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Theory

Man and Nature, Part II: The Marxist Theory of Man’s Alienation from Nature

When Marx wrote his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, he was likewise concerned with the problem of man’s (specifically, the worker’s) relationship to nature.  It was part of the worker’s fourfold alienation under capitalist modernity: his estrangement from nature, from the products of his labor, from other people, and from himself.  As Marx explained, with respect to nature: “The worker can create nothing without nature, without thesensuous external world.  It is the material in which his labor realizes itself…”[1] However, as the products of the worker’s labor are expropriated, nature is reduced to a mere means of subsistence.  “In a physical sense man lives only from these natural products, whether in the form of nourishment, heating, clothing, shelter, etc.…Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say nature in so far as it is not the human body.”[2] The natural world is further and further removed from the worker, and arrives then only in a relatively processed, mediated form.  The immediacy of nature has been lost, and nature confronts humanity as an alien, unknown entity.  This alienation is exacerbated by the shared estrangement from nature that the individual sees in other men: “Every self-estrangement of man from himself and nature is manifested in the relationship he sets up between other men and himself and nature.”[3] Or, as the Marxist theorist Max Horkheimer would later put it, echoing Marx, “The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man’s subjugation by man.”[4]

  It was thus Engels, rather, who would eventually take up the subject of nature again in his writings.  Not only in his 1883 Dialectics of Nature, a text that remains controversial within the annals of Marxist literature, but even in other works like Anti-Duhring and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels discussed the way in which humanity became further estranged from nature even as science began to discover its innermost workings.  For rather than encountering nature in an organic, holistic fashion, natural science was methodologically microscopic, isolating individual phenomena from their original context and observing their operation in abstraction from the whole. 

This entailed, as Bacon had already himself admitted, a certain domination of nature.  And this, in turn, implied an equal degree of alienation from nature.

 Engels explained the historical unfolding of this process as follows:

The analysis of Nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different natural processes and objects in definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organized bodies in their manifold forms — these were the fundamental conditions of the gigantic strides in our knowledge of Nature that have been made during the last 400 years. But this method of work has also left us as a legacy the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from their connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constraints, not as essentially variables; in their death, not in their life.[5]

 Lukács’ great contribution to Marx’s theory of man’s alienation from nature arose out of his recognition of this mysterious “quasi-objectivity” that social relations seemed to assume.  It was as if, through the alienation of commodities from their producers and their subsequent circulation throughout society, bourgeois social relations became a sort of “second nature.”  As Lukács explained it:

[M]en are constantly smashing, replacing, and leaving behind the “natural,” irrational, and actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves in the reality that they have created and “made,” a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which appear in this form).

 Lukács’ discovery of this apparent “second nature” carries with it even further consequences.  For, entangled in this self-created “second nature,” man found himself further and further distanced from “first” nature.  The seeming immediacy of nature enjoyed in previous societies, where the wood he used to build his house came from the nearby forest, in which the meat he ate came from animals that he raised and slaughtered, or game that he hunted, became increasingly rare.  Instead, what humanity encountered was a system of commodities, goods imported from every corner of the globe, serially processed through a complex division of labor before arriving to their consumer in their finished forms. In other words,this nature, “second nature,” became the world to which humanity was immediately accustomed.  With the rise of capitalism, everything changed.

 Even the experience of this sort of “primitive” wilderness is increasingly mediated under modernity.  They come in the form of artificially-designed parks established in the midst of huge cities, in zoos and nature reserves, in activities like hiking, rock-climbing, and even safaris.  The critical theorist Theodor Adorno recognized the patent falsity of the notion that these sites and pastimes could serve to reunite man, if only briefly, with nature.  “The more purely nature is preserved and transplanted by civilization,” he wrote, “the more implacably it is dominated.”[12] Humanity under capitalism can maintain the illusion that we are still at one and are in harmony with nature, but it is illusory nevertheless. 

The parks, forests, and zoos can provide some comfort to a humanity yearning for its lost relationship with nature, but in the final analysis such artifacts (and yes, they are artifacts) can only serve as a reminder of the extent to which mankind has already transformed, and sometimes disfigured, nature.

 

[1] Marx, Karl.  Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.  FromEarly Writings.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 325.

[2] Ibid., pg. 328.

[3] Ibid., pg. 331.

[4] Horkheimer, Max.  “The Revolt of Nature.”  From The Eclipse of Reason.  (The Continuum Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 72.

[5] Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.  Translated by Barrie Selman.  From Marx & Engels: Collected Works, Volume 24 (1874-1883).  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 299.

