The Parable of the Tree

Once there was a very beautiful tree in the forest. When he was young, he surrounded himself with many other trees for protection. But soon he grew higher and faster than all of them, and stood alone as the greatest of them all.

As he matured he began to produce fragrant flowers and tasteful fruits of the highest quality. Many birds built nests in his branches. They liked to taste the fruits and sing sweet songs in the morning and evening. For some time the tree and the birds were very happy.

Then a tribe of monkeys moved into the area. One day the chief monkey came to the tree. He said, “Nice tree you got here. It’d be too bad if anything, you know, happened to it.”

“What do you mean?” inquired the tree, who was rather innocent in the ways of monkeys.

“You know, like some bad monkeys might come and steal your fruits, or even some humans might cut you down and burn you. Or use your wood for lumber to build a parking lot.”

“Well I don’t mind if anyone takes my fruits; it helps me to spread my seeds far and wide. But I wouldn’t like to be cut down, that would be terrible.”

The tree agreed to let the monkeys live in its branches in exchange for help and protection. But monkeys are very devious and mischievous creatures. Just go to the zoo and watch them sometimes.

As soon as the monkeys started living in the tree, they created chaos. First they chased the beautiful songbirds away. Then they desecrated the shrines that faithful people had built at the base of the tree. They started littering their banana peels and poop everywhere. They threw the tree’s fruits at everyone who came near, and smashed them on the ground before they were ripe, ruining the seeds.

The tree was miserable, but there was nothing he could do. After all, he had given his word to allow the monkeys to live in his branches. Thus a beautiful tree was brought to ruin. He gradually lost the will to live, and one winter, long before his time, he was blown over by a terrible storm.

What is the meaning of this tragic tale? Actually I have seen it happen right near my temple. A tribe of monkeys ruined a beautiful mango tree belonging to our neighbors. But that is only the surface meaning.

Sometimes a monk attains enlightenment, and manifests the fruits of the path, such as realization of anattā and so on. At first he may stay within his school, the other trees. But as his realization matures, he grows prominent; everyone can see he is higher than the others.

The birds are his first sincere disciples. The taste of his fruits inspires them to sing beautiful songs. But the monkeys are false, self-interested people, often with criminal connections, who want to abuse the teacher or use his sangha as a front.

They offer help, financial assistance and protection. But the first thing they do is chase away the sincere disciples and pollute the teacher’s sangha with criminal activities. As it is said, “Bad money chases out good money.”

The teacher is caught in a bind. The base criminal element has become deeply embedded in his sangha. If he tries to get rid of them, they will destroy his organization. In any case, they bring all his good work to naught.

We have seen this happen in several spiritual organizations. In these dark days, certain criminal organizations specialize in penetrating spiritual groups and using them as cover for illegal activities. In the process they completely destroy the value of the teaching, and ruin the work and reputation of the teacher.

Or sociopathic individuals, online trolls and haters, will criticize the work of an enlightened teacher, bringing in all kinds of irrelevant religious arguments. They will viciously try to invalidate his realization with false character-assassination strategies. They will try to confuse the sincere students and followers, chase them off like mischievous monkeys chase away the songbirds from the mango tree.

But an enlightened person has gone beyond religion, beyond conventional ideas altogether. Who he was, his identity and activities before enlightenment, has no bearing on what he is. For he has gone beyond personality, gone beyond desire and becoming altogether.

A mango sapling looks like an ordinary weed. If you don’t know how to recognize it, you would think it has no value. But when it grows to maturity, it will produce many nice fruits, and cuckoos and other sweet-singing birds will come and nest in its branches. Similarly, previous to enlightenment, the sage is like any other man. But when he attains, all his faults are erased because the ego, the false self that created those faults and desires, is gone.

The only way for a spiritual teacher to avoid interference from sociopathic people of simian temperament is to remain anonymous, not to seek public credit or build any organization that would be subject to corruption. Actually that is better anyway, since it prevents any chance of misuse of an enlightened teacher’s work. Then like a beneficent tree, he can spread the fragrance of blossoms and the sweet fruits of the path freely to everyone.

Fortunately, Internet technology supports such a discreet arrangement. So this shall remain our principle in the Dharmasar Solution series.

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Published by

Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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