Partners Involved: Buddhist Monks, Forest trees
Type of Partnership: Indigenous
Partnership Models: Educator
By attributing sacred status to forest trees, ecology monks are preventing illegal deforestation and raising awareness among local populations about the value of nature, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.
Forests play a major role in the cultural and spiritual life of Buddhists. Following the Buddha’s example, Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand meditate in natural settings, particularly beneath trees. Forests are considered sacred land and an extension of the monks’ prayers and practice.
However, Thailand and Cambodia have faced devastating logging and clear-cutting in the past decades. Between 1961 and 1998, an estimated two-thirds of Thailand’s remaining forest was destroyed, as a result of population growth, infrastructure development, agricultural expansion, illegal logging and uncontrolled forest fires. Rapid deforestation led to tremendous environmental and societal negative impacts, including soil erosion, exacerbating floods, biodiversity loss, and land conflicts.
Buddhist monks believe that all things are interconnected; that the health of the whole is bound to the health of every sentient being. If you harm rivers, trees, animals, and the soil, then you harm yourself. Buddhist monks see a direct connection between the root causes of suffering (greed, ignorance, and hatred) and environmental destruction. As relieving suffering is part of their religious duty, they have been proactive in environmental protection since the 1990s.
Known informally as environmentalist, or ecology monks (phra nak anuraksa), they have developed a practice of ordaining trees and wrapping them in traditional orange robes—just as they do for novice monks. Harming a monk is a religious taboo, so such a practice aims to dissuade illegal loggers. With over 90% of the Thai population practicing Buddhism, monks can be more effective and influential than political authorities, and the movement has spread across South-East Asia, especially in Cambodia.
SDGs Targeted: SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG 15 on Life on Land
Links & Sources: