worldly wander: Eco

Worldly Wonder:
Religions Enter Their
Ecological Phase
Mary Evelyn Tucker
The following address was given at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley on March 21,2002, by Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker ofBucknell University Her talk was the second of the annual Venerable Master Hsuan Hua Memorial Lectures, cosponsored by the Institute for World Religions and the Graduate Theological Union. The lectures, given in honor of the late Master Hsuan Hua, the eminent Buddhist monk and teacher, were established to explore the interaction between religion and the modern world. In her address, Professor Tucker calls upon the world’s religions to infuse energy, inspiration and moral authority into the effort to create a sustainable human relationship with the natural environment. Religions need to reconnect with the sense of wonder and reverence for “more-than-human” life. Professor Tucker offers evidence that religions are in fact “entering their ecological phase and finding their planetary expression.”
The Cosmologica! Context: Evolution and Extinction
As we survey our human prospects on the threshold of this new millennium, we find our global situation fraught with particular irony. Over the past century, science has begun to weave together the story of a historical cosmos that emerged some 12 billion years ago. The magnitude of this universe story is beginning to dawn on humans as we awaken to a new realization of the vastness and complexity of this unfolding process.1 At the same time this story is becoming available to the human community, we are becoming conscious of the growing environmental crisis and of the rapid destruction of species and habitat that is taking place around the globe.2 Just as we are realizing the vast expanse of time that distinguishes the evolution of the universe over some 12 billion
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years, we are recognizing how late is our arrival in this stupendous process. Just as we become conscious that the Earth took more than 4 billion years to bring forth this abundance of life, it is dawning on us how quickly we are foreshortening its future flourishing.
We need, then, to step back to assimilate our cosmological context. If scientific cosmology gives us an understanding of the origins and unfolding of the universe, the story of cosmology gives us a sense of our place in the universe. And if we are so radically affecting the story by extinguishing other life forms and destroying our own nest, what does this imply about our religious sensibilities or our sense of the sacred? As science is revealing to us the particular intricacy of the web of life, we realize we are unraveling it, although unwittingly in part. As we begin to glimpse how deeply embedded we are in complex ecosystems and dependent on other life forms, we see we are destroying the very basis of our continuity as a species. As biology demonstrates a fuller picture of the unfolding of diverse species in evolution and the distinctive niche of species in ecosystems, we are questioning our own niche in the evolutionary process. As the size and scale of the environmental crisis is more widely grasped, we are seeing our own connection to this destruction. We have become a planetary presence that is not always benign. We have become a religious presence that has atrophied.
This simultaneous bifocal recognition of our cosmological context and our environmental crisis is clearly demonstrated at the American Museum of Natural History in New York with two major new exhibits. One is the Rose Center that houses the Hall of the Universe and the Hall of the Earth. The other exhibit is the Hall of Biodiversity.
The Hall of the Universe is architecturally striking. It is housed in a monumental glass cube, in the center of which is a globe containing the planetarium. Suspended in space around the globe are the planets of our solar system. In a fascinating mingling of inner and outer worlds, our solar system is juxtaposed against the garden plaza and street scenes of New York visible through the soaring glass panels of the cube. After first passing through a simulation of the originating fireball, visitors move onto an elevated spiral pathway from which they participate in the exhibit. The sweeping pathway ushers the visitor into a descending walk through time that traces the 12 billion-year-old cosmic journey from the great flaring forth in the fireball, through the formation of galaxies, and finally to the emergence of our solar system and planet. It ends with the evolution of life in the Cenozoic period of the last 60 million years and concludes with one human hair under a circle of glass, with the hairsbreadth representing all of human history. The dramatic effect is stunning as we are called to re-image humankind in the midst of such unfathomable immensities.
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
The Hall of Earth continues this evocation of wonder as it reveals the remarkable processes of the birth of the Earth; the evolution of the super-continent, Pangaea; the formation of the individual continents; and the eventual emergence of life. It demonstrates the intricacy of plate tectonics, a theory which was not widely accepted fifty years ago, and it displays geo-thermal life forms discovered a decade ago around deep-sea vents. This exhibit, then, illustrates how new our knowledge of the evolution of the Earth is and how much has been discovered within the last century.
In contrast to the vast scope of evolutionary processes evident in the Hall of the Universe and the Hall of the Earth, the Hall of Biodiversity displays the extraordinary range of life forms that the planet has birthed. A panoply of animals, fish, birds, reptiles and insects engages the visitor. A plaque in the exhibit observes that we are now living in the midst of a sixth extinction period due to the current massive loss of species.3 It notes that while the five earlier periods of extinction were caused by a variety of factors—including meteor collisions and climate change—humans are in large part the cause of this present extinction spasm.
With this realization not only does our role as a species come into question but our viability as a species remains in doubt. Along with those who recognized the enormity of the explosion of the atomic bombs in Japan, we are the first generations of humans to actually imagine our own destruction as a species.4 And, while this may be extreme, some pessimists are suggesting it may not be such a regrettable event if other life forms are to survive.
The exhibition notes, however, that we can stem this tide of loss of species and habitat. The visitor walks through an arresting series of pictures and statistics where current destruction is recorded on one side and restoration processes are highlighted on the other. The
contrasting displays suggest that the choice is ours—to The choice IS OUTS—to become a healing or a deleterious presence on the planet.
These powerful exhibits on cosmic evolution and become a healing OV a on species extinction illustrate how science is helping
us to enter into a macrophase understanding of the deleterious presence on universe and of ourselves as a species among other species on a finite planet. The fact that the Rose Center is ffoe planet. presenting the evolution of the universe and the Earth as an unfolding story in which humans participate is striking in itself. Indeed, the introductory video to the Hall of the Universe observes that we are “citizens of the universe” born out of Stardust and the evolution of galaxies, and that we are now responsible for its continuity. In addition, the fact that the Hall of Biodiversity suggests that humans can assist in
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stemming the current extinction spasm is a bold step for an “objective” and “unbiased” science-based museum. Scientists are no longer standing apart from what they are studying. They are assisting us in witnessing the ineffable beauty and complexity of life and its emergence over billions of years. This macrophase dimension of science involves three intersecting phases: understanding the story of the universe, telling the story as a whole, and reflecting on the story with a sense of our responsibility for the continuity of the story.
The world’s religions and scholars of those religions are also being called to contribute to this macrophase understanding of the universe’s story. The challenge for religions is both to re-vision our role as citizens of the universe and to reinvent our niche as members of the Earth community. This requires addressing such cosmological questions as where we have come from and where we are going. In other words, it necessitates rethinking our role as humans within the larger context of the universe’s evolution as well as in the closer context of natural processes of life on Earth. What is humankind in relation to 12 billion years of universe history? What is our place in the framework of 4.6 billion years of Earth history? How can we foster the stability and integrity of life processes? These are critical questions motivating the dialogue between religion and ecology.5
We might rephrase these questions in specifically religious terms. Can religions situate their stories within the universe’s story? Can they revision human history within Earth history? Can the religions open up their traditions to embrace the planet as home and hearth? Can religions evoke and encourage the deep sense of wonder that ignites the human imagination in the face of nature’s beauty?
For if the Earth is not in some sense a numinous revelation of mystery, where indeed will the human find mystery? And if humans destroy this awesome matrix of mystery, where will we find sources of inspiration pointing us toward the unfathomable vastness of the sacred? Will religions assume a disengaged pose as species go extinct; forests are exterminated; soil, air and water are polluted beyond restoration; and human health and well being deteriorate? Or will they emerge from their concerns with dogmas and policy regarding their own survival to see that the survival of the myriad modes of life on Earth is also at stake?
We seek signs of hope as we stand poised at this simultaneous juncture of awakening to the wonder of cosmic evolution and of despairing at witnessing environmental destruction. Although our deleterious role as humans is becoming clearer, so too are various efforts emerging to mitigate the loss of species; restore ecosystems; prevent pollution of air, water and soil; and preserve natural resources for future generations. The ques-
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
tion for religious traditions then is, How can they assist these processes and encourage humans to become a healing presence on the planet? Can religious traditions help us to find our niche as a species that does not overextend our effects and overshoot the limitations of fragile ecosystems?
Indeed, the environmental crisis calls the religions of the world to respond by finding their voice within the larger Earth community. In so doing, the religions are now entering their ecological phase and finding their planetary expression. They are awakening to a new appreciation of matter as a vessel for the sacred. Just as they have been working in the twentieth century to embrace diversity within the human community, so now they are called to encompass the diversity of life in the Earth community. From a concentration on God-human relations and human-human relations, they are being invited to reconfigure human-Earth relations. In Christianity, for example, human-Earth concerns have largely been framed in terms of Creator-Creation interaction. Christians are now called to reconstruct this configuration in terms of evolution and extinction.6 From a concern for an ethics responding to the tragedies of homicide, suicide and genocide, the world religions are being summoned to develop an ethics responding to biocide and geocide.7 This expansion of concern is an invitation to extend comprehensive care and compassion toward the great fecundity of life that the planet has brought forth. It implies a decentering of the human and recentering of our lives within, not apart from, the myriad species with which we share the planet. Their birthright becomes linked to ours; their flourishing is inseparable from ours; their continuity is intrinsically linked to ours.
The emergence, then, of the world’s religions into their ecological phase and their planetary expression implies not simply reformation but transformation. For as they identify their resources for deeper ecological awakening—scriptural, symbolic, ritual and ethical—they will be transforming the deep wellsprings of their traditions into fuller expressions. As they adapt their traditional resources and adopt new resources, they are creating viable modes of religious life beneficial not simply for humans but for the whole Earth community. This involves initiating and implementing new forms of the great wisdom traditions in a postmodern context. This may involve opposition to certain aspects of modernity (such as relentless consumption) and change in other aspects of modernity (such as emphasizing individual rights over communal responsibilities).
The great transformation of the religious traditions to their ecological phase calls forth the enormous creativity of individuals and communities. It activates the human imagination toward a celebration of the awe and wonder of life: its emergence in the primal fireball, its unfolding in the
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universe story, and its flourishing in Earth’s evolution. At the same time, this great transformation dynamizes human energy toward filling the human role as a truly planetary species. It draws us into alignment with the Earth community. It invites us to participate in the flourishing of life on the planet; it evokes our celebration of worldly wonder.
This perspective calls us into contemplation of our own evolution as a planetary species with allegiance beyond regional or national boundaries. The inseparability of local and global—of hearth and cosmos—is breaking into human consciousness in myriad ways. As part of the unfolding universe story, we celebrate our kinship not only with other humans but also with all life forms. We begin to find our niche. We realize we are not only part of humankind but of Earthkind; we are not simply human beings but universe beings. As such we are distinguished not merely by reflective consciousness but by wondering intelligence as well. This may be the indispensable capacity of humans that religions can evoke in the presence of the mystery of life. Along with awe, gratitude and reverence, wonder may be a key to release the flourishing potential of our species and our planet.
The Historical Context: Change and Continuity
The question for the world’s religions (and for the scholars and theologians of those traditions) is how they can answer this call to move toward their planetary expression in response to the magnitude of the environmental crisis. The world’s religions, while grounded in foundational beliefs and practices, have never been static but have always both effected change and been affected by change in response to intellectual, political, cultural, social and economic forces. In light of this, they may, in fact, more accurately be described as religious processes rather than simply as preservers of traditions. The former suggests the elements of change and transformation that are characteristic of the history of the world’s religions, while the latter connotes a certain inflexibility or staidness. Both change and continuity have been present in the unfolding of religions, and this can be a source of their creative expression now in response to the environmental crisis.
At the risk of oversimplifying complex historical lineages, one might suggest that there have been three major stages of the world’s religions after the indigenous traditions: classical, medieval and modern. The first is the classical era of the emergence of the major world religions and philosophy in the first Axial Age in the sixth century BCE.8 This is a period of remarkable flourishing of creative spiritual leaders, ranging from Confucius
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
and Laozi in East Asia, to Buddha and the Upanishadic seers in South Asia, to the Hebrew prophets of West Asia and the pre-Socratic philosophers in Greece. The second stage is the medieval period of new syntheses that were often the result of dialogue with other religious or philosophical traditions. Examples are the recovery of the Aristotelian philosophical tradition by the medieval Christian scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas, or the rise of neo-Confucianism in China and the synthesis of Zhu Xi partly in response to Buddhism and Daoism. The third stage is the modern period of the last 500 years following the age of encounter and the emergence of the Enlightenment in the West. In each of these eras,
the religious traditions developed significant new The world’s religions, while schools of thought and practice in response to challenges from within as well as to pressures from with- grounded in foundational out.
Some scholars of religion would describe our cur- beliefs and practices, have rent situation as a fourth period characterized as
“postmodernism.” In our postmodern era, new con- never been Static structive syntheses are emerging in light of deconstructive analyses of hegemonic thought along with liberating calls to move beyond outdated practices. Moreover, other scholars have observed that currently we are in a second axial period characterized by the encounter of the world’s religions on a global scale. The first position calls for renewal within traditions, while the second calls for openness across traditions. We will discuss our postmodern circumstances when we highlight the limitations of religions in ecological dialogue, and we will discuss the contemporary encounter of religions when we focus on interreligious dialogue.
Our thesis here is that this fourth period may also be seen as a moment when religions are beginning to move into their ecological phase and finding their planetary expression. From changes within religious communities and across religious communities, we are moving outward toward changes within the human-Earth community. To underscore the significance of these transformations, we will briefly highlight some of the intellectual currents of the third phase of modernity that have helped to shape our contemporary postmodern worldviews. These currents have emerged in the West and have now spread throughout the globe.
Among these complex tributaries to modernity are the humanist revolution that began in the fourteenth-century Renaissance, the expansionist revolution launched in the fifteenth-century age of exploration, the religious revolution of the sixteenth-century Reformation, the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the political revolution of the eighteenth-
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century Enlightenment, the economic revolution of nineteenth-century industrialization, the social revolution of twentieth-century human rights, and what we may call the ongoing ecological revolution of twentieth- and twenty-first-century environmental movements.
None of these are singular as revolutions; rather, they themselves are the results of myriad forces with multiple outcomes that have shaped modernity. The intersection of various currents of modernity with religious traditions has created significant challenges for religions. Renaissance humanism, for example, began the process of recentering the human body, mind and spirit in a new configuration of import and meaning that celebrated the human over the divine. The age of exploration initiated the comprehensive interchange of culture, ideas and goods that has opened religions to other cultures and religions, sometimes with deleterious consequences for the non-Western traditions. The Reformation initiated a major challenge to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, to its orthodox teachings, and to the role of individuals in interpreting scripture and seeking personal salvation. Since the rise of the Enlightenment in the West and the foregrounding of ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, new notions of reason, individualism and freedom have emerged along with fresh concepts of social contract, the role of law, and the desirability of democratic processes. The Enlightenment has helped to shape the contours of the secular humanism that has dominated significant aspects of our modern and postmodern world.
This was intensified with the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, when religious cosmologies were severely called into question. The separation of reason and faith that began in the medieval period became more pronounced. This was further exacerbated by the emergence in the nineteenth century of the Darwinian theory of evolution, which religions are still trying to absorb. The human rights revolution of the twentieth century, which arose out of two world wars and the postcolonial era, has birthed a renewed sense of the dignity of the individual regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual preference. However, it has not yet sufficiently situated these individual human rights in relation to community responsibilities to other persons, other species or the planet as a whole. With the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century now coupled with market capitalism of the twentieth century spreading to every corner of the globe, religions are severely challenged to offer an alternative vision to the prevailing economic view of humans as primarily producers and consumers in the global market. Now the questions of the sustainability of life on the planet and the viability of our species give rise to a certain urgency in the ecological revolution and to new creative religious responses.
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
It should be noted that the particular modes of Western modernity that champion individualism, democracy, science, rationalism and capitalism have now spread to Asia, Africa and Latin America. From these encounters across cultures, new forms of modernization—economic, political, social—have emerged in the non-Western world as well. At the same time, there are significant contemporary movements around the globe calling for constructive postmodern perspectives. These movements tend to recognize the limits of modernity in terms of reductionist science, rational positivism, utilitarian economics, inflated individualism and exploitative politics.9 It is here that the emerging alliance of religion and ecology might be fruitfully situated.10 While drawing on constructive aspects of modernity such as democratic participation and the rich ethical resources of their own traditions, the religions can stand in opposition to the mindlessness of modernization processes that threaten to destroy ecosystems and abuse natural resources in the rush toward globalization at any cost.
Many theologians and religious leaders have already spoken out against these modernization processes, identifying them as part of an octopus-like “economism” in the service of destructive globalization.11 They are forming alliances with those who are alarmed by the unlimited economic growth, rampant consumption and overuse of natural resources that are devouring the planet. They recognize that these alluring economic pursuits are siphoning off the enormous spiritual energies and creative drive of the human. The search for meaning has become manipulated into materialist goals in the First World and diverted into economic development at any cost in the Third World. The natural and human worlds suffer as both the environment and human communities deteriorate in the race toward unrestrained economic globalization. Even the call for sustainability has frequently been manipulated by the drive for profit and growth rather than restraint. The alternative voices of the religions are needed, then, to imagine and create other possibilities for human life besides accumulation and consumption, which undermine fragile ecosystems and deplete natural resources. Surely religions in their postmodern phase can inspire larger aspirations for our place and purpose in nature than simply economic exploitation. The question arises: Is the Earth a commodity or a community?
The Religious Context: Problems and Promise
The scope and complexity of the environmental crisis as situated within the varied intellectual, political, social or economic revolutions of the last several centuries present significant challenges to the world’s religions as they emerge into their ecological phase. A primary challenge involves ac-
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e limitations of religious traditions as well as underscoring their potential and actual contributions. This section will identify some of the limitations or problems of religions in responding adequately to the environmental crisis as well as the contributions and promise of the religions in their emerging dialogue with ecological issues.
In acknowledging their problematic dimensions, we need to underscore the dark side of religious traditions as well as their lateness in awakening to the environmental crisis. In addition, we should note the ever-present gap between ideal principles and real practices as well as the inevitable disjunction between modern environmental problems and traditional religious resources. For all of these reasons, religions are necessary but not sufficient for solutions to environmental problems. Thus they need to be in dialogue with other religions and other disciplines in focusing on environmental issues.
We must begin with both humility and boldness as we note the obstacles and opportunities of religious traditions in this emerging dialogue of religion and ecology. We note first the dark side of religions. The human energy poured into religious traditions can clearly be unleashed in both violent and compassionate ways as has been demon-Reltgions have been late in strated throughout history, especially recent history.
While the causes of conflict and war are frequently coming to environmental economic and political, the religious dimensions need
to be understood as well. Even before the September discussions * * terroi”ist attacks, the near genocide against Native
Americans on this continent and against Jews in Europe would be sufficient manifestation of this. In addition, the numerous religious wars that arose in Western Europe and currently the religious conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East and South Asia are further evidence of the destructive dimensions of religious convictions, especially in service to exclusive claims to truth.
It is important to acknowledge also that religions are only one factor among many others contributing to new patterns of human-Earth relations promoting the flourishing of life. Religions can be isolated from critical contemporary issues and estranged from other institutions or disciplines involved in social and ecological change. For example, religions are sometimes antagonistic to science, both in assumptions and methods. Significant efforts have been made in the last several decades to assist in overcoming this antagonism.12
Religions have thus been late in coming to environmental discussions, and they need to be in conversation with those individuals and groups who have been working on environmental issues for many decades.13 While
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
there is growing evidence of the vitality of the emerging dialogue of religion and ecology, and while there are remarkable examples around the world of grassroots environmental action inspired by religion, it is clear that environmental changes will come from many different disciplines, motivations and inspirations.
With these qualifications in mind, we recognize nonetheless that religions historically have been forces for positive change, liberating human energy for efficacious personal, social and political transformation. This potential for identifying resources for positive transformation is helping to shape the dialogue of religion and ecology.
It was in this spirit of recognizing both the problems and the promise of religions that an international conference series titled “Religions of the World and Ecology” was held at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. The series critically explored attitudes toward nature in the world’s religious traditions and highlighted environmental projects around the world inspired by religious values. From 1996 to 1998, a series often conferences examined the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto and indigenous religions. The conferences, organized by the author and John Grim in collaboration with a team of area specialists, brought together international scholars of the world’s religions as well as environmental activists and leaders. Recognizing that religions are key shapers of people’s worldviews and formulators of their most cherished values, this broad research project has identified both ideas and practices supporting a sustainable environmental future. The papers from these conferences are being published in a series often volumes by the Center for the Study of World Religions and Harvard University Press.14
In the autumn of 1998, three culminating conferences were held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts; at the United Nations; and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. These events brought representatives of the world’s religions into conversation with one another as well as into dialogue with key scientists, economists, educators and policy makers from various environmental fields. A multireligious and multidisciplinary approach was inaugurated.
A major result of these conferences was the establishment of the ongoing Forum on Religion and Ecology that was announced at a United Nations press conference to continue the research, education and outreach begun at the earlier conferences. A primary goal of the forum is to develop a field of study in religion and ecology that has implications for public policy. Toward this end the forum has mounted a major website under the Harvard Center for the Environment (
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It has sponsored workshops for high school teachers and has organized various conferences at Harvard and on the West Coast on World Religions and Animals; Nature Writers and the Ecological Imagination; and Cosmology in Science and Religion. The intention is to suggest the movement outward of cosmological awareness and ethical concerns from the human sphere to embrace other species, the larger web of the natural world, and the cosmos at large.
Just as religions played an important role in creating sociopolitical changes in the twentieth century through moral challenges for the extension of human rights, so now in the twenty-first century religions are contributing to the emergence of a broader cosmological orientation and environmental ethics based on diverse sensibilities regarding the sacred dimensions of the “more-than-human” world.15 They are moving from a primarily anthropocentric focus to include ecocentric and cosmocentric concerns. This movement acknowledges that much work remains to be done in the human realm in relation to issues of social, economic and political justice. Yet it is increasingly clear that social and environmental issues can no longer be seen as separate concerns. The religion and ecology field embraces this continuity in helping to create the grounds for long-term sustainable human-Earth relations.
In these efforts it is important to keep in mind that there is inevitably a gap between theory and practice, between ideas and action. This is perhaps one of the major obstacles to the efficacy of religion in environmental discussions. The expectations placed on religions are often unrealisti-cally high because the desire for religions to be ideal models is so great. It is easy to point out inadequacies and thus dismiss the religious traditions as ineffective or hypocritical.
In identifying potential and actual ecological resources from the world’s religions, it is important to recognize the complexity of the relationship of ideal and real at the outset and to avoid idealizing any one religion as having the best theories or practices. It will also be critical to examine the historical record of cultures and traditions, as environmental historians are beginning to do. Finally, we can observe that even as the ecological attitudes of religions begin to change, we can ask: Will practice follow of its own accord, or will religions have to be prodded to translate ideas into action?
