We all have our one thing we really connect with— the thing that somehow grounds us or makes us feel better, the place we go or what we lean on when we need things to be stabilized, to bring a sense of calm and peace to our stormy existence. Maybe it’s a golf course, or a yoga pose or a particular beach that always gets you clear.
For me it’s the big tree’s… not just any large tree, specifically the pacific coast Redwood. I just can’t find anything else that makes me feel like they do— complete and insignificant and holy and so peaceful. Everything makes sense almost instantly. I particularly love the ground underneath them, something about the softness of my steps and the giantess of their deep vibe just captivates me.
A few years ago while traveling in Asia, we got off this bus and found ourselves in a forest of trees that were wrapped in cloth. I couldn’t figure out what was going on— the cloth was deliberate and people seemed to be bowing to these trees as they walked by, like it was some kind of holy tree. It’s not that surprising in a Buddhist country to see people bowing to the Bodhi tree, the site of The Buddha’s enlightenment, however these were not Bodhi tree’s… in fact, the only thing special about the tree’s was the cloth they were wrapped in.
I talked with some of the locals and they explained that a monk had just shown up in the village and had been ordaining the trees. He explained his belief that the tree’s were as sacred and holy as any spiritual leader and should be viewed and treated with the same reverence and respect. I wanted to catch up with this monk and Thank him— I imagined what our coasts would look like if 95% of all the redwoods hadn’t been destroyed and I wanted to see how I could help his noble cause.
When we finally reached him, he spoke no English however through an interpreter I shared my gratitude and asked him how he got inspired to do such an ingenious thing. He said that a Thai Monk, Phrakru Pitak Nanthakthun, had been doing it for more than 25 years and inspired him to carry on the tradition.
I bowed to his incredibe efforts and for the next several days as we traveled the same road he had come from I observed thousands of trees covered in the beautiful saffron monks robes. In many areas I witnessed bull dozers and development stopped in it’s tracks… an area would be totally cleared and ready to develop and then next to it an entire forest of ordained tree’s that, thanks to the devout Buddhist practices in these ancient villages, could not be touched.
When I got home I found some information on the Thai Monk who supposedly started it all and now regularly send my blessings to him:
What would the world look like if people believed nature to be as sacred as a spiritual leader?
Phrakru Pitak Nanthakthun, a Buddhist monk in northeast Thailand, has an answer to that question. For 25 years, the monk has conducted ceremonies to “ordain” trees, which he said he hopes will bring an end to deforestation and the decline of the environment.
“When you ordain a tree that tree becomes sacred,” Nanthakthun told BBC. “Once a tree is ordained nobody wants to destroy it.”
Nanthakthun is the abbot at Wat Arunyawas and hosts public tree ordination ceremonies where monks and villagers alike tie orange robes around trees in the area. People see the monks’ robes as sacred, he said, which may encourage them to approach the ordained trees with similar respect.
“People collect the robes to put them around the trees,” the monk said. “And everyone knows the forest is blessed.”
In her 1998 essay “The Ordination of a Tree: The Buddhist Ecology Movement in Thailand,” Susan M. Darlington wrote that Buddhists involved in this kind of environmental action “see their religion as critical for providing practical as well as moral guidelines for ecological conservation.”
The “ecology monks” are those actively engaged in environmental and conservation activities and who respond to the suffering which environmental degradation causes. A major aim of Buddhism is to relieve suffering, the root causes of which are greed, ignorance, and hatred. The monks see the destruction of the forests, pollution of the air and water, and other environmental problems as ultimately caused by people acting through these evils, motivated by economic gain and the material benefits of development, industrialization, and consumerism. As monks, they believe it is their duty to take action against these evils. Their actions bring them into the realm of political and economic debates, especially concerning the rapid development of the Thai economy and control of natural resources.
Nanthakthun’s model has spread to other countries like Laos and Sri Lanka, the monk said, which gives him hope that such actions will make a broad impact on environmental restoration.
“If everyone around the world helps to save the forests, we can tackle global warming and reduce foot shortages and hunger,” he told BBC. “I feel proud of what we’ve done.”