This term comes from the book, Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny. This is one of my favorite books by Zelazny, but is a lesser-known of his classics. The quote can be found near the very beginning:
There is a Big Tree, as old as human society, because that’s what it is, and the sum total of its leaves, attached to all of its branches and twigs, represents the amount of money that exists. There are names written on these leaves, and some fall off and new ones grow on, so that in a few seasons, all the names have been changed. But the Tree stays pretty much the same: bigger, yes; and carrying on the same life functions as always, in pretty much the same way too. I once went through a time when I tried to cut out all the rot I could find in the Tree. I found that as soon as I cut out a section in one place, it would occur someplace else, and I had to sleep sometime.
I like this book among Zelazny’s as it is one of the more thoughtful and philosophical; dealing with Sandow’s confrontation with mortality (he’s lived 1200 years and is fabulously wealthy), and with the ghosts of his past.
This notion of the tree, with its leaves coming and going, and the process continuing on unabated reminds me of the Lankavatara Sutra in Buddhism, when the Buddha tells the Bodhisattva named Mahāmati that existence is nothing more than:
All that can be said, is this, that relatively speaking, there is a constant stream of becoming, a momentary and uninterrupted change from one state of appearance to another.
When this entire universe is regarded as concatenation and as nothing else but concatenation, then the mind, by its patient acceptance of the truth that all things are un-born, gains tranquility.
With regard to the comment about “all things are un-born”, this simply means that there’s no clear beginning nor end to any one object or phenomena. A piece of paper started out as a tree, but the tree was as seed, and that seed came from another tree, and so on ad infinitum. Endless concatenation, endless becoming.
So, the analogy of the Big Tree is pretty fitting here, if not for money, then all phenomena. 🙂
P.S. 100th post on the new blog (or as I call it, Blog 3.0). I go through these blogs like Emperor Leto II goes through Duncan Idahos.
P.P.S. Sorry for anyone reading this in 2012. I edited this old post and it must have re-notified people. But if you like it anyway, thank you. 😉