Outdoor Sadhana: Creating a Tree Shrine

Find out how creating a tree shrine (a common practice in India) can become part of your spiritual practice.

June 10, 2013    BY Anna Dubrovsky

If you have an altar or a shrine in your home, you know that sitting down in front of it—or even glancing at it throughout your day—can make a difference in your state of mind. While the weather is nice, consider creating a shrine outside, and specifically under a tree. Trees and forests have a long association with spiritual practice. Perhaps most famously, the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment while seated beneath the heart-shaped leaves of a fig tree. Before going on his way, he spent a week gazing at the tree in gratitude.

Tree shrines are common in India, says David Haberman, an Indiana University professor who recently completed a book about them. They typically feature a large tree contained within a kind of planter or even within a temple. Statues of gods and goddesses are often placed at its base. People bring offerings of fruits, flowers, incense, and, of course, water. “In addition to being great spots for yoga and meditation, trees are places for seeking life blessings, anything from good health to a long life to a happy marriage,” Haberman says. It’s not unusual for people to physically interact with trees, hugging, kissing, or massaging them.

In addition to being great spots for yoga and meditation, trees are places for seeking life blessings, anything from good health to a long life to a happy marriage.
–David Haberman

Such displays of affection raise eyebrows in the West, where religious scholars and anthropologists have painted anthropomorphism—attributing human characteristics to a non-human being—as primitive. But “biologists have made it very clear that we share a great deal with other species, and if that’s the case, then anthropomorphism is not wrong,” says Haberman, who is also a forest protection activist. “There are trees that we share 70 percent of our DNA with.”

Honoring trees is “a way of seeing something you cannot see otherwise,” he adds. “When you love a being, it reveals itself to you. It’s that connection that opens up a whole world of perception and knowledge.”

Anna Dubrovsky
Anna Dubrovsky is an award-winning journalist and author whose productivity has plummeted with the birth of her two children. But she always makes time for assignments that broaden her horizons. Her work has appeared in dozens of print and online publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Utne Reader, Fitnessmagazine.com, and Parents.com. She has been practicing yoga since 2001 and teaching since 2008. After much globetrotting, she now makes her home in Southern California.

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