Institute of Religious Studies, Sichuan University
mankind entered the 21st century, a series of problems related to
population, resources, environment and development appeared or intensified
worldwide. How to tackle such problems has been a great challenge facing
numerous countries and the world as a whole. Since its inception over 1800 years
ago as China's indigenous religion, and through its history of interaction with
Buddhism, Confucianism, and other religious sects, Daoism has evolved a system
of concepts and practices uniquely relevant to the relationship between man and
nature. Daoism contains, in its creeds, tenets, and practices, many ideas
compatible with the concept of environment protection.
major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way
nature works and the way man thinks.” (Gregory Bateson, 1976). In
technocratic-industrial society, nature is treated as mere instrument for other
ends, a resource for physical wealth deprived its own value. Today many people
are aware of that something is drastically wrong in our attitude toward nature.
Chinese Daoism rejects such idea that humans have dominion over the earth and
its other inhabitants.(Richard and David, 1988) Nature in Daoism is something of
great value in and for itself. In pursuing sustainable development and
preserving environment, mankind must abandon the traditional development road
that has overemphasized economic profit without considering the supporting
capacity of the environment. As we attempt to satisfy the present generation, we
should leave space for the development of future generations. In this regard,
our forefathers have left us much heritage, of which the Daoist notions of the
“Dao follows nature”, " Unity of Heaven and Man " (tianren
heyi), "The Heavenly Way is Non-interference" (tiandao wuwei), and "the three realms exploit each other,"
(sancai xiangdao) may be worthy of our
is the transcendent concept of Daoism. It is a complex of natural principles,
methods, way, path and an inexhaustible source. It is indefinable yet
spontaneously regulating the natural cycle of the universe, ineffable but
present in all things. All things originate from "Dao", and
"Dao" is the basis of the existence of all beings. In the Daodejing,
it is said: "Dao begets one. One begets two. Two begets three. Three begets
all things." In the Immortals’ Book
of Salvation of the World by the Manifestation of Dao from the Supreme Concourse
(Taishang huadao dushi xianjing), a Daoist scripture, it is stated
that Dao is the Mother of Heaven and Earth and of Yin-Yang, and the origin of
the Five Agents and of the myriad beings. Man and all other beings
are born from the same primordial Breath (Qi), so that all beings
emanate from Dao and obtain their essence from Dao. Meng Anpai proposed in his Daojiao
yishu that all sentient beings and even fruits, woods and stones partook of
the essence of Dao .
Similarly, the Book of Western Ascension
(Xisheng jing) considers that Dao not
only exists in me, it exists in all things.
All things in the world are inseparable and interdependent. Thus a Daoist poem
sings that "Heaven and Earth have the same roots as me, all things share
the same body with me. The human body is the micro-cosmos, Heaven and Earth are
In the Book of the Hidden Talisman of the
Yellow Emperor (Huangdi yinfu jing ),
people are instructed to follow the heavenly Dao, as it is said that "Both
birth and death are the ways of Dao. Heaven and Earth are exploited by the
myriad beings; the myriad beings are exploited by human beings and human beings
are exploited by the myriad beings. If the three forms of exploitation are in
harmony, the three types of beings (Heaven and Earth, human beings, and the
myriad beings) will be in peace". The notions of Heaven and Earth sharing
the same body as human beings" and "Heaven, Earth and Man exploiting
each other" represent Daoist concepts of totality. Daoism seeks the lofty
realm of nearness to Dao and sharing one body with the cosmos.
nature and man are a harmonious whole and mankind is an integral part of it, man
should take into account the eternity of heaven and earth and pass on his
ancestors' traditions to the next generations, while assisting Heaven in the
process of Creation and Earth in giving Form to beings. (Wang 1960: 36).
Man can only survive and develop by being in harmony with his
environment. So Daoism advocates to be natural and to do no harm to nature. It
tells people to follow the laws of nature and not to "go against its
Way." Everything had to be in keeping with the cosmic cycle so as “not to
interfere” and to insure universal harmony. In the Daodejing,
it is said that "Man abides by Earth, Earth by Heaven, Heaven by Dao, Dao
by Nature." In the eyes of a Daoist, Man, Earth, Heaven, Dao and Nature are
bound together in an organic chain. In this chain Nature plays a very important
role, for everything ultimately abides by Nature. "Nature" in Daoism
means "to be spontaneous, to be genuine, not to be artificial." It
also means the natural environment outside the human body. Daoism advocates
"letting things to be their natural way" (renwu ziran), "letting things follow their natural phases"
"the Heavenly Way is Non-interference" (tiandao
ziran wuwei), in order to let everything fully develop and maintain a world
of bio-diversity. In the Book of Great
Peace (Taiping jing ),
"affluence" is defined as follows: "Affluence means that
every creature is maintained. When everything is born, heaven regards it as
rich. In upper antiquity, at the beginning of recorded history, there were
12,000 species, indicating wealth. In middle antiquity (three thousand years
ago), the number of species declined a little, and there were fewer than 12,000
species, indicating relative poverty. In the period of lower antiquity, the
number of species declined further, indicating even greater poverty. If you wish
to know the effect, just imagine your house without any rare articles or
treasures, just like that of a poor family. If there are less than ten thousand
creatures, there is extreme poverty, indicating the poverty of Heaven and
Earth.… Heaven is our father and Earth is our mother. If the parents are
extremely poor, the children will be worried with poverty" (Wang 1960: 30).
