Though Daoist sagacity is, to my thinking, only an ideal, still it can be incrementally approximated. Among the attributes of a sage are those which embody the attitudes and behaviors that allow for world-flourishing.

I have already mentioned simplicity as one of these attributes. The root of true simplicity lays in the eradication of the self-reifying project. Wanting to “be somebody”, we are further motivated to acquire the accoutrements of perceived “success”. This equates to the pursuit of “fame” (name—self- and other-perceived) through the accumulation of wealth and power and the conspicuous consumption that are their proof.

The sage, having lost her “me”, has no-fixed-identity and thus no self that requires external support. She depends on nothing for her sense of self-worth. She is self-so, and free to wander in her selfhood while allowing others to do the same. She has abandoned the zero-sum game; her self-worth does not require the diminishment of the worth of others, human or otherwise.

Ideally, simplicity need not be practiced; it organically arises; it happens. In the real world, however, practice is necessary. We can practice simplicity as a work of self-cultivation and simultaneously lower our impact on the biosphere.

Revolutionary societal change requires a movement, and a movement requires individuals. In the end, it is individual transformation—yours and mine—that will bring about change.

Is a revolution necessary? Given the late hour and the geometrical expansion of the effects of our chronic world destruction, it would seem so. Yet still we dally.


Though we might understand the equality of all things and engage in a cosmo-centric caring, still there remains a hierarchy of caring. One’s self-flourishing trumps the flourishing of the food on one’s plate. Our need for shelter trumps the need of the tree to fully live out its years.

As always, we are cast into ambiguity. We have not arrived at a pat formula by which we can live in the simple application of a principle. We must make informed choices; though the wisdom of no choice is guaranteed. Yet wisdom it is that is required.

Some of that wisdom is an appreciation of simplicity. What do we actually need? What can be legitimately sacrificed to those needs? The mega-yacht, personal airliner, or even luxury car, is a choice to ignore the needs of others for the ego-centric pleasure of conspicuous consumption, is it not?

Though extreme in their position, the so-called Primitivist Chapters of the Zhuangzi (8-11a) speak to the destruction of things for the sake of ego-and species-centrism. “Unless the white jade is broken, what can be made into the ritual scepters and batons? . . . The mutilation of the unhewn raw material to make valued vessels is the crime of the skilled carpenter.” (9; p 62)

If this is so, then we are all criminals. Yet such a criminality is an unavoidable attribute of the existence of any one thing. In this regard it is helpful to remember Zhuangzi’s equalizing unification of formation and destruction: “Whenever fragmentation is going on, formation, completion, is also going on. Whenever formation is going on, destruction is also going on. Hence, all things are neither formed nor destroyed, for these two also open into each other, connecting to form a oneness.” (2:21-2) Ultimately, nothing is lost. We need fear no prosecution.

This required wisdom is much more than practical knowledge: “Much wisdom in the use of traps, nets, snares, and lattices throws the beasts of the woodlands into disorder. . . . Thus it is that each and every great disorder of the world is caused by the love of wisdom.” (10; p 65)

Yet, there is a “wisdom that is free of wisdom” (4:30); it is the wisdom that questions itself: “Everyone in the world knows how to raise questions about what they don’t know, but none know how to raise questions about what they already know. Everyone knows enough to reject what they consider bad, but not enough to reject what they consider good. This is the reason for the great disorder, which violates the brightness of the sun and moon above and melts away the vital essence of the mountains and rivers below, toppling the ordered succession of the four seasons in between.” (10; p 66)

A prophetic word to be sure.


Daoist cosmology, to the extent it can be said to have one, is altogether different than the Creator/creation myth. “Dao does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.” (Laozi 37) Things just happen—or so it seems. There is no known manipulation involved in their arising. No mediating purposiveness is implied. Things arise for themselves alone. They are self-so. This is their equality, and a condition of our cosmo-centrism.

Dao does nothing because it is neither a something nor a nothing; it is present as an absence.

