The Tree of Life
A learned man once related a story about a wonderful tree in India. Anybody who ate its fruit would never become old or die. On hearing this, the king of his country became obsessed with the idea of immortality. He sent an envoy to India to find the tree and bring back the fruit.
The envoy travelled far and wide, first to one village then to another, climbing mountains, trekking through valleys, leaving no place untouched in his search. He asked the countless people he encountered where he might find the tree, but met only with disbelief or mockery – no one could help him.
At long last the envoy ran out of energy. No trace of the tree had been found, so he began the arduous journey back to his king. Then, along the way, he met a shaykh (a wise man) who asked him why he was so downcast. The envoy replied: “There is a tree, unique in all the quarters of the world; I have sought it for years and seen no sign of it.”
On hearing this, the shaykh laughed: “You have searched for an outward form instead of the essence. Sometimes it is named ‘tree’, sometimes ‘sun’, sometimes ‘sea’ and sometimes ‘cloud’.” The shaykh explained that it was no physical tree at all but that it was “the tree of knowledge of the wise … it is the water of life from the all- encompassing sea of God.”
It is that which gives rise to a hundred thousand wonders.
Life everlasting is just one of them.
Although in essence it is single, it has a thousand effects,
And innumerable names belong to it.
Pass on from the name and look at the attributes.
They will show you the way to the source.
Rendered from R.A. Nicholson, Mathnawi, Book II