Sie sind auf Seite 1von 16

The Ordination of a Tree: The Buddhist Ecology Movement in Thailand Author(s): Susan M. Darlington Source: Ethnology, Vol.

37, No. 1 (Winter, 1998), pp. 1-15 Published by: University of Pittsburgh- Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773845 Accessed: 02/09/2008 07:47
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=upitt. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

http://www.jstor.org

THE ORDINATION OF A TREE: THE BUDDHIST ECOLOGY MOVEMENT IN THAILAND1


SusanM. Darlington College Hampshire
As part of a growingenvironmental movementin Thailand,a smallnumberof Buddhist monks engage in ecological conservation projects. These "ecology monks" teach ecologicallysound practicesamong Thai farmersand criticizerapid economicdevelopment nationwide (which they see as one of the primary causes of the country's environmentalcrisis). This article examineshow one northern Thai monk used a tree ordination,adaptedfrom a traditionalBuddhistritual, to build villagers'commitment to his ecology projects. (Buddhism,environmentalism, ritual, Thailand)

A Buddhist and nations, ecology movement, developingin Thailand otherBuddhist and addresseslocal and nationalproblemsof deforestation ecologicaldestruction. in While this is only one aspect of growing environmentalism Thailand(Hirsch the Buddhistsinvolved in this movementsee their religion as criticalfor 1996), providingpracticalas well as moral guidelinesfor ecologicalconservation.This articlefocuseson how Buddhists, especiallymonks,puttheirconceptsof Buddhism of andecology intoaction,andthe consequent reinterpretations bothsets of concepts thatresultfrom suchbehavior.As Buddhism increasingly is usedto promotesocial in Thai society is also being implicitly activism such as conservation,its role the and Whilethe exactchangesthatwill occurareunknown, challenged reworked. how Buddhist movement's direction be glimpsed examining may by potential ecology rituals, particularly ordainingtrees, promotethe ecology movement, lending it economic,political,social, andmoralforce. The "ecology monks" are those actively engaged in environmentaland conservationactivities and who respondto the sufferingwhich environmental is causes.A majoraimof Buddhism to relievesuffering,the rootcauses degradation of which are greed, ignorance,and hatred.The monkssee the destruction the of forests, pollution of the air and water, and other environmental problems as causedby peopleactingthrough theseevils, motivated economicgain by ultimately As and the materialbenefitsof development, and industrialization, consumerism. believe it is theirdutyto take actionagainstthese evils. Their actions monks,they bringthem into the realmof politicalandeconomicdebates,especiallyconcerning resources. of the rapiddevelopment the Thaieconomyandcontrolof natural the relationship betweenBuddhism Thescholarly debate hasarisen that regarding ethic whether Buddhism andecology revolvesaround promotesan environmentalist andwhat the basis of such an ethic is withinthe religion.Muchof this debatehas suchas the Pali canon,either on occurred an abstract level, lookingto the scriptures, to uphold or to refute the idea that Buddhismsupportsenvironmentalism (e.g., Chatsumarn1987, 1990; Harris 1991; Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel 1995; Thurman 1984). Otherwork has focusedon the forestmonks of Thailandand Sri
ETHNOLOGYvol. 37 no. 1, Winter 1998, pp. 1-15. ETHNOLOGY, c/o Departmentof Anthropology,The University of Pittsburgh,PittsburghPA 15260 USA Copyright? 1998 The University of Pittsburgh.All rights reserved.

ETHNOLOGY

between the Sangha Lanka, meditationmasters who emphasizea relationship in andthe forestbutnotthe monks'involvement explicitenvironmental (monkhood) activism(Chatsumarn 1990;Tambiah 1984;Taylor1993a).A few studiesexamine the interaction betweenBuddhist principlesand conceptsof ecology; looking, for of withintemplegrounds example,at the promotion wildlifeandplantconservation due to the Buddhistnotion of preservinglife generally(Pei 1985; Sponsel and Natadecha the basesof ecologyandhow daily 1988).Whileunderstanding scriptural coincideswith conservation critical,for the mostpartthese studieshave is practice not examinedthe consciousefforts of Buddhiststo become actively engaged in crisis beyond the inherentconnectionbetween dealing with the environmental Buddhistteachingsand nature.This essay describesthe responseof a handfulof Theravada Buddhistmonksto the severe environmental crisis in Thailand its and impacton the lives of ruralpeoples. THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND POLITICAL CONTEXT thatBuddhism been "co-opted arguethe has to Althoughit has been suggested casefor a moreenvironmentally to friendlyapproach development" (Rigg 1995:12), the severityof the environmental crisis and its link with development Thailand in cannotbe denied. As will be exploredbelow, the monks are responding the to of on consequences environmental degradation ruralpeopleandtheirqualityof life. Thedebates environmentalism inherently are surrounding political,involvingcontrol over and access to naturalresources(especiallyland, forests, and water)and the causes of rapiddeforestation otherenvironmental and problems.The focus here is on deforestation becauseof its relevance the ruralpeoplewith whomthe monks to work; deforestation, however, is only one element of a complex environmental situationin a rapidlychanging national economy. The rateof deforestation Thailand higherthanin any Asiancountryexcept in is andpossiblyBorneo.The officialfiguresgiven by the Royal Nepal(Hirsch1993:2) Forest Department (RFD) indicatethat in 1961 (when the currentdrive toward economicdevelopment seriouslybegan),53 per cent of the nationwas coveredin forest.By 1986, this figuredropped between and29 percent. Nongovernmento 25 tal organization estimatesplace the currentfigure as low as 15 per cent (NGO) (Hirsch 1993:26-27; Pinkaewand Rajesh 1991:22-23;Trebuil 1995:68). These a 75 figures represent decreasefrom approximately per cent forest cover in 1913 (Hirsch1993:27). The differences betweenthe officialfiguresandNGOestimatesare largelydue to how forestis defined.The RFD includes forestreservelands,despitethe factthat muchof the arealabeledas suchhas beencleared.They also includeeconomicand productiveforests, includingmonocropplantationssuch as eucalyptusforests. Environmental NGOsrarely consider theselandsas forested. forestreservelands The are particularly as problematic even areaswhich still have forest cover (usually farmers who eitherlivedthere forest)tendto be inhabited small-scale secondary by

