Religions of the World and Ecology home


Jeffrey Meyer received his Ph.D. in History of Religions from the University of Chicago in 1973. He is currently Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Meyer has been awarded grants by the Fulbright Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, the UNCC Foundation, and the Cosmos Society. His publications on Beijing, Chinese architecture, and sacred places include: Peking as a Sacred City (Orient Cultural Service, 1976); The Dragons of Tiananmen: Beijing as a Sacred City, Columbia (University of South Carolina Press, 1991); "Traditional Peking: The Architecture of Conditional Power," in The City as a Sacred Center, ed. Bardwell Smith and Holly Reynolds (E. J. Brill, 1987); "Feng-shui" of the Chinese City," History of Religions, vol. 18, no. 2, November 1978; "Chinese Buddhist Monastic Temples as Cosmograms," in Emily Lyle, ed., Sacred Architecture in the Traditions of China, Judaism and Islam (Edinburgh, 1992); "Rural Villages and Buddhist Monasteries" Contrasting Spatial Orientations in China," Architecture and Behavior Special Issue: "Layout of Sacred Places," ed. Rana P.B. Singh, vol. 9, #2 (1993); "The Eagle and the Dragon: Comparing Washington and Beijing," Washington History, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 1996-97). He has also published on moral education in China.

 

Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference
Taoist Chinese Gardens as Ecological Texts

This presentation will consider elements of Chinese garden design as providing possible principles on which to base a Taoist environmental ethic. Since ecology is a contemporary concern, I do not think anything can be found which directly addresses this concern in historical Taoism, either Taojia or Taojiao. In fact, I would add that none of the major religious traditions addresses ecological concerns, but all of them have resources to do so: texts, traditions, paradigmatic figures, etc., which can be interpreted and brought to bear to shape an environmental ethic. I think that the garden tradition in China is influenced by Taojia ideas (the relative position of humans in the overall scheme of things, non-action, reducing desires, humility, reversal of normal [Confucian] values, usefulness of the useless, harmony with Tao) and symbols (water, indistinctness, darkness); and Taojiao ideas (retreat to the mountains, eremitic dwellings, mysterious grottoes connected to other worlds, spirits, spiritual topography, precious stones and minerals, magical birds, efficacious trees and vegetation, and sacred springs) may be used as a 'sacred text,' or source of ideas which can shape a Taoist ethic of the environment. The overall idea is simple. Most of the garden elements mentioned above imply the submission of the human to the natural order. The natural forms dictate the form of the garden and the arrangement of the elements in it. The human participant is a humble and impermanent visitor and must conform to an order, though subtle and hard to delineate, rather than impose order. From this general principle I would develop an environmental ethic which respects what we have come to call "the natural world."

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