‘Come and play with me young man’ the tree asked the young man. ‘Don’t you see I am no longer a child, I do not play around trees any more’ the boy replied. ‘I want money to buy gifts for my girl friend. I need to make her feel important and loved. I should do something purposeful so that she feels secure and delighted to be with me. Can you do something for me? ‘ The tree looked pensive and said ‘Sorry, but I do not have money…my friend. We trees are not yet bothered by this human problem. Otherwise, we would also be sitting in temples and churches looking for peace and try to learn how to love your fellow beings. We are living joyfully now and do not need a purpose to live other than life itself.’ Then the tree turned towards him and said ‘Maybe, I could offer my fruits; you can pick and sell them. So, you will have money.’ The young man was very excited. He grabbed all the apples on the tree and plucked even the raw fruits, broke some branches and twigs and left happily. The boy never came back after that and tree still waited for him to show up.
After years of silent wait one day the tree saw him again and asked him to come and sit with him.’I do not have time for idle chit chat. I have to work for my family. We need a house for shelter. Can you help me?’ The tree looked at him and said ‘Sorry, but I do not live in a house. We do not need one. But you can chop off my branches to build your house.’So the man cut all the branches of the tree and left happily. The tree was glad to see him happy but the man never came back. The tree stood bare naked and the seasons passed by and the tree was again sad and yearned for his friend.
After years, one hot summer day, the man returned and the tree was delighted. ‘Come and sit with me!’ the tree said. ‘I am now a father and I want to go to a distant country to do more business to sustain my family and make good fortune. I don’t have time to waste sitting idle beside a tree.’ the man said. The tree asked ‘would you only come to me if i have something to give you?’ and looked for an answer and finally said “what can I do for you my friend? How may I be of any help?”.’ Can you give me a boat?’ said the man. ‘Use my trunk to build your boat. May you can sail far away and be happy and prosperous.’ So the man cut the tree trunk to make a boat. He went sailing across the sea into another land and never showed up for a long time. The tree was a stump now and was bereft of any flowers or fruits and leaves. It stood as a barren landmark with just a few dry twigs on it.
Finally, the man returned after many years. ‘Sorry, my boy. But I do not have anything for you anymore. I have nothing useful to offer anymore’ the tree said. ‘No problem, I do not have any desire to ask of you anything. I have enough for myself and my sons have gone out and made a life for themselves. There is nothing that I need from you’ the man replied. ‘I am sad that I do not have any branches to shield you from the sun and no more trunk for you to climb and sit on’ the tree said. ‘I am too old for that now’ the man said. ‘I really cannot give you anything.. the only thing left is my dying roots’ the tree said with tears. ‘I do not need much now, just a place to rest. I am tired after all these years’ the man replied. ‘Good! Old tree roots are the best place to lean on and rest, Come, come sit down with me and rest.’ The man sat down and the tree was glad and smiled with tears…and was contended.
This is the children’s story written by Sheldon Allan Silverstein and retold in a certain way so as to analyze whether it reflects “selfless love” or an exploitative relationship. From the perspective of the tree, the relationship is about giving and from the perspective of man, its all about taking and using. This story could be easily interpreted as the relationship between the parents and their children and this is the most well known moral lesson. In the original story the tree is a female apple tree and could easily be recognized as a motherly figure.
The tree is also a figurative representation of nature and the story is the relation of the nature and mankind (Well, if you think man and nature are separate entities). The man abuses the nature’s bounties for its own ambitions and purpose without bothering to give back what’s due. The man seems to have no power of reflection over his actions and no remorse for the plight of the tree. This depicts how human race is taking much from the environment until there is nothing left, neither diverse beauty nor bounty. We are responsible for making the sixth extinction go really fast (over a hundred times faster than it should be) on this planet.
Does the tree represents the “unconditional love”? Does it really reflect the idea of parenthood? If we look at the response of the tree, it seems as if it takes delight in being used… No! it just takes delight in being helpful and giving to a certain person it loves. The same way the boy is in love with the girl. He is ambitious because he has his purpose in life that he thinks shall bring him happiness and contentment and the tree is doing what brings it the sense of contentment and happiness. Every being on this planet which is conscious at the level of emotions is seeking happiness. If the actions of the tree were not bringing happiness to it then why would it do such a thing? Unless, its a masochistic tree! Even then it will bring delight to him, although in a perverted sense. Parents love their children and nurture them to that extent because they are “their” children. It is not selfless love. Since, the sense on belonging and the tag of “mine” or ours is there.
What is the unconditional love then? The answer is not psychological but is a state of being. You cannot teach somebody to love unconditionally. It happens when one finds inner contentment in being and is not engulfed in the ego but sees the interdependence of the whole cosmos. Then in that state love happens and flows because it is so. There is no purpose behind it and then one does not differentiate between objects or choose people to love. Just because our senses are connected to outside world and our intellect is occupied with analysis and processing of the input data, we seek everything in the outside world and project our desires and purpose upon things external to our being. We seek love also as a means to suit our ends of being happy and contended. We desire to be loved back. We have a purpose. The sun shines…there is no purpose. From human perspective it has a purpose. It sustains life on this planet. We harness its energy to build things. The same sun shines over Mars and Jupiter too. There is nobody to put a meaning to its existence. That’s all.
The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden as describe in the Judaic scriptures according to my feeling is the tree of judgment. The fruit of the tree is the fruit of discretion and ego. The fruit made Adam and Eve aware of their body for the first time and ashamed. This lead to their fall from the childlike innocence and threw them into the lap of world of desires and ambitions. Maybe that is why Jesus might have said- Children shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Let go of the false sense of association with outside world and ego; move inside. The inner garden of Eden is still waiting for us!