THE ORDINATION A TREE OF

it at the time the government into designated as forestreservelandor latermigrated the areain searchof land.Thesepeoplehaveno legaltitle to the landalthough they dependon it for theirlivelihood. in Environmentalism Thailandis not equivalentto the Western distinction In and betweendevelopment pristinenatural areasthatmustbe preserved. Thailand natureis inextricably linkedwith economics.The criticalissue is accessto landand resourcesand the need to maintainsustainable livelihoods.The debatesrevolve whose conceptsof sustainable livelihoodareto be upheld. around The causes of deforestation, economic and political, complex and inherently in from povertyin ruralareasto economicdevelopment consumerism and range include commerciallogging (illegal since 1989), Bangkok(Rigg 1995:6). They in fuel gathering wood andmakingcharcoal ruralpoor, andswiddenagriculture by areas(although blameplacedon swiddenagriculturalists the often ignores highland the recentdecreasein available landthatwouldallowsustainable fallowperiodsand the uplandmigrationof increasingnumbersof lowlandpeoples). Ruralpeople, to cashencouraged clearmoreforeststo join in the market economy,haveincreased crop production,but at the cost of clearing naturalforests. National security, basedin remoteforest insurgency especiallyduringthe pre-1980era of Communist to contributed deforestation buildingroads to make the forests more areas, by in couldhide. Farmers accessibleanddiminishthe areasin whichthe Communists searchof landquicklymovedintothe secured forests.Theprocessof stateformation with the centerin Bangkokover the past century, linkedthe nationalperipheries similarly creatinggreater access to previouslyisolated areas (Hirsch 1993:29). Cultural as views also promoteddeforestation the forests (paa and theuan)were seen as wild or untamed(Stott 1991) and availableto the general traditionally as These population commonlandto be broughtinto civilizationand productivity. factorscontributed deforestation the integration the ruralpopulation to and of into mainstream discourse Boththeenvironmental (Hirsch1993:14). political degradation the and the limits placedupon ruralpeoples throughpublicpolicy (in particular, forest reservelandsin to effortsby the government removefarmersfrom national of or favor of eitherconservation economicdevelopment productive forests)affect These issues haveprovokedsome monks the qualityof life of the ruralpopulation. into sociallyconsciousactionin the nameof religiouspracticeandresponsibility. ECOLOGY MONKS In Thailand, self-proclaimed are the ecology monks(phranakanuraksa) at the core of the Buddhistecology movement.Althoughsome of these environmental in activistsparticipate the scholarlydebateon the issue, theirprioritieslie in action and to preservevanishing forests,watersheds, wildlife, andto mitigatethe negative on of their disappearance people's lives. Their efforts provide the consequences in rather than the for motivation re-examining scriptures light of environmentalism the To the study of the canon creatingthe impetusfor conservation. understand

ETHNOLOGY

in in and current nations,it ecology movement Thailand, ultimately otherBuddhist to is important examinethe effect of the practiceof the ecology monkson religion and in Thailand,to see how they base their projectson Buddhism, reinterpreting and of rearticulating religiousconcepts,theroleof the Sangha, the function Buddhist ritualsin the process. in The number monksinvolvedin the ecologymovement Thailand, of although withthepopularity environmentalism has recently of small, grownrapidly2 currently in sweepingThailand.Given the respectthe Sanghacommands Thai society, the throughthe potentialfor their ecologicalactivismis high. This can be illustrated in Thailand. of anecologyproject conducted 1991in NanProvince,northern analysis This project,co-ordinated a Buddhist involvedthecreation sanctificaand monk, by tion of a protected forestthrough ordination the largestremaining the of community tree in the forest. The tree ordination providesinsight into how ecology monks Thailandare rethinkingBuddhismand adaptingBuddhistrituals to throughout their cause. Their concernis as much to maintain relevanceof the the promote in a rapidlychangingworld of industrialization modernization to and as religion awarenessamonglocal people and the Thai nationas a create an environmental whole. The ecology monkscome from a cross-section the Thai Sangha.A few of of themare basedin urbantemples,andare involvedin providing scriptural justifications andscholarlyexaminations the movement of rather thantakingan activerole. The majorityof the activistmonksare from ruralareas,the places most directly affected by threats of environmental degradation.They come from both the Mahanikaiand Thammayut sects. A few are rankedmembers of the Sangha in hierarchy,such as PhraPhothirangsri ChiangMai Province,and come under monks.Evenwhile providingan greaterscrutinyandcriticismthanless prominent to alternative the traditional of activities theSangha, of theecologymonksI have few encountered to the moreconservative radicalbreak-away sects, such as the belong SantiAsoke or Thammakaay movements. Most of the monkstry to avoid explicit Phra political statements(althoughthere are well-knownexceptions,particularly of Prajak Khuttajitto; Taylor1993b, 1996;Reynolds1994), but the politicalnature the issuescannotbe ignored.Mostecologymonksaresupported assistedby local or and even nationalenvironmental NGOs, some of the loci of political opposition withinThai societytoday. Overthe pastcentury,the government takenovermanytraditional has activities of Thaivillage monks.Whilethe templesremain spiritual the heartof villages, only a few still house schools or serve as health-care community or centers(Darlington 1965 [1960]; Tambiah1970, 1976). To compensate maintain and 1990; Kingshill close contact with the laity, many monks perform an increasingnumber of ceremonies.For example,the consecration Buddhaimages has become more of (D. frequent K. Swearer, pers. comm.).The moreactive,visible, andin manyways controversial has response beento movetoward sociallyengagedaction.(See Queen andKing 1996 for a good overviewof engagedBuddhist in movements Asia.) This

THE ORDINATION OF A TREE

in first manifested itself in Thailand the 1970sthrough rise of the development the madeup of mostly rural,lowermonks(phranakphadthanaa,an informal group ranked monksworkingindependently the government), of who promotegrassroots the economicdevelopment throughout country(Darlington1990; Somboon1987, 1988). Fromthe development monksemergedthe ecology monks,who see theirwork as as monksandBuddhists promoting human towardthe natural (and responsibility of inherentlysocial) environment. They stress an interpretation the religion that of emphasizesthe Buddha'sconnectionwith natureand the interdependence all While many of these monks work independently their conservation in things. they are awareof the actionsof othermonks,shareideas, information, programs, in seminars andexperiences, participate regional national and and (e.g., Thai training for Commission Development Someprovinces, suchas Nakorn 1992). Inter-Religious Ratchasima SuratThani,also haveco-operative and associations monksinvolved of in ecological projects. Through their preaching, educationalprograms, and conservation Thai society's view of activities,the ecology monkshave influenced Buddhismand, to some degree, its practice. They have raised the nation's consciousnessregardingits environmental as responsibilities their activitieshave and drawnsignificant attention mediacoverage.3 Criticism has been leveled at many ecology monks by the government, and members the Sangha becominginvolved of for developers, the moreconservative in politicalissues and activitiesseen as inappropriate Buddhist for monks(such as the construction hydroelectric TheThaiSangha traditionally of has dams). protesting whencompared with the monksin Burma,Sri Lanka, beenconservative (especially Tibet, and Vietnam), rarely making political statementsor criticisms of the The monksandespecially ecologymonks the government. actionsof thedevelopment havechallenged and some of the development of the government questioned policies the industrialization increased and of consumerism Thaisociety.Theircritics,many of whomtendto benefitfromthe current of direction Thaidevelopment, believethe role shouldbe strictlyin the spiritual realm,keepingclearof politicaland Sangha's economic issues. Some, such as the Sanghahierarchy,are concernedthat such actionscouldharmthe reputation the Sanghaas a whole, of controversial potentially to moralguidelines the people. lesseningits influencein providing Regardlessof the reactionsto them, the ecology monks arguethat it is their to as responsibility monksand as Buddhists becomeengagedin this manner.The in Buddhists general;see QueenandKing Buddhist ecologists(andsociallyengaged Commission Development International and Network for 1996;ThaiInter-Religious of EngagedBuddhists1990) stress their connectionwith the Buddha'sideas of the admonitions relievesuffering to nature, originsof the religion,andthe Buddha's in the world. Their movementdoes not advocatea new form of Buddhism,they argue,but is an effortto put the basic ideas of the religionin termsthat meet the needs of the modernworld. They see this movementas one of "radical conservato of as to tism,"4returning the originalteachings the Buddha applied contemporary

ETHNOLOGY

situations.This movementis not limitedto Thailand,but is part of a growing international Buddhist movement goes beyondnational sectarian that and differences to promoteecologicalawareness. Therehavebeenmonksin Thailand aboutthe environment explicitlyconcerned in for some time, such as PhraAjarnPongsak Techadhammo ChiangMai (Suchira in Bhikkhu SuratThani,but their actionsand 1992; Renardn.d.) and Buddhadasa had limitedscope. In recentyears, the Buddhist teachings ecology movementhas coalescedinto a consciousandsomewhat co-ordinated institution. coherence Its and the increased and co-operation dialogueamongmonksfromdifferent regionsof the to and of countryhave drawnpublicattention the movement greateracceptance its methodsand the appropriateness such actionsby monks.This new approach of to in Thaisocietyandthecreative of religionandmonks application theecologymonks' to ritualstools of social actionmay changethe concepts philosophy makeBuddhist and practice of Thai Buddhism.One example is the work of Phrakhru Pitak of Nanthakhun Nan Province, the monk who co-ordinated tree ordination the examined here. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Phrakhru Pitak'ssponsorship treeordinations otherenvironmental of and actions camefromhis experience a remotemountain in and villageaffected deforestation by the promotionof cash crops andconsumerism. the mid-1970s,shortlyafterhis In and damaged ordination,PhrakhruPitak became alarmedat the deforestation in watersheds the regionaround homevillagedueto extensivelogging(legaland his and Thai farmersin orderto illegal) by large companies clear-cutting northern by had plantmaize. The villagerscontinually to cut into the forestto grow maizeas a sourceof income,andthe maizeitselfcausedsignificant erosionand supplementary to the soil, necessitating furtherclear-cutting agricultural for land. This damage causedhis districtto becomethe poorestanddriestin the province,withthe highest rateof adultsmigrating findworkin Bangkok. yearsthe monkpreached to For about betweensocial and natural conservation,stressingthe interconnection ecological environments humankind's and to responsibility each. Phrakhru Pitak's preaching,the destruction continued.The villagers Despite cameto him to makereligiousmeritandlistento his sermons,thenreturned home to clearthe land.The loggingcompanies the forestandthe villagerswere either cut too afraidof retribution too unorganized opposethem.If theysaw a connection or to between theiractions,theirincreasing crisis,theydid poverty,andtheenvironmental aboutit. In early 1990 Phrakhru PitakvisitedPhrakhru Manasof Phayao nothing with performing firstsymbolicordination a tree the of Province,the monkcredited to makepeopleawareof environmental In Pitak responsibility. June1990,Phrakhru movedbeyondpreaching ecologicalmessageandsponsored tree ordination an a in the community forestof his homevillage(see Darlington andin July 1991he n.d.), a ten performed secondto sanctifythe forestsurrounding neighboring villages.

