Trees for life and for learning lessons
For the first time in the history of this nation, a President has taken on the task of planting over a million trees, plants and seedlings at the time he is sworn in to take on Stately duties. This is the second term in office for him and a time when the nation’s economic and social development takes centre stage
Just the other day, we watched a group of excited pre-school children. They were looking at a few bean seeds they had dropped in bottles of water, a few days earlier for sprouting. Their teachers were giving them an early lesson about life. The children, we were told were asked to observe the growth of those sprouts each morning. Now a few days into its growth, in each bottle, an ivory coloured sprout was making its way up. The bean seed was split and the faces of the children showed much excitement, joy and hope.
They were indeed learning their first lesson of life. A seed, a sprout, a plant, tiny green leaves, sound healthy growth, food, joy, smiles and life itself. Brought out of the bottle, nourished with rich soil and the rays of the sun, they will observe how, like them with nourishment of food, values and education, the sprouts will blossom to be beanstalks, bearing harvests of things good.
That was about sprouting plants. Trees are larger and do more for life than plants. When these tiny tots grow bigger they will learn about photosynthesis, the green-house effect, how energy giving fossils and fuels came about, balance, imbalance, climate change, global warming and all other features and functions of trees and their role in giving and maintaining life on our Mother Earth.
They will learn of the value of these gentle giants in agriculture, in industry, in commerce, in forests and jungles propagating and sustaining wild animal and plant life and in our home gardens, by our road and riversides, in the villages and the cities.
They will learn of the role trees play in protecting our life giving water resources and the topsoil and what we must do to ensure that we protect our forests with all our might. They will be taught how mangrove stems which grow on salty coastal swamps, help propagate marine life in our oceans and how coastal vegetation protects our beaches from erosion. How trees give shelter to travellers, protect us from the sun, from rain, help the poor and the rich alike and have been sources of inspiration for all time.
They will learn of how Gauthama the Buddha attained enlightenment having meditated under a Bodhi tree and for several weeks thereafter paid due gratitude to that tree with Animisa Locahana Pooja (insightful meditative offering).
They will learn of the ata visi Bodhi (28 trees of veneration) for the role played in supporting lesser Buddha’s in their attainment of Buddhahood. They will learn that in Christian teaching at Revelation 22:2, trees of life are symbolically described such as having curing properties for resolving conflicts among peoples “and on this side of the river and on that side there were trees of life producing 12 crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the trees were for the curing of the nations.”
They will learn that all religions and civilizations place the value of trees at the highest level of esteem and taught that growing and guarding them was meritorious and noble. Ancient Mayan civilization had designated ‘Sacred Groves’ as areas of forest, not to be touched by humans for they were dedicated to the Gods. In our own traditional social system, fear of gaining the wrath of deities who lived in large trees, was used as a tool to ensure its conservation as the story of the Goraka Yaka, illustrates. We symbolically bathe Bodhi trees with fresh cow’s milk and incense water and erect gold-plated fences and branch supports to protect them in demonstrations of our caring for them.
The concept of a ‘Tree of Life’ is prevalent in reference to the story of Adam and Eve, in ancient Egypt, Assyria, China, in the Turkic world. It also has references in the Baha’i, Mormon, Jewish and other faiths. It was Charles Darwin who presented the idea that phylogeny, explained as the ascent of all species through time, was expressible as a metaphor he termed the Tree of Life of Human Evolution. The modern development of this idea is called the Phylogenetic Tree.
Away from the conceptual basis of the value of trees, we as simple human beings like trees for they have a way of making our lives joyful and pleasant. When in a grove of trees or a forest, we feel tranquil, cool in comparison to being in a parched, treeless desert like environment.
Beyond simply admiring the beauty of trees we feel safe, at home and at peace in a forested area. Trees also have therapeutic properties and scientific research has proven that patients with views of trees and forests to cure more rapidly than those who do not.
Over million trees
It is fitting that mid this month, for the first time in the history of this nation, a President has taken on the task of planting over a million trees, plants and seedlings at the time he is sworn in to take on Stately duties. This is the second term in office for him and a time when the nation’s economic and social development takes centre stage, leaving difficult times of gloom and doom behind us.
There were of course other Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and politicians before him who planted trees. They were projects that made varying degrees of impact and one significant effort was that of Late President Premadasa. For most others, the planting of a tree was a mere symbolic gesture.
At a time when climate change and the need to generate modes of absorbing more and more of the harmful gases that affect the planet’s atmosphere, planting a million trees within a few minutes, in a collective national mobilisation effort, is beyond being symbolic. It is indeed an act of substance and much meaning, not only for Sri Lanka but for the world at large.
Making sure that a good majority of the trees planted will blossom in full is indeed a challenge before all of us. We as a nation and its collective conscience will be put to the test, as we take on the responsibility of steering and gearing this noble action putting aside our petty political and other differences.
A tree as the children would have learnt will not differentiate between Sri Lankans of different races, cast, creed or status when it offers us shade, flowers and fruit, while guarding us against the ill-effects of global warming.
A lesson we must indeed learn when we take on the next phase of our development, where justice, dignity, opportunity and a peaceful environment for all, will need to be the collective guiding force in ensuring the sustainable development of this nation.