CHAPTER XV (15)
Purushottama: the Uttermost Being
Eternal Ashvattha: The Tree of Life
The Blessed Lord said:
They (the wise) speak of an eternal ashvattha tree, with roots
above and boughs beneath, whose leaves are Vedic hymns. He who
understands this tree of life is a Veda-knower.
THE ASHVATTHA TREE (pipal or holy fig, Ficus
religiosa, of India) is remarkable for great size and
longevity. In the first four stanzas of this chapter, ashvattha
is used metaphorically to describe the mighty, many-branched
system of integrated consciousness, life force, and afferent and
efferent nerves that is the composite of man.
Paradoxically, though the ashvattha tree is here referred
to as eternal, the word itself in one commonly accepted derivation
means "that which does not remain tomorrow (or, 'in future'),"
from a-śvas. The metaphorical ashvattha tree, in this
sense, alludes to the world of transitoriness and its beings,
which are ever in the process of change— nothing remaining the
same from the present moment to the next ("tomorrow," or "the
Prakriti's principles of creation, by their
action and interaction, produce endless variations. And while
these "products" do not endure in the same state or condition, the
creative principles behind them, the life and seed of the ashvattha
tree, are eternal. (See also 1:8).
In these Gita verses, the ashvattha
tree refers specifically to the creative principles of Prakriti at
work in the threefold body of man (physical, astral, and causal),
though the analogy itself is equally applicable on a cosmic scale.
This enduring "Tree of Life"—mentioned in many scriptures of the
world, including the Bible—is the human body and human mind.
In the light of intuition, yogis behold the
inverted "Tree of Life"— the tree of consciousness (ideational
components of the human body and mind causal body) within the tree
of life force (the nadis
of the astral body, channels of
life energy), these two existing interlocked within the inverted
tree of the physical cerebrospinal nervous system. This triple
tree has its roots of thought emanations, life-force rays, and
cranial nerves hanging upside down from the eternal Cosmic
Consciousness above its ideational, astral, and physical spinal
trunks; and its triple branches hanging below.
The phenomenal spheres were created by God by
condensation of light. Projected out of the Divine Vibration, the
earth came into being as inert matter. Its inherent life kept on
thrusting its rays of life force outward. The rays became
manifested in the form of vegetation and trees with their
The same basic patterns are repeated throughout
Nature. Like the plant kingdom, all forms of animate matter have a
core of life whence branches extend to create and enliven the
organism. Thus, after the Lord had enabled the earth to project
"trees," He fashioned human beings, His crowning creation, much
like inverted trees. This correspondence is seen in the physical
body's roots of hair, cerebrospinal trunk, boughs of arms and
legs, and nerve branches extending throughout, distributing the
sap of life.
In a book on anatomy, look at a chart showing the nervous system
in the human body. Turn the chart upside down, with the brain
below and the feet above, and you will see that man's form has a
similarity to an inverted tree, with a trunk and many branches.
Then turn the chart right-end up and you will
see that the nervous system itself looks like an inverted tree,
with hair, brain, and spine above; and numerous branches of nerves
shooting out below. As trees spring out of the soil beneath them,
the human tree of thought, life force, and nerves grows invertedly
downward from the "soil" or ground of Cosmic Consciousness.
In the human body, the physical tree of nerves is a gross
manifestation of the astral tree of life energy within. The two
trees of nerves and life force are condensed out of the tree of
human consciousness, the elemental ideas in the causal body, which
in turn emanate from Cosmic Consciousness. (See 2:39, 7:4, 13:5).
Human hair is a result of the condensation of
astral rays; the tissues of the body itself are made of atoms and
lifetrons. Some yogis do not cut their hair but keep it long to
draw from the ether a greater quantity of cosmic rays—an effective
but nonessential derivative yogic practice. The reason for
Samson's having lost his superhuman strength when his hair was
shorn by Delilah may well be that he had practiced certain yogic
exercises by which one's hair can be transformed into sensitive
antennae to draw cosmic energy from the ether.
THE TREE OF LIFE HAS THREE KINDS of leaves, or
receptors through which the indwelling soul receives knowledge
("Vedic hymns") of triune phenomenal creation: sensations, life
force, and thought perceptions. The metaphor of leaves compared to
Vedic hymns calls forth an image of phenomenal world sensitivity
and vitality (the vibrant green leaves denoting life) and
whispering motion, "hymns of knowledge" (the rustle of leaves).
The "leaves" of the physical tree of life, for example, are the
sensory organs in the epidermis and their corresponding centers in
the brain, sensitive and full of life, receiving sensations and
reporting that knowledge. The waving of those sensory leaves
suggests the motion of sensation caused in the nerve centers
through which we receive knowledge about the body and the world.
Through the help of this sensory commotion we see colors and
forms, hear sounds, taste food, and so forth. When one perceives
the proper integration of physical sensory stimuli with the inner
trees of life force and consciousness (in the astral and causal
bodies), true knowledge of the phenomenal world is produced. A man
of Self-realization, tuning in with the Infinite, can see this
mysterious tree of nerves, life force, and thought issuing out of
Cosmic Consciousness; he thus becomes omniscient—a "knower of the
Vedas," that is, of all knowledge.
The ordinary man is absorbed in sensations,
which reach him through the sensitive leaves of the spinal tree.
He partakes of the fruits of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and
taste that exist among the "leaves," the sensitive receivers of
sensations at the end of the numerous nerve branches.
GOD TOLD THE ORIGINAL MAN AND WOMAN, metaphorically called Adam
and Eve in the Bible, to "eat of the fruit of the trees of the
garden"; but He warned them "of the fruit of the tree which is in
the midst of the garden.. ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye
touch it, lest ye die." (Gen 3:2-3).
Spiritually interpreted, these words signify that the Lord wished
Adam and Eve to eat or enjoy, as human beings, the "fruits" of the
fivefold sensory tree. But of the "apple" of sex on the tree of
nerves situated "in the midst (middle) of the garden" of the human
body, God said: "Do not try to have physical sex experience, lest
you die (lose your present consciousness of immortality)."
The Lord created the "original pair," Adam and Eve, by the power
of materialization through the divine fiat of His will. He placed
them in a garden "eastward in Eden"; that is, with their
consciousness focused "eastward" in the spiritual eye of intuitive
To them He gave the same power to condense
their thoughts into gross images materialized from the ether
(ideational world), that by this immaculate method of creation
they could multiply and people the earth. He told them to enjoy
the sensations of seeing and hearing each other, talking and
eating with each other, smelling the flowers, and touching the
objects around them that He had created. But He warned these first
beings not to touch each other's bodies in a carnal way
lest they summon forth the subconscious memory of the animal mode
of sexual propagation, which they had known and employed
previously in bestial forms.
Heretofore, God's manifestation as
individualized souls had evolved upward through various life
forms to instinct-bound animals. God had then introduced souls
from the highest evolved animals into the human bodies of the
symbolic Adam and Eve.
The bodies of these first humans were therefore
the result of both evolution (generally evolved from the pattern
of animals) and an act of special creation by God as the beginning
of the human race. Human beings are above the lesser
instrumentality of animals, for they alone possess the potential
to express full divinity because of unique spiritual cerebrospinal
centers of divine life and consciousness. Thus both divine and
bestial or subhuman traits characterize man as an embodied mortal.
The original prototypes of man and woman had no sexual members
in their perfect bodies until after they had disobeyed God's
command to them. "They were both naked...and were not ashamed"
(Genesis 2:25) —a harmonious unity between the qualities of
positive and negative, masculine and feminine, reason and feeling,
unperverted by gross sensual sex attraction.
But when the feeling or Eve-consciousness in man was tempted by
vague recollections of animalistic sexual arousal, then man's
reason or Adam also succumbed.
When Adam and Eve embraced each other with sensual desire, the serpentine
or coiled-up energy at the base of the spine, which either lifts
man Godward or feeds his senses, stimulated the heretofore
undeveloped sex nerves.
