Top Banner 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 th e Commonwealth System of Higher Education Stable URL: 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 . 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 . 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

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    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:

    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 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

    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
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    SusanM. DarlingtonHampshireCollege

    Aspartof a growingenvironmentalmovementn Thailand,a smallnumberof Buddhistmonks engage in ecological conservationprojects. These "ecology monks" teachecologically oundpracticesamongThaifarmersand criticizerapideconomicdevelop-ment nationwide (which they see as one of the primary causes of the country'senvironmental risis). This articleexamineshow one northern Thaimonk used a treeordination,adaptedfrom a traditionalBuddhistritual, to buildvillagers'commitmentto his ecologyprojects.(Buddhism,environmentalism, itual, Thailand)A Buddhist cologymovement,developingn Thailand ndotherBuddhistnations,addresses ocal and nationalproblemsof deforestationndecologicaldestruction.While this is only one aspectof growingenvironmentalismn Thailand Hirsch1996), the Buddhistsnvolvedin this movement ee theirreligionas criticalforprovidingpracticalas well as moralguidelines or ecologicalconservation.Thisarticle ocuseson howBuddhists, speciallymonks,puttheirconceptsof Buddhismandecologyintoaction,and heconsequent einterpretationsf bothsets of conceptsthatresult romsuchbehavior.As Buddhisms increasingly sedto promote ocialactivismsuch as conservation, ts role in Thai society is also being implicitlychallenged ndreworked.While he exactchanges hatwill occurareunknown, heBuddhistcologymovement's otential irectionmaybeglimpsedbyexamining owrituals,particularly rdaining rees, promotethe ecology movement,lendingiteconomic,political,social,and moral orce.The "ecology monks" are those actively engaged in environmentalandconservationactivitiesand who respondto the sufferingwhich environmentaldegradationauses.A majoraim of Buddhisms to relievesuffering, he rootcausesof which are greed, ignorance,andhatred.The monks see the destruction f theforests, pollutionof the air and water, and other environmental roblemsasultimately ausedby peopleacting hroughheseevils, motivated y economicgainandthe materialbenefitsof development,ndustrialization,nd consumerism.Asmonks,theybelieveit is theirdutyto take actionagainst heseevils. Theiractionsbringtheminto the realmof politicaland economicdebates,especiallyconcerningtherapiddevelopment f theThaieconomyandcontrolof natural esources.Thescholarlydebate hathas arisen egardingherelationshipetweenBuddhismandecologyrevolvesaroundwhetherBuddhism romotesan environmentalistthicandwhat the basisof such anethicis withinthe religion.Muchof this debatehasoccurred nanabstractevel, looking o thescriptures,uchas thePalicanon,eitherto upholdor to refutethe idea that Buddhism upportsenvironmentalisme.g.,Chatsumarn1987, 1990; Harris 1991; Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel 995;Thurman1984). Otherworkhasfocusedon the forestmonksof ThailandandSriETHNOLOGYvol. 37 no. 1, Winter 1998, pp. 1-15.ETHNOLOGY,c/o Departmentof Anthropology,The Universityof Pittsburgh,PittsburghPA 15260 USACopyright? 1998 The Universityof Pittsburgh.All rightsreserved.

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    2 ETHNOLOGYLanka, meditationmasters who emphasizea relationshipbetween the Sangha(monkhood) nd he forestbut not themonks' nvolvementnexplicitenvironmentalactivism Chatsumarn990;Tambiah 984;Taylor1993a).A few studiesexaminethe interaction etweenBuddhistprinciplesandconceptsof ecology; looking,forexample,atthepromotion f wildlifeandplantconservation ithin emplegroundsdue to the Buddhistnotion of preserving ife generally(Pei 1985; SponselandNatadecha 988).Whileunderstandinghescripturalasesof ecologyandhowdailypractice oincideswithconservations critical, orthemostpart hesestudieshavenot examined he consciouseffortsof Buddhists o becomeactivelyengagedindealing with the environmental risis beyondthe inherentconnectionbetweenBuddhist eachingsand nature.This essay describes he responseof a handfulofTheravadaBuddhistmonksto the severeenvironmentalrisis in Thailandand itsimpacton the lives of ruralpeoples.THEENVIRONMENTALND POLITICAL ONTEXT

