Daoism and Ecology : ways within a cosmic landscape

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DAOISM AND ECOLOGY: WAYS WITHIN A COSMIC LANDSCAPE. Edited by N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp. lxxiii + 478; foreword; epilogue; bibliography; glossary. Cloth, $36.95, ISBN 0-945454-29-5; paper, $24.95, ISBN 0-945454-30-9.

This anthology joins other fine works in the Religions of the World and Ecology series published by the Center for the Study of World Religions of the Harvard Divinity School and coordinated by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. The guiding principle of the series is its fundamental belief that in our search for a more comprehensive ecological worldview it is inevitable that we will draw from the symbolic and conceptual resources of the rich religious traditions of the world. The editors of this extraordinary collection of Daoist materials wisely chose to operate with a broad and inclusive understanding of Daoism, one that honors the philosophical, sociological, and religious distinctiveness of the various Daoist sectarian traditions. While some may feel that this approach begs the definitional problem of "Daoism," the overwhelming advantage of this decision is to avoid the common reductionism of Daoism to the Lao-Zhuang tradition narrowly defined. 

The first grouping of papers takes up a series of questions related to the theoretical and historical underpinnings of a Daoist approach to the environment. Included are the following essays: "'Daoism' and 'Deep Ecology': Fantasy and Potentiality" (3-21) by Jordan Paper; "Ecological Questions for Daoist Thought: Contemporary Issues and Ancient Texts" (23-44) by Joanne Birdwhistell; "'Nature' as Part of Human Culture in Daoism" (45-60) by Michael LaFargue; and "Daoism and the Quest for Order" (61-69) by Terry Kleeman. James Miller concludes the section with a discussion paper entitled "What Can Daoism Contribute to Ecology?" (71-75). The second section is devoted to the analysis of Daoist religious scriptures. Discussions in this section are Kristofer Schipper's commentary on the ecological teachings of the Yibai bashi jie (180 Precepts) (79-93); Chi-tim Lai's essay on the Taiping jing (Scripture of Great Peace) (95-111); Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo on the Yinfu jing (Scripture of Unconscious Unification) (113-24); and Robert Campany on Ge Hong's writings (125-47). This section concludes with a reflective discussion, this time by Miller, Richard Wang and Edward Davis (149-53). The papers in section three are concerned with cultural and folk practices that have Daoist affinities: E.N. Anderson provides a meditation on the relationship between Daoist practice and agricultural life (157-83); Stephen Field writes on Fengshui (Chinese geomancy; 185-200); Thomas Hahn discusses Daoist notions of wilderness (201-18); and Jeffrey Meyer's essay examines Chinese gardening as a metaphor for the Daoist approach to ecology (219-36). In their reflective paper, Miller and John Patterson consider the following question: "How Successfully Can We Apply the Concepts of Ecology to Daoist Cultural Contexts?" (237-41). Several authors attempt to construct a Daoist environmental philosophy in section four of the book. David Hall's "From Reference to Deference: Daoism and the Natural World" (245-63) and Roger Ames' "The Local and the Focal in Realizing a Daoist World" (265-82) are reinterpretations of the Daode jing and Zhuangzi. Two papers are particularly concerned with the question whether wuwei (non-action) can be a concept with contemporary moral relevance: Russell Kirkland's "'Responsible Non-Action' in a Natural World: Perspectives from the Neiye, Zhuangzi, and Daode jing" (283-304), and Lisa Raphal's "Metic Intelligence or Responsible Non-Action? Further Reflections on the Zhuangzi, Daode jing, and Neiye" (305-14). A more activist interpretation of a Daoist environmental ethic is defended by Liu Xiaogan in "Non-Action and the Environment Today: A Conceptual and Applied Study of Laozi's Philosophy" (315-39). Here Miller and Russell Goodman also provide a retrospective discussion for the sectional essays (341-47). The work concludes with several efforts to apply various aspects of Daoist tradition to the contemporary ecological situation. James Miller articulates the implications of a Daoist visionary experience in his "Respecting the Environment, or Visualizing Highest Clarity" (351-59). Next, there is Zhang Jiyu's "Declaration of the Chinese Daoist Association on Global Ecology" (361-72) and "Change Starts Small: Daoist Practice and the Ecology of Individual Lives" (373-90), an account of a roundtable by Daoist practitioners, which was compiled by Livia Kohn. In this section, Jonathan Herman also argues for the significance of Ursula Le Guin's redaction of Daoism (391-406). Finally, James Miller provides another sectional discussion (407-10). 

This work makes numerous contributions to our understanding of Daoist environmental philosophy, but there is also much offered to the reader in terms of methodology for studying and applying Daoism in general. The text makes a very important contribution to both the practitioner and academician. Strongly recommended for scholars of Daoism, individuals interested in religion and ecology, and general readers. All libraries should have this book.

Ronnie Littlejohn

Belmont University

March 15, 2003