From this agitation, the sex organs developed. "Unto Adam also and
to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed
them." (Genesis 3:21)
The positive Adam with masculine reason uppermost became male; the
negative Eve with feminine feeling predominant became female. Eden,
their state of divine consciousness, was lost to them, and "they
knew they were naked": their purity to see themselves as souls
encased in a wondrous triune body of consciousness, life force,
and atomic radiation was replaced by identification with the
limitations of the gross physical form.
Ever since the fall, their descendants have
had to reproduce their kind by the gross and complicated process
of sexual creation. Adam and Eve, and through them the human race,
were required by cosmic law to be subject to the dualities of good
and evil, and to experience death, painful change, because they
had forfeited their omniscient immortality by reverting to animal
While the Genesis story in the Bible focuses on the fall of
original man, the Hindu scriptures extol the first beings on earth
as divine individuals who could assume corporeal forms and
similarly create offspring by divine command of their will.
In one such account, in the hoary Purana, Srimad Bhagavata
the first man and woman in physical form, the Hindu "Adam and
Eve," were called Swayambhuva Manu ("man born of the Creator") and
his wife Shatarupa ("having a hundred mages") whose children
intermarried with Prajapatis, perfect celestial beings who took
physical forms to become the progenitors of mankind.
Thus, entering the original unique human forms created by God were
souls that had either passed through the upward evolutionary
stages of creation as Prakriti prepared the earth for the advent
of man, or were pristine souls that had descended to earth
specifically to begin the world's human population.
In either case, original man was uniquely endowed to express soul
perfection. Those "Adams and Eves" and their offspring who
maintained their divine consciousness in the "Eden" of the
spiritual eye returned to Spirit or the heavenly realms after a
blissful sojourn on earth.
human beings and their "fallen" offspring
were caught in the reincarnational
cycles that are
the fate of desire-filled, sense-identified mortals. (4:7-8).
Mankind in general thus remains reveling in the leaves of
sensations of the bodily garden, without understanding its origin
But yogis are able to reclaim the lost Eden by withdrawing their
minds not only from the touch sensation of sex but also from all
other tactual contacts, and from the sensations of sight, hearing,
smell, and taste. Such yogis ascend the inverted tree of the
nervous system, life force, and consciousness to reach the
paradise of Cosmic Consciousness.
The ordinary man indulges in the transitory pleasures of bodily
sensations and fleeting thought-forms, thereby exposing himself to
countless subsequent miseries. But a man of Self-realization,
being one with the Cosmic Consciousness of his Maker, beholds the
human body and mind as delusive thought-forms that provide the
soul with a means to experience the Lord's cosmic chiaroscuro.
That is why the Bhagavad Gita says that one who understands this
triple tree of life, which has its source in God's eternal
existence, is a knower of all wisdom ("the Vedas").
Its branches spread above and
below, nurtured by the gunas; its buds are the sense
objects; and doumward, into the world of men, extend the
rootlings that force man to actions.
THE ANALOGY OF THE ashvattha
tree of life is here further elaborated. Its branches spread
both "above" and "below"—extending upward, they give knowledge
of the higher realms of being and consciousness; and stretching
downward they confine perception to the sentient physical body
and material plane.
The life and consciousness flowing through these branches,
concentrated either above or below, are nurtured by the gunas,
triple qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas), according to the
ego's response to their good, activating, and evil influence.
Human actions originate primarily from the "buds" of sensation,
the "sense objects." These sensations grow on the bodily nerve
endings of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In a deeper
metaphysical analysis, these "sense objects" are defined as the
causal potentials or "buds" of sensory experience: sound, or
what the ear can hear; tangibility or resistance, what can be
felt; form or color, what the eye can see; flavor, what the
tongue can taste; odor, what the nose can smell.
Inherent in these supramental
potentials are the subtle vibratory creative elements of earth,
water, fire, air, and ether. These potentials become
elaborated as the sensory organs and perceptions through
Interaction with the three gunas (see XIII: 1), and the end
result is the manifested "object," or sensation.
Although the principal root of the tree of life lies above in
Cosmic Consciousness, there are secondary roots beneath,
embedded in the subconsciousness and supe consciousness in the
brain. These "rootlings" originate mans actions from the likes
and dislikes (attractions and repulsions) engendered from good
and bad actions and desires of past lives ( samskaras
and their progeny, vasanas or desire-seeds).
They extend downward into the
nervous system and senses,, "the world of men," and compel man's
actions. These past habits and desire impressions continuously
instigate in man the performance of specific actions— good or
bad as the case may be.
God is the Originator of all, but it is man who perpetuates his
own existence. Man's self-created samskaras and vasanas
from past lives, and his new desires arising from his response
to the influence of the gunas and their evolutes in the present
life, impel him to take innumerable rebirths to fulfill his
Thus does he contribute to the nurture and perpetuity of the
Tree of Life, causing its physical manifestation as the nervous
system to sprout forth again and again, in each new physical
form in successive incarnations.
In this way, human beings are bound to life and death through
the power of their desires. (Therefore neutrality lead to escape
from the cycle of re-births).
Because of this, the ashvattha tree is referred to
as representing samsara "worldly illusion," which is the
entrapping cause of the cyclic wheel of reincarnation.
The true nature of this tree, its beginning, its
end, and its modes of continuity—none of these are
understood by ordinary men. The wise, having destroyed the
firmly rooted ashvattha -with the powerful axe of
nonattachment thinking, "i take refuge in the
Primeval Purusha from whom alone issued the immemorial
processes of creation," seek the Supreme Goal. Reaching
It, they return to phenomenal existence no more.
THOUGH THE TRIPLE TREE of consciousness, life force, and nerves
is present in man, he does not understand himself or Nature. The
elusive ever-changing modes of cosmic creation bewilder him. Of
such delusive ignorance in ordinary beings Jesus spoke: "...they
seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they
understand." (Matthew 13:13).
Only a sage determines to wield
the strong axe of nonattachment, nondesire, to destroy the
ashvattha tree within him, deeply rooted in the habits of
material living. He alone attains the Divine Goal.
The worldly man, living under
the thick-leaved tree of sense pleasures and egotism, does not
perceive the skies of liberating Cosmic Consciousness. But the
sincere devotee, by discrimination and yoga practice, strikes a
mortal blow to material desires and past-habit-instigated
activities rooted in his conscious, subconscious, and
Thus felling the obscuring
tree of material delusion, he beholds in transcendental
ecstasy the skies of the Infinite. He perceives Cosmic
Consciousness as the origin, continuity, and end of the Tree
of Life of his body and of the cosmos. By this realization
that God is all, and by freedom from past and present desires,
he becomes a liberated being, able to retain this
consciousness even in the bodily state. But never again will
he be forced by cosmic law to take rebirth on earth.
Without craving for honor, free from delusion
and malignant attachment, all longings banished,
disengaged from the pair of opposites—pleasure and
pain—ever established in the Self, the undeceived attain
the immutable state.
THE MAN who HAS ESCAPED from maya into Cosmic Consciousness is
filled with unalloyed supreme bliss. Free from the relativities
of delusion, at one with Spirit, his immutable Self is
undistorted by Nature's kinetic currents of pride, changing
moods with their impulsive desires, misery-producing
attachments, and the undulating, contrary pair: passing joys and
Where no sun or moon
or fire shines, that is My Supreme Abode. Having reached
there, men are never reborn.
THE TAINTLESS YOGI, REFERRED to in the preceding three verses,
becomes permanently established in his God-union, whether he
remains incarnate or leaves the gross realms to abide forever in
the transcendental Spirit. While in the body, he attains
samadhi-union with Spirit by lifting his consciousness beyond
the "fire" of bodily life energy, the "moon" or reflected
creative light in the spinal centers, and the "sun" of the
astral thousand-petaled lotus.
Thence, he enters that realm of
Cosmic Consciousness which is the Lord's "Supreme Abode," in
which even the slightest vibrating tremors of the suns and the
moons and fires of creation are absent.
