Going back nearly fourteen years ago I spent a few days in forested areas in Jamui and Munger districts in Bihar. Less than 6% of Bihar is now forested and even much of that is degraded. Nonetheless, this gave me at least some feel for what life must have been like for monks and other ascetics during the Buddha’s time. Sometime later I was asked if I would write an article on nature in the Buddhist scriptures and I agreed to do so, thinking that there might be enough information to fill perhaps two or three pages. However, as I began looking for references I realized that the scriptures actually contain a huge amount of very detailed information on flora, fauna and the natural environment. So what began as a brief article grew into a book which I have called Nature and the Environment in Early Buddhism. The book is now available on line and you can read it at http://www.ocbs.org/on-line-publications I think most people will be surprised to know in what detail the Tipitaka discusses the natural environment – soil types, numerous ecological niches, different types of water courses, cloud formations, etc. Altogether it also mentions some 700 different species of plants and animals. For me the greatest challenge was not compiling all these names but trying to link them to their modern botanical and zoological nomenclature. Everyone agrees that amba refers to the mango and kaka to the crow. But other than these and a hundred or so others, no concerted attempt has ever been made to identify all the flora and fauna mentioned in the Tipitaka. Trying to do so has taken up a good amount of my spare time during the last five years. In some cases I have succeeded, in others not. Either way the result gives, I think, a fascinating insight into the natural world as the Buddha would have known it.
As for the forests and their wildlife in Bihar the future does not look good, despite the best efforts of the Forestry Dept and their dedicated officers in the field. Population growth and administrative corruption insatiably eats away it the few green areas left. The forest in Jamui is thoroughly unsafe nowadays, not because of tigers but because it has become a refuge for extremist Maoist guerrillas.