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The Cosmic Tree

Part 73 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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There are certain symbols that are common to many cultures, especially in their distant past. One such is the Cosmic Tree. Devotees of Wagner’s music will well remember the Welt-Atem, the World Ash, that grew through the center of the earth, and how in Die Walkure Sigmund draws out the great sword Nothung (Needful) that had been thrust into it by Wotan, his father.

India, too has this symbol:

The Holy Lord said: They speak of the eternal ashwattha tree with roots above and branches below, its leaves the Vedic hymns; he who knows it is a knower of the Vedas (15:1).

This has both a macrocosmic meaning and a microcosmic one.

The cosmos, physical, astral, and causal, is rooted above in the Supreme Consciousness, in Brahman. Everything has originated in Brahman, has Brahman for its essential Being. That which is “below” is a manifestation of Brahman.

It is usual to say that the leaves of the tree are the hymns of the Veda, but this verse conveys a vital point of the character of relative existence. The word chhandamsi means poetic meter or rhythm. The meaning is that every thing is simply a mode of vibration, an energy-pattern, a variation on the single note of Om, of Mulaprakriti, the Primal Energy. Om, the Shabda (Sound) Brahman, is the Root Sound of which creation is a series of permutations. Those who know this–which implies knowledge of Purusha and Prakriti and their relationship–are knowers of the true Knowledge, the eternal veda/vidya.

We are rooted in our own Self and in Brahman, the Self’s Self. All that we identify with as us are the modes of Prakriti, of Creative Energy–which is Brahman in extension. All things are “songs” of God, incarnations of Om, the Pranava.

Now we get more on the individual trees:

Below, above, its branches spread afar, nourished by the gunas. Its buds are the sense-objects; and in the world of men below its roots engender action (15:2).

The universal ashwattha tree, like the earthly banyan tree, puts down roots from its branches, making the one tree into many dependent trees–an apt symbol of Brahman and us. The three gunas are the elements which make up the universal and individual trees. The objects of the senses are the buds of the trees which, tending downward, make fresh roots in the world. These roots are karmas, both action and the results of action.

Its form is not perceptible here in the world, not its end, nor its beginning, nor its foundation [that which enables it to continue in existence]. Cutting this firm-rooted ashwattha tree with the strong axe of non-attachment, (15:3).

As long as our consciousness is centered in this world, in relative existence, in the experience of the body, mind, and senses, we cannot possibly comprehend the true nature and life of the world and our embodiment within it. Therefore we must transfer our consciousness to the Spirit-self which is eternally rooted in Brahman. Then here and now we will comprehend everything. Just as the kernel of a seed or nut when it ripens pulls away from the shell, in the same way as we ripen through the practice of meditation we shall become detached from all that is of the world. The resulting illumined consciousness (prajna) will be the axe by which we can cut through the subsidiary roots of the earthly ashwattha tree.

Writing of this, Dr. I. K. Taimni observed: “According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and now while we are still living in the physical body.… No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages.”

This being absolutely so, Krishna concludes:

Then that place is to be sought to which, having gone, they do not return again: “In that Primeval Purusha from which streamed forth the ancient Power, I take refuge” (15:4).

The second half of this verse should be our constant aspiration.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Freedom

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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