“To plant a tree is to believe in the possibility of a more beautiful future. Plant a tree for your children to enjoy. Plant a tree to show respect for the environment. Plant a tree for the Dhamma. You are invited to join in the reforestation of Vimutti Buddhist Monastery. Help nature recover while enjoying the happiness of making good kamma.”
With environmental problems mounting across the globe and New Zealand having been stripped of most of its native bush, there is some good news happening on the horizon. Since the founding of Vimutti Buddhist Monastery in 2004, we have planted nearly 4000 trees! The effort is ongoing and we invite people to participate.
Our 72-acre property was formerly an old paddock with some nice patches of bush and wetlands. A few dedicated people have worked tirelessly for the last three years to clean-up the land, make paths, re-establish the native flora and plant contemplative gardens. Through their hard work they hope to create a serene and beautiful environment suitable for developing peace of mind.
The purpose of our project is to create a monastic community in an environment that supports the development of a deeper understanding of the Dhamma, the truths of nature. The interdependence of all living things is a basic Buddhist tenet. Through being mindful of this interdependence we learn that caring for the environment is an ethical issue. Embodying this ideal requires a simultaneous nurturing of both inner and outer environments. Regenerating the beautiful native New Zealand ecosystem is our response to the global environmental crises.
When I first arrived on this property, cattle-grazing on the steep hills had caused a tremendous amount of soil erosion and environmental degradation. Since the stock were removed, slips along the stream banks have virtually disappeared. Ferns and pongas have made a strong comeback. The trees we have planted will provide increased protection against soil erosion, while attracting birdlife and consuming carbon dioxide—a major contributor to global climate change. Not least of all, the trees inspire visitors to relax and appreciate nature.
We have planted a wide variety of trees and plants, 250 Cabbage trees, 200 Pittosporum varieties, 300 native Flax and dozens of each of the following: Kauri, Totara, Griselinia, Kahikatea, Pohutukawa, Kawaka, Karaka, Hoheria and Rimu. We have mass planted locally sourced Kanuka as a nurse species. Meanwhile hundreds of large Barberry thornbushes have been removed. Invasive willows have been taken out of the stream and wetlands, and there is an ongoing effort to eradicate noxious pest plants and weeds.
Almost every single day we spend hours monitoring and looking after the trees that have already been planted. Trees are cared for with weed matting, protective fencing and loving-kindness. Around the trunks of more than 50 already existing large native trees we have wrapped aluminium sheet metal to prevent possum damage. An electric fence was installed to protect 20 acres of the property from feral goats, and contemplative ponds have been created to attract bird life.
The establishment of a sustainable Buddhist community based on peace and wisdom is our long-term aim. To achieve this we need to be mindfully aware of how we live within and affect our natural surroundings. Currently Vimutti Monastery is self-sufficient in our use of water by relying on collecting rain, and solar panels provide the electricity to heat all the hot water in the main building. All of our food scraps are composted. Plastics, glass and tins are recycled, and we only use biodegradable cleaning products. We are doing what we can to address the imbalance of the current environmental crises.
Our extended community consists of many hundreds of people from throughout the Auckland area who regularly visit the monastery and benefit from its tranquil atmosphere and natural setting. To the wider community, Buddhist monks and nuns are examples of an alternative way of life based on virtuous living and sustainable environmental practices. They have few possessions, live in simple huts in the forest, and are models of non-violence. By coming to the monastery, guests get an appreciation of both nature and the Sangha’s dedication to Dhamma practice, an impression that they can then carry back into their personal environment.
As a Buddhist monastery we have the opportunity to teach and influence a large and diverse audience. Responsibly caring for the earth and living harmoniously are important principles that we try to instil in our community.
Our monastery is part of a lineage called the Forest Tradition. Living in and learning from nature has always been a key feature of this tradition. As Auckland’s urban sprawl extends further and further into the countryside, Vimutti Buddhist Monastery will remain a green haven dedicated to awareness, education and environmental protection.