In light of these qualifications we can cultivate an appropriate herme-neutics of suspicion regarding blanket claims to environmental purity in theory or in practice. For example, many have described Native American or other indigenous traditions as especially ecologically sensitive. However, not all indigenous practices can be defended as environmentally sound;
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
one example is the slash and burn agriculture practiced in some parts of Southeast Asia. It is also frequently claimed that the traditions of Asia are more attuned to nature, especially Buddhism and Daoism. Rich ecological resources clearly reside in these traditions, yet otherworldly movements toward withdrawal into individual meditation or the quest for personal liberation or immortality cast doubt on any such unqualified claims about these traditions. In truth, among the religious traditions, the record is mixed with regard to their ecologically friendly resources, both historically and at present. Moreover, ecologically relevant texts do not necessarily result in ecologically appropriate practices.
The Harvard conference series and the resulting volumes on world religions and ecology were designed to begin examining the multiple resources of the traditions both theoretically and practically. Further studies need to be done on these resources as well as on the actual historical records of the traditions in relation to environmental practices.
In this spirit, the emerging dialogue on religion and ecology also acknowledges that in seeking long-term environmental solutions, there is clearly a disjunction between contemporary problems regarding the environment and traditional religions as resources. The religious traditions are not equipped to supply specific guidance in dealing with complex issues such as climate change, desertification or deforestation. At the same time one recognizes that certain ori- Ecologically relevant texts entations and values from the world’s religions may
not only be useful but even indispensable for a more do not necessarily result in comprehensive cosmological orientation and environmental ethics.16 ecologically appropriate
The disjunction of traditional religious resources and modern environmental problems in their varied practices cultural contexts needs to be highlighted so that new conjunctions can be identified. We acknowledge that religious scriptures and commentaries were written in an earlier age with a different audience in mind. Similarly, many of the myths and rituals of the world’s religions were developed in earlier historical contexts, frequently agricultural, while the art and symbols were created within worldviews very different from our own. Likewise, the ethics and morality of the world’s religions respond primarily to anthropocentric perspectives regarding the importance of human-human relations, and the soteriology and spirituality are formulated in relation to theological perspectives of enhancing divine-human relations.
Despite their historical and cultural contingencies, there are particular religious attitudes and practices as well as common ethical values that
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can be identified for broadening and deepening environmental perspectives. We affirm the actual and potential contribution of religious ideas for informing and inspiring ecological theology, environmental ethics and grass-roots activism. Religions are now reclaiming and reconstructing these powerful religious attitudes, practices and values toward reconceiving mutually enhancing human-Earth relations. Careful methodological reflection is needed in considering how to bring forward in coherent and convincing ways the resources of religious traditions in response to particular aspects of our current environmental crisis. It entails a self-reflective yet creative approach to retrieving and reclaiming texts and traditions, reevaluating and reexamining what will be most efficacious, and thus restoring and reconstructing religious traditions in a creative postmodern world. All of this involves a major effort to evoke the power and potential of religious traditions to function even more effectively as sources of spiritual inspiration and moral transformation in the midst of the environmental challenges faced by the Earth community.
Pluralistic Perspectives: Multireligious and Multidisciplinary Approaches
No one religious tradition or discipline will be sufficient in the search for a more comprehensive and culturally inclusive global environmental ethics. Thus the multireligious dimensions of this effort need to be underscored. Dialogue between and among religious traditions around environmental concerns is already taking place. Similarly, a multidisciplinary approach to environmental problems is emerging in academia, policy institutes and national and international agencies focusing on the environment. These discussions need to become more sophisticated and integrated. Such multireligious and multidisciplinary discussions have emerged in various international arenas such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions; the Tehran Seminar on Environment, Culture and Religion held in Iran in June 2001; and the Earth Dialogues, “Globalization: Is Ethics the Missing Link?” held in Lyon, France, in February 2002.17
The world’s religions are now international presences with followers well beyond the country or culture of origin. Their international presence is part of their enormous potential to effect change in attitudes toward the environment. Religions are flourishing around the world—even in China and Russia, where communism intended to stamp out the need for religion—despite the prediction that religions would disappear as modernization arose and secularization spread. The international presence of religion means multireligious dialogue is more crucial than ever before.
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
Pluralism thus needs to be highlighted and celebrated, especially as we realize the extraordinary migration patterns that have occurred around the globe in the twentieth century. More than at any other time in history, people have moved from their homelands due to adverse economic, political, social and environmental conditions. As the Pluralism Project at Harvard has so comprehensively documented, the entire landscape of American religious life has changed radically since the doors of immigration were opened with the Immigration Act of 1965. In addition, demographics show that in several years Islam will be the largest religion in the world. Already the majority of Muslims are from outside the Arab world. Likewise, the majority of Christians are located in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Tolerance and celebration of diversity are essential as we try to create the conditions for a sustainable future. Diversity is enormously valuable in both human and biotic communities. Ecosystem models tell us that the health of biotic communities depends on diversity and exchange. So, too, the health of the human community depends on diversity. Just as monoculture farming is problematic for ecosystems and for healthy agriculture, so can monoculture in human societies result in blandness and lack of creative exchange of ideas. This is especially true in religious communities. Historically and at present, religious traditions have grown and developed in creative interaction with other religions as well as in response to internal institutional and intellectual challenges. This has resulted in new syntheses within traditions and across traditions.
Failure to appreciate diversity has serious consequences, among them a religious triumphalism that highlights the virtues of one tradition as opposed to those of another. Similarly, the exclusivity of truth claims create the potential for conflict and resentment and can give rise to rigid hegemonic or fundamentalist perspectives. While truth claims within religions need to be respected, different avenues to truth also need to be honored. Fortunately, in the last four decades interreligious dialogues have prepared the ground for religious pluralism to be better understood. Indeed, these dialogues have moved from appreciation of differences to recognition of the urgent need for even greater cooperation for the sake of both the human and natural communities. Thus interreligious dialogue has broadened its focus to include not only theological topics such as the nature of God and spiritual topics such as meditation and prayer but also shared ethical perspectives on social justice, human rights and, more recently, the environment.18
Lasting ethical solutions to our global environmental and social problems will need to come from diverse perspectives. Here the world’s reli-
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gious traditions are a major resource. In addition, important work is being done within and outside of academia in environmental philosophy and in environmental and social ethics, drawing on science, philosophy, literature and other sources. A broader ethical synthesis can emerge with such an exchange of ideas. Indeed, the search for a comprehensive global ethics has already benefited from the input of the world’s religions in such documents as the “Earth Charter”19 and “Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration” issued at the Parliament of World Religions in 1993.
Religions, however, will need to be self-reflective and self-critical rather than self-promotional in contributing to environmental discussions, especially in international forums. When participants are attuned to both the special insights and the limitations of their particular traditions, a global ethics can indeed emerge. Examples may be seen in the current rethinking of issues such as population, development and the role of women. Multireligious discussions are essential for identifying what will be helpful and what will be problematic in diverse religious perspectives. Lessons can be learned from the field of human rights, where religious and cultural diversity has been highlighted with beneficial results. For example, many scholars have identified minimum standards for universal human rights along with the recognition of the importance of cultural diversity.20
Thus, with the recognition of the critical nature of the environmental crisis, multireligious dialogue is being drawn into a search for both a common ground and common good beyond the particular differences and historical conflicts of the religions. The common ground is the Earth itself as an expression of numinous creativity, a matrix of mystery, a locus for encountering the sacred. This common ground of mystery is in danger of being blindly wasted. It can be said, then, that the environmental crisis may disclose not only the common ground of the mystery of the Earth itself but also the higher ground beyond differences in the search for the common good to promote the flourishing of life. In this effort common ground and common good are joined.
Just as multireligious perspectives are indispensable, so too multidisciplinary approaches to environmental problems are clearly needed.21 It is, in fact, encouraging to note that entirely new multidisciplinary fields of environmental study and policy are already being established both within academia and without. Key examples of these are the push for limits to growth and new cost-accounting coming from ecological economics; the emergence of the fields of conservation biology and restoration ecology within science; the movement toward ecological security and sustainability from the international political community; and the development of renewable energy, alternative technologies, ecological
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
design and biomimicry coming from many areas including architecture and engineering.
In the humanities, important multidisciplinary fields of study are emerging in environmental history, literature and philosophy. Religion and ecology can be situated as a new field of study in the humanities that is similarly multidisciplinary in outlook and in concern. From the perspective of this field, based within religious studies or theology, the contributions of religions to environmental studies and policy may become clarified. This is particularly true as various religious and cultural attitudes toward nature are identified.
This field of religion and ecology, then, looks both inward and outward. It looks inward to the resources of the traditions, historically and at present, that foster mutually beneficial human-Earth relations. At the same time it looks outward toward dialogue with those in other disciplines such as science, economics and policy, knowing that lasting cultural changes will depend on such key intersections.
In addition to the practical skills and insights from various disciplines, multiple ethical motivations for environmental protection and restoration can be identified. This includes appreciation of the intrinsic value of nature and the critical importance of biodiversity; acknowledgement of aesthetic and recreational needs for contacts with nature; improvement of human health ecosystems by protecting water, air and soil; and the rights of future generations to a sustainable life.
Secular humanists and religious believers often share these motivations, especially the importance of valuing nature intrinsically. This contrasts sharply with the predominantly utilitarian drives that
tendtomotivatebusineS!¡.Thusenvironmentalistsusu- ^^ humani$ts and ally feel that unrestricted economic development and the exploitative use of nonrenewable resources are 7. . 7 7. r.
u, A. τ, . ι·. ι · Λ religious believers often
problematic. For many environmentalists, logging and ö J
road building should be limited in national forests, oil , .
should not be extracted from pristine reserves or coastal y
regions, and the rights of spotted owls and other spe- . £
cies to exist and to populate their own habitat should especially the importance of be honored. These views have sometimes led to acrimonious conflicts between environmentalists and those Valuing nature intrinsically. concerned with economic development. This is especially true in international conferences and discussions at the United Nations, where Third World countries sometimes want to push forward with development goals often at the expense of the environment. This was a major source of tension at the United Nations Conference on Environment
ISSUE 2, JUNE 2002 17
Mary Evelyn Tucker
and Development
) at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and it continues to be so in the preparations for the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002.
Most environmentalists are wary of short-term projects for profit that do not take into account the long-term effects on species, habitat and resources. Their concern arises from a variety of ethical motivations that include a concern for the immediate well-being of land and species as well as for the welfare of present and future generations. In attempting to reconcile these apparent conflicts between economics and ecology, broader intergenerational and interspecies environmental ethics are being developed that suggest human responsibilities should extend to future generations of all species. In addition, the call for the precautionary principle to be operative is becoming more widespread. This encourages the mindful prevention of pollution before it occurs.
In many of these sometimes heated discussions of economic development versus environmental protection, the world’s religions can play a vital role. This is especially true in providing both spiritual resources and insights as well culturally particular but globally relevant environmental ethics. Relevant here are such common concerns as reverence for the Earth, respect for other species, responsibility to the welfare of future generations, restraint in the consumption of resources, and redistribution of goods and services more equitably. In summary, the contributions of religions are one part of a larger complex of various disciplines and motivations. Multidisciplinary approaches and the development of comprehensive environmental ethics will be indispensable for long-term environmental solutions. Religions are beginning to contribute to these endeavors.
The Transformative Context: Reclaiming and Reconstructing
The challenge, then, for religions (and for scholars of religions) is how to participate in this transformative moment by reclaiming and reconstructing religious traditions so as to promote flourishing human-Earth relations. This will involve the careful retrieval of selected scriptures and commentaries, symbols and myths, rituals and prayers. It will also require the re-evaluation of particular beliefs and practices in light of the environmental crisis. Finally, it will necessitate the reconstruction of traditions in their fuller planetary expression.
This section will explore several key topics in this process of retrieving, reevaluating and reconstructing traditions, namely dogma, rituals and symbols, moral authority, soteriology and ethics. Within these topics we will highlight some of the creative tensions that are involved in such re-
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
constructive processes. These creative tensions are intended to be viewed as dyadic and interpenetrating relationships rather than as irreconcilable dualisms. In other words, our aim is to see such tensions as interrelated forces, not as clashing opposites. In the space between such creative tensions there can emerge the deeply motivating spiritual resources of the religious traditions toward grounded, transformative action.
I. Dogma: Orthodoxy versus Dialogue
As teachers of doctrinal truth or dogma some individuals or institutions in particular traditions assume self-appointed roles as repositories of orthodoxy. These individuals or institutions tend to be conservative in that they wish to preserve particular versions of “truth,” which they sometimes claim as special revelation through scripture. Consequently, religious traditions can promote triumphalism and exclusivity that may lead to proselytizing and even to violence. The counterpoint is that religions are constantly being brought into dialogue with contemporary issues and ideas, and thus they continue to change. Furthermore, as noted earlier, religions throughout their history have frequently been in active conversation with other religious traditions and been transformed in response to this dialogue. Indeed, the changes maybe in the form of syncretism and fusion of religions, as is frequently the case in East Asia and South Asia. The major counterweight to rigid orthodoxy or exclusivist claims to truth is ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
During the last forty years, significant steps have been taken in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The Christian churches have held important ecumenical meetings to discuss differences of doctrine. Moreover, significant interreligious discussions have taken place between Christians and Jews, Christians and Buddhists, and Christians and Confucians. With regard to ecological issues, the ground for further interreligious discussion has already been prepared. There is thus great potential for focusing interreligious dialogue on the urgency of the environmental crisis. With several decades of preparation, the religions may be poised to move beyond dogmatism to a shared sense of the common good of the planet. This may result in a renewal for the religious traditions themselves through a restoration of the planet.
Examples of such cooperation include international multireligious projects such as the Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE) based at Harvard; the Alliance of Religion and Conservation (ARC) based in England; and the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), also based in England. Within nations, important long-term efforts include the Na-
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Mary Evelyn Tucker
s Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) in the United States and the Zimbabwean Institute of Religious Research and Ecological Conservation (ZIRRCON). Also, major international conferences involving the world’s religious leaders and laity have focused on the environment. Among them are the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders in Oxford in 1988, Moscow in 1990, Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and Kyoto in 1993; the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1993 and Cape Town in 1999; and the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in 2001.
II. Rituals and Symbols: Traditional or Transformative
Religions are also inheritors of cultural traditions and as such they may become ritually constrained or fossilized in forms of worship. Ritual and prayer can become rote or remote, and symbols and images may no longer convey the depth of meaning they originally embodied. As a result, rituals and symbols are reduced to flattened forms of reference. The connection to the living biological context in which they are embedded may need renewal or reactivation. For religious rituals and symbols to be vibrant, they need to be connected to the living world, even if they point beyond it. A deep numinous mystery resides in this connection, and when rituals and symbols are disconnected from this reality they cannot activate a resonance with the ineffable power that sustains life. Hence, they become withered and attenuated.
Mircea Eliade, the historian of religion, reminded us of this when he illuminated the implicit layering of references from the natural world underlying Christian rituals and symbols. Central to Christianity is the reflection on birth, death and rebirth that is present in For religious rituals and the natural world. The liturgical cycle is set entirely
within the larger rhythms of nature’s seasons. Christ-symbols to be vibrant, mas is situated at the winter solstice with the return of
light; Easter is situated at the spring equinox and the they need to be connected renewal of life. The sacraments, too, draw on the rich
bounty of the natural world. The Eucharist uses bread to the living world anc* wine associated with harvest, thanksgiving and
life-regenerating processes. Baptism uses water to welcome an individual into a community of faith. In monastic life the cycle of daily prayers is coordinated with the diurnal turning of the planet around the sun.
A contemporary example of opening traditional forms of ritual and symbol into their ecological phase is the Missa Gaia, or Earth Mass, with
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
the music of Paul Winter. This moves the Christian Mass into its planetary expression. The Earth Mass has been celebrated for the last two decades in October on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Many local parishes across the country have been inspired to hold similar rituals. Returning to recapture the spirit of St. Francis with regard to the animals and the inspiration of medieval cathedrals in fostering community, St. John’s opens its great entry doors for the procession of the animals down the main aisle and the blessing of the animals in the context of the Earth Mass.
Other examples of contemporary ecological rituals can also be identified from among the world’s religions. These include the Hindu ritual of tree planting as likened to a prasad offering in South India, the Theravada Buddhist monk’s ordaining of trees in Thailand, Shona and Christian tree planting in Zimbabwe, the Jewish practice of observing Shabbat, and the Jain respect for food and microorganisms.22
Dialogue between religion and ecology can revivify rituals and symbols in light of the current environmental crisis. Moreover, it can assist in awakening a renewed appreciation for the intricate cosmological web of life in which we dwell.
III. Moral Authority: Oppressive or Liberating
As conservators of moral authority, religious traditions can become institutionally rigid citadels of power. The misuse of power by religions has been documented throughout history. It is all too familiar and need not be elaborated here. The authoritarian aspects of religion are often what make people flee its influence. Institutional moral authority, however, can be oppressive or liberating according to how it is invoked. Religions can be cradles of conformity or vessels of creativity. They can be suppressors of change or beacons of transformation.
The narrowness of religions can also be seen in the fact that most of them have been gender biased, some have been militantly ethnocentric, and others have been racially prejudiced. In the twentieth century, liberation movements for human rights have helped to overcome some of these constraints. Indeed, the religious traditions themselves have often provided leadership for these movements, recognizing the inherent dignity of the individual and the right to equitable employment, decent housing and adequate education.
Discussions of human rights have broadened to include a sense not only of individuals but also of communities, both of the human and the more-than-human worlds. For example, ecofeminist studies have broad-
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Mary Evelyn Tucker
ened their focus to identify the degradation of women and the Earth as part of a continuity of the devaluation of matter. By the same token, these studies have suggested that attention to women’s concerns and to the nurturing of the Earth needs to be seen as part of a larger social transformation of consciousness without essentializing women by identifying them exclusively with the Earth. Recent ecofeminist thinking in the world’s religions has helped to expand environmental discourse and pluralize its perspectives by foregrounding women of various ethnic and racial backgrounds.23
Similarly, by seeing environmental racism as morally problematic, religions have helped to expand the focus for human rights to include the right to a clean and healthy environment. This has involved identifying previously invisible arenas of racial prejudice and environmental justice where minority communities have been viewed as dis-
No Other group of pensable and have been used as dumping grounds for
waste, incineration and pollution. Black, Hispanic and
institutions can wield Native American communities in the United States and
African communities abroad have been particular vic-
the particular moral tims of these callous attitudes whereby the excesses of
industrial society have been deposited in their commu-
authoritV of the religions nities· Religious leadership has helped to uncover these
problems and called for their rectification. The United Church of Christ statement on environmental racism is particularly important in this regard.
While much remains to be done, it can be said that Christian churches in the twentieth century have embraced teachings regarding social justice and human rights and brought them out of the words of encyclicals, pastoral letters and policy statements and into the world with calls for racial and economic equity. (Gender equity still seems to lag behind, however.) For example, in the Jubilee 2000 movement, Christian churches urged the World Bank and major lending institutions to consider debt reduction for poor nations.24 Religions have the potential for similar transformative leadership in the area of ecology, justice and the future of life forms on the planet.25
No other group of institutions can wield the particular moral authority of the religions, notwithstanding the abuses this authority has also been subject to. Thus the efficacy of religions in encouraging individuals and communities to protect the environment is considerable in potentiality and demonstrable in actuality. Indeed, many scientists have recognized this. They have called upon the religious traditions to provide a compelling moral force for drawing citizens into a larger sense of concern for the reality of
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
environmental degradation. The scientists note the potential of religions for highlighting the awe and wonder of nature and the need to preserve it for present and future generations of all species. Examples of this appear in key documents such as “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion,” released in 1990, and the Union of Concerned Scientists'”World Scientists’Warning to Humanity,” issued in 1992. More recently, in the United States the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and the National Council of Churches have conducted major campaigns on climate change. This has had an impact in terms of bringing forward the moral authority of Jewish and Protestant leaders in relation to this massive global problem. Similarly, the Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letters on the environment have brought to bear the moral force of the Catholic Church.26
IV. Soteriology: Worldly or Other Worldly?
In discussing the positive and negative dimensions of religions with regard to environmental issues it is sometimes observed that religions often tend toward an otherworldly soteriology. In other words, they have a salvific orientation that privileges the divine as residing in the transcendent world of Heaven, Nirvana, Moksha or the Pure Land. This encourages concentration on personal salvation or liberation out of this world and into the next. The critical question arises: How, then, can religions be attentive to this world and to the environment? When the transcendent becomes primary, what happens to the sense of the divine or the immanent reality in nature?
It is undeniable that an otherworldly orientation and a focus on personal salvation can create a tendency to see this world as simply a veil of tears to be endured and ultimately transcended. The sometimes exclusive focus on an individual’s relationship with God or the divine can diminish one’s sense of the importance of the Earth. Worship, prayer and meditation are often directed at purifying the soul, praising God, or getting rid of ego in order to advance toward the goal of personal salvation. The consequence of this orientation toward the next world and personal salvation is the tendency in some religions to devalue nature and deny the importance or even the reality of matter. Redemption out of the world as fallen and liberation into a Heavenly realm is seen as a primary aim. This dualism that divides matter from spirit and privileges spirit as the highest good has created ambivalent attitudes toward nature in a number of the world’s religions.27
That many religious traditions have elements of an otherworldly orientation is not necessarily an exclusive or defining concern. Religions can, in fact, embrace both world-affirming and world-negating dimensions. In
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Christianity, for example, the idea of the Kingdom of God may be used to establish criteria for justice on Earth or for entry into a paradisal world beyond. Similarly, in Mahayana Buddhism, the Pure Land is seen as a salvific next world, while the Tathagatagarbha doctrine affirms the Buddha nature as present in the natural world. In Daoism, achieving immortality may be a long-term goal, but practices are encouraged that induce health in this life such as balanced diet, meditation and breathing, and movement exercises like taiji and qi gong. These exercises place the practitioner in alignment with nature through drawing on the elements and on the varied movements of animals, insects and birds.
Thus, it is helpful to recognize that there may be fruitful and creative tensions between the transcendent and immanent dimensions of the world’s religions. In other words, the pull toward wholeness, completion and fulfillment represented by the transcendent longings of the human can be balanced by a sense of reverence, reciprocity and care for the fecundity of life that reflects the presence of the divine in this world. The here and hereafter can be seen in a creative dialectic of intimacy and distance, of commitment to change in the world along with detachment from the fruits of one’s actions. In Christianity, for example, the broadening of certain theological or sacramental perspectives may enhance an appreciation of the beauty and sacredness of this world without diminishing the sense of a larger reality beyond this world. Through a renewed sense of the incarnational dimensions of Christianity, there may emerge a more encompassing Christology that embraces the Cosmic Christ of the universe.28 Similarly, a richer sacramental theology may be articulated which recognizes all of nature as part of a sacred reality. The efforts of Matthew Fox and others to identify a creation-centered spirituality in the Christian tradition have been an important contribution to these efforts.