    Although t hasbeensuggested hatBuddhism as been"co-optedo argue hecase for a moreenvironmentallyriendlyapproacho development"Rigg1995:12),the severityof the environmentalrisisandits linkwithdevelopmentn Thailandcannot be denied. As will be exploredbelow, the monksare respondingo theconsequences f environmentalegradationn ruralpeopleand heirqualityof life.The debates urroundingnvironmentalismre nherentlyolitical, nvolving ontrolover and access to natural esources especially and,forests,andwater)andthecausesof rapiddeforestation nd otherenvironmentalroblems.The focus here ison deforestationecauseof its relevance o the ruralpeoplewithwhomthe monkswork; deforestation,however, is only one element of a complexenvironmentalsituationn a rapidly hangingnational conomy.The rateof deforestationn Thailands higher han n anyAsiancountry xceptNepal(Hirsch1993:2)andpossiblyBorneo.Theofficial iguresgivenby theRoyalForest Department RFD) indicate hat in 1961 (whenthe currentdrive towardeconomicdevelopment eriouslybegan),53 percent of the nationwas covered nforest.By 1986,thisfiguredroppedo between 5 and29 percent.Nongovernmen-tal organizationNGO)estimatesplace the current igureas low as 15 per cent(Hirsch 1993:26-27;Pinkaewand Rajesh1991:22-23;Trebuil1995:68). Thesefiguresrepresent decrease romapproximately5 percent forestcover in 1913(Hirsch1993:27).Thedifferencesbetween heofficialfiguresand NGOestimatesarelargelydueto howforest s defined.TheRFDincludesorestreserveands,despite hefactthatmuchof thearea abeledas suchhas beencleared.Theyalso includeeconomicandproductive orests, includingmonocropplantations uch as eucalyptus orests.EnvironmentalGOsrarely onsiderhese andsasforested.Theforestreserveandsare particularly roblematic s even areas whichstill have forestcover (usuallysecondaryorest) endto be inhabited y small-scalearmerswho either ivedthere

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    THEORDINATION F A TREEatthe time thegovernment esignatedt as forestreserve andor latermigratedntothe area n searchof land. Thesepeoplehaveno legaltitle to the landalthoughheydependon it for their ivelihood.

    Environmentalismn Thailand s not equivalent o the Westerndistinctionbetweendevelopment ndpristinenatural reas hatmustbe preserved. nThailandnature s inextricablyinkedwith economics.The critical ssue is accessto landandresourcesand the need to maintain ustainableivelihoods. The debatesrevolvearoundwhoseconceptsof sustainableivelihoodare to be upheld.The causes of deforestation, omplexand inherently conomic and political,rangefrompovertyin ruralareasto economicdevelopment ndconsumerismnBangkok(Rigg 1995:6). They include commercial ogging (illegal since 1989),gatheringuel wood andmaking harcoalby ruralpoor,andswiddenagriculturenhighland reas althoughhe blameplacedon swiddenagriculturalistsftenignoresthe recentdecreasen available and hatwouldallowsustainableallowperiodsandthe uplandmigrationof increasingnumbersof lowlandpeoples). Ruralpeople,encouragedo clearmore orests ojoin inthe marketconomy,have ncreased ash-crop production,but at the cost of clearingnatural orests. Nationalsecurity,especiallyduring hepre-1980era of Communistnsurgency ased n remote orestareas, contributedo deforestation y buildingroads to make the forests moreaccessibleand diminish he areas n whichthe Communists ould hide. Farmersnsearchof landquicklymoved ntothe secured orests.Theprocessof state ormationlinkedthe nationalperipherieswith the center n Bangkokover the past century,similarly creatinggreateraccess to previouslyisolated areas (Hirsch 1993:29).Cultural iews also promoteddeforestations the forests(paa and theuan)weretraditionallyeen as wild or untamed Stott 1991) and available o the generalpopulation s common andto be broughtntocivilizationandproductivity.Thesefactorscontributedo deforestation ndthe integration f the ruralpopulationntomainstreamoliticaldiscourseHirsch1993:14).Both heenvironmentalegradationand the limitsplaced uponruralpeoplesthroughpublic policy (in particular,heeffortsby the governmento remove armers rom national orest reserve ands nfavorof eitherconservation r economicdevelopment f productiveorests)affectthe qualityof life of the ruralpopulation.These issues haveprovoked ome monksintosociallyconsciousaction n thenameof religiouspracticeandresponsibility.

    ECOLOGYMONKSInThailand,he self-proclaimedcologymonks phranakanuraksa) re at thecore of the Buddhistecology movement.Although ome of these environmentalactivistsparticipaten thescholarlydebateon the issue, theirprioritiesie in actionto preservevanishing orests,watersheds, ndwildlife,and o mitigate henegativeconsequences f theirdisappearancen people's lives. Their effortsprovidethe

    motivationor re-examininghe scripturesn lightof environmentalismather hanthe studyof the canoncreating he impetus or conservation.To understandhe


