Monks Rock

CSR in China can’t say enough good things about China Dialogue, which apparently boasts not only bilingual posts, but they’ll translate your comments as well. Damn. Mark at CSR in China points to one particular post, Religion and the environment in China, saying:

It shows just how much has been, and is, going on quietly behind the scenes in many parts of China. It struck me particularly because I just hadn’t heard or appreciated what has already been achieved: the government has its media, the NGOs have their websites and newsletters and the corporations have their sustainability reports and PR departments. The Buddhist and Daoist monks just have their monks and the one-by-one approach of speaking to worshippers and visitors.

The article points out the Daoist monks are grassroot – literally:

Putting it simply, most park wardens clock in at 8am and go home around 5pm. The illegal loggers and poachers tend to come when the wardens are not around. On a sacred mountain, it is quite likely that a Daoist monk will be running up the mountainside at 3am or meditating in the middle of the forest at midnight. The active presence of religious people on a mountain helps to protect it.

In 1998, this study helped the management committee of Hua Shan to agree to return most of the temples on the mountain to the CDA in order, in part, to better protect the mountain’s environment.

The success of this work led the Buddhist Association of China to undertake with ARC a similar programme on their sacred mountains and the same conclusions were drawn about the importance of active life on the sacred mountains.

Today, these developments have gone even further. The CDA and ARC, assisted by the Dutch group EMF, have rebuilt a key temple on the sacred mountain of Taibaishan in Shaanxi, destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, as a Daoist Ecology Education Temple. Here, Daoists are being trained in environmental management of sacred mountains, environmental education for pilgrims and visitors and will develop information and education packs for use throughout China, but especially in urban areas. A set of wall posters on Daoism and Ecology have already been produced. In June this year a new network came into being, the Daoist Temples’ Alliance on Environment and Education, designed to coordinate and develop projects across China through the medium of Daoism.

In Buddhism, a similar movement is under way with plans to develop a Buddhist ecology temple centre in Wutai Shan and to develop Wutai Shan as a model of integrated environmental management.

The author, Martin Palmer of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, says the government is backing them up now:

Hence, in April this year, the Buddhist Association of China, in conjunction with the Chinese government, held a unique gathering of Buddhists from all over the Chinese world on the theme of social issues, and the environment was one of the key topics. Arising from this is a new range of projects and commitments by Buddhists across China to address issues such as deforestation, urban sprawl, waste, energy and moral values related to the environment. Next year, a similar forum will bring Daoists together, again to address these social issues.

And Palmer is having his translation of Zhuangzi published by Penguin Classics in November. Hey Sam! Get out of that stuffy Confucian postmodern conference and haul over to Wutaishan or Hengshan! Maybe the Chinese classicalism meets postmodernity thing is actually living and breathing over there!

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

One of my favorite visits in China – ever – was to a Daoist sacred mountain near Chengdu – Qingcheng Shan. It was an amazing experience. I was really impressed by how the mountain appeared to be managed. A really beautiful, calming place that seemed to have achieved a balance between tourism and being an active religious community.

October 31, 2006 @ 3:02 am | Comment

China Dialogue is a fine site, and I’m pleased they got it up and running. I may be a little biased here since Martin Palmer’s my dad, though.

J.

October 31, 2006 @ 5:50 am | Comment

Lisa, it didn’t have loudspeakers blaring twangy weird music? It’s hard to find a temple in China that actually feels like a temple.

October 31, 2006 @ 8:33 am | Comment

Chip,
I suspect you don’t go to many temples. Many are absolute oases of peace and quiet.

- Mark

October 31, 2006 @ 8:38 am | Comment

Chip, no, it was really a serene environment, even with the tourists. As I’ve often remarked, I’m not a religious person, but it felt pretty spiritual to me.

Then I went to Lushan (?), home of “World’s Largest Buddha (TM)” – the contrast could not have been more severe. That place is a total tourist trap. Avoid it! You can see the big Buddha from a harbor tour. The mountain is a waste of time. The opposite of sacred. Well, not really profane, but just empty consumerism.

October 31, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

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