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

By David Loy



In the last decade or so ethics has experienced a revolution, as the parameters basic to ethical debate since ancient Greece have been transformed. Until quite recently, the problem of ethics has been what binds us human beings together: how to relate to other people, or to society as a whole, without using or abusing each other. Today the issue of ethical responsibility has broadened to encompass the whole ecosphere. The crucial question has become how to relate to all beings, not only animals and plants but also apparently non-sentient "beings" such as tropical rain forest systems and the ozone layer. In spite of distractions such as the debate over "sustainable development" (an oxymoron?), the suspicion continues to grow that what is involved is much more than merely the need to preserve "our natural resources." Lynn White, Jr., one of the first to consider the philosophical implications of the ecological crisis, realized that the issue is fundamentally a spiritual one: "Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our destiny." [1] It is becoming obvious that what is required is nothing less than a fundamental transformation in the way we have understood the relation between ourselves and the earth.

At the heart of this issue, we are also beginning to realize, is the self. The ecological problem seems to be the perennial personal problem writ large: a consequence of the alienation between myself and the world I find myself "in." "The same dualism that reduces things to objects for consciousness is at work in the humanism that reduces nature to raw material for mankind." [2] In both these dualisms, the self is understood to be the locus of awareness and therefore the source of meaning and value. But this devalues the objective world, including all of nature, into merely that sphere of activity wherein the self labors to fulfill itself. The alienated subject feels no responsibility for the objectified other and attempts to find satisfaction through exploitative projects which, in fact, usually increase the sense of alienation. If so, the meaning and purpose that we seek can be attained only by establishing a more nondual relationship with the objectified other: in ecological terms, with the earth which is not only our home but our mother.

In contrast to the main humanistic or "anthropocentric" tendency within the West, Asian philosophical and religious traditions have had much to say about the nonduality of subject and object. As a small contribution to the debate, this paper will discuss and compare the relevant insights of Taoism, Buddhism, and deep ecology. All three of these perspectives avoid the usual is/ought problem (how to infer what one should do from what is the case -- a category mistake) by transposing the issue from morality to understanding: the main problem is not evil but ignorance, and the solution is not primarily a matter of applying the will but of reaching an insight into the nature of things. Socrates is vindicated: immoral conduct is indeed due to ignorance, for if we really knew the good we would do it. The catch, of course, is in the really, for the type of knowledge necessary is neither the correct moral code nor any objective scientific understanding, but an insight which can liberate us from the dualistic ways of thinking whereby we "bind ourselves without a rope."



The reason why we have trouble is that we have a body.
When we have no body, what trouble do we have?
Therefore: he who loves the whole world as if it were his own body
Can be trusted with the whole world.
--Tao Te Ching, ch. 13

The Taoist critique of the self opposes self-ness with the realization of Tao, which is neither a transcendental God nor an impersonal Absolute but the dynamic source from which all natural phenomena arise. Formless, invisible, soundless, immaterial, unhindered, imperturbable, Tao is "the form of the formless, the image of the imageless", empty (ch'ung) and apparently inexhaustible (ch. 14, 4). The relationship between it and the many things in the world is described using such metaphors as the nave and spokes of a wheel, the space inside a pot, the door and windows to a room -- whose emptiness is not a lack but necessary for the wheel, pot and room to function (ch. 11). We can never objectively grasp such emptiness, yet it is necessary for anything to be -- or, more precisely, for anything to happen, since Taoism and Buddhism both reject a substance-based ontology in favor of an event-based process one.

To experience Tao is to realize that humans are not exceptions to this natural process, for we too are manifestations of it. Instead of being the crown of creation, at the top of a great chain of beings, homo sapiens is only one of the ten thousand things which the Tao treats indifferently, like the straw dogs used in ceremonies and then thrown away (ch. 5). The ten thousand things are related not vertically, with those of lesser value supporting those of higher value, but horizontally, all being citizens in the great commonwealth that is the natural world. This attitude may make us uncomfortable -- who likes to lose one's special status? -- but it is all the more noteworthy because it will recur later in this essay. For Mahayana Buddhism, too, all beings are equally sunya "empty" because they all lack self-existence. And what has been called the central insight of deep ecology is "the idea that we can make no firm ontological divide in the field of existence: That there is no bifurcation in reality between the human and the non-human realms." [3] If so, this realization constitutes a revolution of consciousness perhaps no less significant than that of Copernicus and Darwin. Copernicus displaced the earth from its divinely-allocated position as the center of creation; Darwin demonstrated that we too are a product of the same evolutionary forces that created other species, but (whether or not it was his intention) that still seemed to leave humans the ultimate victors in the struggle for life. Now that our privileged status becomes questionable, where does that leave us?

Several passages in the Tao Te Ching allude to the need to overcome subject-object duality (e.g., ch. 7 and 13, the latter the epigraph to this section), but, as we would expect from a later and more discursive work, the other Taoist classic the Chuang-tzu is less ambiguous in asserting that "the perfect man has no self": "If there is no other, there will be no I. If there is no I, there will be none to make distinctions." [4]

It is because there is right, that there is wrong; it is because there is wrong, that there is right. This being the situation, the sages do not approach things at this level, but reflect the light of nature. Thereupon the self is also the other; the other is also the self... But really are there such distinctions as the self and the other, or are there no such distinctions? When the self and the other lose their contrariety, there we have the very essence of the Tao. [5]

This denial of the duality between self and other is a striking claim: so strange, so counter-intuitive, that we are not sure how to take it; yet the fact that it is a common claim in the mainstream Asian traditions suggests we should consider it quite seriously. Its ethical implications were realized early in Indian Vedanta: "He who sees all beings as the very Self and the Self in all beings in consequence of that abhors none" (Isa Upanisad, verse 6). Vidyaranya put it even better: "The knowledge of the Self leads to the identification of oneself with others as clearly as one identifies with one's own body." [6] This brings us back to chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching, which also recommends loving the whole world as if it were one's own body... And what if it is our body? What if the discrimination we usually make between our own body and the rest of the world is a delusion, as Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism claim? Such a realization would certainly have far-reaching ethical implications -- might be more important, perhaps, than any other fact about the world.

Everyone agrees that the most important chapter of the Tao Te Ching is the first one; some scholars (e.g., Chang Chung-yuan and Wing-tsit Chan) claim it is the key to the entire work and that all the chapters which follow may be inferred from it. Unfortunately this opening passage is also notoriously obscure. If my nondualist interpretation of Taoism is correct, however, we would expect the first chapter to say something important about the relation between subject-object dualism and a more nondualistic way of experiencing the world. In fact, that is exactly what the chapter seems to be about: lines 1, 3, 5, and 7 refer to the nondual Tao, lines 2, 4, 6, and 8 to our usual dualistic way of experiencing ourselves "in" the world:

The Tao that can be Tao'd is not the constant Tao
The name that can be named is not a constant name
Having-no-name is the source of heaven and earth
Having-names is the mother of the ten thousand things
Therefore when you do not have intention you can see the wonder
When you have intention you see the forms
These two things have the same origin
Although different in name...

