Author Nagesh Sonde


Bhagavad Gita (XV.1-4)

With roots above and branches below is the imperishable Ashvatha. Wisdom concealed is the foliage, one enlightened is the Man of Wisdom. Its form is not available, neither the end nor the beginning nor its foundation. Only severing the roots connected to the Ashvatha with the sword of non-attachment should the Path be traversed from where there is no return. saying “I take refuge only in  that Primal Person, from whom proceed all the ancient flow of the creation.   

In the primordial world, every thing is seen contrary and contradictory as seen in a mirror, to what exists in the spiritual wolrd. In the primordial world Ashvattha is seen as the gross with roots in the earth below, growing high and tall above with branches spread out with leaves and fruits as the gross Ashvattha tree- In the spiritual world Ashvattha tree is seen withts high above in the sky and the branches, leaves and fruits spreading below as a metaphor for – Absolute state of the Prime Existence, the imperishable entirety–

Unlike the western philosophy which proposes linear and progressive evolution from the incomplete to the complete, from the insufficient to the sufficient, the vedic religion does not suggest regressive evolution from the complete to the incomplete, from the sufficient to the insufficient but in a circular movement from complete to the incomplete and back to the complete, from sufficient to the insufficient and back to the sufficient. Primordial world is the testament and testimony not of the evolution towards the supreme state but of the fall from the supreme state, loosing  and climbing down in decay and degeneration, complete becoming incomplete, the sufficient becoming the insufficient, the beginning becoming the end and finally turning the cycle by permutation and combination the incomplete becoming complete, the insufficient becoming sufficient, the end becoming the beginning.

The primordial life with all its attractions and distractions, does not raise the individual self from its low temporal depths to the high spiritual zenith, but brings him down from the high spiritual zenith to the low temporal depths. What one considers as progress of the temporal individual with accumulation of possessions is what vedic wisdom equates in reality as regress of the spiritual self within.

Scriptures use robust and energetic symbols to describe the intention. We find Katha Up and Bhagavada Gita using Ashvastha tree with roots above and branches, leaves and fruits spreading below as the forms with essence posited therein,  as a metaphor for -The Prime Existence the imperishable undifferentiated
entirety– Mahabharata too compares the branches of Ashvathha tree to intellect, the trunk to sense organs, the branches as the gross elements, leaves to sense objects, flowers to righteousness and un-righteousness, fruits to the consequential pleasures and pains. In primordial world one sees what one seeks to see, by choice and by preference what one desires that he selects. The symbolism of Ashva used in Brihad Aranyaka Up. I.i.1) for the the undifferentiated state of the Supreme Self is explained with horse as symbol of the creative source-energy neither with any beginning nor with any end which becomes established in creation with various parts enumerated as various parts firmly established. 

If one does not see Absolute state of the Prime Existence in temporal Ashvattha, then it means that one has not seen within. When desire becomes intense all else becomes  restrained, temperate and  transparent, beginning with something blurred and indistinct before they becomes clear and clarified. Supreme Being will be seen, even  Ashvattha tree as  -The Prime Existence. When a empirical man sees, he does not see the Supreme Being but the tree. When Shankara speaks of samsara as , an illusion one concludes that he speaks of a theory, not the truth. Therefore, common person does not believe Supreme Bring as some thing real, the Truth but accepts him as a bogey to be honoured and feared.  Soul, the self with is not seen because it is the one who sees. The gross things which one sees are the objects the self within which sees is the subject.  The self within is the witness,, awareness, consciousness , wisdom. The eye which sees is in between the self the subject and the things seen the objects. is what is seen by the eye –     

The spiritual dimension of the Ashvattha tree as seen with roots above and branches, leaves and fruits spreading below is explained to a common person to whom it appears influenced by empirical sense organs as contrary, reverse and differing, seeing every thing as reflection seen in a mirror the eye taking the position of a mirror. They do not see Krishna’s divine resplendence therefore they speak of the his temporal deeds. They do not see the Supreme Being but see only the gross form of  Ashvattha tree. What one sees is quite distinct from what exists differentiated as essence and form formatted by gods by their divine power maayaa –. In fact every spiritual truth comes to be perceived in empirical world as distorted, converse, contrary to or differing the true essence, inefficiently and insufficiently as one would see a reflection in a mirror. When a spiritual man sees, he does not see the tree but the Supreme Being.

Shankara explains Brahman as the supreme source - ,
Vishnu’s supreme abiding place –

The stationery world of animate and inanimate beings, like human beings and others, the trees and mountains are the lower part of Ashvattha,
righteousness and unrighteousness being the fruits, causes and effects – . The branches of the Ashvathha tree extend and are nourished by attributes like Sattva and the rest – .
The branches of the Ashvathha tree extend and are nourished by attributes like Sattva and the rest –
and the senses are the shoots – which grow downwards from the branches connecting the tree firmly to the ground.

