The Golden Tree
A Jewish Tale from India
Retold by Laura Simms
An impetuous King had four wives. There was one wife who he favored. She was kind, intelligent, challenging and beautiful. The three other wives were jealous of the time he spent with her. Over the years, they connived and complained, and finally convinced the King that the fourth wife was the source of all the troubles in the kingdom. One morning, when the favored wife refused to agree with the King, he banished her saying, “Your ill will is the cause of all my problems. And, you have not born me a child after years of marriage!”
The Queen knew well the devious root of the King’s change of heart. Without a word, she left the palace. Disguised as a beggar, she journeyed until she arrived in India. There she found a small cottage in a forest and lived a simple life.
One night she dreamed of a magnificent Golden Tree. In the morning, she realized that she was pregnant. However, she sent no word to her husband, the King.
That same night the King also dreamed of the Golden Tree. The next morning he could not stop thinking of the wife whom he had banished. Realizing his mistake, he set out to find her and ask for her forgiveness.
He traveled following the merchants who said they had seen the woman he described. He, too, arrived in India. But he could not find his wife. Finally, he sought the advice of a sage. No disguise could hide her true beauty. The wise sage did not tell him how to find her. Instead, he advised the King to find the Golden Tree he had seen in his dream. “Then you will find your true love,” said the sage.
His journey was arduous and long. The King’s feet were hardened, his robes were torn to shreds and a beard grew from his chin. But, at last, in the middle of a boiling lake, he saw an island on which grew the Golden Tree.
He risked his life and crossed the fiery water and took a single branch from the tree. He saw his wife’s face reflected, as if in a mirror, on every leaf. He wept until his heart was cleansed of selfishness and the boiling water around him was cool and still. Then, soon afterward, he entered a forest he had not seen before. He came upon the cottage of his wife. She recognized him instantly for she had loved him with all of her heart. She saw the branch of the Golden Tree she had dreamed of in his hands. Yet, uncertain of the nature of his visit, the Queen let her seven-year-old son stay unseen. When she opened the door, he knew her as well.
The King asked for her forgiveness. They told each other their tales, and she gladly forgave him.
She then introduced her husband to their child. The Queen, the King and the Prince returned home. The gold branch was planted in the royal garden and grew as a reminder of their love. The three other queens were banished. They set off on their journeys. May they, too, be tempered by love.
Commentary: “Dreaming of Trees”
The dream is the portal between worlds that springs open to us at night, and may be open all the time, but easily ignored or forgotten in the comings and goings that consume and distract our waking life. What is not visible is rendered fantasy. What can be offered by the dream is reminder in the form of pure image: immediate, symbolic, without obstructions of concept and prefabricated opinion. In this story, adapted from Jewish sources in India, a King who is impetuous and swayed by the urging of his three jealous wives, banishes his fourth and favorite wife. He sends away the one who his heart values most.
The true journey of the story begins with the favorite queen’s departure. From the logic of story, she had to leave for something new to happen. When what he loves most is removed, he dreams. He dreams of a golden tree and on each leaf he sees her face. Just as it is for us all, sometimes that which we ignore and need, comes back to haunt us, in our dreams. This dream is so vivid and piercing that he goes in search of the wife whose loss he regrets. Loss, regret, heartbreak, sorrow. These are the gifts that life offers to wake us up from dangerous preoccupations. And she, removed from the Kingdom and the King and the three other wives, also dreams of the golden tree. The same golden tree. She discovers that she is pregnant. Pregnant, she travels far away.
He goes out in search of her whom he has banished and lost. His challenging journey of discovery, finding the island surrounded by water on fire where the tree grows, is his voyage of transformation, where his heart is opened and what was forgotten and refound within his dream he finds in the outer world as well.
If she had not left, he would not have dreamed and she would not have given birth and the golden tree would not have been found where it was waiting on the island in this world. In a place only known to the old sage.
But what is most interesting in the tale is the Golden Tree. Not real of bark and water, leaves and root, but made of gold. The center of the universe that joins heaven and earth, which is rooted below and rises beyond, is something enduring and brilliant, both natural and magic.
The beauty of a story lives in the eyes of the listener. That which produces the birth of a child, the literal fruit of the womb, and the birth of longing and surrender the fruit of pilgrimage and quest.
What appears to each in the dream is not an actual tree, but a sacred tree, like the golden trees carved in the great synagogues that adorn the Bima where the Holy Torah is kept hidden behind curtains and doors adorned with leaves and trees, eagles and golden crowns. We are in the world of symbol and nature, a mythic reality where image speaks louder than words.
The tree here is unconditional love, the spiritual and physical joined, and the reminder that sets King and Queen each on their journeys We are reminded of creation itself, of the original trees, of holy hidden places that must be remembered and sought again and again and not forgotten. The image of the golden tree brings to mind the Song of Songs, where longing engulfs us and urges us to open. “I sleep, but my heart is awake.”
The King returns to his palace with his wife and child, and plants a branch of this unimaginable beautiful golden holy tree in his garden. He plants something of the spiritual world, the world of the dream, and the magic of life beyond conventional belief, something of the invisible world, in his garden.
Perhaps the problem in the start was that the tree was missing, or this element of holiness, was missing from the garden. Without that element jealousy easily took over the mind. So, a Queen who was loved was unable to give birth. She had to leave in order to cause the King to dream. His journey took him away from his familiar surroundings and his jealous wives, to seek advice from a sage and to cross a fire burning water to find an uncanny sacred treasure in this world.
From the logic of the world of story, the Kingdom is not complete without the golden tree in the garden. Just as our own minds are blind without the treasure of wakefulness, or without the recognition of the holiness in this world, the presence of divine love within. Just as our world is dangerous without the presence of oxygen-breathing trees and the invisible world of dream and enlightenment, so, too, the Kingdom was barren and ruled by impetuosity, jealousy and revenge.
Listeners dream the golden tree in their imaginations as they listen to the story. Two times they dream the tree. And each listener conjures female principle internal – giving birth, within a forest; and masculine principle – surrendering to longing and the true quest. And in this feast of imagining the very energy of listener’s imagining trees and making inner journeys, breaking hearts open in search of union, within and without, the very world we live in is fed with reciprocity and refreshed by engagement in the journey of the story.
I was mostly influenced by an oral telling by Anita Graham. Elijah’s Violin and Other Jewish Tales (Harper & Row, 1983) is her source.
About the Contributor:
Laura Simms is an internationally renowned storyteller, author, and recording artist whom Maori elders call “as good a our grandparents.” “The Golden Tree” is excerpted with permission from her book The Robe of Love: Secret Instructions for the Heart, Codhill Press, 2002. http://www.laurasimms.com/marketplace/
You can learn more about Laura, by visiting her website at www.laurasimms.com