Buddhist Arts-Culture
Tree Ordination Gaining Popularity in Theravada Countries
Staff Reporter, Buddhistdoor International
27/02/2014 23:00 (GMT+7)
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Feb 27 -- As deforestation ravages large parts of the earth, Buddhist monks in some Theravada countries have invented an interesting and innovative method of preserving the ecology. This is a newly adopted feature in the Buddhist rituals, which were not practiced by the earliest generation of Buddhists. Kishani Samaraweera of Sri Lanka’s The Nation reports that this initiative was first taken by a group of “ecology monks” in Thailand. The reporter further states that monks also practice this in Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. At present, this is widely practiced in Thailand.

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A book on Tree Ordination in Thailand| Photo taken from www.booktopia.com.au
 
A recent report by the Friends of the Earth International shows that the ordination of trees is also gaining popularity in Sri Lanka. Hemanth Withange, the Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka, reports that in January 2014, 50 Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, with the assistance of 300 locals and some Muslim leaders, have ordained 1000 trees in the Nilgala forest. This event was initiated by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka.

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Tree ordination by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. Photo taken from The Nation, Sri Lanka
 
Despite its popularity, there is also criticism that the practice of ordaining trees is not “real Buddhism”. For example, a writer of Sri Lanka’s The Island decries tree ordination as “foolery, making non-Buddhists laugh and bring Buddhism to ridicule.” Of course, the Pali canon and the later Buddhist historical texts have no record of such practices. Nevertheless, this practice has benefitted the preservation of ecology, especially in the contemporary era, where global warming is at a critical stage. Furthermore, that the early Buddhist sources not recording such practices does not confirm that the early Buddhists did not appreciate nature or were not concerned for the preservation of ecology. Texts such as, the Vinaya Pitaka, the Thera and Theri Gatha-s point out that the early Buddhists appreciated and enjoyed being with the nature to a great extent, and also prohibited monks from acts that would harm the ecological system. For example, one reason behind the prescription of three months for the rains retreat for monks is not to harm any living being and nature during the monsoon.

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Tree ordination by Cambodian Buddhist monks. Photo taken from www.co2covenant.org
 
Various news reports that trees, which were ordained some years back, are still in existence. When a tree is wrapped with a saffron robe, it becomes a figure of respect, and is guarded by the locals from being cut down. In Buddhist-majority countries, this practice has helped both monks and environmentalists in their activities of preserving the ecological world.

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