While faithfuls by the tens of thousands made their way to offer their prayers at Buddhist temples all over the island on Vesak Day, I went about offering help to a mango tree growing along the perimeter of Bedok Shopping Complex in Simpang Bedok.
The previous day saw me taking up an SOS call from a distressed Gabriel Tan. A tree outside his audio equipment shop (ZENN) had apparently been earmarked for the chop by the shopping complex management. He wanted it saved and asked if I could help. I said yes as a matter of fact, of course. How could I turn him down on the eve of Vesak Day? Moreover, how could I not lend a helping hand to a courageous man such as he? His dharma was too hard to resist.
Days earlier, by a stroke of fate, he had parked his Toyota pick-up right under the mango tree. Not long after, to his dismay, he was summoned to move his vehicle away so that the tree-cutters can start cutting the tree. What he did next was truly admirable. He simply refused to barge an inch and stood his ground even when the Police were called in. The Police, to their credit, made no arrest nor reproach. Instead they decidedly turned the tree-cutting operation on its head for further deliberation by the opposing parties. That gave Gabriel precious time to query his shopping complex management about their decisions and to raise concerns amongst his fellow tenants. He also found me through Google and got me up and running as his trusted tree-inspector and advisor. So... in a nutshell, that was how it all came about... [Photo below: mango tree arching over narrow 1-laned road.]
Vesak Day: The first thing that strikes me as I arrive below the mango tree is its cooling shade; it is voluptuous and inviting to no degree of exaggeration. By mid-morning, the sun is already screaming down for boiling blood and running sweat on the brow. At 10 metres, and against the slanting light, its luxuriant head of leaves reflects the green vigor of health as any robust tree should be and it is fruiting by their dozens too.
I estimate it to be no more than 20 years old and this is promptly confirmed by Gabriel's father and mother who arrive at the scene within a heartbeat of mine.
Senior Tan enthuses, 'it is as old as our first grandchild and he is now 17 years old'. 'Look', pointing at the canopy above, 'it is always fruiting. People living and working around here enjoy harvesting the mangoes because they taste great. It has really been good to everyone here'.
Senior Tan is obviously at one with this giving tree. He is also hopeful that these same people would come forward to help save the tree in gratitude. He sums up his feelings by saying matter-of-factly, 'we can all save this generous tree together'.
Gabriel briefs me once again the accusations that have been levelled against the mango tree by the shopping complex management. All I have to do is to systematically debunk them one by one and add fresh insights on my part. It is that simple as the tree is in perfect health and has no signs of infestation or affliction of any kind.
No.1 Accusation: Tree damaged drain.
Findings: No damage to the drain whatsoever!
Fresh Insights: The drain is not an ordinary drain. In fact, the side of the drain which bolders the tree is a solid retaining wall of immeasurable strength. In other words, it is technically not a 'side' of the drain in the normal sense. See picture below.
No.2 Accusation: Tree damaged road.
Findings: No damage to the road whatsoever!
If you don't believe me, ask the cat below the van! : )
Hello Kitty-Kitty... nice flat road to sleep on, right?
Fresh Insights: The 1.4m girth tree stands on a relatively wide and generous grass verge which, in fact, afforts a great deal more room for the roots of the tree to stretch out lengthwise parallel to the road and the drain. The roots of the tree have therefore no propensity for invading either structures. (See photo below)
Occasional trimming of the branches will keep the tree's branch-to-root ratio balanced equally for sustained growth. Present state shows no sign of root-girdling or eruption above the surface of the soil. The roots are very happy growing within the grass verge!
Now, here's the best part of my investigation...
No.3 Accusation: Tree is littering the adjacent terrace house with fallen leaves and the owners WANT the tree cut! [In other words, the shopping complex management is saying, 'Go blame the owners of the house next door but not us, OK!!]
Findings: Yes, indeed! The tree is littering the house with fallen leaves - and if I may add - fallen fruits too. But the owners only want the tree to be trimmed, NOT CUT!!
Fresh Insights: We spoke with the nice owners of the house and found out the truth ourselves. It turns out to be quite proverbial: to find out TRUTH and celebrate the LIGHT on Vesak Day! The owners do collect the mangoes to eat too, so they definitely do not want to cut the tree down. As the photo below shows, the tree juts ever so slightly into the compound of their house. Only minor and occasional trimming of the branches will be required to solve the problem.
Conclusion: The accusations levelled against the mango tree are all unfounded, untrue or exaggerated. It begs the next most important question: How authentic is their claim about Nparks giving them approval to fell the tree in the first place?
Recommendations: In all eventuality, it would be in the best interest of the shopping complex management (Far East) to keep and value its trees as extensions of goodwill to its immediate neighbourhood where most of its regular customers come from. But beyond dollars and cents and customer services, it makes good sense to work actively with the community in bringing about an environment which is greener and healthier for all. Afterall, we all share the same air.
So keep the mango tree. Do not cut it down. It is the first step to winning hearts and dollars. Together we can teach our children the right attitude to loving both the community and the environment.
Epilogue: At the end of our investigation, Gabriel invited me to his audio lab to listen to some of his fabulous music. As I drifted with the music at length - meandering through my own thoughts and wonderings - I begun to understand the extra dimension ZENN (coined from Zen) had on my own existential experience with Vesak Day today. Music can be so so pure without words. It is the language of the heart. I am not a Buddhist, and I have no words of prayer at the temple's door, but I think I have responded to my heart and followed a path Buddhadasa Bhikku has taught... to enter momentarily a Time beyond Present. If this is a prayer, so be it. The joy and peace within my heart today cannot be taken away.
'Listen to the trees speak, hear the stones teach dharma.'
- Buddhadasa Bhikku of Phra Paisan's Temple School (Thailand)