|108,000 trees planted in homage. C. Coimbra photo|
Each household in Bhutan (all 82,000) planted a tree in homage, with a group of dedicated arborists adding on an additional 26,000 to hit the important figure of 108, which—in Buddhism—is the number of earthly desires blocking the path to enlightenment. Each tree planted removes one of the defilements along the path, as a kind of spiritual cleanse. It’s similar to each of the 108 bells that toll on New Year’s Eve in Japan, and why Buddhist monks make a point of bowing 108 times.
"We are now nurturing the plants as if we are nurturing the little prince,” a volunteer told the BBC, reflecting the Himalayan nation’s overwhelming commitment to both a sense of community and the environment.
Bhutan’s focus on the bigger, eco-friendly picture is largely connected to its Buddhist roots. More than 75 percent of the population practices the religion in which trees are honored and revered, and by law the country must be at least 60-percent covered by forests. “In Buddhism, a tree is the provider and nourisher of all life forms. It symbolizes longevity, health, beauty, and even compassion,” Tenzin Lekphell, the planting organizer, explained.