Without going into a detailed analysis of these lines, which would take us beyond the scope of this essay, [7] they may be summarized as follows. The odd-numbered lines describe the nameless Tao, the source of heaven and earth, which is the world apprehended as a "spiritual" whole. Such Tao-experience can occur when one has no intentions (yu), in which case there is no awareness of oneself as being other than the Tao. In contrast, the even-numbered lines refer to our usual and dualistic way of experiencing the world, perceiving it as a collection of interacting yet discrete objects (one of them being me). We experience the world in this way due to names (i.e., language) and intentions, mental processes which are not the activities that a self does but rather are what sustain the illusory sense of a self separate from the world it is supposed to be "in".

What is the problem with language and intentions? Naming divides up the world into many different things; then we wonder about how they (and we!) fit together. But the Tao is not a collection of things, as the Chuang-tzu emphasizes:

The knowledge of the ancients was perfect. How perfect? At first, they did not know that there were things. This is the most perfect knowledge; nothing can be added. Next, they knew that there were things, but did not yet make distinctions between them. Next they made distinctions among them, but they did not yet pass judgements upon them. When judgements were passed, Tao was destroyed. [8]

From the Taoist perspective (and the Buddhist, which also emphasizes impermanence), the alternative to discrete things is events and processes. Everything is in motion, in transformation, and all those movements constitute a great flux in which everything harmonizes.

We cannot appreciate this alternative to intentions until we understand the problem with intentions, a problem that is becoming worse in contemporary society: the infinite regress of a life which relates to everything as a means to something else. Today children in Japan (where I write this) take entrance exams for kindergarten, because the right kindergarten will help them get into the right primary school which will help them get into the right middle school which will help them get into the right high school which will help them get into the right university which will help them get hired by the right corporation. So much for childhood! In his old age the poet W. B. Yeats reflected: "When I think of all the books I have read, wise words heard, anxieties given to parents, ... of hopes I have had, all life weighed in the balance of my own life seems to me a preparation for something that never happens." [9] As the world becomes more organized and rationalized (in Weber's sense), that becomes ever more true. The romantic yearning for a "return to nature" gains much of its attraction from the fact that in modern bureaucratized society less and less is done for its own sake.

This helps us to understand the Taoist alternative to such an intention-ridden infinite regress: spontaneity (tzu-jan) or "self-creativity", based on the realization is that all things, including us, flourish by themselves. Today we have difficulty appreciating this because we lack the crucial insight that spontaneity is not opposed to order but is an expression of it, since it arises from the unforced unfolding of that natural order. For us, spontaneity is by definition a lack of order because our order is a function of reason: that is, something to be logically understood and imposed on things. Instead of attempting to control (ourselves, other people, the world), Taoism emphasizes letting-go. We learn by accumulating knowledge, but we lose our self- consciousness and realize the Tao by "reducing" ourselves again and again, until we reach wei-wu-wei, the "action of non-action": then, although one does nothing, nothing is left undone (ch. 48).

Wei-wu-wei is the central paradox of Taoism and notoriously difficult to understand -- until we realize that what is being recommended is not literally doing-nothing but nondual action : that is, action without the sense of an agent-self who is apart from the action and who experiences herself as the one doing it. The usual interpretations of wu-wei as non-interference and passively yielding view not-acting as a kind of action, whereas nondual action reverses this and sees nonaction -- that which does not change, a stillness that is not lost -- "in" a nondual action. Again, it is significant that the same paradox is found in other Asian traditions which maintain the nonduality of subject and object, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism. For example, Niu-t'ou Fa-yung, a Buddhist teacher, expressed the same insight using the Ch'an concept of "no mind:" "The moment when the mind is in action is the moment at which no-mind acts... No-mind is that which is in action; it is that constant action which does not act." [10] The Taoist denies that I act, the Buddhist denies that I act; but they amount to the same thing, since each half of the polarity is dependent on the other. As long as there is the sense of oneself as an agent distinct from one's action, there will be a sense of action due to the relation between them. When one is the action, no residue of self-consciousness remains to observe that action objectively.

So the way to transcend the duality between subject and object is to be the act, in which case one realizes that it is not the self that acts but the Tao that manifests through oneself, or, better (because less dualistic), as oneself. Then there is wu-wei : a quiet center that does not change while activity constantly and spontaneously occurs, a situation Chuang-tzu calls "tranquility-in-disturbance". In this way we re-achieve the simplicity of a child who is "free from marks [characteristics]" and "does not take credit" for what she does (ch. 22) because she does not have the sense of a self that does them. It is when we live in this fashion that all things flourish by themselves.

We seem to have drifted away from ethics, but the Taoist approach to morality follows directly from this nondualistic way of living (in) the world. The long passage quoted above from the Chuang-tzu begins: "It is because there is right, that there is wrong; it is because there is wrong, that there is right. This being the situation, the sages do not approach things at this level, but reflect the light of nature." The Tao Te Ching makes the same point: "When all know beauty acting as beauty, then only there is ugliness. When all know good acting as good, then only there is not-good. For being and non-being are mutually produced... (ch. 2). This is another mode of nondualism (also important in Mahayana Buddhism): a critique of dualistic thinking : that is, thinking that differentiates things into opposed categories: right versus wrong, beauty versus ugliness, being versus nonbeing, life versus death, success versus failure, and so forth. It has often been pointed out that instead of either/or -- the Western logic of tertium non datur -- Chinese thought emphasizes polarity (e.g., yin/yang). But the Taoist critique of dualistic thinking is more than a preference for polarities. Dualistic thinking is delusive: we discriminate between opposites because we want to have one term and reject the other, yet that is impossible because each term gains meaning only by being the opposite of the other. This means, for example, that someone who wants to be beautiful will be preoccupied with avoiding ugliness; that our hope for success equals our fear of failure; and to cling to life is actually to be obsessed with death. Such a dichotomizing way of thinking about a situation keeps us from being the situation; it is a classic example of the kind of conceptual thinking that needs to be "reduced again and again" -- that is, let-go.

But what about the distinction we make between right and wrong, between good and evil? Isn't that dualism necessary for any ethics at all? Aldous Huxley makes the case for this view:

Evil is the accentuation of division; good, whatever makes for unity with other lives and other beings. Pride, hatred, anger -- the essentially evil sentiments; and essentially evil because they are all intensifications of the given reality of separateness, because they insist upon division and uniqueness, because they reject and deny other lives and beings. [11]

For Huxley, evil is that which promotes separation, good is that which promotes unity. But then isn't it inconsistent to accentuate the division between them? Doesn't his distinction between good and evil intensify separateness and division, by rejecting and denying the life of those things we label as evil? This becomes more than a logical point when we remember how much evil has been created by our desire to eliminate evil. The cultural psychoanalyst Otto Rank believed that our greatest human problems and sufferings are due, ironically, to the human attempt to perfect the world. Medieval inquisitors burned thousands at the stake in order to purge Christendom of heresies spread by Satan; Stalin sacrificed millions to construct his ideal socialist state; Hitler's Final Solution to the Jewish Problem was an attempt to purify the earth. All these horrible deeds were justified as necessary to rid the world of evil!

This helps us to appreciate the full import of the Taoist (and Buddhist) critique of dualistic thinking: To let-go of such discriminations means to let-go of dualistic moral codes as well. This is not an excuse for selfishness, for the point is that such a "reduction", if genuine, will also eliminate those self-centered ways of thinking which motivate selfish behavior. Deeper than the imperfectly-flexible strictures of moral codes is the concern for others that springs up spontaneously within those who have realized the Tao, because such a self-less person no longer feels separate from "others". That is why the way to get rid of our body (self), which causes us such trouble, is to realize that the whole world is our body, in which case we can be entrusted with the world.

The Taoist critique of Confucianism follows from this:

When the great Tao declines, we have (the teaching of) benevolence and righteousness...
When the six family relations are not friendly, we have (the teaching of) filial piety and paternal affection.
When the state and its families are confused and out of order, there are (the teachings of) loyalty and faithfulness. (ch. 18)

For Taoism, Confucian emphasis on benevolence and righteousness is an attempt to close the barn door of morality after the horse of natural feeling has already run away. As Nietzsche realized, such moral codes are ultimately motivated by fear, which makes us want to control both others and ourselves. The alternative to that fear is nothing other than love, something which, if it is to be genuine, no moral code can legislate. Then what is the foundation or basis of love? The classic example is that of a mother for her child, who was part of her and even after birth cannot survive without her. Then perhaps what we understand as love is the affective aspect of a nondual ontological realization: the experience that I am not-other-than the beloved.

This is consistent with the insight that concludes Spinoza's Ethics: blessedness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself. A life filled with love is blessed not because it leads to some other reward but because a life of love, which unites us with others, is blessedness itself. The other side of this is that a life which lacks love is not punishment for evil but evil itself. From a nondualist perspective, we are not punished for our sins but by them. To lack love is to feel separate from the world, and the tragedy is that this lack encourages us to do things which further aggravate our sense of duality: those who attempt to manipulate the world for their own advantage increasingly alienate themselves from it. Such people cannot help expecting the same attitude from others, leading to a life based on fear and the need to control situations. This vicious circle can lead to a hellish solipsism, and in fact solipsism is as good a definition of hell as we have.

Such is the Taoist perspective on personal ethics; but does Taoism have something more to say about human society today, at the end of the twentieth century? Our technological "global village" is so far removed from the hamlets of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu that we may doubt it, yet Lao and Chuang still speak directly to our social condition. The ecological crisis forces us to recognize that the crucial issue of our time is the relation between the fragile biosphere and our limitless technological drive to dominate the natural world and make it serve our own purposes. The Taoist critique addresses this, for in place of the intentions which keep us preoccupied with "improving" the world, which imply a future-orientation that is always going somewhere (but is unable ever to rest anywhere), Taoism suggests wei-wu-wei and letting-things-be. When we plug this critique into our global situation today, its relevance becomes obvious: our contemporary emphasis on endless economic and technological development is a collective example of the future-oriented intentionality which needs to interfere with the world, because it is unable to be one with it; and the natural world that we are destroying in the process is the sphere of wu-wei and letting things be. In place of its spontaneity and self-creativity, we are obsessed with organizing and "improving" it: when we look at the Amazon and other rain forests, we see only vast "resources" waiting to be "exploited". To what end? Where are we trying to get so fast? Our tragedy is that growth has become an end in itself, even as that growth threatens to destroy us.

An attitude to life that seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth -- in short, materialism -- does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited. [12]

If in the future we are to live together peacefully in an over-populated world, we must come to appreciate the Taoist emphasis on simple pleasures and fewer desires.

The irony is that the more we try to control situations, the more disorder that is created -- precisely what Taoism implies. This is not some mystical claim but increasingly obvious in the way our technological solutions to problems (e.g., the need for large amounts of electric power) keep creating ecological disasters (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl). For that reason it is difficult to be hopeful about the technological solutions that have been proposed for those disasters. A new approach is needed, and I suspect that any solution which is successful will embody an appreciation of the Taoist insight into the self-organizing spontaneity of the natural world.



I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars. (Dogen) [13]

From its beginnings Buddhism has emphasized ethics. In what is believed to have been the first sermon, Sakyamuni Buddha summarized his teaching into four truths: duhkha (usually translated "suffering"), the cause of duhkha (desire), the end of duhkha (nirvana), and the eightfold path that leads to the end of duhkha : right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. The eightfold path is often grouped into the three pillars of sila (morality), samadhi (meditation), and prajna (wisdom or insight). Sila is regarded as providing the moral and karmic foundation necessary both for lay life and for successful meditation and enlightenment.

Five ethical precepts are commonly extracted from the eightfold path: to avoid killing, stealing, false speech, "sensuality", and intoxicants. Notable from an ecological perspective is that the precept against killing protects not only humans but all sentient beings. Sensuality means preoccupation with sense-pleasures generally, yet it is usually understood as improper sex; "you should avoid sex that will cause pain and suffering to others," it has sometimes been expressed. In Buddhism marriage and divorce are not religious but civil matters; Buddhism does not say that divorce is wrong. There is also no prohibition against contraception, although abortion may violate the rule against killing.

From a Western viewpoint, what is most interesting about the precepts is that they are not commandments imposed upon us by the Buddha or some god, but undertakings that we choose to impose upon ourselves. "I undertake the course of training to perfect myself in the precept of not killing", etc. Even while reciting them we know that we will violate them, yet we vow to continue the attempt to embody them as the basic principles of our conduct in the world. The idea behind this perspective is the belief that when we break the precepts it is we ourselves who suffer the most.

Another, simpler version of the precepts originates from a verse in the Dhammapada, that most popular of Buddhist texts: "Renounce all evil, practice all good, keep the mind pure: thus all the Buddhas have taught." [14] Mahayana Buddhism expanded this to emphasize the attitude of the bodhisattva, who takes on the responsibility to help all sentient beings attain salvation: "Renounce all evil, practice all good, save the many beings." The first of the four vows still recited daily in all Zen temples embodies the same approach: "Although living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all." The ten basic Mahayana precepts add five more to the Pali precepts: not to discuss the faults of others, not to praise oneself while abusing others, not to spare the dharma assets, not to indulge in anger, and not to defame the three treasures (Buddha, dharma, sangha). These five add a greater psychological sensitivity to the ways the ego-sense protects and perpetuates itself.

To these ten precepts the path of the bodhisattva adds six paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom (prajna). Paramita, usually translated as "transcendental" (transcendental generosity, etc.) or "perfection of..." (perfection of generosity, etc.), literally means "to go beyond" and refers to a character trait developed to the highest possible degree. Generosity (dana) is first for good reason: it is the pre-eminent Buddhist virtue, emphasized more in Buddhism than in any other religion; some teachers have said that it contains all the other virtues. Buddhism like Taoism condemns the practice of performing good deeds with expectation of material reward or respect, because transcendental generosity denies the barrier between the one who gives and the one who receives. According, Mahayana emphasizes that dana-paramita is generosity without any awareness that it is oneself who is giving, that there is another who receives, or even that there is a gift which is given. A very similar insight is found in the Tao Te Ching: "Not being self-boasting, therefore one has merit." (ch. 22) "Superior virtue (te) is no virtue, therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue does not lose its virtue, therefore it has no virtue." (ch. 38) As long as I am aware of my generosity, that generosity is not complete: something extra remains or "sticks", which therefore does not reduce the sense-of-self but aggravates it.

The eighth century Buddhist poet and philosopher Santideva reminds us of the nondualist perspective that grounds this approach to ethics: "Those who wish to bring themselves and others swiftly to salvation should perform the supreme act of converting others into oneself." [15] As this suggests, Buddhist morality cannot be comprehended apart from such a realization, which liberates us from the sufferings (duhkha ) inherent to a sense-of-self. In order to understand Buddhist ethics, therefore, we must consider its foundation in the Buddhist understanding of the self -- or, more precisely, the Buddhist deconstruction of the self, since the denial of self is essential to Buddhism and one of its most distinguishing features.

Like Taoism, Buddhism is sensitive to how language reifies things and causes us to perceive the world as a collection of self-existing (svabhava) objects "in" objectified space and time. The central insight of Buddhism is a critique of this tendency: not only a denial of ego-self but a critique of all self-existing "thingness." This is the point of pratitya-samutpada "dependent-origination", the most important Buddhist doctrine (the Buddha emphasized that anyone who really understands pratitya-samutpada understands his teaching, and vice-versa).

"Dependent-origination" explains our experience by locating all phenomena within a set of twelve factors, each conditioned by all the others and likewise conditioning all of them. The presupposition of the whole process is (1) ignorance, due to which (2) volitional tendencies affect (3) consciousness which influences the whole (4) mind-body, whose (5) six sense-organs allow (6) contact between each organ and its sense-object, giving rise to (7) sensation which leads to (8) craving for that sensation. Craving causes (9) grasping at future experiences which leads to (10) becoming or attachment to life in general leading to further (11) birth and thus (12) the old age and death and the suffering associated with them.

These twelve factors can be understood in different ways, but the main point remains the same. In response to the problem of how rebirth can occur without a permanent soul or self that is reborn, Buddhism explains rebirth as a series of impersonal processes which occur without any self that is doing or experiencing them. In one Pali sutra, a monk asks the Buddha to whom belong, and for whom occur, the phenomena described in pratitya-samutpada. The Buddha rejects that question as misguided; from each factor as its preconditions arises another factor; that's all. Our duhkha "suffering" occurs without there being any self which causes or experiences the duhkha. The karmic results of action are experienced without their being any self which created the karma or any self which receives its fruit, although there is a causal connection between the action and its result.

Pratitya-samutpada was taught by the Buddha, yet some of its implications were not emphasized until the development of Mahayana. This was part of a philosophical self-deconstruction of the Buddhist teachings so influential that it has continued to reverberate through all subsequent Buddhist thought. The most important statement of this Madhyamika approach is in the Mulamadhyamikakarika of Nagarjuna, who is believed to have lived in the second century A. D.

The first verse of the Mulamadhyamikakarika proclaims its thoroughgoing critique of self-existence: "No things whatsoever exist, at any time or place, having risen by themselves, from another, from both or without cause." Nagarjuna's argument brings out more fully the implications of pratitya-samutpada, showing that dependent-origination should rather be understood as "non-dependent non-origination." Pratitya-samutpada does not teach a causal relation between entities, because the fact that these twelve factors are mutually dependent means that they are not really discrete entities; none could occur without the conditioning of all the other factors. In other words, none of its twelve phenomena -- which are said to encompass everything -- self-exists because each is necessarily infected with the traces of all the others. That none is self-existing is the meaning of the most important Mahayana term sunya, which is usually translated as "empty." All things are "empty" because none has any essence or being of its own, everything being dependent on everything else.

However, that type of logic and epistemological analysis was less appealing to Chinese Buddhists, who preferred a more metaphorical way to express the interconditionality of all phenomena: the analogy of Indra's net described in the Avatamsaka Sutra and developed in the Hua-yen (Kegon) school of Mahayana.

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself in infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number... If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring... [I]t symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual inter-causality. (Francis Cook) [16]

Every "individual" is at the same time the effect of the whole and the cause of the whole, the totality being a vast, infinite body of members each sustaining and defining all the others. "The cosmos is, in short, a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism." One of the most important consequences of this (also important for Taoism and, as we shall see, deep ecology) is that such a world is non-teleological: "There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all. The universe is taken as a given". In such a universe human beings cannot be considered the crown of creation, because it has no hierarchy: "There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere." [17]

This "mutual identity and inter-causality" of everything means in this page you are now reading is nothing less than the entire universe. The Vietnamese Zen teacher (and poet) Thich Nhat Hanh makes this point best:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow, and without trees we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either...

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the tree cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too...

You cannot point out one thing that is not here -- time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper... As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it. [18]

Again, Thich Nhat Hanh is not referring to our interdependence, for that would presuppose the existence of separate things which are related together. Instead, everywhere there are only traces of everything else and those traces are traces of traces.

But what do these abstract concepts mean for the way we live our lives? How does one actually realize and embody such interpenetration? D. T. Suzuki described Hua-yen as the philosophy of Zen and Zen as the practice of Hua-yen. In a famous passage from his own Shobogenzo, the thirteenth century Japanese Zen master Dogen sums up the process of Zen meditation as follows:

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly. [19]

"Forgetting" ourselves is how we jewels in Indra's Net lose our sense of separation and realize that we are the net. Meditation is learning how to forget the sense-of-self, which happens when I become absorbed into my meditation-exercise. Insofar as the sense-of-self is a result of consciousness reflecting back upon itself in order to grasp itself, such meditation practice makes sense as an exercise in de-reflection. Enlightenment occurs in Buddhism when the usually-automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into the void. "Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma." [20] When consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am the world -- or, more precisely, that instead of being a subjective consciousness confronting it as an object, I am a manifestation of the world, interpenetrating it/ interpenetrated by it... It is then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, that I find myself "actualized" by them, as Dogen puts it.