V. Ethics: Anthropocentric or Anthropocosmic
The focus of ethics in the world’s religions has been largely human centered. Humane treatment of humans is often seen not only as an end in itself but also as a means to eternal reward. While some have critiqued this anthropocentric perspective of world religions as rather narrow in light of environmental degradation and the loss of species, it is nonetheless important to recall that this perspective has also helped to promote major movements for social justice and human rights.
While social justice is an ongoing and unfinished effort of engagement, the challenge for the religions is also to enlarge their ethical concerns to include the more than human world. Social justice and environ-
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
mental integrity are now being seen as part of a continuum. For some decades environmental philosophers have been developing the field of environmental ethics that can now provide enormous resources for the world’s religions in considering how to expand their ethical focus. Emerging biocentric, zoocentric and ecocentric ethics are attentive to life forms, animal species, ecosystems and bioregions within a planetary context. A new “systems ethics” of part and whole, local and global, will assist the religions in articulating a more comprehensive form of environmental ethics from within their traditions. This is a major part of the development of religions into their ecological phase.
Thus religions can move from exclusively anthropocentric ethics to ecocentric ethics and even to anthropocosmic ethics. The latter is a term used by Tu Weiming to describe the vibrant interaction of Heaven, Earth and humans in a Confucian worldview.29 In this context, humans complete the natural and cosmic world and become participants in the dynamic, transformative life processes. This idea can extend ethics to apply to the human-land-species-planet-universe continuum. The great continuity of being flowing between these realms is unified by a life force that religions see as an expression of a numinous reality. This maybe described as spirit, qi, prana or manitou. As Tu Weiming observes for the Confucian tradition:
Human beings are… an integral part of the uchain of being,” encompassing Heaven, Earth and the myriad things. However, the uniqueness of being human is the intrinsic capacity of the mind to “embody” {ï\) the cosmos in its conscience and consciousness. Through this embodying, the mind realizes its own sensitivity, manifests true humanity and assists in the cosmic transformation of Heaven and Earth.30
This cosmic transformation implies that humans have a special role in being aligned with the fecund, nourishing powers of life.
The Comprehensive Context: Restoration of Wonder
If our optimal role as humans is to be creative participants within cosmological processes, how can the world’s religions foster that role? The religions have been challenged over the last several centuries by major revolutions in the understanding of the role of humans in relation to science, politics, economics and society. Some may see the ecological revolution as just another step in these significant movements in human history and
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consciousness. However, we might observe that this is more than simply a slight shift of perspective. It is rather a major transformation that involves both effort and evocation. It requires a comprehensive re-visioning of what it is to be human on a finite planet amidst infinite immensities. We see ourselves now not simply as political, economic or social beings but as planetary beings embedded in and dependent on nature’s seasons and cycles and resources. Through science we understand that we are cosmological beings within a vast evolutionary universe and now have a responsibility in some way for the integrity and stability of these life
Can the religious tradì- processes.
It is clear that religions have historically served as a tions awaken a renewed means of channeling the hopes and aspirations of humans toward a larger vision of their place and purpose. sense of awe and reverence Now religions are challenged to provide a more comprehensive narrative perspective for situating human life in for the Earth? relation to our finite planet. The renewing energies that
ground and dynamize the human spirit must be brought forward. For millennia, these energies have provided the spiritual orientations of the world’s civilizations and cultures. Religions have traditionally been a means of expanding the measure of the mind through the power of the religious imagination; now is the moment for the religions to move forward boldly with comprehensive narrative perspectives that are grounded in relevant traditional resources, open to a sense of wonder, and guided by inspiring moral visions for shaping human-Earth relations for a sustainable future.
In this spirit, the religions of the world are moving into their ecological phase and finding their planetary expression. This is their fundamental challenge in relation to the environmental crisis. Can the religious traditions awaken a renewed sense of awe and reverence for the Earth as a numinous matrix of mystery? Can they activate the depths of resonance in the human that will resound with the awesome beauty of the universe? Can they open a space for our participation in the life processes that is healing and renewing for human-Earth relations? Can they raise key ethical questions regarding the destruction of the environment, and at the same time provide resources of inspiration that will sustain the energies needed to preserve, protect and restore the environment? Can the religious traditions speak effectively to the contemporary world while challenging the limits of modernity as well?
These are their challenges—and indeed everyone’s challenges—as we begin to take on our cosmological being, to dwell in intimate immensities. We are cracking open the shell of our anthropocentric selves and our par-
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
ticular religious traditions to move toward more expansive religious sensibilities that embrace both Earth and universe. New configurations of tradition and modernity will emerge, and with them will come retrieval of texts, reconstruction of theologies, renewal of symbols and rituals, réévaluation of ethics, and, most importantly, a revivified sense of wonder and celebration.
Central to this great transformation of the religions into their ecological phase is the reawakening in the human of a sense of awe and wonder regarding the beauty, complexity and mystery of life itself. In his book The Tangled Wing, the anthropologist and neurologist, Melvin Konner calls for this recovery of wonder:
It seems to me we are losing the sense of wonder, the hallmark of our species and the central feature of the human spirit. Perhaps this is due to the depredations of science and technology against the arts and humanities, but I doubt it—although this is certainly something to be concerned about. I suspect it is simply that the human spirit is insufficiently developed at this moment in evolution, much like the wing o/Archaeopteryx. Whether we can free it for further development will depend, in part, on the full reinstatement of the sense of wonder.01
Will the world’s religions assist in the further development of the human spirit as they have throughout their long-unfolding journey to the present? If religions are vessels for nurturing the sense of the sacred, surely they will continue to respond to the sacred that is manifest in the wonder of life and in its continuity. If indigenous traditions could have sustained human-Earth relations for some 150,000 years, their traditional environmental knowledge and sense of awe in the presence of nature will contribute to the future of the Earth community as well. If the human mind and spirit has created compelling and coherent visions to inspire the flourishing of civilizations for the last 5,000 years, surely that same rich and diverse religious imagination can activate the energies and commitment needed to sustain life on the planet. These are our collective tasks; these are our particular challenges.
Those energies and commitments will depend in large part on the measure and magnitude of the awe and wonder we evoke. And let us remember it is not only awe and wonder but also dread and terror that awakens the human imagination and lies at the heart of the burning bush. That which is numinous attracts us and repels us, as Rudolph Otto reminds us.32 Nature is filled with awesome mystery, with beauty and death inextri-
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cably intertwined. Will the fire consume us or transform us? Will it ignite worldly wonder? **
1 See the telling of this story in Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992).
2 Although we use the phrase “the environmental crisis” in its singular form, we recognize that our current circumstances cannot be described as a singular event but rather as a series of events with multiple causes and consequences. Moreover, in recognizing the complex plural nature of our environmental crises, we also acknowledge that its scale and impact are now evident around the globe. See documentation of this in The State of the World reports for the last two decades from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C.
3 See the website on the sixth extinction created by David Ulansey, See also Niles Eldredge, Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998). Eldredge was a primary curator for the Hall of Biodiversity.
4 See E. O. Wilson’s article “Is Humanity Suicidal?” New York Times Sunday Magazine (May 30, 1993), reprinted in BioSystems 31 (1993), pp. 235-242. See also Peter Ravens’ Presidential Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston in February 2002.
5 It is important to note that within the Christian tradition, the creationist movement denies the validity of the scientific story of evolution. While this has received significant notice in the United States, it should be said that it is a minority position within the world’s religions, although it has some counterparts in ludaism and Islam. Many of the other world religions do not share this view, since they do not begin with a doctrine of creation. This is true, for example, of the Asian traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism, andDaoism.
6 The critique of Christianity in relation to the environmental crisis first arose with Lynn White’s article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologie Crisis” in Science 155 (March 10,1967).
7 Thomas Berry, Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988).
8 The term Axial Age was first used by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers.
9 An example is the series of monographs from SUNY Press edited by David Ray Griffin on constructive postmodern thought. See also a rigorous analysis of the limits of progress and economic development models in Richard Norgaard, Development Betrayed (New York: Routledge, 1994).
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
10 We are using the term ecology rather than environment to indicate the deeply interconnected dimensions of the natural world, with humans embedded within, not apart from, nature. The term environment can connote a distance from nature as something objective and distinct from humans.
11 See the work of John Cobb, The Earthist Challenge to Economism: A Theological Critique of the World Bank (New York: St. Martins Press, 1999) and Salite McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2001).
12 For some forty years, the Institute for Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) based in Chicago has held conferences and published thejournalZygon. For the last twenty years, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) based in Berkeley, California, has held conferences and workshops, supported new courses, and published books in this area.
13 In addition, the traditional world religions need to be sensitive to wisdom coming from indigenous religions or from the so-called nature religions and secular environmental ethics that have inspired various environmental movements.
14 The books published by the Center for the Study of World Religions and Harvard University Press include Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Williams, eds., Buddhism and Ecology ( 1997); Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong, eds., Confucianism and Ecology (1998); Dieter Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds., Christianity and Ecology (2000); Christopher Key Chappie and Mary Evelyn Tucker, eds., Hinduism and Ecology (2000); John Grim, ed., Indigenous Traditions and Ecology (2000); N. J. Girardot, James Miller and Liu Xiaogan, eds., Daoism and Ecology (2001). Forthcoming are Christopher Key Chappie, ed., Jainism and Ecology; Hava Tirosh Samuelson, ed., Judaism and Ecology; Rosemary Bernard, ed., Shinto and Ecology; Azim Nanji, Frederick Denny, andAzizan Baharuddin, eds., Islam and Ecology.
15 The phrase “more than human” has been used by David Abram in his bookThe Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Pantheon Booh, 1996).
16 With this is mind, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim edited a special issue of the journal Daedalus that brought together scholars of the world religions with scientists, policy makers, and educators around the issue of global warming: “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?” Daedalus [Fall 2001 ), htm.
17 See
18 See the Orbis Booh series “Faith Meets Faith,” Paul Knitter, ed. See also Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation: A New Paradigm (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Booh, 1995).
19 See
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20 See William Theodore de Bary and Tu Weiming, eds., Confucianism and Human Rights (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
21 For use of the term multidisciplinary in contrast to interdisciplinary, see George Rupp, “Religion, Modern Secular Culture, and Ecology,” in Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, eds., “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?”Daedalus (Fall 2001), p. 27.
22 These are all documented in chapters in the individual volumes in the Harvard book series “Religions of the World and Ecology.” See note 13.
23 See Rosemary Ruether, ed., Women Healing the Earth: Third World Women on Ecology, Feminism, and Religion (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1996).
24 The movement, which began in Britain, has had demonstrable influence in decisions to forgive debts in more than twenty countries. See http://www.jubilee.2000uk. org.
25 See the Orbis BooL· series “Ecology and Justice,” Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, eds.
26 For statements on the environment from various religious groups see the Forum on Religion and Ecology website,
27 See Paul Santmire, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985).
28 See Dennis Edwards, Jesus and the Cosmos (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1991) and Ewert Cousins, The Cosmic Christ of the Twenty-first Century.
29 The word anthropocosmic is used by Tu Weiming in Confucian Thought: Selfhood As Creative Transformation (Albany: State University of New York, 1985).
30 Ibid., p. 132.
31 Melvin Konner, The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit. (1982; reprint New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2002), p. 488. Konner continues:
It must be reinstated in relation not only to the natural world but to the human world as well. We must once again experience the human soul as soul, and not just as a buzz ofbioelectricity; the human will as will, not just a surge of hormones; the human heart not as a fibrous, sticky pump, but as the metaphoric organ of understanding. We need not believe in them as metaphysical entities—they are as real as the flesh and blood they are made of. But we must believe in them as entities; not as analyzed fragments but as wholes made real by our contemplation of them, by the words we use to talk of them, by the way we have transmuted them to speech. We must stand in
Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase
awe of them as unassailable, even though they are dissected before our eyes.
As for the natural world, we must restore wonder there, too. We could start with that photograph of the Earth. It may be our last chance. Even now it is being used in geography lessons, taken for granted by small children. We were the first generation to have seen it, the last generation not to take it for granted. Will we remember what it meant to us? How fine the Earth looked, dangled in space? How pretty against the endless black? How round? How very breakable? How small? It is up to us to try and experience a sense of wonder about it that will save it before it is too late. If we cannot, we may do the final damage in our lifetimes. If we can, we may change the course of history and, consequently, the course of evolution, setting the human lineage on a path toward a new evolutionary plateau.
32 Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1926).
About the Author
Mary Evelyn Tucker is professor of religion at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in world religions, Asian religions and religion and ecology. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in the history of religions, specializing in Confucianism in Japan. She is the author of Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism and has coedited a series of works on ecology and religion, including Worldviews and Ecology with John Grim, Buddhism and Ecology with Duncan Williams, Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans with John Berthrong, and Hinduism and Ecology with Christopher Key Chappie. She and John Grim directed a series of twelve conferences, “Religions of the World and Ecology,” at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. During the 2001-2002 academic year she has been visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
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Worldly Wonder: A Response
Judith A. Beding
Abstract: In her response to Mary Evelyn Tucker’s address at the second annual Venerable Master Hsuan Hua Memorial Lecture, the author agrees with Professor Tucker’s premise but expresses concern that many obstacles stand in the way of religions turning toward a concern for the Earth.
Professor Tucker’s lecture, although graciously worded and graciously delivered, is befitting for Christians in the Lenten season, for it calls us to serious self-reflection and a turning away (repentance) from long-established habits of thought and action. Although the lecture is particularly seasonal for Christians, it is in fact addressed equally to adherents of all religions. It is an important and significant message that I pray we may be ready to hear. It is a message particularly challenging for North Americans, who are profoundly attached to a standard and style of living that threatens the survival of human populations in poverty-stricken areas of the world as well as of biological species and irreplaceable natural resources throughout the world.
Professor Tucker briefly describes the ecological crisis, and then identifies the ways in which the world’s religions (including Christianity) can offer resources to respond to it, providing not only articulations of values higher than consumption and accumulation but also the moral authority to inspire human beings to change their ways of living for the sake of the long-term survival of our species, all species and the planet. This is the good news. The bad news is that there are significant challenges for each of the religions in stepping up to the plate on this issue.
Let me review a few of these in ways that I hope will stimulate response and discussion. First, Professor Tucker joins Joanna Macy and others in calling religions into their planetary or Gaia phase. She argues that just as they have been working in the twentieth century to embrace diversity within the human community, so now they are called to embrace the
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vast diversity of life in the Earth community. The challenge here is that we have to admit that our twentieth-century work is far from complete: the embrace of diversity within the human community remains unfinished as long as the specters of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of unjust discrimination haunt us. So we can’t simply say, “Well, now we’ve handled human diversity, it’ s time to move on to diversity of life in the Earth community.” Moreover, the long and hard struggles for human justice remind us that the struggle for biojustice or geojustice will also be vexing and difficult. From a Christian perspective, human sinfulness is a deeply rooted and stubborn enemy.
Second, it is a great challenge to reconcile the worldviews of the various religions with a view that calls human beings to their responsibilities for sustaining the planet in its biodiversity. This requires some fundamental rethinking of religious cosmologies and religious anthropologies. John Cobb and others have argued that Process Theology is promising for Christians in this regard, but that itself is a challenge, since Process Theology has not been a dominant (or even prominent) theological discourse.1
Third, Professor Tucker argues that the ecological crisis is not simply one more issue, and yet religious thought does not start from this crisis. The thinking of all religions begins somewhere else and works its way to the relations of human life to all life on the planet by a rather long and tortuous road. I admit that I have a hard time envisioning how this issue will move front and center in the thinking of any of the religions: that is to say, we may worry about our “primary” issues within each of the religions while the planet dies around us.
Fourth, Professor Tucker acknowledges the disjunction between tradition and modernity but argues rightly that religions are never static, that they respond to challenges and change over time. However, they tend to respond very slowly indeed, and too often their first response to challenge is to turn back to tradition, where “sureties” are to be found. The strength of fundamentalisms in various religions both around the globe and here in the United States are ample testimony to this. How are the more “liberal” voices of the various religions to find their authority in the face of terrifying challenges that seem to require fundamental rethinking of the “verities” and patterns of virtually all religions?
Fifth, who is to take the lead in this dialogue? The people who are the best prepared and most motivated to enter into a dialogue with other faiths and other disciplines (economics, the sciences, etc.) are perhaps the academics, who are more likely to have the training to participate in such multifaceted conversations. But, at least in our culture, will the academics have any power or influence to motivate the changes required to save the
Worldly Wonder: A Response
planet—changes either within the religious communities or within society? I see two major problems. First, academic dialogues tend to become very sophisticated, but as they do so they become less comprehensible and accessible to a general audience or the media. Second, academics often fail to see the gap between ideas and actions as cited by Professor Tucker in her lecture. How are dialogues among academics going to be linked to actions which might change the course of planetary destruction? Are we as academics ready and willing to link our discussions to practical actions and policies, and then to communicate our ideas and effect changes within the religious communities and within society?
Finally, the changes required of North Americans will mandate a significant change in lifestyle to embrace moderation and simplicity rather than unfettered growth and accumulation. The economic and political “engines” of this society are powerfully arrayed against such a change—so powerfully that embracing a life of genuine moderation and simplicity is no easy matter in this culture. (Many of us may believe we live a moderate or simple life compared to others in the United States, but on a global scale, our level of consumption is still extremely high.) Does religion (and today it would have to be a strong coalition of the many religions represented in the culture) have the moral authority, the voice, and the clout to move us toward such a change? What would it take to develop such authority, voice and clout?
The six difficulties I have posed are not a criticism of Professor Tucker’s premises nor of her belief that religion can be a significant contributor to addressing the ecological crisis. On the contrary, I believe that her view is entirely correct. What I give voice to is my deep concern about how challenging it will be for all the religions. It is my hope and my prayer that participants in all religious communities will recognize the ecological crisis and the importance of addressing it—that each religion will be willing to recognize ways in which its tradition has contributed to the crisis and will be willing to articulate values and strategies to change human behavior into planetarily as well as humanly compassionate behavior.
1 See John Cobb, Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1992), for a collection of Cobb’s writings on the subject.
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Judith Α. Beding
About the Author
Judith A. Berling is professor of Chinese and comparative religion, a core doctoral faculty member, and a former dean and vice president for academic affairs at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Among her research interests are world religions and theological education, globalization, and Chinese spirituality. Her recent publications include “Taoism in Ming Culture” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 8, and A Pilgrim in Chinese Culture: Negotiating Religious Diversity.
Virtue-Based Ethics:
A Comparison of
Aristotelian-Thomistic and
Buddhist Approaches
Thomas F. MacMUlan
Abstract: This paper supports the view ofAlasdair Maclntyre that a virtue-based approach to ethics has both intrinsic and comparative superiority to precept-based approaches. The paper identifies a number of ways in which virtue-based ethics in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition are analogous to the virtue-based ethics ofMahayana Buddhism. On the basis of several such corresponding features, the author suggests further dialogue between the two traditions to investigate areas of common ground.
Aristotle or Nietzsche?
Virtue-based ethics in the Western philosophical tradition has been the object of a resurgence of interest over the past three decades. Ethicists have revisited classical themes from Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas in urging an emphasis upon the virtues of moral character, as opposed to moral rules or the assessment of consequences. Perhaps most notable for purposes of the present discussion have been the contributions ofAlasdair Maclntyre, beginning with After Virtue1 and continuing with the more recent Whose Justice? Which Rationality?2 Briefly, Maclntyre argues both the comparative and the intrinsic superiority of the Aristotelian virtue-based model, as compared with the alternatives developed during the Enlightenment and into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
According to Maclntyre’s argument, one must rationally reject both the Kantian “duty” ethics of the Enlightenment and the subsequent utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill because neither provides more than what we might call an “ethics of preference.” In such a case, we quickly discover
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that arguments resting on “conceptually incommensurable” premises reduce themselves to assertion and counterassertion with no possibility of genuine engagement. Wachbroit, in his review of After Virtue, observes:
This is what Maclntyre regards as distinctive of modern moral disagreements: each disputant views the opposing argument as not a contender for truth, but as a rationalization of different values and interest. Thus any resolution of their dispute must be nonrational.3
The extreme case, Maclntyre argues, is Nietzsche, who proposed an ethics of will comparable to an imagined archaic aristocratic self-assertiveness. Thus Nietzsche advanced an emotive justification that is at once self-advocating, self-justifying and beyond rational appeal.4 In Maclntyre’s view, it is also unavoidable, given what he views to be the failure of the Enlightenment project.
What Maclntyre presents as a counterproposal to the emotivist extreme is a virtue-based model of moral choice in the Aristotelian tradition. This tradition proclaims, in place of an internally consistent set of moral precepts and rules, an emphasis upon the cultivation and display of distinctively human virtues. The central question in such a model is not about guiding precepts but about what the good—excellent, complete—human being would choose in a given case. At the end of his analysis, Maclntyre arrives at what he takes to be the central dilemma faced by modern moral humanity: Aristotle or Nietzsche?
Beyond Aristotle: The Problem of the Polis
In Whose Justice? Which Rationality?Maclntyre further develops his case with specific reference to the innovations of Augustine and Aquinas. In particular, Maclntyre recognizes the constraints of Aristotle’s focus upon the polis as the context within which moral judgments must be formed. Instead, he affirms the Thomistic recognition of a human telos which transcends the historical-cultural constraints of the Aristotelian polis. In its defense, Maclntyre describes Aquinas’s theory of human development as being
… open to the possibility that human beings may develop in more than one way…. Nonetheless every human being has within himself or herself the potentiality of formulating those principles which constitute the most fundamental precepts of divine law, as it is presented to human reason by human reason, and of rendering this knowledge actual in such a way and to such a degree as to make every indi-
Virtue-Based Ethics
responsible for not acting upon it (S.T. I 94, 1, 3, 6). This actualization of potentiality is part of the development of a natural aptitude for virtue, which needs to be trained (S.T. 195, l).5
Intrinsic to each human being, in the Thomistic view, is the capacity both to formulate and to become accountable to principles which by the application of practical reason and consistent cultivation form particular habits of character known as the virtues.
