The roots of the trees in a redwood forest are interconnected. Rather than each tree having its individual root system, the entire forest is actually one large organism. Each individual tree is part of a great system of trees. The branches and needles of each tree receive their sustenance through this root system and they, in turn, provide the entire system with nutrients through the magic of photosynthesis. The root system is not particularly deep but it is very wide. It is this vast network that allows the trees to grow so tall and yet maintain their stability.
When we look at a redwood we think we see an individual tree; but we are also seeing one element of a vast organism.
Spiritual Journey of the Tree
The story of the Buddha is a story of an individual who makes his way from suffering into awakening. His story has inspired countless others to make, or at least attempt, this journey for themselves.
The story of Jesus is the story of an individual who, through his suffering, paves the way for others to find salvation. Many have found personal salvation by following the path of Jesus.
These are optimistic stories. They hold out the promise that although I experience suffering, I can find a way to move through that suffering to discover a different way of being. Awakening to Buddha nature. Salvation.
These stories of single individuals give their hope and promise to other individuals. Their promise is realized in the experience of “I have awakened” or “I am saved.”
These are stories told about the system from the perspective of a tree.
Spiritual Journey of the Roots
The Exodus story is a story of people experiencing suffering. They are enslaved and they are set free. The story of the passage through the waters of the divided sea is a birth story, a story of the birthing of a people. In their newly found freedom, they are born into spiritual community.
This story of spiritual community holds out the promise that although groups of people experience suffering, they can be liberated from that suffering and experience redemption. The promise of this story is realized in the experience of “we are redeemed” or “we are a sacred community.”
This is a story told about the system from the perspective of the roots.
In reality, the roots (collective consciousness) can’t experience redemption unless the trees (individual consciousness) experience it too; just as the trees (individuals) can’t be fully saved or awakened unless that experience penetrates to the roots (the collective). The roots and the trees are not separate from one another. They are part of a single organism.
If we experience a spiritual call or spiritual transformation, whether we imagine it coming from within us or beyond us, we tend to imagine that this is a call to us as individuals. Without in any way diminishing its existence as a solitary tree, the tree discovers that it is part of a vast system of roots and trees that are, in fact, a single organism. The tree (individual consciousness) experiences Buddha nature or salvation in discovering itself as a much vaster organism than it could have ever imagined (collective consciousness).
But there is another way to imagine this spiritual call or transformation. In truth, there are no trees without the roots and no roots without the trees. Rather than originating in the individual tree, the call can be imagined to arise from the root system itself. The roots (collective consciousness) are aware of being an intertwined organism. Without in any way diminishing their experience as an intertwined whole, the roots fully experience the joy that they are giving rise to magnificent trees. Just as the individual experiences salvation by discovering that it is part of the wholeness of existence, the wholeness of existence experiences redemption through the experience of breaking through the soil and being born into sacred community.
The spiritual call or spiritual journey is collective consciousness beckoning to individual consciousness; and the spiritual call or spiritual journey is individual consciousness reaching out to the collective consciousness.
In reality, there is only consciousness. Its appearance as individual or collective is a paradox that is not meant to be solved.
Everything written above has the potential to obscure as well as clarify. Do not take the words literally. Allow them to point, however imperfectly, to a truth that lies behind the words.
About the Author: Dan Ehrenkrantz helps nonprofit organizations dramatically improve their organizational effectiveness. A former synagogue rabbi and college president, Dan has over 25 years of leadership experience. His online course, Seven Surprises of the Bible’s Creation Story, is available here.