Killing a tree is a sin
It was under a Bodhi tree that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree provided shelter to the Lord who meditated under it and unravelled the source of all problems.
To say that the tree is the source of everything is a little bit far-fetched. But to put it plainly, there are many uses of trees. Shall we list them? Well, they provide shade against the summer heat, shelter us from rains, provides us with fuel wood, timber to build houses. Before the bailey and suspension bridges were built in the country, we used timber to construct Bazam over the streams and rivers.
Of course, trees give us fruits that sustain us. It sustains our water system by absorbing the access runoff water, cleans the atmosphere in which we live by cutting down on the carbondioxide that that is emitted into the atmosphere. They ensure that landslides don’t occur when there is a heavy rainfall.
Places where large scale deforestation has taken place are the most landslide prone areas. Even when we clear the forest for cultivation, we have to ensure that there is enough forest cover for the stability of the area. There was a time when Bhutanese used to engage in large scale tseri (slash and burn) cultivation. That was the time when there was enough land for every one. That was also the time when a family owned landholdings both in the warm and the cold regions and they used to migrate from one place to another.
Over the years, as population grew the landholdings got divided and some began encroaching into the forest land. That was the time when we started misusing the forest and the land. That was also the time when we should have started land and forest management in earnest.
At least in Bhutan, we realized in time that we have to preserve the environment before it is too late. Realizing its value, the Constitution has mandated that forest coverage in the kingdom should not be less than 60 percent at any given time.
However, we as Buddhists are placed in a funny situation. One might even say that our tradition conflicts with our environmental goals. Even as our hillsides are covered under trees, prayer flags dot the strategic spurs. These flags are dedicated to our deceased ones. The more flags you hoist, clearer the path becomes for the dead soul.
But nothing less that 108 trees have to be killed as part of the ritual. The Jains would be flabbergasted if they were to visit our hillsides dotted with prayer flags. They believe trees and plants are living beings. The animal kingdom is another story.
The forestry officials are in a quandary. Reports say that there is a high demand for prayer flag poles and every day some 165 trees are felled for the poles and the pressure is mounting. People usually prefer tall and straight poles for prayer flags. The forest department is doing its best in allotting the trees. They look into aspect such as thinning wherever required. But how long will it go on at the rate demand for flag poles is increasing?
The concept of metal poles, which are reusable, for some reason never caught the fancy of our people. Using bamboo poles is another alternative. But it is not available whenever you want them.
So what is the alternative?