For all of Maclntyre’s skill and insight as a diagnostician of the present state of moral discourse, the fact is that he does not quite complete his case for ethical Thomism. The flaw, as Robert George points out, may lie more in Maclntyre than Aquinas, for Maclntyre remains at the end of his argument a moral particularist, insisting that the standards and criteria for evaluating the grounds of our practical reasoning rest solely within the tradition with which we have identified ourselves. Alternatively, one might, as George proposes, introduce a measure of “autonomous practical reasoning.” That is, one might entertain the notion that there is indeed the possibility of tradition-independent standards and criteria on the basis of which to evaluate rival traditions. George takes this solution to be the “authentic Thomistic one.”6 It is in exactly the manner George proposes that Maclntyre would find a solution to the problem of the Aristotelian polis, and it is exactly this solution that Maclntyre rejects.
Invitation to Dialogue
In this paper, I will support the superiority of the virtue-based model of moral reasoning, and at the same time suggest the possibility that the choices available to modern moral humanity extend beyond Aristotle and Nietzsche. Specifically, the burden of this paper is to invite a dialogue between Christian and Buddhist ethicists with a twofold agenda: first, systematically investigating the similarities and differences between the Aristotelian-Thomistic and Mahayana Buddhist models of virtue-based ethics; and, second, establishing criteria for continued expansion of the dialogue to include other religious traditions East and West.
At issue is whether Buddhism may be nominated as a viable alternative virtue-based tradition, similar enough to the Thomistic to be recognizable by those who occupy their place of self-identity in Christian understanding but at the same time embedded in entirely different historical-cultural traditions. The common ground of the two traditions would be the primacy of the virtuous ethical agent as the focal point of ethical evaluation. I propose to take the affirmative view in three steps:
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1. presentation and discussion of selected essential features of a contemporary Aristotelian model of virtue-based ethics;
2. presentation and discussion of what appear to be cognate features of Buddhist ethics;
3. discussion of the common features as potential areas for future Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
Aristotelian-Thomistic Essentials
Two among the essential features of the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach are the notion of eudaimonia and the notion of virtue itself.
Eudaimonia, often translated as “happiness” or “flourishing,” is a te-leological notion that assumes human beings have in their very nature as rational, social beings a definable set of traits that would describe the “best” of which they are capable. Viewed from a naturalistic perspective, this te-leological “best” might thus describe a “good social animal” as, in Hursthouse’s formulation:
… one that is well-fitted or endowed with respect to (i) its parts, (it) its operations, (iti) its actions, and (iv) its desires and emotions; whether it is thus well fitted or endowed is determined by whether these four aspects well serve (1) its individual survival, (2) the continuance of its species, (3) its characteristic freedom from pain and characteristic enjoyment, and (4) the good functioning of its social group, in the ways characteristic of the species. 7
For the human species qua rational animal, a fifth end might be that of contemplation—”the good functioning of the theoretical intellect.”8 No matter how defined, the fifth telos implies attainment of a state beyond the confines and constraints of the naturalistic definition of necessary and sufficient conditions for the flourishing life. Such an attainment would define the uniquely human telos, the distinctive or differentiating trait of humans qua humans, as opposed to those traits held in common with all other sentient beings.
When Aristotle writes in the seventh chapter of the Nichomachean Ethics that “happiness [eudaimonia] is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and, if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete” (NE 1:1098a, 17-19), he implies that the attainment of the ultimate end or purpose of human beings must be constituted by the exercise of a definable set of virtues of both the moral and intellectual variety. To these moral and intellectual virtues, Thomistic ethics would
Virtue-Based Ethics
add a set of virtues received as a gift of grace from God. Coming by grace alone are what may be called the “infused” theological virtues distinctive of the Christian tradition: Faith, Hope and Love.
No matter how extensive the list of specific virtues, what is intrinsic to virtue-based ethics in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition is the ideological contrast between “man-as-he-happens-to-be” and “man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature.” Maclntyre comments:
The precepts which enjoin the various virtues and prohibit the vices which are their counterparts instruct us how to reach our true end. To defy them will be to be frustrated and incomplete, to fail to achieve the good of rational happiness which it is peculiarly ours as a species to pursue. The desires and emotions which we possess are to be put in order by the use of such precepts and by the cultivation of those habits of action which the study of ethics prescribes; reason instructs us both as to what our true end is and how to reach it. We thus have a three-fold scheme in which human-nature-as-it-happens-to-be (human nature in its untutored state) is initially discrepant and discordant with the precepts of ethics and needs to be transformed by the instruction of practical reason and experience into human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-reached-its-telos. Each of the three elements of the scheme—the conception of untutored human nature, the conception of the precepts of rational ethics, and the conception ofhu-man-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-reached-its-telos—requires reference to the other two if its status and function are to be intelligible.9
Implicit in the threefold scheme is the conviction that the exercise of cultivated practical reason enables us to bridge the gap between moral precept and ethical action in each specific case.
This brings us to the second essential feature of the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach: the notion of virtue itself. Hursthouse defines a “virtue” as “a character trait a human being needs for eudaimonia, to flourish or live well.” 10 More broadly, virtue may be defined, following Yearly, as “a disposition to act, desire and feel that involves the exercise of judgment and leads to a recognizable human excellence or instance of human flourishing.”n
In the Thomistic tradition, the virtues have been traditionally identified as comprised of seven “cardinal” ( cardo, hinge) virtues defined by their objects of concern and their manner of interaction.12 These are:
1. Prudence (prudentia): an intellectual virtue concerned with the practical operation of reason in the guidance of conduct;
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2. Temperance or Moderation (temperantia): a moral virtue of inclination concerned with the direction and control of the emotions needful for the attainment of any arête, or excellence;
3. Fortitude or Courage (fortitudo): a preservative moral virtue concerned with the direction and control of emotions that would otherwise prevent the attainment of arête;
4. Justice (justifia): a moral virtue concerned with people’s actions toward and with others in the social order;
5. Faith (fides): an infused, theological virtue by which, when animated by love, a relationship with God is produced;
6. Hope (spes): an infused theological virtue marked by confidence more specifically affective than cognitive;
7. Charity or Love (caritas): an infused theological virtue marked by a deep, companionable relationship with God, an understanding of and sharing in the desires of God, an abiding sense of the unconditional and affirmative initiative of God in the extension of love (agape) toward humanity.
What makes these seven cardinal virtues essential to human flourishing, according to Thomistic tradition, is that they at once benefit their possessor (enabling him or her to flourish in the fullest sense of the meaning of the term eudaimonia), and at the same time make of their possessor a good human being, acting as well for the benefit of others. Each of the virtues complements the others, and the virtues are both interactive and cumulative. In the Pauline vocabulary of Galatians, under the appellation the “Fruit of the Spirit,” the Apostle lists love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as a unified image of the fully formed Christian character received by grace (Galatians 5:22, 23 NASB), just as the cardinal virtues are at least partially achieved by intellectual and moral habituation. While each sees the virtues as interactive, both Aristotle (phronesis) and Aquinas (prudentia) hold Practical Reason to be an intellectual virtue necessary for the exercise of the moral virtues.
In the Aristotelian scheme, prudence as an intellectual virtue is acquired by teaching, while the moral virtues of character are acquired through habitual exercise. Indeed in the history of the Greek term character appears its relationship to the coin-maker’s art. According to this usage, character described the engraver’s last strokes across the face of the dye before the genuine coins were struck, in order that the genuine might be distinguished from the counterfeit. In the formation of human character, by analogy, the moral virtues are developed by consistent and repetitive
Virtue-Based Ethics
induction through habit (ethos) until the mark of the trait becomes indelible upon the person whose character is being formed.
The evaluation of ethical merit, then, is not based upon the precept that may have informed the action (“Do not kill; Do not steal”), as in Kantian duty-based ethics; nor upon the consequences of the action, as conducing to the greater good of the greater number, as the utilitarians would have it; nor, finally, upon the exertion of an act of will for which rational defense is forsaken, as in Nietzsche. Ethical merit resolves itself to the single standard, defined by Hursthouse: “An action is right if [and only if] it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically (i.e., acting in character) do in the circumstances.”13
Such action becomes possible only when the necessary conditions of teaching and habituation have been provided within the context of an ordered community with a common understanding of the human telos, whose hierarchy of values is sufficiently clear for there to have been consensus on the meaning of excellence (arête) and the constituent moral virtues required for human flourishing (eudaimonia). For Aristotle, that context was the polis, while for Aquinas, that context was the ekklesia, the continuing Christian community whose leadership and guardians were typically members of the ordained, celibate orders of contemplation and service.
Virtue-Based Ethics in the Buddhist Tradition
The case for approaching Buddhist ethics from an Aristotelian virtue-based perspective has been made by a number of authors—by Tatz,14by Shaner,15 by Harvey,16 and perhaps most extensively by Keown in The Nature of Buddhist Ethics.17 Harvey suggests the following foundational points of comparison:
Both Aristotle and Buddhism aim at human perfection by developing a person’s knowledge and character, his or her “head” and “heart.” In Buddhist terminology this is done by eliminating both spiritual ignorance and craving, which feed off each other, by cultivating intellectual, emotional and moral virtues sharing something of the qualities of the goal toward which they move. In both Aristotelian and Buddhist ethics, an action is right because it embodies a virtue which conduces to and “participates” in the goal of human perfection.18
For purposes of this paper, particular focus is upon the Mahayana tradition and the perfections (paramitas) of the Bodhisattva. The six paramitas may be viewed as occupying the same role in Mahayana Buddhism as do
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the seven cardinal virtues in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. As in the Western model, the paramitas may be divided into moral and intellectual categories as follows:19
1. Giving (dana): a moral virtue of generosity, manifested in the giving of one’s wealth, possessions, teachings, talents and even life for the benefit of “all sentient beings.” As practiced by lay persons, this virtue reflects the habit of unselfish service and charity.
2. Keeping of the Precepts (stia): a moral virtue of uprightness in conduct, manifested in the observance of the three “pure” precepts, the ten good precepts, and the keeping of specific vows.
3. Patience (kshanti): a moral virtue of self-sacrificing forbearance, and also “love, humility, endurance, and absence of anger and of desire for retaliation and revenge.”20
4. Vigor (virya): a moral virtue of steadfast courage and resolve in the midst of challenging and distracting circumstances; the “heroic” Buddhist virtue.
5. Meditation (dhyana): an intellectual virtue of focused meditative attention, limited in the ethical sense to the first level within which the “practitioner, free from evil and blameworthy states of mind, but still exercising discursive thought and investigation, attains and abides.”21
6. Wisdom (prajña): an intellectual virtue which denotes the highest possible attainment of insightful awareness.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Keown suggests, the telos is nirvana, an end that is comparable in its role, though not identical in its content, to the Aristotelian eudaimonia. Points of similarity include the fact that nirvana 1) is desired for its own sake; 2) is such that everything else that is desired is desired for the sake of it; and 3) is never chosen for the sake of anything else.22 Nirvana as end, or telos, is bilateral, touching upon both mind and heart. Thus, of the six paramitas, prajña (wisdom) is the final perfection, but the other five perfections, considered as virtues, are not considered to be subordinate to the sixth. As in the case of the Aristotelian model, the virtues are both interactive and cumulative. Keown comments: “There is nothing to suggest that the Buddha commended virtues such as generosity and compassion only with the proviso that they be abandoned in favor of intellectual advancement, however small.”23 In fact, there is much textual support for the position that the pursuit of prajña will be futile if one abandons the cultivation of sila.
Virtue-Based Ethics
As the Buddhist concept of morality, sua—sometimes translated as “virtue”—is taken to mean the precepts by which we come to regulate body, mind and speech; cultivate good habits; and conduct ourselves in civil society. Its original meaning referred to “the prevention of wrong, and the restraining of evil.”24 In the Mahayana tradition, the concept was broadened to include actions undertaken for the benefit of others besides oneself, as codified in the three “pure” precepts:
1. to do no evil (samvar-sila);
2. to do only good (kusalasdharma-samgrahaka-sila);
3. to confer benefits upon all sentient beings (sattvarthakriya-sila).
Keeping the precepts, as in the case of the cultivation of all virtues of moral perfection, centers upon the inculcation of consistent habits of speech, action and thought. Moment by moment and day by day, the power of habit, consistently reinforced through repetition and stored in the “storehouse consciousness” (alaya-vijnana), has been viewed in Buddhism as exerting “great influence on cognitive judgment and behavior.”25 Since there are dharmas that arise out of the stored seed as karmic “sprouts,” the function of religious practice “consists of ridding the mind of the tainted seeds, which hinder the attainment of enlightenment, and of increasing the number of untainted seeds, which lead practitioners closer to their goal.”26
In the Christian tradition there is a distinction between those virtues developed through cultivation of intellectual and moral excellence and the “infused” virtues granted in their completeness only by an act of grace. Similarly, the Mahayana tradition posits a distinction between the kind of character produced by the paramitas and the gradual emergence of the intrinsic Buddha nature unveiled by cultivation and practice. The central feature of the Buddha nature is compassion (karuna), taken by Dharmasiri to be one of the four central virtues of character found to be the fruit of the moral life. Dayal has made the observation that such compassion, personified in the character of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, “is the last word and the consummation of the Mahayana.” In Thomistic ethics, caritas or agape is the theological, infused virtue of love, and love leads the list in the Pauline description of the Fruit of the Spirit. In the Mahayana, a comparable character formulation is found in the Divine Abidings or Measureless States—the fourfold, intertwined concepts of lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha).
The intertwining of these concepts is illustrated by a story Dharmasiri cites concerning…
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… α mother with four sons, namely a child, an invalid, one in the flush of youth, and one busy with his own affairs; for she wants the child to grow up, wants the invalid to get well, wants the one in the flush of youth to enjoy the benefits of youth, and is notatali bothered about the one who is busy with his own affairs.27
For the first son, the virtuous manifestation would be metta (lovingkindness), which has as its aspect a devotion to the other’s welfare. Metta is closely comparable to the Christian agape, and is present in the acts of giving cultivated as principal among the paramitas. For the second son, karuna (compassion), which has as its distinctive aspect the relief of the suffering of others, would be the virtuous manifestation; beginning with compassion for one’s own kin and kind, this dimension of character is fully revealed in the maha-karuna, or Great Compassion for all beings, which is characteristic of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For the third son, the mother’s virtuous response of mudita would bring sympathetic joy, a sharing in her son’s enjoyment of his youth, a detached sense of calm affirmation. For the last son, who is “busy with his own affairs,” the mother’s upekkha reflects the virtue of equanimity, peaceful acceptance, which is in its own way an aspect of love. Taken together, the four maternal responses in the story form a composite picture of divine abiding. They are aspects of character of one who is motivated by the fourfold love, has insight to grasp the intrinsic needs of those sentient beings with whom she deals, and has been habituated by a process of self-cultivation to understand and apply the precepts of sua to the immediate and continuing needs of oneself and others.
Discussion of Salient Features of the Two Traditions
The aim of this paper has been to support Maclntyre’s position in favor of the superiority of virtue-based ethics in general, and to build the case that Aristotelian-Thomistic and Buddhist virtue-based ethics have sufficient common ground upon which to develop and continue dialogue pertaining to the practice of virtue-based ethics in Buddhism and in Aristotelian-Thomistic Christianity.
The foregoing synopses of the two positions suggests that the traditions share a number of features in common, among them the following:
1. the notion of a telos—the sense that “humanity-as-we-find-it” is not the last word in the ethical scheme; that there is an intrinsic tension between observed and potential attainment of a flourishing end-state in the human condition;
Virtue-Based Ethics
2. the notion that the path toward such attainment focuses upon the human will, intellect and emotions, and is attainable by all human beings with qualifying rational capacity (excluding, for example, the mentally impaired);
3. the notion that the capacity for practical judgment is a necessary intellectual virtue for the exercise of rational virtue-based ethics;
4. the notion that knowledge—intellectual apprehension—of precepts which tend toward the attainment of the flourishing end-state is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for attainment of that state;
5. the notion that certain virtues essential to the attainment of the flourishing end-state must be cultivated through habitual practice and experience until they are perfected in the form of abiding character;
6. the notion that such cultivation is best attained within the context of a defined community with a clear consensus on the meaning and practice of moral excellence, and a clear sense of the definition of the kind of character exemplified by the most skilled cultivators;
7. the commitment to service of others based on the cultivation of virtues in oneself and upon the imperative to reciprocate for the benefits that one has received.
Both traditions view human ethical choice as involving the complex interactions of will, intellect and emotions with the goal of harmonizing the three in an attainable end-state of well-being, flourishing or perfection. Moral reasoning is viewed as practical in both traditions, focused upon the exercise of choice and the direction of the will toward good ends or purposes. In each case, a specific mental faculty gives one the capacity to apprehend the good or right thing to do in the specific circumstances, for the right reasons, and in the right manner. In this sense, both traditions are other-regarding, recognizing the intrinsically social nature of humankind; compassionate service is central in the developed expression of each tradition.
In the two ethical systems, balance is sought between heart, will and mind. Both traditions recognize the inherent dangers of an extreme emphasis on the intellectual at the expense of the emotional, just as the converse is easily seen to be true. In both traditions, the cultivation and practice of the virtues is, in practical terms, a stabilizing influence upon the community as well as the individual and assures that the community within which it remains possible to cultivate and promulgate those same virtues remains intact as a flourishing and continuing presence in the world.
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Further technical comparisons have been made by Keown28 between the nature of human psychology and the specific decision-making locus and processes of Aristotelian and Buddhist virtue-based ethics. Keown’s excellent and detailed discussion is commended to the reader.
A final point of comparison of the two approaches concerns the issue of how broad and inclusive is the community within which the character of the virtuous agent is formed. In Aristotle it is the polis, and in the Thomistic tradition it is the ekklesia; in the Mahayana the comparable community of the ordained, celibate, contemplative or serving practitioners is defined as the sangha. Metaphorically, the sangha is viewed as “an extremely rich field” that both preserves and transmits the Dharma. Members of the sangha are in the ideal sense imagined to be on the Bodhisattva path; as exemplars before the community, they walk in the Way “well, honestly, truthfully and correctly; they bring happiness and fruitfulness to the people by proclaiming and acting within proper Dharma; they preserve and transmit proper dharma into future generations.”29 As in the case of the ekklesia, the sangha’s leadership of the religious community is based on the recognition that all who follow the same path are bound in common endeavor.
However, from a contemporary perspective, the scope of concern of the Mahayana virtue-based approach may be revealed as broader than the Thomistic approach and hence have the potential of greater appeal to postmodern society. For example, Whitehill has observed that Buddhist virtue-based ethics has the two additional advantages over the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of being both biocentric and ecological. The notion of the “atomistic, self-empowering, monad-godling of Western Christian thought is well known, but understood as a delusion born of ignorant desires and fears, resulting in a wish-fantasy for domination,” as Whitehill puts it.30 Secondly, moral membership in the moral community of Buddhist thought extends beyond the human community and is inclusive of all sentient beings. Recent contributions of Christian environmental ethi-cists have blunted Whitehall’s criticism. However, the question of scope resonates with the polis problem of moral particularism with which Maclntyre wrestled and is worthy of discussion in an appropriate setting for Christian-Buddhist dialogue.
Modern virtue-based ethics in the Western tradition has been redefined over the last twenty-five years by the challenge posed in Alasdair Maclntyre’s After Virtue: Aristotle or Nietzsche? Students of the world’s religious traditions have every reason to raise the question whether there are alternative
Virtue-Based Ethics
virtue-based models beyond the Aristotelian which might guide us collectively and still avoid the relativism or radical ethical egoism of Nietzsche. A brief comparison of selected features of Aristotelian-Thomistic and Buddhist virtue-based ethics has been presented here with the intent of encouraging further dialogue on matters of mutual ethical concern. One hopes that each party to the continuing dialogue would come to the table with a deeper understanding of and respect for the tradition represented by the other party. Insofar as this paper has contributed to such understanding and respect, it has succeeded. Insofar as it has added to confusion or misunderstanding, it reflects the limitations of the author’s scholarship and practice, which only compassion on the part of all readers may serve to ameliorate. **
I Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 1984).
2 , Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Indiana:
Notre Dame University Press, 1988).
3 Robert Wachbroit, “A Genaeology of Virtues,” The Yale Law Review 94:564, p. 312.
4 Maclntyre, 1984, pp. 113-114.
5 Maclntyre, 1988, p. 179.
6 Robert George, “Moral Particularism, Thomism, and Traditions,” Review of Metaphysics 42 (March 1989), p. 601.
7 Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 202.
8 Hursthouse, p. 218.
9 Maclntyre, 1984, pp. 52-53.
10 Hursthouse, p. 20.
II Lee Yearly, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage (Albany: SUNYPress, 1990), p. 13.
12 See Ralph McInernyEUiicdLThomistica, revised edition (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997).
13 Hursthouse, p. 28.
14 M. Tatz, Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics, with the Commentary of Tong-Kha-Pa (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986).
15 D. E. Shaner, uThe Japanese Experience of Nature” in J. B. Callicott and R. T. Ames (eds.), Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989).
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16Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
17Damien Keown, The Nature of Buddhist Ethics, Second Edition (New York: Palgrave, 2001).
18 Harvey, p. 50.
19 For a fuller discussion of the paramitas, see Gunapala Dharmasiri, Buddhist Ethics (Antioch: Golden Leaves Publishing Co., 1989).
20 Dharmasiri, p. 96.
21 Kogen Mizuno, Essentials of Buddhism: Basic Terminology and Concepts of Buddhist Philosophy and Practice, First English Edition (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1996), p. 175.
22 Keown, p. 201.
23 Ibid.
24 Mizuno, p. 169.
25 Mizuno, p. 108.
26 Ibid.
27 Dharmasiri, p. 51.
28 See especially Keown, Chapter 9.
29 Mizuno, p. 92.
30 James Whitehill, “Buddhist Ethics in Western Context: The Virtues Approach” Journal of Buddhist Ethics (ISSN 1076-9005), p. 4.
About the Author
The late Thomas F. MacMillan was professor of philosophy and institutional research officer at Mendocino College, in Ukiah, California, where he taught critical thinking, ethics and comparative religion. He was an active member of the advisory board of Dharma Realm Buddhist University.
Dr. MacMillan was ordained as a Baptist minister and at his death in February 2002 was serving as associate pastor of the First Baptist Church in Ukiah. He had also served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lucerne, California, and as interim pastor of the First Baptist Church of Willits, California.
He held a doctorate in education from the University of California at Berkeley and a master of arts in philosophy and language arts from San Francisco State University. Among his academic honors were the endowment by the Mendocino College Foundation of a chair in teaching excellence and an honorary doctor of philosophy in comparative religions at Dharma Realm Buddhist University.
Disaster and Peace Both Come from the Mind
Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Abstract: The principle of karma in Buddhist ethics is illustrated in this compilation of excerpts from instructional talks given by the late Master Hua. The Master discusses the causal connection that leads from people’s good and evil thoughts to external events.
