Etz Chayim (A Tree of Life for the Peoples of the Earth)
Etz Chayim (A Tree of Life for the Peoples of the Earth)
Limited Edition Giclee Print
22 x 29 1/4" (available in smaller sizes)
Original: gouache on paper
In this painting, I looked at the similarity between the main values of different religious groups. The Jewish Kabbalah talks about the Ten Sefirot, which represent ten qualities (or aspects) of G-d, which humans are called to imitate or emulate in order to repair or complete the world (Tikkun Olam). Those ten aspects of the divine include Wisdom; Understanding; Beauty (Hod and Tif’eret, two Hebrew words for Beauty, emphasize, perhaps, the importance of the awe we feel when confronting the physical beauty of the world in reaching faith); Judgment, and its antidote, Loving-kindness; Shechinah, the feminine aspect of God; Eternity, etc.
The Buddha talks about the Eightfold Path, which is the way to end suffering and achieve awakening: Right Conduct, right Livelihood, Right Speech, Right Mindfulness, Right Energy, etc.*
And the Christians talk about the Nine Gifts of the Spirit :
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness (excellence), goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law." - Galatians, 5:22
At the bottom of the painting is the world of Reality: Malchut, the other name for Shechinah, which refers to the earthly world in which we humans live. It is in our daily life that the tree roots are planted, it is here that we struggle to live by these values which are so similar in all our religions and spiritual practices. Here, the symbols of Muslims, Christians and Jews are on the rooftops, to show that if we all respect each other’s values, the doves of Peace would surely nestle in our Tree of Life, and we might live again in a kind of Garden of Eden.
*"In the same way I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path […]? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. That is the ancient path, the ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times.” - Nagara Sutta, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Background Excerpts and Quotes
"The leaf is also mother to the tree […] during the spring and summer [it] works hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of [it] is in the tree. [It] is also the whole tree, and when [it] goes back to the soil, [it] will continue to nourish the tree." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, p.116
"'To be' is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing." - Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, p. 96
"The world is the collective whole of all things subject to change and dissolution […] the emptiness of all dharmas refers to the fact that all dharmas are empty of a permanent and unchanging self […] all dharmas are subject to change and dissolution. Because of that, they cannot be said to possess a separate, independent self [a description of how the clay bowl contains water, air, fire, the potter, his parents etc. -- p.440 -- All dharmas depend on each other for birth, existence, and death […] look deeply at this bowl, and you can see the entire universe. This bowl contains the entire universe. There is only one thing the bowl is empty of and that is a separate, individual self […] No dharma possesses a separate, essential self. That is the meaning of emptiness. Empty means empty of self." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Cloud p. 436-441
"As we study and practice the Noble Eightfold Path, we see that each element of the path is contained within all the other seven element […] it is impossible to practice one element of the Noble Eightfold Path without practicing all seven other elements. This is the nature of interbeing, and it is true for all of the teachings offered by the Buddha." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Heart, p. 117-118
"Right Mindfulness accepts everything without judging or reacting. It is inclusive and loving." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Heart p. 64
"Imitate your creator", says Moshe Cordovero at the beginning of his book Deborah's Palm tree, and he goes on to describe how one should imitate God according to the ten sefirot, which represent 10 aspects of the divinity. "How should a person train himself in the quality of Wisdom", he asks (Tomer Dvorah, chapter 3, p.22) and replies that since Wisdom has two faces, one looking upwards and one downwards, a person needs to imitate Wisdom in two ways, one by isolating himself with his Creator, to increase and improve his own wisdom, and the other - by teaching people the wisdom God gave him. In the same manner he explains how to train oneself in the qualities of Understanding, Love, Judgment, etc.
"The sefirot have the power to perform opposite actions, at times manifesting judgment, at times compassion. They always agree on each action, for each sefirah acts only along with all the others, with their consent, through Malkhut. Each sefirah is composed of all ten, yet they manifest particular combinations […] There is a balance between the two extremes, that is, between Hesed and Din, Love and Judgment. This balance is Rahamim, Compassion." - Moshe Cordovero, Or Ne'erav, quoted by Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 43-46. Malkhut is the location of the world of creation, Ibid, p. 42
Malkhut (kingdom) is also known as Shekhinah (Divine Presence) […] Shekhinah [is the] daughter of Binah, bride of Tif'eret, the feminine half of God. [she is]"the secret of the possible," receiving the emanation from above and engendering the varieties of life below […] Human righteous actions stimulate Yesod, the Righteous One, and brings about the union of the divine couple. Human marriage symbolizes and actualizes divine marriage. Ibid p. 9
According to the Zohar, as Gershom Sholem explains it, "The Sefiroth were revealed to Adam in the shape of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, i.e. the middle and the last Sefirah; instead of preserving their original unity and thereby unifying the spheres of 'life' and 'knowledge' and bringing salvation to the world, he separated one from the other and set his mind to worship the Shekhinah only without recognizing its union with the other Sefiroth. Thus he interrupted the stream of life which flows from sphere to sphere and brought separation and isolation into the world. From this time on there has been a mysterious fissure, not indeed in the substance of Divinity but in its life and actionÖwhat the Kabbalists call "the exile of Shekhinah." Only after the restoration of the original harmony in the act of redemption, when everything shall again occupy the place it originally had in the divine scheme of things, will "God be one and His name one". - G. Sholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 232
About 'Tzimtzum', the withdrawal of the Divine; about 'raising the sparks' and 'Tikkun' as Man's work in the world below (which could be connected to sfirat Malchut , it being the realm of our daily life) - Ibid, p. 274; 268; and other places.