Daoism and Ecology

dao zi

What does Daoism have to contribute to the environmental debate?

 Daoism – previously rendered in English as Taoism – is China’s indigenous religion, from where the concept of a dynamic interplay of opposites, yin and yang, springs. In this theory of the essential polarity of the universe, Earth and Heaven are seen to be in harmony when yin and yang are in balance.

dao at qingchengshan

 Daoist symbol  of the Tai Ji outside a monastery at Qing Cheng Shan

Daoist religious leaders have led the way for the environmental movement in China in many ways. Twenty years ago, the Daoist Association of China released an ecological statement. In Daoism’s primary canon, the Dao De Jing ( Tao Te Ching), it is said that

Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Dao, and Dao follows Nature.


Qing Cheng Shan, sacred Daoist Mountain.

Daoists have long advocated living in harmony with nature and finding inspiration in the natural world. Many of the movements of Tai Ji Chuan and Qi Gong stem from deep observations of the natural world, and imitating the movements of animals.


Daoist performing Snake qi gong

The Daoist association has made a practical stance on the issue of endangered animals. Citing the theory of yin and yang being in balance, Daoists maintain that using traditional medicines made from endangered species creates imbalance and thus will bring no good to those who use it. The Daoist society will not admit practioners of traditional medicine to its ranks if they use medicine made from endangered animals.

One of the unique contributions Daoism has to make to environmental theory and practice, is it’s definition of affluence. The Daoist ecology statement, first issued over twenty years ago, says

Daoism has a unique sense of value in that it judges affluence by the number of different species. If all things in the universe grow well, then a society is a community of affluence. If not, this kingdom is on the decline.



Altar at Hemingshan, Sichuan