[12] Adorno, Theodor.  Minima Moralia.  Translated by E.F.N. Jephcott.  (Verso Books.  New York, NYL 2005).  Pg. 115.

When Marx wrote his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, he was likewise concerned with the problem of man’s (specifically, the worker’s) relationship to nature.  It was part of the worker’s fourfold alienation under capitalist modernity: his estrangement from nature, from the products of his labor, from other people, and from himself.  As Marx explained, with respect to nature: “The worker can create nothing without nature, without thesensuous external world.  It is the material in which his labor realizes itself…”[1] However, as the products of the worker’s labor are expropriated, nature is reduced to a mere means of subsistence.  “In a physical sense man lives only from these natural products, whether in the form of nourishment, heating, clothing, shelter, etc.…Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say nature in so far as it is not the human body.”[2] The natural world is further and further removed from the worker, and arrives then only in a relatively processed, mediated form.  The immediacy of nature has been lost, and nature confronts humanity as an alien, unknown entity.  This alienation is exacerbated by the shared estrangement from nature that the individual sees in other men: “Every self-estrangement of man from himself and nature is manifested in the relationship he sets up between other men and himself and nature.”[3] Or, as the Marxist theorist Max Horkheimer would later put it, echoing Marx, “The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man’s subjugation by man.”[4]

 

 It was thus Engels, rather, who would eventually take up the subject of nature again in his writings.  Not only in his 1883 Dialectics of Nature, a text that remains controversial within the annals of Marxist literature, but even in other works like Anti-Duhring and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels discussed the way in which humanity became further estranged from nature even as science began to discover its innermost workings.  For rather than encountering nature in an organic, holistic fashion, natural science was methodologically microscopic, isolating individual phenomena from their original context and observing their operation in abstraction from the whole. 

This entailed, as Bacon had already himself admitted, a certain domination of nature.  And this, in turn, implied an equal degree of alienation from nature.

 

Engels explained the historical unfolding of this process as follows:

The analysis of Nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different natural processes and objects in definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organized bodies in their manifold forms — these were the fundamental conditions of the gigantic strides in our knowledge of Nature that have been made during the last 400 years. But this method of work has also left us as a legacy the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from their connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constraints, not as essentially variables; in their death, not in their life.[5]

 

Lukács’ great contribution to Marx’s theory of man’s alienation from nature arose out of his recognition of this mysterious “quasi-objectivity” that social relations seemed to assume.  It was as if, through the alienation of commodities from their producers and their subsequent circulation throughout society, bourgeois social relations became a sort of “second nature.”  As Lukács explained it:

[M]en are constantly smashing, replacing, and leaving behind the “natural,” irrational, and actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves in the reality that they have created and “made,” a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which appear in this form).

 

Lukács’ discovery of this apparent “second nature” carries with it even further consequences.  For, entangled in this self-created “second nature,” man found himself further and further distanced from “first” nature.  The seeming immediacy of nature enjoyed in previous societies, where the wood he used to build his house came from the nearby forest, in which the meat he ate came from animals that he raised and slaughtered, or game that he hunted, became increasingly rare.  Instead, what humanity encountered was a system of commodities, goods imported from every corner of the globe, serially processed through a complex division of labor before arriving to their consumer in their finished forms. In other words,this nature, “second nature,” became the world to which humanity was immediately accustomed.  With the rise of capitalism, everything changed.

 

Even the experience of this sort of “primitive” wilderness is increasingly mediated under modernity.  They come in the form of artificially-designed parks established in the midst of huge cities, in zoos and nature reserves, in activities like hiking, rock-climbing, and even safaris.  The critical theorist Theodor Adorno recognized the patent falsity of the notion that these sites and pastimes could serve to reunite man, if only briefly, with nature.  “The more purely nature is preserved and transplanted by civilization,” he wrote, “the more implacably it is dominated.”[12] Humanity under capitalism can maintain the illusion that we are still at one and are in harmony with nature, but it is illusory nevertheless. 

The parks, forests, and zoos can provide some comfort to a humanity yearning for its lost relationship with nature, but in the final analysis such artifacts (and yes, they are artifacts) can only serve as a reminder of the extent to which mankind has already transformed, and sometimes disfigured, nature.

 

[1] Marx, Karl.  Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.  FromEarly Writings.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 325.

[2] Ibid., pg. 328.

[3] Ibid., pg. 331.

[4] Horkheimer, Max.  “The Revolt of Nature.”  From The Eclipse of Reason.  (The Continuum Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 72.

[5] Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.  Translated by Barrie Selman.  From Marx & Engels: Collected Works, Volume 24 (1874-1883).  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 299.

