Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: Project Green Hands and Tree Planting in Tamil Nadu

By Bhavani Prakash

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

It is a rare opportunity indeed to meet someone who deeply understands the connect between ourselves and the living planet, and is taking direct action in terms of mobilising people into planting millions of trees, whilst simultaneously giving the practical tools to profoundly change one’s own inner wellbeing.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of Isha Foundation talks to us in Singapore recently (Video below) about Project Green Hands, the largest tree planting effort in India in the state of Tamil Nadu, and the work that’s being carried out to enable its progress. The project received the “Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar award,” the highest environmental award in India in 2010.

Sadhguru travels around the world spreading his message of peace and the need for ‘inner engineering’ or change – from global forums such as the World Economic Forum at Davos, World Peace Congress and United Nations Millennium Peace Summit, right to villages in the heart of rural India.

On Earth Day 2012 Sadhguru had said,

“How audacious that we can even think that we will allot a day for the earth! Both day and night happen only because of the revolutions of the earth. Our very body is an extract from this planet. Everything that we are is earth. For human beings who have forgotten that they have just temporarily come out of the womb of this earth and that they will one day be sucked back into this earth, for them, this day is a reminder that you are a part of this earth. If humanity has to live for a long time, you have to think like the earth, act like the earth and be the earth, because that is what you are. 

I am often asked by people, “Why is a spiritual leader, a yogi, planting trees?”  Why? Because trees are our closest relatives. What they exhale, we inhale; what we exhale, they inhale and keep our lives going. It is just like the outer part of our lung. You cannot ignore your body if you want to live. The planet is in no way different from that. What you call “my body” is just a piece of this planet.

The video interview:

Video link here

Here is the edited transcript for the above video interview with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: 

Bhavani Prakash:  Thank you Sadhguru, for speaking to us at EWTT, it’s a real honour for me to be here with you today. At EWTT, we raise awareness about environmental issues and also share stories of positive change.  Sadhguru, you have spread peace and joy to millions of people all over the world and have specially initiated Project Green Hands, which is the largest tree planting initiative in India in the state of Tamil Nadu, with the objective of planting 114 million trees that will raise the tree cover to 33% (Sadhguru: We are not anywhere near the number!)

Bhavani Prakash: Why and how did you start the Project Green Hands? What is the progress so far?

Sadhguru Jaggi VasudevIn the year 1998, United Nations- certain agencies from the United Nations made a prediction that by 2025, 60% of Tamil Nadu will be a desert. I did not like it, I don’t like any prediction because predictions take into account only the cold facts, not human aspirations. What is beating in human heart is ignored completely. But I wanted to confirm, so I drove around Tamil Nadu to see if this is true. Then I came to the conclusion that they are wrong because in my estimate it wouldn’t go upto 2025, it would happen much faster.

Rivers which have been there for thousands of years have evaporated in the last twenty years; water table has sunk over thousand feet in many places and desertification is bound to happen very very rapidly. So I thought, what is the best thing to do? The simplest thing to do is, with global warming, temperature rise is happening. We made a calculation if there is increase in half a degree centrigrade of temperature, how many millions of tons of extra evaporation will happen to the oceans. If that many tons of water get evaporated where does it go? It all becomes cloud cover. One of the things that happens is the peninsula which is southern India, will receive excessive rain. When rain happens, without the necessary vegetative cover over it, without the green cover over it, the top soil will go away very quickly and the run off will create deserts very fast. It’s not ‘no rain’ which creates desert, it’s excessive rain without green top (that) will create. So the simple solution was to increase the green cover.

Tamil Nadu green cover on that day was 16.5%. National aspiration is 33%, so we made a barefoot calculation. If we need to make it 33% for the area of Tamil Nadu, we needed 114 million trees. So when I said 114 million trees, people thought I don’t know what the number is. We have over 62 million population. If all of us plant one tree, nurture it for 2 years and plant one more, we got the number. But such things never happen because efforts are never made in that direction. But people thought this was an impossible number.

So as a demonstration, I wanted to just give them the thrill of doing something which works.  The mountain where we are, we are at the foothills of a mountain, this particular hill which immediately behind ashram turns brown in the month of April and May. Because in this mountain, there is no single tree over 20 years of age – they have removed everything. The rest of the mountain is very thick rain forest, this particular hill is like this. Because there was illegal furniture industry taking away the timber we kind of stopped that process. It took a certain amount of social upheaval to stop it but we did. So then I devised a way of planting over this hill during rainy season.

It just took us about 22 to 23 days, about 4 to 5 thousand volunteers and I had to just provide them 2 meals a day and just had to create a song to keep the enthusiasm up and we planted up this hill.  Over 6 million seeds, we planted  in a certain way ensuring that the sprouting would be almost 100%. But because of the wildlife certain amount will die. This whole hill became green in 2 years time. Today, if you come and see, you will see in summer months, it will not turn brown.  Our temperatures have come by at least 3 degrees in summer because of this 22 days of work. So I gave them a demo that you don’t have to give up your life to do this. Making a mountain green, they thought they have to give up their life – so it was a kind of a demo and then they got enthusiastic.

Then I went about speaking to farmer groups and villages.  The simple message that I gave them is just this. As you sit here and breathe, what you exhale the trees are inhaling, what the trees exhale you are inhaling. This is a partnership. This is a relationship without which you cannot do. You can do without any other relationship but this relationship you cannot break or in other words, one half of your lung is hanging out there in the tree.  So it’s not a tree, its part of your breathing equipment. So this message went across to people. They emotionally felt that this is something they have to do because one part of the lungs is hanging out there in tree and have to take care of it. If they want to healthy, if they want to be happy, if they want to live well, if their children have to live well, this has to be done. This is something they understood.

Today, I think we have close to 17 million surviving trees which has  brought in almost over 7% green cover back to the state. This is the official figure. The google maps say it’s much more. So a big movement started and many people started planting. The awareness that this has to happen has almost reached the whole population. The media and people came out in big numbers. The call for green hands planting this year – this is our 30th year – I told them you have to plant 30 lakh trees, that is 3 million trees, but people came back with a plan and said they will plant 6 million trees. So I said fine. This year they are planting 6 million trees, so about 1,100 nursery across the state in private lands and donated lands, no government help. Planting is not happening in government land – all on private land. We convinced the farmer that he has to convert 10% of his farming land into trees. More food should come out of trees than crops. Right now the proportion is disproportionate so that’s what we are working towards.

Bhavani Prakash:  In another interview, you had said that you spent a lot of time, many years, to work on planting trees in people’s minds…..

Sadhguru Jaggi VasudevYes, that is the most difficult terrain (laughs).

Bhavani Prakash: ….. before you got them to plant trees in soil.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: Planting trees in the soil is easy because soil likes trees and trees like soil (laughs). But planting trees in people’s minds was the big job. The first six years that’s all we did – planting trees in people’s minds. But now that it’s rooted in people’s minds,  it’ll happen on the land quite effortlessly as six million trees in not a small number.

Bhavani Prakash: How did you do that? How did you engage with communities and also what do you see the impact now on these communities?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: As I said, it became an experiential process, people understood that their existence is not separate from the trees. We put it across in an experiential way through skits, through plays, through songs, through videos and celebrities coming and talking about it. We organised whole events across Tamil Nadu, so it became clear to people, ordinary people, village people, people who are everyday struggling for their livelihood. These are the people who did it, it’s not some big corporation or some other great sponsorship, it’s ordinary people on the street.

Bhavani Prakash: One question that is asked about tree planting initiatives is the choice of trees and the long term maintenance of the trees. So how does the program ensure this?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: The choice of trees in not our choice, its indigenous trees. We have chosen 108 indigenous trees – only trees which are local. We don’t bring anything from outside.  The survival rate is because we don’t allow anybody to plant more than 2 trees. 2 children will plant one tree in partnership. So right now, we have taken up this in the schools is a big way, where 2 children in partnership will grow one tree – which is doable. If you make a person plant a hundred trees or a thousand trees, invariably he is not going to take care of it unless he has resources to do it. But 2 trees is something that he will take care of,  so generally give them 3 and say you must plant 2 and encourage one more person to plant one.  So this has set forth a whole culture today. You will see in Tamil Nadu in weddings people are giving away saplings instead of coconut.  People are coming and taking from us, which is a significant change. How many of this (the) wedding guest will actually plant? The thing is we don’t just give it away, we are also kind of encouraging as to how to plant, what to do and things. Even if they don’t, just the shift in culture from giving a coconut or a fruit or something else, they have shifted to give a live sapling. When a grown plant is given to you, you can’t just throw it like this and go. There is a certain involvement in that and plantings happen. So we are also making sure that they receive that and if they say ‘I don’t know where to plant,’ we take it and plant it for them.