The Bhagavad Gita contains the
essence of the wisdom in the Upanishads (summaries in the
Vedas). The following thought, cited in this Gita verse, is
found in several Upanishads: "Where sun and moon and stars and
lightnings dare not peep with their glaring eyes, there I remain
in My unmanifested abode. It is My unseen light that appears in
the borrowed lights of creation,"
When God withdraws His secret
light at the time of the end of a cycle, all lamps of Nature
lose their luminescence. Similarly, when the liberated yogi
finally merges in Spirit to "go no more out," the light of God
issuing from the soul no longer illumines the three bodily
lamps— those forms return to their Spirit-essence, vanished like
mirages on a desert.
The unmanifested realm of the omnipresent Spirit is eternally
free from all vibrations. Sun, moon, fire—in their cosmic and
microcosmic manifestations—all belong to Nature's agitated seas
of cosmic vibration. Just as the eddies below a waterfall cannot
disturb the reservoir of water at its source, so the eddies of
vibration issuing out of Cosmic Consciousness cannot create
commotion within It. Even the finest vibrations of light or
movement are not present in the indescribably subtle limitless
sphere of the Lord's vibrationless omnipresent Bliss.
An eternal part of Myself,
manifesting as a living soul in the world of beings,
attracts to itself the six senses, including the mind,
which rest in Prakriti.
God is the Ocean, man (the jiva or individualized soul) is a
wave. As man is a pan of God, so is he never truly apart from
Him. By the power of maya, a portion of God's cosmic
consciousness is cloaked in Nature's garb, a body fitted with
five external senses and one internal sense, mind. These six
senses are the soul's instruments of communication with the
world of relativity.
The Six senses includes ... Prana.
God, being One, unalloyed by any relativity, perceives Itself by
Itself—by Its singular intuition, or omniscient consciousness.
But complex man, created out of the complex relativity of
Prakriti's cosmic delusion, requires the sensory instruments of
delusion to perceive his environment and his finite existence.
Bound by these limited and limiting mediums, he feels himself
isolated from God; motivated by maya, he sustains this
separation by misuse of his free choice. When at last he refuses
to continue longer in this bondage, he cooperates eagerly with
the perpetual involutional pull of God. Breaking the ties of
Prakriti, he is drawn back to the omnipresent bosom of his
As the vast sky becomes a little V-shaped sky when reflected in
a V-shaped brass vessel, so the Spirit of God becomes
differently displayed in different human beings and in
multifarious other kinds of creatures. But as the little sky in
a vessel is not different in essence from the vast sky, so the
illimitable Spirit of God and the pure soul in all beings are
the same in essence. Only when the jiva becomes identified with
the body does it put on its apparent limitations.
Therefore, God is equally present in every being—human or
animal. However, His manifestation is more readily seen in
transparent and in only slightly darkened jivas, than in those
who are opaque with ignorance or evil. A jiva associated with an
ignorant mind and unrestrained senses may commit cruel deeds;
nevertheless, by meditation and wisdom that same jiva may
withdraw from its dark coverings and again become one with the
When the Lord as the jiva
acquires a body, He brings -with Him the mind
and the senses. When He leaves that body, He
takes them and goes, even as the wind wafts away
their dwelling places (in flowers).
The jiva (individualized soul) is here called "the Lord" to
emphasize the point made in the preceding stanza: that the jiva
is an eternal part of Clod Himself. By divine power alone are
the hod it's of nun obtained, maintained, and abandoned
Stanza 8 refers (o the subtle or astral body, linga sharira, the
abode of the mind, sense perceptions, and other life principles.
The subtle body of each man accompanies the jiva in its rounds
of reincarnation, endowing each new physical form with life and
intelligence. With the departure at death of the linga sharira,
the body reverts to its natural state of inert matter.
Presiding over the mind
and the senses of hearing, sight, touch, taste, and
smell, He enjoys the sensory world.
The Bible says: "O Lord...Thou hast created all things, and for
Thy pleasure they are and were created."1 The Hindu scriptures
also tell us that the creation of man and the universe is only
God's lila, play or creative sport. The Lord as the jivas
experiences the delights of the world that He made.
The deluded do not
perceive Him staying or departing or experiencing the
world of the gunas. Those whose eye of wisdom is open