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Mary Evelyn's Beijing Introductions

October 14, 2019

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From the Confucianism and Cosmology Symposium

Introduction to Journey film

Good evening and Welcome

Many thanks to Joyce Wang and her staff here in Beijing and Devin Lau at Yale.
Thanks to all you have come and especially our distinguished panelists.

Today we are celebrating a lineage of teachers and ideas bound together in a quest to find a viable way forward in our world that is being torn apart by environmental destruction and social upheaval. We are clearly at a critical point in human history where the future is uncertain for life itself - for both human and other species.  Young people and old alike are rallying around the world calling out for the continuity of life.

This is our context today as we bring forward traditional and modern perspectives into deeper dialogue so as to meet our environmental and social challenges.

A Center like this represents a place where we can convene Chinese and Americans and members of the international community so as to imagine a vibrant future - one that is not merely sustainable but flourishing.  

Let me explain the origins of this event, which actually reaches back some 70 years when my two key teachers met in the summer of 1949 on a boat to China to study Chinese culture and language. This was Wm Theodore de Bary and Thomas Berry.  Ted DeBary was the first Fulbright scholar to China and went on to become one of the founding fathers of Asian Studies in the United States. At Columbia University he set up a series of courses on Asian texts and history, which are still being taught today. He created Asian Translation series that included the Sources of Chinese Tradition, Korean, Japanese and Indian. Most importantly for this symposium today was his scholarly contributions to Neo Confucian Studies. My grandfather, a European historian at Columbia, was his teacher and I was his student.

Thomas Berry and Ted DeBary became fast friends as they both had such high regard for Chinese culture and civilization. Berry went on to establish a remarkable history of religions program at Fordham and together Ted and Thomas creates the Oriental Thought and Religion Seminar at Columbia. As Thomas was retiring from teaching he published an essay called The New Story in 1978, which became the origin of the film we will watch today. Indeed, the film is dedicated to him. Berry was calling for evolution to be seen not just as a collection of scientific facts, but as a great epic narrative in which we participate. He was much inspired ( as am I) by Chang Zai’s Western Inscription - “ Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother and even such a small creature as I has a place in their midst. That which fills the universe I regard as my body, that which directs the universe I regard as my nature. “

So as we watch this film we will see echoes of Neo Confucian cosmology mingled with scientific understanding of the universe and Earth. I invite you to listen for the comingling that Brian Thomas Swimme, a scientist, and myself a student of Neo Confucianism hoped to weave.

Introduction to panel discussion.

This is something of a unique, indeed historic, occasion to hear Neo Confucian responses to an epic story of evolution. It is a privilege for all of us.

We must lament the fact that the person who inspired this kind of dialogue early on in my graduate studies, later with the Harvard conferences on World Religions and Ecology and as we were making the film is unable to be present today. Professor Tu Weiming had looked forward to this occasion, but became ill with the flu. He sends his sincere regrets and we send him our best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. My husband John Grim and I are enormously grateful to Professor Tu who has been so supportive of our work and was a close colleague of Ted DeBary and Thomas Berry, whom I mentioned earlier.

Let me briefly welcome our panelists ( I will give names and affiliations). Because their bios are on the program I won’t read them all here but simply reiterate our gratitude for your presence. Our three Confucian scholars will be followed by comments from a leading lawyer at the China office of National Resources Defense Council, Wu Qi, who will draw some links between Confucian ecological ideas and environmental protection.

What we are exploring today are the insights of one of the world’s richest cosmological traditions in dialogue with modern scientific cosmology. We are suggesting that this is much needed in a period that sees cosmology as exclusively a branch of the sciences rather than as comprehensive Worldviews, which have guided humans over the centuries.

I would like to suggest some confluences of scientific and Confucian cosmologies.

These bring together cosmological metaphors of meaning and scientific facts of description. I will touch briefly on a just a few points that no doubt will be elaborated by our speakers.

And why is this important? Because it is difficult for humans who are meaning making animals to live without a sense of meaning - where have we come from, how do we belong, why are we are here, and how can we contribute. If science claims, as it frequently does, that there is no meaning or purpose in evolution, but rather evolution is just a series of chaotic and random events, we have to ask ourselves where do humans fit in? How do we belong and how can we contribute to a flourishing future?

Moreover if some scientists say that all we need are mechanistic laws to explain nature and its workings evolution and ecology are also opening us up to a greater sense of complexity, awe and wonder. The promising news is that science is opening up in various forms of systems science, sustainability science, and emergence science. Confucianism  may contribute as well an enlarged sensibility of the sublime in nature and the Cosmos along with the recognition of the intrinsic or even the moral value of nature. Indeed, this is a good time to be exploring cosmology and ecology.

Let me give a few brief examples of the possible compatibility of Confucian cosmology and scientific cosmology. This clearly needs further elaboration.

1) Forming one body with all things

  Neo- Confucians have always understood the universe to be one unfolding event

  There is no radical separation between Cosmos, Earth, and humans  - Tienrenhui

There is potential here for seeing humans as integrated within evolutionary systems, not just an addendum added in as is often the case with western religions

  Science too speaks of the singularity of evolution from the great flaring forth of particles and atoms, to galaxies and stars, to planets and solar systems, to the emergence of life.

2) ch’i imprinted with pattern - li

  What provides the unity of evolution for Confucians is the dynamic and non dual reality of matter/ energy, namely ch’i

   Chi is permeated with vital transformations - expressed as sheng, sheng, Life life

   We can see and even study the patterning Li in matter

  For evolutionary science this can also be seen as energy in changing forms such as emergent properties and self organizing dynamics as we saw in the film. This moves from lesser to great complexity and from lesser to great consciousness culminating in humans

3) Humans are the mind and heart of heaven and Earth

 From a Confucian perspective  Humans are the compassionate and thinking dimension of evolution. This is a given, but also an achievement through moral and spiritual self cultivation.

From science we now know that there are many forms of sentience or communication throughout life systems and the animal world - How forests think? Do glaciers listen? How do other animals communicate in song, mating dances, or migrating patterns?

4) Humans as co- creators - forming civilization, which we can now call ecological civilization

 If humans complete the universe they can become aligned with its creative processes, namely building of ecocites, ecoeducation, ecoeconomics, sustainable energy systems.

This is an aspiration of both Confucianism and sustainability sciences - building a verdant future.

This is our task now against great odds. But with a sense of creativity in the universe and in humans we may still find our creative role amidst the 10,000 things. We can aim to evoke mutually enhancing human Earth relations. We look forward to further elaboration from our distinguished Confucian scholars.

Mary Evelyn's Beijing Introductions

October 14, 2019

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