Bhavani Prakash: We spend money in so many frivolous ways, and as you mentioned, in unwanted gifts for various occasions such as festivals and birthdays and anniversaries. How can we encourage our friends and families (to plant trees instead)?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev : You must do it. It’s very, very important, that sensible and meaningful gifts are given, not frivolous and meaningless gifts. So we have set up a website which says “Give Isha.”  So through giveisha.org/pgh people can (donate) either for their own birthday or friend’s birthday or children’s birthday or other occasions.

Bhavani Prakash: Apart from the scientific importance of trees which are important for combating climate change, recycling air and water…..

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: No, no, we are not combating climate change -yes, that will be a consequence. We plant trees because we understand it’s deeply, deeply connected with our lives, so the science of breath for one and in many other ways is connected. So the relationship is far more than just its utility, it’s life. Without our life they can survive, without their life we cannot survive.

And as you know in the past, most people got enlightened under a tree so we are also building infrastructure for your enlightenment.  You better plant one now, just in case you are planning to get enlightened. At least you must have a decent tree to sit under. Otherwise nobody will believe….

Bhavani Prakash: I’ll do a Bodhi tree then. (Laughs)

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: (laughs) If you got enlightened in your bedroom, nobody will believe you. At least you must be sitting under a tree. (Laughs) 

Bhavani Prakash:  In Asia and in most ancient cultures of the world, we grew up with a feeling of reverence for nature and mother earth and that’s fast disappearing in this new age on consumerism and greed, fuelled by rapid economic growth. How can we regain the emotional connect, that love and respect for the earth?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: It has to be brought forth in children, in the education systems. We are looking at the planet as a commodity.  We are not looking at it as a source of our life, which is a serious, serious mistake and an extremely crass way of existence. So, if you look at your mother as a delivery system for you, it’s a very gross way of existence. If you look at the planet as commodity, it’s a very gross way of existence. It’s time this is conveyed to the children of the planet because they are the future generations and if that has it happen, then this generation has to get it too first. It has to spread the message it’s very, very important.

Bhavani Prakash: If we continue business as usual it is estimated that by end of this century …

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: A century…you think it will last that long? (laughs)

Bhavani Prakash: (laughs and continues)…it’s expected that the planet will become warmer by 4 to 6 degrees Celsius …

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: Singapore won’t exist (then) (laughs)

Bhavani Prakash: What action needs to be taken urgently by every sector of society – by individuals, organisations, communities, policy makers? What action needs to be taken to prevent catastrophic consequences? Can we avert calamity? Is it inevitable? Do we have enough time to act?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: One thing is (that) the way we consume the planet has to change. You can’t stop it.  It has to change for which breakthrough technologies need to happen. Another important thing is and one of the most immediate things is to plant trees. Particularly planting trees is effective only up to 33 degrees from the equator, north and south. But south of the equator there isn’t much land to plant, expect Africa and certain parts of America. Nowhere else there is land, but in the north, there is plenty of land. So southern India or large segment of India falls into that, Singapore in that range and many other countries are there. Upto 33 degrees from the equator is the most effective place to plant trees.  If you plant it in temperate climates, it will not contribute in a very big way to the climate change process. But maximum impact happens here so that is where we need to plant. These lands which are within 33 degrees on either side of the equator, this is where we must plant maximum trees. Because this where it makes the difference.

This is an immediate remedy or (rather) it’s not a  remedy, it’s a small correction. But if we don’t even make this small correction then (with) other things such as technological breakthroughs, nobody can predict the time. It may happen this year or it may happen a century later. We don’t know when it will happen. We definitely need to invest in that direction but there is no guarantee as to when it will happen. So planting trees is something we can do and see that it happens and the impact is immediately visible. Consuming less in so many ways has to be done, technologies have to be improved but those things will not happen immediately. They can take time.

Bhavani PrakashI suppose we must also conserve what we have?  We are losing so much forest within this tropical belt….