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    4 ETHNOLOGYcurrent cologymovementn Thailand, ndultimatelyn otherBuddhist ations, tis importanto examine he effect of thepracticeof theecologymonkson religionin Thailand, o see how theybasetheirprojectson Buddhism, einterpretingndrearticulatingeligious oncepts, he role of theSangha, nd he function f Buddhistrituals n theprocess.The number f monks nvolved n theecologymovementn Thailand, lthoughsmall,hasrecently rownrapidly2 iththepopularityf environmentalismurrentlysweepingThailand.Giventhe respect he Sanghacommandsn Thaisociety, thepotential or theirecologicalactivism s high. This can be illustratedhrough heanalysisof anecologyproject onductedn 1991 nNanProvince,northern hailand.Thisproject,co-ordinatedy a Buddhistmonk, nvolved hecreation ndsanctifica-tion of a protected ommunityorest hroughhe ordination f thelargest emainingtree in the forest. The tree ordination rovides nsightinto how ecology monksthroughoutThailandare rethinkingBuddhismand adaptingBuddhistrituals topromote heir cause. Their concern s as muchto maintain he relevanceof thereligionin a rapidlychangingworld of industrializationnd modernization s tocreate an environmentalwarenessamonglocalpeopleand the Thai nationas awhole.The ecology monkscome froma cross-section f the ThaiSangha.A few ofthemarebased n urban emples,andareinvolved n providing cripturalustifica-tions andscholarly xaminations f themovement ather han akinganactiverole.The majorityof the activistmonks are fromruralareas,the placesmostdirectlyaffected by threats of environmental egradation.They come from both theMahanikaiand Thammayut ects. A few are rankedmembers of the Sanghahierarchy, uch as PhraPhothirangsrin ChiangMai Province,andcome undergreater crutinyandcriticism han ess prominentmonks.Evenwhileprovidinganalternativeo thetraditionalctivities f theSangha,ewof theecologymonks haveencountered elongto the moreconservativeadicalbreak-awayects, suchas theSantiAsokeor Thammakaay ovements.Most of the monks ryto avoidexplicitpoliticalstatements although hereare well-knownexceptions,particularly hraPrajakKhuttajitto;aylor1993b, 1996;Reynolds1994),but thepoliticalnature ftheissues cannotbe ignored.Mostecologymonksaresupportedrassistedby localand even nationalenvironmental GOs, some of the loci of politicaloppositionwithinThaisocietytoday.Overthepastcentury, hegovernment as takenovermany raditionalctivitiesof Thaivillagemonks.While hetemplesremainhespiritual eartof villages,onlya few still houseschools or serve as health-care r community enters Darlington1990;Kingshill1965 [1960];Tambiah1970, 1976).To compensate ndmaintainclose contact with the laity, many monks performan increasingnumberofceremonies.For example,the consecration f Buddha mageshas becomemorefrequentD. K. Swearer,pers.comm.).The moreactive,visible,and n manywayscontroversialesponsehas been o movetoward ociallyengagedaction. SeeQueenandKing 1996 for a goodoverviewof engagedBuddhistmovementsn Asia.)This

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    THE ORDINATION OF A TREEfirstmanifestedtself in Thailandn the 1970sthroughhe rise of the developmentmonks(phranakphadthanaa,an informalgroupmadeup of mostlyrural,lower-rankedmonksworking ndependentlyf thegovernment),who promotegrassrootseconomicdevelopmenthroughouthe country Darlington1990; Somboon1987,1988).Fromthedevelopmentmonksemerged heecologymonks,who see theirworkas monksandBuddhists s promoting uman esponsibilityoward he naturalandinherently ocial) environment.They stressan interpretationf the religionthatemphasizes he Buddha'sconnectionwith natureand the interdependencef allthings. While many of these monks work independentlyn their conservationprograms,hey are awareof the actionsof othermonks,share deas, information,andexperiences, ndparticipatenregional ndnationalrainingeminarse.g., ThaiInter-ReligiousommissionorDevelopment992).Someprovinces, uchas NakornRatchasima nd SuratThani,alsohaveco-operativessociations f monks nvolvedin ecological projects. Throughtheir preaching,educationalprograms, andconservation ctivities,the ecologymonkshave influencedThaisociety'sview ofBuddhismand, to some degree, its practice.They have raised the nation'sconsciousness egardingts environmentalesponsibilities s theiractivitieshavedrawn ignificant ttention ndmediacoverage.3Criticism has been leveled at many ecology monks by the government,developers, nd hemoreconservativemembers ftheSanghaorbecomingnvolvedin political ssuesand activities een as inappropriateor Buddhistmonks(suchasprotestingheconstructionf hydroelectricams).TheThaiSanghahastraditionallybeenconservativeespeciallywhencomparedwiththe monks n Burma,SriLanka,Tibet, and Vietnam), rarely makingpolitical statementsor criticisms of thegovernment. he actionsofthedevelopmentmonksandespeciallyheecologymonkshavechallengedomeof thedevelopment oliciesof thegovernmentndquestionedtheindustrializationnd ncreasedonsumerismf Thaisociety.Theircritics,manyof whomtendto benefit romthecurrent irection f Thaidevelopment, elievetheSangha's ole shouldbe strictly n thespiritual ealm,keepingclearof politicalandeconomic issues. Some, such as the Sanghahierarchy,are concerned hat suchpotentiallyontroversialctions ouldharm hereputationf theSanghaas a whole,lessening ts influencen providingmoralguidelineso thepeople.Regardlessof the reactions o them, the ecology monksarguethat it is theirresponsibility s monks andas Buddhistso becomeengaged n this manner.TheBuddhistcologists andsociallyengagedBuddhistsn general; ee QueenandKing1996;ThaiInter-Religious ommissionorDevelopmentndInternational etworkof EngagedBuddhists1990) stress their connectionwith the Buddha's deas ofnature,heoriginsof thereligion,and he Buddha's dmonitionso relievesufferingin the world. Theirmovementdoes not advocatea new form of Buddhism, heyargue,but is aneffortto putthe basic ideas of the religion n terms that meet theneeds of the modernworld.Theysee this movementas one of "radical onserva-tism,"4 eturningo theoriginal eachings f the Buddha s appliedo contemporary


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    6 ETHNOLOGYsituations.This movement s not limitedto Thailand,but is part of a growinginternational uddhistmovementhatgoesbeyondnational ndsectarian ifferencesto promote cologicalawareness.

    Therehavebeen monks n Thailandxplicitly oncerned bout heenvironmentfor sometime, such as PhraAjarnPongsakTechadhammon ChiangMai(Suchira1992;Renardn.d.) and Buddhadasahikkhun SuratThani,buttheiractionsandteachingshadlimitedscope. In recentyears,the Buddhist cology movementhascoalesced nto a consciousandsomewhato-ordinatednstitution. tscoherence ndtheincreased o-operationnddialogueamongmonks romdifferent egionsof thecountryhave drawnpublicattentiono themovement ndgreateracceptance f itsmethodsandthe appropriatenessf suchactionsby monks.Thisnew approachoreligionandmonks nThaisocietyand hecreative pplicationf theecologymonks'philosophyo makeBuddhist ituals oolsof social actionmaychange heconceptsand practiceof Thai Buddhism.One exampleis the work of PhrakhruPitakNanthakhun f Nan Province,the monk who co-ordinated he tree ordinationexaminedhere.HISTORICALACKGROUND

    Phrakhru itak's ponsorshipf treeordinationsndother nvironmentalctionscame romhisexperiencen a remotemountainillageaffectedby deforestationndthe promotionof cashcropsandconsumerism.n the mid-1970s,shortlyafterhisordination,PhrakhruPitak became alarmedat the deforestation nd damagedwatershedsntheregionaround is homevillagedueto extensive ogging legalandillegal)by largecompanies ndclear-cuttingy northernThai farmers n order oplantmaize.Thevillagerscontinually adto cut into theforestto growmaizeas asupplementaryourceof income,andthemaize tselfcaused ignificantrosionanddamage o the soil, necessitatingurtherclear-cuttingor agriculturaland. Thiscausedhisdistrict o become hepoorestanddriest ntheprovince,with thehighestrateof adultsmigratingofindwork nBangkok.Foryears he monkpreached boutecologicalconservation, tressing he interconnectionetweensocial and naturalenvironments ndhumankind'sesponsibilityo each.Despite Phrakhru itak'spreaching, he destructionontinued.The villagerscameto himto makereligiousmeritand isten o his sermons, hen returned ometo clearthe land.Theloggingcompanies ut the forestandthevillagerswereeithertoo afraidof retributionrtoounorganizedo oppose hem.If theysawaconnectionbetween heiractions, heir ncreasing overty,and heenvironmentalrisis,theydidnothingabout t. In early 1990Phrakhru itakvisitedPhrakhruManasof PhayaoProvince, he monkcreditedwithperforminghefirstsymbolicordinationf a treeto makepeopleawareof environmentalesponsibility.nJune1990,Phrakhruitakmovedbeyondpreaching necologicalmessageandsponsored treeordinationnthecommunityorestof his homevillage(seeDarlington .d.), and n July1991 heperformed second o sanctify heforestsurroundingenneighboringillages.

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    THEORDINATION FA TREEThese ceremonieswere only a small portionof the monk'sprojects,whichincluded everalmonthsof educating illagersaboutenvironmentalssues,trainingyoung emporary ovicesabout he naturalnvironment,hepromotion f economic

    alternativeso growingmaize as a cash crop, and the establishment f protectedcommunityorests(see Darlington .d.; LocalDevelopmentnstitute1992;SanehandYos 1993).Phrakhru itakpromotedelf-reliant evelopment rojects, uch asintegrated griculture mphasizingplanting or subsistenceratherthan for sale,becauseprotectinghe forestsimplyby denying hevillagersaccessto it would notbe successful.Since the villagers gainedmuch of their income from the forest,economic alternativesneeded to be established o ensure their co-operation npreservingheforest. Localcommitteeswere also establishedo manageheforests,patrol the sanctified areas againstincursion,and sponsorcontinuedecologicalactivities o keepthecommitment f theprojectsalive.The tree ordinationwas the symboliccenterof Phrakhru itak's conservationprogram.The discussionswith the villagers eadingup to the ordination nd theconservationactivitiesorganizedby them afterwardwere all motivatedby theemotional and spiritualcommitment reatedby the ceremony. Throughoutheceremony, Buddhistsymbols were used to stress the religious connection toconservation,he villagers' nterdependenceiththeforest,and the moralbasis oftheproject.THE TREEORDINATION EREMONY

