I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. [John 16:33 (NLT)]
Even though this last year has been one of sorrow and loss for us, I smiled when I recognized the Sorrowless Tree’s bright orange and yellow flowers at the botanical garden. Although its scientific name is Saraca asoca, the Ashoka is commonly called the Sorrowless Tree. Sometimes I wish such a tree actually existed. Even though the tree can’t prevent sorrow, its beautiful foliage and sweet fragrance were just what I needed to lift my spirits as I mourned yet another friend’s death. The flowers reminded me to find joy and gladness in the day God had given me.
A great deal of mythology and tradition accompany the Ashoka tree. Its common name comes from the Sanskrit word aśoka which means “free from sorrow.” In Hindu mythology, the tree is dedicated to Kama Deva, the god of love. Tradition holds that when someone drinks the water in which Ashoka flowers have been rinsed, they can attain an inner state of profound peace and joy. Once infused with the flower’s essence, the water is said to heal the suffering and sorrow caused by mourning, pain, burdens, trauma, disappointment, and loneliness. While it doesn’t change the root cause of the sorrow, the flowery water is said to change one’s perception of it—sort of a placebo effect.
The Ashoka is also considered sacred in Buddhism. Tradition holds that when Māyā, the Buddha’s mother, reached up to pick one of the tree’s blossoms, she gave birth to her son under the tree. It is said that people will forget all of their worries and concerns just by standing beneath the Ashoka’s beautiful and fragrant blossom because of the tree’s splendor. I have to admit that my heart felt lighter as I paused under the Ashoka’s blossom-laden branches. Rather than focusing on my sorrow, I thanked God for the gift of knowing and loving the beautiful people I’ve recently lost.
As Christians, we know there is no protection from grief and even a dozen Sorrowless Trees in our garden won’t protect us from loss, distress, disappointment, or sorrow. In both the Buddhist and Hindu mythologies, however, the tree’s essence and beauty don’t change the situation—they merely change the attitude and the perception of those circumstances. Like people everywhere, Christians often need an attitude adjustment when life goes seriously awry! When we’re sad, troubled or in pain, on what do we concentrate? Do we focus on our grief, difficulties, and suffering or on God? Do we lament, fret, or moan or do we concentrate on trusting our Heavenly Father? Do we let our negative feelings control us or do we control those discouraging emotions? Do we dwell on our misery or on our blessings? While we have no choice when sorrow and grief enter our lives, we always have a choice regarding the way we will deal with them. Unless we are clinically depressed, we don’t have to be at the mercy of our negative emotions. God has given us the power to do otherwise!
We will never live a sorrowless life. In fact, suffering often accompanies discipleship and our sorrow is neither futile nor unnoticed by God. Instead of drinking a flower’s essence, we can drink the living water of the Spirit—the essence of our God. Rather than standing under a tree gazing at lovely flowers, we can take refuge in the arms of God while pondering His love and trusting in a better life to come. As beautiful as the Ashoka’s flowers are, we will only find profound peace and joy in the Lord.
Should pain and suffering, sorrow, and grief, rise up like clouds and overshadow for a time the Sun of Righteousness and hide Him from your view, do not be dismayed, for in the end this cloud of woe will descend in showers of blessing on your head, and the Sun of Righteousness rise upon you to set no more forever. [Sadhu Sundar Singh]