Besides invoking Daoist ideas of honoring nature and protecting the environment, on which more later, monastics have begun to style their mountain and country temples as pollution sanctuaries and are increasingly reinventing themselves as environmentalists.
Mountains are by nature away from cities and industrial zones, plus they tend to rise up into the skies, often reaching above toxic vapors. When I first climbed Huashan in 1991, I was surprised to see real sunlight once I got to a certain level, something entirely absent in the plains and cities below. In addition, the notion of “sacred mountain” encourages a strong sense of protection, not only for humans but also for animals and trees, encouraging biodiversity ad seeing all as part of an integrated universal and cosmic system that should not be tinkered with.
To enhance the purity of their centers, as Yang Shihua, abbot of Maoshan, the center of Highest Clarity Daoism, notes, Daoists erect their structures in an environmentally friendly manner, building around existing trees and rock formations. They use renewal solar energy rather than coal-produced electricity, keep motorized traffic to a minimum, conserve and recycle all materials as much as possible, and in general create a wholesome and healthy environment while encouraging a greater ecological awareness.
In addition, and with full support of the Chinese Daoist Association, they also offer resort-type spa services, often invoking the Daoist ideal of longevity. An example I visited a few years ago is the Daoist Long Life Center in the Blue Iris Garden (Qingzhi yuan 青芷园) condo complex in Beijing. Run by Wang Chengya 王称雅, a Beijing University graduate and White Cloud ordinand, the Center at the time occupied several floors of the community building. Arranged according to fengshui principles, its rooms are extremely well furnished and tastefully decorated with Daoist art.
Clients are first taken to two intake rooms to have themselves evaluated for physical ailments and astrological predispositions. They then receive a treatment plan, which includes dietary suggestions, herbal concoctions, special teas as well as herbal baths, massages, facials, qigong, and healing exercises. The Center employs an extensive staff and has a high rate of success, treating senior party cadres, the prime minister, and increasing numbers of foreigners.
Its model has been replicated widely among Daoist centers and especially mountains, where healthy living is a growing focus—entirely in line with the traditional Daoist view that all spiritual development begins with a healthy body, where qi flows smoothly and harmoniously. Also in line with historical precedent is the notion of temples as resorts—documented as far back as the Tang dynasty 1200 years ago and well described for the early 20th century, city dwellers would relocate to the mountains in the summer to escape the heat and humidity, then use the opportunity to improve their health and learn various longevity techniques—from diet through herbs, teas, exercise, and breathing to deep levels of meditation.
Miller, James. 2017. China’s Green Religion: Daoism and the Quest for a Sustainable Future. New York: Columbia University Press.
Girardot, Norman, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan, eds. 2001. Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Center for the Study of World Religions.