“You may call a tree a standing man, and a man a walking tree,” said Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. We know that some insects, animals and even human beings are harmful, occasionally or otherwise. But trees? Do they have anything but good for all of us? That Bhagavan lavished love and compassion on all creatures is well known. Perhaps not equally well-known is his touching concern for all tree-life. Not even his close devotees were spared when they overlooked the sentiment.
        Echammal was one of his great devotees. For years she considered it her sacred duty daily to cook food for Bhagavan, climbing the hill in all seasons to take it to him, and see him partake of it. Only then would she eat. Once, she undertook a vratam (vow) called laksharchana, worshipping the ishta devta (god) by offering 100,000 sacred leaves or flowers. Daily she collected sacred leaves (patri) and performed the puja. Soon summer set in. Leaves became scarce. She had offered only half the number by that time. She would roam all over the area and the hill too, with little success. She narrated her plight to Bhagavan.
        “Why don't you go on pinching your own body, as many times as the number of leaves required, and complete the puja?” he asked. Echammal was taken aback, “Oh! It would be very painful, Bhagavan!” she replied, “I see,” Bhagavan said, “then will it not be painful for the trees, too, when you pluck away their leaves one by one?” The lesson went home. She gave up the vratam.

Langur monkey in tree, Ramana Ashram

Once, Bhagavan was recalling the happenings at the mango grove where he had lived for some time during his early days at Arunachala. The owner of the garden asked him to take for his use as many fruits as he liked. Bhagavan said he was satisfied with the few fruits that fell down occasionally when the bats were at them.
        At the Ashram one day, a few unripe mangoes were required in the kitchen. Some workmen were deputed for this. Instead of climbing the mango trees and plucking just the required number, they went about hitting the branches with long sticks. Bhagavan, who was seated in the hall at that time, was disturbed by the sound and sent word through one of the attendants to advise the labourers not to do so. After a while he went out to go for his usual walk. The sight of broken branches and leaves scattered all over the place shocked him. And the workmen were still at it.
        “Enough of this,” he shouted, in a rare display of anger. “How cruel! The trees give us fruits. In return we give them merciless beatings with sticks. Instead, why not cut away at the very roots and kill them once and for all?” How sensitive he was to the pain of the trees!
        As a real friend of the trees, he shared their joys too, when they swayed merrily in the breeze with blossoms of radiant hue and sweet fragrance. “Why not leave some flowers for the poor trees,” he remonstrated, when someone was plucking the flowers away to the bud. “It likes them, it needs them. I really cannot understand why you are so cruel.”
        True, we need leaves, flowers and fruit from the trees. We can have them. They are only too happy to give us. But should we not appreciate their sentiments, their sacrifice and love for us and approach them with consideration?
        Bhagavan once observed a workman rudely chopping the leaves off an almond tree. “Hey, what are you doing?” Bhagavan called out. The workman humbly explained that he was ordered to collect dry leaves for stitching leaf plates. Bhagavan continued, “You people can do nothing without causing pain. Imagine, I grab you by the hair and pull. Your hair may have no life, yet you would feel it.”
        Trees have their joys, their pains, and moments of rest – perhaps meditation too. Otherwise Bhagavan would not have rebuked a man cutting a twig at night for use the next morning as a toothbrush. “Can't you let the tree sleep in peace?” he asked. “Surely you can have your twig in the daytime. Why not have a little sense and compassion? A tree does not howl, or can it bite or run away. Does it mean you can do anything to it?”
        Bhagavan loved trees. He held them in great reverence. They were more than our equals. He pronounced that trees, too, can have Self-realisation. He narrated a long story of a great scholar-devotee of Siva at Chidambaram. His name was Umapathy Sivacharya. When challenged by the king, he initiated a thorn bush into Jnana. It was so evolved, ripe for Self-realisation, that it immediately vanished into thin air. The king could not believe his eyes and called it black magic. Sivacharya then took him to the temple, and at the time of arati the king found the plant standing next to Lord Siva himself!

By J.Jayaraman