The Banyan Tree Spirits

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  • Title: The Banyan Tree Spirits: Using Photography to Commune with the Natural World
  • Author(s): Robert J Beck, Jill Beck
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Religion in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society
  • Keywords: Art, Religion, Spiritual Development
  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2154-8633 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2154-8641 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2154-8633/CGP/v08i01/13-29
  • Citation: Beck, Robert J, and Jill Beck. 2018. "The Banyan Tree Spirits: Using Photography to Commune with the Natural World." The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society 8 (1): 13-29. doi:10.18848/2154-8633/CGP/v08i01/13-29.
  • Extent: 17 pages

Abstract

Symbolizing immortality and diversity, banyans are the national spiritual trees of India and Indonesia. We photographed apparent human figures embedded in banyans that served as evidence for questions concerning the origins of religion in archaic peoples and the use of art as a means of personal spiritual development. Two primary questions guided this inquiry. First, did the appearance of human forms in the banyans serve archaic peoples as a source of spirituality and religious belief? In this study, the photographs were treated as “sacred objects” for exploring possible phenomena and states of consciousness through which archaic peoples may have developed religious beliefs. Second, how can art be used to commune with nature for personal spiritual development? This study involved our suspension of disbelief in the supernatural, aesthetic criticism of each photograph, and provisional identification of the categories of spirits they might represent, including fertility and procreation, death, wisdom, and mythological animals. We compared our understanding of the identity of these deities with Hindu beliefs about the banyan, notably their depiction of gods as embedded in the trees, just as our photographs portrayed. We developed a relationship with the spirits that gave rise to spontaneous dialogues that were enlightening and stimulated our spiritual self-development. Our research motivated us to support and sustain the life of banyan trees and the protection of nature in general.