Both the Taoist and Zen traditions feature figures of crazy wisdom, good-humoured monks untouched by the solemnity or long-suffering of Western monasticism. Even if their way of life is celibate and abstemious, it has nothing about it that suggests the mortification of the flesh. The image is that of happy sages who live at one with nature in a free and joyous simplicity, the mind alert on all its levels, the senses fully alive.
It is difficult to imagine an ecological Utopia based on Christianity that would not be dismally austere. The necessary rapport with nature is not prominently there.
In Christianity, the green man of the Middle Ages – a free spirit roaming the woodlands, living the life of Adam before the Fall – smacked too much of the pagan Pan; the figure could not blend with saint or sage.
Yet something of the jovial monk managed to survive in Francis of Assisi and his zany follower Brother Juniper. Both were such fools of god, delighting in the company of the birds, the trees, the sun and the stars.
It is no coincidence that this variety of spontaneous elation is connected with pantheistic love of nature. It is as if the body of the sage has grown to encompass the greater body of the Earth whose variety and fertility he then claims as his own.
A nature mysticism embodying all that Deep Ecology has to teach us, belongs to a higher sanity that will find greater rewards than the machines can ever offer.
Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth.
Image: Walter Arnold, stonecarver.