Taoism – as lived by Pooh and Piglet
When considering current (and past) events, it’s quite important that we do not judge the behaviour of our nations too harshly. They are not evil, just immature and not yet well educated. They are like children playing, harsh and brutal at times but capable of social evolution. Nations, like children (and adults!), still need to learn caring adult behaviour.
It’s important that each one of us conceive of ourselves, of all of humanity, as a species emerging from its childhood and moving toward more mutually supportive, adult behaviour. Remember, what you visualise and expect has a powerful effect upon the world you experience. Your vision will assist all of us to grow up in consciousness.
One wonders, however, if there might be some effective way to accelerate the maturation process of the nations and governments of our planet. The need is large. If we continue in the direction we are currently headed, we may well destroy much of the life of earth and make it, for our descendents, more of a trash heap than a lovely place to live.
Hopi prophecy foretold that the white people would bring the “gourd of ashes” that would create great destruction and loss of human life upon the earth. They believe that gourd of ashes refers to the atomic and nuclear bombs. Speaking to the United Nations, Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya said, “If you, the nations of this Earth, create another great war, the Hopi believe we humans will burn ourselves to death with ashes.
Various American Indian tribes (Cherokee, Lakota Sioux, Hopi) have prophecies relating that when our materialistic, greedy ways have gone too far and thereby endanger the health of Mother Earth, a rainbow family or rainbow tribe would arise. This group of “Rainbow Warriors” will defend Mother Earth from the ravages to which she is being subjected.
Taking up the flag of this cause, the environmental activist group, Greenpeace, named one of their ships “Rainbow Warrior”.
The opposing viewpoints of the establishment versus the Rainbow Warriors; the strict, formal, traditional, greedy, self-righteous, earth-polluting ruling class versus the caring, loving, nurturing, protecting simple working people are well depicted in the Chinese traditions of the Confucionists versus the Taoists. It is always challenging to objectively observe oneself or one’s own culture. By looking at similar conflicts in another culture, perhaps we can recognise ourselves and thereby obtain novel insights as to how to aright our ways.
After thousands of years of the rise and fall of philosophies and their followers, two Chinese traditions survived the test of time and are still active today, the Confucionists and the Taoists. Nowhere are they as well-described as by Benjamin Hoff in The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet.
Below, the story is told using extensive quotes from these two books. In classic Taoist style, Hoff uses storytelling to scathingly reveal the blunders and misuse of power by both individuals and especially by the ruling class in American and in Western society in general. And he uses Taoist principles to reveal a vision and provide practical solutions to the woes of modern civilisation. For brevity, I’ve left out many of the extremely humourous and illustrative stories, so be sure to read the original as well.
Near the beginning of The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff describes the difference between the three main philosophies of China by using a famous, often copied, work of Chinese art: The Vinegar Tasters.
We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped his finger into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man’s face shows his individual reaction. Since the painting is allegorical, we are to understand that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters, but are instead representatives of the “Three Teachings” of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism. The first has a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression, but the third man is smiling.
To K’ung Fu–tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, he emphasised reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth.
Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K’ung Fu-tse: “If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit.” This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.
To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to transcend “the world of dust” and reach Nirvana, literally a state of “no wind.” Although the essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism considerably after it was brought in from its native India, the devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.
To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated in his Tao Te Ching (DAO DEH JEENG), the “Tao Virtue Book,” earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws – not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.”
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Written 360 B.C.E
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Available to read on-line here: