The environmental beliefs and practices of Taiwanese Buddhists.
This thesis explores the phenomenon of Taiwanese Buddhists' environmental concerns
as they occurred in the 1990s. A socio-cultural perspective is adopted to enquire into the
following questions: (1) what does 'Huan-Bao' (Jl-1*-, literally environmental protection)
mean to Taiwanese Buddhists? (2) are there patterns of Buddhist environmental
concerns? (3) how do Taiwanese Buddhists construct their environmental concerns? (4)
what is their relationship with Taiwan's environmental movements? and (5) have their
environmental concerns any relevance to the development of Buddhism in Taiwan?
The field work was carried out from Jan. 1996 to Aug. 1997 by employing several
different qualitative methods. Three Buddhist-centred organizations' 'Huan-Baos' were
researched from both institutional and individual levels. These organizations are: TzuChi
Charity Foundation, Dharma Drum Mountain, and Life Conservationist Association.
An integrated framework of discourse analysis was developed through reviewing
Maarten Hajer, David Harvey, Klaus Eder, and Kay Milton's works. Based on their
works, this framework emphasizes the power of discourse coalitions, the dynamics of
social process, the globalization of environmental particularisms, and the formation of
individual and institutional identities.
In summary, the study finds that:
(1) Taiwanese Buddhist 'Huan-Bao' discourses are constructed through Buddhist
Masters' re-interpretations and lay Buddhists' social practices, namely: Tzu-Chi's
'Cherishing Fu (tit, literally good fortune)'~ DDM's 'Pureland on Earth'~ and LCA's
'Life Respecting'. Though hardly challenging the 'ecological modernity' theme that is
dominant in Taiwan's environmental movements, these discourses, nevertheless,
demonstrate a special spiritual dimension that was rarely found before.
(2) The social practices of lay Buddhists play an important role in defining and redefining
what 'Huan-Bao' means to them. This social process not only enriches and reshapes
the institutional definitions of 'Huan-Bao' but also helps to create individual
identities. More importantly, it allows practitioners to 'dwell securely' in Taiwan where
a rapid social change and insecurity are often experienced. In this way, this trend of
Buddhist Huan-Bao discourse has become well situated in the phase of 'place making'
of Taiwan's environmental movements.
(3) The distinctive interpretation of'Huan-Bao' by each Buddhist organization suggests
a unique social process behind each organization's evolution of 'Huan-Bao' discourse.
These multiple meanings of 'Huan-Bao' and associated social processes manifest a new
developmental stage of Taiwanese Buddhism characterized by rationalization,
secularization, and contextualization.
(4) This study establishes a bridge for dialogue with the search for an eastern religious
environmental ethic that has for a long time been romanticized and stereotyped in
western environmental movements. The study not only illustrates how the dynamics of
social change cannot be separated from Buddhists' heightened environmental awareness,
but also challenges the over-simplified assumptions that western environmentalists make
about the environmental beliefs of' eastern religions'.