THE ORDINATION A TREE OF

These ceremonieswere only a small portionof the monk's projects,which included severalmonthsof educating issues, training villagersaboutenvironmental novicesaboutthe natural the of environment, promotion economic youngtemporary to of alternatives growingmaize as a cash crop, and the establishment protected forests (see Darlington Institute1992; Saneh n.d.; Local Development community andYos 1993). Phrakhru Pitakpromoted self-reliant projects,such as development integrated agriculture emphasizing plantingfor subsistenceratherthan for sale, becauseprotecting forestsimplyby denyingthe villagersaccessto it wouldnot the be successful. Since the villagersgained much of their income from the forest, economic alternativesneeded to be establishedto ensure their co-operationin the were also established manage forests, to the preserving forest.Localcommittees patrol the sanctifiedareas against incursion, and sponsor continuedecological activitiesto keepthe commitment the projectsalive. of The tree ordination the symboliccenterof Phrakhru was Pitak'sconservation The discussionswith the villagersleadingup to the ordination the and program. conservationactivities organizedby them afterward were all motivatedby the emotionaland spiritualcommitment createdby the ceremony. Throughout the Buddhist symbols were used to stress the religious connectionto ceremony, the with conservation, villagers'interdependence the forest, andthe moralbasis of the project. THE TREEORDINATION CEREMONY Tree ordination ceremonies (buatton mai) are performed manyparticipants by in the Buddhistecology movementin orderto raise the awarenessof the rate of in environmental destruction Thailand to build a spiritualcommitment and among local peopleto conserving forestsandwatersheds. the ordinations Some large-scale havebeencarriedout for publicity publicsympathy makethe government and to see the environmental impactof some of its economicdevelopment plans.(Thiswas the case in the southern provinceof SuratThaniin March1991, when over 50 monks and lay people entereda national parkto wrapmonks'robes aroundall the large trees in a rainforest threatened the construction a dam [Pongpet1991].) Most of by in tree ordinations aimedat localareas,andvillagers,through are theirparticipation these ceremonies,signifytheiracceptance this adaptation a Buddhist of of ritualto the sanctifythe forestandtherebyprotectit. The regulations monksestablishlimit theiruse of the forest, forbidding cuttingof any trees or killingof any wildlife the withinit. In July 1991, I attended tree ordination a in ceremony Nan Provincein northern Thailand Phrakhru PitakNanthakhun. the was sponsored by Although treeordination the culmination monthsof preparation was one aspectof a largerconservation of and the involvedonly a day anda half of activities.Phrakhru program, actualceremony Pitakinvitedover twentymonksfromNan andothernorthern provincesto assistin the the of of performing ceremony.Recognizing importance gainingthe support the

ETHNOLOGY

and for Pitak success,Phrakhru Sangha hierarchy the localgovernment the project's consulted with and involved membersof the province's Sangha organization, of especially the seniormostmonk in the three subdistricts the ten participating villages, the DistrictOfficer,andotherlocal bureaucrats.5 Manylocal government officials and mid-level members of the Sangha hierarchyparticipatedin the nature potentially and controversial ceremony.Giventhe independent aspectsof the activitiesof most sociallyengagedmonks,Phrakhru Pitak'sattention convincing to the Sanghahierarchy the government the project'simportance significant and of is for assuringits success. The nightbeforethe ceremony of representatives Wildlife FundThailand affiliateof WorldWildlifeFund)showedslides to the villagers. (an Theircosponsorship the project of Pitak'sworkon a national placedPhrakhru stage and gave it furtherlegitimacy.Not only is WFT one of the largestenvironmental NGOsin Thailand, it also hasroyalpatronage. involvement NGOsin the but The of work of ecology monksis essentialto muchof theirsuccess, although the same at time it raises potentialpolitical issues, as many NGOs are openly critical of government policy. The ordinationceremonybegan in the morningwith a modificationof a traditional this ritual,thautphaapaa (thegiving of the forestrobes).Traditionally, ritualis performed Thailay peopleto donaterobes,money,andothernecessities by to monksfor religiousmerit.The fundsraisedsupport monksandthe upkeepof the the temple. Since the 1980sthis ritualhas been increasingly used acrossthe nation to raise funds for local development those contributing projects; offeringsto the monksgain merit, andthe monksallow the moneydonated be used for projects to a a rangingfrom buildingor repairing school to establishing local creditunionor store. People'scommitment such projectsis often stronger to village co-operative becauseof the religiousconnotations behindthe sourceof the funds-they not only meritfromthe original donations thephaa ceremony, fromsupporting at but gain paa the development sanctioned the monksas well. project by Phrakhru Pitakaddeda newtwistto this ceremony. Severalnurseries the around offered12,000 seedlingsto the monks. provincial capitalandsome wealthypatrons Along with the donationof seedlings,therewere severalother innovations.The theirofferingsin threegroups,representing threesubdistricts the villagersparaded in whichthe ten participating modeltreeswith villagesbelonged.Whiletheycarried simple offeringsof money and necessities,they did not dance,drink, or play the traditional musicthatusuallyaccompanies phaapaaparade a 1990:132(Darlington skits they had prepared which 37). Rather,each of the three groupsperformed their ideas of conservingthe forest. Two were straightforward; for presented one grouppantomimed of seedlings.The mostdramatic the three example, planting included The of politicalcommentary. villagersactedoutan incident the forestbeing cut down, passingthe blamefrom the minorityhill people, to the northern Thai for the villagers,untilit finallysettledon the government not protecting forest.The forestconservation the economicinterestsinvolved and politicaldebateconcerning in its destruction underliesall conservation activities.6 is unusual,however,for It

