Ch. 15 Yoga of meditation on the root of the aśvattha (part 1)

This article is part 83 of 134 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Introduction

parākṛtanamadbandhaṃ paraṃbrahma narākṛti |
saundaryasārasarvasvaṃ vande nandātmajaṃ mahaḥ ||

I bow to that Supreme Brahma in human form that dispels the bondage of those who bow to it, to the essence of all beauty, to that effulgence that is the joy of Nanda.

- Śrī Madhusūdana Sarasvatī

Note

aśvatthadaṃtè jaṭilaṃ
viśvada saṃsāravṛkṣamaṃtu viśālam ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍
naśvaramadu śākhègaḻoḻ
śāśvatamadu mūlakaṃdadoḻagidu citram

’Tis a wonder, this world-tree
that is as many-branching and wide as the peepul,
is transient in its branches and
eternal in its root.

Summary

We act according to our whims and desires, forgetting that it is us who have created our own life circumstances, and that it is our present behaviour that forms our future. Bhagavān instructs us through a profound allegory that this world has its origin in Brahma. We are the ones who defile this saṃsāra that is born out of Brahma. It is possible to extricate ourselves from this relationship through a practice of detachment. The one who is detached is not weighed down by the world. The world becomes a place of entertainment for him.

Section 16 / Chapter 15 / Puruṣottama-yoga / Āśvattha-mūlopāsana-yoga

(The Yoga of meditation on the root of the aśvattha)

At the end of the previous chapter, Bhagavān showed us an excellent strategy of the escape from the web of the three guṇas and stated that it was him - the Supreme Self - that was the origin of dharma.

śāśvatasya ca dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya ca ||

BG 14.27

The first of the Puruṣārthas (the four primary human values) is dharma and the last is Mokṣa - both of which reside in Brahma.

brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham ||

ibid

(I am the support of Īśvara)
The above statement tells us that it is Brahma that appears as dharma in this world system. How is Brahma the same as dharma? The Svāmī now explains.
Dharma is an arrangement of relationships. For any relationship, there have to be two things. There is no talk of a relationship in the case of a story like Robinson Crusoe’s who is all by himself. There is a relationship only when there are at least two objects. Even Crusoe who lived on an uninhabited island considered himself as many and had to think  - “My body is dirty. I must wash it”, “My stomach is feeling hungry. I must look for some food for it” - thereby considering his own bodily organs as different from him. At those moments, the relationship between him and his body is through the tactile sense; the relationship between him and his stomach is through the affliction of hunger. When that relationship - that can exist between two or more objects - is as good it can be, it is called dharma. In the relationship of dharma, the jīva is one side while the jagat (the world) is on the other. Dharma sustains both of them.
Bhagavān uses a beautiful metaphor to drive home this teaching. A metaphor (rūpaka) is a figure of speech (an alaṇkāra). The function of an alaṇkāra is to compare a well-known object to a little-known or unknown object to better inform the reader about the nature of the latter. In such an alaṇkāra, if the object of comparison and the standard of comparison are treated as one without any distinction between them, it is called a metaphor. Consider the following example from a Kannada classic.

śrīvadhuvinaṃbakacakorakaṃ…
devapura-lakṣmī-ramaṇanāsyacaṃdran ānaṃdamaṃ namagīyali ।।

-Jaimini Bhārata 1.1


(Sought after by cakora-bird-eyes of śrī, may the moon-face of the deity of Devapura - Lakṣmī-ramaṇa - bestow bliss upon us.)

This is a rūpaka (metaphor) in which all the features of the moon are shown established in the face of Lakṣmī-ramaṇa. 

There are different rūpakas such as abheda (non-difference) and tādrūpya (having the same form). Let us not dwell upon the intricacies of alaṇkāra-śāstra (aesthetics) right now. What is relevant to us now is this - rūpaka is a figure of speech that gives a better understanding of something we don’t know. The jīva, the world, Brahma - are all things that are not directly perceived. Bhagavān uses the metaphor of the directly perceived aśvattha tree to help us visualise the nature of the relationship between the jīva, the world, and Brahma.

ūrdhva-mūlam adhaḥ-śākham aśvatthaḿ prāhur-avyayam |
chandāḿsi yasya parṇāni yas taