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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 47 birth, so we have nation, natal, and native. The Chinese word for nature is zi-ran, meaning “self-thus.” Although in common English and American usage “nature” is sometimes used to mean “the outdoors” and set in opposition to the realm of de- velopment, the word “nature” is best used in its specific scientific sense, referring to the physical universe and its rules—the “laws of nature.” In this use it is equivalent to the Greek physis. In other words, nature means “everything” The agricultural, the urban, the wild mountains and forests, and the many stars in the sky are all equally phenomena. “Nature” is our reality. Cities and agricultural lands, however, are not “wild. Wild is a valuable word. It is a term for the free and independent process of nature. A wilderness is place where wild process dominates and human impact is minimal. Wilderness need not be a place that was never touched by humans, but simply a place where wild process has ruled for some decades. The wild is self-creating, self-maintaining, self-propagating, self-reliant, and self-actualizing, and it has no “self.” It is perhaps the same as what East Asian philosophers call the Dao. The human mind, imagination, and even natural human language can also thus be called wild. The human body itself, with its circulation, respiration, and digestion, is wild. In these senses, “wild” is a word for the intrinsic, non-theistic, forever-changing natural order. Ecology, another key word, has the Greek oikos as its main root, with the simple meaning of “household.” It referred originally to the study of biological interrelationships and the flow of energy through organisms and inorganic matter. In recent years it has be- come a popular synonym for “outdoor nature.” I prefer to use it closer to the original meaning, with an emphasis on the dynamics of relationship in wild natural process. (I presented these defini- tions more fully in my 1990 book, The Practice of the Wild.) The field of ecological study embraces questions of population rise and fall, plant and animal succession, predator-prey relation- ships, competition and cooperation, feeding levels, and the flow of energy through ecosystems—and this is just the beginning. I have learned a great deal in my work on the forest issues of west- ern North America over the last few years from people in the field of “forest ecology” (sometimes with the help of my older son, Kai Snyder, who is in this field). I have come to better understand the dynamism of natural systems, the continuous role of distur- bance, and the unremitting effects of climatic fluctuations. The “human ecology” aspect of the ecological sciences helps us un- derstand the role that human beings have played as members of wild nature, and how the interconnectedness of the entire planet requires that we take care of this place that we live in, and which lives in us. It tells us what “sustainable” means, and that modern humans must again become members of the organic world. The organic life of the planet has maintained itself, constantly changing, and has gone through and recovered from several enor- mous catastrophic events over hundreds of millions of years. Now we are realizing that the human impact on air, water, wildlife, soil, and plant life is so extreme that there are species becoming extinct, water dangerous even to touch, mountains with mudslides but no trees, and soil that won’t grow food without the continuous sub- sidy provided by petroleum. As we learned over time to positively work for peace to head off the possibilities of war, so now we must work for sustainable biological practices and a faith that includes wild nature if we are to reverse the prospect of continually dwin- dling resources and rising human populations. One can ask what might it take to have an agriculture that does not degrade the soils, a fishery that does not deplete the ocean, a forestry that keeps watersheds and ecosystems intact, population policies that respect human sexuality and personality while holding numbers down, and energy policies that do not set off fierce little wars. These are the key questions. Many of our leaders assume that the track we’re on will go forever and nobody will learn much: politics as usual. It’s the same old engineering, business, and bureaucracy message, with its lank rhetoric of data and management. Or, when the talk turns to “sus- tainability,” the focus is on a limited ecological-engineering model that might guarantee a specific resource for a while longer (like grass, water, or trees) but lacks the vision to imagine the health of the whole planet. The ethical position that would accord intrinsic value to non-human nature, and would see human beings as in- volved in moral as well as practical choices in regard to the natural world, makes all the difference. “As...a dewdrop, a bubble, a cloud, a flash of lightning, view all created things.” Thus ends the Diamond Sutra, reminding us of irreducible impermanence. Sustainability cannot mean some kind of permanence. A waggish commentary says, “Sustainabil- ity is a physical impossibility. But it is a very nice sentiment.” The quest for permanence has always led us astray—whether build- ing stone castles, Great Walls, pyramids for the kings, great navies, giant cathedrals to ease us toward heaven, or Cold War-scale weapons systems guaranteeing “mutually assured destruction.” We must live with change, like a bird on the wing, and doing so, let all the other beings live on, too. Not permanence, but “living in harmony with the Way.” The albatross, all sixteen species of them, are companions with us on earth, sailing on their own way, of no use to us humans, and we should be of no use to them. They can be friends at a distance, fellow creatures in the stream of evolution. This is fun- damental etiquette. Legislation from the governments regarding fisheries in the sea or deforestation in the mountains would help enormously. So, back to those key questions, what would it take? We know that science and the arts can be allies. We need far more women in politics. We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science; business leaders who know and accept ➢ page 107 NOV 40-47.indd 47 NOV 40-47.indd 47 8/29/07 2:09:51 PM 8/29/07 2:09:51 PM