Tree symbolizes peace

By Amanda Dembner, The Daily Targum, Nov 29, 2005

Rutgers, NY (USA) -- Although the Dalai Lama graced the University with a visit more than a month ago, supporters hope his presence and symbols of peace and harmony will always live on at the University.

The Religion Students Association has planted a peace tree by Passion Puddle on Douglass campus to commemorate the visit of the Dalai Lama and provide a peaceful reminder to all faculty, staff and students passing through the area.

"The RSA wanted something that would last a long time, and allow people to remember the words of the Dalai Lama," said Romil Amin, vice president of the RSA and Rutgers College junior. "So ideally, a tree was something that would allow individuals to reflect back on their lives and make peace within them, while at the same time prepares them to bring peace in the future."

Planting peace trees is a common practice throughout various cultures and religions - such as Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, China, India and Russia. It is believed that a peace tree is able to bring peace and reduce the violence in the tree's surrounding region. Native American nations commonly use peace trees to signify the relations between humans and the environment.

"[The tree is] a living and growing symbol of peace that will encourage and promote love and non-violence for all generations to come," said Regina Navickas, RSA president and Rutgers College junior.

The symbol of the tree and its metaphysical concept go back to ancient times. The significance starts with the roots that go deep within the earth and signify that every person is interconnected. Finally, the branches and leaves reach towards the sky to symbolize the importance of reaching out to heaven.

A white ash tree was the chosen tree for this particular occasion. It has a long history of representing wisdom - much like an olive tree is commonly known to symbolize peace. An olive tree was the preferred selection, but the white ash was selected because it contains the strength to withstand the harsh New Jersey winter climate.

The tree - donated by Princeton Nurseries and reaching almost 12 feet tall - was originally used as decoration on stage during the Dalai Lama's Sept. 25 speech.

Members of the RSA committee, two Buddhist Monks and a few students attended the planting ceremony.

"A lot of important changes happened because one person did something," Navickas said. "Look at Rosa Parks, Gandhi or Mother Theresa. Never underestimate the power of one."

Magdalena Giacone - a member of the Dalai Lama Planning Committee - introduced the idea of using peace flags as an appropriate addition to the tree ceremony. Peace flags are an idea created from the Buddhist Prayer Flags used by monks. The traditional prayer flags were represented in five colors - yellow (Earth), Red (Fire), Green (Water), White (Wind) and Blue (Sky). They are typically inscribed with sutras and mantras - which are sacred words to invoke different energies and hung on the bark of a tree to blow in the wind and release their blessings.

The RSA decided it would be nice to do peace flags instead, as it is something with a particular message and does not have as much of a religious connotation. About 30-40 flags were made at a table set up by Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. Navickas tells how one flag was made by an eleven year-old girl who begged her parents to make a flag.

The idea of peace flags is something the RSA hopes to incorporate in its annual event called "A Day of Peace." The idea is to have a ceremonial meditative walk holding candles from the College Avenue campus to the peace tree at Passion Puddle on Douglass campus to place the peace flags on the peace tree to conclude the day. "A Day of Peace" will have many inspirational speakers, and Navickas is making an effort to have Ghandi's grandson come speak at the next event.