Natural harmony in the spirit of tradition

By Xu Wei ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-10-20 08:43:34

UK-based alliance seeks to tap into growing interest in Chinese culture

As a longtime sinologist and expert on religion in China, Martin Palmer has found himself increasingly occupied by efforts to explain Chinese culture to the people in the United Kingdom.

Interest in Buddhism and Taoism have been growing in the UK over the years, said Palmer, secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a UK-based secular body aimed at assisting the world's major religions develop environmental programs.

People in the UK might not necessarily call themselves Taoists or Buddhists, but "they may might go for yoga and meditation sessions, and find it very useful in their lives," Palmer said.

There are about 20 Buddhist monasteries in the UK and only a few people who would describe themselves as Buddhist monks or nuns, he said. However, books about Buddhist philosophy and practices, including how to meditate and how to live a greener and healthier life, often occupy the largest section among all religious books at UK bookstores, he added.

It is similar case for Taoism, which offers deep philosophical thinking in classics such as Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) and Yi Jing (I Ching), he said. Western interest in Taoism is enormous, said Palmer, who has translated the two Taoist classics, Yi Jing and Zhuangzi.

The alliance was founded in 1995 by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who was then president of the World Wildlife Fund. The Alliance has developed close cooperation with the Buddhist Association of China and the Taoist Association of China in ecological protection programs in recent years.

One of the programs, the Ecological TCM Herbal Nursery project, encourages Taoist temples to use herbs as an alternative for animal ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.

Another program, the Three Incense Movement, has prompted an effort among Buddhist and Taoist temples to encourage believers to burn only three slim and environmentally friendly incense sticks during rituals and worships.

Palmer, who recently met with the new leaders of the Buddhist and Taoist associations, said both sides want to boost cooperation and enhance international exchanges.

The alliance has launched a program to enable Taoist temples to share their experiences in making their temples and surrounding environments more environmentally friendly. It is also working with the United Nations to select an advisory group of Chinese scholars to provide Confucian thinking about sustainable development.

"One of the interesting things is that religious believers feel they have a real contribution to make, and increasingly so. And the interest about traditional Chinese thinking is also enormous, across central Asia and Europe," Palmer said.

In the UK, there is also a deep interest about religions, including Christianity, in China, he said.

"I did a lot of work for the BBC talking about the spiritual life of China. Many people in the West still think you cannot be religious in China, and I have to keep saying 'no, that isn't true,'" he said.

"There is a real awakening to the fact that China is one of the great civilizations, and many in the West still have a very poor understanding of that."

Palmer also recently worked with the BBC to produce a documentary about the life of Confucius, the first program of its kind that the broadcaster has produced in the past 20 years.

"I hope President Xi Jinping's visit to the UK will not only focus on economics and trade, but also about the enormous cultural exchange, the developing partnerships, and the growth of a shared understanding of our cultures," he said.

Natural harmony in the spirit of tradition

(China Daily 10/20/2015 page17)

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