THE ORDINATION A TREE OF

these issues to be broughtso openlyto the surface,especiallyduringa Buddhist the ritual.All threeskits emphasized urgentneed for the villagersto conservethe forest. Once the forest robes were rituallyacceptedby Phrakhru Pitak, he and the monk presentacceptedthe seedlings, thus sanctifyingthem and highest-ranking merit on the donorsand the participants. few of the seedlingswere A conferring around templegrounds at the site of the treeordination partof the the and as planted ceremony.Mostwere givento the villagersto reforestareasthathadbeendenuded, following the patternestablishedby phaa paa ceremoniesconductedto raise developmentproject funds. These new trees were chosen carefully;they were withouthavingto be cut down. species, such as fruit trees, that were profitable Having been sanctifiedand given by the monks furtherprotectedthem, as the villagerswould see cuttingthemas a formof religiousdemerit(baap). climbedintotrucks,vans, Afterplanting treesat the temple,the participants the to andbusesto makethe five-kilometer intothe mountains the treechosento be trip ordained.Over 200 people accompanied more thantwentymonksto the site, the whichhadearlierbeenprepared volunteer workersandvillagers.A by development four-foot-tall Buddhaimagehadbeen placedon a concretestandat the base of the around site hadbeentrimmed,anda tentfor the the gianttree. The thickvegetation that over twenty years ago, when he monks put up. Phrakhru Pitak commented walkedthe eightkilometers fromhis villagethrough deepforestto school along the this route,this tree was not unusual its heightor size. Now it clearlystood out for tree. Onecouldnow see for milesfromit acrossa landscape as the tallestremaining dottedwith nearlyverticalmaizefields, visiblebecauseof the deforested hillsides. It is important notethatin this ceremony,like all treeordinations, monks the to did not claim to be fully ordaining tree, as that statusis reservedfor humans the The ceremonywas used symbolically remindpeoplethatnatureshouldbe to only. of respectandvitalfor human well as all treated equalwith humans, as as deserving life. The opportunity the ordination used to build spiritualcommitment of was to the forest and to teach in an active and creative way the value of preserving The conservation. mainemphasis Phrakhru of Pitak'ssermonduringthe ritualwas and on the relationship betweenthe Buddha nature, the interdependence and between the conditionsof the forestandthe villagers'lives. Duringthe ritual,at the samepoint in which a new monkwould be presented the with his robes, two monkswrapped orangerobesaround tree's trunk,marking A from its sanctification. crowdof photographers localandBangkok and newspapers and crewsdocumented the NGOs,oneanthropologist, two videocamera participating that quickact. The robesstoodas a reminder to harmor cut the tree-or any of the forest-was an act of demerit.Whileit was not unusual findbodhitrees (thetree to under whichthe Buddha achieved withsacredcloth, in those enlightenment) wrapped cases the treewas already seen as holy; the clothservedmoreto honorthe treethan to sanctifyit. The innovation herewas thatthe tree ordained not already was treated

10

ETHNOLOGY

as sacredbutwas madeso through ritual.The orangerobessymbolized new the its status. the As in mostordinations, ritualincluded sanctification waterin a monk's the of alms bowl. A smallBuddha was placedin the bowl andcandlewax dripped image intothe waterwhile the monkschanted. this Traditionally, holy water(nammon)is on a sprinkled the participants, conferring blessingon them. This wateris seen as rituallyvery powerful,andpeoplealwaysmakesureto receivesome of the drops from the monk (Olson 1991). On this occasion,Phrakhru Pitakused the blessed waterin an originalmanner. Eachof the headmen fromthe ten villagesdranksome of the waterin frontof the largeBuddha imageto seal theirpledgeto protectthe forest.Thisuse of a sacredsymbolto strengthen anoathwas another such innovation which reinforcedthe notion of environmentalism a moral action. It made the as or of action:protecting wouldconfergood it protection destruction the forestkarmic merit(bun),destroying bringing it of affect bad,the balance whichwouldultimately or one's rebirth even qualityof living in this life. Beyondthat,it drewon the belief of the villagersin the magicalpowersof the holy water;while specific sanctions werenotmentioned failingto uphold headmen's for the were pledge,the implications that breakingit would involve going againstthe power securedby the use of the water. the (the Perhaps mosttellingaspectof theceremony one whichin itselfraisesthe most questionsor is opento the greatest of alternative is variety interpretations) the thatwas nailedto the tree priorto the ordination. formalmentionof the No plaque sign was made during the ritual, nor was much discussion or fanfare made concerningits contentor placement.Yet it always drawsthe most attentionand discussion fromThaiwho areintroduced it. Thesign reads,"Tham to laaypaa khee thamlaay chaat,"whichcanbe translated, destroy forestis to destroylife." "To the The word chaat (life) is problematic can carryseveralmeanings,all of which and in rebirth),or nation.The sentencecouldthusbe read, "To destroythe forestis to destroylife, one's rebirth,or the nation." The first meaning is the most straightforward from the point of view of environmentalists whose concernsdo not necessarilyinvolve either religious or nationalist connotations. it also impliesthe Buddhist thatone shouldrespect Yet idea andcare for all life becauseany beingcouldhavebeen one's motherin a previous life. The secondmeaning,to destroyone's rebirth,invokesthe conceptof kamma. It raisesthe ideathatdestroying forestis an act of demeritandconsequently the has a negativeinfluenceon how one is rebornin one's next life. The thirdpossibility, thatof destroying nation the both and (meaning territory people;Reynolds1977:274, 1994:442),is the mostcomplex.It evokesnationalist feelings, linkingthe condition of the forest with that of the state. It drawsupon the moralconnectionbetween nation(chaat),religion(satsana),andmonarchy the (mahakeset), trinityof concepts which supposedlymakesup Thailand's identity(Reynolds1977, 1994). Even this is Whileit invokesthevillagers'loyaltyto thenationandthe meaning double-edged.
relate to the issue of conservation on various levels.7 Chaatcan mean life, birth (as

THE ORDINATION A TREE OF

11

the king in protecting forest, it also calls uponthe nationitself to upholdits moral the to preserve forest.Giventhe politicalundertones the conservaof responsibility tion issue, it is unlikelythatthis implicitmeaningis presentby merecoincidence. The use of the word chaat on the sign demonstrates complexity and the to significanceof the tree ordination. Conceptsof religionare being reinterpreted at promoteenvironmentalism the sametime the latteris linkedthroughmoralties withlocalandnational the and politicalandeconomicissues.Throughout ordination, the largerprojectof whichit was a part,Phrakhru Pitakextended traditional his role as spiritual and moral leader of lay villagers to embrace an activism which necessitates The in is politicalinvolvement. samekindof role enlargement recreated runby ecology monks,fromtree ordinations the establishment and of everyproject sacredcommunityforests to tree-planting ceremoniesand exorcismsor long-life ceremonies sites threatened ecologicaldestruction. at by THE MORALITY ENVIRONMENTALISM OF Monksarenot supposed be concerned to withworldlyissuessuchas politics.At the same time, however, the ecology monks see environmental destruction a as crucialfactorin theirmainconcern-humansuffering.They cannotavoid a certain in degreeof involvement the formerif they are to deal with the latter.They feel a as monksto teachpeopleenvironmental awareness show themthe and responsibility path to relieving their suffering.The root causes of sufferingare, in Buddhist and of philosophy,greed, ignorance, hatred.As the destruction the forestis caused these evils (through selfish aims at economicgain or unconsidered use by people's of natural resourcesto meet needs arisingfrom povertyand overly rapiddeveloptraditional ment),themonkssee it as theirdutyto adapt religiousconceptsandrituals to gain the villagers'acceptance commitment theirecologicalaims. and to The destruction the environment not a significant of was issue in Thailand until the rapidindustrialization the country of becamea national afterWorldWar priority II (Sponseland Natadecha 1988:305).Even then, it was not until the 1980s that nature conservation becamea widespread concern,despitethe earliereffortsof such environmental NGOs as Wildlife Fund Thailandand the Projectfor Ecological Recovery.The adoptionof the issue by the ecology monksbeginningin the late 1980shas raisedthe movement a new level. It can no longerbe seen simplyas an to economicor politicaldebatebetweenenvironmentalists developers, has now and but beenplacedon a moralplane.The monksare concerned with the sufferingof both humans wildlifewhichresultsfromthedestruction theforestsandwatersheds. and of As it is a moral issue, the monksare interpreting scriptures supporttheir the to actionsandareadapting traditional ritualsandsymbolsto involvelay villagersin the movement. The ecology monksarewalkinga fine linebetween theirtraditional responsibilities as spiritualleadersand their new practiceas social activists. They are consciously using the formerto supportand even justify the latter, to counterthe

