Introducing ZPI Affiliate: Dharma of Trees

To strengthen our planetary network, ZPI will feature newly affiliated groups.     

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Introducing a new ZPI affiliate group:

Dharma of Trees

Serving Peace in a World of Grief

What is your organization’s name?

Dharma of Trees.

What is your mission?

To support the human and more-than-human world as we live together in an age of environmental and climate grief.

Where is your organization based?

Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

How many regular members do you serve?   10.

Tell us a bit about how the group was conceived?

The idea for this little group grew out of tears. A sensitive woman asked me to speak with her about her feelings of loss and grief after a tree in her garden became diseased and died. She felt like she was mourning, but she also felt embarrassed and ashamed of her grief for a tree. She thought nobody would understand, so her suffering also included feeling isolated and even alienated. We sat in her garden and I listened to her stories about the tree and its place in her life, in the life of her family, in the life of the garden. And then we commemorated its life, sitting on the earth where its roots were slowly turning back into soil.

After this touching encounter, I discovered other people who were grieving other-than-human losses. And I began to attend to individuals, families, and communities who invited me to sit with them and support them in their grief.

The Dharma of Trees started to grow as a project for the Upaya Zen Center’s program in Socially Engaged Buddhism and as part of the Buddhist Eco-Chaplaincy program at the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies.

Tell us about one exciting project, retreat, or other offerings that you are currently working on.

After working with some environmental activists and indigenous communities, we are in the process of trying to re-imagine the ‘ordination’ of trees (as a way to protect them from human violence) as a new form of ritual that feels less colonial and that acknowledges the fact that some ancient growth trees are older than Buddhism. Rather than bestowing a title onto the trees, as though humans are superior beings, we’re exploring a form of invitation into a kind of mutually respectful, more-than-human sangha.

How do the Three Tenets inform your social engagement?

The Three Tenets are at the very heart of the Dharma of Trees.
‘Not knowing’ is foundational to our ability to hold the space of the more-than-human realm around us, without judging or discriminating. The more-than-human is, by nature, beyond regular processes of human understanding, and so we attempt to reside in that space of ‘not knowing’ as the ground in which our compassion and action are planted. So, when someone tells us that they feel the suffering of the natural world around them as though it is their own, we can accept that.

‘Bearing witness’ emerges expansively into our practice. Building on ‘not knowing,’ our services and practices endeavor to open our awareness to the myriad standpoints of the more-than-human realm in any situation. So, when a human is grieving the loss of a tree, what kinds of emotions and feelings are being held by others, and what kinds of responses reside the non-human beings around that loss? Can we bear witness to the gale as it tears a branch from a tree?
‘Taking action’ means that we are in the world. Dharma of Trees seeks to take action from the complementary standpoints of ‘not knowing’ and ‘bearing witness.’ So, we offer a range of services (by invitation) for people and, from time to time, for the non-human community (by calling). We might run meditation sessions in the forest. We might perform a ceremony of passing for a tree or a blessing for an area about to be harvested. We might provide meditation between activists and loggers. And we can provide chaplaincy services around environmental and climate grief.

What is the most meaningful challenge your organization faces?

Vancouver Island has rich, ancient indigenous peoples, nations, and cultures. The Dharma of Trees acknowledges this living heritage with great respect and admiration, and seeks constantly to act in a way that expresses our gratitude for being able to live, learn, and work on this land. A deeply meaningful challenge for us is to provide our humble services without compromising the intimate, living relationships between the indigenous populations and this beautiful territory. It is at least partially in this context that Dharma of Trees will not ordain trees on Vancouver Island; instead, we are working to co-create forms of ceremony that are true to the tenets of Zen and respectful of the uniqueness of this particular place and the relationships that are here embedded.

Your main website URL:

Main contact: Dr. Chris (Shinsen) Goto-Jones, Chaplain:

Dr. Chris Goto-Jones is a Buddhist Chaplain working in the field of EcoDharma on Vancouver Island, Canada, where he is also a certified Nature & Forest Therapy Guide (ANFT).  His training in Buddhism is in the Zen and Vipassana traditions.  He is a member of Zen Peacemakers International, and his dharma name is Shinsen (森仙).  He has taught meditation internationally for nearly a decade, including through the massive open online course (MOOC), De-Mystifying Mindfulness (Leiden University & Coursera/FutureLearn, 2016-present), which has served 250,000 participants to date.  Chris has advanced certifications in MBSR and MBCT.  He is a certified Philosophical Counsellor, a diplomate counsellor in Existential Analysis & Logotherapy, and a registered Counselling Hypnotherapist.  He is currently a professor in Philosophy at the University of Victoria.

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Introducing ZPI Affiliate: Dharma of Trees

2 Responses

  1. I have loved trees since I was a child climbing the apple trees in our backyard, and admiring the wood from trees around the world that my father used to make furniture and lovely art. I’m old now and ii have written a chapter in my memoir about my relationships with trees throughout my life. I understand grieving the loss of trees.

  2. Thank you for acknowledging the grief we are all experiencing, consciously or not, of the dying off of species and so many life forms, and for me especially the trees. In the space of 10 years, my family and I lived in 2 different apartments in the same community. The landlords of each apartments cut down all the trees while we were living in each place. My Mother was living with me at this time, and the first tree cut down, she grieved like a family member for this beloved tree that was her companion while we were away at work and school. She just passed two weeks ago. She loved the trees. We finally moved to a new state and moved into a place where the trees were close to the building and no one cut them down. This was an incredible boon in her last two years of life. And she and I felt that the maples here gave her two more years of her life because they were her steady and beautiful companions.
    Deep bow,
    Laura Hitt

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