In Kosho Uchiayama’s classic book “Opening the Hand of Thought,”
he makes an interesting analogy to the persimmon trees found in Japan and the spread of Buddhism around the world. I think if it understood correctly, it can explain how Buddhism could establish its roots in the west, and how it takes our collective, individual efforts to do so.
Older Trees and Sweet Fruit
The Japanese persimmon trees generally bear astringent fruit, unless its very old. A tree has to be 100 years or older, otherwise the fruit won’t be sweet. In order to speed up the process, an older tree that is bearing sweet fruit has often some of its branches removed. These branches that bear sweet fruit, are then placed onto a younger tree, that is generally astringent. Through this grafting process, eventually this younger tree will also bear sweet fruit.
Similarily, in India over 2500 years ago, a tree matured and began to bear sweet fruit in the form of Buddha Shakyamuni. Those Indian branches were eventually grafted onto other lands, like China, Japan, and Tibet, in order so they could also bear sweet fruit.
The unfortunate thing about older trees is that they wither easily. In many countries that have had Buddhism established for many years, they easily become steeped in tradition and the practice becomes a shadow of what it used to be.
Young Trees, Maybe Sweet Fruit
Those older, sweet branches from China, Vietnam, Tibet, and Japan have now been grafted onto the younger, astrinent trees of the United States and European counties. This seems to be just the natural process that occurs in order to keep the practice fresh, and many eastern Teachers that came to teach in the west seem to have noticed how fertile these western soils are.
In order for these younger trees to bear fruit, they have to be cared for properly. Those of us who are practicing in the west have to take care into bringing more wisdom and compassion into our everyday lives and encounters with other people, in order to eventually bear sweet fruit.