12

ETHNOLOGY

criticismsthattheirenvironmental effortsare inappropriate monks.The resultis for a complexinterplay between traditional religiousconcepts,symbols,andrituals,and moraldebatesof politicalandeconomicissues.Whilethe focusof specificactivities is such as tree ordinations predominantly local areas, the innovativeuse of on traditional the and rituals,such as the parade skits accompanying phaapaaton mai of andthe implication signs like the one nailedto the tree in Nan, place ceremony, the issue on a national the politicallevel as well. Through use of wordslike chaat, the monks raise issues that questionthe role and responsibility the local and of in national and governments deforestation conservation. of evenchallenged, the in Similarly,thepractice religionitselfis beingchanged, in has Buddhism Thailand becomeless relevant daily life over the past to process. in involvement lay life throughschools, government centurybecauseof increasing healthcare, development improved projects,andotherareas.The Buddhist ecology the modelof the workof development movement, monks,is not allowing following the religionto becomerelegated a secondary to placein Thaisociety. It challenges the Sangha,as well as the Thai people, to reconsiderits role and not to accept or complacency merelyperformritualsthathave no directrelevancefor relieving in daily life. It forcesBuddhists question thinkaboutthe causesof to and suffering even whenthesecausesare controversial political.Whilethe or people'ssuffering, activistmonks'aim is to relievesuffering maintain relevance the religion and the of in a changing in and the society,thishasalsoresulted questioning rethinking function of the religionitself. The use of traditional Buddhistrituals(such as ordinations the phaapaa and and of ceremony) the invocation powerful religioussymbols(suchas holy waterand monks'robes, andthe implication wordslike chaatin the plaqueon the ordained of tree in Nan Province)serve as vehicles which simultaneously preservereligious use in conceptsand sentimentsand challengetheir traditional and interpretations Thailand. ecology monksareresponding whattheyperceiveas threats or, The to to to put it more mildly, inevitable changesin theirsocial position.They are making consciouschoices and actions,guidedby long-standing religiousconceptssuch as andkarmic andsocialrelations between Sangha the lay the and action, merit-making As a consequence, theirrole, theconcepts practice the religion,and and of villagers. the relation betweenthe religion(andits practitioners) the stateareall changing. and While the scriptural behindthe ecology movementare important to justifications the or the of understand, practicewhichaccompanies motivates re-examination the canon demonstrates that the process cannot be examinedsolely on an abstract level. The case of the tree ordination Nan illustratesthe social, in theological political, and economicissues involved,and revealsthe levels at which the major changesare takingplace. This dynamicprocess of changeis far from complete.The Buddhist ecology movement still growingandbecomingmorevocal andcontroversial, is challenging destruction causedby policiesof the government or specificcases of environmental economicdevelopment of and plans. The responses the government, industrialists,

THE ORDINATION A TREE OF

13

generalmembersof the Sangha,as well as the Sanghahierarchy,all need to be to on considered judgethe full effectof this movement theconceptsof Buddhism and in as they areinterpreted practiced Thaisociety.It is apparent Thai and that ecology Buddhismis changing dramatically and, despite some efforts to use it as a conservativeforce to supportthe status quo and governmentpolicies, it has tremendous changein Thailand.The potentialto effect social and environmental extentand success of these efforts, andthe true directionof the changesinvolved, remainto be seen.
NOTES 1. Research, conducted in ThailandJune throughAugust 1991, August 1992 through July 1993, and July through December 1994, was made possible by grantsfrom the Joint Committeeon Southeast Asia of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, with funds provided by the National Endowmentfor the Humanitiesand the Ford Foundation,the Southeast Asian Council of the Association of Asian Studies, and the Ford FoundationComparativeScientific Traditions program of HampshireCollege. I thank David Brawn and Ariel Heryanto for helpful suggestions on an early draft of this article, and the National Research Council of Thailand for research permission. 2. While it is difficult to determine membership in a category such as "ecology monks," as many monks are interested in environmentalwork but do not label themselves as such, a sense of the scope of the movement can be gained from looking at the participationin a three-day conference (held near Bangkok in July 1991) cosponsored by 23 nongovernmental environmental and development organizations. The organizers expected around 60 monks to attend; over 200 actually registered. 3. From June to August 1991, there were articles on the conservationwork of monks at least weekly in both Thai and English-languagenewspapers.While much of the coverage focused on the case of Phra Prajak, the monk who was arrested twice in 1991 for his ecological work as it conflicted with government policies concerning national forest land, the work of other ecology monks also received some attention. On the legal case concerning Phra Prajak, see Reynolds (1994) and Taylor (1993b). 4. This term is borrowed from the title of a book in honor of one of the best-known Thai monks, BuddhadasaBhikkhu,who called for social action as an aspect of Buddhistpractice (Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development and InternationalNetwork of Engaged Buddhists 1990). 5. In later projects, PhrakhruPitak involved provincial government officials and Sangha, including the governor and military leaders. 6. Economic enterprisesthat destroy naturalforests include the creation of eucalyptus plantationsand logging hardwood trees such as teak. The former is occurring primarily in the northeast legally, and at a rapid rate (see Lohmann 1991; Sanitsuda 1992a, 1992b), while the latter continues throughoutthe country despite a nationalban passed in 1989. The widespread belief is that both frequently occur with the backing of factions within local, regional, and nationalgovernments and the military (Pinkaew and Rajesh 1991). 7. I thank Dr. Thongchai Winichakul and Dr. Robert Bickner for pointing out to me the several meanings of chaat as used in the sentence on the plaque. BIBLIOGRAPHY ChatsumarnK. 1987. How BuddhismCan Help ProtectNature. Tree of Life: Buddhismand Protection of Nature, ed. S. Davies, pp. 7-16. Geneva. 1990. Buddhist Monks and Forest Conservation. Radical Conservatism: Buddhism in the Contemporary World, ed. Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development and the InternationalNetwork of Engaged Buddhists, pp. 301-09. Bangkok.

