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On the Qutbiyyat* of Trees

We have blessed you by extending Our hands from the trees in the forest,
did you not see the thousand hands of blessing?
-Hazrat Inayat Khan

As at the coming of the spring-tide rains
Rivers of sap through growing trees upstart,
So runs Thy love throughout my very veins,
Yea, to the tender tendrils of my heart.
-Princess Zib al-Nisa'

Like the legendary Majnun, whose skin and hair hardened into bark and branches, in time the practitioner of the Elemental Purification Breaths acquires the attributes of a tree.

From below the tree eats earth and drinks water through its roots. From above it partakes of fire and breathes air through its leaves. Every tree is a cosmic pole grounding Heaven in the soil of Earth and inspiring in Earth the soul of Heaven.

Shaykh Nur al-Din and his vegetarian Sufi rishis planted fruit trees all across the valley of Kashmir, moving the emperor Jahangir to proclaim, "if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!"

A tree has no itinerary or destination. What better guide could there be on the pathless path which leads not from here to there, but from nowhere to everywhere?

A tree is a genius loci, a quietly eloquent witness of the place in which it stands. Its branching frame is a favorite haunt of jinn, a crossroads where strangers meet by chance, a lectern for the orations of birds.

A child once ran away from home and for three days sat under a tree in despair. On the third day a sugar-eater perched overhead and began chirping, "tu'i, tu'i, tu'i" (you are, you are, you are). That became the boy's zikr**, and his faith was renewed.

When mystics attach themselves to trees, the attachment sometimes proves to be mutual. Soon after Hazrat Inayat Khan left the world, the apricot tree under which he was accustomed to meditate followed him into the hereafter.

Trees have even been known to sacrifice themselves to a righteous cause. When a ruthless mob set its sights on the prophet Zacharias, legend relates that a compassionate tree opened its hollow and urged him to enter. His pursuers were confounded until the Devil intervened and betrayed his hiding place, whereupon the villains brought a saw, and tree and Zacharias both were martyred.

Though we Homo sapiens have trees to thank for the very oxygen we breathe, as the proverb goes, 'the fool cuts the branch on which he is sitting.' All around us forests are falling, whole nations of trees disappearing. Surely now the time has come to open our hollows and offer sanctuary to our endangered green friends, whose friendship is by any sane reckoning priceless.


* The quality of being a qutb, or pole.
** Invocation, mantra.