    Tree ordination eremoniesbuattonmai)areperformed y manyparticipantsin the Buddhist cology movementn order o raisethe awarenessof the rate ofenvironmental estructionn Thailand nd to builda spiritual ommitment monglocalpeopleto conservingheforestsandwatersheds. omelarge-scale rdinationshavebeencarriedout forpublicity ndpublicsympathyo make hegovernmenteethe environmentalmpactof some of its economicdevelopment lans.(Thiswas thecase in the southernprovinceof SuratThani n March1991,when over50 monksandlay peopleentereda nationalparkto wrapmonks' robes aroundall the largetreesin a rainforest hreatenedy the construction f a dam[Pongpet1991].)Mosttreeordinationsreaimedatlocalareas,andvillagers, hroughheirparticipationntheseceremonies, ignifytheiracceptance f this adaptationf a Buddhist itual osanctify he forest andtherebyprotect t. Theregulationshe monksestablish imittheiruse of theforest,forbiddinghe cuttingof anytrees or killingof anywildlifewithin t.InJuly1991,I attended treeordinationeremonyn Nan Provincen northernThailandponsored yPhrakhru itakNanthakhun. lthoughhetreeordination astheculmination f monthsofpreparationndwasoneaspectof a larger onservationprogram,he actual eremonynvolvedonlya dayanda half of activities.PhrakhruPitak nvitedovertwentymonks romNan andothernorthern rovinces o assistinperformingheceremony.Recognizingheimportancef gaining hesupport f the


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    8 ETHNOLOGYSanghahierarchy nd he localgovernmentor theproject's uccess,Phrakhruitakconsulted with and involved membersof the province'sSangha organization,especiallythe seniormostmonk in the three subdistricts f the ten participatingvillages,the DistrictOfficer,andother ocal bureaucrats.5 any ocalgovernmentofficials and mid-level membersof the Sangha hierarchyparticipatedn theceremony.Giventheindependentature ndpotentiallyontroversialspectsof theactivitiesof mostsociallyengagedmonks,Phrakhruitak'sattentiono convincingthe Sanghahierarchy nd thegovernment f theproject'smportances significantfor assuring ts success. Thenightbefore heceremony epresentativesf WildlifeFundThailandanaffiliateof WorldWildlifeFund)showedslides to thevillagers.Theircosponsorshipf theprojectplacedPhrakhru itak'sworkon a national tageandgave it furtheregitimacy.Not only is WFT one of the largestenvironmentalNGOs n Thailand, ut it also hasroyalpatronage. heinvolvement f NGOs ntheworkof ecologymonks s essential o muchof theirsuccess,although t the sametime it raises potentialpolitical issues, as many NGOs are openly critical ofgovernment olicy.The ordinationceremony began in the morningwith a modificationof atraditionalitual, hautphaapaa (thegivingof theforestrobes).Traditionally,hisritual s performed y Thai aypeople o donate obes,money,andothernecessitiesto monks orreligiousmerit.Thefundsraised upporthe monksand heupkeepofthetemple.Since the 1980sthisritualhas beenincreasingly sedacross he nationto raise funds for local development rojects; hose contributing fferings o themonksgainmerit,andthe monksallowthe moneydonated o be usedforprojectsranging rombuildingor repairing school to establishing localcreditunionorvillage co-operative tore.People'scommitmento suchprojects s oftenstrongerbecauseof the religiousconnotationsehind hesourceof thefunds-they notonlygainmerit rom heoriginaldonations tthephaapaaceremony,but romsupportingthedevelopment roject anctioned y themonksas well.Phrakhru itakaddeda newtwistto thisceremony.Severalnurseries roundheprovincial apitalandsomewealthypatrons ffered12,000seedlings o themonks.Along with the donationof seedlings,therewere several otherinnovations.Thevillagersparadedheirofferings n threegroups,representinghe threesubdistrictsinwhichthe tenparticipatingillagesbelonged.While heycarriedmodel reeswithsimple offeringsof moneyandnecessities, heydid not dance,drink,or playthetraditionalmusicthatusuallyaccompanies phaapaaparade Darlington 990:132-37). Rather,each of the threegroupsperformed kits they had preparedwhichpresentedtheir ideas of conservingthe forest. Two were straightforward;orexample,onegrouppantomimedlanting eedlings.The mostdramatic f thethreeincludedpoliticalcommentary. hevillagersactedout anincident f theforestbeingcut down, passingthe blamefrom the minorityhill people, to the northernThaivillagers,untilit finallysettledon thegovernmentornotprotectingheforest.Thepoliticaldebateconcerningorestconservationndtheeconomic nterests nvolvedin its destruction nderliesall conservation ctivities.6 t is unusual,however,for

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    THEORDINATION F A TREEthese issues to be brought o openlyto the surface,especiallyduringa Buddhistritual.All threeskitsemphasizedhe urgentneedfor the villagers o conserve heforest.

