Why Some Buddhist Monks Ordain Trees

By Livia Gershon
July 17, 2020

All over the world, trees are a symbol of natural ecology that environmentalists rally to protect. In Thailand, anthropologist Nicola Tannenbaum writes, they have a unique method of doing that: symbolically ordaining trees as monks.

Tannenbaum writes that Buddhist monks have long been involved in social movements and development efforts in Thailand. In the early 1980s, they were part of missionary and development programs, supporting the national goals of education, development, and modernization. However, many of them came to see modernization, at least in the form of industrialization, urbanization, and the spread of Western values, as a problem. One particularly important thinker was the monk Buddhadasa, who tied the Buddhist belief in connections among all living beings to ecological work. Influenced by these ideas, some monks drew connections between reliance on environmentally destructive land-clearing for cash crops and the self-destructive drive for material things.

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