simpleminded nature, unsophisticated worldview and instinctive problem-solving methods as conveniently representative of the Taoist philosophical foundation. The book also incorporates translated excerpts from various prominent Taoist texts, from authors such as Laozi and Zhuangzi.

The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 49 weeks.

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Why I Joined Amnesty International

This evening I put forward my membership to Amnesty International UK. I do not want a big pat on the back, but, I would like to explain a bit about my motivation for doing so.

Amnesty work to protect men, women and children wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

As a global movement of over seven million people, Amnesty International is the world’s largest grassroots human rights organisation. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilise the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world. We received the Nobel Peace Prize for our life-saving work.

In October 1960 a young barrister got on the London Underground, opened his paper and read a short article about a couple of students in Portugal who had been imprisoned for seven years after raising their glasses in a toast to freedom.

Sounds uneventful, but this was to become one of the most significant moments in the global movement for human rights. That barrister was called Peter Benenson, and his outrage at the imprisonment of the two men led to the birth of Amnesty International.

Now, over 50 years and a Nobel Peace Prize later, we continue to campaign for justice where ever it has been denied. We protect people, defending their right to freedom, to truth, and to dignity. We do this by investigating and exposing abuses where they happen. By galvanising our global movement of seven million people to intervene where individuals are at risk and by educating future generations so that one day the dream of human rights for all becomes a reality.

Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us.

But the traumatic events of World War Two dramatically brought home that these rights are not always universally respected. So, in 1948, representatives from the 50 member states of the United Nations came together under the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt to devise a list of all the rights that everybody across the world should enjoy.

This became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – thirty rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. 60 years on and the rights they included continue to form the basis for all international human rights law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article one? We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas and we should all be treated the same way.

The rights included in the following 29 articles include the right to asylum, the right to freedom from torture, the right to free speech and the right to education.

No one can take these rights and freedoms away from us. They belong to everybody.

This document remains fundamental to our work. It provides the bedrock of most of our campaigning, and it gives a route to holding authorities to account when rights are abused.

The fundamentals:

Some key qualities of these rights were also agreed by the international community. It was agreed that human rights must be recognised as:

  • Universal — they belong to all of us, to everybody in the world
  • Inalieable — they cannot be taken away from us
  • Indivisible and interdependent — governments should not be able to pick and choose which are respected

Why should you care about human rights?

Human rights are not just about the law. They are also about the decisions we make and situations we experience on a daily basis.

If we feel annoyed with something a politician does, most of us wouldn’t think twice about talking about it with our friends online or in a pub. But when you do, you are exercising a human right – your right to free speech.

That’s the thing about human rights. When they are being respected they go almost unnoticed. Most children in the UK don’t wake up on a school day celebrating their ability to exercise their right to education. But those who have fled countries in which they were denied the right to go to school may well appreciate it that bit more.

We often take our human rights for granted, because they are based on principles that are intuitive – dignity, fairness, equality, respect and autonomy. More often than not, it is only when our rights are being violated that we stand up and take notice.

Unfortunately human rights abuse is rife — thousands of people across the world are denied a fair trial, tortured and imprisoned because of what they think or believe.

Civilians are targeted at times of war. Children are forced to fight. Rape is used as a weapon.

That is why it is important that we do not take human rights for granted. And why it is important that they are enshrined in international law, so that we can hold states and people to account when they commit atrocities.

Stand up for human rights today.


Thoughts On Wu Wei

text-align: justify;”>In Chinese culture, the benefit of not trying too hard—of going with the flow” or being in the zone”—has long been appreciated by me. The jazz great Charlie Parker is said to have advised as­piring musicians, Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.” This same openness is also crucial in acting and other performing arts, which fundamentally rely on spontaneity and seemingly effortless responsiveness. A stand-up comedian who is not in the zone is not funny, and an actor who is not fully inhabiting his or her role comes across as wooden and fake. Explaining how to prepare for a role, the actor Michael Caine cautions that simply memorizing the script and trying to act it out step by step will never work; when it comes time for your line, the only way to bring it off authentically is to not try to remember it. You must be able to stand there not thinking of that line. You take it off the other actor’s face. He is presumably new-minting the dialogue as if he himself just thought of it by listening and watching, as if it were all new to him, too. Otherwise, for your next line, you’re not listening and not free to respond naturally, to act spontaneously.”

Getting the mind to shut off and allow the body to do its thing is clearly a challenge. An even bigger problem—and one we encounter much more often—is the trick of getting your mind to let go of itself. In our everyday lives, this tension is perhaps most intensely distilled in the throes of insomnia. You have a big meeting tomorrow and need to be at the top of your game, so you go to bed early and try to relax into sleep, only to find yourself tortured by incessant thoughts, helpless in the grip of the restless monkey-brain. Counting sheep just makes it worse, no position seems com­fortable; you feel in your bones how tired you really are, but how do you make your brain shut off? _RELAX! _you think to yourself, but it’s no use.

Insomnia is a fairly simple case, but the problem also manifests itself in more complex—typically social—situations, where the impact is far greater. Consider dating. Anyone who has ever been single for a significant amount of time is familiar with the never rains but it pours” phenomenon: you can sometimes go for long pe­riods of being miserably alone, desperately trying to meet some­one but having absolutely no luck. Then something happens, an encounter occurs, you go out, you have a great time, and suddenly it’s raining women or men (or both, if you’re so inclined). Attrac­tive potential partners smile at you on the street, strike up conver­sations with you in cafés. The previously inaccessible beauty at the video store counter—who in the midst of your dry stretch would never even make eye contact with you—suddenly shows an inter­est in your predilection for Wim Wenders films, and the next thing you know you have plans for that Friday (a Friday!) to watch Wings of Desire and get an Indian take-away. (This example is in no way autobiographical.) You sniff your clothes trying to detect any special pheromones you might be emitting, but if the phenomenon is bio­chemically based your senses are too dull to detect it. Bathing ap­pears to have no negative effect.

Everyone enjoys these periods of deluge, but once you’re back in a dry spell the pattern seems wasteful and fundamentally unjust. There are too many potential dates when you can’t enjoy them all, and none when they are really needed. Serious reflection—and during a drought you have a lot of time to reflect—suggests a possi­ble reason for the pattern, or at least why it is so hard to consciously alter: the best way to get a date seems to be to not want to get a date. The problem is that it’s hard to know what to do with this knowl­edge. How do you make yourself not want something that you actu­ally _do _want?

For the most part, we are preoccupied with effort, the importance of _working, striving, _and trying. Three-year-olds attend drill sessions to get an edge on admission to the best primary school and then grow into hypercompetitive high school students popping Ritalin to enhance their test results and keep up with a brutal schedule of after-school activities. Both our personal and our professional lives increasingly revolve around a relentless quest for greater efficiency and higher productivity, crowding out leisure time, vacation, and simple un­structured pleasures. The result is that people of all ages spend their days stumbling around tethered umbilically to their smartphones, immersed in an endless stream of competitive games, e-mails, texts, tweets, dings, pings, and pokes, getting up too early, staying up too late, in the end somehow falling into a fitful sleep illuminated by the bright glow of tiny LCD screens.

Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of con­scious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference. The result is that we too often devote ourselves to pushing _harder _or moving _faster _in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive. This is because the problem of chok­ing or freezing up extends far beyond sports or artistic performance. A politician who is not, at some level, truly relaxed and sincere while giving a speech will come off as stiff and uncharismatic—a problem that plagued U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In the same way, a real love of reading, a genuine commitment to learning, and a deep curiosity about the world cannot be forced. Like that most elu­sive of modern goals, happiness, spontaneity seems to be as tricky to capture and keep as the hot hand in football. Consciously try to grab it and it’s gone.



Waiting For The Tea To Brew

Enforced idleness is a rare treat.

Those brief moments in life when for one reason or another you are forced to just stop and think. In waiting rooms, queuing, for example, or even just sitting on a train. Waiting for the tea to brew is one such moment. It doesn’t offer enough time to do’ anything else and you just have to sit and wait, salivating at the prospect of your golden brew.

If you do attempt to do anything in the time your tea takes to brew you always take too long or too short a time to do it, leaving the tea too strong or too weak. The teapot is fully aware of this fact. The only way to gauge the time perfectly is to sit, do nothing and watch. Only by handing over your full attention to the pot will you be able to relish the taste at the appointed time.

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