Notice, however, what this does not mean. Such a realization does not involve a monistic disolution of the self into Indra's Net nor a transcendence of the Net. The interpenetration of all the jewels in the net is not sub specie aeternitas, for there is no such Archimedean master-perspective. One is nondual with the net only by virtue of one's position within the net. We can appreciate different perspectives but there is no perspectiveless perspective. We are actualized by the myriad things, not something that transcends them; what unifies the whole net is the web of interpenetrating traces that constitutes each of the myriad jewels. As a modern Zen master expresses it, with enlightenment "each thing just as it is takes on an entirely new significance or worth. Miraculously, everything is radically transformed though remaining just as it is." [21] In an earlier passage from the same Shobogenzo fascicle Dogen emphasizes that this experience is not an expansion of ego-self but its disappearance: "To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening." [22] Instead of incorporating the world into myself, self-forgetting allows the things of the world to "incorporate" me, in the sense that there is no self-existing me apart from the web of interpenetrating traces.

Again, we seem to have drifted far from ethics; but, again, the Buddhist approach to morality follows directly from this type of nondualistic identity with Indra's Net. When I discover that I am you, the trace of your traces, the ethical problem of how to relate to you is transformed. Loss of self-preoccupation entails the ability to respond to others without an ulterior motive that needs to gain something, material or symbolic, from that encounter. Of course, the danger of abuse remains if my nondual experience is not deep enough to root out those dualistic tendencies that incline me to manipulate others. As long as there is sense-of-self, therefore, there will be need to inculcate morality, just as infants need training wheels on their bicycles. In Buddhism, however, ethical principles approximate the way of relating to others that nondual experience reveals; as in Christianity, I should love my neighbor as myself -- in this case because the neighbor is myself. If we not have developed to the degree that we spontaneously experience ourselves as one with others, we follow the precepts and endeavor to act as if we did feel that way. We have already noticed that, in contrast to the "Thou shalt not -- or else!" of Mosaic law, the Buddhist precepts are undertakings: projects or paths one chooses to follow. These precepts are eventually realized not to rest on any objectively-binding moral principle. In the Zen school of koan practice that I am familiar with, the last ten koan examine the ten Mahayana precepts from the enlightened point of view, to clarify what has by then become apparent: the precepts too are spiritual training wheels. There are no objective limitations on our freedom -- except the dualistic delusions that incline us to abuse that freedom in the first place.

Such freedom is realized only when I realize my place in Indra's Net, which also entails my dependence upon all things. Goethe saw the paradox: you have only to consider yourself free to feel yourself bound, and you have only to consider yourself bound to feel free. We understand freedom as self-determination, i.e., determination by one's self. But if there is no self, freedom needs to be understood differently. Why have questions of free will and liberty been so central in the Western tradition, to the extent that the pursuit of freedom might be considered its dominant myth? Freedom is the crucial issue for an ego-self because it understands its basic problem as lack of autonomy. So the origins of Western civilization are traced back to the Greek "emancipation" of reason from myth. Since the Renaissance, there has been a progressive emphasis, first on religious freedom (the Reformation), then political freedom (the English, American, French revolutions), followed by economic freedom (the class struggle), racial and colonial freedom, and most recently sexual and psychological freedom (psychotherapy, feminism, gay rights, etc.). Each of these struggles has been pursued with a religious fervor, for what is ultimately at stake in all of them is the right of the self to determine itself.

The sad fact is that it is much easier to fight for freedom than to live freely. Absolute freedom for an ego-self is impossible, for our lack of self-existence ensures that we never experience ourselves as free enough: something is always felt to constrain us. As important as it is, the myth of freedom has been correlative to the project of the self-grounding ego-self, which seeks to eliminate all the ties that limit it so it can be truly self-determined. Then what does the search for freedom mean if self-groundedness is not possible? When even the most absolute freedom does not end duhkha but usually aggravates it (e.g., the last years of Howard Hughes), our struggle for freedom can be fulfilled only by transforming into a different quest. Goethe's statement implies that the greatest freedom comes from losing self-preoccupation and assuming responsibility for all things: not just for our family or our nation, but for the whole of Indra's Net. And present social and environmental conditions increasingly make such a commitment necessary.

For Buddhism such response-ability is not the means to salvation but natural to the expression of genuine enlightenment. Hee-Jin Kim explains Dogen's view of the Buddhist precepts as nothing other than tathata "thusness:"

not-to-commit-any-evil is neither the heteronomous "Thou shalt not" nor the autonomous "I will not," but is non-contrivance... When morality becomes effortless, purposeless, and playful, it becomes a non-moral morality which is the culmination of Zen practice of the Way in which morality, art, and play merge together. When ought becomes is in the transparency of thusness, only then do we come to the highest morality. [23]

This is what might be called the "non-moral morality" of the bodhisattva, who, having nothing to gain or lose him/herself -- because he/she has no self -- is devoted to the welfare of others. Contrary to popular Buddhist belief, this is not a personal sacrifice. The bodhisattva knows that no one is fully saved until everyone is saved: when I am the universe, to help others is to help myself. To become enlightened is to forget one's own suffering only to wake up in or rather one with a world of suffering. This experience is not sympathy or empathy but compassion, literally "suffering with." What will the meaning of life become for such a person, freed from narcissistic self-preoccupation? What will that nondual freedom, which has nothing to gain or to lose, choose to do? The career of the bodhisattva is helping others: not because one ought to, for traditionally the bodhisattva is not bound by dogma or morality, but because one is the situation and through oneself that situation draws forth a response to meet its needs.

What are the ecological implications of this approach? The first precept enjoins us not to kill any sentient being; the bodhisattva vows to help all beings become happy and realize their Buddhanature. As in Taoism, this denies the importance of the distinction we usually make between ourselves and other living beings. Such an attitude developed quite early in Buddhism, as in the popular Jataka "birth stories" which describe the earlier lives of the Buddha before he became the Buddha. Many Jataka passages celebrate the beauties of nature: forests, rivers and lakes, and most of all the wild creatures who are usually the protagonists of the stories. In many of the best-known stories the future Buddha sacrifices himself for "lower animals": for example, offering his body to help a weak tigress feed her hungry cubs. In this fashion the Jatakas view the world nondualistically as a vast field of spiritual effort in which no life-form, no matter how insignificant it seems to be, is outside the path. All beings are potential Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Each is able to feel compassion for the sufferings of others and act selflessly to ease the pain of all beings. The Jatakas also remind us that everything is food for something else, part of an all-encompassing food chain which does not end with humans.

Nor is this compassion limited to animals. The Buddha is believed to have experienced his great enlightenment under a bodhi (pipal) tree, and to have spent his first week after that contemplating this sheltering tree. Many passages in the Pali scriptures contain expressions of the Buddha's gratitude for trees and other plants. In one sutra, the spirit of a tree appears to the Buddha in a dream and complains that it had been chopped down by a monk. The next morning the Buddha gathered the monks together and prohibited them from cutting down trees, for they too have sensate existence.


