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Pollution and the Environment:
Some Radically New Ancient Views

By Ronald Epstein, Ph.D. in Dharma Realm Buddhist University Public Lecture Series Talmage, California, May 19, 1992.
如幻生 中譯 Chinese translation by Ru Huan Sheng











It is very easy to get the feeling here in our local community that we have reached an impasse on pollution and many other environmental issues. The lines are clearly drawn, and all too often loud name-calling drowns out the little meaningful dialogue that is actually taking place. My purpose tonight is to present some ways of looking at environmental questions that are very old, yet which may represent fresh approaches to many of us. Perhaps some of the ideas can provide new beginnings for meaningful dialogues and perhaps even solutions. The three main ancient traditions that I would like to discuss, albeit very briefly, are Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.


According to ancient Taoist teachings, our natural state is one of few desires. When our desires are unnaturally increased, psychic and physical imbalance and all kinds of problems result. Yet we all know that our desires are purposely exacerbated by the arts and advertising of our modem civilization. Our economy basically runs on the fuel of 'more is better,' a strategy of purposely and systematically trying to push our desires out of their natural tendencies and strengthen them out of all natural proportion. The policy of continuous growth and development, which I see as one of the main reasons why our economy advocates unnatural levels of desire, also makes little "sense from a Taoist point of view. Everything in naturehas its cycles of coming into being, developing, decaying, disappearing, and then another cycle of birth or coming y into being and so forth follows. The only thing in nature I can think of that grows nonstop are cancer cells. Should we then ask the question: Do we have a cancerous economic system?

The Taoist classic The Way and Its Power (Daode Jing) gives this advice against the artificial exacerbation of our desires:

No lure is greater than to possess what others want,
No disaster greater than not to be content with what one has,
No presage of evil greater than that men should be wanting to get more.

Truly: He who has once known the contentment that comes simply through being content, will never again be otherwise than contented. (Waley, tr.)

For the Taoists, exacerbation of the sense desires can never lead to happiness. If you think about it, I think you will find that it is fundamentally this exacerbation of the desires, coupled with ignorance, that has led to almost all of the major environmental problems that we are now facing.

Yet, if we do not exclusively cater to our culture's call for every increasing personal gratification, then where do we find our center? The Taoists suggest that the first step is towards awareness of the patterns of nature, both within our own body and mind and in the natural environment that we usually think of as "outside". Nature can be for us a template, a model, a paradigm, an anchor, a beacon.

The nature outside of us can resonate with the natural patterns within and help us to get back in touch with our natural selves. When we destroy our natural environment or make it un- available for people to tune back into, we destroy one of the most precious healing resources for our civilization-jaded psyches.

Recently, in the same vein, the Catholic theologian Thomas Berry stated, "The inner world has to be constantly nourished by the outer world. With what we are doing to the outer world now, we are damaging our psychic structure as well as reducing our resources." (Timeless Visions)

To be continued


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