A Koan about a Tree

lone tree
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevincollins/115305184/">Kevin Collins</a>

Luke 6:43-44

You don’t get bad fruit from a good tree. You don’t get good fruit from a bad tree.

Every tree bears a specific kind of fruit. You don’t get figs from thorns. You don’t get grapes from briars.

Here’s another koan.

It may be tempting to use it as a measure for assessing the good and bad in others, and to try to figure out what kind of “tree” they are.

Avoid this. The koan is not about anyone else. It’s to help you figure out what kind of tree you are.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Matthew 4:1-11

The great spirit led Jesus on a vision quest in the wilderness where he met the devil. After forty days and nights without food, Jesus was starving.

The devil said, “If you’re God’s child, turn these stones to bread.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says it takes more than bread to really live. To live takes doing what God says.”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple, and said, “If you’re God’s child, jump. Scripture says God will send an angel to catch you before you hit the pavement.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says not to trifle God with your stupidity.”

Then the devil took him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the world’s empires, and said, “These are all yours if you sign on with me.”

Jesus said, “Get out of here, Satan. Scripture says the only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do.

So the devil left him there. And angels came to bring him back from his vision.

Often titled “the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness,” this scene is a story about a vision. The inner struggle Jesus faces is not, as is commonly supposed, the three actions the devil proposes. Having just heard the voice of the great spirit proclaim that he is God’s child at his baptism, the struggle is whether Jesus will be true to himself. Will he really live? Or will he waste his life on bread and trifling piety doing what someone else suggests is more important? Will he do the work that is necessary to change the world? Or will he be just the next passing dictator? Will he determine for himself that he is God’s child? Or will he abandon that calling?

It’s the same existential questioning everyone goes through. Especially when we’re under stress.

  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to just get by from one meal to the next?
  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to waste my life away with trivialities and piously call it a leap of faith?
  • Am I going to give something great to the world? Or am I going to try to extract everything I can from it?

People will always be happy to tell you who they think you ought to be. But you know who you really are. The hard part is always making the commitment to be true to yourself instead of falling back into being whatever everyone else wants you to be. But, as tempting as it is to play it safe, lay low, keep your head down and go along to get along, it’s a path that ends always in ruin and regret.

There are many ways to say it, but only one way to do it:

  • To thine own self be true. – Shakespeare
  • Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
  • Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life. – Buddha
  • The only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do. – Jesus