The world today is filled with terror. People of all races feel unsafe when they walk about. They can’t taste the food they eat; they can’t sleep peacefully. They know that if even one weapon of mass destruction is set off, the entire human race might be wiped out. And now we are witnessing aberrations in the climate, which is a sign that heaven and earth are becoming unbalanced. Day by day the world becomes darker; a black miasma covers all the lands.
Why has such a situation arisen? We should pay particular attention here to the principle of karma. The evil offenses and evil karma that people are creating are filling up the atmosphere. Everyone keeps creating more evil karma, and no one attempts to eradicate the karma that has already accumulated. Everyone has violated the five moral precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, taking intoxicants and lying, and slowly, bit by bit, the karma becomes great enough to fill up the universe.
All the disasters in the world arise because people do not follow the five precepts just mentioned. If everyone could follow these precepts, disasters would disappear. Just consider the karma of killing. It’s as if everyone harbored an atom bomb that is about to blow up. The atom bomb is each person’s afflictions. The gathered momentum of everyone’s afflictions is actually greater than the energy of an atom bomb.
The problem lies with the three poisons—greed, anger and delusion. Everyone becomes attached to the various aspects of life because in their delusion they think that everything in the world is real. For this reason, people vie for fame and fight for profit by engaging in all sorts of treachery
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and scheming—all manner of things that violate their consciences. And in the end, those who compete for fame and profit die because of fame and profit. How do people become so obsessed? It’s because of greed, anger and delusion. These three poisons are more lethal than arsenic. They not only poison the body, they devastate the mind. They break up families and drive people insane. Because of them entire countries are in turmoil. Ultimately, they are capable of destroying the whole world. Therefore, these three poisons are our public enemies. Greed causes people to become insatiable, and when their greed cannot be satisfied, it turns into anger and rage. Less intense anger festers inside people’s minds; more intense anger erupts into fighting and war. No wonder the world is not at peace.
What should we do? The Buddha said, “Everything is made from the mind.” What has just been discussed is evidence of that principle. All the things that are happening right now are happening because of the minds of people. If people want disasters to be eradicated, they must begin within their own minds. As members of the human race, we should each take it as our work to get rid of our own bad habits and problems. We should brush away our greed, anger and delusion and act as models who influence others to go toward the good. Each person who can do that will be able to eliminate the vengeful energy from his own world. When two, three, four, five, a thousand or ten thousand people take up this work in their daily lives, then their worlds will be transformed.
All problems lie within the confines of the law of karma. This immutable law of cause and effect dictates that good acts lead to good effects and evil acts doom people to failure. The saying goes, “If you If people want disasters plant melons, you get melons; if you plant beans, you get
beans.” That is why the only way to prevent the world from to be eradicated, they bein8 utterly destroyed is for people to change their hearts.
When people’s hearts turn toward the good, then a light must begin within tbat comes from wisdom fills the world. People with wisdom
have a glow of righteousness about them. Everything their own minds ^y ^° exemP^fres what is bright, great, proper and just.
They seek to benefit all humankind. They don’t discriminate on the basis of race, nationality or religion. They long to see the world become a unified whole where all beings are equal and live in harmony.
Each being follows its own path, along which its energy travels like an electric current. Although each being has its own path, Heaven, Earth and living creatures nevertheless form a unified whole. Therefore, every time a person gets angry or afflicted he increases the toxic vibrations in the universe. Every thought of greed, anger and delusion adds to the world’s poisonous energy. Conversely, one wholesome thought adds to the whole-
Disaster and Peace Both Come from the Mind
some and righteous spirit in Heaven and on Earth. Whenever greed, anger and delusion are replaced by precepts, mindfulness and wisdom, the auspicious energy in the world, will increase. If our efforts in this regard are diligent and sincere, we can transform violent energy into something auspicious; we can turn disasters into peaceful situations.
We now live in the gloom of night darkened by war. We need light. Since both darkness and light are ultimately created by thoughts, people’s minds can both destroy the world and reform the world. The Buddhist teachings are an invaluable, precious raft that can ferry people across to safety, because these teachings include methods by which people’s thoughts can be influenced toward the good. The saying goes, “Do no evil, do good deeds, and purify your mind: this is what all Buddhas teach.” That is the truth of Buddhism. It is an idea that everyone understands, but hardly anyone puts it into practice, and that is why the world is in a mess.
The only way we can help avert calamity is to engage in proper moral and spiritual cultivation. In any location where people are engaged in this work, disasters will be lessened. When many people can gather together and unite their efforts in this way, they will be able to eradicate disasters by invisibly transforming the violent energy into a positive, beneficial atmosphere. To make that happen, though, we must do real work, take firm strides, and practice diligently.
For example, when we sit in silent meditation according to the Chan method, our goal is to change evil into good. To practice Chan meditation is to hold the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants. Why do I say this? In the first place, when you are sitting in meditation and investigating your Chan topic, you won’t have time to do anything else. You should be able to pick up your meditation topic, your investigation of “Who?” and let everything else go. Just investigate “Who?” Further, when you meditate you can turn the searchlight of your awareness around and illuminate your own mind. You can observe how many evil thoughts you’re producing and how many good thoughts. If you see that you haven’t been having many good thoughts, you can quickly see to it that they increase. When you observe that you’ve been producing evil thoughts, you can quickly take steps to get rid of them. This is the first business of the Chan practitioner. To avoid evil deeds and respectfully practice good deeds is to lay the foundation for a career in spiritual cultivation.
Now is a time when people’s moral behavior is declining drastically to the point that almost everyone is selfish and self-seeking. More and more people sacrifice the happiness of the majority in order to fulfill their own private desires. For that reason, the world becomes darker and darker day by day, and people become more deluded as time goes on. The situation
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has now grown so precarious that all the inhabitants of the world are poised on the brink of extinction. If we do not exhaust our efforts to turn this tide of selfishness, then the outcome is inevitable: the utter destruction of everyone. None will escape this doom.
How can the world be saved? We can start by “doing no evil and only doing good.” If everyone does good works and refrains from doing evil, then the influence will be all-pervasive. From the international leaders down to the most ordinary citizens, we are all capable of shining our wisdom-light to dispel the darkness of delusion. If we join together in this, we can remove the dark shadows that cover the world and replace them with bright, wholesome energy. This is the way to world peace. **
Venerable Master Hua’s Talks on Dharma, Volume 3. Burlingame, California: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1995, pp. 37,163,209-217.
Venerable Master Hua’s Talks on Dharma, Volume 4. Burlingame, California: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1995, p. 127.
Venerable Master Hua. Herein Lies the Treasure Trove, Volume 1. Talmage, California: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1983, pp. 55, 58-59.
Venerable Master Hua. Herein Lies the Treasure Trove, Volume 2. Talmage, California: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1989, pp. 13-18.
About the Author
An account of the life of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua is given on page 101.
The Ethics of Islam
Snjezana Akpinar
Abstract: The author describes two levels of Islamic ethics: the Sharia, or religious law, which governs communal life, and fhetariqah, the inward path toward individual attainment of harmony with the Divine.
Islam began formulating its ideals and its norms soon after the death of the prophet Muhammad at the end of the seventh century CE. Discussions and debates took place in the cities of the newly formed empire, with close friends of the Prophet among the main participants. The writings of early Muslim theologians, therefore, are authoritative sources for an account of formative Islamic ethical and spiritual prescriptions. In this paper, after commenting on the communal ethics of Islam, the Shari’a, I will focus on a series of concepts elaborated during the early period of Islamic thought by the ascetic Al-Muhasibi, his teacher Hasan Al-Basri, and the most famous disciple of their school, Al-Junayd; their writings comprise the basic strands of Islamic ethics. I wish to point out, however, that these are only strands in the organic, immense and open-ended fabric of Islam.
Shari’a: The Main Street
The boundaries of the Muslim world are delineated by a method of social governance known as the Shari’a. This “religious law” can be depicted as a grand boulevard, the main street of a system (the word shari’a means “street” in Arabic). The Shari’a governs society through rules and regulations, and individuals must respect its laws in order for civilization to flourish within its circumference. This by no means is intended to denigrate other systems that may exist parallel to Islam, as long as these do not pose a threat to humanity.
The Shari’a rests on four “roots of faith”: the Qur’an; the Tradition of the Prophet (Sunnah); analogies drawn from the preceding two (qiyas); and, finally, consensus (ijmay) within the Islamic community. To these is
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added the necessary creative component of personal judgment {ray). This structure was codified in the late eighth century under the famous jurist Al-Shafi’i. A ramification of this system is the science of verification of the Tradition of the Prophet and the chain of their transmission. The study of history and language developed as tools for these verifications.
There are many schools of Shari’a law, and each traces its origins to
customs that derive from the early days of the Islamic community and
practices instituted by the prophet Muhammad. The various schools are
known as the “Ways of Inquiry” (madhab alfiqh). On the whole, there are
. j τ few differences among these schools. The Shi’a faction of
More inward paths, Islam, for example, differs from the Sunni majority only
slightly, in that it increases the scope of the third root, analo-
known as tanqah, lead gieS) by adding to it the concept of modeling (taqlid) one’s
life after holy people in general, rather than drawing paral-
indtVtduals toward the Ids exclusively from the life of the prophet Muhammad.
Out of these generally agreeing traditions, a complex pro-
center of their being. cess of deliberation and judgment developed. This process
became known as the “sustained effort” (ijtihad, which is derived from the verb jihad, to exert effort). From this effort, consensus would be reached.
It is noteworthy that the principle of consensus was based on the premise that it was to be reached instinctively. Therefore, it has no canonized procedure. It was understood, however, that consensus must be arrived at through the agreement of people who possess knowledge and wisdom. It emphatically cannot be the agreement of the masses. Al-Shafi’i, who formalized the procedure, insisted that the only consensus that could carry weight was that of the whole community as represented by the learned of the Islamic world. They were, he said, the representatives of the benevolent spirit of the various provinces.
During the early centuries of Islam, learned men often traveled from town to town and from one center of learning to another to teach or study under scholars dispersed throughout the Islamic caliphate. This practice allowed the search for knowledge to remain a personal quest. In this manner, too, the jurists managed to discourage institutionalization and abstraction of communal rules and regulations. The consensus was carried out among a class of scholars who trusted each other. Accordingly, anyone who was not considered a scholar could choose his own way of inquiry (fiqh), with the fiqh prevalent in his region as a starting point. He might consult a jurist ( mufti) of that “way,” but if an issue were carried to court, the judge, who would have been appointed by the governor, would rule according to his own particular “way.”
The Ethics ofIslam
For the sake of .clarity, it is important to note two modern challenges to the system of Shari’a law. The first is the Wahhabi movement, which arose in the mid-eighteenth century on the Arabian Peninsula and continues to flourish there. It is often linked to the concept of fundamentalism. The Wahhabis reject the last two roots of the Shari’a—analogy and consensus—and limit themselves to decisions made by the Companions of the Prophet. The legal system based on “sustained effort” is thus undercut.1 Second, the Iranian revolution of 1979, by establishing the “Government of Jurists”—that is, of scholars of fiqh—delivered another blow to the basic principles of Islamic law. The Shari’a tradition explicitly excludes jurists from governing; otherwise they would be unable to act as impartial advisers to those who do govern. Jurists can tap into the four roots that nurture faith only if they remain impartial observers of the ways of the world. In both instances these innovations have borne heavy consequences.
Sufism and the Tariqah: The Personal Path
From the broad street of the Shari’a lead more inward paths. Known as tariqah, these paths lead individuals toward the center of their being. To follow a tariqah, then, is to undertake a personal quest. It is described as the cultivation and education of the self, the nafs, an Arabic word that denotes both soul and breath. Following one’s tariqah teaches one to “breathe,” or live, in a healthy manner, in harmony with the world and its rhythm. This aspect of religiosity, according to Islam, cannot be expressed in words or in rules and regulations. It is the gradual acquiring, through maintenance of a right lifestyle, of a supraknowledge, a gnosis, which allows us to acquire an insight into existence. In Arabic such an insight is known as ma’rifa. Cultivated within a human heart and expressed through one’s behavior, ma’rifa enables us to harmonize with our surroundings and, indeed, the whole universe.
The metaphor of cosmic harmony is an ancient one. It is reminiscent of the archaic Semitic concept of the rh, the universal spirit; those who capture its beat harmonize with the world. It is also reminiscent of the Indo-Iranian rt, or in a more expanded form, a-rt-a, which in mythological terms is the rhythm engendered by the turning wheels of the chariot of the Sun God. The Indo-European word rhythm and its various forms (such as arithmetic) derive from that root.
Not all human beings are capable of an arduous journey along a tariqah, and those not interested should not be forced; according to the well-known saying from the Qur’an: “There is no injunction in religion.” For many it is enough to follow the rules of the Shari’a in order to avoid
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harming themselves and others. For guidance they may seek and rely on a body of intellectual knowledge known as ‘Urn. ‘Ilm can be expressed in words and learned by rote. It can carry us as far as reason and intellect are capable. Beyond that point, one must seek ma’rifa and cosmic harmony.
The word commonly used to describe the path of ma’rifa is Sufism. A widely accepted description of Sufism is given in the introduction to Mir Valiuddin’s book The Quranic Sufism.2 In the Shaikh al-Islam’s words:
Sufism teaches how to purify one’s self, improve one’s morals, and build up one’s inner and outer life in order to attain perpetual bliss. Its subject matter is the purification of the soul and its aim the attainment of eternal felicity and blessedness.
To paraphrase: the method used in Islam to help one learn how to be at peace and at ease with one’s self and one’s surroundings is known as Sufism. There are many Sufi orders, each with its founder and its manuals; some are regional, while others have transcended their region. All of them have developed methods for living an ethical life.
Al-Muhasibi and the Ethics of Awareness
Perhaps the best example emerges from the writings of Harith b. Asad Al-Muhasibi, who was mentioned at the outset of this essay. Originally from Baghdad, Al-Muhasibi lived in the late eighth and early ninth century CE. He based his ethics on the holy Qur’an itself. Al-Muhasibi considered himself a strict follower of the prophet Muhammad and the “Companions of the Bench,” the close friends of the Prophet. In his book The Education of the Self, Al-Muhasibi describes the first step on the path as a “cleansing of the heart.” This can be achieved only by checking the unrestricted influx of life energies which come to us through our senses and passions.
The senses and passions are gates which “allow floods of hostility and hardness to rise, thereby plugging the springs of compassion and kindness.” Compassion and kindness are also expressed through the senses. Thus, the senses themselves are neither bad nor good; they simply need a watchman at their door.
Al-Muhasibi describes in great detail how to cleanse the influx of impurities that flow into the self. He classifies them as follows:
1. the enemy within the self: self-consciousness, or passion for its own sake (Al-nafs al-ammara or hawa); and (sensual) desires (shahawat);
The Ethics of Islam
2. the enemy outside the self: worldliness seen as suggestibility and temptation (aUdunya, waswas, fitan);
3. the passions: greed, pride and delusion (tama’, kibr, ghirra).
As one progresses in the cultivation of gnosis, one develops an awareness of the human condition. The historical starting point for the Arabs in that regard is the “State of Ignorance” (jahiliyya). It is described in all Islamic texts as the precursor to stupidity, alluding to the notion that the Bedouins of Arabia had forgotten the true meaning of faith due to sluggishness and social decay. They fell into a state of ignorance until the dawn of Islam revived the primordial Semitic path to wisdom, which is the Abrahamic tradition, yet once again.
The remedy for such ignorance—the ingrained nescience common to all human beings—is to cultivate awareness (hadhr) and practice continuous vigilance (tayaqquz) over the senses. By becoming aware of how we live, what we do, and what we think, we minimize the consequences of ignorant deeds and uncultivated thoughts that lead us
further and further away from peace of mind. Meth- The remedy for ignorance IS odologies vary from school to school, but all share the
same goal and are not mutually exclusive; thus, the el- to cultivate awareness and der of a specific order may be also initiated into other orders and mix practices. practice continuous
In the Qur’an, the influx coming through the senses and passions is often compared to a burden vwilance over the senses. ( rana). This alludes to the Quranic phrase, “What they earned burdened their hearts” {Sura 83:15). The power exerted by such burdens is seen as an impurity in need of cleansing. This is alluded to again by the prophet Muhammad, who in a moment of sadness, accepting the fact that his community was set on fighting, said, “The purity (safw) of our world is gone. Only its power (qadr: the burden) is left.” To paraphrase: the community will have to bear the consequences of its deeds.3
Hasan Al-Basri, Al-Muhasibi’s great teacher, had already elaborated on this idea by stating: “This world will depart, but the deeds will cling about the neck of the children of Adam.”4 The uncultivated human being, he said, is like a shipwrecked man flailing about in a raging storm in the middle of the ocean. He clings to a piece of driftwood in an attempt to save himself and his burdens. Another early theologian, Bishr Al-Hafi, saw the necessity of “escaping the cankers of one’s actions [since] the self is by nature prone to action and it should be commanded to be still.”5
The burden accumulated by the influx of impurities from the senses and the passions is described by the early Muslim theologians as a coagula-
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tion of half-processed viscous actions which cling to the self. The burden can be reduced and additions to it avoided through purification ( tasawwafa) of intention. This is achieved through the cultivating of an awareness of our intentions and their source. In other words, we must take note of where our thoughts are coming from. The purification of intention is a measure that must be taken before any sincere and single-minded action is embarked upon, and an action should be undertaken only if it is shown to be “right in itself” and can stand alone, not weighted down by the powerful consequences of our ignorant deeds. It is an action that has no remainder. This process allows good Muslims to gain and maintain a buoyancy while remaining engaged in this world.
Ethics and Compassion
For Al-Muhasibi, the first step on such a path must be “the unplugging of the springs of compassion.” Compassion (rahma) is stressed in the Qur’an as the basic attribute of God. Its initial meaning is “womb.” Thus compassion is the “womb of the Earth,” capable of engendering a feeling of unity between the Absolute and the Self.6 Strictly speaking, compassion can also be regarded as a grace (rida) bestowed upon humanity, and human beings must keep it “cleansed” of the influxes of passions and the senses. Through this cleansing process one becomes receptive to the influence of the Divine. Al-Muhasibi describes four steps in the development of compassion:
1. One experiences emanations from a higher being (Muaththar). These emanations correspond, under proper circumstances, to impressions already outlined within ourselves.7 Hasan Al-Basri, in defining such acceptance of God’s grace, calls it “the molder of the molds”(Muqallibu al-qulub). In his famous sermons delivered in the early eighth century, he defined human personality as a “living and knowing heart.” (It is noteworthy that in Arabic the word for mold, or form, is synonymous with the word for heart.)8 Accordingly, our hearts, the seats of the soul, are considered molds capable of being transformed by divine influence. Jallaludin Rumi, the great Turkish thirteenth-century poet and mystic, describes it
as “the love for God growing in your heart There is no sound
of clapping which comes from one hand without the other.”9
2. Through our acceptance of these emanations of grace, magnanimity (karamah) arises. It is considered to be a special gift that descends upon human beings and envelops us like a vine (rida).
The Ethics of Islam
3. From magnanimity arises kindness towards all beings ( mahabba). It is a pure affection which melts away all fear and misgiving. It creates a state of yearning for harmony (zuhd) within the “self” and the quest to return “to the state in which one was before one was,” to quote the theologian Al-Junayd, who was a disciple of the school of Hasan Al-Basri and Al-Muhasibi.10
4. Finally, the self is led to rise beyond senses and desires in order to reach the state of equanimity (tawakkul) where mind can be stilled.11 It is a state of abandonment where one gives up “body and life and reason and religion … [since] in the Eternal, beliefs and unbeliefs are not; things exist not if nature be pure.” 12 One has begun to swim out of the grips of worldly power (qadr) by emptying the heart. It is at this point, according to Al-Junayd, that the central aim of Islamic spirituality begins to be realized: the “Becoming of One” (tawhid). It is the point where that which has originated in time is undone so that it may join what has not been created. **
1 Although the Wahhabi movement claims allegiance to theHanbali “way” or school of law, Hanbali jurists reject them on the grounds that they have undermined the system of inquiry and done away with deliberation (ijtihad,).
2 First printed in New Delhi in 1959. The introduction was written by Zakariyah Ansari, who at that time held the honorable position of Shaikh al-Islam, a position roughly analogous to the Archbishopric of Canterbury in the Church of England.
3 Mir Valiuddin, The Quranic Sufism (Delhi, 1959), p. 2.
4 Margaret Smith, The Way of the Mystics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 176.
5 Smith, p. 161.
6 See Louis Massignon, Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane (Paris, 1922), p. 199.
7 Athar, tathir andmuathar are various grammaticalforms of the verb to emanate or to leave a trace. See Margaret Smith, An Early Mystic of Baghdad (London: Sheldon Press, 1977), pp. 36, 37, and Massignon, p. 147.
8 Massignon, p. 171.
9 Rumi was originally from the Central Asian city ofBalkh, now in Afghanistan. The quote is from his collection o/Mathnawis (Couplets), III 4394, trans. R. A. Nicholson.
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10 Al-Junayd, quoted from A. J. Arberry, ed., Sufism (New York: Allen & Unwin, 1950), p. 130.
11 Benedikt Reiner, Die Lehre vom Tawakkul in der klassischen Sufik (Berlin, 1968), p. 224.
12 Sana’i, The Enclosed Garden of Truth (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1968), p. 96.
About the Author
Snjezana Akpinar holds a Ph.D. in Turkish studies from the University of Istanbul and a degree in Oriental studies from the University of Belgrade. She is president of Dharma Realm Buddhist University and lectures on comparative religion at the Institute for World Religions and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
Ethics in the Modern World:
A Vedantic View
Swami Prabuddhananda
Abstract: In the Vedantic tradition, ethics are derived from rta, the natural order of the universe, and from the fundamental oneness of all human beings. The author identifies five basic moral principles: non-injury, truthfulness, chastity, non-stealing and non-receiving of gifts.
Whether men understand it or not, they are impelled by that power behind to become unselfish. That is the foundation of all morality. It is the quintessence of all ethics, preached in any language, or in any religion, or by any prophet in the world. “Be thou unselfish”; (<NotI,
but thou”—that is the background of all ethical codes
The infinite oneness of the Soul is the eternal sanction of all morality, that you and I are not only brothers—every literature voicing man’s struggle towards freedom has preached that for you—but that you and I are really one. This is the dictate of Indian philosophy. This oneness is the rationale of all ethics and all spirituality.
