Buddhism and Deep Ecology

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A crucial step toward acknowledging humanity's appropriation within the fourfold lies in recognizing a deeper relationship between emptiness and form than has traditionally been available in post-Platonic Western philosophy—a relationship convincingly elaborated within Eastern traditions. As Zimmerman argues, both Heidegger and Mahayana Buddhism acknowledge "humans can learn to 'let things be' only by gaining insight into the nothingness that pervades all things" "Heidegger" In Mahayana Buddhism, nothingness connotes the "emptiness" and impermanence of all things, yet is not synonymous with formless, chaotic negativity.

It is no accident that Heidegger chooses a jug as the focus of his discussion in "The Thing. The jug's "thing-ness" is not to be understood as synonymous with its material composition, but is instead suggested by its "holding" or gathering nature:. In contrast to the Greek temple in the "Origin" essay, whose columns make the air visible, it is the emptiness of the jug, not its form, that constitutes its thingness. In Taoist fashion, the jug is a clearing through which the fourfold comes to presence, as it gathers together the earth's soil and the sky's rain in wine that mortals pour in libation to the gods.

Similarly, Zimmerman discusses suggestive parallels between Heidegger's characterization of the fourfold's mutually appropriating "mirror-play" and insight regarding the universe's luminosity in Mahayana Buddhism. In the most famous expression of this insight, the universe is conceived as the jewel net of the god Indra. All things are analogous to "perfect gems" within this net or network , and their reflective light is simultaneously produced by all the gems collectively, "no one of which stands in a 'superior' or 'causal' relation to the others" "Heidegger" Zimmerman argues that "Heidegger's account of the dance of earth and sky, gods and mortals, the dance in which things manifest themselves in the event of mutual appropriation, bears remarkable similarities to the Buddhist account of the moment-by-moment coproduction of self-luminous phenomena" Critics steeped within a Western tradition that posits the human individual's dignity and "inherent value" might find the suggestion that all things human and otherwise are "empty" has troubling implications if applied to political subjectivity, fearing that an emptying of selves is often a prerequisite of totalitarian political regimes or can lead to too intense an identification with the "objective" domain.

Poewe claims that Hauer's efforts to forge a new Indo-Aryan religion with a fatalistic warrior code "anticipated justification of the deeds committed by the Nazi regime" Such work, as with critiques of radical elements within the deep ecology movement, usefully analyzes potential effects of state-sanctioned religious ideology, instead of maintaining that religious discourse necessarily "transcends" politics.


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As is well known, when Chinese scholars translated Indian Hinayanan and Mahayanan texts, they interpreted Buddhism within the framework of existing Taoist thought, resulting in "Cha'an" Buddhism; likewise, Japanese monks reinterpreted these texts to form Zen Buddhism. Concepts such as "emptiness" are therefore not only subject to ideological appropriation in both a positive and negative sense , but also to unintended distortion.

As John Rudy and other interpreters of Zen Buddhism have pointed out, a western, dualistic tradition that divides the world between subjects and objects can contribute to misinterpretation of the concept of emptiness. In Romanticism and Zen Buddhism , Rudy points out that:. Rather than underwriting identification with "objective" or state-sanctioned structures totalitarian or otherwise , emptiness as Rudy interprets it suggests an alternative to both subjective individualism and objective obedience to collectives.

As "The Thing" makes clear, insight into the self's "appropriation" within the world's mirror play does not entail a collapsing of any one dimension of the fourfold into the others. Human beings still retain a unique manner of "gathering" the world in relation to other beings: "men alone, as mortals, by dwelling attain to the world as world" —that is, human beings alone can self-consciously choose the mode of their dwelling and experience the world as one of many possible worlds.

Nonetheless, other non-human beings also participate in the fourfold, "each in its own way," and this diversity implies the inherent value of each unique mode of gathering. The metaphor of "mirror-play" enables Heidegger to suggest a deep identification between human and non-human actors in the "dance" of creation, yet this mirroring never stabilizes into a form of monistic holism. I would suggest that this is because, unlike his Romantic predecessors such as William Blake, Heidegger ultimately resists equating "nature" with a higher Human identity, such as the Imagination.

Instead, the philosopher, like deep ecologists influenced by his thought, challenges us to think of identification and inherent worth as a productive "coincidence of opposites" in Dennis McCort's parlance , the kind of paradoxical truth embraced by Buddhist and Toaist traditions. If we re-conceive the identity of all things as at once unique having inherent value and empty inescapably appropriated by other beings , a truly non-anthropocentric understanding of nature becomes possible. Paradoxically, only by learning to "identify" with the emptiness of all things while retaining a sense of our distinctive perspective may we eventually find it in ourselves to allow mountains to be mountains and waters to be waters.

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Reflections on Buddhism and Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Ferry, Luc. The New Ecological Order. Carol Volk. Glasser, Harold.

Haar, Michel. Reginald Lilly. Heidegger, Martin. Keith Hoeller.

Loving the World as Our Own Body: The Nondualist Ethics of Taoism, Buddhism and Deep Ecology

David Farell Krell. San Francisco: Harper, William Lovitt. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper, Hutchings, Kevin. Imagining Nature: Blake's Environmental Poetics.

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Lussier, Mark. New York: St. Marx, Leo. May, Reinhard. Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East Asian influences on his work. Graham Parkes. McCort, Dennis. Naess, Arne. Rudy, John G.

Romanticism and Zen Buddhism. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, Thomas Kirchner. James W. Heisig and John C. Serres, Michel. The Natural Contract. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson. Sheng-yu Lai, Robert. Suzuki, D. Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. William Barrett. Victoria, Brian Daizen.

Zen War Stories. Wolfe, Cary. Zimmerman, Michael. Charles Guignon.