    Once the forest robeswere rituallyacceptedby Phrakhru itak, he and thehighest-rankingmonkpresent accepted he seedlings,thus sanctifying hem andconferringmerit on the donors and the participants.A few of the seedlingswereplanted round hetemplegrounds ndatthesiteof the tree ordination s partof theceremony.Mostweregivento thevillagers o reforestareas hathadbeendenuded,following the patternestablishedby phaa paa ceremonies conductedto raisedevelopmentprojectfunds. These new trees were chosen carefully;they werespecies, such as fruittrees, that were profitablewithouthavingto be cut down.Havingbeen sanctifiedand given by the monks furtherprotected hem, as thevillagerswouldsee cutting hem as a formof religiousdemerit baap).Afterplantinghe trees at thetemple, heparticipantslimbed ntotrucks,vans,andbusesto make he five-kilometerrip ntothe mountainso the tree chosen o beordained.Over 200 people accompaniedhe morethantwentymonks to the site,which hadearlierbeenprepared y volunteer evelopment orkersandvillagers.Afour-foot-tall uddhamagehad beenplacedon a concrete tandat thebase of thegiant ree.Thethickvegetation round he sitehadbeentrimmed,anda tent forthemonksput up. Phrakhru itak commentedhat over twentyyears ago, when hewalked heeightkilometersromhisvillagethroughhedeepforest o schoolalongthisroute,this treewas notunusualor its heightor size. Now it clearlystoodoutasthetallestremainingree. Onecouldnow see for milesfrom t acrossa landscapedottedwithnearlyverticalmaizefields,visiblebecauseof the deforested illsides.It is importanto notethat nthisceremony,ike all treeordinations,he monksdid not claim to be fully ordaininghe tree, as that status s reserved or humansonly. Theceremonywas usedsymbolicallyo remindpeoplethatnature houldbetreated sequalwithhumans,deserving f respectandvital for human swell as alllife. The opportunity f the ordinationwas usedto buildspiritual ommitmentopreserving he forest and to teach in an active and creativeway the value ofconservation.Themainemphasis f Phrakhru itak'ssermonduring heritualwason therelationshipetween he Buddha ndnature, nd heinterdependenceetweentheconditionsof the forest andthevillagers' ives.During he ritual,at the samepointin which a new monkwould be presentedwith his robes,two monkswrapped rangerobes around he tree'strunk,markingits sanctification. crowdofphotographersrom ocalandBangkok ewspapersndparticipatingGOs,oneanthropologist,nd wovideocamera rewsdocumentedhequickact. The robesstood as a reminderhat o harmor cut thetree-or anyof theforest-was anactof demerit.While t was not unusual o findbodhitrees(thetreeunderwhich he Buddha chieved nlightenment)rappedwithsacred loth,inthosecasesthetree wasalready een asholy;the cloth servedmore o honor hetreethanto sanctify t. Theinnovation erewas that hetreeordainedwas notalreadyreated


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    10 ETHNOLOGYas sacredbut was madeso throughhe ritual.Theorange obessymbolizedts newstatus.As in mostordinations,heritualncluded he sanctificationf water na monk'salmsbowl. A small Buddhamagewasplaced n the bowland candlewax drippedintothe waterwhilethe monkschanted.Traditionally,hisholywater nammon) ssprinkled n the participants, onferring blessingon them.Thiswater s seenasrituallyverypowerful,andpeople alwaysmakesure to receivesome of the dropsfromthe monk(Olson 1991). On this occasion,Phrakhru itakused the blessedwater n anoriginalmanner.Eachof theheadmenrom he tenvillagesdrank omeof the water n frontof the largeBuddhamageto seal theirpledgeto protect heforest.Thisuseof a sacred ymbol o strengthenuchanoathwasanothernnovationwhich reinforced he notionof environmentalisms a moral action.It madetheprotection r destruction f theforestkarmic ction:protectingtwouldconfergoodmerit bun),destroyingt bringing ad,the balance f whichwouldultimately ffectone'srebirth r evenqualityof livinginthis life. Beyond hat,it drewon thebeliefof the villagersin the magicalpowersof the holy water;while specificsanctionswerenot mentionedorfailing oupholdheheadmen's ledge, heimplications erethatbreaking t would involvegoing against he powersecuredby the use of thewater.

