Macau, Macau

Workshop 2012:

Humankind and Nature: An Endangered System of Interdependence in Today’s Globalising World


Main Themes

  • Reflections on Religions and Ecology: How do these traditions relate to helping people live towards the ‘good’ (at least to meet basic human needs)?
  • Reflections on Humankind: What has global development done to humanity?
  • Reflections on the Conservation Movement: How could we ‘balance’ development and conservation and still meet basic needs of the many people of humanity? Can we achieve a balance that is good for all?
  • Reflections on Technology: Where is the space for self-reflection and recognition of human needs when bio-sciences are progressing extremely fast?


  • 7-8 November, 2012


  • Auditorium, Team Building, Institute for Tourism Studies, Macau


  • English
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Simultaneous Interpretation Provided


Since the 1960s, concepts like “conservation” and “environment friendly” have become part of our language and to a lesser degree of our lifestyle. When it comes to facing these issues, religions are par excellence positioned to teach and deal with the relationship between man and his environment. Eastern thought has many references to this, notably tian ren he yi (unity of humankind and nature), and there is also an equally reflective teaching in Western religion (Christianity) expressed in the first divine invitation to man: “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:1–3:23). Where are we now with the response of major religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, to this particular call?

Today’s relationship between man and nature is defined by economic development. With the great impact on other forms of life and also human suffering and poverty, however, this “development” could be seen as a myth. Billions of people experience growing vulnerability to food and water shortages, wars and environmental disasters. Much of the challenge is not only to science and technology but also to the neo-liberalist economic policy. Again, where has religion helped to deepen this human engagement with resource development and the need for balance? How does religion contribute to bringing about a greater human consciousness of the value of the gift of life? Where is the celebration of creation?

The economic development that guides science and technology has greatly contributed to today’s crisis in the relationship of humans to nature. Conservation and actions to protect the environment have been aimed to remedy this problem, but this relates very much to an urban middle class re-discovery of this relationship and easily blames or excludes the rural poor as part of the problem. Ecology is an ‘-ology’, a study, science or ideal that is not always inclusive of all of humanity, especially of people at the margins. We as humanity are not one, nor are we one with that into which we were created.

Nowadays the elites in our societies dominate not only creation but also humanity, and consequently our participation in globalisation is unequal. Our humanity is no longer what includes us in a common fellowship as dogs in condominiums often eat better than children in the streets of many of our global cities. What has development done to humanity? Does it always have to be advanced technologies that give us a comfortable lifestyle? We are still working here in the realm of comfort zones, and there is no place in any of this for religion that speaks of limits, even cutbacks, and that accepts and enters into human suffering.

Man does not merely influence nature in a destructive way; it is as if all men, women, and children are in a battle to triumph over the realities of nature. There is a struggle for power in the dominant human self-image, while there is a lack of self-reflection as part of nature, and of recognition of human needs, especially in terms of suffering and limits of moral values.

In this particular context we can consider the role of religions and seek their valuable contributions. Since religion’s role is not simply morality but especially in Christianity is to show the face of God, it is out of this relation we then seek to live towards the ‘good’, especially in relation to our neighbour, creation and God. Religious believers may have failed severely in communicating this relationship in the twenty-first century. So we might ask:

- How relevant is religion to the challenges and changes in a sustainable world as a result of market growth and financial crisis?

- How can modern religions adapt, contribute and be part of social maturation in response to the times and context of a vulnerable heaven and earth?

- How can religions respond to the call to meet basic human needs and to have a more secure and sustainable relationship with the natural resources and diversity of life?

Organising Institutions



  • Diocese de Macau
  • Banco Nacional Ultramarino
  • San You Development Company Limited
  • Companhia de Electricidade de Macau S.A.
  • Banco Delta Ásia S.A.R.L.
  • CESL Asia - Investments & Services, Limited

Christopher Key Chapple

Asian Religions and Ecology

The Asian continent stretches from the western borders of Central Asia to the coasts of Korea, China, and Vietnam. Its river valleys gave rise to some of the world”s greatest civilizations, from the Indus Valley to the Gangetic plain, to the deltas of the Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers, as well as the great Chinese civilizations cradled by the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. The Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan plateau feed these rivers and from this elevated point cultures and religions have converged, conversed, and conflicted. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Daoists, Confucians, and Christians all now face a common challenge: how to sustain vitality in face of diminished resources coupled with greater consumer demands. Fertile land, potable water, renewable energy, clean air, and space planning demand attention. This presentation will survey the foundational approach taken to the environment espoused by Asian traditions, including the five great elements of Indic religions, the four great elements of Chinese traditions, and various world views and ethical practices offered by each faith for ensuring sustainability.