[12] Adorno, Theodor.  Minima Moralia.  Translated by E.F.N. Jephcott.  (Verso Books.  New York, NYL 2005).  Pg. 115.

When Marx wrote his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, he was likewise concerned with the problem of man’s (specifically, the worker’s) relationship to nature.  It was part of the worker’s fourfold alienation under capitalist modernity: his estrangement from nature, from the products of his labor, from other people, and from himself.  As Marx explained, with respect to nature: “The worker can create nothing without nature, without thesensuous external world.  It is the material in which his labor realizes itself…”[1] However, as the products of the worker’s labor are expropriated, nature is reduced to a mere means of subsistence.  “In a physical sense man lives only from these natural products, whether in the form of nourishment, heating, clothing, shelter, etc.…Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say nature in so far as it is not the human body.”[2] The natural world is further and further removed from the worker, and arrives then only in a relatively processed, mediated form.  The immediacy of nature has been lost, and nature confronts humanity as an alien, unknown entity.  This alienation is exacerbated by the shared estrangement from nature that the individual sees in other men: “Every self-estrangement of man from himself and nature is manifested in the relationship he sets up between other men and himself and nature.”[3] Or, as the Marxist theorist Max Horkheimer would later put it, echoing Marx, “The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man’s subjugation by man.”[4]

 

 It was thus Engels, rather, who would eventually take up the subject of nature again in his writings.  Not only in his 1883 Dialectics of Nature, a text that remains controversial within the annals of Marxist literature, but even in other works like Anti-Duhring and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels discussed the way in which humanity became further estranged from nature even as science began to discover its innermost workings.  For rather than encountering nature in an organic, holistic fashion, natural science was methodologically microscopic, isolating individual phenomena from their original context and observing their operation in abstraction from the whole. 

This entailed, as Bacon had already himself admitted, a certain domination of nature.  And this, in turn, implied an equal degree of alienation from nature.

 

Engels explained the historical unfolding of this process as follows:

The analysis of Nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different natural processes and objects in definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organized bodies in their manifold forms — these were the fundamental conditions of the gigantic strides in our knowledge of Nature that have been made during the last 400 years. But this method of work has also left us as a legacy the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from their connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constraints, not as essentially variables; in their death, not in their life.[5]

 

Lukács’ great contribution to Marx’s theory of man’s alienation from nature arose out of his recognition of this mysterious “quasi-objectivity” that social relations seemed to assume.  It was as if, through the alienation of commodities from their producers and their subsequent circulation throughout society, bourgeois social relations became a sort of “second nature.”  As Lukács explained it:

[M]en are constantly smashing, replacing, and leaving behind the “natural,” irrational, and actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves in the reality that they have created and “made,” a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which appear in this form).

 

Lukács’ discovery of this apparent “second nature” carries with it even further consequences.  For, entangled in this self-created “second nature,” man found himself further and further distanced from “first” nature.  The seeming immediacy of nature enjoyed in previous societies, where the wood he used to build his house came from the nearby forest, in which the meat he ate came from animals that he raised and slaughtered, or game that he hunted, became increasingly rare.  Instead, what humanity encountered was a system of commodities, goods imported from every corner of the globe, serially processed through a complex division of labor before arriving to their consumer in their finished forms. In other words,this nature, “second nature,” became the world to which humanity was immediately accustomed.  With the rise of capitalism, everything changed.

 

Even the experience of this sort of “primitive” wilderness is increasingly mediated under modernity.  They come in the form of artificially-designed parks established in the midst of huge cities, in zoos and nature reserves, in activities like hiking, rock-climbing, and even safaris.  The critical theorist Theodor Adorno recognized the patent falsity of the notion that these sites and pastimes could serve to reunite man, if only briefly, with nature.  “The more purely nature is preserved and transplanted by civilization,” he wrote, “the more implacably it is dominated.”[12] Humanity under capitalism can maintain the illusion that we are still at one and are in harmony with nature, but it is illusory nevertheless. 

The parks, forests, and zoos can provide some comfort to a humanity yearning for its lost relationship with nature, but in the final analysis such artifacts (and yes, they are artifacts) can only serve as a reminder of the extent to which mankind has already transformed, and sometimes disfigured, nature.

 

[1] Marx, Karl.  Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.  FromEarly Writings.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pg. 325.

[2] Ibid., pg. 328.

[3] Ibid., pg. 331.

[4] Horkheimer, Max.  “The Revolt of Nature.”  From The Eclipse of Reason.  (The Continuum Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 72.

