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Archive for September 7th, 2006

The Cross or Crucifix is readily associated with Christianity in terms of Christ’s sacrifice. Anyone who has watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” would have graphic images of the torment of the final hours of Jesus Christ’s life along with his crucifixion. The cross has become the central symbol of Christianity for these reasons and from 390 CE it has become its central symbol.

The cross is also a familiar symbol in other traditions as well. The cross has symbolised life, immortality, union of heaven and earth, and union of spirit and matter. It also represents the centre. The arms can be mapped to the four directions, a motif common in pre-Colombian civilizations like the Aztec and Maya in the Americas.

In essence, the cross represents the intersection of two lines. The vertical axis is the divine, the horizontal the human, and the meeting point between them represents the unity of heaven and earth, human and divine. It is like meeting the divine in the human heart.

In order to explore the meaning of the cross, we need to turn to an earlier understanding of the tree because the Christian cross is rooted in mythic account of two trees. Trees have a long fascination in human consciousness as symbols of mystery, life, and the center. The tree in its structure buries its roots in the earth, symbolic of a deep connection with the earth. It lives on the earth, yet its branches reach up to the heavens. So the tree embodies a connection of earth and heaven, of spiritual and physical realms.

Familiar trees in Abrahamic traditions are the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life present in the Garden of Eden myth along with the Qabbalistic off-shot of the Tree of Life (see Kabbalah). We also have the Christian Tree of the Cross on which Christ was sacrificed.

Medieval Qabbalistic Tree of Life

We find spiritual transformation as an important aspect of trees in many traditional accounts. The Buddha became enlightened under a Bodhi tree (“Tree of Enlightenment”), which signifies that like the tree’s renewal through new foliage, the Buddha was spiritually reborn that day. It involves a death of the ego for a new life like shedding old leaves for new.

Buddha Enlightened under Bo Tree
Odin the chief god of Norse mythology, gained his wisdom hanging from a huge ash tree, the Yggdrasil. He spent nine nights hanging from that tree in order to find the runes, an alphabet used to write Germanic languages. Odin’s sacrifice on the tree symbolically parallels the crucifixion of Christ.

Yggdrasil

The Yggdrasil

This myth also reflects the idea of an axis mundi (“world axis”), which is the centre of the world that connects heaven and earth. In this case, the motif is of a world tree. Symbolically the cross also perfectly represents this axis of earthly and divine.

Parallels of holy trees can be found in myths of the Kumbun tree in Tibet and the Ashwattha or Hindu Tree of Life mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita, which grows upside down from heaven. The branches below represent the sensory world, while the roots above represent the spiritual world. So again, a nexus of heaven and earth is present.

The tree is a symbol of the unity of heaven and earth, however the Biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life disrupt this unity through the Fall of Adam and Eve, and their descendants. Before the Fall, the world was non-dual with light and dark, good and evil, male and female, and knowledge and mystery united. After the partaking of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, duality emerged as each opposite separated into a polarized half. The tree in this myth no longer unites heaven and earth but instead it represents separation from the Tree of Life, nature and the divine.

So given the Fall, the Christian tradition asks for spiritual redemption. The tree of the Christian cross on which Christ dies as the new Adam symbolically reconnects earth and heaven. The link between the Cross and Tree of Life becomes clear in the Christian tradition that maintains the wood used in the Cross came from the same Tree in the Garden of Eden.

Crucifixion

Francisco de Zurbaran’s drawing
“Father forgive them, they do not know what they do.”
Interestingly, Christianity is one tradition that disrupts the original unity of humanity to spiritual life, nature, god and the self. Then its offers a soteriology of the cross to mend that break.

The tree represents the intersection of the divine and human realms. With the Fall of Adam and Eve this unity is disrupted, according to Christian perspective. So the crucifixion of Christ becomes necessary to restore this unity through his self-sacrifice in order to atone for Adam and Eve’s partaking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In traditions, where this disruption through a Fall doesn’t occur, the need for a sacrifice is meaningless.

Tree of Life in Cross
The cross takes much of the symbolic value of the tree. Both of them represent the meeting place for divine and human, heaven and earth, and they affirm a renewal of spiritual life.

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LOVE AND COMPASSION

Eckhart Tolle has some wonderful insights on ‘compassion’

“”Having gone beyond the mind-made opposites, you become like a deep lake. The outer situation of your life and whatever happens there is the surface of the lake. Sometimes calm, sometimes windy and rough, according to the cycles and seasons. Deep down, however, the lake is always undisturbed. You are the whole lake, not just the surface, and you are in touch with your own depth, which remains absolutely still. You don’t resist change mentally clinging to any situation. Your inner peace does not depend on it. You abide in Being – unchanging, timeless, deathless- and you are no longer constantly fluctuating forms. You can enjoy them, play with them, create new forms, appreciate the beauty of it all. But there will be no need to attach yourself to any of it.”