Timothy Liau

The Church's Responsibility in Environmental Issues

Among Taiwan”s religious communities, Christians seem to most people to stress environmental issues much less than Buddhists do. Their contribution to the discussion seems virtually impossible to match that of the Buddhists. This is a question that the Church needs to examine and reflect upon in depth when stressing our duties in regard to the environment. In fact, Christian theologians have been discussing the theological and belief basis for environmental issues since the mid twentieth century. The Christian tradition also has rich ethical ideas that can serve as a basis for the contemporary Church and the conduct of the believers. However, awareness of the ecological crisis is not sufficiently acute in the Church and among Christians in general, and for this reason they do not prioritize so-called “ecological ethics”. I will argue that in order to solve the ecological crisis we should take action from a point of departure in faith and ethics. The Church should actively adopt tactics of concrete action and make strict demands on the faithful to adopt ecological and environmental measures. The concrete actions and tactics to be adopted is a matter that I hope everyone will discuss and offer opinions on.

Stephan Rothlin and Philip Chmielewski

Implementing Dignity and Sustainability in a Cancer Hospital

The transcendental question of the existence of God seems to be largely absent in contemporary China. Although there appears to be a significant growth among all religions, nobody can claim that religion occupies a prominent place in a world which seems to be characterized by the pursuit of material wealth, power and prestige. However, there is one notable exception: a conversation with people coming from different walks of life may well at some point touch on the question what may happen after death. Is the whole game just over? The question turns more dramatic if a family member or a friend is faced with imminent death as in the case of cancer. A successful career may apparently just shortly turn to nuts. This paper attempts to address how sustainable, “green” buildings, or more specifically a cancer hospital, could become privileged places to accommodate death in modern China. It will be argued that a widespread use of “green” buildings quite often has nothing to do with a concept of sustainability and a life style friendly to the environment but sometimes more with ill-conceived notions of supposedly “modern” design.

Wang Leiquan

Buddhism Changes the World by Changing Human Minds: A Reflection on Humanity

Facing the social disease of loss of norms and lack of trust and morality, people reflect on the stress on the human mind in the Indian and Chinese traditional thought. In the search for Heavenly reason and for conscience, the role of Buddhism is becoming increasingly prominent. Humanity is affected by karma and reward. Humans must bear the consequences of their own actions and have the freedom to change their fates. The theories of karmic causation and karma in Buddhist philosophy can be summarized as the wheels of wisdom and mercy, with the mind as the pivot of the rise and fall of life. The nature of mind and matter is unitary from the point of view of ultimate ontology, while the transformation of matter by the mind is derived from their function in practice. Vertically it opens the way to achieving Buddhahood, while horizontally it opens the relationship of the mind to all living things and the environment. To serve the purpose of humanist Buddhism, we must enter the mainstream of society and obtain our own right to speak so as to raise public understanding of Buddhist wisdom and serve the social function of changing and leading the world. “From the Internet to the Indra-net, from the knowledge-based economy to the kalyana-mitta-economy”: this summarizes the assimilation of Buddhism in mainstream society in the new century.

Xue Yu

Pure Mind and Pure Land: Buddhist Inspiration to Environmentalism1

The very idea of a pure mind leading to a pure land is the theoretical foundation of mind-made pure land (““?b?g wei xin jingtu) in Mahayana Buddhism. This idea may also establish a basis for the practice of environmentalism in the contemporary world. This paper, mainly based on Buddhist texts of different traditions, examines the connection between the purification of the mind and the purity of land in contemporary environmental issues. The vitality of the mind will be highlighted to demonstrate the point that the pure mind leads to the pure act, and the collection of such acts results in the appearance of a pure land on earth in due course. 1. The work described in this paper was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project no. CUHK457110)