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: That’s what I said. You cannot reduce consumption without technological advancement, it will not happen. You can only talk about it. It’s not going to happen, because you cannot curtail human aspirations. But you can curtail human population. The tree population should increase, human population has to come down.  We have bred irresponsibly.

In the last 100 years i.e., in the beginning of the century we were just 1.5 billion. Today we are 7 billion plus. United Nations is making predictions that by 2050 we will be 9.6 billion people. 9.6 billion people means we will have to live with 40% less resource than what we are enjoying now. When I say resource, I am not talking about oil or gold or something. I am talking about food that you eat, water that you drink and air that you breathe.  This is going to be serious problem. So 9.6 billion people in another 40 years, not even 40, in 36 years,  is a dangerous bomb sitting in front of us. Either we curtail this consciously or Nature is going to do it to us in a very cruel manner.  If we do it consciously we can call ourselves human beings. If Nature does it us, we are just creatures on this planet.

Bhavani Prakash: Sadhguru, what is true happiness and joy…..?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev:  No, no this is not ecological. (Smiles)

Bhavani Prakash: (Smiles) No, I am going to link it…

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev:  How can you sit on a tree and be happy? You have to be a monkey. (Laughs)

Bhavani Prakash: How can we connect this notion of individual happiness and joy to the wellbeing of all fellow human beings, the wellbeing of all species on this planet, the health of all ecosystems?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: Don’t worry about the happiness of other beings, if you keep this one being happy (pointing to himself), no really…. If you are in a certain state of pleasantness within you, you will be pleasant to everything around you, invariably isn’t it?  When you are happy, are you not nice to people around you? But when you are unhappy are you very nice?   So people are too concerned about fixing the world. No, you fix this (pointing to himself), if this is feeling pleasant, it will naturally be pleasant to everything. So the problem is always – we want to fix the world and then fix this (oneself). It won’t happen, it’s only going to be talk.

Bhavani Prakash: Finally, there is saying that goes like this:  ”Hope without action is just wishful thinking.” Conversely, action without hope is impossible to sustain. So how can those who are really passionate about doing better for the world, encourage others to take action, impactful action, without losing hope.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: The thing is, your action should not be based on hope. Your action should be based on your clarity of vision. You know this needs to be done, so you do it. Is it going to happen or not going to happen, that’s not your business. Your business is that you did everything possible that needs to be done. Is it going to happen or is it not going to happen? If you calculate that now,  you will give it up tomorrow morning.

That’s not necessary. (Whether) It is going to happen or not going to happen is subject to many things, but did you do what you could do or not,  is the basic thing. So every human being has to look at this. “Oh it’s ok, if I plant a tree, is the world going to change?” Whether it changes or not, it’s just that out your concern you have done everything that you can do. You have not left anything undone. Always this is so in one’s life. In every human being’s life,  if you do not do what you cannot do, that’s not the issue. If you do not what you can do, that’s a disastrous life. So my wish is that no human being should become a disaster.  Every human being should do what he can do. What he cannot do….nobody can do what he cannot do. (laughs)

Bhavani Prakash:  Thank you Sadhguru for your wonderful words of wisdom and guidance.


If you wish to plant a tree via Project Green Hands (PGH) : Donate via www.giveisha.org/pgh
Visit Project Green Hands‘ website and join PGH on Facebook


Further links you may be interested in:

EWTT: World Environment Day 2012: Support Project Green Hands



About the interviewer:

Bhavani Prakash is the Founder of Eco WALK the Talk .com.  She is a sustainability speaker, trainer and writer can be contacted at bhavani[at]ecowalkthetalk.com. Follow Eco WALK the Talk on Facebook, TwitterLinked IN and YouTube



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Posted by on Sep 1 2012. Filed under Behaviour Change, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change, Communities and Governance, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: Project Green Hands and Tree Planting in Tamil Nadu”

  1. sumit kumar rai

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    Few themes:-
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    Many other themes are related to educational topics, religious harmony, national unity, women empowerment, social upliftment, biodiversity world-records and cultural diversity etc.. for laymen, temples, public places, farmers, government properties, individual house and colony’s parks etc..
    Procedure: I) Telephonic conversation- II) project (theme) decision-making- III) I will send one project-specific application form (this form-filling is unavoidable because plantation is very serious systematic and sacred work; required materials, my visit/travelling, re-localization and planning etc.. details included in application form)
    sumit kumar rai (91-9425605432)

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