Tai Ji Men promotes a comprehensive respect for nature and the environment, defending humans and the environment as distinct and yet as a unity.
by Marco Respinti*
*Conclusion of the international webinar “A Safe Environment for Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on June 5, 2023, World Environment Day.
Today, our webinar celebrates the World Environment Day as an occasion to reflect on the Tai Ji Men case. It is not the first time that we discuss the environment in connection with Tai Ji Men, which is a spiritual movement and a menpai (similar to a school) that has been persecuted in Taiwan for more than a quarter of a century and still suffers the serious consequences of accusations that have been repeatedly proved false by all levels of the Taiwanese justice.
The environment is indeed an important topic.
I just returned from Krakow, Poland, where I attended a 3-day conference—one of the most important events of this kind ever organized in Europe—on the scientific problems posed by the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian hypotheses on the origin and the development of life on earth, the alternative hypothesis known as “Intelligent Design,” and the relationship between science and religion. That was a privileged place to see how the environment is important at all levels.
The environment, in all the senses that this word may convey, was a constant preoccupation of all the scholarly panelists speaking at that conference—and pour cause, as the French say. In fact, all forms of life, unicellular organisms, bacteria, algae, plants, animals, and humans, are strictly correlated to the environment. Even more: all forms of life deeply depend on the environment. While the environment does not determine life, life is objectively influenced and conditioned by the environment. Think, for instance, of water. Water is not a sufficient element to make life spring on Earth, but it is surely necessary for its birth, diffusion, and survival. Sunlight, as well as darkness at night, are essential elements for the delicate fine-tuning that allows life to flourish on Earth. There are plenty of these examples.
So, changes in the environment may help or damage earthly life. On purpose, I am introducing here a subject that has become an urgent center of interest in contemporary society. Much is in fact being said about the environment and the changes in the Earth’s climate that affect it. Sometimes, even too much.
It is in fact unbearable that a matter open to discussion and constant revision, as scientific research should be, is becoming hostage to ideologies and ideologues who transform one hypothesis into a dogma. Science, deriving from Latin “scientia,” means knowledge, and scientific knowledge always progresses and advances through trial and error, and above all by empirically proving or discharging hypotheses that have been formulated on natural phenomena. A hypothesis can be confirmed, and so written into a law (which is the formal description of the behavior of phenomena in mathematical language) or discharged because it has been confuted by facts.
Serious scientific research on the environment, however, is being today substituted by partisanship. Now, one of the two sides of this huge clash of self-styled undisputable orthodoxies seems to be on the winning side, at least judging by the rapid and ubiquitous consensus that it has on the media. In turn, the apparently losing side is relegated into a ghetto of pariahs with virtually no right to speak. The real name of all this is censorship, but it is not the worst aspect of the problem yet.
The worst aspect is that the winning side of this non-debate (a debate needs in fact freedom of expression for all debaters) affirms that human beings are to be blamed if the Earth’s climate changes. Its most extreme proponents even go so far as to label humans as the main problem of the Earth. In this rhetoric, human beings are nothing else than blatant polluters. They are a deadly virus or a poisonous disease. Earth would be better off without them.
On the other side, scientists who suggest another perspective are ostracized and slandered. They are even called infamous names like “negationists,” which I want here to underline is the expression used for those who shamelessly deny the Holocaust of the Jews that was perpetrated by German National Socialists during World War II (1939–1945). I still have in my eyes the Kazimierz, or the historical Jewish quarter in Krakow, Poland, which I visited last Sunday. It is one of too many places in Europe where the Nazis committed their genocidal crimes. It served later as a filming location for the famous 1993 Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List.” So, I know one thing or two about genocides and negationists.
But do not misunderstand me. The environment is crucial as is its defense. The point I am making here is that it is logically absurd to want to defend the environment by making humans suffer for this. In fact, the environment is for humans. As there can be no humans if the natural environment is inhospitable to life, an environment with no humans is not what all of us are interested in.
We defend human rights. We know they are unalienable because they come from what makes all of us human, and that is human nature. Our human nature is part of the natural environment, even if it has peculiar tracts that make it irreducible to environmental nature. We defend humans who are part of the environment as we defend the environment that serves humans. When this delicate mechanism breaks, absurdities arise and even crimes are committed.
Let me now move from the natural environment to the human environment that we call society. To function properly, it needs to cherish the unalienable reality of its members. If someone considers a fellow human being or a group of humans or the whole of humanity as an enemy, a virus or a disease to be extirpated, societies become terrestrial hells.
To be humane, a human society must acknowledge and respect the intangible nature of each individual of the “human family” (to use the language of the Preamble of the UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”) The proper environment in which humans may live and prosper is then the natural environment where nature is a resource for humans, not a nightmare, as well as the anthropic environment, where fundamental rights are respected. It is not a mere rhetorical juxtaposition: it is a vital correlation. We should in fact start to think about ecology in a broader and deeper sense.
The term “ecology” comes from two Ancient Greek words, οἶκος (“oikos”), meaning “house,” and -λογία (-“logía”), here to be translated as “the study of.” Ecology means to take care of and protect a house, our house, the house for humans, some may even say the house prepared for humans. Humans have the responsibility to conserve it and make it fruitful, but, again, this house is not only for wildlife. It is a grand building where human beings also dwell. It consists of natural elements, moral elements, and cultural elements. No real ecology may exist if it is not a profound human ecology. The first preoccupation of human beings should then be the proper conservation of humanity: only so it makes sense to protect the environment.
At the center of Tai Ji Men’s teaching there is conscience. While centering all on this peculiar human dimension, Tai Ji Men promotes a comprehensive respect for nature and the environment. As is typical of several Eastern doctrines and philosophies, humans and nature are intimately bound, and one reflects the other. Tai Ji Men understands quite well what it means to defend humans and the environment as distinct and yet as a unity. Indeed, the understanding of the environment that Tai Ji Men promotes is totally anthropocentric and at the same time it is not based on a blind supremacy of humans over other parts of the creation. It is harmonic.
From Tai Ji Men’s teachings one can in fact easily draw the idea that there can be no real care for the environment if there is no conscientious care for humans. Until we will have discrimination and persecution, such as the one the Tai Ji Men movement has been suffering for more than 26 years, there will be no real ecology. On the World Environment Day, all should start promoting a deep ecological view that puts human beings and their inalienable rights at its center—and let’s start from finding a solution for the unconceivable and unbearable Tai Ji Men case.