There is a wonderful story in the Liezi about a young boy who dares to contradict the opinion of his elders by standing up for the equality of all things in Dao. This takes place at a banquet where the host offers a toast in which he thanks Nature for providing all things for the enjoyment of human beings. "Not so," says this lad. Nothing exists for the benefit of any other thing; each thing exists for itself. If the human is able to use other things for its own benefit, this is simply because it is more powerful than they. If we believe things are made for the human because we are able to exploit them, then we should also believe that human beings were made for mosquitos.
This simple observation has profound implications for how we view the world and our place within it. All things are worthy of respect. All things are treasured. Yes, there are conflicting needs. Yes, Nature feeds on Nature; all things living must exploit other things for their own survival. But neither this nor the human hegemony negates the essential value-in-themselves of all things. Being self-aware, the human forms this understanding into an attitude of respectful stewardship. We do not respect and seek to preserve Earth simply because we must maintain our 'resources', but also because Earth and all it contains is precious in itself. Our environmentalism is not simply pragmatic; it is also spiritual.
Primary cultures, hunter-gathers, peoples more closely integrated with their environments, practice this attitude as a matter of course. When a life is taken, thanks is given. Respect is affirmed. I once went python hunting (for rat control in the village) with a couple lads on the tiny volcanic island of Nosy Komba in Madagascar. Near the top of the extinct volcano we found two pythons in mortal combat, separated them and brought them back to the village. But before we left the scene, one lad left some money as an offering of thanks. To what or whom? I really don't know; but I do know that he was expressing this fundamental sense of the value of all things and of the role they play in the web of life. He was expressing thanks.
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