[5] Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.  Translated by Barrie Selman.  From Marx & Engels: Collected Works, Volume 24 (1874-1883).  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 299.

[12] Adorno, Theodor.  Minima Moralia.  Translated by E.F.N. Jephcott.  (Verso Books.  New York, NYL 2005).  Pg. 115.

http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/man-and-nature-part-ii-the-marxist-theory-of-man%E2%80%99s-alienation-from-nature/

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Theory

~Extracts from the article~

Man and Nature, Part I: The Shifting Historical Conceptions of Nature in Society

At some points, nature was viewed as an adversary to be feared, bringing plague, catastrophe, and famine to ravage mankind.  Often these elemental forces were either animistically, naturalistically, or totemistically embodied as divine powers in themselves,[1] or anthropomorphized as gods who commanded these forces as they saw fit.  When cataclysms occurred, it was because the gods or spirits had somehow been enraged by the misdeeds of men, and thus they unleashed their fury upon the mass of fear-stricken mortals.  In Christian times, this same logic persisted,[2] with periods of plenty seen as signs of God’s providence and grace, while periods of blight were viewed as God’s wrath, brought on by the sinfulness and iniquity of men.

 Later, at the dawn of the Enlightenment, nature was reenvisioned as dead matter, abiding by a set of mechanical but unknown laws, which could be discovered and mastered through careful study and observation under controlled conditions.  As the Baconian dictum went, contra Aristotle: “the secrets of nature reveal themselves better through harassments applied by the arts [torture] than when they go on in their own way.”[3] Thus began the “conquest” of nature, the quest to harness its forces so that they may serve the ends of mankind.  Robbed of their mysterious properties, natural objects therefore became “disenchanted,” in the Weberian sense.[4]With the arrival of the Enlightenment, as Hegel recognized, “the intellect will cognize what is intuited as a mere thing, reducing the sacred grove to mere timber.”[5]

Romanticism responded to this alienation from nature with a sense of tragic loss, and sought to regain what they saw as the fractured unity of man and nature.  The Romantics exalted the primitive, celebrating the charming naïveté of the ancient Greeks or their modern-day counterparts, who appeared in the form of “noble savages.”  The playwright Friedrich Schiller even dedicated an essay to the distinction between the “naïve”[6] and “sentimental” in poetry.  For modern man, he asserted, “nature has disappeared from our humanity, and we can reencounter it in its genuineness only outside of humanity in the inanimate world.  Not our greaternaturalness [Naturmäßigkeit], but the very opposite, theunnaturalness [Naturwidrigkeit] of our relationships, conditions, and mores forces us to fashion a satisfaction in the physical world that is not to be hoped for in the moral world.”[7]

 Despite its nostalgia for a bygone simplicity of life and man’s unity with nature, the Romantic worldview was gradually overtaken by that belonging to the modern industrialist.  To the industrialist, nature presented itself as a wealth of raw materials waiting to be exploited.  Through the application of human labor, these natural resources could be transformed into social products, valuable commodities to be distributed to the whole of society.

 One might note how much the modern industrialist’s perspective on nature mirrors that of the Enlightenment man of science.  For both, nature is conceived as nothing more than the sum of dead matter and the mechanical forces that compel it.  The difference is that, while a Bacon or Descartes might be interested in natural products insofar as they might understand them, a Rockefeller or a Carnegie would be more interested in the way they might be exploited so as to generate value.

Returning to the original purpose of this outline, however, what should all these various historical conceptions of nature tell us? First of all, it should tell us that the conception of nature is in large part dependent on the society for which it is an object of contemplation.  Nature, though it probably does operate according to an unchanging set of uniform physical laws, has a significance beyond its mere existence in itself.  The concept of “nature” also carries with it a great deal of ideological baggage, and reflects the superstructures of thought in any given age.  The problem, going forward, is thus not merely to find some sort of solution to the prospect of a potential ecological collapse, but to formulate nature as a social problem.  The question of humanity’s relationship to nature goes far beyond “saving the planet” or any such platitude; it involves at its core the disalienation of man from nature, and their reconciliation thereby.  No amount of recycling, collecting of litter, or “going Green” will solve this fundamental issue.  The resolution of the problem of man and nature can only be reached through radical social transformation, and not by the aggregate sum of superficial actions that only treat mere symptoms rather than the underlying problem.

 

[1] See Durkheim’s excellent treatment of these different theories of primitive religion in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life.  Translated by Karen E. Fields.  (The Free Press.  New York, NY: 1995).