Deep Ecology

The Western version of mystical awareness, our version of Buddhism or Taoism, will be ecological awareness. (Fritjof Capra) [24]

What has become known as deep ecology developed out of a critique of reform environmentalism, which attempts to mitigate some of the worst forms of pollution, wildlife destruction, and short-sighted development schemes. The shortcomings of this approach, working within the framework of conventional political processes, soon became evident: such environmentalism tends to become technical and oriented to short-term public policy issues like resource allocation, without questioning more basic assumptions about the value of economic growth and development.

One of the earliest and best-known examples of a transformation to a deeper ecological approach was the naturalist Aldo Leopold, who in the 1920's and 1930's underwent a dramatic conversion from a "stewardship" resources-management mentality to what he termed an "ecological conscience." His new understanding was presented in Sand County Almanac (1949), which argued for "biocentric equality" because "we are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution." To adopt an ecological conscience "changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it." Leopold claimed that "the biotic mechanism is so complex that its working may never be fully understood", stressing the essential mysteriousness of life processes in a way that undercuts the possibility of its successful domination and control by humans. He went on to formulate an egalitarian "land ethic": "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." [25]

Leopold's subversive ideas were not appreciated for a generation because they were too radical: like Taoism and Buddhism, they challenge some of our most deeply-rooted assumptions about the natural world, what human beings are, and the relationship between them. There are different ways to formulate these assumptions, of course, but they have been summarized into four basic propositions:

1. People are fundamentally different from all other creatures on Earth, over which they have dominion (defined as domination).

2. People are masters of their own destiny; they can choose their goals and learn to do whatever is necessary to achieve them.

3. The world is vast, and thus provides unlimited opportunities for humans.

4. The history of humanity is one of progress; for every problem there is a solution, and thus progress need never cease. [26]

According to this anthropocentric worldview (which can no longer be considered merely Western, since it has spread around the globe), the Earth is primarily if not exclusively a collection of natural resources waiting to be exploited. For those resources which are not infinite, our technology can provide substitutes. Human beings dominate nature because we are superior to the rest of nature. Other beliefs tend to be associated with the above assumptions: for example, the belief that the goal of life is comfort and convenience, and faith in technology and scientific progress. Historically, this set of values has not been concerned about the quality of the natural environment. The emphasis has been on individualism, with little awareness of the value of the human community, much less the biotic "land community" that Leopold described. The overriding value has been linking science and technology to exploit some aspect of nature -- energy, minerals, forests, etc. -- to serve the growing economy. [27]

This worldview remains dominant -- in its global reach, more than ever before -- yet not unchallenged. Two important resources outside the Western tradition have already been discussed in the previous sections of this paper. There have also been strong minority strands within the West: literary traditions such as romanticism and pastoralism; alternative Christian views of nature like that of St. Francis of Assisi; the lifestyles of "primal peoples" such as Native Americans; and today, less dualistic scientific models such as quantum mechanics and, of course, ecological biology itself. Within Western philosophy, two figures have been particularly important for those who want to challenge anthropocentrism (although both are controversial): Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). It is noteworthy that, like Taoism and Buddhism, both philosophers deny the self-existence of anything, including us. For Spinoza, all beings are equal as manifestations of the one Substance, which for him has two modes: God and Nature. Although there are some passages in Spinoza's Ethics which state that we can treat other species as we like, the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess has pointed out that this is inconsistent with the implications of his metaphysics.

[For Spinoza] all particular things are expressions of God; through all of them God acts. There is no hierarchy. There is no purpose, no final causes such that one can say that the "lower" exist for the sake of the "higher." There is an ontological democracy or equalitarianism which, incidentally, greatly offended his contemporaries, but of which ecology makes us more tolerant today. [28]

More recently, Martin Heidegger has made an influential critique of the Western philosophical tradition since Plato. In his view, its humanistic approach is responsible for the present technocratic mentality that espouses domination over nature. For Heidegger, the essence of technology is found in its tendency to perceive all beings as objective, quantifiable and disposable raw material which is valued only insofar as it enhances our power. This understanding is both the culmination of Western civilization and the triumph of nihilism. In response, Heidegger offers a "new way of thinking" in which we dwell in the world with other beings, not as their master but by letting beings be so they can display themselves in all their glory. [29]

There are obvious similarities between Spinoza and Hua-yen Buddhism, and between Heidegger and Taoism, but before addressing them it will be helpful to generalize the argument by looking at what Warwick Fox, an Australian deep ecologist, considers its 'central intuition:' "It is the idea that we can make no firm ontological divide in the field of existence: That there is no bifurcation in reality between the human and the non-human realms." [30] As an ontological claim, this denial of a bifurcation between the human and nonhuman realms is based on more than intuition: it follows from the essential ecological insight into the interrelatedness of everything. As John Muir said, when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. That applies to us as much as to this sheet of paper that you are reading now. Yet there is still something lacking in this way of expressing it:

To the Western mind, interrelatedness implies a causal connectedness. Things are interrelated if a change in one affects the other... But what is actually involved is a genuine intermingling of parts of the ecosystem. There are no discrete entities. [31]

Nagarjuna could not have put it better, for this is precisely his point: the doctrine of pratitya-samutpada "interdependent origination" leads us to the same conclusion. Thus Buddhism and ecology follow the same development. We usually begin with an understanding of the world as a collection of discrete beings, the most important being us (Buddhism begins with the individual ego-self, ecology the collective "wego-self" that is homo sapiens). Buddhist teachings and ecological science lead to the realization that beings are not discrete: all our experience and all life-forms are interrelated; to isolate anything is to destroy it. Each living being is a dissipative structure, i.e., does not endure in and of itself, but only due to a continual flow of energy into the system. Yet even this insight is incomplete, because if everything is interrelated then there are no discrete things to be related-together. We end up with ... Indra's infinite and interpenetrating net, where each particular mirror is nothing other than a reflection of all the other mirrors which constitute the entire net: that is, each particular "thing" is what the whole universe is doing at this place and time.

However, what is most distinctive about deep ecology is the axiological corollary it seems to derive from the above. This has been expressed most famously in the first (and most important) of the eight principles of the Deep Ecology Platform, initially formulated by Naess and George Sessions in 1984: "The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have values in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes." Naess has developed this basic perspective into two "ultimate norms," i.e., ethical principles which in his opinion cannot be proven yet may be intuited. The first is Self-realization, which goes beyond the self defined as an isolated ego striving for sense-gratification or for its own individual salvation. According to Naess, we must stop seeing ourselves as competing egos and learn to identify not only with other humans but with other species and even inanimate objects in the nonhuman world. The second ultimate norm is biocentric equality:

all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfolding and self-realization within the larger Self-realization. This basic intuition is that all organisms and entities in the ecosphere, as parts of the interrelated whole, are equal in intrinsic worth. [32]

Both of these norms need to be examined but first a clarification is necessary. Naess has always been careful to distinguish the Deep Ecology Platform from his own philosophy, which he calls Ecosophy T. This is because he believes the deep ecology platform can be logically derived from various, even incompatible religious and philosophical premises. [33] It would be a mistake, therefore, to identify Naess's two norms as canonical for deep ecology, although some other deep ecologists overlook the distinction. This is particularly important for Self-realization and identification, since some writers have elaborated Naess's concepts in ways that critics have shown to be problematic.

