I remember the first and only time I met Dr. E. F. Schumacher, the author of “Small Is Beautiful,” a Rhodes scholar in economics, a close student of Gandhi’s teachings, and an advocate for nonviolence and ecology. He came to Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, north of San Francisco, thirty-four years ago, in winter. Dr. Schumacher was visiting the Bay Area from England on a speaking tour, and as a former president of the Soil Association— one of Britain’s oldest organic farming organizations—he was eager to explore a working Buddhist farm.
A small group of us spent a timeless afternoon walking the land with Dr. Schumacher. He was in no hurry. Standing below the windswept headlands of the coastal range, Dr. Schumacher recounted stories of his travels in India, where he helped local citizens plant trees for the “true economy of the living earth.” He reminded us that in the lifetime of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago, practitioners were encouraged to plant and nurture at least one tree every five years. “Just imagine,” Dr. Schumacher mused, “establishing a modern ideology for every man, woman, and child in India to do this little thing—in a five-year period there would be 2,000 million established trees producing foodstuffs, fiber, building material, shade and water.”
Later that day, just before Dr. Schumacher departed, he and our group planted a stout line of cottonwood trees at the entrance to the farm. Moved by our time with this practical and spirited economist, we pledged to organize an annual Arbor Day at Green Gulch Farm. “Real Buddhist economics!” we joked that day, bidding farewell to Dr. Schumacher.
Now, more than three decades later, Dr. Schumacher’s tree-planting challenge reverberates with widened intensity. The amount of carbon dioxide collectively emitted into the atmosphere every year by all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships on the planet is actually less than the carbon emissions that result from the chopping down and clearing of tropical rainforests. Roughly seventeen percent of all global emissions contributing to climate change come from the destruction of tropical forests.
Realizing this, I’d like to propose a yearly pledge to plant. By making the commitment to plant, and working to establish at least one tree a year for the next five years, we allow our body and mind to settle down like deep tree roots settling into bottomless ground.
The winter season moving into spring is a perfect time for tree-planting groundwork. From January 30, the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, until April 4, the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s death, many of us observe a sixtyfour- day-long season of nonviolence, an ideal time of the year to organize a treeplanting day. You do not need a 115-acre Zen Buddhist farm to accomplish this work. A citizen’s group I’m part of just completed planting 150 olive trees on a barren hillside at our local community college, and over the last year a number of heritage citrus trees have been planted by lively middle school students on their North Berkeley campus.
Research your home terrain and learn what trees will thrive. Consider leguminous trees that feed the earth, or trees that produce nuts, fruit, oil, or fodder. Follow your affection and plant a tree in tandem with children, practitioners, strangers, and new friends. Without pontification or pride, remember the Buddha, who was born under a tree, taught under a tree, and died under a tree, taught that “the forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence…. It affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axman who destroys it.”
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