Posted by: rationalpsychic | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Tao of Pooh vs. a Chicken-Hearted Congress

Here’s a book I haven’t read in about twenty years: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Some books are interesting and worthwhile to reread in order to find out how much you’ve forgotten. I found that Hoff’s book was worth my time to read because of how many things that seemed like hermeneutics now seem as though they are a part of my body. Rereading also points to other things that would be valuable to add to the “body” of my knowledge.

Calligraphy by Zhao Yizhou

把酒臨風 - Drinking with the Wind by Zhao Yizhou

In Hoff’s book, he uses the characters created by A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, and so on, to illustrate the Tao and the different workaday approaches to understanding the big concepts of Knowledge, Existence, and even the Smart Way of Doing Things, as they relate to, or are different from, the Tao.

In the time of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and other early Taoist writers, the popular alternative to Taoist thought was Confucianism. Confucianism started out as a way of setting humanity’s doings on Earth in harmony with the way things were done in Heaven by the Jade Emperor and his court.

A noble goal which became a bit bogged down and clogged up by the addition of rites and routines, traditions and ceremonies that did more to describe the actions humans needed to take to do everything “correctly” but without so much thought as to why these things needed to be done.

Here, in modern America, we seem to be confronted by the same types of “correct” ways of doing things with little thought of whether the underlying principles of this nation and, indeed, humanity, are being met or advanced. The cost of doing things “correctly” is that we are often unable to see through to actions which have not been tried before.

We are concerned that the cost of the stimulus package is too large. Yet, if the money isn’t spent, where will the cash come from to move this large economy from a point of stagnation to one in which the flow of money is a rushing stream reaching everyone in the country (can’t comment on the Tao without using a water image, you know)?

In Minnesota, talk of balancing our state’s budget revolves around cutting health and human services. Yet, if we cut aid to people in need, how will our activities end up helping people who are presently in need? It seems as if our Governor and legislature are willing to sacrifice the present health people (which will have larger cost effects in the future) in order to help them recover financially at some undefined point in the future. The thought must be that if we help the poor recover financially, they will be able to pay the accumulating costs rung up by the neglect of their health during the recession.

I think that even when we talk about costs that most Americans are willing to pay for—such as infrastructure—we tend to think of getting back to where we were: roads that are in repair, maintaining bridges, etc.

It’s possible that I’ve had too much education myself and haven’t passed the test of Common Sense, but I wonder why we aren’t just as concerned with our public money being spent to move ahead in the area of green technology or buying a better power grid which could then make additional wind, solar and tidal power investments more practical.

It seems like now is the time to do this because, I ask you, what will be the conventional wisdom in a year or two if we get out of this mess? It will be to recoup losses we’re incurring now, won’t it? No one will be wanting to stick their necks out and buy into new, less proven technologies. We may find ourselves stuck with additional coal plants but no carbon sequestration technology to help us stay up on the necessary steps to reduce global warming.

Can you already hear the voices of the short-term thinkers? Although I am putting words in their mouths, I think that it’s a legitimate interpretation of their criticisms and actions: “We don’t have the money to spend today which could ensure saving the world for tomorrow.” Conclusion: When the costs mount as a result of increased drought in the Midwest and attempts to rebuild ports on the coasts where ocean levels are rising, we will continue falling behind in efforts to stop global warming. We will, however, conveniently be able to blame the decisions made today.

While the above may seem to be very non-Taoist in that I am suggesting taking more vigorous action there is also a part of the Tao which shows its value by cutting through formality and convention and going to the heart of the matter.

This post is long enough. I think that if I were to give an illustration of how activity and the Tao are not incompatible, I’ll need to do it in a separate post.

After using the calligraphic example here to illustrate the principle of the Tao, I wrote to Mr. Zhao Yizhou’s website to ask forgiveness. Within 24 hours, I received a very gracious reply from his agent, Mr. Mischa Altmann. He gave me permission to post an example of Mr. Zhao’s calligraphy and some reasonable guidelines to follow.

More examples of Mr. Zhao’s contemporary calligraphy can be found at his website. I know very little about this art form but I was immediately touched by the marriage of delicacy and an unflinching understanding of the individual floating through a modern landscape. I think he works from a perspective of bringing his motivation or the force to move the brush out of the Tao, much as his ancestors in the tradition would have. He then creates a reflection of humanity in a contemporary setting while demonstrating a respect for the calligraphic tradition. Even if you think you have no interest in Chinese calligraphy, you owe it to yourself to take a look.



  1. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  2. woah woah woah, I didn’t even read anything after you said some books are interesting enough to reread. SOME books?! Does this mean you haven’t read a book more than twice?! Because I’m pretty sure this means I have to disown you! I will not lie when I say that I have read a certain book 46 times (I’m not exactly proud of the book however). To me this says you have no passion for what you read, you’re just reading for reading’s sake! All I can say is shame on you!
    p.s. I’m only skimming over your blog because it appears as though everything is about poetry, and I have a strong distaste for poetry. This topic would be a fine future e-mail debate I think.

    • I’m rereading Ball Four for the ninth or tenth time. I admit to being greedy and wanting to read EVERYthing (in my new and improved America, the back of every cereal box would have to be certified “readable and interesting/entertaining” before it could hit the shelves of Cub Foods). That leaves me with less time for rereading, which does make one a happier person, I’ll grant you. I’m planning on rereading The Alchemist by Coelho this spring. Garcia Marquez, Rushdie, Kafka and Hesse should follow shortly after. Thanks for the reminder!

      What kind of book gets your attention so solidly that you read it 46 times?

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