Sunday, 20 February 2011

Under the Banyan Tree

Last week I visited Pakistan with a group of doctors from Liverpool. We were there to develop research links. I was also keen to find out how they run health care in rural areas.
Before we left I was very conscious of the troubled times people are living through, with political instability and natural disasters like last summer’s devastating floods in the Indus Valley. These were evident, but by no means oppressive, during our visit to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Much more in evidence were the strengths and resilience of the country, and the people we met. A rolling hilly landscape, dotted with stupas, temples and shrines arising from a rich, diverse cultural heritage much older than ours in the West. A brief but memorable meeting with Dr Tariq Mehmood. He’s a rural medic who works with few resources beyond his own knowledge and skills, yet provides the sort of patient-based care with which I feel great affinity. And wherever we went, generosity and hospitality beyond measure.

But I was most captivated by the Banyan Trees.  Most villages in the region have at least one. One village we passed has six Banyans grouped together.
Banyans are fig trees, which start life as seeds germinating in the crevices of other trees. Once established they can live for hundreds of years, sometimes more than a thousand. They are immense. Deep, deep roots come above the surface and provide natural (and remarkably comfortable) places to sit and rest. Branches spread outwards and upwards into the sky, seemingly forever, and their green leathery leaves offer shade from the baking sunshine.
Sitting under the Banyan Tree I feel at ease, secure, sheltered. I have a clear vision of the world around me. I also have an awareness of the immense strength and solidity of the tree, an undeniably tangible, peaceful, natural being who has seen it all before, and has survived and flourished. I imagine it offering its wisdom and protection to me, and whoever else wishes to rest under its care.
It doesn't surprise me that Buddha found enlightenment while meditating under the Banyan Tree, or that Krishna should choose a Banyan leaf as his final resting place. I can see why Shiva is commonly depicted as sitting in silence under the Banyan, with wise people at his feet. 
And I can see why Robinson Crusoe decided to make his home in one.
A Banyan Tree is a wonderful refuge in times of trouble.


  1. I am a Banyan tree. Why am I. ?
    Truth is I have always been.Just that I did not realise it. Each tree has a story to tell. In my case my the tree has weatherd many,many storms. Some almost ripping me from the earth. Others tearing at my very core ,leaving terrible damage that the bark strives to cover my scars.
    These storms challenged my previously conditioned thinking . They struck me hard, cruel in their onslaught. Relentless to the point of I thought my roots would crumble and I be no more. Yet my roots regrew stronger ,wiser and more awake . Inside me resides this wonderful life force. How blessed am I ? .To awake each morning. Breathe and walk unaided.
    Society has stresses I muse about but do not take on . Very soon my husband will be without a job.
    What will you do .? How will you manage ? I hear the condtioned society cry . Truth is i do not know but am i worried ?NO I am not. I do not take on society view of what they think I should worry about.......... These days I choose my worries.
    Am i flippant ? good question..... NO far from it. Loss of work , money worries all can be overcome . It is when the really precious things fail us that we need to worry. Loss of health being the most important.
    Worrying does not change the outcome.
    We are all Banyan trees. We just have to believe in our own inner wisdom. This can take time for us to wake up to. Feed your own Banyan tree by nourishing it with those who lift your soul, make you laugh. Starve it of society woes for they are not your troubles to bare. Embrace this life and take from it all that is free then your Banyan tree will always flourish .For we are the sum of the choices we make.......... choose wisely . much peace

  2. No Banyans nearby so will go sit under my Yucca instead. I'll just have to use my imagination.

  3. Last night I was directed to this Blog, and I'm so pleased to read about your thoughts concerning the Banyan Tree.
    I have always sought solace buy seeing these plants all around the world. My favourite are the pines that line the Great Lakes in Canada - their trunks are bent from the wind whistling through them over decades and for some, centuries. Also, the trees in Dartmoor. Blunt and stocky, they can withstand driving rain, sleet, hail, and pollution.
    I've always wondered what tree it was that Buddha sat beneath and felt desire, ignorance and suffering exhale from his lungs. Thank you for this beautiful piece, and I look forward to reading more.

  4. Loved this. I find many trees consoling in a wonderful way, but I must seek out a banyan! x