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Can a Tree be a Monk?

Updated on June 11, 2010

A monk ordained some trees as monks so no one could cut them down.  Hmm...  This seems admirable (especially with the social pressure to be "green" and environmentally friendly), but it raises more than a few questions.

Does that act degrade monkhood for humans? Can trees be monks? If they can, can we declare that animals and other plants are monks, as well? Do plants and animals have moral agency? Do monks?

Trees are certainly celibate. Are they? They reproduce sexually but have no say in the matter. Is celibacy about intercourse or intention? Because trees don't have intercourse, but then neither do those fish who lay the eggs, and the other fish swim by to fertilize them. Are they celibate, too?

Trees do not engage in conventional reality, so are they existing only in ultimate reality? That would mean that trees are enlightened, since enlightenment has less to do with knowledge and more to do with lack of mis-knowledge.

They also live "as islands unto themselves," as the Buddha instructs the monks to do. Let's look at the tenets for a novice-monk specifically.

Tenets for Novices

  1. Refrain from killing living things.
  2. Refrain from stealing.
  3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
  4. Refrain from lying.
  5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
  6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
  7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
  8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and decorative accessories.
  9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
  10. Refrain from accepting money.

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Trees do not kill... or, at least they refrain from killing. (Is falling on someone/something and that thing dying... is that killing it?) They don't steal. We already dealt with the chastity issue. Trees do not lie or take intoxicants (willingly). Trees don't take food anywhere, they only take nutrients from the ground, and only as part of the natural cycle.

I am positive that trees don't sing, though they dance in the wind. Most trees do not attend entertainment programs.

Trees try not to wear too many decorative accessories (though Christmas trees are especially non-monkish in this respect) or any perfumes. They sleep standing up and never sit on luxurious chairs. And not a tree I've ever met will accept money.

So I guess it makes sense that trees could be ordained as monks. They're doing everything right!


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