14

ETHNOLOGY

Darlington, S. M. 1990. Buddhism, Morality and Change: The Local Response to Development in Thailand. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor. n.d. PracticalSpiritualityand CommunityForests: Monks, Ritualand Radical Conservatism in Thailand. Environmental Discourses and HumanWelfare in South and SoutheastAsia, eds. A. L. Tsing and P. Greenough. Harris, I. 1991. How Environmentalistis Buddhism?Religion 21:101-14. Hirsch, P. 1993. Political Economy of Environmentin Thailand. Manila. in 1996. Environmentand Environmentalism Thailand:Materialand Ideological Bases. Seeing in Forests for Trees: Environmentand Environmentalism Thailand,ed. P. Hirsch, pp. 15-36. Mai. Chiang Kingshill, K. 1965 (1960). Ku Daeng-the Red Tomb. Bangkok. Local Development Institute.1992. CommunityForestry:Declarationof the CustomaryRights of Local Communities. Thai Democracy at the Grassroots. Bangkok. Lohmann, L. 1991. Peasants, Plantationsand Pulp: The Politics of Eucalyptusin Thailand. Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 23(4):3-17. Olson, G. 1991. Cries over Spilt Holy Water. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 22:75-85. Pei S. 1985. Some Effects of the Dai People's CulturalBeliefs and Practices on the Plant Environment of Xishuangbanna,YunnanProvince, Southwest China. CulturalValues and Human Ecology in Southeast Asia, eds. K. L. Hutterer, A. T. Rambo, and G. Lovelace, pp. 321-39. Ann Arbor. Pinkaew L., and N. Rajesh (eds.). 1991. The Future of People and Forests in Thailand after the Logging Ban. Bangkok. Pongpet M. 1991. Stopping the Chainsaws with Sacred Robes. Bangkok Post, March 29, pp. 27-28. Queen, C. S., and S. B. King (eds.). 1996. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. Albany. Renard, R. D. n.d. Using a Northern Thai Forest: Approaches by a Conservationist Monk, Thai Lowlanders, Hmong Highlanders, and InternationalDevelopment. Ecology, Ethnicity and and P. Natadecha-Sponsel. Religion in Thailand, eds. L. E. Sponrsel F. E. 1977. Civic Religion and National Communityin Thailand. Journalof Asian Studies Reynolds, 36(2):267-82. 1994. Dhamma in Dispute: The Interactions of Religion and Law in Thailand. Law and Society Review 28(3):433-51. Rigg, J. 1995. Countingthe Costs: Economic Growthand Environmental Changein Thailand.Counting the Costs: Economic Growthand EnvironmentalChange in Thailand, ed. J. Rigg, pp. 3-24. Singapore. Saneh C., and Yos S. (eds.) 1993. Paa Chumchon nai Prathetthai:Naewthaang kaan Phadthanaa (Community Forests in Thailand:The Direction for Development). Bangkok. SanitsudaE. 1992a. Torn from the Land: How Tree-PlantingUproots Whole Villages. Bangkok Post, 23 January, pp. 23, 42. 1992b. Man and Forest. Bangkok Post, 24 January,pp. 27, 48. Somboon S. 1987. Kaanphadthanaa Taam Naew Phuthasaasanaa:Karanii Phra Nak Phadthanaa(A Buddhist Approach to Development: The Case of "Development Monks"). Bangkok. 1988. A BuddhistApproachto Development:The Case of "DevelopmentMonks" in Thailand. Reflections on Development in Southeast Asia, ed. L. T. Ghee, pp. 26-48. Singapore. Sponsel, L. E., and P. Natadecha. 1988. Buddhism, Ecology, and Forests in Thailand:Past, Present, and Future. ChangingTropical Forests, eds. J. Dargavel, K. Dixon, and N. Semple, pp. 30525. Canberra. Sponsel, L. E., and P. Natadecha-Sponsel.1995. The Role of Buddhismin Creatinga More Sustainable Society in Thailand. Counting the Costs: Economic Growth and EnvironmentalChange in Thailand, ed. J. Rigg, pp. 27-46. Singapore.

THE ORDINATION OF A TREE

15

Stott, P. 1991. Mu'ang and Pa: Elite Views of Nature in a Changing Thailand. Thai Constructionsof Knowledge, eds. M Chitakasemand A. Turton, pp. 142-54. London. SuchiraP. 1992. ChangingProvinces of Concern: A Case-Studyof the Social Impactof the Buddhadasa Movement. Sojourn 7(1):39-68. Tambiah, S. J. 1970. Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-east Thailand. Cambridge. 1976. World Conquerorand World Renouncer:A Study of Buddhismand Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background. Cambridge. 1984. The BuddhistSaints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets. Cambridge. Taylor, J. 1993a. Forest Monks and the Nation-State: An Anthropological and Historical Study in NortheasternThailand. Singapore. 1993b. Social Activism and Resistance on the Thai Frontier: The Case of Phra Prajak Khuttajitto.Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 25(2):3-16. 1996. "Thamma-chaat": Activist Monks and CompetingDiscourses of Nature and Nation in Northeastern Thailand. Seeing Forests for Trees: Environment and Environmentalism in Thailand, ed. P. Hirsch, pp. 37-52. Chiang Mai. Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development. 1992. Kaanoprom Phrasong kap Kaananurak ThammachaatKhrangthii 3 (TrainingMonks and Nature Conservation, Meeting Number 3). Sekhiyatham2(11):26-31. Thai Inter-ReligiousCommissionfor Developmentand the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. 1990. Radical Conservatism: Buddhism in the ContemporaryWorld. Bangkok. Thurman, R. A. F. 1984. Buddhist Views of Nature: Variations on the Theme of Mother-Father Harmony. On Nature, ed. L. S. Rouner, pp. 96-112. Notre Dame. Trebuil, G. 1995. Pioneer Agriculture, Green Revolutionand EnvironmentalDegradationin Thailand. Counting the Costs: Economic Growthand EnvironmentalChange in Thailand, ed. J. Rigg, pp. 67-89. Singapore.