The Wishing Tree

I was recently trying to find a story I read a long time ago, a version of a traditional eastern tale told by Paramahansa Yogananada, called, “The Wishing Tree,” or something very similar.

A search on that name turned up:  a 1999 movie, an acoustical music group, a Salvation Army campaign, an award winning book about a girl whose father goes off to war, a flower shop in Hoboken and another in Singapore – and that was just on page one of the 1,750,000 results reported by Google.

The phrase “wish-fulfilling tree” brought links more in line with what I was after, stories and cautionary tales that seemed to echo a comment of George Bernard Shaw, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is to get it.”

For Hindu’s, the tree is called Kalpataru and was revealed by Shiva to his wife Parvati.  He tells her,  “‘Kalpa’ means ‘whatever you desire’ and ‘taru’ means ‘tree.’ “Whatever you wish for, you will immediately get from this tree.”


The site where I found this illustration,, has a version of the story I was looking for, but I like Yogananda’s telling better, and this is how I remember it:

Once a spiritual seeker, who had long roamed the Himalayas in search of enlightenment, spied a single tree growing in the center of a small valley. He took shelter under its boughs and remembered the legend of special wish-fulfilling trees that angelic beings place in such remote regions to help wandering ascetics, and he wondered if maybe….

He pictured a nice juicy orange, and it instantly appeared in his hand. How long had it been since he’d had a good meal? He thought of every delicacy he had ever enjoyed, served on gold plates, and servants appeared bearing the feast. He’d been sleeping in the open so it was natural to wish for a house – no wait, a palace! And anyone with a palace and gold plates needs guards and soon, our friend had a squadron of soldiers saluting and awaiting orders.

He conjured butlers, and cooks, and seamstresses.  Dancing girls, too, of course, and while he was at it, gardens and fountains.

Satisfying one’s every whim isn’t easy, and at last the seeker sought out his own room for a nap.  He gazed through the window at the lush forest he’d planted nearby for hunting, and as he drifted off, he wondered if that had been wise.  What was to prevent a fierce tiger from jumping into his window?

And that was the last thought he ever had.


I’m not usually fond of stories with explicit morals, but I first came upon this as a teaching story, in the context of a transcribed talk Yogananda gave on the power of thought.  He summed up by saying we all live our lives under a wishing tree, only we call it imagination. Lucky for most of us, our normally scattered minds are slower to manifest what we dwell on than the tree in the story.  At one point, Yogananda said, “If you doubt the power of thought, try repeating the mantra, ‘headache, headache,’ and see what happens.”

A similar aphorism that’s stuck with me since I first heard it came from Zen teacher, Cheri Huber:

The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention.

…which is actually very good news, as is my new favorite bumper sticker:

( you can get it at

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