In modern times thousands of species are disappearing from the world each year.
The worries of the Book of Great Peace remain highly relevant today.
to its tenet of "Let things to be natural," Daoism opposes the
destruction of the natural environment. Daoism considers that man and nature are
interrelated and bound by ties of reciprocity and retribution. If man is in
agreement with nature, and nature is well treated by human beings, the world
will be peaceful and harmonious, and all things will be prosperous -- a
situation beneficial to man. If nature suffers from human beings, it will
retaliate against man, causing calamitous suffering and the extinction of
TO SIMPLICITY AND GOING BACK TO PERFECTION
considers that the orientation of life is to return to simplicity and go back to
reality. One should live a simple, quiet and natural life. Daoism believes in a
plain and simple lifestyle. It considers that one should not be selfish and have
few desires, and one should live a life of plain tea and simple food. Daoism
advocates frugality, thinking that contentment with what one has brings
happiness, making one's mind peaceful with no troubles. The Xianger
Commentary on Laozi (Laozi Xianger Zhu) reads: "do not labor your mind
to get more money to nourish your body, do not usurp power to glorify your self,
do not indulge in the five flavours to satisfy your cravings. Though your
clothes be tattered and your shoes ragged, you should still not strive for fame
and gain." The Inner Book of the
Master Embracing Simplicity (Baopuzi Neipian) reads: "To learn to be
immortal, one needs to live simply, to reduce desire, to look inside and to live
with few desires." The Book of
Western Ascension also has a negative attitude towards desire, saying:
"desire is the root of disasters; absence of desire is the origin of Heaven
and Earth. If you don't know the Origin, you will not know the Root. The sacred
person discards desire to cultivate himself." The Book
of Tranquility (Qingjing jing )
says: "if you keep away from desires, your mind becomes tranquil. The
tranquil mind cleans the spirit naturally." Daoism yearns for spiritual
freedom and pursues spiritual satisfaction, free of the burden of material
Daoist idea of "reducing selfishness and restraining desires" is
compatible with the lifestyle proposed by. Nowadays, the main difficulty facing
environmental protection and sustainable development is the unsustainable
pattern of production and consumption. In developed countries and among rich
people in the developing countries, excessive consumption, especially the
consumption of natural resources, is a common phenomenon. Today, as few as 25
percent of the world's population in the industrialized nations has consumed 80%
of the world's commercial energy, and the remaining 75 percent, living in 128
countries, consume only 20 percent of commercial energy. In modern society
consumption of physical materials is usually regarded as the symbol of success
and social status. Wealth and luxurious consumption are considered to be signs
of success. However it is widely recognized that above a certain level, wealth
has no direct relation with happiness (Maslow 1954). As a matter of fact,
excessive consumption may accelerate the exhaustion of natural resources and
exert a great pressure on the environment. In his book Our
Country, the Planet, S. Ramphal, president of the World Conservation Union,
stated that the question of consumption is central to the issues of the
environmental crisis. Human impact on the biosphere is producing environmental
stress and endangering the planet's capacity to sustain life. Essentially, that
impact is made through the energy and raw materials that people use or waste
worldwide. For the interest of our descendants and the survival of contemporary
poor people, it would be better to change our consumption pattern and have a new
concept of consumption and to choose a simple life style. The Daoist concepts of
"reducing selfishness and restraining desires ", "returning to
simplicity and going back to perfectness" and "discerning plainness
and embracing simplicity" are important inspirations to modern people.
has unique ideas on life, man, health preservation, healing, ideal human
habitat, spirituality, wilderness, etc. in its commandments, practice and
culture, which need to be studies by academic community. We acknowledge that
there are limitations and weaknesses of Daoism’s contribution to environment
movement, such as it didn’t face up to such environment problems and didn’t
address some concrete ecological issues directly. But if we interpret its
cosmology and teachings under new circumstances, Daoism
will show that it may contribute to lofty cultures and rational philosophies
while it is interpreted in new ways and gains popular recognition.
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