6 June 2024

Visakha Bucha Day is approaching. Regarded as one of the most important days in Buddhism, it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and attainment of complete Nibbana of the Lord Buddha.

This year, Visakha Bucha Day falls on Wednesday, May 22. Buddhists worldwide will make merit (tam boon), observe religious precepts and perform the traditional religious ceremony wian tian, walking around the temple’s main chapel in the evening in remembrance of the Buddha’s purity, wisdom and compassion to all beings.

May 22 is also Thailand National Arbor Day.

To celebrate these special days, the Tree for Dhamma Foundation, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and their alliances have invited residents to make merit by planting trees through the ‘Wian Tian Using Tree Seedlings’ activity.

Tree seedlings will be used during the evening religious rites to replace lit incense sticks, candles and other materials.

Seedlings which are placed in eco-friendly paper bags are ready to be given to people who take part in “Wian Tian Using Tree Seedlings” at the participating temples. The bags also come with advice on successful plant growing for beginners.//Photo: The Tree for Dhamma Foundation

The seedlings will be then planted in unused areas in the city to help add green spaces, while reducing air pollution, one of the most serious problems faced by the city.

‘Wian Tian Using Tree Seedlings’ is a collaborative project of the Tree for Dhamma Foundation, the BMA, the BMA’s Department of Environment, the Royal Forest Department, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) and Asset Wise.

Adapting to the changing world

In Buddhism, Phra Pisan Visalo noted that growing trees means making a space a happy place.

“Growing trees to create a green space can provide shade. That helps improve our physical and mental health,” the monk said while delivering a dharma sermon titled “Muang Romruen Jai Romyen Pen Rommanee” (literally green in cities gives mental health a boost, leading to happiness), at Benjakitti Park in Bangkok on May 18.

Phra Pisan Visalo is the abbot of Wat Pa Sukato in Chaiyaphum province and president of the Tree for Dhamma Foundation supported by ThaiHealth.

Phra Pisan Visalo, the abbot of Wat Pa Sukato and president of the Tree for Dhamma Foundation delivers a sermon at Benjakitti Park on May 18, 2024.//Photo: The Tree for Dhamma Foundation

The monk noted that the wian tian using tree seedlings and growing trees is adapted to the changing world.

“Growing trees is a new way of making merit that all Buddhists can perform. It can help solve the problems faced by the world today and can be good for humans and the environment,” Phra Pisan Visalo said. 

Wian tian using seedlings enables Buddhists to pay respect to the Lord Buddha and appreciate the value of trees at the same time, the monk noted, urging people who perform these rites to grow the seedlings afterwards whether at home, in the grounds of a temple, in a public park or in a garden.

“It’s a way to praise the Lord Buddha. It would bring auspicious fortune to you,” he said.  

Greener, cleaner, healthier, and absolutely better

Deputy Bangkok governor Sanon Wangsrangboon said the Wian Tian Using Tree Seedling activity is aimed at encouraging residents to care for the environment, planting trees to increase urban green space, while improving the air quality. 

Deputy Bangkok governor Sanon Wangsrangboon//Photo: the BMA

The move is part of the BMA’s ambitious goals under the helm of Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt to grow seedlings for the one million plants within four years under its flagship policy “15- Minute Pocket Parks”, which aims to turn unused land in the city into public green space.

Sanon said the BMA has ordered chiefs of all 50 districts in the city to ask for cooperation in this activity and 2-4 temples in each district have agreed.

The district offices are responsible for providing seedlings to be used in the wian tian ceremony on Visakha Bucha Day, with about 100 seedlings going to each temple.

Participants who take part in the ceremony can receive seedlings from the participating temples.
Following the rites, they can bring the seedlings back home to either plant themselves or leave them at the temples, which will later plant the seedlings on their premises or elsewhere in the city to increase the green space.

“We expect more than 20,000 trees to be planted as part of this activity,” Sanon said.

He urged people who grow the given seedlings to register on https://bangkok.go.th that records every tree Bangkok residents have planted under the one-million tree plantation project. 

He added that residents who join the activity will be part of the BMA’s one-million tree plantation project, while temples that work with the city’s districts will be part of its 15-Minute Pocket Parks.

Some of seedlings that will be used in the ceremony are shade trees, many good at clearing dust and reducing air pollution.

Buddhists listen to the dharma sermon delivered by Phra Pisan Visalo at Benjakitti Park.//Photo: The Tree for Dhamma Foundation

Others are edible. They are: Dipterocarpus alatus Roxb. (ton yangna), Calophyllum inophyllum (ton krating), Iron Wood (ton boonnak), Phyllanthus emblica (ton makhampom), White Chesswood (ton lumduan), Orange Jasmine (ton kaew), Cape Jasmine (ton pudson), Night Blooming Jasmine (ton kannika), Cucumber tree (ton taling ping), Sauropus androgynus (ton pakwan ban), Kaffir Lime (ton makrud), Hoary Basil (ton maeng rak) and Holy Basil (ton kaphrao).

More than 100 temples are taking part in the activity nationwide. Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan in Bangkok Yai District, Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan in Phra Nakhon District, Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram in Dusit District, and Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen in Phasi Charoen District are among the temples in the city that will take part in the activity.

People who are interested in participating in the activity can go to https://bit.ly/visaka to see a list of the participating temples.

Buddhists listen to the dharma sermon delivered by Phra Pisan Visalo at Benjakitti Park.//Photo: The Tree for Dhamma Foundation

Trees reduce air pollution

The Wian Tian Using Tree Seedling activity helps clean the air and reduces garbage generation.

Sanon explained that planting the seedlings will help increase the amount of plants and trees within urban areas. This can help reduce particulate pollution by absorbing and filtering particulate matter.

Using seedlings as materials in the ceremony instead of candles, incense sticks and others can help reduce toxins in the air and the amount of garbage that is generated following the rites. 

Incense burning is a key emission source of fine particles (PM2.5). A study by Chulalongkorn University shows incense burning could increase PM 2.5 concentration in the air by 2-10 times.

According to the Thai Department of Health, incense smoke is as dangerous as cigarette smoke. The fumes of incense and cigarettes are linked to cancers.

“Come and be part of marking merit and creating a greener city. Everyone is welcome,” Sanon said.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk