The Many By-Paths of Vedana

Thus have I heard

Standing prominently like a sentinel by the highway named the Samsaric Circus was the towering Tree of Sensations. Since it covered a considerable area on the right side of the road where it stood, no one passing by could avoid walking under its spreading branches and thus coming under its influence. Yet as it changed its garb from season to season, the influence it exerted on the passers-by, or on those who rested under it also changed with each season.

In the summer, the weary travellers were exhilarated by the mere sight of its thick dark green foliage and the touch of its cooling shade on their bodies. The soft breezes rustling through its leaves, and the chirping of the birds resting among its leaves were music in their ears. The sweet smell and the taste of the ripe luscious fruits brought satisfaction to their noses and tongues. The overall balmy effect these had on their bodies and minds rekindled their desire to go in search of even greater resorts of pleasure. Moreover, the pleasant sensations effected by them sunk deep into their hearts to leave a tendency for attachment for sense pleasures in its recesses.

As the time passed and the summer gradually faded into the autumn to end up in winter, the tree also changed its garb. The traveller who comes there, exhausted by the fierce wintry weather, finds no comforting shelter under its branches. Its branches and twigs, now bereft of all leaves and grey with frost, are painful to look at. The tree provides no warm shelter from the biting cold winds howling through its bare branches. There is no sweet smell of flowers. The luscious fruits are all gone. The tired traveller now has only the foul smell of his own winter clothes and the taste of the drops of the dew forming under his nose to wet his parched lips. The painful effect of all these on his mind was one of repugnance which gripped his heart. He started to hate the Tree and wanted to run away from it, yearning for the pleasurable sensations that were missing.

The winter garb, however, like the summer one, was not everlasting. It also gradually changed and the Tree now put on its spring clothes. Clad in its light green robes, with tiny buds of flowers popping up from here and there, the tree stands almost still in the quiet surroundings. The whole atmosphere is peaceful and soothing to the body and mind, which is overcome with a lazy complacency. Neither too hot nor too cold, the traveller on the road knows no fatigue and walks by the tree completely ignoring its spotty shade. He pays no attention to the Tree and therefore is not able to appreciate its calming effect. The resulting ignorance sinks deep into his mind to leave there a proclivity to ignorance. Common to all the three seasons was the same attitude of the travellers, whether the Tree attracted them, repulsed them or was ignored by them, namely their failure to objectively assess the changing nature of the Tree in each season.
Branching off to the left near the Tree of Sensations were numerous by-paths. Certain intelligent persons amongst the travellers had from time to time shown some of these to their fellow travellers as avenues of escape from the highway and the paths to permanent peace. These people were either inquisitive by nature and, therefore, wanted to find the purpose of their travelling on the highway, or they were tired from their travelling and wanted to rest or else they were led by compassion for the other road-weary travellers. Yet unfortunately none of the paths they discovered could lead anyone out of the Samsaric Circus. They were almost ‘parallel’ roads to the highway, which led the users back to the main highway. For all these by-paths branching off to the left merely zigzagged within the Samsaric Circus and rejoined the highway and never led anyone out of it.

But once, there was a remarkable person in whom were combined all the above three reasons, and who put all his energy to discover the path out of the Circus. He found through experience that all the by-paths shown by others, strangely branching to the left at the Tree of Sensations, did not lead him out of it. He could not see whether there were any by-paths to the right of the Tree because that side was completely hidden by it. So he decided to go around the Tree instead of going at a tangent to it. He had to clear a path around the Tree to reach the other side and, as he worked his way around it, he studied the Tree in all its aspects. His study was scientific and objective. Hence the pleasant sensations of the summer or the painful sensations of the winter were not allowed to overwhelm him. By the time he reached the spring weather, he had gained a considerable knowledge of the transitory nature of the Tree. Thus he was able to withstand the lazy complacency that overcame the travellers in spring. He kept himself awake to the calming effects of the season and understood its nature as well. Now he comprehended the Tree of Sensations and to his joy he found open before him the path he was looking for. There was only one path, straight and clear, which led him out of the Circus of Samsara to the sunlit summit of the Mount of Deliverance. He turned back and had a clear view of the whole Samsaric Circus and the beings travelling on it and also the numerous false by-paths zigzagging within the Circus. Out of compassion for those ignorant road-weary beings he declared-

Open for them are the doors of the Deathless
Let those with ears (to listen) let go their (blind) faith!