Bao Ziran

Reflections on China”s Administrative System of Environmental Protection

The present administrative system of environmental protection in China originated in the 1970s, when the Chinese government was facing the serious problem of pollution in the forms of the “three wastes” (?T?o san fei: waste water, waste gases, and residue). A “three wastes” utilization leading group was formed in the National Committee of Basic Infrastructure to deal with the pollution issue, from which the State Environmental Protection Bureau and later the present SEPA was formed. Up till now nineteen laws on environmental and resource protection have been promulgated and implemented in China. While there have been some achievements, for example, completing binding targets in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, there is no basic improvement in the pollution situation in China. Major incidents occur frequently, thus raising questions about the present administrative system. The main reasons for the problems are: 1) under the constraint of the present political system, the environmental protection administrative organs have insufficient authority to take action; 2) since the implementation of the tax-sharing system, differences in interest between the Central Government and the local authorities have become apparent; 3) the severely limited resources of the environmental administration make it difficult to punish harmful activity, thus tempting enterprises to try their luck, and 4) environmental protection measures are highly dependent on administrative measures, while actions of other interested parties such the judiciary, the media, NGOs, and the citizens are not yet coordinated. This presentation, by analysing the existing administrative system, will explore the challenges and the obstacles faced by the Chinese environmental protection organs, in the hope of providing inspiration for comprehensive improvement of the administrative efficiency in the field of environmental protection.

Liu Baocheng

The Paradox of Need Satisfaction: An Economics Inquiry

The choice of means for need satisfaction is driven by both human instinct and rationalization. Given the limitation of resources, humans have to rationalize the gap between insatiable demand and real world scarcity. Constraint on human desire appears to be the most efficient therapy to mitigate this gap. However, history has proven, that it has never been effective. Positively, three approaches have been available; 1) Collaboration. If we hold resource as a constant, collective endeavour serves the optimal gain of each individual. Division of labour and exchange can elevate the utility of resources at a given level. 2) System design. Proper allocation of resources warrants optimal growth of resources and distribution of their yields, and minimization of externality. In the contemporary context, the right government and organizational governance serves this end. 3) Education. Rational decision rests upon information. Now that each rational individual is a long-term planner for their need satisfaction, informed and educated decision will objectively enrich a collective motive for sustainable viability of human life towards nature and society. Constant reference shall be made to the complex reality humankind faces with solutions justified.

Rey Her

The Co-improvement and Communion of the Major and Minor Qiankun: Dharma Master Cheng Yen”s Environmental Concept and Practice

With the words “fearing the land would feel pain when I walk”, Dharma Master “?Y Cheng Yen, founder of the Tzu Chi Foundation (?O”““?|), describes her pity for the earth. This reflects the Buddhist teaching that the smallest creatures have a soul and may acheive Buddha nature. Since 1991 Dharma Master Cheng Yen has been advocating recycling in Taiwan, with 6,000 recycling stations in operation at present, and nearly 200,000 volunteers serving in the communities. She has all along opposed over-exploitation of Nature and believes in caring for the ecology of wilderness areas. She once said, “seeing people developing the hills and boring tunnels I feel that it is just like disembowelling a body.” Cheng Yen”s humanizing feeling for Nature expresses the Buddhist idea that all creatures have feelings. She considers that the drastic changes in the world and the environment to be the result of human activity. The greenhouse effect is an effect of the mind; people”s greed and arrogance lead directly to the destruction and vicissitudes of the Major “?[ Qiankun (Heaven and earth). To save the Major Qiankun it is necessary start with the adjustment of the Minor Qiankun; destruction and change in the Major Qiankun directly affects the Minor Qiankun, the safety of body and soul. This is why Cheng Yen promotes fasting, vegetarianism and saving energy, as well as innovation in green enterprises such making blankets from recycled materials for relief use. Starting from the Buddhist idea that “all living things are equal” and all creatures have senses, Cheng Yen teaches the idea of loving and cherishing creatures to love one”s own mind and love the earth. These notions and practice emanating from the human mind and ultimate affection, and the co-improvement and communion of the Major and Minor Qiankun are unique in the environmental protection movement, which stresses science, technology and knowledge.

