The universe, including mankind, for the Chinese spiritual tradition, was felt to be one great energy system. The pulse that throbbed through it was termed the Tao, Nature, the Way, and was the same in the human heart as well as in the world. Inspiration, and the divine were not in a heaven outside the world process, but within it. “Why search afar, for what can be had close at hand?” was the philosophy of the scholars of the culture. There was no division between the personal and the cosmic: one could learn, by self-cultivation, to bring forward his or her inner voice, which was also the voice of heaven.
Certain images, over the course of centuries, became potent icons of this relation to nature. One was the lotus, which, though rising from the mud, blooms brilliantly in the light of day. The pine symbolized hardiness; the bamboo, resilience; the peony, prosperity and style; and the chrysanthemum, the ability to thrive in adverse situations. Many of these plants were not just appreciated aesthetically, but taken internally, as medicine as well.
We will go into the profound depth of field such plants have had in the Chinese spiritual tradition, and also probe the crisis today in China’s history, with the coming of Marxism and the “need” it feels to distance from all this, just when, paradoxically, the rest of the world is becoming aware that ecology is an imperative, and not a frill.
Two talks, by Ed Morris, author, Gardens of China, History, Art and Meanings.