During the Buddha’s teaching lifetime he encouraged his followers to plant and see to the establishment of one tree every five years. Over the years many trees were planted and tended during the rainy season in Northern India and the country felt a true benefit.
Fifteen years ago when Dr. E.F. Shumacher visited us at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and told us this story of tree planting in the Buddha’s time we initiated a yearly event, Arbor Day, when the public is invited to join us in a day of planting and tending trees together. Over the years we have planted thousands of trees at Green Gulch and we begin now to see a change in our landscape, a change attributed to the green band of sapling trees fanning out over the coastal mountains.
This year for the months of January and February during our winter practice period our dharma study concentrated on the ancient, fundamental teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and our work focused on planting and tending trees. Every week we walked the hills poking in acorns of the coast live oak (quercus agrifolia) and then protecting the planting sites with little wire cages as a barrier to deer. We also planted yearling conifers—Douglas fir, coast redwood, and Monterey pine. Our dream is to map all of these plantings and to keep careful records of how they fare growing on the coast. Eventually we look forward to doing this kind of work with local school children because children understand and respond to tree planting very wholeheartedly. The deeper we go into this work of reforesting the more keen we have become to gather and start seeds of native shrubs and trees, to nurture them for a few years and later to plant them in their best situation. So, like the young trees, our work and commitment is also fanning out, growing deeper and broader with every season.
While I plant trees at Green Gulch I have enjoyed practicing this gatha I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh:
I entrust myself to Earth
Earth entrusts herself to me.
I entrust myself to Buddha
Buddha entrusts herself to me.
Sometimes I abbreviate the words in irreverent Zen shorthand, saying to the little tree:
You and me
For the long haul.