A Lesson From The Forest

Whether we realise this or not,
we are interconnected.
When we realise this,
we can interconnect more fruitfully.

— Stonepeace

In the Rukkhadhamma Jataka, a quarrel had arisen regarding water rights. In response, the Buddha told a tale of his past life as the spirit of a sal tree in the Himalayas. During the reign of King Vessava, the trees, shrubs, bushes, and plants were all invited to choose a new abode. The future Buddha advised all his kinsfolk to ‘shun trees that stood alone in the open and to take up their abodes’ in the forest.

The wise vegetative spirits followed his advice, but the proud and foolish ones instead chose to dwell outside the villages and towns, to reap the benefits offered by townspeople who worship such trees.  They left the forest and came to inhabit ‘giant trees which grow in an open space.’ One day,  a mighty storm swept over the countryside. The solitary trees, despite their years of growth deep into the rich farmland, suffered greatly: their branches snapped, their trunks collapsed, and they were uprooted, ‘flung to the earth by the tempest.’

But when the storm hit the sal forest of interlacing trees where the future Buddha dwelt, ‘its fury was in vain… not a tree could it overthrow.’.. The future Buddha responded with the verse, ‘United forest-like, should kinsfolk stand; the storm o’erthrows the solitary tree.’ This was later repeated by the Buddha when he addressed the villagers during a dispute over water, reminding them to work in unity toward a common goal. This story could be interpreted as a call to heed the lessons of the forest, to acknowledge the strength of the interconnectedness of life.

Animals and Environment in the Buddhist Birth Stories
Christopher Key Chapple

Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds
Edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Ryuken Williams

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