CHAPTER    XV (15)

Purushottama: the Uttermost Being

Eternal Ashvattha: The Tree of Life

Verse 1

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 future").

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 Inverted Tree

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 extending shoots.

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 divine perception.

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 habits.

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.

The "fallen" 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 in God.

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").

Verse 2

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 longings.
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.
***
Verse 3-4

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 superconscious minds.
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.
***
Verse 5

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 griefs.
***
Verse 6

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.
***
Verse 7

 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 Creator.

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 Infinite.  

 

Verse 8
 

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 scents from 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.

Verse 9

 

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.


Verse 10

The deluded do not perceive Him staying or departing or expe­riencing the world of the gunas. Those whose eye of wisdom is open see Him.