Unity, Purity and Divinity in the Trees Around Us
Nature is the effect and God is the cause. God and Nature are not distinct entities; they are one unified whole. When we observe Nature, we see the divine manifestation of unity and purity, a giving and receiving between all beings amid the cycle of Earth’s life-sustaining processes. Life is given to us humans for the ultimate goal of realising God. Nature helps us to do so. Hence, we must make careful use of Nature, with no thought of harm but rather a gratitude, reverence, and pure, selfless Love.
Through the five elements from which Nature emanates, all necessities of life are provided. Earth, water, fire, air, and space are pure in their original form, but impure human activities can defile them and result in harm to humans and other beings. It is our responsibility to show respect and gratitude for the purity in Nature and do our best to uphold it.
Pure, unselfish love towards all living beings, considered as embodiments of the Divine, with no expectation of reward, is true Love.
Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 18, Ch. 10, May 6, 1985
Within Nature, trees are perfect role models for unity and purity, while also teaching us selflessness and sacrifice. In all their rich variety and beauty, trees have been revered by humans since ancient times and they continue to deserve our reverence today, not only for the physical benefits they provide but for the spiritual ones too. They are an essential part of Nature through which we may realise God.
Trees teach the lesson of sacrifice in that they not only bear fruits while they are alive, but also give away their body to be used as firewood once the life goes out of them. Amongst teachers, a tree is the greatest.
Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 33, Ch. 17, September 29, 2000
Ecological Role of Trees and Forests
Have you ever heard of the “Wood Wide Web”? It is the vast communication and nutrient exchange network beneath the ground of healthy trees, and it is a model of unity. Trees of all kinds exchange nutrients, water, and even signals of imminent threats with one another. They do this in part through chemical releases that travel through the air to nearby trees. But through the forest ‘internet’ they do this underground, with the help of another species, mycorrhizal fungi.
Filaments of mycorrizal fungi weave in and around tree roots providing them with essential minerals they mine from the soil. The interlaced filaments also serve as important communication links between trees. In return, the fungi receive carbon-based sugars the trees produce in abundance. The mutual co-operation of these two very different species serves to promote the long term health of forests for the benefit of a multitude of species.
Through this system, mother trees recognise and ‘talk’ with their offspring, ensuring their needs are met and injured trees can pass on the record of their plight to neighbouring trees. This helps foster healthy genetics, improves defense, and builds resilience. These discoveries transformed scientific understanding from the idea that trees compete with one another to understanding that trees are members of a well-connected community watching out for one another1.
Over 100 years ago, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, one of India’s prominent plant physiologist and physicist, demonstrated that plants have a life cycle, which consists of a reproductive system, and that they are aware of their surroundings2.
All life on Earth benefits from healthy forest communities. They produce much of the pure atmospheric oxygen we breathe and they are critically important for another basic need, water. Forests both drink and produce water by capturing clouds and rain, which benefits local watersheds as well as the whole global water cycle. Trees stabilise slopes and filter water runoff, thus reducing pollution. They convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into nutrition and energy, which also creates long term carbon storage, thus serving as essential sinks for excess carbon in the atmosphere.
They do all this while also providing nuts and fruits, medicinal cures, natural insecticides, latex for multiple uses, wood for construction and heating, material for musical instruments, and shelter for all species, including us humans.
Life simply would not exist as we know it without trees. Their sacrifice benefits all within their reach, beneath their canopies and far beyond. We have so many reasons to be grateful for trees. Let us nurture them every day and pray for their continued wellbeing, using them only in sustainable ways and planting new trees wherever possible.
Spiritual Role of Trees
Historically, trees played an important role in the spiritual beliefs of cultures around the world. In modern times, this spiritual view has largely been replaced by a more materialistic one. But this is changing as scientists show evidence of broader forest values and human awareness of Nature’s spiritual dimension rises once again.
Consider Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s sacred banyan tree at Prashanthi Nilayam, which He planted in 1959 to provide a special place for devotees to meditate. Similar to the banyan is the sacred Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment. In the Bhagavad Gita (15:1), Lord Krishna speaks of the banyan tree as representing the entire Cosmos. The tree has its roots above in God and its branches below in the quivering leaves, representing entanglement in the transient, material world. This tree reminds us to shift our attention from the world to God.
