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Wat Plak Mai Lai Forest Monastery


Abstract

Wat Plak Mai Lai is a densely-wooded forest monastery outside of Bangkok in Thailand. Thanks to Abbot Phra Acharn Somneuk Natho’s “non-interventionist” approach to forest management, Wat Plak Mai Lai is the last remaining natural forest in Thailand’s Nakhon Pathom Province. In contrast to the Thai Forestry Department, which contends that for-profit tree plantations are the best solution to deforestation, Phra Acharn Somneuk believes in letting nature restore itself. At Wat Plak Mai Lai, Phra Acharn Somneuk has demonstrated that his hands-off approach to reforestation works. The temple site, once stripped of its natural forest cover, is now thickly wooded, providing a stark contrast to the cash crops that surround the monastery. The forest at Wat Plak Mai Lai demonstrates the recuperative powers of nature, thus challenging the for-profit forestry policies of the government. As a result of the abbot’s approach to reforestation and his efforts to include local villagers, the burning and clearing of trees around the temple has ceased. In addition to serving as a reforestation demonstration site, the monastery provides an environment conducive to meditation. According to Phra Acharn Somneuk, the forest transmits the dhamma: when one refrains from greed, grasping, and intervention, balance is naturally restored.

Religion

Buddhism

Geographic Location

Thailand
Duration of Project 1937–Present
History When the land was donated by a Chinese merchant in 1937 to become a temple site, it was desiccated and infertile after serving as a tobacco plantation. Although the first abbot let the trees grow back naturally, the second and third abbots cleared the forest for fuel. The fourth abbot let nature take its course again but left the monastery after a few years. Phra Acharn Somneuk became abbot in the mid 1980s, when the land around the monastery was sparsely wooded. After planting a variety of tree saplings, the young abbot concluded that the forest would recover best if left alone. In contrast to governmental reforestation policies, Phra Acharn Somneuk believed that community involvement and minimal intervention was the best approach to reforestation. Local villagers were invited to share their knowledge about medicinal herbs and participate in workshops at the monastery. Eventually, the villagers stopped clear-cutting and the land recovered its dense forest cover.
Mission Statement None Listed
Partner Organizations None Listed
Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography Sanitsuda Ekachai, “Allowing Trees to Grow” in Seeds of Hope: Local Initiatives in Thailand (Bangkok: Thai Development Support Committee, 1994) 124–29.
Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information None Listed