—Swami Vivekananda
1. The Basis of Ethics
Ethics, as ordinarily understood, is the study of accepted codes of behavior within a particular framework of individuals, group, religion or profession. These various prescribed codes influence individual and collective views of the goals of life and the proper means to achieve them. There are many types of ethical systems—legalistic, scientific, altruistic, utilitarian and so on—each based on particular principles relevant to that system. Most of these systems demand that an individual make some kind of moral judgment, which in turn affects that individual’s conduct. The nature and extent of these judgments, of course, depend on the hypothesis of any given system. For example, in utilitarian ethics, the
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predominant principle states that whatever promotes the welfare of society is right. Society should flourish, and the individuals within it should feel secure enough to live peacefully. Therefore, according to this mode of thinking, whatever contributes the most material benefit to the greatest number is moral and correct.
There are other aspects of social behavior which may not, strictly speaking, fall into an ethical framework but should be mentioned. For instance, pressure to follow the common way of doing things operates at the least developed level. Whatever the majority of people do is
A more comprehensive taken as the standard for everyone. People in this majority-
ruled category lack personal conviction about
ground for ethics is based what is to be done or not to be done and thus blindly
imitate others instead of thinking for themselves. This
on rta, the natural basic sort of mass structuring of behavior after the ordinary
run of men is, no doubt, an aid to society, at least in
order of the Universe. maintaining social order. But often the majority, acting
through self-interest, may be morally wrong. So, by and large, this thoughtless following in the footsteps of others is detrimental to the individual’s growth as well to the growth of society.
At another level is behavior governed primarily by the spirit of “live and let live.” Here, ethics is seen to be necessary only to the extent that it restrains people such that life proceeds smoothly for those in the same environment. An individual pursues his golden fleece, being cautious not to disturb others, lest he be disturbed. This is certainly a step up from merely conforming to the opinions of the majority. All such ethical systems and behavior patterns, of which these are examples, stem from partial truths and are shallow-rooted and unstable because they have only a social, economic or biological basis. Our spiritual teachers, however, have given us a deeper and more comprehensive ground for ethics, which is based on rta, the natural basic order of the universe.
The ancient seers found that nothing happens randomly or through chance in this bewildering world and that everything is regulated by rta. There are certain inviolable laws according to which things take place. For example, if wheat is sown, wheat is reaped. The law of cause and effect illustrated by this example is only a part of rta. When this law of cause and effect works in the realm of right and wrong, it is known as morality and righteousness. All conscious beings whose intelligence has evolved are subject to this universal law. It functions impersonally whether or not one believes in it and whether or not one formally adheres to a certain creed or religion. It is therefore in our best interest to take this moral law seriously and cultivate virtues such as truthfulness and faithfulness in the perfor-
Ethics in the Modern World: A Vedantic View
f duties, both for our own growth and for the welfare of society. In this way, the spiritual basis of ethics is derived from and is based on rta.
Patanjali, the great ancient teacher of yoga, through mystical insight into this eternal moral order and into human psychology, discerned that all ethical disciplines are founded on the five virtues known as yamas. The yamas are sarvabhauma, or universal—unaffected by time, place or purpose, and not confined to any particular era, country, race or creed. They should be observed with determination by everyone at all times. The yamas are non-injury, truthfulness, chastity, non-stealing and non-receiving of gifts.
Non-injury: The principle of non-injury requires that individuals honor the validity of every creature’s position in the cosmic scheme. As Swami Vivekananda says, “Never producing pain by thought, word and deed in any living being is what is called ahimsa, non-injury.”1 If an individual violates this principle, he denies the oneness of all existence. Hurting others is really hurting oneself, like biting one’s own tongue. Swami Vivekananda states:
Each individual soul is a part and parcel of the Universal Soul, which is infinite. Therefore in injuring his neighbor, the individual actually injures himself. This is the basic metaphysical truth underlying all ethical codes.”2
Whenever a person transgresses this law, he, as it were, severs his connection with the larger whole, and thus his personality contracts, making him miserable. Swami Vivekananda comments further:
You are one with the Universal Being and as such, every soul that exists is your soul; and every body that exists is your body; and in hurting anyone, you hurt yourself, in loving anyone, you love yourself3
Thus there is a positive side to the practice of non-injury, which is to love everyone, to cultivate compassion and friendliness toward all beings. In modern times Mahatma Gandhi is the most notable votary of the practice of non-injury.
Truthfulness: Trying to perceive and relate facts as they are, without any prejudice, is to be truthful. Any recognition or assertion of facts is strengthening, and any falsehood is weakening. Sri Ramakrishna stresses that man should make his thoughts, words and actions tally. But sticking to truth does not mean that one should hurt others by speaking unpleasant truths. As the Agni Purana warns, “One should speak what is true and
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what is agreeable. But one should avoid an unpalatable truth and a palatable lie. This is the eternal law.”
Chastity: The observance of chastity in thought, word and deed increases willpower and conserves energy, which is then transmuted for a higher purpose. This stored-up energy, according to yoga, is called ojas. Swami Vivekananda notes that Vedanta gives the rational, scientific explanation why all serious religions have preached chastity. A chaste person can tap his intellectual and spiritual capacities to their fullest extent. Through restraint and self-control he develops tremendous stamina and spiritual strength, or ojas.
Non-stealing and non-receiving of gifts: These two disciplines are advised in order to control greed, which, according to the Bhagavad Gita, is the gateway to all ruin. Generally, acceptance of gifts—except from good people who will not try to dominate, dictate to or control the receiver— creates a feeling of obligation, which robs a person of independence. Swami Vivekananda points out:
The mind of the man who receives is acted on by the mind of the giver, so the receiver is likely to become degenerated. Receiving gifts is prone to destroy the independence of the mind and make us slavish.4
Non-stealing means not taking anything that is not one’s own at any level, physically or mentally. Misappropriation has many subtle levels—for example, failure to give credit to others where credit is due, or acceptance of honors or recognition that one does not deserve. Such avaricious habits reinforce self-centeredness. A something-for-nothing attitude becomes a psychological burden that confines and limits the personality. Herein lies the necessity of not merely subduing these negative elements within oneself but completely eradicating them through moral training. This is accomplished through cultivation of the five yamas and through cultivation of such other virtues as charity, devotion to duty, and sympathy, which awaken one’s moral consciousness, deepen one’s understanding, and expand one’s personality.
Ethical development does not occur through being imposed on the personality. Rather, the ethical sense is innate in human nature because it is part of the universal order, or rta. Contrary to popular notions, ethical disciplines are not intended to act as mere external restraints but simply to prepare the ground for the manifestation of this inner sense. Just as eating, sleeping, recreation and intellectual pursuits are essential to survival, ethical discipline and training are essential to a decent and progressive life, both for the individual and for society as a whole. A strong character serves
Ethics in the Modern World: A Vedantic View
as an interior fortress, something like the reinforced steel support of a building. This alone is lasting, secure and deeply rooted.
A person who is duty-conscious and sincerely interested in others has entered into the dharmic, or righteous, realm. Being aware of what he has to do, he assumes full responsibility for his actions and discharges his duty to the best of his ability. His sympathies include not only his little circle of family and friends and their immediate needs but have expanded to include his community, state, nation and even other nations. Moving from local to global concerns, he recognizes that refinement and restraint are necessary not only to ensure his individual growth but to maintain social order. In Swami Nikhilananda’s words, “Without ethical restraint there follows social chaos, which is detrimental to the development of spiritual virtues.”5 The ethical person recognizes the value of a virtuous life, though he may not be a conscious spiritual seeker as is generally understood by serious seekers of truth. He lives according to the eternal moral order and tries to encourage others to do so. This dharmic character-molding results in a steady, integrated mind and personality and gives inner stability and poise, which are essential for success in any area of life.
Subjugation of the ego, or little self, by which selfishness is gradually undermined and rooted out, ultimately leads to the highest level of ethical behavior, which is self-abnegation. As already mentioned, the interconnectedness of all beings in the oneness of existence is the underlying basis of all ethics. Interacting with others according to this principle, as conditioned by one’s inner attitude and to some extent externally by society, constitutes real ethical behavior. Swami Vivekananda summarizes this idea beautifully:
What is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness. This idea of “me and mine”—ahamkara and marnata—is the result of past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the real Self becomes manifest. This is the true self-abnegation—the center, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching.6
By cultivating self-abnegation, a modern man living in a predominantly self-seeking world can fortify himself internally so that he can withstand the onrush of harmful effects of civilization, attempt to live in harmony and peace with others, and contribute to the good of all.
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n Man’s Dilemma
Who is a modern man? Most of us would agree that a modern man is one who, living in this age of rapid scientific, political, economic, industrial and technological advances, can intelligently make use of these advances. The watchwords of the modern age are progress, tremendous energy and speed at all costs. A prodigious store of information is now at modern man’s disposal, making him a veritable dynamo of creative power. His efforts are expedited by highly efficient communication systems through which he can quickly and easily transmit knowledge to others throughout the world. Thus as the world shrinks and people come closer together both physically and psychologically, individuals tend to observe some minimal courtesies based on an accepted work ethic just to ensure cooperation with others, at least superficially.
We can be justly proud of our progress and achievements in science, industry, technology, agriculture and the fine arts in many countries. But what we see in modern society is all too often the other side of progress, which is retrogression, decadence, intolerance of others, violence and destruction. This is the great tragedy of modern life. Al-The watchwords of the though modern man has everything at his disposal-
tremendous energy, immense wealth, vast knowledge modem age are progress, and leisure time—he is often misdirected, or he lacks
any meaningful ideal to strive for, so that he squan-tremendous energy and ders his infinite potential on the paltry things of this
sensebound world. Overemphasis on practicality with-Speed at all COStS. out idealism to balance it has brought stagnation at
the ethical level. Unless an individual practices restraint and makes use of modern advantages in a regulated and responsible way by relating them to a higher goal, he degrades himself. He also creates havoc in society, since what affects one part will affect the whole. Without an ethical attitude, a person becomes scattered and ultimately breaks down. Instead of enjoying, he will be enjoyed; instead of consuming, he will be consumed. Thus he becomes a slave to his own lower nature, and slavery always brings misery.
Frequently such a person plunges headlong into his high-speed journey through life without any way of curbing his speed. The traditional, formal religions have been criticized for being too restrictive and for overemphasizing the negative, thus hampering the free growth of mind and soul. To some extent this is true of any type of constraint, but at the same time, a judicious use of “no” is essential to a decent, civilized life. Swami Vivekananda says:
Ethics in the Modern World: A Vedantic View
All morality can be divided into the positive and the negative elements; it says either “do this” or “do not do this.” When it says “do not,” it is evident that it is a check to a certain desire which would make a man a slave. When it says “do,” its scope is to show the way to freedom and to the breakdown of a certain degradation which has already seized the human heart.7
Without the proper brakes applied by reflection, discrimination and a sense of values, thoughtless actions thrust modern man into one disaster after another. Breakneck competition, struggle for power and dominance over others, conflicts of interest, ego clashes, economic bleeding of other countries, and extremely inequitable distribution of wealth keep both modern man and modern society in constant turmoil and danger.
The craze for speed and profit results in a more and more depersonalized, mechanical and sterile existence, which destroys all poetry and grace in life. Automation has stifled the aesthetic faculties. Interest in cultural refinements, including love of art, music and literature, is all too often lacking. The consequent ennui incites individuals to various unbridled activities in the name of free expression, further degrading the quality of life. For example, there are the problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and unrestrained sex. The population explosion has stimulated the development and use of artificial birth control. Although this provides some economic advantages, it has also brought further difficulties in its wake, such as lack of motivation to exercise restraint and self-control, as well as all sorts of sexual perversities. Further, lack of respect for the sanctity of marriage and the violation of marriage vows have increased divorce and the number of neglected and unwanted children. The family unit disintegrates, which in turn strains and weakens society. Disappointment and ultimately exhaustion are the results. Swami Vivekananda cautions us:
Desires of materialization, that is, being dragged down more and more to the plane of mechanical action, belong to the animal man. It is only when the desire to prevent all such bondage to the senses arises that religion dawns in the heart of man. Thus we see that the whole scope of religion is to prevent man from falling into the bondage of
the senses and to help him to assert his freedom The scope of all
morality is to prevent this degeneration and break this bondage.8
Twenty-first-century man is in a unique position. He faces a choice. He can either go forward, severing his bonds, or fall back and further entangle himself. The spirit of progress has entered all areas of life except for
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the moral and ethical spheres, which are lagging behind. The only solution to this predicament is a conscious, systematic development and unfolding of modern man’s ethical nature. In his sojourn through life, knowingly or unknowingly, he is already in search of unity, which, as Swami Vivekananda has said, is the basis of all morality. If modern man does not adopt an ethical way of life and pursue it knowingly, the internal and external conflicting forces will become overpowering. **
1 Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta: AdvaitaAshrama, 1965), vol. 1, p. 189.
2 Ibid., p. 385.
3 Ibid., pp. 389-90.
4 Ibid., p. 260.
5 Swami Nikhilananda, Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1958), p. 58.
6 Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (1968), vol. 2, p. 83.
7 Ibid. (1964), vol. 8, p. 147.
8 Ibid., pp. 146-47.
About the Author
Swami Prabuddhananda is a minister and head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California in San Francisco.
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
Zhuohao Yu
Abstract: The revival of the shuyuan (academy) tradition during the Song dynasty was an important step in the neo-Confucian revival. Its leading exponent, Zhu Xi, taught that the health of society rested on moral and spiritual education. The author details Zhu Xi’s prescriptions for literary study as a means of ethical development.
Chinese intellectuals of the early twentieth century, under the influence of the Western spirit of science and democracy, severely criticized Confucian education as antiquarian, pseudoscientific and unable to meet the needs of modern society. Western scholars such as Max Weber and Joseph Levenson likewise decried Confucian education as aiming at nothing more than “cultivating a well-adjusted man who rationalized his conduct only to the degree requisite for adjustment.” Confucian education, in this view, “sought to create a nonprofessional free man… of high culture, free of impersonal involvement in a merely manipulative system.”l Despite these assaults, and despite the later attacks on the Confucian system during the Communist period, Confucian education never disappeared entirely, as evidenced by the presence of the Confucian shuyuan (academies) in various parts of Asia inside and outside of the Chinese mainland.2
During the last three decades, meanwhile, scholars in their assessment of education in general have argued that Confucian education has something to offer to modern education. Xinzhong Yao states:
The purpose of Confucian education is not only to transmit and develop knowledge, but also to deliver and apply values. Confucian learning is seldom meant to be merely a scholarly exercise. It has a wide practical extension and employs tools to help students put into practice the doctrinal understanding of individual, family, commu-
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nity and society: the core of values fostering a spirit of self-discipline, family solidarity, public morality and social responsibility.3
In other words, Confucian education is moral education but one not devoid of scientific spirit. It leads the individual toward self-realization, which is to say, to becoming fully human through embodiment of the qualities of neisheng (inner sageliness) and waiwang (outer kingliness). For that reason, modern education could derive benefit from the still vital attitudes and values of Confucian tradition.
In exploring that potential benefit, it will be useful to review the career
and educational philosophy of the neo-Confucian Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi] ( 1130-
1200), whose importance in the Confucian tradition ranks only after that
of Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) and Mencius (372-289
Confucian education is B.CE.). I will begin with a brief overview of Zhu Xi’s life4
and his time to set the context before proceeding to a dis-moral education. It leads cussion of his influence on the revival of the shuyuan tradition. I will pay attention especially to his association the individual toward with the Bailudong shuyuan (White Deer Hollow Academy),
and his recommended method of study by read-Self-realtzation. ing· I draw my view of Zhu Xi as an educator primarily
from his jieshi (literally, “posted notice”) at the Bailudong shuyuan and from his Zhuzi yulei (Conversations of Master Zhu, Arranged Topically), Volume One, Chapters 10 and 11, which describe how students should study and the kind of mental preparation they should assume. (The jieshi are quoted below in full.)
Zhu Xi: The Man and His Time
Zhu Xi was the most important figure in the revival of Confucianism during the Song dynasty (960-1279). He was born in 1130 into a poor family in Yuqi, Fujian Province, where his father served as a district sheriff, a minor government post. Zhu, a precocious child, began his education at the age of five and subsequently spent more than ten years in various Daoist and Buddhist schools before returning to the Confucian fold. “From a Buddhist source we are told that when he went to take the [imperial] examination,5 he had in his traveling bag a book of collected sayings by the Buddhist priest Ta-Hui ( 1089-1163).”6 Zhu’s early encounter with Daoism and Buddhism had, as we shall see later, a lasting impact on his own philosophy and on his educational methodology.
When Zhu was thirteen, his father died. On his deathbed, the elder Zhu expressed his wish that his son should study with three well-known
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
scholars—Liu Zihui (1101-1147), Liu Mianzhi (1091-1149) andHuXian (1086-1162). Zhu honored his father’s wishes and made such a good impression on Liu Mianzhi that Liu subsequently offered Zhu his daughter in marriage. Zhu obtained his jinshi (presented scholar) degree, the highest a student could get in the imperial examination system, in 1148. Three years later he was appointed district keeper of records, a minor post, of Tongan County, Fujian. Zhu was a successful administrator. By the time he left this post in 1156, “he increased school enrollment to capacity, built a library, regulated sacrificial rites, enforced marriage ceremonies, strengthened the city’s defense, and built a memorial temple for a local worthy.”7
Beginning in 1160, Zhu also studied on a number of occasions with Li Tong (1103-1163), an authority on Confucianism. Li’s influence on Zhu was enormous; it was due to Li’s influence that Zhu abandoned his own interest in Chan (Zen) Buddhism and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism.
From 1148, when he received his jinshi degree, until his death in 1200, Zhu as a scholar-official held government office for only nine years. He spent only forty-six days at the imperial court, during which he lectured on the Daxue (The Great Learning), a book in the Confucian canon. In his lectures he repeatedly called upon the emperor to return to the Confucian Way, and he attacked some powerful officials for being corrupt. This was one cause of the termination of his political career in 1196.
Prior to 1196, however, government officials eagerly sought his service; yet Zhu repeatedly declined, claiming a foot ailment. Instead, he requested several times and eventually secured a temple guardianship—a sinecure from which he received a small stipend. The lack of an official position gave him time to teach, write and correspond with many scholars. Zhu’s action was highly unusual at a time when a government post ensured prestige and a substantial income.
Zhu was a prolific writer. He wrote, compiled and annotated almost · 100 books in the fields of philosophy, religion, literature, history and biography, as well as epigraphs for some renowned Buddhist nuns and others. Among his works that continue to exert influence are the Itali (Family Rituals),*’which concerns the four basic Confucian rites of capping, wedding, funeral and sacrifice to ancestors; and the linsi lu (Reflections on Things at Hand),9 a neo-Confucian anthology compiled by Zhu and his friend Lu Zuqian (1137-1181), “giving in clear outline [neo-Confucianism’s] doctrines of metaphysics, learning, ethics, literature, government and its evaluation of great men in Chinese history and of heterodox systems, notably Buddhism and Taoism.”10
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In his debates with other scholar-philosophers, Zhu the philosopher held on to his positions with tenacity and was unsparing in his criticism of opponents. Despite his formidable reputation, however, he always treated opponents with the deepest respect on a personal level. This was very much in evidence in his debate with his archrival Lu Xiangshan (1139-1193) at the Goose Lake Temple in 1175. They attacked each other’s positions fiercely, yet, despite their disagreements, Zhu had deep personal respect for Lu throughout his life.
As a private person, Zhu had a lighter side. To the delight of his drinking companions and students but to the consternation of his friend Zhang Shi, Zhu would burst into song after a few cups of wine. Zhang advised him against this habit in a letter.
In 1196, four years before Zhu’s death, an ongoing attack by government officials on neo-Confucianism in general, and on Zhu’s teaching in particular, reached its apex. Officials sought to impeach him for what they called “false learning,” and one, Yu Zhe, even petitioned the imperial court to have him executed. All efforts failed; however, the court granted Zhu’s own request that his official title be removed, and he became an ordinary citizen. When he died in 1200, almost a thousand people attended his funeral. Nine years later the political situation changed, and “he was honored with the posthumous title of wen (culture). In 1230, he was given the title of State Duke of Hui, and in 1241 his memorial tablet was placed in the Confucian temple.” n
Zhu entered the world at a chaotic time in the history of China. In 1127, three years before he was born, the Jurchens, a Turkish people of Central Asia, “swept over China proper without meeting much resistance.”12 At one point the invaders captured two important cities south of the Yangzi River, the present-day Nanjing and Hangzhou. However, the Song general Han Shizhong stopped the Jurchen advance in the early 1130s. In the meantime, a debate between two groups raged within the Song court. The so-called “Idealist” camp, composed of scholars, military commanders and students, argued for the continuance of war, while powerful politicians who belonged to the opposing “Realist” camp advocated negotiation for peace. In the ensuing struggle between the two camps, victory fell to the Realists, culminating in the execution of Yue Fei, an important Song general who had won many battles against the Jurchens. A new peace treaty was negotiated. The Song court agreed to pay the Jurchens an annual tribute along with the cession of territories. Further, the Song court acknowledged the Jurchens “as its suzerain” and called itself “a vassal state.”13
With the subjugation of all of northern China by the Jurchens, the Song court was forced to move to Linan (now Hangzhou). The scholars
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
were extremely unhappy with the foreign occupation of the north, and the government’s decision to sue for peace infuriated them all the more. While the Jurchen occupation represented a political and territorial threat, for some, like Zhu Xi, the presence of the Jurchens also posed a more insidious cultural and moral challenge.14 The Song court was weak and corrupt. Buddhism was challenging the Confucian Way. Zhu Xi
believed that these pressures were evidence that China was To resuscitate the Great in a state of “serious spiritual and moral malaise.”15 Zhu Xi
tried to find ways to remedy the situation by going directly Way became Z\lU XÏS to the throne. “In his three sealed memorials to the emperor in 1162, 1180 and 1188 and in the three audiences lifelong mission. with the emperor in 1163,1181 and 1188, he argued forcefully for political and moral reform.” 16 In response, the court summoned him to the capital and appointed him professor of the military academy. His efforts were, in the end, without success. Zhu Xi, however, “never lost faith that it was through education that the Way ultimately would be revived and customs reformed.” 17 To resuscitate the Great Way became his lifelong mission.
Zhu Xi and the Shuyuan Tradition
The Chinese government’s involvement in establishing and maintaining educational institutions had a long history before the time of Zhu Xi. However, by the time of the Song dynasty, government support for local schools had declined drastically. Local schools, too, had failed to conform to the Confucian ideal in education. Thus when Zhu Xi was assigned as prefect to Nankang Prefecture (the present-day Xingzu County, Jiangxi Province) in 1179, he set out to revive the shuyuan tradition.
Shuyuan as a term first appeared in the eighth century. By the late Tang dynasty (618-906), private shuyuan had appeared all over China. But because the shuyuan were primarily private schools lacking sustained support and permanence as institutions, they too had declined by the twelfth century.
