Guest columnist Ruth Ozeki: Buddhist priests urge city to change course on trees

Published: 7/26/2021 8:55:23 AM

This letter to Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz was quoted in a July 15 Gazette article. Since then, I have received requests for the full text of the letter, which the editors have kindly agreed to print. I hope and pray for a harmonious resolution to this difficult situation.

“We hope you are very well. We are writing to inform you that we have recently ordained 10 trees on Warfield Place as Zen Buddhist priests, including seven venerable Kwanzan cherry trees. The ordination ceremony was officiated by Rev. Kosen Gregory Snyder and Rev. Kanshin Ruth Ozeki on Monday, July 12, at 9 am, with six ordained Buddhist monks and priests present as ceremonial witnesses. Also, Warfield Place residents and others from the local community numbered over 60 present.

In our Zen Buddhist tradition, we understand trees, mountains, rivers, and the whole of sentient life to be sacred teachers of spiritual wisdom. Culturally, cherry trees are particularly important as they are sacred expressions of spring and new life. We were asked by the residents of Warfield Place, some of whom are Buddhist, to recognize these venerable trees by ordaining them. Now that they have been ordained, they are to be referred to by the honorific title, Oboan, which is the term for a Zen priest.

We understand that because of a controversial plan to repave the street, these trees are to be killed prematurely. We find this painful and strange as it is clear to all of us who attended the ordination that these trees are not yet ready to die, a fact that was attested to by a certified arborist, whose moving words in support of the trees were read at the ceremony.

Moreover, it seems that the residents of Warfield Place are overwhelmingly against the paving of the street and the killing of these trees. We are writing in hopes that your office will reconsider the plan to kill these trees as they are healthy, ordained members of our religious community.

Further, they will also be a pilgrimage site for Buddhists who wish to visit these ordained Kwanzan clergy. Warfield Place has already held its first annual Sakura or Cherry Blossom festival. We look forward to next year’s Sakura festival being a place where Buddhists can come and enjoy the cherry blossoms of these newly ordained trees.

We know the residents of Warfield Place have offered to work with your office to create a plan that could provide full accessibility for street and walkway surfaces while protecting these precious, venerable trees. The undersigned list of Buddhist priests, monks, and leaders support this and encourage the city government to respond warmly to this generous request for collaboration, working to find a harmonious solution that will not unnecessarily take life.

We thank you for considering our collective request and look forward to your response.”

This letter was signed by over 100 prominent Buddhist leaders from around the world, including Rev. Dr. Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sylvia Boorstein, Roshi Joan Halifax, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.


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