IX. Banyan – Hermit – Reflection
Genus: Ficus. Family: Moraceae.
The banyan tree, Ficus benghalensis, represents a time of going within and becoming self-aware through reflection, meditation, silence and a quieting of one’s mind. In the stillness of our awareness we can begin to hear the voice of our soul’s calling.
The banyan is an Indian fig tree whose branches produce aerial roots that seem to come from the sky as they reach the ground. Banyans are the biggest trees in the world in terms of the total coverage area of their root system. The largest banyan is in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which covers 4.7 acres and can shelter up to 20,000 people. Banyans naturally create sacred space as their massive roots can form a multi-columned temple from a single tree.
Greek historians wrote of Alexander the Great and his army of 7,000 people taking shelter under a single tree in 326 BCE.
The banyan tree is the national tree of India. Banyans are large evergreen trees that have the ability to shield us from the outside world. Once inside their sacred space, we can sense the presence of this wise spirit, for it honors our need for privacy and introspection as we seek an expanded awareness of our path.
Hindu texts describe the banyan as the World Tree that grows upside-down to bring blessings from the gods to humanity. Yogis spoke to large crowds of people under the shade of banyan trees. Banyans provided back support and shelter during periods of prolonged meditation. It is said that Krishna (Hindu god of compassion, tenderness and love) read the Bhagavad Gita under a banyan tree.
In 1667 and 1674, English poet John Milton immortalized the banyan tree in his epic poem “Paradise Lost.”
The banyan tree is one of 850 species of fig with its own unique fig wasps for pollination. The fruit of Fiscus bengalensis is not desired like the common fig because it is barely edible.
The banyan is not to be confused with the Bodhi Tree or peepal, referred to as the sacred fig or ficus religiosa associated with Buddhism. Around 500 BCE Buddha experienced his enlightenment sitting silently under a Bodhi Tree. The branches of a Bodhi Tree reach up and out, versus down like the banyan.
Message: The banyan spirit reminds us to slow down and meditate on where we are now and where we want to go. This is a time to retreat into our self as we reflect on the knowledge we have gained and the path we have chosen. Banyan asks that we embrace this period of isolation as a gift of initiation. Our inner truth is hidden deep within our subconscious mind, this is a time of bringing that truth to consciousness, for the answers we seek are often within us.
Challenge: Feeling isolated, alone, bitter, reclusive or odd. Work with the gentle spirit of the banyan tree to help find our way home.