The Plum Tree.
Below is an another extract from Satish Kumar’s book (recall the ‘sewing machine’ story last week). In this extract, he writes about an interaction he had with his wise but illiterate mother (who followed the Jain religion) during his childhood in India).
Instructions: As usual, begin by engaging in some kind of mindfulness exercise, such as the ones available on the class home page, or those listed in Tobin Hart’s article. For this exercise, you might want to try using the Deep Listening technique that Hart describes on page 36. Whichever you choose, please read the extract below, and then contemplate the seed you planted. How does the analogy of the seed in the reading apply to your own experience? How do the readings this week tie in to the analogy for you?
Please post your responses in the relevant Contemplative Thoughts section.
In our courtyard there was a wild plum tree. It was a big tree and I loved climbing it. “When I came to this house, the courtyard was totally bare. So I planted a plum tree. Isn’t it amazing that from the tiny seed I put in the soil such a lovely tree has grown?” Once again Mother was in the mood to speak. She used the seed and the tree as a metaphor to illustrate her philosophy of change, of birth and death, or continuity and impermanence. She said, “As a seed is capable of becoming a tree, all human beings are capable of realising their own full potential. In order for the seed to become a tree it must be planted in the soil – underground, in the dark, and almost forgotten. In relationship with the earth, the seed surrenders its separateness, its identity, its individuality, its ego. In fact, the seed allows itself to become one with the earth, only then its hidden energy bursts open and we see the green shoots emerging like a miracle.”
I remember Mother talking like this. She used to go into a trance, and almost forgot where she was and what she was doing. There was a kind of mystical quality about her, the like of which I have rarely experienced. When my mother spoke like that I would be transfixed too.
“Don’t you think, my little one, it is a miracle? That tiny seed I planted thirty years ago has produced no one knows how many plums, and every one of those plums with a new seed in it. And all that from one seed. This is how I understand the meaning of eternity, and even the meaning of reincarnation.”It was good that Mother did not muddy the waters by quoting any great scripture concering eternity and reincarnation. Instead, she just pointed to our plum tree. Its fruit that I had eaten year after year, its branches on which I had climbed uncountable times, and the shade under which I had slept, were all so close to me.
“In the same way we human beings have to let go of our pride, our separateness, and not bother about our individual identity. If we immerse ourselves in the process of life, and trust the process of the universe, and identify ourselves with others, we can become the tree of a thousand branches and a million plums.”
When I was eight years old, listening to Mother talk like this, I was a bit puzzled and said to her; “Of course I am a separate person, separate from you, from my brothers and sisters, from my friends. So how can I not be separate?”
Mother kept silent for a while. She went to the kitchen and I followed her. By now the rice was ready so she served it to me with vegetables and dhal. As I started to eat, I relaxed. My question was no longer occupying me. But Mother had not forgotten it. So she picked up the conversation at the right moment and said,
“You know, you are right, you do need a sense of the self, there is a place for it. Individuality and wholeness are complementary, not contradictory – like the seed needs the shell. Without the shell the seed is incapable of forming itself as a seed. Similarly, we humans have our identity giving us a sense of separateness, but a time comes when the seed needs to grow into a tree. That is the point of transformation. As the seed goes through transformation and realises itself as a tree, the shell is no longer necessary, and has to disintegrate in order for the seed to integrate with other elements.”
The rice and dhal Mother had served me was delicious, and I was more keenly absorbed in eating than listening to her words. But somehow her words penetrated more deeply because I was not paying too much attention. Maybe, who knows, it was Mother’s idea that she should speak to me like this while I was busy eating my lunch, and my sister Suraj was humming while washing the clothes.
Whether or not I was concentrating, there was no way to stop Mother. “The seed comes from the tree and goes on to become a tree. The seedness of the seed is only transitory; there is transition from seed to tree, so why get hooked on that? Similarly, we humans, each and every one of us, have our individuality, but this individuality is transitory. Our individuality may be more apparent than real. Would you exist without me, my son? Would you exist without the food you are eating? Would you exist without the ground on which your are sitting? Our individuality is dependent on others. Individuality is indivisible.”
Although Mother was illiterate, she had learned many songs, poems and verses of our Jain religious literature by heart. One she recited was: “Souls render service to one another, and thus find salvation.”
She related this verse to the seed and said, “Seed serves the earth, and the earth serves the seed. A tree sheds its leaves to the earth, and the earth gives nourishment to the roots of the tree. Thus souls are serving each other and being fulfilled.””
(from You Are Therefore I Am: A declaration of dependence by Satish Kumar, (Green Books, Dartington, 2002), pp. 18-19. )