[2] Durkheim makes very clear that the results of his observations of “primitive” religions apply to the more elaborate religious systems of the West and beyond: “[I]f, in the very humble societies just studied, I have managed to capture some of the elements that comprise the most fundamental religious ideas, there is no reason not to extend the most general results of this research to other religions.”  Ibid., pg. 418.

[3] Bacon, Francis.  The New Organon.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY).  Pg. 81.

[4] “[I]ncreasing intellectualization and rationalization does notmean increasing general knowledge of the conditions under which we live our lives.  It means something else.  It means the knowledge or belief that if we only wanted to we could learn at any time that there are, in principle, no mysterious unpredictable forces in play, but that all things — in principle — can be controlled through calculation.  This, however, means the disenchantment of the world.  No longer, like the savage, who believed that such forces existed, do we have to re­sort to magical means to gain control over or pray to the spirits.  Technical means and calculation work for us instead.  This, above all, is what intellectualization actually means.”  Weber, Max.  “Science as a Vocation.”  From Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations.  Translated by Gordon C. Wells.  (Algora Publishing.  New York, NY: 2008).  Pg. 35.

And later: “It is the fate of our age, with the rationalization, intellectualization and, in particular, the disenchantment of the world, characteristic of it, that precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have faded from public life, entering either the obscure realm of mystical life or the fraternal feelings of direct relationships among individuals.”  Ibid., pg. 51.

[5] Hegel, G.W.F.  Faith and Knowledge.  Translated by Walter Cerf and H.S. Harris.  (Albany, NY: 1977).  Pg. 57.

[6] “We consider someone to have a naïve character if in making judgments about things he overlooks their artificial and affected relations and fixes on the simple nature of them.”  Schiller, Friedrich.  “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.”  Translated by Daniel O. Dahlstrom.  From Essays.  (The Continuum Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pg. 186.

[7] Ibid., pg. 194.

http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/man-and-nature-part-i-the-shifting-historical-conceptions-of-nature/

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Theory

~ A little introduction into an ancient character called The Green Man, which in many religions was interpreted in the variety of ways, however has been considered as the spirit of nature~

The Green Man

Sir James Frazier’s seminal 1922 book on mythology, religion and folklore, “The Golden Bough”. The article concluded: “This figure I am convinced, is neither a figment of the imagination nor a symbol, but is taken from real life, and the question is whether there was any figure in real life from which it could have been taken. The answer, I think, is that there is but one of sufficient importance, the figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of May and the Garland King, who is the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe.”

 

Symbol of life and nature:

The most common and perhaps obvious interpretation of the Green Man is that of a pagan nature spirit, a symbol of man’s reliance on and union with nature, a symbol of the underlying life-force, and of the renewed cycle of growth each spring. In this respect, it seems likely that he has evolved from older nature deities such as the Celtic Cernunnos and the Greek Pan and Dionysus.

Image

 

Tree worship goes back into the prehistory of many of the cultures that directly influenced the people of Western Europe, not least the Greco-Roman and the Celtic, which is no great surprise when one considers that much of the continent of Europe was covered with vast forests in antiquity. It is perhaps also understandable that there are concentrations of Green Men in the churches of regions where there were large stretches of relict forests in ancient times, such as in Devon and Somerset, Yorkshire and the Midlands in England. The human-like attributes of trees (trunk-body, branches-arms, twigs-fingers, sap-blood), as well as their strength, beauty and longevity, make them an obvious subject for ancient worship. The Green Man can be seen as a continuing symbol of such beliefs, in much the same way as the later May Day pageants of the Early Modern period, many of which were led by the related figure of Jack-in-the-Green.

 

Symbol of death and rebirth:

The disgorging Green Man, sprouting vegetation from his orifices, may also be seen as a memento mori, or a reminder of the death that await all men, as well as a Pagan representation of resurrection and rebirth, as new life naturally springs out of our human remains. The Greek and Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus, often suggested as an early precursor of the Green Man, was also associated with death and rebirth in his parallel guise as Okeanus.

Image

 

Middle Eastern cross-over:

Due to the discovery of ancient images similar to the Green Man in India and the Middle East, in addition to those in medieval Europe, Green Man researcher Mike Harding has made the tentative suggestion that the symbol originated somewhere in Asia Minor, and was later brought to Europe by travelling stone-carvers. Some experts on Islamic mysticism and architecture, including Tom Cheetham and William Anderson, have identified the Green Man with a deity known as Al-Khidr from esoteric Islamic Sufism. The name Khidr itself means “The Green One”, and he is seen as representing freshness of spirit and eternal liveliness, although he has also been variously identified with St. George, the Jewish prophet Elijah, even “The Wandering Jew”.

