Sitting before dawn, a Thai Buddhist monk talks about mindfulness and compassion. The monk's name is Phra Prachak, and he is currently charged with subversion and violations of the national security by the government of Thailand. These charges area result of his work to protect Buddhist monks' traditional places of wandering and meditation, the forests of South-East Aria.
Phra Prachak lives in 600,000 rai (one rai is 1600 square metres) of remaining forest in Dong Yai, in north-eastern Thailand. This remote area has become the focus of confrontation between the local people and the interests of the powerful Thai logging companies, which are known to be closely associated with military and international interests.
Four years ago when Phra Prachak came to Dong Yai, he found out that big trees were cut down and taken from the forest at night, "in secret -although it was well known by government officials. What Phra Prachak saw happening was a pattern of illegal deforestation that has destroyed 80% of Thailand's forest in the past 20 years.
Prachak had the idea of"ordaining" trees to attract attention. Almost 2,000 people attended the first ordination. He spoke of the things he learned from the forest, of how the Buddha was enlightened and spent most of his time in the forest. He asked the people to maintain the forest to maintain Buddhism. He also spoke of the clean air, water, herbal medicine, and animal life of the forest. After his sermon, the local people agreed to help save the forest, if he stayed there with them. They put 30,000 rai of forest in his care.
Prachak invited the people of the villages to weave a large string and surround the forest with it. This strategy gets all the people involved. The elderly weave the string, and the younger people put it up around the boundary. They receive donations of monk's cloth from many monasteries to tie on the trees
IA)cal people are afraid to oppose the deforestation be-cause of the involvement of the military After the "ordination," the commanding officer in that area forbade his officers from having any dealings with Phra Prachak's temple. The provincial monastic
abbot, who had at first given Phra Prachak much support' withdrew it under pressure. The people near the forest became divided, and the newspapers began printing accusatory stories about him. It was at this time that the army took drastic action to curb Prachak's activities.
Four months ago the Thai Army arrested Phra Prachak, dismantled his temple and the surrounding village, and moved them from the forest He has now returned and reconstructed his temple at its previous location, but he must walk 6 km every morning to the new location of the village in order to receive food in the fashion required by his order.
Prachak must now go to court four times per month to answer the charges against him. When asked what he will do if he loses his case, he smiles and says "that is the future, I have done a good deed and I leave the future to it-self."
The ordaining of trees has begun to occur in other provinces. Prachak feels relieved that other monks are taking up the work of protecting the forest.
Asked if outside supporters can play a role in his work Prachak says: "International support has been helpful. Without the letters from outside I could not survive to sit here today."
Yeshua Moser works in the Human Rights Section of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists office in Bangkok, Thailand.