Magazine article New Internationalist

Faith in the Forest: All over the World People Are Defending the Forests

Magazine article New Internationalist

Faith in the Forest: All over the World People Are Defending the Forests

Article excerpt

FEBRUARY 1994: Buri Ram Province, Thailand. I'm with an international group joining Phra Pachak Kuttijitto, a Buddhist monk and environmental activist, on a ten - day tudong or forest walk.

I've come here looking for a radically different perspective on activism. One of Phra Pachak's tactics in his battles against illegal logging in these forests is to ordain trees as initiate monks. It's an act of crazy wisdom, protecting the trees from illicit logging by wrapping them in the sacred yellow cloth.

Phra Pachak is a complex man with a checkered past. He was once married with children; a hard - drinking construction worker with a weakness for gambling. His life took a radically different turn after he was near - fatally shot while attempting to collect on a gambling debt. In hospital he had time to think about his life and was soon ordained as an initiate monk.

I began to wander, seeking out teachers all over Thailand. I walked through war zones with bullets flying all around. I slept in caves where the rats would piss in my rice bowl. I was a wild bull. I though I had all the right answers. I built up a lot of power. Despite my increasing strength,' he continued, 'unease began to grow in me. It grew and grew until it became despair. Quite by accident, I came upon an abandoned monastery surrounded by a small forest. In this monastery there was one book. I opened it, and the first thing I read was: "Do not be satisfied or unsatisfied. Detach from praise or criticism. Practise non - self."

This was the beginning of the right path. I stayed in that monastery and rebuilt it with the help of the people of a nearby village. It was there that I began to realize my duty to the forest. You cannot take the forest out of Buddhism. The Buddha reached enlightenment in the forest. I saw that we must exist as a leaf exists...' - and with this Phra Pachak gently picks up a leaf from the forest floor and holds it up - '...we must take only what we need. And we must remember ... impermanence.' With this he gently opens his hand and lets the leaf return to the soil.

When Phra Pachak wandered into the forest in 1989, rural Thailand was in the throes of the Khor Jhor Khor Project, a massive scheme to resettle close to seven million people so as to make way for industrial eucalyptus plantations. Twelve villages in the area were next on the list for destruction, and these communities, lacking a spiritual teacher and desperate for someone to organize their resistance, begged him to stay.

Phra Pachak saw it as his duty to remain and honor their request. He asked the villagers to donate an area for a khet apaiyataan or 'land of forgiveness' where tree - felling and the harming of wildlife would be forbidden. It was in this area that he began to wrap some of the largest and oldest trees with the sacred yellow cloth of the Buddhist clergy. These 'ordained' trees have not been cut, because local people working for illegal loggers feel that this would be tantamount to killing a monk, one of the most unspeakable crimes imaginable.

During this period Phra Pachak also began working with the chiefs of the 25 villages in the district to build a community based conservation organization. Small groups of sympathetic villagers and monks patrol an area of 20,000 rai (about 2,000 hectares) with walkie - talkies and cameras in an attempt to discourage illegal logging. …

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