The biggest controversy has been over identification with the nonhuman world. Naess emphasizes this but what does it mean? How can one identify with other species? Perhaps his best explanation is in his paper "Identification as a Source of Deep Ecological Attitudes:"

There is a process of ever-widening identification and ever-narrowing alienation which widens the self. The self is as comprehensive as the totality of our identifications... Identification is a spontaneous, non-rational, but not irrational, process through which the interests of another being are reacted to as our own interest or interests. [34]

Since this is still vague it is not surprising that critics, especially ecofeminists, have identified problems with this approach. In an extended critique, Val Plumwood distinguishes three different accounts of the self in her reading of Self-realization through identification: indistinguishability, which denies boundaries in the field of existence; the expansion of the self, which is an enlargement and extension of the ego-self; and transcendence of the self, which universalizes in a way that devalues personal relationships in favor of an abstractly conceived whole. All of these, she argues, involve an uncritical acceptance of rationalist and masculinist assumptions. [35]

Whether or not these criticisms apply to some other deep ecologists, [36] Naess's own writings reveal a sensitivity to precisely these problems. His very first paper on deep ecology was careful to characterize it in relational terms: "Rejection of the human-in-environment image in favor of the relational, total-field image. Organisms as knots in the biospherical net or field of intrinsic relations." [37] His most important book, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, points out that to see ourselves as intimately connected with nature is "a difficult ridge to walk: To the left we have the ocean of organic and mystic views, to the right the abyss of atomic individualism." At any level of realisation of potentials, individual egos "do not dissolve like individual drops in the ocean" although "the individual is not, and will not be isolatable." [38] In an unpublished essay on "Gestalt Thinking and Buddhism," Naess prefers the Buddhist anatmavada (no-self doctrine) to Hindu atman-absolutism because he stresses process rather than a Vedantic union with a transcendent Absolute. [39]

In an interview Naess has described the starting-point of his anti-Cartesian attitude as the desire "to overcome the entire subject-object cleavage as an axiom of modern philosophy... It is as if I want to disappear." What is the way to do this? "To enmesh yourself in what you are doing, what you experience, in such a way that the relation to your ego disappears, and the Self is expanded into the World." [40]

The similarity between this and Zen practice is as striking as the similarity between Naess's use of gestalt internal-relations and what Mahayana says about interpenetration. For Naess as with Indra's Net, the way for the self to realize it is not separate from the world is for the ego-self to forget itself and "disappear." Then, instead of the world as a collection of discrete objects confronting me, my true self is a vast web of traces and traces of traces. This meets the feminist critique: such a self is not indistinguishable from the world in the way that each spoonful of porridge is indistinguishable from the next, nor is it the result of the ego-self expanding to incorporate the world. Instead of transcending personal relationships, such a loss of self-preoccupation can only deepen them, as part of one's involvement in the world generally.

To understand such a world, the static notion of entity must be replaced with something more dynamic. When we let-go of our usual entity-way of looking at a collection of self-existing things, we end up with Buddhist insights about natural processes and events; for Buddhism too emphasizes the impermanence of things. To realize this is to see that a flower is not an entity, it is the beautiful sexual gesture of a plant. Then Naess' second ultimate norm, that "all organisms and entities in the ecosphere are equal in intrinsic worth," may be better expressed as: every event is equal in intrinsic value to every other event. This seems innocuous enough, yet it has extraordinary "moral" implications.

Earlier we saw that the Hua-yen concept of Indra's Net is non-teleological and non-hierarchical: "There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all." Human beings cannot be the crown of creation, because "there is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere." [41] We have also noticed that Arne Naess, in arguing for deep ecology, has derived the same insight from Spinoza's metaphysics: "There is no hierarchy. There is no purpose, no final causes such that one can say that the 'lower' exist for the sake of the 'higher.' There is an ontological democracy or equalitarianism". Now that entity-language has been translated into event-language, how shall we understand this? There is a famous Zen story about a sermon by Sakyamuni Buddha, when he said nothing but just twirled a flower in his hand. No one understood this except Mahakasyapa, yet what did he understand? Just "this"! The entire universe exists just for the sake of this particular "flower" to bloom -- and for the sake of "me" to appreciate it. Or, as deep ecologists might prefer to put it, the whole biosphere exists only for this oak tree to grow, for this river to flow, for this whale to spout.

Deep ecologists have elaborated on the meaning of "intrinsic worth" or "inherent value": "The presence of inherent value in a natural object is independent of any awareness, interest, or appreciation of it by a conscious being." [42] This is diametrically opposed to our usual understanding of nature, but it is deeply congruent with Taoism and Heidegger, both of which emphasize "letting things be" in order for them to flourish: not for our sake, and not even for their own sake, but for no sake at all -- because questions of utility and justification no longer apply. For Heidegger, "dwelling is not primarily inhabiting but taking care of and creating that space within which something comes into its own and flourishes." [43] The teleological question "what for?" arises out of the anthropocentric attitude which perceives all beings as quantifiable and disposable raw material, and which values beings only insofar as they are good for something -- in effect, good for our own purposes.

"Letting things be" challenges that basic principle of our technological and consumerist society, but it also subverts our notion of ego-self. This brings us back to again the first "ultimate norm" that Naess derives from the nonduality between the human and nonhuman realms: Self-realization, which includes learning to identify with the whole of the biosphere. To admit that natural objects (or natural events) have an inherent value independent of any awareness or appreciation by other beings is to question our commonsense dualism between the conscious self and the objective world. If I am "in here" (behind the eyes and inside the ears, as it were) and the world is "out there", the alienation between them makes value subjective: it can only be a function of my desires and my projects. Then to deny such an anthropocentric understanding of value, which deep ecology does, also leads us to question the dualism between subject and object. We have already noticed how Taoism and Buddhism deny that dualism. For Taoism all the ten thousand things, including us, are mere "straw-dogs" in themselves because they have no reality apart from being manifestations of the Tao; Zen master Dogen realized that his mind is "nothing other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars." Then perhaps it is inevitable, although nonetheless a shock, that some deep ecologists have arrived at the same conclusion:

When humans investigate and see through their layers of anthropocentric self-cherishing, a most profound change in consciousness begins to take place.

Alienation subsides. The human is no longer an outsider, apart. Your humanness is then recognized as being merely the most recent stage of your existence ... you start to get in touch with yourself as mammal, as vertebrate, as a species only recently emerged from the rain forest. As the fog of amnesia disperses, there is a transformation in your relationship to other species, and in your commitment to them...

