“In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
“The jewel tree opens its loving embrace to everyone and promotes happiness—which is our natural state and birthright.”
Today, boys and girls, each one of us is going to be building our own jewel tree.
The Jewel Tree of Tibet, the book by Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, was created in order to teach the basics of Tibetan Buddhism, but it revolves around a symbolic device that can be hijacked by novices and non-Buddhists alike. It’s an image with tremendous power to comfort, lift up, strengthen, and exhort, and it can be yours.
(A caveat: I’m clearly not going to replicate here in a thousand words or fewer what devout Buddhist scholars have discovered after millennia of study and meditation. If you want to really understand the jewel tree teaching you’ll need to read books, including, if you wish, Thurman’s book, and talk to the experts on the subject. Now you may proceed.)
The quickest way to explain the jewel tree, sometimes called “the wish-fulfilling jewel tree,” is that it’s a beautiful tree in your imagination, filled with jewels that light up with the faces of everyone you know who wishes you well, who’s on your side, whose love for you remains largely unclouded by resentment and envy, who’s longing to see you safe, well, and happy.
The jewel tree might hold the face of your mom, your grade eight home room teacher, your pastor, your best friend, your spouse, your hairdresser, some guy you talked with on a train once, someone who smiled at you from across a crowded room, or the members of your bridge club. You can even go into the past and add the faces of your favourite mystics, authors, composers, or artists, the people who really seemed to get you, who showed you who you are, and who might have pointed the way for you. When thinking about someone gives you good vibes, their face belongs on your tree.
So how do you make your own jewel tree? You start with a list of all those people. Put it on a note where you can see it whenever you’re struggling. You could actually make a drawing of this tree, but it’s not necessary; all you need do is imagine those people on your tree and meditate on your tree until the faces light up. They’ll be so happy for any step you take toward awakening to the beauty of reality. They’ll comfort you when you’re discouraged and help you get back up again. They’ll applaud when you do something truly good.
You need a jewel tree, not just for the aforementioned but because sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that humanity is basically evil, that nothing will ever change, and that everyone in our lives has let us down. The jewel tree is a way of remembering the good not only in others but also in our own histories. There’s always at least one face that belongs on your tree, and that one face can be enough to restore your faith in humanity—and in yourself.
You may even develop enough compassion and loving-kindness to earn a place on someone else’s jewel tree.
So get busy with that list.