Zhu’s efforts in reviving the shuyuan tradition were closely related to his association with the Bailudong shuyuan, or White Deer Hollow Academy. Founded during Southern Tang (937-975), the academy was situated in a flat area on Lu Mountain in Jiangxi Province. Li Bo secluded himself there in retirement and raised white deer for amusement; hence the name. The White Deer Hollow Academy became one of the leading institutions of learning in Northern Song but was abandoned during the Southern Song.18 Shortly after he arrived in Nankang, Zhu sought out the original site of the academy and instituted an ambitious rebuilding program, which,
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for economic reasons, was scaled down later. In 1180, with five modest buildings, the academy opened its doors to students and scholars.
According to Wing-tsit Chan, the academy during the early Northern Song had “performed three functions, namely, teaching, preserving books, and sacrificing to Confucius and worthies.”19 Zhu Xi’s more ambitious program included instruction, collecting and preserving books, offering religious sacrifices, developing curricula, and engaging famous scholars to give lectures. Most important in establishing the influence of Zhu Xi and his academy in the revival of the shuyuan tradition was his jieshi, or proclamation, of what Chan has called the academy’s “Articles for Learning.” These articles, a compendium of quotations from ancient, largely Confucian, sources, read in full as follows:
Between father and son, there should be affection. Between ruler and minister, there should be righteousness. Between husband and wife, there should be attention to their
separate functions. Between old and young, there should be proper order. And between friends, there should be faithfulness (Book of Mencius,
3A:4). The above are the items of the Five Teachings.
Study it extensively, inquire into it accurately, think over it carefully, sift it clearly, and practice it earnestly (Doctrine of the Mean, Ch. 20). The above is the order of study.
Let one’s words be sincere and truthful, and one’s deeds be earnest and reverential (Analects, 15:5). Restrain one’s wrath and repress one’s desires. Move toward the good and correct one’s mistakes (Book of Changes, hexagrams 41 and 42). The above are essentials for self-cultivation.
Rectify moral principle and do not seek profit. Illuminate the Way and do not calculate on results (Tung Chung-shu, 176-104 B.C.E., in the Han shu [History of the Han Dynasty], SPTK ed., 56:12b). The above are essentials for handling affairs.
Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you (Analects, 15:23). If you do not succeed in your conduct, turn inward and seek for its cause there (Book of Mencius, 4A:4). The above are essentials for dealing with others.20
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
The articles were not meant to be rigid rules for students to follow. They were moral principles meant to guide students in self-cultivation. As such they were adopted by many other academies as their own. They express Zhu Xi’s belief that the aim of education should be the transformation and ultimate perfection of the self rather than mere preparation for the imperial examinations leading to the power and prestige of an official position. Here Zhu Xi followed Confucius, who remarked in the Analects, “Men of antiquity studied to improve themselves; men of today study to impress others.”21
Zhu’s association with centers of learning, even before the revival of the White Deer Hollow Academy, had already been rather extensive. Now, “as a result of [his] efforts, the shuyuan became a permanent feature of Chinese education, taking up the major responsibility of local education.”22 The shuyuan also became centers for neo-Confucian learning, with a shared ideal and a coherent curriculum. Thus, the shuyuan and other centers of learning could also be viewed as tools which Zhu used to promulgate and implement his understanding of Confucianism.
Zhu Xi and Reading
As a Confucian scholar and philosopher, Zhu Xi built his own thinking on the theory of li (principle), originally a Buddhist metaphysical concept. Li, according to Zhu, exists before heaven and earth and the myriad of things.23 Through li and through material force, heaven and earth and all things, including human beings, come into existence.24 This li is innate in human beings. “Hence what we called human nature is simply the Li of humanity that is inherent in the individual.”25 The heart/mind (xiri), however, is not human nature. It is the embodiment of li and material force.26
There is a close relationship between Zhu’s ontological views—his understanding of principle (li), material force, the mind and human nature27—and his method of reading. This relationship underlies his practical recommendations for study through reading. Here I will highlight these recommendations as they appear in Chapters Ten and Eleven of the Conversations of Master Zhu, Arranged Topically.28
Chapter Ten opens with this statement: “Reading books is a secondary matter for students.”29 It “is of secondary importance”30 because principle (li) is already inherent in humanity. Students need to read only because of their lack of experience and because books are records of experiences of the sages. Students should read in order to apprehend the li already in themselves, so that they will know how to conduct themselves in daily life.31 In
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this way Zhu held that there was an intimate connection between intellectual activities and practical living.
Zhu Xi emphasized the importance of mental preparation for reading. Students must first establish a resolute will to learn: if they “do not have a resolute will, how can they [begin to] read?”32 Next, the heart/mind must be calm; otherwise students will not be able “to see the principle [in what they read].”33 To help students calm the heart/mind, he offered “quiet sitting,” a practice, though different in content, which Zhu probably inherited from his early experience with Chan Buddhism, which advocates sitting in meditation, and with Daoism, which teaches the
The heart/mind must be practice of sitting and forgetting. He told Guo Deyuan,
one of his students, to practice “a half day of quiet sit-
calm; Otherwise Students ting and a half day of reading books.”34
In reading, Zhu taught, it is also essential that stu-
will not be able “to see dents have an “open mind,” since preconceived ideas will
prevent students from “seeing principle clearly.”35 One
the principle” should “not allow one’s ideas to compromise the words
of the sages and worthies.”36 To Zhu, “Reading is like asking about the affairs of another person. If you want to know what they are, you must ask the person in question.”37 Zhu also emphasized students’ willingness to deal with doubt. Credulous students should learn to doubt not only what others have said but their own ideas as well. Skeptics, on the other hand, should get rid of their doubts. “When students arrive at this point, there is progress.”38
Zhu did not stress quantity and speed in reading, but quality and thoroughness. Ideally, students should read the same book over and over. “There are differences between reading the book once and ten times.”39 He suggested that students should read “character by character, sentence by sentence, and section by section”40 to ensure that they would comprehend thoroughly the explanations, the commentaries and the theories. He warned students not to neglect any commentaries on classic works; text and commentary he considered a single unit, and students must master them both to attain a thorough understanding. Further, students should pay attention to the context—what he called the “joints” and “cracks”—so that they would understand the thread of thought that runs through a text.
In stressing a deliberate pace, Zhu taught that students who could read “two hundred characters [a day]” should put their effort into reading only “one hundred.”41 In this way, “individuals with a poor memory would thereby remember better what they had read, and those who knew few characters could take note of them.”42 He appeared to believe that all stu-
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
dents, because all are endowed with li, could in due course master what they had read.
Furthermore, a slow pace would allow all students to think over what they had read. Zhu insisted that the meaning of the text would come only if students would “think it over after having read it, and would read it again after having thought it over.”43 In this regard he quoted Confucius: “One who learns from others but does not think will be bewildered. On the other hand, one who thinks but does not learn from others will be imperiled.” ** Zhu also advocated reading aloud in order to help students think through the text. But of students who only read the text out loud and would not think it through, he asked rhetorically, “How could they remember the finer points?”45
In advocating this method of reading, Zhu showed his displeasure with the reading habits of his contemporaries, whom he accused of skipping ahead and leaving books unfinished.46 He likewise disdained the printing revolution, though he himself was engaged in the printing business in order to supplement the meager income from his temple guardianship. Because of the availability of books, he complained, students no longer took time to memorize texts. (Memorization, in the Confucian educational scheme, is not rote leaning, because it leads to the internalization of a text, which in turn leads to the transformation of the self.)
Finally, Zhu Xi encouraged students to make a text “relevant to themselves,”47 so that they could eventually embody its meaning. In this way, “they would get the meanings of the sages and the worthies … and the words of the sages and the worthies will not become empty talk.”48 Once they had become thoroughly conversant with a text, Zhu suggested that they read it less often but now repeatedly experience the text on a personal level in order to internalize it. Thus, Zhu suggested that before students began to read they set some boundaries and not desire immediate results,49 since their proper goal in reading should be the gradual accumulation of wisdom through apprehension of li, leading to self-realization. The reading of Confucian texts would be of no consequence if the li could not be comprehended. Once li was comprehended, books could be abandoned.
In order to help students as it were to capture li, Zhu laid out a comprehensive curriculum. He asked that students master first the Four Books (Great Learning, the Analects, Mencius, and Doctrine of the Mean)50 in that order, before continuing to the Five Classics (Book of Changes, Book of History, Book of Poetry, Book of Rites, and Spring and Autumn Annals), the central authority in Confucian teaching. Once they had gained an apprehension of li and as a result an understanding of the Confucian way, students would be in a position to properly approach the study of history.
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Zhu recommended the Records of the Grand Historian, a work from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-20 CE.), the Zuo Commentary, a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, a work compiled by Zhu himself, and the dynastic histories.
Zhu Xi’s prescription for the ailing empire, then, was a course of study that would ensure intellectual growth, vocational preparation, and above all the spiritual and moral development of the young. This conviction that moral education lay at the foundation of the health of society and the state became an article of faith for all Confucians. For Zhu Xi, only when self-transformation had occurred could social ill be remedied. When both private and public realms were in order, the Way would again be manifest within the anthropocosmic universe. **
1 Xinzhong Yao, An Introduction to Confucianism, p. 281.
2 Ibid., pp. 276, 277.
3 Ibid., p. 283.
4 The following are some of the best biographies of Zhu Xi: WangMaohong, Zhuzi nianpu; Huang Gan, “Zhuzi xingzhuang,” in Huang’s collected work, Mianzhai ji; and Shu Jingnan, Zhuzi dazhuan, the most recent biographical work on Zhu Xi. For a brief account of Zhu’s life, see Wing-tsit Chan, “Zhu Xi,” in Wei Zhengtong, ed., Zhongguo zhexue cidian dachuan. For an English account, see Wing-tsit Chan, ed., Chu Hsi and neo-Confucianism, pp. 595-600. (Hereafter cited as Chu Hsi J
5 Zhu was then eighteen years old.
6 Wing-tsit Chan, Chu Hsi: Life and Thought, p. 142. (Hereafter cited as Life and Thought.)
7 Chu Hsi, p. 595.
8 For the English edition of this book, see Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Chu Hsi’s Family Rituals.
9 For the English edition of this book, see Wing-tsit Chan, trans., Reflection of Things at Hand.
10 Ibid., p. ix.
11 Chu Hsi, p. 600.
12 Dun J. Li, The Ageless Chinese, p. 217.
13 Ibid., p. 220.
14 Daniel K. Gardner, Chu Hsi: Learning to Be a Sage, p. 11. (Hereafter cited as Gardner.)
15 Ibid., p. 12.
16 Chu Hsi, p. 599.
Confucian Education: A Moral Approach
17 Gardner, p. 23.
18 See Life and Thought, Chapter 6, for details.
19 Ibid., p. 173.
20 The English text is from Life and Thought, pp. 174,175. For the Chinese text, see Bailudong shuyuan jieshi (Guan collection).
21 D. G Lau, trans., Confucius: The Analects, BookXIV:2.
22 Thomas H. C. Lee, Government Education and Examinations in Sung China, p. 27.
23 For a detailed discussion ofli, seeChu Hsi, pp. 116-137. See also Tomoeda Ryutaro, “The System ofChu Hsiys Philosophy;’ ibid., pp. 158-168.
24 Li Jingde, comp., Zhuzi yulei, vol. l,p. 1. 25FungYu-Lan,AShort History of Chinese Philosophy, ed. DerkBodde,
p. 301. See also A. G Graham, “What Was New in the CWeng-Chu Theory of Human Nature?”, in Chu Hsi, pp. 138-157.
26 Ibid., p. 302.
27 See notes 22-25 for references.
28 For a partial translation of these two chapters, see Gardner, pp. 128-162.
29 Zhuzi yulei, p. 161.
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid., p. 162.
32 Ibid. p. 177.
33 Ibid.
34 Life and Thought, p. 27.
35 Zhuzi yulei, p. 179.
36 Ibid., p. 185.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid., p. 186.
39 Ibid., p. 168.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Ibid., p. 170.
44 Ibid., p. 170. D. G Lau, trans., Confucius: The Analects, Book 11:15.
45 Ibid.
46 Ibid., p. 173.
47 Zhuzi yulei, p. 179.
48 Ibid.
49 Ibid., pp. 174,164.
50 Since the Yuan dynasty these four volumes came to be collectively known as the Four Books. Both the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean were originally two chapters in the Liji, the Book of Rites.
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Bailudong shuyuan jieshi (The Guan collection), n.p., n.d.
Chan, Wing-tsit (ed.). Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.
. Chu Hsi: Life and Thought. Hong Kong: The Chinese University
Press, 1987.
Fung, Yu-Lan. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, ed., Derk Bodde. New York: The Free Press, 1948.
Gardner, Daniel K. Chu Hsi: Learning to Be a Sage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
D. G, trans. Confucius: The Analects. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1992.
Lee, Thomas H. C. Government Education and Examinations in Sung China. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1985.
Li, Dun J. The Ageless Chinese: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
Li, Jingde, comp.
Zhuzi yulei, vol. 1. Taibei: Huashi chuban she, 1987.
Shu, lingnan. Zhuzi dazhuan. Fujian: Fujian Educational Publisher, 1992.
Yao, Xinzhong. An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
About the Author
Zhuohao Yu is professor of Asian studies at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and a member of the core doctoral faculty for the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He was born and raised in China. He earned his undergraduate degree from Midland College and his graduate degrees from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, San Francisco State University, and the University of California at Berkeley.
Beyond Tolerance:
Interfaith Friendship
As Ethics in Action
Sister Marianne FarinUy C.S.C.
Abstract: The author offers a model for achieving genuine interfaith conversation and friendship, which, especially between Christian and Muslim, has become imperative in the effort to restore global peace. Citing Thomas Aquinas and HamidAl-Ghazali, the author describes friendship as a medium for ethical and spiritual development based ultimately on friendship with God.
Since the events of September 11, an international solidarity is growing not just to confront terrorism but to create positive forums and alliances. The war on terrorism cannot be successful if we merely respond in kind. Rather, we must work in conversation with one another. We must listen to proposals for ensuring human rights as well as for holding all nations accountable for actions that work against the principles of justice and peace.
In particular, since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the subsequent terrorist activities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the world community has acknowledged that the need to achieve a lasting global peace compels all of us to learn about the world’s religions, to engage in meaningful interreligious encounters, and to develop true friendships with people of different faiths. By these means we can begin the process of reconciliation in the world community so that terrorist attacks will cease to replicate themselves throughout the globe.
The most critical need is for us to engage with the religion of Islam, to understand its teachings, to converse with Muslims, and to replace mistrust with friendship. In meeting this need, the first imperative is to reflect on the realities of Muslim-Christian encounters in the past. This history begins with Islam’s missionary thrust into northern and western Arabia, and then into Africa and the Middle East in the seventh century, followed
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by its expansion into Asia. Throughout the growth of the Muslim Empire and its subsequent decline with the colonial expansion of European and American nations, the meetings between Islam and Christianity were more confrontational than conciliatory. Each national power perceived the other as a threat or rival, while religious affiliations were aligned with competing hegemonies.
Toward the end of this century, the migration of Muslims to Europe and North America has offered new opportunities for authentic encounters between Christianity and Islam. However, these meetings may repeat the mistakes of the past unless we acknowledge the negative history between Muslims and Christians, seek forgiveness for past offenses, and voice a mutual commitment to seek justice, promote peace and foster social development.
In this context it is worth noting a positive history of interfaith friendships that contrasts with the history of Muslim-Christian conflict and distrust. During Islam’s golden age in the learning centers of Baghdad and Qum and also in the court of the Mogul leader Akbar, scholarly discussions fostered genuine friendships between various cultures and faiths. The works of philosophy, science, economics and medicine that emerged were invaluable resources for shaping society, faith and culture. We can also recall Francis of Assisi’s efforts to establish peace with the Muslims. Again, despite his tragic end at the hands of fanatics, Charles de Foucauld’s friendship with Muslims remains an ongoing witness that has inspired both Muslims and Christians to lead holier lives.1
Methodologies for Interreligious Conversation
Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini’s reflection concerning human communication offers some essential points for effective interreligious dialogue. In a recent paper, Cardinal Martini explored the growing need for a communication theology in priestly formation.2 Using a paradigm taken from the scriptures, he recognizes a type of pedagogy for teaching people to communicate with one another. In Mark’s Gospel (7:31-37), Jesus cures a man who can neither hear nor speak. The gospel reports that Jesus takes the man away from the crowd of people, places his fingers in the man’s ears and also spits on the man’s exposed tongue. Jesus then exclaims,uEphphatha, Be Open!” Relieved of his former condition, the man can communicate with others. He begins to hear the world around him and praises God.
Martini explains that this healing followed a three-step process for effective communication: 1) acknowledging an inability to communicate; 2) engaging in the words and gestures of healing; and 3) accepting responsibility for communication because of the miracle.
Beyond Tolerance: Interfaith Friendship As Ethics in Action
According to this pattern, the first phase of communication requires us to recognize that there are impediments to our speaking with and listening to one another. Among the obstacles are our desire to set the agenda for discussions and our impatience because we look for instant results. Martini’s points are especially applicable when we converse with people of different faiths.
The healing story illustrates another important dimension to interreligious conversations. Jesus showed respect for the afflicted man by taking him aside so that the healing would not become an object of entertainment for the crowd or a demonstration of Jesus’ healing powers. Further, Jesus directly confronts the problem at hand. He touches the man and speaks directly to the infirmity. The cure reconciles the man to the dignity he deserves as a creature of God. In this way also, interreligious encounters must emulate the healing ministry Genuine exchange begins of Jesus. Conversations can lead to greater understanding of other faith traditions only when we dare to be with acknowledging the honest with one another and ourselves. Genuine exchange begins not with fancy dialogues about meta- reality of OUT religious physical realities but with acknowledging the reality
of our religious institutions, which includes the injus- institutions, which includes tices, thereby creating a forum for other faith traditions to do the same. Such an approach recognizes that foç injustices. there have been failures to put beliefs into practice and that these failures have been the source of oppression rather than liberation. This honesty offers an environment for confronting injustices directly and respectfully, thus opening the way for reconciliation.
Finally, the story illustrates the consequences of Jesus’ healing. Fully healed, the man returns to his community as a living proclamation of God’s goodness. He praises God, and his life’s witness leads others to do the same. Thus the story demonstrates that once we are liberated from what blocks our true potential, we can be of service to God’s kingdom. Ideally, the goal of interreligious encounters is to be engaged in God’s work. Once we have removed all that prevents us from authentic sharing and exchange, we can begin to grow in solidarity with one common task: God’s good will for all of creation.
To explore this issue further, I suggest that, based upon Martini’s analysis of the gospel story, effective communication between Christians and Muslims requires us to converse in four essential ways. Each of these styles of communication calls forth respect and love for the other and enables us to engage fully in both word and deed.
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We begin with conversations about life. We come to know each other by creating places and paths for encounter. These settings maybe the neighborhood or the workplace. The purpose of the exchanges is to move past our fears of the other by attempting to remove prejudices that block genuine exchange.
From these initial conversations, we can begin discussions that include intellectual inquiry, that is, conversations about content. Such conversations help us to learn about each other’s beliefs, practices and traditions. Building upon the initial relationship and on study about the other’s beliefs and practices, we discover the deep values that motivate the other.
Intellectual inquiries also create a foundation for engaging in conversations about needs. We not only become knowledgeable about each other’s faiths but also become able to participate in addressing the needs and concerns of the pluralistic community. The energy for group problem solving and commonwealth projects arises because we have recognized common ground between us. Having acknowledged those forces within each tradition that block the work for justice, we have opened the pathway for genuine interfaith solidarity.
The final type of discourse, an outgrowth of the first three, is spiritual conversation. In these encounters, we collaborate with prayer and religious celebrations. Recognizing the common good to which divine wisdom calls humanity, these conversations help us to turn toward divine goodness in mutuality, receiving new life from each other’s holiness. What we celebrate is our new interfaith ethos, authentic liberation and holistic human development.
These four types of dialogue can help Muslims and Christians to create lasting friendships. Through such friendships, we can participate in ongoing conversations convinced that humanity’s survival depends upon engaging in its unfolding story of growth and development.
Interfaith Friendship As a Basis for Ethics and Spiritual Development
Many thinkers have reflected on the centrality of friendship in ethics and spirituality. Paul Wadell, for example, offers interfaith friendship as a model for modern ethics. He notes that ethics is not something we create, nor is our ethical response to certain dilemmas. He believes that morality is a lived experience within which we discover moral worth and that these values claim us. Wadell comments that the virtuous life is “a skilled endeavor to conform ourselves to the purposes in which fullness of life consists.” Friendship, he contends, is a good model for the moral life because it is the means for relating to a good by living one’s life in a certain way. It is in friendship that we learn to love together all that is necessary for life to have
Beyond Tolerance: Interfaith Friendship As Ethics in Action
meaning.3 Ethics emerge from the unfolding story of our life and the relationships that give shape to this story.
Friendship as a basis for spiritual and moral development can become a shared focus for Muslims and Christians. As the French Islamicist Roger Arnaldez notes, the mutual presence to one another that exists in such interreligious encounters becomes the reality from which we embark “on a voyage of discovery stripped of colonizing pretensions: an invitation to explore the other on the way to discovering ourselves.”4
Jim Fredricks
s such encounters a virtue. He states that “in befriending the Other, perhaps most especially the religious Other, truths foreign to my own tradition become real possibilities for shaping and giving direction to my life.”5
Friendship with other people is derived ultimately from friendship with God. In this belief there is theological common ground in Christian and Muslim tradition. We see this especially in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Hamid Al-Ghazali. Though Aquinas and Al-Ghazali vary in their methods of theological exploration, they share a common interest in teaching how charity, which is God’s friendship with human beings, is the essence of knowledge and moral guidance. Both hold that friendship with God, as the relationship between uncreated being and free creatures, is what gives human existence its ultimate value and truest authority. Through this virtue, humans grow in their potential for fulfillment in this life.
Al-Ghazali says:
Know oh beloved, that you were not created in jest or at random but marvelously made for some great end. Although you are not from everlasting, yet you will live forever; and though this body is finite, your spirit is made for the divine,… [for] attaining the state of the divine is heaven and the contemplation of the Eternal Beauty [of God].6
Aquinas states:
Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. [This] happiness implies two things, the last end itself, i.e., the Sovereign Good [God]; and the attainment or enjoyment ofthat same Good.7
Al-Ghazali and Aquinas reach these conclusions through reflecting on the provident love of God in creation. Both theologians share a central focus in their theological ethical systems in that they seek to understand God’s self-communication to creatures. Primary to their insights is the
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notion that revelation is an act, and as such has a certain end in view. The salvation of human beings consists in attaining this end, and humans cannot reach this goal without knowledge of it. Aquinas’s and Al-Ghazali’s writings explore their respective beliefs about the ultimate end for human beings, which for both Christianity and Islam is the beatific vision of God. The activity that leads humans to this truth involves contemplating divine truths as well as employing practical reason so that this end becomes a reality shaping one’s moral life. For them, the theological enterprise has pastoral implications.
