Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Fig Tree of Enlightenment

I have written a few blogs on the state of our small fig tree.
I think the last time I mentioned it,
all of the tiny green fruits had turned brown and dropped off,
causing me concern that we would not have any figs this summer.
Fortunately, those first tiny figs did turn out to be the "breva" crop
and now we have a large number of figs getting ready to ripen:

When ripe, the fig's outer skin turns rosey and the fruit soft and sticky.
Opening the fig reveals delicate pink flesh and a sweet flavor
wrapped around hundreds of exceptionally tiny seeds.
Wildlife loves them, and often we find the most tender fruits
have been pecked by the birds or spirited away by the squirrels.

But I understand the attraction.
There is really no comparison for plucking a ripe fig from a tree
and eating it under the protection of its shade.
That may be one reason the fig tree has been a prominent symbol
in some world literature and religious experiences.

Aesop's Fables recount a couple of stories in which figs figure, so to speak.
In the first, an olive tree boasts to a fig tree that it keeps its leaves all winter
while the fig tree loses its leaves and stands bare against the cold.
But later, a heavy snow falls, breaking the olive's branches and destroying it.
The bare, open branches of the fig tree allow the snow to fall through and the fig survives.

Another of the fables tells about a covetous young boy
who reaches into a pitcher filled with filberts and figs.
He grabs so many he can't pull his fist back out and becomes frustrated
that he can't get what he wants.
A kind observer suggests he release the handful and take only half,
which he does. In the Dodsley translation (cited in wikipedia),
the moral is that moderation is the key to fulfilling one's desires.

But desiring anything too much is often warned against by great thinkers.
So I find it interesting that fig trees were key to evolving
 the overlapping philosophies of two important religious figures:
Gautama Buddha (thought to be born between 400 and 550 BCE)
and St. Augustine of Hippo (350-430 CE),
both of whom advised against the deleterious effects of attachment,
and both of whom were said to have achieved their enlightenment while under a fig tree.

I can attest that there is indeed something indefinably hypnotic about a fig tree.
Whether that quality comes from  its broad leaves or succulent fruit
or its ability to send its roots deep into the earth, I couldn't say.
But apparently there is wisdom under the protection of its branches.

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