It was when I first explored the thick leafy forests of Chiang Mai, Thailand, that I saw the yellow ribbons tied snugly around the large trunks of trees that seemed to reach the heavens.
They seemed ethereal, not hollowed but hallowed, large bark covering the lines that marked the long lives of each tall tree.
I was quick to ask our guide what the yellow ribbon meant.
“It is special. It is a spirit tree; and it must always be protected,” he explained in broken English.
And that tree was just the first of many large beautiful sacred figs, pines and oaks I have seen in the forests of Thailand and near the temples of Korea, each wrapped with a simple cloth or tie.
It has become an obsession of mine to take a photo of each ribbon-circled tree I find, understanding that it has been saved for a reason.
Still curious about the Buddhist tradition, I have done a bit of research and have learned that this is a Buddhist tradition that started with a reverence for the sacred tree that Buddha once reached nirvana, or enlightenment, beneath.
But over the past decade, a group of Thai Buddhists known as Ecology Monks have been fighting the growing battle of deforestation.
A major aim of Buddhism is to relieve suffering, the root causes of which are greed, ignorance and hatred. Monks see the destruction of the forests, as well as pollution of the air and water, as problems ultimately caused by people acting through these evils, motivated by economic gain. As monks, they believe it is their duty to take action against these evils.
In Thailand, monks have been ordaining trees as monks, according to this insightful article written by a fellow foreigner in South Korea. Monks recite Buddhist prayers and tie a saffron colored robe around each tree’s trunk. Because Thailand is 97% Theravada Buddhist, the saffron robes help to deter any potential loggers; the trees become, in effect, monks.