 In this belief, Khidr is a kind of mediating principle between the imaginary and physical worlds, and a voice of inspiration to artists. This suggests the possibility that medieval European sculptors and carvers, in an early cross-over of cultures, may have seen the Green Man as a source of inspiration for their art.

Some Green Men are show with fronds of vegetation issuing form their eyes (such as at Bolton Abbey and Crediton church in England, for example), which can perhaps be interpreted as the artist’s ability to create what he sees.

 

Survivor from other mythologies:

 Several other ancient cultures also had green deities, often with some features in common with the Green Man. These include: Humbaba, the ancient Sumerian guardian of the cedar forest, as well as Enkidu, the wild man of the forest in Sumerian mythology, both of which date back to at least 3000 BCE; the Egyptian corn-god Osiris, who is often depicted with a green face representing vegetation and rebirth; Attis, a Phrygian god of vegetation and Nature; the Tibetan Buddhist deity Amoghasiddhi; the Hindu demon Kirtimukha; Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, fertility and water; and several others. Some of the features incorporated into ancient representations of these gods reappear centuries later in the Green Man. For example, the “Face of Glory” of the Hindu Kirtimukha is usually shown with a mouth issuing leaves, notably missing a lower jaw, and there are several similar representations of a jawless Green Man in Europe.

 Image

A common link in nearly all of the legends and myths which have been suggested as precursors of the Green Man is that of metamorphosis and transformation. Greek and Roman mythology is rife with such tales, many of them involving trees and flowers, such as: Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree; Myrrha into a myrrh tree; Chloris into Flora; Adonis, Narcissus and Hyacinthus into flowers; etc. Many of these classical myths were in turn borrowed or syncretized from other older cultures. It is possible that Green Men carvings were attempts to give a Christian moral to such beloved, but unfortunately pagan, transformational stories.

 

 

“The Green Man” by Kathleen Basford (D.S. Brewer, 1978, reprinted 2002)

“A Little Book of The Green Man” by Mike Harding (Aurum Press, 1998)

“The Green Man in Britain” by Fran & Geoff Doel (History Press, 2001)

http://www.greenmanenigma.com/theories.html

 

 

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Theory

The Buddhist Attitude towards Animal and Plant Life

Buddhism  prescribes the practice of metta, “loving-kindness” towards all creatures of all quarters without restriction. The Karaniyametta Sutta enjoins the cultivation of loving-kindness towards all creatures timid and steady, long and short, big and small, minute and great, visible and invisible, near and far, born and awaiting birth.[25] All quarters are to be suffused with this loving attitude. Just as one’s own life is precious to oneself, so is the life of the other precious to himself. Therefore a reverential attitude must be cultivated towards all forms of life.

The Nandivisala Jataka illustrates how kindness should be shown to animals domesticated for human service.[26] Even a wild animal can be tamed with kind words. Parileyya was a wild elephant who attended on the Buddha when he spent time in the forest away from the monks.[27] The infuriated elephant Nalagiri was tamed by the Buddha with no other miraculous power than the power of loving-kindness.[28] Man and beast can live and let live without fear of one another if only man cultivates sympathy and regards all life with compassion.

Prior to the rise of Buddhism people regarded natural phenomena such as mountains, forests, groves, and trees with a sense of awe and reverence.[34] They considered them as the abode of powerful non-human beings who could assist human beings at times of need. Though Buddhism gave man a far superior Triple Refuge (tisarana) in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, these places continued to enjoy public patronage at a popular level, as the acceptance of terrestrial non-human beings such as devatas[35] and yakkhas[36] did not violate the belief system of Buddhism. Therefore among the Buddhists there is a reverential attitude towards specially long-standing gigantic trees. They are vanaspati in Pali, meaning “lords of the forests.”[37] As huge trees such as the ironwood, the sala, and the fig are also recognized as the Bodhi trees of former Buddhas, the deferential attitude towards trees is further strengthened.[38] It is well known that the ficus religiosa is held as an object of great veneration in the Buddhist world today as the tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.