Though they disagree in their estimation of the importance of philosophical inquiry, both Aquinas and Al-Ghazali recognize that a profound experiential investigation of creation is not a hindrance to theological truth but a powerful aid. We learn from their writings that contemplation of divine truths, practical science, and exploring human experience foster a deeper awareness of how the seal of divine wisdom is impressed on all creation and its activities. Whether expressing this truth as Aquinas does {ipsum esse, God is) or with Al-Ghazali’s understanding of tawhid (the absolute unity of God), this singular good is perfect wisdom and love. Both theologians illustrate that these insights about God’s being in relationship to creation burst into human experience and expand one’s mind and heart for knowledge and goodness.
In addressing directly friendship with, or love for, God, Al-Ghazali and Aquinas teach that this virtuous activity participates in the reality of beatitude now by allowing God’s goodness to us to pursue God’s agenda for creation. In today’s terms, as humans learn to love God and all things in God, and as friends of God and one another, we become empowered to show mercy, to seek forgiveness, to work for justice and peace. As such, befriending others from various religious traditions can become a global reality that can shape the social, economic and religious life of each person according to God’s wisdom. A love for God, far from removing us from finite realities, helps us to realize that the world is not so much a place as it is a process dependent upon all types of friendships. The journeys we share together become the foundation for a truly liberating and compassionate existence for all people. **
1 We can recall the life and work of Louis Massignon (1883-1962), whose contact with Muslims and the studying of Islam contributed deeply to his own Christian conversion. Significant to his journey was the friendship he developed with Charles de Foucauld.
Beyond Tolerance: Interfaith Friendship As Ethics in Action
2 Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, Effata, Apriti: Communicating Christ to the World: The Pastoral Letters Effata, Apriti and II Lembo del Mantello, trans. Thomas Lucas, S.J. (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1994), pp. 16-19.
3 Paul Wadell, Friendship and the Moral Life (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 1989), pp. 15-17, 25. Here too we must note the work of Stanley Hauerwas, who contends that we must move from a type of “problem-solving ethics” to the realization that the “type of quandaries we confront depends upon the kind of people we are and the way we have learned to construe the world through our language, habits and feelings!’ See Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, p. 117.
4 Roger Arnaldez, Three Messengers for One God, trans. Gerald Schlabach (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 1994), p. vii. See also David Burrell, Friendship and the Way to Truth (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 2001), pp. 61-62.
5 Jim Fredricks, “Interreligious Friendship: A New Theological Virtue,” Ecumenical Studies 35:2 (1998), p. 11.
6 The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. Claude Field (Lahore: Ashraf Press, 1947), p. 17. This book is a compendium to Al-Ghazalis major work, Ihya ulum al-din, The Revival of Religious Sciences. There are several versions of this text in Arabic and Persian.
7 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Dominican Friars (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947), I-II, question 3, article 8, and question 5, article 2.
About the Author
Sr. Marianne Farina, C.S.C., is a religious sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Notre Dame, Indiana. She is a doctoral candidate at Boston College in moral theology in both the Christian and Islamic traditions. Her dissertation topic is “Charity in Two Traditions: A Comparison of the Virtue Ethics of Thomas Aquinas and Hamid Al-Ghazali.” Over the last twenty-five years, Sr. Marianne has worked with Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities both in the United States and Bangladesh. She is currently adjunct faculty at the Pacific School of Religion and the Institute for World Religions in Berkeley, California.
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The Internet in China in 2001: A Confucian Critique
Mary I. Bockover
Abstract: Unlike Western ethical traditions, which emphasize personal autonomy, Confucian ethics are based on the development o/ren (humaneness) and its expression in relationships through li (social ritual). Conflict arising from the spread of the Internet in China is seen as a paradigm for the contrast between the two ethical traditions.
At the beginning of the year 2000, nine million people were online in China. What is remarkable about this figure is its increase. The number of Internet users in China only two years earlier was a mere 650,000. This still small but rapidly growing acceptance of the Internet contrasts with the traditional Chinese practice of keeping foreign ideas and products at bay. This practice, largely protective, has not been without rational grounds. One glaring example is the Chinese resistance to the importation of opium by the British—a resistance broken only after Britain launched the Opium War. Of course, the Internet is not exactly an opiate, and enforcing free trade does not always require an act of war, but the Internet is nevertheless a potentially harmful foreign product. Only recently brought into China—primarily by American businesses and universities—the Internet could have a disruptive effect on the Chinese. As Americans and as world citizens, we have an obligation to engage in some serious moral reflection about how the Internet stands in relation to the Chinese way of life and the philosophy that way of life has reflected for several thousand years.
The Internet is a supremely effective means for promoting the modern value of personal autonomy, which in America is driven by the ideas of consumerism, free expression, equal opportunity and free trade. It is quite clear that “modernization” in China translates to just this value. A visit to any major Chinese city shows that “prosperity” is taken to hinge not only on increased participation in the global economy, but also on a growing
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mentality of consumerism that America epitomizes. Unfortunately, unless modernization in this form is restricted in China (or in any other developing country), the large majority of people will be increasingly alienated from their cultural roots and their traditional life-sustaining practices. This widespread problem is particularly problematic for the Chinese people because their identity has already been sabotaged by such disasters under Communism as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. China’s future is an open book, for she was to some extent already dislodged from her traditional past during the Maoist period. Now the threat to her identity is subtle but still pressing: the influence from the West to “modernize” is intense and is supplanting many of the values that for millennia were at the center of traditional Chinese ethics. For some Chinese, especially urban youth, the result has been a values vacuum.
In spite of these challenges, traditional Confucian values and customs remain strong, particularly among the vast majority of Chinese who do not partake of city life. The real social stability for China still comes from an ethical system that places familial and social well-being and harmony above all else. Thus the Chinese regard for social integrity and the American regard for individual freedom conflict, for in China one is not taken to have personal and political autonomy. What it means to be a “person” in China is to be a meaningful part of a larger social group—a family, neighborhood or nation. Personal roles are always socially defined. The concept of “person” or “self” as having a “self-legislating will”—an autonomous, independent agent that stands outside of a social context—is a Western abstraction, not a Chinese reality. In China, then, where the central moral goal has always been harmonious interdependence instead of the autonomous independence we pursue so devoutly in America, the Internet—the perfect embodiment of American values—could present a threat to cultural identity and stability. And as individualist values increasingly take hold, the Chinese government—justifiably, whether we like it or not—may well impose controls in order to prevent what could be great internal turmoil.
In the Confucian view that lies at the basis of Chinese thought and action, we are what we are because we stand in meaningful relation to others. The moral goal for the Confucian is to develop our humanity, and that entails our learning to fulfill the responsibilities that we have to others. Our natural need and wish to be meaningfully connected to others provides the impetus for our moral development. In effect, one cultivates one’s humanity by cultivating one’s roles. One becomes a good mother, daughter, teacher and friend by living that life consistently and with the dedication that a human so naturally brings to the things that mean the most to her. Humanity at its best is attained when the goal of promoting social har-
The Internet in China in 2001: A Confucian Critique
mony and cooperation is realized. A basic human goodness (ren) is thoroughly embedded in the world through the relationships we have with others, but it also reflects the perfect integrity of the greater cosmos (Dao). When the human way (ren dao) accords with the natural order and harmony of the greater cosmos, all things will be right on Earth and under heaven. This is how Chinese emperors were expected to rule under the “mandate of heaven,” and this is how families and communities were expected to live peacefully together. These Confucian principles affect every aspect of daily living and are still reflected strongly in the Chinese way of life. We read in the Great Learning (Daxue):
Only after the principle in things is fully apprehended does knowledge become complete; knowledge being complete, thoughts may become true; thoughts being true, the mind may become set in the right; the mind being so set, the person becomes cultivated; the person being cultivated, harmony is established in the household; household harmony established, the state becomes well governed; the state being well governed, the empire becomes tranquil.1
Confucius provided a timeless teaching on living a good, humane life in describing what it takes for us to interact in a harmonious, civilized way. This account is based on two ideas most central to Confucian philosophy: ren, already mentioned, and li. Li has been translated as rite, ritual, ceremony, convention, propriety and right conduct. Ren also has been subjected to various and divergent translations, including goodness, nobility, benevolence, humaneness and human-heartedness. Although they are two concepts, li and ren are essentially related and cannot be understood inde-pendendy from one another. In the Analects, Confucius sometimes speaks of them separately, but only for the purpose of clarity, as when he draws our attention both to what a good act expresses as well as how it is expressed.
Thus, the reason for distinguishing li from ren is that one can express ren in many different—culturally relative—ways that equally qualify as li. Ren is the humanity that a good act expresses and that brings people together in ways that are mutually recognized and responded to, and li is how that goodness may be expressed in the vastly different social contexts that people live out each day. For example, a handshake, a bow, a nod of the head, a “high five,” a smile, a hug and a curtsey are each different li or conventions that express the same basic human wish to convey a cordial greeting, which arises from ren. The li depends on context, while the greeting is a universal human expression, one of a myriad of ways of expressing our ren, or humanity.
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Confucius tells us in the Analects that li is essential to living a distinctively human life (ren). What it means to live a distinctively human life is to live in dignified harmony with others. Li is how one establishes ren, through providing the appropriate patterns of conduct which govern the great variety of human relationships. Varying with cultural differences and with the specific relationship at hand, li provides the socially acceptable form that our relationships may take, and that in turn defines the “person” (ren),2 making each one of us a distinctive human being. Clearly, to be a mother, one must have a child; to be a teacher, one must have a student; to be a friend, one must have a friend; and so on. And insofar as one is a mother, a teacher, a friend, etc., she will have to conduct herself in ways that are suited to the roles—ways that are “prescribed by li.”
In general then, li is that part of moral conduct that provides the conventions for being a cultivated human being. This discussion of li must not obscure the magic that Confucius saw in the distinctive human ability
to form harmonious and meaningful relationships. For To live a distinctively Confucius, “moral” action could never be just a matter of
convention. It involves a sincere and dedicated orienta-hutnan life is to live tion toward the person or (more rarely) the thing being
engaged. Confucius saw that interacting appropriately (ac-itl dignified harmony cording to li) requires ren if it is to be sincere, respectful
and dignified. For any “moral activity,” that is, li and ren With Others. are mutually entailing. Taken together, li and ren are what
allow us to develop good relationships, and these relationships are the essence of being a person. We are able to take this humanity for granted only when it has become “second nature” or when we no longer have to be painfully and self-consciously aware of what we are doing in so many social contexts.
Li is therefore learned. It requires guidance from tradition and cannot exist without a foundation of proper social values. With time and continual practice, however, li becomes wu wet, or actionless activity. In other words, with perseverance and dedication, ritual becomes effortless; we become masters at behaving in ways that initially were not easy for us. We eventually come to take for granted such daily li as our gestures when greeting others and our manner of sharing a meal, but these lessons must be learned, and not without difficulty, as anyone who has raised small children can attest.
To perform li effortlessly, at a level that is wu wei, does not mean that we underestimate its value. In fact, Confucius made it clear that without ren—that magical human quality which is the essence of li—ritual would no longer be proper ritual. Instead, it would be the kind of interpersonal
The Internet in China in 2001: A Confucian Critique
fraud that Confucius “could not bear to see.” This is precisely because li, to be good, must express ren: it must be a personally significant, even sacred, gesture made by one human being standing in a meaningful relation to another. This is no small point: the conventions of li must mean something. Li has a purpose that is much more mysterious than mere behavior and cannot be measured as systematically. This is ren: the proper spirit or conscious orientation expressed by the ritual act of li.
Ren is this “human-hearted” orientation toward others expressed by the ritual act. It is more mysterious than li in being li’s conscious aim: that human “spirit” cultivated by and expressed in the meaningful relations we form with others. Li and ren are therefore inseparable. Li comprises forms of conduct done with the right spirit, and ren tells us what that spirit is: to approach others with civility and to treat them with the dignity they deserve. This requires a proper regard for our roles as people, as well as a proper regard for our humanity. In the Analects we read:
He who can submit himself to li is ren (12:1) . . . You want to be established yourself, then seek to establish others. You wish to advance, then advance others. Take the analogy from what is near, there is ren s way (6:28).3
What is near? There is nothing nearer to me than my “self,” but what is the “self” from a Confucian standpoint? The answer should now be clear: to know who I am, I must look to “what is near”: my children, my husband, my students, my friends. That is who I am, established by the li of those relationships—the appropriate and socially conditioned ways of conducting myself in those relationships. Confucius did not employ an abstract concept of “self,” because he conceived of personal cultivation as inseparable from moral goodness, and of moral goodness as inseparable from the actions, or li, which realize that goodness. For Confucius, one becomes a person through character development or “submission” to the appropriate rituals and roles that make us ren. Our social roles therefore cannot be abstracted from who we are or from the human goodness needed to properly fulfill our roles and hence our obligations to others. We are people precisely in virtue of these relationships, and we are good people insofar as we cultivate and are true to them. This is what living a good life amounts to for Confucius—living a life of li and ren. In sum, the moral priority of Chinese ethics is to cultivate and fulfill one’s social responsibilities. To reconcile one’s obligations to others is the most pressing concern, not to be a “self” or person qua autonomous agent in any sense of the term.
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How is this ancient culture, in which individuals are defined by their interpersonal relations and judged by their manner of fulfilling social obligations, to respond to the Internet, which, in sharp moral contrast, promotes the primacy of personal autonomy? In the first place, the Internet is a foreign product not easily turned aside at the border; nor can it be easily controlled once admitted. The Internet is regulated only on a local level, so there is no mechanism for regulating the content of another server in another country, or even in the same town.
This is not true of any other form of trade. Commercial, political and even personal wares and behaviors are subject to screening immediately upon entering any foreign country. In contrast, with the trading of information on the Internet, one only has to put material out there to be a published and internationally distributed “author.” There is no peer review or system for screening true information from the vast bounty of fraudulent material that poses as true. Nor is the newcomer to the Internet likely to understand how to interpret the presence of hate sites and pornography or even know how to respond to the deluge of commercial marketing measures. Anyone who has a computer with Internet access can say anything and be heard, and even believed if the presentation is convincing enough.
According to American beliefs and American law, this free-for-all of information and disinformation maybe acceptable. But it comes into conflict with the values and political systems of the Chinese. This is not to falsely identify the Chinese people with their government, which is still very repressive by American standards, but rather to cite a deeper cultural difference. The Internet now embodies and perpetuates our American constitutional right of free speech and principles of free trade and equal opportunity on a global level—freedoms which Americans now take to be “basic human goods” and which the Chinese have always guarded against.
Americans assume that personal freedom is good and that it is necessary to our humanity, but these assumptions are questionable. First of all, freedom* is a various and complex concept. A sufficient appreciation of how differently freedom can be defined and evaluated should make us hesitate to regard it as a single principle with universal application. It is not even central to most of the world’s philosophies. Where it is central—the Hindu concept of moksha and the Buddhist concept of nirvana come to mind—it has nothing to do with the personal autonomy that is the focus, for example, of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant or of the American Bill of Rights. Kant holds freedom to be the first principle of morality—it is the universally valid principle that grounds and determines moral agency and the moral worth of any action. For Kant, action is given moral worth
The Internet in China in 2001: A Confucian Critique
according to whether it entails an intention which has a rational and freely chosen consistency that would in principle allow “autonomy” to be valid for all moral agents. In a word, freedom is an aspect of the moral will and is precisely what makes us moral agents. Autonomy—that is, rational, free agency—is not only morally important but is a “categorical imperative” to uphold, to protect the very fabric of our universal human nature.
Contrast this with the very different view of freedom offered by John Stuart Mill, who holds that freedom or “liberty” is a utilitarian good. Freedom is not categorically imperative at all; it is only a good if it maximizes happiness in general (the grounding principle of morality for Mill). Freedom may not even be morally jus- This free-for-all of infor-tified if greater unhappiness results from it. Kant’s absolutist view of freedom, compared to Mill’s view of motion and disinformation freedom as a good that is altogether contingent on
the social utility it produces, is closer to the American comes into conflict With the view of the centrality of freedom, as enshrined in the
Bill of Rights. But even there, the concept of freedom values and political systems has evolved from what our founding fathers envisioned when they wrote the Bill of Rights in order to nfthe Chinese protect individual rights, even against the tyranny of a democratic majority.
As a society, we have still not decided what exactly these rights entitle all of us to, nor have we decided which of us out of “all of us” gets them— or which minorities are to be protected from the majority. These judgments continue to change dramatically, as we see in the controversies over abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment. Our uncertainty about the unrestricted application of the right to freedom is seen in the fact that our history has denied some or all of these civil rights to Americans of African descent, to women and children in general, and to homosexuals. Our own very dubious “human rights” record has not been lost on societies upon which we have attempted to impose a standard higher than the one we have met ourselves. It is shocking to confront the hypocrisy of the absolutist position on freedom when we reflect that our own country was built largely on the backs of people who had no rights at all but were treated legally and personally as property that could be bought and sold.
It follows from an absolute commitment to freedom as “autonomy rights for all” that every sovereign nation not embracing the same philosophy, political structure and way of life should guarantee to their people this kind of freedom. Yet these are issues that we have had extreme difficulty resolving even on our own soil. The fact that a concerned body has to make a (democratic) decision about what these autonomy rights are, not to men-
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o should have them, shows how troublesome an absolute claim to freedom can be, even in the American case. And even the broadest definition of personal freedom does put limits on autonomy. The right to free speech does not give us the right to slander or bear false witness against someone, and the right to trade freely does not mean that we can sell illegal or dangerous items, or take them to another country for trade.
Further, there is no reason that the bases for moral action in other
traditions should not be considered as valid as freedom. Confucius, like
Mencius after him, held that it is our natural feelings and the cultivation of
these feelings that humanize us, that make us moral beings. This is directly
at odds with the Kantian view that it is reason and free-
What should persuade us dom that make us moraL Indeed> Kant would say that
natural feelings (e.g., for family and friends) tend to that freedom IS more conflict with reason in our attempt to implement what
is categorically imperative for us to do. But, according important than compassion to Mencius, what Kant would call the “mere contingency” of compassion is precisely the “basic human when it comes to being feeling” that makes us moral. And what should persuade
us that freedom is more important than com-moral? passion when it comes to being moral? One can only
conclude that our American carte blanche regard for personal freedom is really, in the end, a cultural abstraction which we take on faith, and our assumption that the Chinese, for example, should adopt the same faith is really no more than an expression of chauvinist arrogance.
The Internet now is quite at home in much of Europe and even Japan, but there, too, it reflects and promotes the American love of free expression, our desire for financial gain, and our belief in equal opportunity, in an unprecedented way. Sadly, in 1989 we saw at Tiananmen Square the effect of importing democratic values to China. What many Americans do not know is that one of the central demands of the Chinese students was the right to stay in the modernized cities where they were educated instead of returning home to provinces, which were very underdeveloped by comparison.4 But the Chinese government felt justified in denying this demand, since at present there can be no such equal opportunity in China; one cannot have a right to live and work where he or she wants because the infrastructure of the already staggeringly overpopulated cities cannot sustain it. This is not to be unsympathetic to those injured or killed. Granted, from the American point of view, controlling where people live maybe a human rights violation, but from the Chinese point of view, the students were
The Internet in China in 2001: A Confucian Critique
under an obligation to return to their own communities to fulfill their roles under the Confucian ethic.
It would be simplistic to conclude that the argument here is against freedom, or against Internet use. This only misses the point; for clearly, autonomy rights as well as Internet use in the United States are central to how we live and what we value. After all, personal autonomy and the Internet developed here in a form and to an extent found nowhere else. The argument here is, rather, against the view that personal autonomy is an absolute principle that is universally valid for all societies. Unrestricted autonomy, which is so well reflected in the lack of regulation essential to Internet use, may even become a problem in the United States. It certainly may threaten China’s internal stability and could be the cause of political conflict between our two countries if cultural differences and national sovereignty are not respected.
China must continue to regulate the flow of trade and ideas, and it must hold on to its system of Confucian values. The more than one billion Chinese who are already very poor by our standards could face starvation and homelessness if China is not careful with her future. If the business interests and personal freedoms of a few are put before the well-being of the populace in general—by putting faith in the “trickle down” theory of economics—the prosperous may get richer, but the poor will get poorer. History has shown what such “freedom” offers the Chinese: not prosperity, but potentially the tragedies of Western imperialism and internal upheaval. ¿*
This thesis can also be found in a section of a larger comparative work that I coedited with my colleague Robert Snyder, called “The Internet East and West: A Moral Appraisal.” This article can be found in Timothy Shanahan and Robin Wang, Reason and Insight: Western and Eastern Perspectives on the Pursuit of Moral Wisdom, 2nd ed. (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 2002). In this work, Robert Snyder offers a defense of the Internet in China, in contrast to my critique.
1 Ta-hsueh (The Great Learning), trans. Lin Yutang, in The Wisdom of Confucius (New York: Modern Library, ca. 1938), p. 227.
2 Notice here that a second Chinese character ren means “person.” This character, when combined with the character that means “two,” becomes the characterren, meaning “goodness” or “humaneness.” This clearly signifies that the Chinese concept of humaneness refers first of all to the relationship between two people.
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3 This is Herbert Fingarette’s rendering of passage 6:28 of the Analects of Confucius in Confucius: The Secular As Sacred (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1972), p. 41. Fingarette’s translation relies on Arthur Waley’s translation of the Analects throughout the text, but he sometimes gives his own interpretation of the classical Chinese characters for the sake of clarity and precision, as in this passage. Fingarette’s book has been reprinted by Waveland Press.
4 It is also worth noting that the students in China have been engaged in such “democracy” movements since the early 1970s, and in part as a reaction to the momentous student involvement in the Cultural Revolution in the prior decade.
About the Author
Mary I. Bockover is professor of philosophy at Humboldt State University in Areata, California. She holds a master’s and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland were carried out under the direction of Henry Rosemont Jr.
Professor Bockover has edited a festschrift titled Rules, Rituals, and Responsibility (Lasalle, Illinois: Open Court Press, 1991 ) for Henry Fingarette and is represented by articles in Emotions in Asian Thought (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1995) and Culture and Se//(Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997). She continues to publish and present papers in the field of comparative philosophy.
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