The Wishing Tree Story By Sri Ramakrishna

Posted by Marc Mendelsohn on


Into a room full of children at play walks their uncle, who, of course, knows better. Laughing at their preoccupation with make-believe games, he asks them to go out to the massive banyan tree, which will grant them whatever they wish! The children rush out, stand under the branches of this huge tree that cover the sky, and ask for what all children crave: toys and candy. In a flash they get what they want, but along with an unexpected bonus: the built-in opposite of what they wished for. With toys they get boredom; with candy, tummy aches.

Sure that something has gone wrong with their wishing, the children ask for bigger toys and sweeter candy. The tree grants them their wishes, and along with them bigger boredom and bigger tummy aches. Time passes. They are now young men and women and their wishes change, for they know more. They ask for wealth, power, fame, sexual pleasure--and they get these, but also cupidity, insomnia, anxiety, and frustration/disease.

Time passes. The wishers are now old and gather in three groups under the all-encompassing branches. The first group exclaims, "All this is an illusion!" Fools, they have learnt nothing. The second group says, "We are wiser and will wish better next time." Greater fools, they have learnt less than nothing. The third group, disgusted with everything, decides to cop out and asks for death. They are the most foolish of all. The tree grants them their desire, and with it its opposite: rebirth, under the same tree. For, where can one be born, or reborn, but within this cosmos!

All this while one child has been unable to move out of the room. Being lame, he was pushed down in the scramble and when he dragged himself to the window, he was transfixed watching his friends make their wishes, get them with their built-in opposites and suffer, yet compulsively continue to make more wishes. Riveted by this utterly engrossing lila  of desire and its fruits, a profound swell of compassion welled up in the heart of this lame child, reaching out to his companions. In that process, he forgot to wish for anything for himself. In that moment of spontaneous compassion for others, he sliced through the roots of the cosmic tree with the sword of non-attachment, of nishkama karma. He is the liberated one, the mukta purusha.

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