Living “as” Nature not “with” it

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Living “as” Nature not “with” it Photography by Hiroshi Tasaka

Destined Encounter of Enishi in the Modern World

Ilya Prigogine, a late Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, once wrote in a book of his: “Humans were created from nature but are still a part of it.”

This thought will become a very important idea in the 21st century because we have always been taught by the modern education system that “natural (nature-made)” and “artificial (man-made)” are completely different and opposite ideas. We must reconsider this idea to cope with the global environmental problems in the coming age.

In relation to this thought, a famed Polish science-fiction novelist, the late Stanislaw Lem, wrote in his 1971 book A Perfect Vacuum the following idea: When we walk a trail in a natural forest and find a beehive, a beautiful hexagon structure, we might think, “What a beautiful thing nature has made!” Because we would suppose the “nature-made system” and the “bee-made system” essentially have the same meaning.

On the other hand, we always consider “natural (nature-made)” and “artificial (manmade)” to be totally opposite ideas. That is because nature has been considered, in Western civilization, an object to be conquered by humans using science and technology.

After experiencing global environmental problems including global warming, however, terms such as “symbiosis” and “coexisting with nature” have become important keywords in our global society.

In Japan, the idea of “co-existing with nature” or “living with nature” is called “Kyosei(共 生)”. To be sure, the country’s mass media often use “Kyosei” as a keyword to talk about the environment and ecology.

Even so, in traditional Japanese culture this is not the deepest philosophy for the environment and ecology in the country. As long as we think humans need to conquer nature to survive, the philosophy of “Kyosei” is still based on an understanding the two entities to be different.

Then what is the deepest philosophy in Japan for nature and humans?

“Jinen(自然)” is.

To put it simply, Jinen means “living as nature.”

The difference in the spelling between Kyosei and Jinen in English is “with” versus “as.” However, the difference in philosophy between the two is large.

As previously explained, the idea of Kyosei is based on the division between nature and humans. On the other hand, the idea of Jinen is based on an understanding that humans are still a part of nature, no matter how much science and technology develops in the 21st century. In Japanese civilization and traditional culture, people never think of nature as an object to be conquered by humans. For Japanese people, nature is just like a great mother who bears us, raises us and gently watches over us.

If this is true, what then constitutes a Jinen lifestyle?

The Japanese language explains this in just one word: “吾唯知足 (Chisoku: Ware Tada Taruwo Shiru).” It can be translated into English as: “I know only satisfaction.”

In nature, it’s well known that lions do not kill giraffes once their stomachs are satisfied. But in the modern society of developed capitalism, people’s feelings of dissatisfaction and desire have always been stimulated by commercial messages through the mass media. As a result, people keep looking for increased satisfaction and money, which are symbols of power that contribute to greater levels of satisfaction. But in a world that has a limit of space, resources, energy and food, we need to achieve the lifestyle of Jinen, namely that of Chisoku.

So how can we achieve this lifestyle?

Japanese tradition teaches us an important method of mind management, called “Naikan(内観)”.

Naikan means to look into your mind calmly and deeply.

If you look into your mind with this practice, you can see excessive dissatisfaction and desire stimulated by outside sources, thus they will naturally disappear. Such excessive dissatisfaction and desire are, in fact, “man-made dissatisfaction” and “man-made desire”.

If you form the habit of Naikan every day and achieve a lifestyle of Chisoku, you will be able to find yourself fully intertwined with Jinen and walking the path to living as nature. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #279 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Hiroshi Tasaka

Tokyo Journal columnist Hiroshi Tasaka is President of Think Tank SophiaBank, Former Special Advisor to Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan, World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council Member and Tama University Professor. He graduated from the University of Tokyo with a Ph. D. in Nuclear Engineering in 1981. From 1987, he worked at the Battelle Memorial Institute and also at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in the USA. In 1990, he participated in founding the Japan Research Institute. In 2000, he became a Professor at Tama University in Tokyo and founded Think Tank SophiaBank. Dr. Tasaka is a philosopher who has put forward a wide range of ideas, theories and philosophies. He is the author of more than 60 books.


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