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Ordination of a Tree, The

The Thai Buddhist Environmental Movement

Susan M. Darlington

Publication Year: 2012

A firsthand look at the Thai Buddhist environmental movement and its activist monks. Thai Buddhist monks wrap orange clerical robes around trees to protect forests. “Ordaining” a tree is a provocative ritual that has become the symbol of a small but influential monastic movement aimed at reversing environmental degradation and the unsustainable economic development and consumerism that fuel it. This book examines the evolution of this movement from the late 1980s to the present, exploring the tree ordination and other rituals used to resist destructive national projects. Susan M. Darlington explores monks’ motivations, showing how they interpret their lived religion as the basis of their actions, and provides an in-depth portrait of activist monk Phrakhru Pitak Nanthakhun. The obstacles monks face, including damage to their reputations, arrest, and even assassination, reveal the difficulty of enacting social justice. Even the tree ordination itself must now withstand its appropriation for state projects. Despite this, monks have gone from individual action to a loosely allied movement that now works with nongovernmental organizations. This is a fascinating, firsthand account of engaged Buddhism.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xv

This book has been a long time in the making. I owe a great many people gratitude for their help and support along the way, most importantly the monks who gave me their time, shared their stories, and were infinitely patient with me. First and foremost, this project would not have happened at all were it ...

Note on Language and Names

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p. xvii-xvii

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1. The Framework

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pp. 1-28

The image of ordaining a tree sparks strong reactions. A scholarly debate surrounds the degree to which Buddhism is inherently environmental, but that debate remains primarily abstract: whether the Buddha raised concerns for the suffering of the natural world or focused primarily on humans; whether ...

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2. The Forest, The Village, and The Ecology Monk

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pp. 29-51

I first traveled to Nan Province in the far east of northern Thailand in July 1991. Two weeks earlier at a nongovernment organization (NGO) meeting at Chiang Mai University I had met Sakchai Parnthep, who ran his own NGO to conserve indigenous seeds of Nan and worked closely with Phrakhru Pitak ...

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3. The Rituals

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pp. 53-91

Tree ordinations take a variety of forms and incorporate different audiences. Some are simple, involving one monk accompanied by a group of villagers wrapping old robes around the large trees in a given forest. The better-known form brings ten to twenty monks together in a formal ritual, chanting Pali ...

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4. The Precedents

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pp. 93-132

In July 1987, excited members of a Northern Thai village gathered in the hot sun along the main road into town. Beneath constantly blaring loudspeakers, a woman collected donations while a group of older men banged drums and gongs. The high-toned sound of a Thai flute drifted through the restless ...

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5. The Grassroots

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pp. 133-165

Phrakhru Manas Nathiphitak (Plate 20) watched ants cross what was once a river.1 Drought plagued his home in Phayao Province in northern Thailand. Villagers struggled to plant their crops and find sufficient water for their daily needs. Six years earlier, in 1973, the provincial government granted ten ...

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6. The Movement

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pp. 167-196

Monks moved into environmental activism individually. They observed deforestation, lack of water, agricultural problems from intensive monocropping and use of chemicals, and the decrease of wildlife around where they lived and practiced. They sought ways of helping the people around them who were ...

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7. The Challenges

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pp. 197-228

On June 17, 2005, the Thai monk, Phra Supoj Suvacano, was murdered. He was an active member of Sekhiyadhamma and was trying to protect the land around the meditation center where he lived in Chiang Mai Province from being converted into a tangerine plantation. At first glance, the case seems to be ...

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8. The Future

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pp. 229-247

If we reconsider the images from the opening of the book, the evolution of Buddhist environmentalism and the meanings and impacts of tree ordinations are now sharper. The progression of meanings reflects the ways in which socially engaged Buddhists have taken on and performed environmental actions ...

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pp. 268-283

Image Plates - Pages are unnumbered


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pp. 249-266


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pp. 267-283


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pp. 285-302

Back Cover

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p. 338-338

E-ISBN-13: 9781438444666
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438444659

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Environmentalism -- Thailand.
  • Environmentalism -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
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