    Perhapshemosttellingaspectof theceremonytheonewhich nitselfraises hemostquestionsor is opento thegreatest arietyof alternativenterpretations)s theplaque hatwas nailed o thetreeprior o theordination.No formalmentionof thesign was made during the ritual, nor was much discussion or fanfaremadeconcerning ts contentor placement.Yet it alwaysdrawsthe most attentionanddiscussion romThaiwhoare ntroducedo it. Thesignreads,"Thamaaypaakheetham aaychaat,"whichcanbetranslated, Todestroyheforest s to destroy ife."The wordchaat(life) is problematicndcancarryseveralmeanings,all of whichrelateto the issue of conservation on various levels.7 Chaat can mean life, birth (asin rebirth),or nation.Thesentence ouldthusbe read,"Todestroy heforest s todestroy ife, one'srebirth,or thenation."The first meaningis the most straightforwardrom the point of view ofenvironmentalists hose concernsdo not necessarily nvolve eitherreligiousornationalistonnotations.Yet it alsoimplies heBuddhistdea hatoneshouldrespectandcarefor all life becauseanybeingcouldhavebeen one'smother n a previouslife. The secondmeaning, o destroyone'srebirth,nvokes heconceptof kamma.Itraises he ideathatdestroyingheforest s anact of demeritandconsequently asa negative nfluenceon how one is reborn n one'snext life. Thethirdpossibility,thatof destroyinghenation meaning oth erritory ndpeople;Reynolds1977:274,1994:442), s themostcomplex.Itevokesnationalisteelings,linking heconditionof the forestwith that of the state. It drawsuponthe moralconnectionbetweennation chaat),religion satsana),andmonarchymahakeset),hetrinityof conceptswhichsupposedlymakesup Thailand'sdentity Reynolds1977, 1994).Eventhismeanings double-edged.While t invokes hevillagers' oyalty othenationand he

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    THE ORDINATION F A TREEkingin protectingheforest,it alsocallsuponthe nation tself to uphold ts moralresponsibilityo preserve heforest.Given hepoliticalundertones f theconserva-tion issue, it is unlikely hatthis implicitmeanings presentby merecoincidence.

    The use of the word chaat on the sign demonstrateshe complexityandsignificanceof the tree ordination.Conceptsof religionarebeing reinterpretedopromoteenvironmentalismt the same timethe latter s linked hroughmoraltieswith ocalandnational oliticalandeconomic ssues.Throughoutheordination, ndthelargerprojectof which t was a part,Phrakhru itakextendedhistraditional oleas spiritualand moral leader of lay villagers to embrace an activism whichnecessitates olitical nvolvement.The samekindof roleenlargements recreatednevery projectrunby ecologymonks, romtree ordinationsndtheestablishment fsacredcommunity orests to tree-plantingeremoniesand exorcisms or long-lifeceremonies t sitesthreatenedy ecologicaldestruction.THEMORALITYOFENVIRONMENTALISM

    Monksare notsupposedo be concernedwithworldly ssues such aspolitics.Atthe same time, however,the ecology monks see environmental estructionas acrucial actor n theirmainconcern-human uffering.Theycannotavoid a certaindegreeof involvementn the former f theyare to deal withthe latter.Theyfeel aresponsibilitys monks o teachpeopleenvironmentalwareness ndshow them hepath to relievingtheir suffering.The root causes of sufferingare, in Buddhistphilosophy,greed,ignorance, ndhatred.As thedestructionf theforest s causedby theseevils (through eople'sselfish aimsat economicgainor unconsidered seof natural esources o meet needsarising rompovertyandoverly rapiddevelop-ment), he monks ee itas theirduty o adaptraditionaleligious onceptsandritualsto gainthevillagers'acceptancendcommitmento theirecologicalaims.The destruction f theenvironment as not a significantssuein Thailand ntiltherapid ndustrializationf thecountrybecamea national riorityafterWorldWarII (Sponseland Natadecha 988:305).Eventhen, it was not until the 1980sthatnature onservation ecameawidespreadoncern,despite he earlier ffortsof suchenvironmentalNGOs as Wildlife FundThailandand the Projectfor EcologicalRecovery.The adoptionof the issue by the ecologymonksbeginning n the late1980shasraised hemovement o a newlevel. Itcanno longerbe seensimplyas aneconomicorpoliticaldebatebetween nvironmentalistsnddevelopers,but has nowbeenplacedon a moralplane.Themonksare concernedwiththesufferingof bothhumans ndwildlifewhichresults rom hedestruction f the forestsandwatersheds.As it is a moralissue, the monks are interpretinghe scriptureso support heiractionsandareadaptingraditionalitualsandsymbols o involve ay villagers nthemovement.Theecologymonksarewalkinga fine linebetween heir raditionalesponsibili-ties as spiritual eadersandtheir new practiceas social activists.They are con-sciouslyusing the formerto supportand even justify the latter,to counterthe


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    12 ETHNOLOGYcriticisms hat heirenvironmentalffortsareinappropriateormonks.The result sa complex nterplay etweenraditionaleligious oncepts, ymbols,andrituals,andmoraldebatesof politicalandeconomic ssues. While hefocus of specificactivitiessuch as tree ordinationss predominantlyn local areas, the innovativeuse oftraditionalituals,such as theparade ndskitsaccompanyinghephaapaaton maiceremony,andthe implication f signslikethe one nailed o thetreein Nan,placethe issue on a nationalpolitical evelas well. Throughhe use of words likechaat,the monksraise issues thatquestion he role andresponsibility f the local andnational overnmentsn deforestation ndconservation.Similarly, hepractice f religion tself s beingchanged, venchallenged,n theprocess.Buddhismn Thailand asbecome ess relevant o dailylife over thepastcenturybecauseof increasing overnmentnvolvementn lay life through chools,improvedhealthcare,developmentrojects,andotherareas.TheBuddhist cologymovement,ollowing hemodelof the workof developmentmonks, s notallowingthereligion o becomerelegatedo a secondary lacein Thaisociety.It challengesthe Sangha,as well as the Thaipeople, to reconsider ts role and not to acceptcomplacency r merelyperform ituals hat have no directrelevance or relievingsuffering n dailylife. It forcesBuddhistso question ndthinkabout he causesofpeople'ssuffering,even whenthese causesare controversial r political.Whiletheactivistmonks'aim is to relievesuffering ndmaintainherelevance f thereligioninachanging ociety, his has alsoresultednquestioningndrethinkinghe functionof thereligion tself.