Daoists are encouraged to live similarly. Wu-wei, not-doing, is the emulation of this fundamental (“obvious”) attribute of apparent world-arising. If things just happen, and we affirm that happening, then we do best to let them happen.

Our letting them happen, however, paradoxically helps them to happen in a certain way. We are present in our absence. We influence from a distance and by way of distance. Wu-wei is not indifference, but a strategy for change. It is not being the change (manipulatively), but non-being the change. It is yin-ing in the world of yang.

The planetary bio-sphere is in danger as a consequence of human activity. Science wants to fix it. Radical geo-engineering projects have been suggested. Release aerosols into the atmosphere. Dump iron into the oceans. What could possibly go wrong? Isn’t this just more of the same, with potentially even greater negative consequences?

Science can and does also sometimes practice wu-wei. Illuminating the problem is itself a non-coercive contribution to remedying the problem. It creates the motivational space for change to happen. Understanding how the environment can heal itself and allowing it to do so is possible. Not-doing what we have been doing is also the practice of wu-wei.

Environmental justice is ultimately about allowing all things to self-flourish—something they do quite naturally without the help of our “stewardship”. Cosmo-centrism is the organic sense that we are all in this together and thus that the moderation of our own wants actually contributes to our own self-flourishing.


Our default ego- and species-centrism have naturally arisen. Their unquestioned perpetuation, however, has become a matter of cultural programming. Though I think it can be demonstrated that this is largely true of every religious expression (when we look at behavior rather than words), this is especially the case with the three “great” monotheistic religions.

The belief that the world is there for our use is an ineluctable derivative of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic creation myth. God created the world for himself, and it exists solely for his pleasure. Sentient beings fulfill this purpose through worship, bringing “glory to God”.

This is the fundamental template by which we order our own relationship with Nature. Created “in the image of God”, we are his earthly surrogates. We are exhorted to go into all the world and “subdue” it. We are a special species within creation (“a little higher than the angels”), and it exists for us to use as we wish. The idea of “stewardship” is the only accommodation toward environmental concern that this can offer, yet it remains species-centric.

Man’s first task was to “name all the animals”. Naming them, we own them. They are objectified through language and as such become wholly other than ourselves and objects for our manipulation.

Woman was an afterthought—man was lonely. She is there for man, his “helpmate”—the help. She, too, is to be subdued.

It is easy to see how millennia of this and other similar creation myths have reinforced our natural inclination toward species-and ego-centrism. They have divine sanction. Indeed, they are mandated.

Clearly the radical paradigm shift required to transform our relationship with Nature will require moving beyond our formative myths. It’s past time to grow up. It’s time for Humanity 2.0.


We might do well to understand something of the origins of our present predominant world-view so as to better understand the radical nature of the paradigm shift philosophical Daoism advocates.

First and foremost I think we need to realize that this self-destructive world-view is entirely natural, just as we recognize the ego-self as a product of human evolution, despite its inherent problems.

Let’s stay with this for a moment, for it is a statement of momentous importance. This isn’t about right and wrong. It’s about what has arisen; and that always comes with problems. Existence is an extremely messy business. It behooves us to come to grips with the lack of any discernible normative and purposive principle in the arising of things. Things apparently just happen.

Ego- and species-centrism are entirely natural inclinations; and they have significantly contributed to the survival and flourishing of our species. Evolution, however, implies that improvements are always necessarily in the offing. What was previously beneficial might not be so in the future. Multitudes of species have evolved into existential cul-de-sacs and have consequentially perished in their failure to change apace with environmental circumstances. Humanity has now reached such a place.

What seems unique about humanity is that it has evolved the ability to take control of its own temporal circumstances. Humanity can evolve because and as humanity wills it. Our next evolutionary step—hopefully a revolution in consciousness—may very well be a chosen one.

The onus of responsibility rests entirely on us. No manifest destiny, no “true purpose”, no species-exceptionalism written in the heavens will guarantee our survival. For Nature, we are of no greater value than the species, worlds and universes already extinct. It’s up to us; if we are up to the challenge.

Realizing that we are not special could become one of the most special things about us. It might very well be a first among things.


The call for environmental justice implies that injustices have already been committed. We have abused this planet. We have essentially taken it as there for us. We have engaged in species-centrism in the extreme.

And now we realize that our abuse of the planet has become a form of self-abuse. Our own survival, or at least flourishing, is at risk. We now understand that we must “save” the planet in order to save ourselves. Yet this motivation remains within the spheres of species- and ego-centrism—attitudes that significantly contributed to the problem in the first place. If we are to really break the cycle, we need a radical paradigm shift.

That shift is what I’m calling cosmo-centrism, the recontextualization of our ego- and species-centrism within the broader context of the (ultimately ambiguous) world-context.

Cosmo-centrism embraces two apparently mutually exclusive experiences. On the one hand, it recognizes the absolute non-negotiable value of each and every thing in its individual uniqueness. On the other hand, it so completely identifies with the world that it is taken as one body—my body, your body. Together these views issue in an equality of caring.

This is walking the two roads of not-oneness and oneness at the same time. Wholly identifying with the world as one body illuminates the equality of value of the many. Appreciating the self-so value of the many is seeing their oneness. They are all the same in their all being different.

“For belonging in a category [similar] and not belonging in that category [different] themselves form a single category [similar]! Being similar is so similar to being dissimilar!” exclaims Zhuangzi. (2:30) Even the category “One” invites another category. This renders it empty of all true content and returns us to openness in the presence of Mystery.


The phrase “environmental justice” already implies the self-so value of the planet. It has rights. Everything on it has rights. Planetary rights are not human rights; those rights must be informed by the rights of all other things. Saving the planet to save ourselves has motivational merit, but cosmo-centrism motivates a more fundamental sense of justice. The planet has its own rights irrespective of its utility to humanity.

This sense alone encourages a significant paradigm shift. It impacts our ego-centrism. When Ziqi lost his “me” this is the kind of recontextualization he experienced. All the forest’s trees have their own unique voices in response to the same wind, yet “each selects out its own”. (2:5) Each one is self-so—self-arising and inherently valuable. (If my existence has value, then every existence has value, without exception. This is the equalization of things.)

Which comes first, the loss of one’s “me”, or this sense of cosmo-centrism? They likely dialectically inform each other. For my part, meditation on the “illuminated obvious” equality of all beings serves as a gateway to a realization of the possible loss of my “me”. This “inkling” has efficacy where dialectical approximation is the actual real-world circumstance.

The promise of meditatively realizing that loss as Ziqi hypothetically did (it is just a story, after all), though worthy of pursuit, needn’t obviate the need for the real-time, practical exercise of that outcome irrespective of meditative “success”. Not only do we not need to get it right to get it, neither do we need to get it to do what’s right.

Practicing environmental justice is thus itself an act of self-cultivation. Exercising a sense of cosmo-centrism in one’s interface with the world impacts one’s relationship with one’s own self-experience. If one’s “me” is not lost, as in Ziqi’s meditative ideal, at least it is being approximatingly recontextualized.

It’s a win-win.


Cosmo-centrism is the ability to care for all things as an extension of one’s natural care for oneself. “Others”, whether that be people, animals, plants, or inanimate things, do not exist for my sake (ego-centrism) or for the sake of humanity (species-centrism), or ultimately even for the sake of the Cosmos (yes, Cosmo-centrism), but for themselves—just like you and I do.

All things are to themselves as I am to myself. All things are my-selves. All things are myself. All things are loved even as we self-love.

Ziporyn’s “omnicentrism” is another way of imagining this. Everything is the center. Everything contextualizes (“explains”) everything else (just like you do). Yet nothing is the exclusive center, since all things are the center. This is a Oneness that in no way prejudices the inviolability of the Many; there is One only in and through the Many. And like most anything that seems to get at the un-gettable-ness of existence, it is paradoxical—or nonsensical, if you prefer.

