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Martin Palmer profiled in Emergence Magazine

February 12, 2019:

Hallowed Ground

by Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder in Emergence Magazine

I AM WAITING to meet Martin Palmer—theologian, Taoist scholar, radio personality, and secretary general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC)—at the porch of Bristol Cathedral, England’s most acclaimed medieval hall church, on the College Green.

The church is beautiful, imposing—embellished with such elaborate detail that it is impossible to take in with a casual glance. One could spend an entire day simply gazing at the exterior: four somber, laconic men carved in weathered stone, a panel of the Virgin Mary and child resting above the entrance.

Thousands of intricate details represent decades dedicated to carving and assembling stone. But few passersby on this muggy and overcast day in June pay the twelfth-century building any attention; far fewer enter.

I loiter outside long enough that a hopeful woman pokes her head through the door, assuring me that it’s okay to come in. On another day, I would have welcomed an afternoon of being overtaken by the soaring aisles with ceilings that rise to the same height as the vaulted nave, the starburst recesses, the uncanny, delicate light of stained glass. But just then, Martin appears...


Thailand and Cambodia have seen some of the most devastating logging and clear-cutting in a world where 18.7 million acres of forest across the globe are lost to deforestation annually. Between 1961 and 1998, an estimated two-thirds of Thailand’s remaining forest was destroyed.

In the 1980s, the logging effort increased and entire forests began to disappear, sometimes in the course of a single day. In 1988 the excessive deforestation of a mountainside led to a landslide, exacerbating floods and killing over three hundred people.

The monks saw the land suffering and the people suffering as a result. A small number of monks began to reexamine Buddhist scriptures, seeking ways to protect the forests through traditional rituals and teachings.

The Buddha taught that all things are interconnected, that the health of the whole is bound to the health of every sentient being. If you harm rivers, trees, animals, soil, you harm yourself. Some of the monks began to intentionally seek out threatened and illegally logged forests for their Phansa meditation, but it became increasingly dangerous for them. Some were assassinated.

And then one monk began a practice of ordaining trees. After locating the oldest and largest trees in a forest, he—in the presence of members of his surrounding lay community—recited the appropriate scripture and then wrapped the trees in traditional orange robes, just as is done for a novice monk. The practice has spread across Thailand and into Cambodia.

Most loggers will not commit the taboo of harming a monk, even if that monk is a tree....

Link here for rest of the story in Emergence Magazine.

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