If you have tried but have not found lasting inner peace what else can one do?

Eckhart Tolle suggests:

“You are still seeking outside, and you cannot get out of the seeking mode. Maybe the next workshop will have the answer, maybe that new tecnique. To you I would say: Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now: otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”

I agree with Eckhart Tolle that forgiveness and acceptance are effective means of being compassionate toward oneself and others. Through compassion we are led toward greater inner and outer peace.

In our novel “NEXUS” we can see compassion at play as the various characters journey to discover peace. Sometimes it is through experiences of lack of compassion that the truth of compassion becomes highlighted. Also at times it is through compassion that the dawning of a deeper awareness of inner and outer peace emerges. These themes unfold throughout “NEXUS” as the characters face varied life experiences, that bring both joy and sorrow. It is through going beyond the joys and sorrows that true peace is found;and with the discovery of true peace compassionate heart-centerred living emerges.

Wishing you Peace & Prosperity,

Deborah

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ETCHED

Intricate scarlet designs weave summer

botanicals on a tapestry of soft earthen brown

ruby red poppies peak proud, etched erubescense

across the yielding terrestrial field

two free butterflies alight on crimson petal softness

like drifting clouds of daydreams become

manifest artful designs, horticultural miracles

emerge from solar drenched soil

golden orb enlightens, shimmering beams

sizzle shades of emerald aesthetics

like gems that catch the sun

adorn elegant trees,

leaves, grasses, while their tangled roots

descend deeper underground

into the sultry mid-day soil

Mother Earth’s embrace is alchemy

like a sacred temple

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IN THE GARDEN

In the garden

the Daisies

lift their faces

to the sun

with petals

of pearl white and

brilliant butter yellow,

lacey edged Iris of

pink, soft cream

grow into the light,

peach Lilies search upward

grow higher in brilliant

free-flowing style,

violet Roses of

soft rich velvet

lift their hearts

to mid-day’s golden orb

Hollyhocks sway, dance

ever higher toward the bright.

If we turn away from the shadows

like the flowers, we’ll see only light

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This story perfectly demonstrates harmony, interdependence, co-operation and friendship between four animals who become close friends. I first heard it on a PBS show on Bhutan and it really impressed me. In Bhutan, the story gives a national identity for people to live in harmony with nature, for people to co-operate with each other even with cultural differences, and for families to work together. A conservation ethic has arisen based on it that influences Bhutan’s national policies.

The story is a familiar Tibetan motif derived from the Jataka tales of Buddha’s former lives

In terms of a symbol understanding of this beautiful allegory: The elephant represents our body, the monkey represents the restless mind, the rabbit represents emotions, and the bird is the soul. Here is the story adapted from Buddhist Channel:

Once in a forest in Varanasi, four animals: An elephant, a rabbit, a monkey, and a partridge disputed about the ownership of a tree where all of them had fed. The elephant claimed, “Well, this is my tree because I saw it first.”

To this the monkey replied: “Now, elephant do you see any fruits on this tree?”

The elephant agreed that the tree was without any fruit.

The monkey continued: “That’s because I had been feeding on the fruits of the tree long before you ever saw it.”

Next the rabbit spoke up: “I fed on the leaves of this tree when it was just a small sapling before the monkey ate its fruit and way before the elephant ever saw it.”

Finally the partridge who had been watching the argument, came forward and asserted: “The tree belongs to me because the tree wouldn’t have grown if I hadn’t spit it out as a seed. I helped plant the seed that grew into this huge tree before the rabbit fed on it, or the monkey ate its fruit, or the elephant saw it.”

The elephant, monkey, and rabbit, conceded that the partridge was the first to know the tree. So all of bowed to the partridge and regarded it as their elder brother.

The four animals became friends and decided to share the tree together in peaceful harmony, enjoying the beauty of the tree’s fragrance, the nourishment of its fruits, and the bounty of its shade. They worked together to obtain fruits: The fruits on the ground and on the lowest branches, the partridge and rabbit found by working together. The monkey climbed the tree and dropped the fruits for everyone to share but only the elephant could reach the highest branches with his trunk. The four animals worked co-operatively and with their combined strength, each one benefited and no one went hungry.

Other animals in the forest often saw them together with the partridge on top of the rabbit who was held up by the monkey who rode on top of the elephant. Since then, they were called “The Four Harmonious Brothers.” The four animals were looked upon as an example of peace, harmony, co-operation, interdependence and friendship.

Four Harmonious Friends

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