The open air, natural habitats and forest trees have a special fascination for the Eastern mind as symbols of spiritual freedom. The home life is regarded as a fetter (sambadha) that keeps man in bondage and misery. Renunciation is like the open air (abbhokasa), nature unhampered by man’s activity.[41] The chief events in the life of the Buddha too took place in the open air. He was born in a park at the foot of a tree in Kapilavatthu; he attained Enlightenment in the open air at the foot of the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya; he inaugurated his missionary activity in the open air in the sala grove of the Malas in Pava. The Buddha’s constant advice to his disciples also was to resort to natural habitats such as forest groves and glades. There, undisturbed by human activity, they could zealously engage themselves in meditation.[42]

Nature as Beautiful

The Buddha and his disciples regarded natural beauty as a source of great joy and aesthetic satisfaction. The saints who purged themselves of sensuous worldly pleasures responded to natural beauty with a detached sense of appreciation. The average poet looks at nature and derives inspiration mostly by the sentiments it evokes in his own heart; he becomes emotionally involved with nature. For instance, he may compare the sun’s rays passing over the mountain tops to the blush on a sensitive face, he may see a tear in a dew drop, the lips of his beloved in a rose petal, etc. But the appreciation of the saint is quite different. He appreciates nature’s beauty for its own sake and derives joy unsullied by sensuous associations and self-projected ideas.

“The Buddhist Attitude Towards Nature”, by Lily de Silva. Access to Insight, 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/desilva/attitude.html . Retrieved on 11 May 2013.

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Theory

~Extracts from the theoretical material I’ve read so far~

The Buddhist Attitude Towards Nature
by Lily de Silva
 

Modern man in his search for pleasure and affluence has exploited nature without any moral restraint to such an extent that nature has been rendered almost incapable of sustaining healthy life. Invaluable gifts of nature, such as air and water, have been polluted with severely disastrous consequences. Man is now searching for ways and means of overcoming the pollution problem as his health too is alarmingly threatened. He also feels that it is irresponsible and morally wrong on his part to commit the future generations to a polluted planet. If man is to act with a sense of responsibility to the natural world, to his fellow human beings and to unborn future generations, he has to find an appropriate environmental ethic today to prevent further aggravation of the present pollution problem. Hence his search for wisdom and attitudes in a hitherto neglected area of knowledge, namely, religion.

Buddhism strictly limits itself to the delineation of a way of life designed to eradicate human suffering. The Buddha refused to answer questions which did not directly or indirectly bear on the central problem of human suffering and its ending. Furthermore, environmental pollution is a problem of the modern age, unheard of and unsuspected during the time of the Buddha. Therefore it is difficult to find any specific discourse which deals with the topic we are interested in here. Nevertheless, as Buddhism is a full-fledged philosophy of life reflecting all aspects of experience, it is possible to find enough material in the Pali canon to delineate the Buddhist attitude towards nature.

The word “nature” means everything in the world which is not organized and constructed by man. The Pali equivalents which come closest to “nature” are loka and yathabhuta. The former is usually translated as “world” while the latter literally means “things as they really are.” The words dhammata and niyama are used in the Pali canon to mean “natural law or way.”

Nature as Dynamic

According to Buddhism changeability is one of the perennial principles of nature. Everything changes in nature and nothing remains static. This concept is expressed by the Pali termanicca. Everything formed is in a constant process of change (sabbe sankhara anicca).[1]The world is therefore defined as that which disintegrates (lujjati ti loko); the world is so called because it is dynamic and kinetic, it is constantly in a process of undergoing change.[2]In nature there are no static and stable “things”; there are only ever-changing, ever-moving processes. Rain is a good example to illustrate this point. Though we use a noun called “rain” which appears to denote a “thing,” rain is nothing but the process of drops of water falling from the skies. Apart from this process, the activity of raining, there is no rain as such which could be expressed by a seemingly static nominal concept. The very elements of solidity(pathavi), liquidity (apo), heat (tejo) and mobility (vayo), recognized as the building material of nature, are all ever-changing phenomena. Even the most solid looking mountains and the very earth that supports everything on it are not beyond this inexorable law of change. One sutta explains how the massive king of mountains — Mount Sineru, which is rooted in the great ocean to a depth of 84,000 leagues and which rises above sea level to another great height of 84,000 leagues and which is very classical symbol of stability and steadfastness — also gets destroyed by heat, without leaving even ashes, with the appearance of multiple suns.[3] Thus change is the very essence of nature.

Morality and Nature

The world passes through alternating cycles of evolution and dissolution, each of which endures for a long period of time. Though change is inherent in nature, Buddhism believes that natural processes are affected by the morals of man.