 Scriptures say that Brahman is reality and the primordial world is mirage. This great mystery, of the supreme world of Ashvathha Brahman, is resolved only through wisdom and performance of actions, intense austerity and perfected penance and separated with sword of detachment –
as Krishna puts it, which is possible only when one takes refuge on the primeval Purusha from whence has this Ashvathha tree emanated – . The one who realizes Ashvastha as a huge tree having roots above and the leaves and fruits below perceived as the primordial world, a great forest, is said to the knower of Vedas, who having cut the forest with enlightened wisdom and firm conviction - ‘I take refuge only in  that Primal Person, from whom proceed all the ancient flow of the creation’ has reached the undifferentiated state of the Prime Existence from where there is no return.

River is another metaphor normally used for cyclical movement of primordial life - River of Life with   vibrant civilizations coming and going on its banks, becoming prosperous and vanishing. River is not the water in the river but the idea which the river represents. Neither Sarasvati once described as best mother, best river, best goddess – is the waters which flowed from great mountains and streamed to the ocean greater than many other rivers – nor Ganga which also came to be referred as mother with abundant water, pure when flowed down from Himalayas and becoming impure with human frailties polluting it. River becomes energetic feeding and nourishing life all around for vibrant civilizations to prosper when rains fall on mountains or tributaries flow from all sides. By this the Ocean does not become restless deep down except as exuberant demonstrative waves dashing towards the lands. But deep down on the depth of the ocean it moves calm and composed, contended and fulfilled.

Rivers do not return to the tributaries nor does the ocean to rivers; it is for the tributaries to flow down to the rivers and for rivers to flow down to the ocean to join and merge becoming on with the ocean.  It is against nature and cosmic law for the ocean to turn back to fill the rivers and for the rivers to fill the tributaries. Yet out abundant divine compassion and grace the ocean provides the Sun to take the waters of the ocean to form the clouds, the clouds to drift and fall on the mountains so that they may flow back and fill the tributaries and rivers with blessed waters.  

The impermanency, fleeting and transient character is well expressed when one says that one can not step twice in the same river even as water flows swiftly joining the ultimate abode, the Ocean. If Ocean fails to provide the Sun to lift the waters from its bowels to form the clouds, the clouds fail to drift and pass over both river and the tributaries and not fall as rains on the mountains, there will be no waters to fill the tributaries and tributaries to fill the rivers with blessed waters. The tributaries and rivers will become dry and degenerate as it happened in the case of river Sarasvati, which vanished in the desert sands.

The relationship of the branches with the Asvattha tree and of the tributaries with the rivers and of the rivers with the Ocean is built up and sustained by Nature which has built and nurtured it over long period of Time even as family builds and nurtures individual members coming within the family establishing a filial and social group as well as spiritual camaraderie. Confused and bewildered under immense pressure of material science and technological developments Modern generation has come to accept intellect and the I-sense, individual desires, choices, preferences to override the primary elements in creation, beginning with the moral and ethical values to the material and temporal consequences of their actions.  They have ceased to understand and appreciate the symbolism of Ashvathha tree or of a Sarasvati river have been completely alienated from the Family roots, having distanced from the Family, mother, father, children, sister, brother, aunt, uncle etc. leading to deprivation of the basic emotional, social and spiritual values which bind and hold the family, community and the society together.

The question of origin and end, birth and death of relationship was inquired in Brihad Aranyak Up. (III.ix) from what source does a human being rises up again having a newer form observing a tree chopped off rising again having a new form. The reply was not to say from semen because semen is produced only from one who is alive and not from one who is dead. –
Upanishad makes an interesting remark that if one thinks when one dies he  is born again, it is not so for he is not born. Then how is he then born again? Upanishad says that assuredly it is Wisdom, Bliss, Brahman, which exists as the supreme source that causes the form, the energy and splendour to be born again –

Therefore, when a human being is born, the form, the energy and splendour are pure and immaculate, the mind as clean as a mirror with intellect or I-sense flowing like flowers naturally and unassumingly. Intellect is the first one to respond I-sense being the consequential result.  Zen Buddhism points out, ‘The mirror is thoroughly egoless and mindless. If a flower comes, it reflects a flower, if a bird comes it reflects a bird. It shows a beautiful object as beautiful, an ugly object as ugly. So everything is revealed as it is. There is no discriminating mind or self consciousness on the part of the mirror. If something comes, the mirror reflects; if it disappears the mirror just lets it disappear... no traces of anything are left  behind’.

