Have you seen a what’s-it tree?

One of my favourite jātaka stories is the tale of the Kimsuka – or “what’s-it” tree (number 248 in the big Pāli collection). Last year I turned it into a resource for school teachers to use, and last week I was able to participate in a sample lesson based on the story, at a CPD event we held at New College.

Louise Hepburn, who is a Principal Teacher at Kirkfieldbank Primary School, has been a key participant in the Approaching Religion Through Story project that a colleague and I have been running over the past two years. Sharing her expertise and ideas at last week’s event, she began by giving us each an envelope containing a photograph of a tree. This, she told us, was a what’s-it tree. We were told to study the photo carefully, in secret, and practice describing it to others.

Next we were up on our feet, meeting other people and telling them what a what’s-it tree looks like. Soon there were disputes: Was the tree green? No, definitely red. Or perhaps covered in seedpods. Was it bare or covered in leaves? Everyone seemed to have a different idea! We could not agree on a description of the tree.

Of course, as you may have guessed, the photographs represent the tree at different stages in the year, with buds on the trunk, red fleshy flowers, green leaves or distinctive pods. All the pictures were of the what’s-it tree (the teacher wasn’t telling lies!) but we had to come to a realisation about different ways of seeing something, or the dangers of having only an incomplete viewpoint, just as the four brothers do in the original story.

Jātaka learning in action! You can see Louise’s lesson plan, as well as loads more teaching resources that involve stories at the project website.


About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
This entry was posted in Academia, Buddhist texts, Religious narrative, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Have you seen a what’s-it tree?

  1. James Simmons says:

    Seeing the title of your post I remembered an article I read yesterday:
    The Parijat tree is supposed to grant all wishes, and it grew in Indra’s garden. Krishna stole it for His wife Satyabhama’s palace, and an example of this tree still exists and is being cloned.

  2. Tom Short says:

    A great story about a great story. Brilliant – keep up the good work!

  3. mrshepilou says:

    The privilege to share was all mine. Glad you enjoyed it, Naomi. There was the same buzz in the room at this event as there is when I use this story to explore Appearance versus Reality with learners as young as seven!

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