by Swami Prembhava Saraswati (Australia): We need tools to guide and support us in spiritual life, simple techniques that help us live harmoniously
and bring a balance between the spiritual microcosm within and the spiritual macrocosm of the universe. In our modern lives we are rapidly becoming more removed from the creative and spiritual force that sustains us – the force of nature, known in yogic terms as prakriti. We are moving at such a pace that the sacred in the simplest things in life is passing us by. We need simple ways to be able to spend time awakening and strengthening that spiritual force within us and around us. This is the true meaning of living harmoniously, where the inner world harmonises with the outer world. For spiritual evolution to take place, this must happen.
Previously, nature was our home; we lived completely immersed in the forces of nature. We respected and honoured those natural forces as being divine, knowing that we could not control them, and that we were a part of them and they a part of us. Now, due to progress, technological advancement and urbanisation, cities, cars and computers are our home. So many of us live in polluted areas where it is not possible to open a window for fresh air, or drink clean fresh water. We are misusing natural resources for our own satisfaction and greed and have failed to maintain harmony with nature. The ecological disasters that we see every year (deforestation, drought, floods, disease, etc.) are the outcomes of our actions. Due to this increasing disharmony, we are failing to maintain a connection with the divine, transcendental power inherent in nature, and as a result we are growing physically, mentally and spiritually weak.
By reconnecting with nature, we reconnect with the divine, spiritual force inherent in the whole of creation. This is the path of ‘yoga ecology’, the yoga of harmonious living. As Swami Niranjanananda has said, the first step in yoga ecology is tree pooja.
In 1996 Swamiji introduced the tree pooja parampara, a ritual for all the residents, sannyasins and students of Bihar School of Yoga. All were asked to adopt a tree and care for it during their stay in the ashram. He said, “Human beings are not masters but catalysts to ensure the well-being, creativity and positivity of all other life forms. The main role of humanity is to act as catalysts to improve the quality of existence, not totally destroy it. Right now we are acting as catalysts for its destruction. All the ecological imbalance is being created by human beings, no one else, and we are totally unable to prevent the death and destruction that goes on around us, with little consideration for the continuation of humanity. Therefore, tree pooja is a way of connecting with nature, and through nature with the divine.”
Tree pooja is a simple daily ritual, taking only five minutes around sunset. It involves meeting your tree every day, whether it is a large tree in the garden or a small pot plant on the kitchen window sill, and performing the following ritual. A small oil deepak (lamp) or candle is lit, and incense, a flower and a cup of water are offered to the tree. With these offerings a prayer of thanks and gratitude can be said to the tree.
The jyoti or flame represents the atman, and its awakening not only in ourselves but also in the tree. The incense purifies the environment, particularly the negativity of our minds, the flower is a recognition of the beauty of the divine, and the water symbolises the watering of our spiritual life. We cannot see the roots of the tree as they are more than two-thirds of the tree’s height. Similarly, we cannot see the spirit, the essence of our own existence. When we offer water to the roots of a tree, it symbolises an offering to our own spiritual thirst and nourishment of our own inner world.
In all traditions the tree is worshipped as the symbol of life, and worshipping trees is an ancient practice. Trees provide oxygen, fruits, seeds, wood and shade. Trees purify the air, water and soil. They provide shelter and homes to thousands of other species. Tree pooja is worship of Mother Earth, the source of all nourishment and life, as trees represent all the divine qualities of Mother Earth, endlessly giving, nurturing and sustaining. Without trees, we would have no oxygen to breathe and we would die.
Tree pooja rebuilds our severed relationship with nature. When we build a relationship with something or somebody, we begin to care about its well-being and future, and the closer we get, the more we feel. As we care for the tree each day, as we see it change through the seasons, and notice the different birds and insects it attracts, and the flowers or fruit it may produce, our respect for it is certain to grow. The pooja tree becomes a sacred place of solace and support, a place where we can simply be at peace and gain an understanding of our dependence and interconnection with prakriti. Just as we protect our loved ones from pain and destruction, similarly, through building a relationship with one tree, we begin to see the value of nature and the divine within it. Nothing will stop us from protecting that tree which we have come to love and adore. We are forced to reconsider the part we play as individuals in ecological destruction. As this awareness expands, how can we possibly think of continuing on our path of ecological destruction?
Through yoga sadhana, we become aware of ourselves. When we do asanas, we become aware of our body. When we do pranayama, we become aware of our breath. When we meditate, we become aware of our mind. When we do tree pooja, we become aware of prakriti. This contact and communication is essential for our own spiritual development. Through tree pooja, we step outside of our self-obsessed selves and develop empathy, feeling and compassion for prakriti. If we are able to continue with this practice for some time, with full intensity of belief, trust and feeling, we will begin to feel and see the tree responding to our actions, thoughts and feelings. We will discover that it is not a verbal or intellectual communication, but one based on feeling and vibration. This experience can open the door to true communication between us and the divine.
Trees and other plant life represent the flowering of life from insentient to sentient. It is said in the yogic scriptures, “Consciousness sleeps in minerals, is aware in plants, walks in animals, thinks in humans and expresses as a realised, liberated person.” It is the same energy, the same spirit, the same life force flowing in all aspects of creation. Tree pooja is a way of honouring and remembering the transition where matter awakens to a new dimension of consciousness and connects us to that divine force.
Through practising tree pooja over the years, we can actually see the powerful effect that it has had on the trees. Often we give the sickest or weakest tree and ask the person to say a daily prayer for the tree to become strong and healthy. After one month, we have seen the trees becoming healthy, strong and growing again with renewed life. This healing is due to the simple care and communication with the spirit of the tree, so the spirit begins to awaken. These spirits are known as devas, illumined beings. Every aspect of prakriti is governed by a deva, whether it is the rivers, the wind, or the soil. Similarly, every tree has a deva, and every deva a different nature, character and vibration. As these devas become stronger, more open and accessible to us, the growth and health of the tree flourishes. It seems that with care, love, and compassion, the divine spirit inherent in the tree comes alive and connects to the divine spirit within us.
The environmental issues that we face are too deeply embedded in politics and economics for us as individuals to change. We do, however, have the power to change ourselves and to rebuild our own awareness and our communication with the divine through nature. Tree pooja offers us an opportunity to do just that and to spread that awareness to others.
Swami Satyananda envisioned in the last century that ‘yoga would be the culture of tomorrow’. That tomorrow is now, and what is needed now is the yoga that reconnects us to the divine through nature – yoga ecology. The Earth will survive long after we have gone, but if we wish to preserve clean air and water, untouched forests, oceans, rivers and deserts for future generations, then we must use yoga not just for our own well-being but also for the spirit of the Earth. Tree pooja offers us a means of harmonising our own spiritual upliftment with that of the environment which surrounds and supports us, a crucial step as we forge ahead into the 21st century.