Trees

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Trees (rukkha) are tall plants usually with a thick woody stem from which branches covered with leaves grow. The Buddha had a great love for nature and spent much of his time in forests. Many of his discourses also indicate that he had a particular affection for trees.

He was enlightened under a tree, the Bodhi Tree, and chose to pass away while lying between two sal trees. He taught that it is a good deed to plant trees along the sides of roads (S.I,33). He considered forests to be good places to meditate in. Very often he would say to his disciples; ‘Here are the roots of the trees, here are the empty places. Meditate! That is my instructions to you’ (M.I,46). To the Buddha, his Dhamma was so self-evident that on one occasion he pointed to the nearby trees and said; ‘Even these great sal trees would embrace the Dhamma if they could comprehend. How much more so human beings?’ (A.II,193).

In a particularly beautiful passage the Milindapanha says we should try to be like a tree. ‘As a tree makes no distinction in the shade it gives, like this, the meditator should make no distinction between any beings, but develop loving kindness equally to thieves, murderers, enemies and to his or her self’ (Mil. 410). In the Vimànavatthu, Aïkura expressed the general Buddhist attitude of care and respect for all life when he said, ‘Of the tree in whose shade one sits or lies, not a branch of it should he break, for he would be a betrayer of a friend if he did, an evil doer...Of the tree in whose shade one sits or lies, not a leaf of it should he injure, for if he did he would be a betrayer of a friend, an evildoer’ (Vv.9,3-5).

In the Jātaka there is a story in which a young woman tells her mother: 'If I die... collect my bones and burn them, erect a monument and there plant a kaṇikāra tree. Then, when it breaks into blossom in the spring, at the end of winter, you will remember me and say: “Such was my daughter's beauty”' (Ja.V,302). The Buddhacarita compares spritual practice to a tree 'whose fibres are patience, whose flowers are virtue, whose boughs are awareness and wisdom, which is rooted in resolution and which bears the fruit of Dhamma.' The Abhijṭāṇaśakuntala observes that the branches of trees heavy with fruit bends low and that good people should learn from this and never let their wealth make them proud.

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