A similar analogy speaks of the Tree of Life as a lesson on how to live. The roots represent our foundation, which is strongest if we connect to the Divine as the source of happiness. The stronger this connection, the more stable we are. The trunk represents the physical/emotional body, which, when resting on a firm foundation, is not easily shaken by turmoil in the world. The crown represents our spirit of selfless giving to others, just as the tree provides its shade and fruits to all3.
Africans believe the baobab tree represents the Tree of Life. The ancient Druids of Ireland worshiped the oak tree and held spiritual ceremonies in sacred oak groves. In traditional Taoism, trees, especially peach trees, were not to be hurt, burned, or felled without essential reason. The Japanese practice shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing,’ to receive the cleansing benefits of spending time in a forest. Their Shinto religion gives special reverence to pine trees in which the souls of gods are said to descend.
The Haudenosaunee of North America told leaders of the Western world in the 1970s that the ancient teachings are true – we are all connected and what we do to the Earth will come back to us. They explained in their “Basic Call to Consciousness” that our life exists with the tree life and our well-being depends on the well-being of the vegetable life4. Their call is especially relevant today as environmental impacts from human activities mount across the globe.
We can help raise more awareness and heal the Earth by spiritually connecting with trees and ultimately realising the divinity that exists in us and in all.
Realising God by Connecting to Trees
What do trees provide that helps us connect with God? Silence.
Feel the presence of God when silence reigns.
Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 6, Ch. 28, October 15, 1966
Trees are the ultimate bearers of silence. They radiate silence while at the same time absorbing sound. They stand resolute, poised, in a state of equanimity, ready for whatever comes their way.
When we walk into a forest, we may feel a sense of awe and peace as the collective hush of the trees draws us into our own inner world. The silence can be so strong it is palpable. Forests provide this rare opportunity to encounter deep stillness in the outer world. In that sacred space, we may sense the changeless ‘beingness’ of all things, the presence of God.
Trees age slowly … their life unfolds at a much slower rate than our own. We humans, however, are often hurried. We connect best with forests when we take slow, contemplative walks beneath their canopy. And, if we want to deepen our spiritual connection, we simply need to stop, listen, and let the trees teach us.
If we cannot go into a forest, we can connect with an individual tree close to home. It could be one struggling to thrive in a congested urban environment or an old one comfortably situated in a sprawling park, or it could be a shade tree in our backyard.
We can sit and speak to a tree (verbally or mentally), as if talking to a friend, remembering that some trees have lived for hundreds of years and have weathered many storms. We may share our concerns about life and the state of the world, and let the tree know we are grateful for their presence and all they provide. We can even give our tree a hug, as if we are hugging someone we especially love, really feeling it.
The expression of Divine love should not be confined to human beings but should be extended to all beings.
Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 21, Ch. 25, September 3, 1988
We may then sit in silence, even meditate, and end with a prayer for our tree and all trees.
Through these acts of silence, communion, love, and prayer, we may experience not only God’s presence but also a knowing that everything is in its place and, despite life’s challenges, all is as it needs to be.
This acknowledgment of the valuable physical and spiritual roles of trees and our love for them will help protect life on Earth while also transforming us, thereby serving Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s ongoing Divine mission.
Lord Krishna told Arjuna: “I am in the tree that you see. I am in the ocean. I am in the earth. See Me in everything.
Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 17, Ch. 26, October 1, 1984
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the Earth’s sweet flowing breast.
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree
Kilmer J, "Trees", Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, Poetry Foundation, Chicago, Il, p160, August 1913.
1. Simard, Suzanne “Note from a Forest Scientist” in The Hidden Life of Trees, ed. Peter Wohlleben, David Suzuki Institute, p. 249, Vancouver, BC, 2015.
2. Bose, Sir Jagdish Chandra, Responses in the Living and Non-Living, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1902.
4. Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World, Akwesasasne Notes, Native Voices, Summertown, Tennessee, 2005.