The Cosmos is much more than the totality of things, however. It is much more than a thing in itself. It is that outside of which nothing can be imagined. Since we cannot imagine this, it must fail as a designation. It is ultimately empty. As such it is open-ended. Cosmo-centrism is thus also openness.

Openness here means that when we imagine the cosmos we also take it as Mystery. Our minds do not close around a concept, but remain open and unfixed. The mind remains “released to play in the harmony of all de”, all expressions of Dao.

It is this openness that enables a Cosmo-centrism, an appreciation of the oneness of things, that does not prejudice things in their individual self-so uniqueness. “Not-one is also One.”

Our projects of self-and world-improvement are thus always informed by their embedding in the context of Mystery which requires no improvement.


In the context of Zhuangzian philosophy further clarification of the idea and experience of cosmo-centrism seems necessary in as much as it casts us into the middle of his disagreements with his friend, the Logician Huizi.

Huizi believed that he had logically (albeit, paradoxically) demonstrated the oneness of things: “Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body.” (33; p 124) Zhuangzi took Huizi to task, not for this conclusion as is often averred, but because it went no further than intellectual assent. Zhuangzi suggested a mystical leap as the necessary next step. Huizi preferred to dwell solely in the world of intellection and for this reason called Zhuangzi’s philosophy “big and useless”.

When, after presenting some of his own paradoxes, Zhuangzi exclaims, “Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one” (2:32), he means it. (Many scholars take this as an ironic dig at Huizi, but I believe they are mistaken.) He means it, not in a literal (logically proven) sense, but in an experiential sense. He probably just experienced it.

Such an experience, at least as a temporary ecstatic moment, is not difficult to realize. All one needs to do is imaginatively engage with Zhuangzi’s own paradoxes and take the leap they invite: “Nothing in the world is larger than the tip of a hair in autumn, and Mt. Tai is small. No one lives longer than a dead child, and old Pengzu died young.” Alternatively, one can simply meditatively imagine the equalization of all things.

Though such a “buzz” is admittedly superficial, still it provides an inkling of the possibility of a deeper, more organic experience. Our cosmo-centrism, our identification with the Totality, will necessarily be and likely remain a work in progress. Our practical engagement vis-à-vis the environment will follow apace. Our continued flourishing as a species will likely depend on it.


I have suggested that philosophical Daoism’s imaginative exercise in the equalization of all things creates a cosmo-centrism that issues in a deep sense of environmental concern. Several clarifications are in order before we proceed further in an investigation of how this is so.

Foremost, it needs to be reiterated that this is a psychological exercise and not a statement of how things “really” are. It also assumes more than mere intellectual assent; it assumes a transformative experience. Nothing need be “true” for its imagined possibility to issue in an experienced recontextualization, a paradigm shift. You don’t have to get it right to get it. Where every world-view is imagined in any case, this is not outside the norm.

By cosmo-centrism I mean a point of view that so identifies with the cosmos that all it contains shares in our natural self-love. “Heaven and earth were born together with me, and all things and I are one.” My body is all bodies. There is one body.

As a hierarchy of concerns the trajectory is reversible, though not commensurate. On the human plane self-flourishing (dialectically) precedes species-, environmental-, and cosmic-flourishing. We begin with our self-care and that informs our care for others. On the “higher” plane cosmic-flourishing precedes the rest. Yet we only work up from the human plane and never down from the cosmic-plane because cosmic-flourishing is taken as an unconditional given. All is and will be well whatever temporal outcomes might transpire. No need for cosmic-redemption is imagined.

This “work” entails both an active concern for the flourishing of all things and the exercise of the wisdom that justly makes the compromises that the exigencies of existence require. We honor the mountain even as we take its ore, should that ore be deemed necessary to our collective-flourishing. Yet honoring the mountain requires its preservation as best as possible.