"I am protecting the rain forest" develops to "I am part of the rain forest protecting myself. I am that part of the rain forest recently emerged into thinking." [44]

We are back within Indra's Net: "I am that part of Indra's Net recently emerged into thinking." What began as a scientific claim, about the ecological inter-relatedness of species, has developed here into a religious claim: not just any religious claim, but the fundamental claim, or the fundamental realization, of Taoism and Buddhism.

Yet it is not wolves or whales or trees but humans who make such a claim and endeavor to realize it. This raises a question about Fox's "central intuition" that there is no real bifurcation between the human and nonhuman realms, for there does seem to be an important difference: we humans are the only dissipative structures who can realize that we are not separate from Indra's Net, that moreover we are not parts of the Net but the whole of the Net, come to consciousness at this particular place and time. Or is it that we are the sole species which needs to pursue self-realization, because the sole species whose self-consciousness alienates it in the first place? The etymology usually given for the English word religion traces it back to the Latin re + ligio "to bind back together." Homo sapiens seems to be the only animal that needs religion, because the only one deluded by an ego-self that needs to be reunified with the world.

So we can understand why Fritjof Capra thinks that the Western version of Taoism and Buddhism will be ecological awareness: because deep ecology has also come to realize the importance of solving the basically religious issue of the alienation between ourselves and the world we find ourselves "in". The individual ego-self and the species "wego-self" turn out to be different versions of the same problem, which can be resolved only by realizing that the duality between ourselves and the natural world is delusive. The environmental catastrophes which are occurring more and more often make it evident that such a transformation is necessary if we -- not only humans, but the rich diversity that constitutes the biosphere -- are to survive and thrive through the next century. [45]



1. Quoted in Warwick Fox, Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism (Boston: Shambhala, 1990), p. 106.

2. Michael E. Zimmerman, "Towards a Heideggerian Ethos for Radical Environmentalism, Environmental Ethics 5 (1983), p. 112.

3. In Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985), p. 66.

4. Chuang-tzu, with Kuo Hsiang's commentary, trans. Fung Yu-lan (New York: Gordon Press, 1975), pp. 34, 46.

5. As quoted in Sources of Chinese Tradition, ed. Theodore deBary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 69; my italics.

6. Pancapadika VI.285.

7. For such an analysis, see David Loy, Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 112 - 124.

8. Chuang-tzu, op. cit., p. 53.

9. Quoted in Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 469.

10. Quoted in Chang Chung-yuan, trans., Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism (New York: Vintage, 1971), p. 22. A Vedantic equivalent is found in the Bhagavad-gita: "He who in action sees inaction and action in inaction -- he is wise among men... Having abandoned attachment to the fruit of works, ever content without any kind of dependence, he does nothing though he is ever engaged in work." (IV.18, 20)

11. Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969).

12. E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 30. See also D. Loy, "Preparing for Something that Never Happens: the means/ends problem in modern culture," International Studies in Philosophy 6 no. 4 (1994).

13. As quoted in Philip Kapleau, ed., The Three Pillars of Zen (Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1965), p. 205. The original reference is from the Sokushin-zebutsu fascicle of Dogen's Shobogenzo.

14. The present Dalai Lama has further simplified this: "All of Buddhism can be summed up in two sentences: If you have the ability, then help others. If not, at least do not harm them."

15. Bodhicaryavatara VIII.120.

16. Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p. 2.

17. Ibid., p. 2.

18. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1988), pp. 3-5.

19. "Genjo-koan," trans. Dan Welch and Kazuaki Tanahashi, in Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985), p. 70.

20. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, trans. John Blofeld (London: Buddhist Society, 1958), p. 41.

21. Yasutani's "Commentary on Mu," in The Three Pillars of Zen, p. 80.

22. "Genjo-koan," p. 69.

23. Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen Kigen -- Mystical Realist (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975), p. 294; Kim's italics.

24. Quoted in Warwick Fox, "The Intuition of Deep Ecology", The Ecologist (1984).

25. Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).

26. William Catton, Jr. and Riley Dunlap, "New Ecological Paradigm for Post-Exuberant Sociology," American Behavioral Scientist 24 (September 1980), pp. 15-48.

27. Deep Ecology, p. 44.

28. Arne Naess, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, A Philosophical Approach (Oslo, Norway: Oslo University Press, 1977). Naess has also written on the relation between Spinoza and Mahayana Buddhism; for example, "Through Spinoza to Mahayana Buddhism, or Through Mahayana Buddhism to Spinoza?" in Jon Wetlesen, ed., Spinoza's Philosophy of Man (Oslo University Press, 1978).

29. Michael Zimmerman, who was among the first to point out the environmental relevance of Heidegger's critique of technology (see fn. 2 above), has since argued that Heidegger's version of anti-modernism is still anthropocentric and incompatible with deep ecology in several important respects. See his Contesting Earth's Future: Radical ecology and Postmodernity (Berkelely: University of California Press, 1994), especially ch. 1 and 3.

30. Quoted in Deep Ecology p. 66.

31. Neil Everndon, "Beyond Ecology," North American Review 263 (1978), pp. 16-20. Scientific ecology has recently become more reductive, with ecosystem paradigms challenged by more individualistic models emphasizing flux and perturbation over harmony and balance. This does not contradict the type of interpenetration that Hua-yen emphasizes, which also denies stability and emphasizes flux.

32. Deep Ecology pp. 66-67.

33. Naess has clarified this distinction with an "apron diagram" which distinguishes level 1 (ultimate premises) from level 2 (platform principles), level 3 (general lifestyle/policy views) and level 4 (practical and concrete decisions). This diagram is reproduced in Alan Drengston and Yuichi Inoue, eds., The Deep Ecology Movement: an introductory anthology (Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1995), pp. 11-12.

34. In Michael Tobias, ed., Deep Ecology (San Diego: Avant, 1985), p. 261.

35. Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 176 ff.

36. Plumwood's argument seems more applicable to, e.g., Warwick Fox, who presents a "cosmological" interpretation of identification in his Toward a Transpersonal Ecology (see fn. 1).

37. "The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary" (1973), reprinted in The Deep Ecology Movement, p. 3; Naess's own italics.

38. Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 165, 195.

39. Cited in Ingvar Anda, "Arne Naess's Gestalt Ontology and Sunyata: a comparative analysis," unpublished.

40. In David Rothenberg, Is it Painful to Think? Conversations with Arne Naess (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 76.

41. Hua-yen Buddhism, p. 2.

42. Tom Regan, "The Nature and Possibility of an Environmental Ethic," Environmental Ethics 3 (1981), pp. 19-34.

43. Quoted in Deep Ecology p. 250.

44. John Seed, "Anthropocentrism," in Deep Ecology, p. 243.

45. The revised version of this paper has benefitted from comments by Clare Palmer, Ingvar Anda, and the anonymous reviewer for Worldviews.