Dominque Tyl

Ecological Awareness in a Religious Congregation A Case Study of the Society of Jesus

Many religious groups, among them Roman Catholic congregations, have put “ecology” high on their agenda. What does that mean practically? One case study, namely of the Society of Jesus, while it cannot reflect what happens in other groups, may help, with the method of sociological qualitative observation, to understand why and how so much is said and, apparently, so little done ?K Or is this judgemental assertion true? So what is said officially and by members of the order? And what is done at different levels of intervention? This paper will describe what can be easily observed in the field of “ecological concerns” among Jesuits. Three areas will be investigated, after a reminder of the official promulgation of documents for the whole Society of Jesus. First, the involvement of Jesuit scientists or technical experts. Then, the desire to raise ecological awareness among the Jesuit rank and file. Third, intellectual reflections, either theological, ethical and in connection with the promotion of justice as a confirmed orientation of the whole Society of Jesus. Without any clear-cut conclusion, the descriptive analysis will show how fragile and yet generally accepted is the concern for ecological challenges today in the particular group of the Jesuits, as it is all over the world.

Peter Walpole

Transformative Learning: Encounter with the Indigenous People

There are many concepts of “integrated learning” today and maintaining a “living text,” these include “engagement learning.” None of this may be new but is continuously discovered by youth today in their effort to get closer to a less stressful and more integral living. What has global development done for humanity? With bio-sciences progressing fast, development seems to come from science not humanity; humans are often seen as much of the problem, from continuing population growth to conflicts in conservation. We must however understand that while we are part of the problem, we must also find ways to be part of the solution. In today”s world, there is an increasing reliance on technology for our needs. At times we fail to acknowledge how nature provides so much of what is necessary for our survival?Xair, water, climate, fertile soil that allows us to grow the food we need. We fail to live with a sense of gratitude, taking for granted what gives us life. Can we achieve a balance that is good for all? When development and journalist students studying natural resource conflict with indigenous peoples recently visited an upland community in northern Mindanao, it was an occasion for better understanding of how to learn from each other. The field engagement was precisely designed to create an occasion where there is the space for self-reflection and recognition of human needs. The young professionals knew all the jargon, had personal commitment to the service of others and yet were searching in and or stressed by a world where change at the bottom does not come with ease and the poor remain poor and vulnerable. How do traditions relate to helping people live towards the good and meet basic human needs? How are we to live in this world today? The indigenous peoples show us one way however vulnerable. Their traditions and way of life are based on a relationship with their land. The occasion challenged the professionals in their concepts and expectations of development.

Keith Morrison

Eclipse and Restoration: Interconnectedness and Interdependence beyond the Imperatives of Materialism

Globalization, however defined, brings both benefits and disadvantages; a self-evident truism. This paper argues that, whilst globalization (as defined in this paper) has increased the interconnectedness and interdependence of peoples and improved the situation of some sectors of societies, may key features of humanitarian society have been eclipsed. The paper identifies an irony: whilst interconnectedness and interdependence have flourished and are celebrated in contemporary social theory, their advance seems to have had little impact on ameliorating many social, ethical and humanitarian ills. It is argues that recovering ethical conscience and humanity, and serving a humanitarian view of interconnectedness and interdependence, require intra-connectedness and intra-dependence of people with their inner life and with each other humanistically, together with breaking zero-sum models of development and rampant materialism. Whilst globalization has the potential, as never more, to restore the humanitarian, ethical and non-materialistic aspects of humankind, this will require a reassertion and further learning of, ethics, compassion, respect, equality and humanitarianism in and across societies, polities and economies. This can start with individuals.

Guang Xing

Reflections on Technology: A Buddhist Perspective

“Mankind today”, says Professor Timothy Barrett in his The Woman who Discovered Printing, “can look back on the Buddha, the “Enlightened One”, as one of the most successful religious teachers in history, a man whose ideas still influence millions in every part of the world. However, to grasp his importance not to religion but to information technology we need to understand not the whole of his religious message but the way in which he perceived himself.” Here Barrett has highlighted the importance of information technology, printing in particular, in the spread of the message of the Buddha. Unlike other religions, Buddhism welcomes any new development in the field of technology and never rejects or even resists new developments in science and technology because Buddhism considers science and technology to be instruments for improving human life. This can be understood when we take account of some historical developments and Buddhist embracement of new technology. Printing technology, for instance, was employed by Buddhists in the Tang dynasty to print scriptures, and later the new technology became a powerful tool for the spread of the Buddhist teaching. The first ever printed book in the world is the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, which was printed during the Tang dynasty and is preserved in the British Library. With the more recent development of computer science, the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association has employed this new tool to digitalize all the Chinese Buddhist texts; they are donated free of charge to all who wish to have a copy for research and for reading. Sometimes Buddhism even serves as a driving force for the development of new technology.