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Environmental Ethics

Volume 13, Issue 4, Winter 1991

Steve Odin
Pages 345-360

The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold

I focus on the religio-aesthetic concept of nature in Japanese Buddhism as a valuable complement to environmental philosophy in the West and develop an explicit comparison of the Japanese Buddhist concept of nature and the ecological world view of Aldo Leopold. I discuss the profound current of ecological thought running through the Kegon, Tendai, Shingon, Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren Buddhist traditions as weIl as modem Japanese philosophy as represented by Nishida Kitarö and Watsuji Tetsurö. In this context, I present the Japanese concept of nature as an aesthetic continuum of interdependent events based on a field paradigm of reality. I show how the Japanese concept of nature entails an extension of ethics to include the relation between humans and the land. I argue that in both the Japanese Buddhist concept of nature and the thought of Aldo Leopold there is a hierarchy of normative values which grounds the land ethic in aland aesthetic. I also clarify the soteric concept of nature in Japanese Buddhism by which the natural environment becomes the ultimate locus of salvation for all sentient beings. In this way, I argue that the Japanese Buddhist concept of nature represents a fundamental shift from the egocentric to an ecocentric position-i.e., a de-anthropocentric standpoint which is nature-centered as opposed to human-centered.

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