Top Nav

When a Tree is a Monk



Often we can’t see the forest for the trees. But sometimes we might just need to see the tree differently.

I was recently talking with some folks at Interfaith Power & Light, an organization that works with faith groups on climate change. They were telling me about their work with Buddhist monks who mobilize Cambodian communities to save their forests. (You can help by donating.)

For years Buddhist “eco-monks” have been working to preserve threatened forests, wildlife and watersheds. As part of their calling, they help local people understand the value of their environment and work with them to regenerate it. One thing in particular: they ordain trees. Once ordained, the tree is seen as sacred — and protected. Respect for life.

In her newest book, EcoMind, Frances Moore Lappé also talks about how trees are seen, this time in West African Niger. While three-fourths of this country is desert, there’s actually good news. Lappé describes how poor farmers have “regreened” 12.5 million acres.

…a farmer-managed strategy has revived a centuries-old practice of leaving selected tree stumps in fields and protecting their strongest stems as they grow. The renewed trees then help protect the soil, bringing big increases in crop yields, and they provide fruit, nutritious leaves, fodder, and firewood.

She asks, why hadn’t they figured this out long ago?

Well, they had. But in the early twentieth century, French colonial rulers turned trees into state property and punished anyone messing with them. So farmers began to see trees as a risk to be avoided and just got rid of them. But Niger gained its independence in 1960, and over time… farmers’ perceptions changed. They feel now they own the trees in their fields.”

Lappé reports that the farmers have nurtured the growth of around 200 million trees.

Trees once seen as risk are now seen as the path to success.

“The visionary is the only realist,” said Federico Fellini. Sometimes, when we feel stuck, we may just need to become visionaries. We may need to take some time to see the tree differently.

Photo from Interfaith Power & Light

, , , ,

One Response to When a Tree is a Monk

  1. Louise Terzia July 18, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Ordaining trees, what a wonderful idea. And “the visionary is the only realist.” Both good things to think about today. Thanks, Tom!

Leave a Reply