The change comes with passage of Time, the child grows, mind with five sense organs comes in contact with others around gathering and accumulating responses resulting in an empirical mind with memories, identity and individuality.  Every new projection is related to earlier impressions, remembered, re-capitulated and re-collected. Relationship becomes built and strengthened by such projections and responses creating a strong link between the past and future to  bind one’s continued identity and individuality with duality of perception as I and mine, me and my family, my community, my nation, my religion, my gods etc as distinct from, dear and superior to the other, other’s family, other’s community, other’s nation, other’s religion, other’s gods, creating a diversity in other wise what universality of manifestation of the divine effulgence.

Samasara is duality in perception, not unity in perception. Upanishads speaks of this state as

where there is duality as it were, one smells .. sees .. hears .. speaks .. thinks ..  understands as the other. Upanishad further brings out that state where every thing has become the Self then by what and who one should see .. hear .. speak .. think ..  understand as the other, a state which would be appreciated when one understands essence of the verse
in Isha Up.   Krishna, therefore, points out the universality behind this apparent diversity of perception  in Bhagavad Gita demonstrating the mutuality of interest between the enlightened luminous gods and the unenlightened human beings is lost sight of.

Creation is one Complete phenomenon it having been said,
This can not be understood as a mathematical problem but as a metaphysical one. Creation is not sourced from the measurable but from the immeasurable. From the measurable whatever is taken out there will be some depletion but from the immeasurable even a smallest of small fragment is taken there will be no depletion.  The one who understand this will understand the significance of Ashvattha or a River, and what the branches stand in relation to the tree and the tributaries in relation to the River.

Family likewise is a great relationship even as the great ocean, which neither increases or overflows when clouds pour rain on the mountains, rains flow as rivers and rivers fill the ocean from different sides nor decreases in volume when the Sun evaporates drawing waters from the  waters from the ocean to form clouds.  The ocean never breaches its limit, there being neither excess nor scarcity. This is the universal cycle which Krishna spoke and encouraged humanity to follow  -

bring in sharp attention the importance of performance of actions as and by way of a

Even like branch and the tree or tributaries and the river, the river and an ocean, individual and a family are interdependent with birth of individuals and their death, each adding to the prosperity of the family and of each other according to the capacity of their innate attributes of wisdom, valour, enterprise and service, becoming expansive and prosperous. Just as the tributaries do not represent the river or the branches do not represent the tree, individual member do not represent the family. Yet the great power of illusion – and their I-sense makes them assume that individual can be the family and the branch can be the Tree, even as the river can be the ocean. A branch severed from the tree trunk will surly die, even as tributary will loose its way and sink deep on the way even as rivers will not reach the ocean drying on the way, even so individual, without the support of his family, will loose his  way and identity ceasing to exist as generations pass in oblivion.

That is the inexorable cosmic law, .That is how Sarasvati river disappeared from face of the earth leaving the lands devastated, destroyed and deserted, when monsoon rain-winds bypassed the plains of Sind and Rajaputana plateau when human beings, who were nourished by her life giving waters, destroyed the great forest lands leading to the imbalance in cosmic cycle leaving the tributaries dry and thirsty. The effort of the branches to exist independent of the tree truck would likewise doom to destruction. Families will not survive when individual members cease to nurture their relationship even as tree would cease to exist when branches fail to receive and hold the rain or the river would cease to exist with tributaries failing to join the river.

Bhagavata Purana speaks of the sublime nature of a father-son relationship.  A son's duty is not only to make the father the source of supply for all his needs, but also, when he is grown up, to render service unto him. If the son is unreservedly willing to be guided by the father, the father is ten times more eager to instruct and guide him by all means. The concept of nuclear family in the modern times, where parents live in old age homes and  children live separately hardly leaves any chance for the children to listen to the wisdom of their parents.

The importance given to individual choice and freedom has lead to overlook social obligation for the family, family for the community, community for the society and society for the whole mankind choosing to lead one’s life more as individual enterprise with emphasis on me and mine and by extension of the I-sense to include one’s wife, sons and daughters. This has lead individual beings to assume that branches can live and exist on their own or ributaries can survive on their own because the branches have spread far and wide and have their shoots support them. 

But family depends on relationship which is encouraged and nurtured and become loose, individuals have loosing affinity with the parents, brothers and sisters, each one taking his own course, flying like dry leaves tossed in wind  and  wandering alone with no abiding relationships built, nurtured or sustained, with neither peace in mind nor satisfaction of a life lived well and truly. Such one will surely hanker one day for a helping hand and caressing glance before he sleeps in the bowels of Time with dreams unfulfilled.