from Journey to the West to Journey toward Ecological Civilization
Want a different and better world? Where people prioritize relationships over money, listening over dominating, care for the vulnerable over upward mobility, and respect for the whole of life, not human life alone? Don't we all? Toward this end we need inspiration. and not from philosophy and religion alone, but from stories: stories that are "folk" in the sense that they appeal to everyone, to people of all ages. Stories that can be put in the form of art, graphic novels, film, dance, and poetry, Already such stories exist. Take that of the Monkey King in China's great novel, Journey to the West. Can such stories be told in fresh ways that inspire people of all ages to shift priorities and work toward Ecological Civilization? Yes, and the Monkey King himself provides an example. He can be reimagined as an Eco-Sage. This page is an invitation toward that possibility. It is a proposal, a proposition.
- Jay McDaniel
One of the most powerful ideas in Whitehead's "Process and Reality" is that of a proposition. It is an idea, a proposal, a possibility, for envisioning and acting in the world in a particular way. Whitehead refers to it as a "lure for feeling."
A lure of this sort can be articulated through language, but it can also be expressed in art, music, gesture, movement, and daily life practices. A community garden, for example, is a proposition of a certain kind. It is an actual garden, to be sure, but it is also a felt possibility that inspires people, giving them the idea that they can work together, and have fun, in the act of gardening. A community garden is an idea as well as a fact. The idea is a proposition.
In our time, one of the most profound propositions we can feel is that of an Ecological Civilization. This is a civilization in which people live with respect and care for the larger community of life, understanding themselves as part of, not apart from, the Earth Community. The building blocks of such a civilization are local communities, in rural and urban settings, that are compassionate, creative, humane to animals, and good for the earth, with no one left behind.
The need today is for the lure of Ecological Civilization to be felt by people in aesthetically compelling ways: through art, music, rituals, stories, and daily life practices. As people feel the possibility of an Ecological Civilization, they then imagine themselves in a world that transcends the hatreds and animosities of contemporary politics, as well as the alienation from nature that characterizes modernity. They feel called upon to partake of a great adventure, a journey. In this they are like the characters in the Chinese novel Journey to the West, except in this case it is a journey to Ecological Civilization.
The Chinese novel begins with an introduction to the main character, Tripitaka, and his decision to embark on a pilgrimage to India, which lies to the west of China. Tripitaka's purpose is to obtain sacred Buddhist scriptures to bring back to China and spread the teachings of Buddhism. The Emperor of Tang gives his blessing to Tripitaka's journey and assigns three supernatural beings, Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing, as his disciples to protect him. The story follows the group's journey as they face numerous challenges and confrontations with various demons, monsters, and gods. Each encounter tests their strength, faith, and resolve.
Sun Wukong or the Monkey King, one of the three supernatural beings, is a favorite of many Chinese. A powerful and mischievous immortal being with supernatural abilities. he is depicted as a monkey who acquires incredible strength, agility, and magical powers through his training and encounters with various deities. For many Chinese, he is a symbol of cleverness, rebellion, and perseverance, often associated with the Chinese folk religion and mythology, as well as the Buddhist and Taoist traditions. With his mischievous and powerful nature, often finds himself at the center of conflicts. The group's ultimate goal is to reach the Thunder Monastery in India and obtain the sacred scriptures.
Reading the novel, I began to wonder if the Monkey King might be imagined as a catalyst for Ecological Civilization; and if the themes surrounding his character - rebellion, freedom, heroism, enlightenment, and the complexity of human nature - might be in service to such a civilization.
I asked ChatGPT about this possibility, and got what you find below. My hope is that a graphic designer, film maker, choreographer, or artist in China will turn what ChatGPT says into a work of art of some sort, which might itself encourage Chinese and others around the world to feel the possibility of a journey to Ecological Civilization. This page, then, is for friends in China.
Meanwhile, I'll keep working in the community garden, trusting that, in some mysterious way, the Monkey King works beside me.
- Jay McDaniel
By Anonymous - The Chinese work Illustrations for the Original Gist of the Journey to the West (西遊原旨圖像 Xiyou Yuanzhǐ Tuxiang), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=547734
The Eco-Monkey King
The Monkey King is always in process, adjusting to each new situation. His qualities of rebellion, freedom, heroism, enlightenment, and the complexity of human nature can contribute to the realization of an Ecological Civilization in several ways:
Rebellion: The Monkey King's rebellious nature challenges the established order and societal norms. In the context of an Ecological Civilization, this quality can inspire individuals and communities to question and challenge unsustainable practices and systems. It encourages people to think critically about the impact of their actions on the environment and to advocate for transformative changes that promote ecological sustainability.
Freedom: The Monkey King embodies the pursuit of personal freedom and liberation from constraints. In the context of an Ecological Civilization, this quality encourages people to embrace the freedom to live in harmony with nature, breaking the bonds of a "modernity" that overemphasizes individuality at the expense of community, compassion, and car. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing and respecting the inherent value of all living beings and ecosystems, and promotes the freedom to make choices that prioritize ecological well-being over excessive consumption and exploitation.
Heroism: The Monkey King's heroic acts demonstrate courage, resilience, and a commitment to protecting the weak and vulnerable. In the pursuit of an Ecological Civilization, heroism is needed to confront the environmental challenges we face and also the challenges of injustice, including obscene gaps between rich and poor. Individuals and communities must demonstrate the courage to address ecological crises, whether through activism, innovation, or advocacy. Heroic actions can involve protecting ecosystems, promoting sustainable practices, and standing up against environmental injustices.
Enlightenment: The Monkey King's journey in the novel is one of self-discovery and enlightenment. In the context of an Ecological Civilization, enlightenment refers to the awakening of ecological consciousness and understanding the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. The Monkey King's pursuit of wisdom and knowledge can inspire individuals to seek a deeper understanding of ecological principles, fostering a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the environment.
Complexity of Human Nature: The Monkey King's multifaceted nature reflects the complexities inherent in human beings. Understanding and embracing this complexity is crucial for building an Ecological Civilization. Recognizing that human beings are not separate from nature but rather integral parts of it, with a range of emotions, desires, and motivations, helps us develop comprehensive and holistic approaches to ecological issues. It reminds us that addressing environmental challenges requires understanding and addressing the underlying social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to ecological degradation.
As a cultural icon in Chinese culture, the Monkey King's qualities can inspire and motivate individuals to actively participate in the transition toward an Ecological Civilization. By embodying rebellion, freedom, heroism, enlightenment, and the complexity of human nature, the Monkey King offers a powerful symbolic framework for envisioning and pursuing a sustainable and harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world and one another.
Journey to the West: A Scholarly Discussion
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great novels of China’s Ming era, and perhaps the most loved. Written in 1592, it draws on the celebrated travels of a real monk from China to India a thousand years before, and on a thousand years of retellings of that story, especially the addition of a monkey as companion who, in the novel, becomes supersimian. For most readers the monk, Tripitaka, is upstaged by this irrepressible Monkey with his extraordinary powers, accompanied by the fallen but recovering deities, Pigsy and Sandy.
Julia Lovell, Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London
Chiung-yun Evelyn Liu, Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Craig Clunas, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at Trinity College, University of Oxford