The Wish-Fulfilling Tree

Three Hindu parables about attachment, desire, and understanding what's real.

Continued from page 2

Is the karmic law real? Who experiences what happens? Shankaracharya entered a dead king's body, experienced a royal life of luxury with queens, courtesans, retainers, war--everything. And he returned to answer the riddle put to him by a wise woman. Which of these was real? Do we dream or live? Certain things remain an enigma. It is said that the path of yoga breaks away from the adamantine shackles of karma. That is why the Buddha exclaimed that he had seen through the labyrinth of creation, hence the rafters are shattered, the edifice has crumbled, and never again will he be in the clutches of birth and rebirth.

Lions and Tigers and Bears--Oh Maya!

After the Kurukshetra holocaust, when the blind Dhritarashtra bewails the unjustified misery thrust upon him and turns to Vidura for consolation, this child of a maidservant narrates a gripping parable that provides yet another clue to understanding our existential situation:

A certain Brahmin loses himself in a dense jungle filled with wild beasts. Lions and tigers, elephants and bears, yell and trumpet and roar. It's a scene dismal enough to frighten even the god of death, Yama. The Brahmin is terror-stricken. His mind is a bundle of fears. He begins to run, helter-skelter; he looks right and left, hoping to find someone who will save him. But the fierce beasts are everywhere-the jungle echoes with their weird roaring-wherever he goes, they are there, ahead of him.


Suddenly he notices that the fearful forest is swathed in a massive net. In front of him, with open arms, is a horrendous-looking female. Also, five-headed snakes hiss at him--tall snakes, their huge bodies slithering up to the sky.

In the middle of the forest is a well covered with grass and intertwining creepers. He falls in that well and dangles there, clutched by a creeper, like a jackfruit ripe for plucking. He hangs there, feet up, head down.

Horror upon horror! In the bottom of the well he sees a monstrous snake. On the edge of the well is a huge black elephant with six heads and twelve feet hovering at the well's mouth. And, buzzing in and out of the clutch of creepers, are giant, repulsive bees surrounding a honeycomb. They are trying to sip the deliciously sweet honey, the honey all creatures love, the honey whose real taste only children know.

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