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The Tao of Green: Love of Humanity and Nature

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When the world is governed according to Tao,
Horses are used to work the land.
When the world is not governed according to Tao,
Warhorses and weapons are sent to the frontier.
There is no greater calamity than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
There is no greater disaster than greed.
Those who are contented with contentment
Always have enough.

~~ Tao Te Ching, Chapter 46

The inevitable fully green society is not simply waiting for the reformation of social institutions that have vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

If only it were that easy.

No, what the inevitable fully green society is waiting for is the transformation of human nature.

We are not going to be able to rein in the powerful institutions that stand in the way until we rein in the worst traits of humanity -- those that allow us to desecrate nature and exploit our fellow human beings without conscience or thought of the long-range consequences. As I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, I find that Taoism is particularly timely in addressing the dilemmas we face through its profound love of both humanity and nature.

Taoism is the indigenous lifeway of ancient China, a philosophy based on bringing people into accord with the Tao, or Way, that creates and sustains all form from within. Like many other schools of thought that seek to ground individuals in the living reality of nature and psyche, Taoism begins with the traditional recognition that the Way is beyond the rational mind's grasp of words and ideas.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao itself.
The name that can be given is not the name itself.
The unnameable is the source of the universe.
Its wonder and manifestations are one and the same.
Since their emergence, they have been called by different names.
Their identity is called the mystery.
From mystery to further mystery:
The entry of all wonders!

~~ Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1, trans. Chang Chung-yuan

This famous passage introduces several key points that make it particularly well-adapted to green philosophy. First, it recognizes that there exists a mysterious immaterial force at work in the on-going creation of matter and life. Second, it recognizes that its spiritual wonder and material manifestations are one and the same. And, third, it recognizes that focusing on the self-sameness of spirit and matter is the Way to a personal, first-hand, experience of the unnameable source of the universe.

In short, we are brought into accord with the immaterial source of creation when we experience all matter as spirit. Seeing that everything physical is the sacred necessarily alters our perception of self and other, drawing us into the oceanic experience of the non-duality of the One. If all matter, in other words, is sacred, then it becomes impossible to treat it otherwise: neither other people nor nature can be harmed.

Without this first-hand experience of the self-sameness of nature and psyche, it is easy for us to slip into either the kind of base materialism that rejects the validity of anything beyond the senses or the kind of spiritual nihilism that rejects the validity of the world of the senses. The Tao, as the ever-present union of opposites, balances and harmonizes extremes, bringing everything back to center over the long run, so that there is nothing that is not eventually the Way. We are brought into accord with the Tao, then, when we sensitize ourselves to its unitary nature by cultivating a profound and equal respect for matter and spirit.

As might be expected, such a balanced philosophy of life has developed a well-articulated code of ethics:

When the world is governed according to Tao,
Horses are used to work the land.
When the world is not governed according to Tao,
Warhorses and weapons are sent to the frontier.
There is no greater calamity than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
There is no greater disaster than greed.
Those who are contented with contentment
Always have enough.

It is in this practical application of the Tao that we see the intimate connection between government, nature and individual responsibility.

When government is guided by a sense of the sacredness of everything, then our interaction with nature is one of harmony and gratitude for our sustenance. When government lacks a sense of the sacred, however, the same resources are turned toward aggression and dominance. Such impropriety on the part of government can only be countermanded by society supporting the very best in its individuals -- making contentment the highest value rather than wealth, status or fame is the necessary re-valuing of values that offers us the surest road to a self-sustaining lifeway that celebrates a long-standing time of peace and prospering for all.

It is lavish desires, discontent and greed, after all, that fuel the fire of war. Only when we personally experience these attributes as the cause of the greatest calamity, deepest guilt and darkest disaster do we voluntarily place the well-being of the Whole ahead of our private self-interest. The vision of the One is based on the Taoist precept that everything we know about spirit we have learned by analog from nature.

The One is, like the rainforest, a riot of plurality, a celebration of diversity. It is a unity of neither uniformity nor conformity. It encourages and rewards the exploration of potential individual forms. The One is the ever-present force of coherence, the indwelling essence holding things together: it is not hierarchical, it is relational. When we name it, we call it the universal path, the common Way, upon which all creation moves. When we experience its immaterial presence, we are attuned to the Underlying Harmony of civilization and nature. The products of our own handiwork, both technological and artistic, then fit with our environment's creations and reveal to us our own sacred nature.

Now, of course, people will argue than discontent is the force that drives people to discover better things and is the very heart of progress. The counter-argument to this is that simply creating new things is not in and of itself progress: without the wisdom to know what not to do, we do not progress but engage in self-destructive behaviors that not only harm our own lives but those of the generations to come. Treating matter as dead inorganic material and plants and animals solely as resources for our own well-being is a terrible act of violence against creatures who perfected their adaptation to the world long before we appeared on the scene.

The inevitable fully-green global society is growing not simply out of the need to design a self-sustaining lifeway. It is part of the emerging world culture whose self-governance is rooted in the shared personal experience of the sacredness of everything. As originally conceived and expressed, the Tao is the creative force Itself working from inside every creation: to experience the Tao, we need only find it within ourselves and to express It, we need only give it free rein to act naturally. By acting like nature, setting our intent on The Benefit Of All like water and soil and sunlight, we move beyond self-destructive self-interest and embody enlightened self-interest. Then, and only then, Taoism proposes, will we be content with contentment and always have enough.

'The Toltec I Ching,' by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden, has been released by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, "64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World," hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.

Go to the main site to see sample chapters, reviews and the link to Larson Publications for ordering the book.

Two companion volumes, The Five Emanations, and The Spiritual Basis of Good Fortune, have recently been published that expand on carrying the practices forward in the modern world.

Around the Web

Green–Tao theorem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Green-Tao Theorem -- from Wolfram MathWorld

The primes contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions


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