    The use of traditionalBuddhist ituals suchas ordinations nd the phaa paaceremony) nd he invocation f powerful eligious ymbols suchasholywaterandmonks'robes,and he implication f words ikechaat n theplaqueontheordainedtree in Nan Province)serve as vehicleswhichsimultaneously reservereligiousconceptsandsentimentsandchallenge heirtraditional se and interpretationsnThailand.Theecologymonksarerespondingo what heyperceiveas threatso or,to putit moremildly,inevitable hanges n theirsocialposition.Theyaremakingconsciouschoices andactions,guidedby long-standingeligiousconceptssuchasmerit-makingndkarmic ction,andsocialrelations etween heSangha nd helayvillagers.As a consequence,heirrole,theconcepts ndpractice f thereligion,andtherelationbetween hereligion and tspractitioners)nd he stateare allchanging.While the scripturalustifications ehind he ecologymovementare importantounderstand,he practicewhichaccompaniesr motivateshe re-examinationf thecanon demonstrates hat the processcannot be examinedsolely on an abstracttheologicallevel. The case of the tree ordinationn Nan illustrates he social,political,and economic ssues involved,andreveals he levels at whichthe majorchangesaretakingplace.This dynamicprocessof change s far fromcomplete.The Buddhist cologymovement s still growingandbecomingmorevocal andcontroversial,hallengingspecificcases of environmentalestruction ausedby policiesof thegovernmentreconomicdevelopment lans.Theresponsesof the government,ndustrialists,nd

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    THEORDINATION FA TREE 13generalmembersof the Sangha,as well as the Sanghahierarchy,all need to beconsideredojudge he full effectof this movement n theconceptsof Buddhism ndecologyastheyareinterpretedndpracticednThaisociety.It is apparenthatThaiBuddhism s changing dramatically nd, despite some efforts to use it as aconservative orce to supportthe status quo and governmentpolicies, it hastremendous otential o effect social and environmentalhangein Thailand.Theextent andsuccessof theseefforts,andthetruedirectionof the changes nvolved,remain o be seen.

    NOTES1. Research, conducted in ThailandJunethroughAugust 1991, August 1992 throughJuly 1993, andJulythroughDecember 1994, was madepossible by grantsfromthe JointCommittee on Southeast Asiaof the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of LearnedSocieties, with fundsprovided by the National Endowment or the Humanitiesand the FordFoundation,the Southeast AsianCouncil of the Associationof Asian Studies,andthe FordFoundationComparativeScientific Traditionsprogramof HampshireCollege. I thank David BrawnandAriel Heryantoforhelpful suggestions on anearly draftof this article, and the National Research Council of Thailand for researchpermission.2. While it is difficult to determinemembershipin a category such as "ecology monks," as manymonks are interested in environmentalwork butdo not label themselves as such, a sense of the scopeof the movement can be gained from looking at the participationn a three-dayconference (held nearBangkok in July 1991) cosponsored by 23 nongovernmental environmental and developmentorganizations.The organizersexpected 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 weeklyin bothThai and English-languagenewspapers.While much of the coverage focused on the case of PhraPrajak, the monk who was arrested twice in 1991 for his ecological work as it conflicted withgovernmentpolicies concerning national forest land, the work of other ecology monks also receivedsome attention. On the legal case concerningPhraPrajak,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 socialactionas an aspectof Buddhistpractice(ThaiInter-ReligiousCommission for Development and InternationalNetwork of Engaged Buddhists 1990).5. In later projects, PhrakhruPitak involved provincialgovernmentofficials and Sangha, includingthe governor and militaryleaders.6. Economicenterprises hatdestroynatural orests include the creation of eucalyptusplantationsandlogging hardwoodtrees such as teak. The former is occurringprimarilyin the northeastlegally, andat a rapidrate (see Lohmann1991; Sanitsuda1992a, 1992b), while the lattercontinues throughout hecountry despite a nationalbanpassed in 1989. The widespreadbelief is thatbothfrequentlyoccur withthe backing of factions within local, regional, and nationalgovernmentsand the military(PinkaewandRajesh 1991).7. I thank Dr. ThongchaiWinichakul and Dr. Robert Bickner for pointing out to me the severalmeanings of chaat as used in the sentence on the plaque.

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