Day 26 @EDE Class: Socially Engaged Spirituality, “China Ecovillage Network”

Sep 21, 2018

Before a new journey

One day before the entire EDE class finished.  I was feeling busier than usual. Other than classes and my own daily writing, there was a final group project, designing an ecovillage. All the groups should present on the last day. I got up a little after 4am and spent a couple hours writing, till it’s completely bright outside. Then I went for a morning run.

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Wen, one of my roommates, known for being outspoken, enthusiastic and a do-er, was also out early studying in the courtyard. I am always delighted by seeing people focusing on their work in a peaceful state. (photo by the author)
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After a few wet and overcasting days, the weather today was wonderful.  At one end of my running path, I could see the distant mountains near and clear. (photo by the author)

In general, air quality in this area is very good, thanks to the mountains and lush vegetation, despite that the town is only half an hour by high speed train away from the megacity Chengdu (regular population 16 Million, Gov statistics). As it’s the season, sweet Osmanthus flowers perfume the cool morning air. Little bright dots kept popping up on my Osmanthus radar. “Oh, there must be a tree, just somewhere, close!”

Socially Engaged Spirituality

We talked more about spirituality today. Since I returned to China last year, I have been hearing people mentioning classes about “身心灵” (body, heart and soul), “灵性成长” (spirituality development), etc.. Spirituality, as it’s traditionally associated with religion, wasn’t publicly and keenly discussed 10 years ago. What we discussed as “spirituality” here in the class, is perfectly in line with a nice summary from Wikipedia (link):  “In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience[8] and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live,”[18][10] incorporating personal growth or transformation, usually in a context separate from organized religious institutions.[11]” (original links and reference numbers from Wikipedia included)

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Spiritual Principles from Satyana Institute. Part 1. (photo by the author)

Our teacher Trudy offered the 13 Spiritual Principles from Satyana Institute (official site) to guide our individual practice. From their official site, you can find explanation for each principle.

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Spiritual Principles from Satyana Institute. Part 2. Note #12 was not in Satyana Institute’s version but added by the teacher. (photo by the author).

Interestingly, #7, “Love your enemy” confused many here just as it does to people in the more religious parts of the world. “Why should we love our enemy, as we would do to our family and friends?”, that’s the typical question. Besides, in Chinese Confucianism philosophy, there is the belief that “evil to be met simply with justice”.

Chapter 36, Confucian Analects (translated by James Legge ,1893)

1. Someone said, “What do you say concerning the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness?”
2. The Master said, “With what then will you recompense kindness?”
3.”Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.“(或曰:“以德報怨,何如?”子曰:“何以報德?以直報怨,以德報德。”)

By the way, in doing research, I find this website doing a great job digitizing Chinese classic philosophical literature and offers authoritative English translation for some. (Link) It’s a non-profit project initiated by Yanzi Academy (颜子学苑).

The Satyana Institute’s explanation:

Love thy enemy. Or at least, have compassion for them. This is a vital challenge for our times. This does not mean indulging falsehood or corruption. It means moving from “us/them” thinking to “we” consciousness, from separation to cooperation, recognizing that we human beings are ultimately far more alike than we are different. This is challenging in situations with people whose views are radically opposed to yours. Be hard on the issues, soft on the people.

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We put the paper of principles on floor, walked around to read them and thought hard. (photo by the author)
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Spiritual Principles from Satyana Institute. Part 3. (photo by the author)

To me, the last principle is probably the overarching one. “Love creates the form. Not the other way around. The heart crosses the abyss that the mind creates, and operates at depths unknown to the mind. Don’t get trapped by “pessimism concerning human nature that is not balanced by an optimism concerning divine nature, or you will overlook the cure of grace.” (Martin Luther King) Let your heart’s love infuse your work and you cannot fail, though your dreams may manifest in ways different from what you imagine.” (Satyana Institute)

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On deep listening, a fundamental skill. (photo by the author)

“China Ecovillage Network”

In the afternoon, we were introduced to Global Ecovillage Network Oceania and Asia (GENOA) branch and “China Ecovillage Network”. Quotation mark is used for the latter  because it wasn’t allowed to register with “China” in its name, a perceived risk of misrepresenting authorities.

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In the introduction slide of “China Ecovillage Network”: “Some see participators of ecovillage movement idealists. This is misunderstanding. Those people are realists indeed, because they seriously confront the causes that are threatening our world and actively take action to look for solutions.” (photo by the author)

In reality, “China Ecovillage Network” (referred to as “CEN” in the following) is a grass root initiative co-founded by Sunshine Ecovillage Network (official site), Sukha Earth Ecovillages (reports 1, 2) and some individuals in Dec 2017 (news).  The mission of CEN is to widely connect ecovillages in China into a network of collaboration and learning, to integrate traditional Chinese culture with experience of global ecovillage development, and to create channels for urban residents to participate in rural life and production, all serving the vision of vitalization of rural areas. The founders contributed seed fund. The organization hires two full time employees and enlists volunteers for events.

To resolve the legal status, CEN is trying to connect as many as possible would-be ecovillages or similar projects in different regions, encouraging regional ecovillage networks while looking for other proper organization names. The secretary, one of the only two full time employees, has visited a dozen projects in the country. According to him, the sample is on the small side to reliably represent the full picture of national movement. His finger-in-air estimate is that fewer than 10 projects are close to Global Ecovillage Network’s idea about ecovillages. And most of them were founded by outsiders. Participation from original villagers is low.

Wrapping up

The formal lecturing of the entire EDE class finished in the afternoon, as planned. Trudy had us sit in a tight circle and reflect on our intention– a project that  matches your values and that you WILL do, not HOPE to do, in the future. Then one by one, we said it out loud. After one finished, the rest in the circle would say “I hear you”. Lovely, Trudy already picked up the Chinese expression, “我听到你了。” 🙂

The power of bearing witness is at work when we tell our intention (big goal) openly to a supportive group. We relieve the fear of being judged. We feel supported to own our goals, though we may fail.

Life here

I will miss the pleasant moments in the courtyard.

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Breakfast time. (photo by the author)

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