According to the Aggañña Sutta,[4] which relates the Buddhist legend regarding the evolution of the world, the appearance of greed in the primordial beings — who at that time were self-luminous, subsisting on joy, and traversing in the skies — caused the gradual loss of their radiance and their ability to subsist on joy and to move about in the sky. The moral degradation had effects on the external environment too. At that time the entire earth was covered over by a very flavorsome fragrant substance similar to butter. When beings started partaking of this substance with more and more greed, on the one hand their subtle bodies became coarser and coarser. On the other hand the flavorsome substance itself started gradually diminishing. With the solidification of bodies differences of form appeared; some were beautiful while others were homely. Thereupon conceit manifested itself in those beings, and the beautiful ones started looking down upon the others. As a result of these moral blemishes the delicious edible earth-substance completely disappeared. In its place there appeared edible mushrooms and later another kind of edible creeper. In the beings who subsisted on them successively sex differentiation became manifest and the former method of spontaneous birth was replaced by sexual reproduction.

Self-growing rice appeared on earth and through laziness to collect each meal man grew accustomed to hoarding food. As a result of this hoarding habit, the growth rate of food could not keep pace with the rate of demand. Therupon land had to be divided among families. After private ownership of land became the order of the day, those who were of a more greedy disposition started robbing from others’ plots of land. When they were detected they denied that they had stolen. Thus through greed vices such as stealing and lying became manifest in society. To curb the wrong doers and punish them a king was elected by the people and thus the original simple society became much more complex and complicated. It is said that this moral degeneration of man had adverse effects on nature. The richness of the earth diminished and self-growing rice disappeared. Man had to till the land and cultivate rice for food. This rice grain was enveloped in chaff; it needed cleaning before consumption.

The point I wish to emphasize by citing this evolutionary legend is that Buddhism believes that though change is a factor inherent in nature, man’s moral deterioration accelerates the process of change and brings about changes which are adverse to human well being and happiness.

The Cakkavattisihanada Sutta of the Digha Nikaya predicts the future course of events when human morals undergo further degeneration.[5] Gradually man’s health will deteriorate so much that life expectancy will diminish until at last the average human life-span is reduced to ten years and marriageable age to five years. At that time all delicacies such as ghee, butter, honey, etc. will have disappeared from the earth; what is considered the poorest coarse food today will become a delicacy of that day. Thus Buddhism maintains that there is a close link between man’s morals and the natural resources available to him.

According to a discourse in the Anguttara Nikaya, when profligate lust, wanton greed, and wrong values grip the heart of man and immorality becomes widespread in society, timely rain does not fall. When timely rain does not fall crops get adversely affected with various kinds of pests and plant diseases. Through lack of nourishing food the human mortality rate rises.[6]

Thus several suttas from the Pali canon show that early Buddhism believes there to be a close relationship between human morality and the natural environment. This idea has been systematized in the theory of the five natural laws (pañca niyamadhamma) in the later commentaries.[7] According to this theory, in the cosmos there are five natural laws or forces at work, namely utuniyama (lit. “season-law”), bijaniyama (lit. “seed-law”),cittaniyama, kammaniyama, and dhammaniyama. They can be translated as physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, moral laws, and causal laws, respectively. While the first four laws operate within their respective spheres, the last-mentioned law of causality operates within each of them as well as among them.

This means that the physical environment of any given area conditions the growth and development of its biological component, i.e. flora and fauna. These in turn influence the thought pattern of the people interacting with them. Modes of thinking determine moral standards. The opposite process of interaction is also possible. The morals of man influence not only the psychological makeup of the people but the biological and physical environment of the area as well. Thus the five laws demonstrate that man and nature are bound together in a reciprocal causal relationship with changes in one necessarily bringing about changes in the other.

The commentary on the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta goes on to explain the pattern of mutual interaction further.[8] When mankind is demoralized through greed, famine is the natural outcome; when moral degeneration is due to ignorance, epidemic is the inevitable result; when hatred is the demoralizing force, widespread violence is the ultimate outcome. If and when mankind realizes that large-scale devastation has taken place as a result of his moral degeneration, a change of heart takes place among the few surviving human beings. With gradual moral regeneration conditions improve through a long period of cause and effect and mankind again starts to enjoy gradually increasing prosperity and longer life. The world, including nature and mankind, stands or falls with the type of moral force at work. If immorality grips society, man and nature deteriorate; if morality reigns, the quality of human life and nature improves. Thus greed, hatred, and delusion produce pollution within and without. Generosity, compassion, and wisdom produce purity within and without. This is one reason the Buddha has pronounced that the world is led by the mind, cittena niyati loko.[9]Thus man and nature, according to the ideas expressed in early Buddhism, are interdependent.

 

 

“The Buddhist Attitude Towards Nature”, by Lily de Silva. Access to Insight, 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/desilva/attitude.html . Retrieved on 11 May 2013.

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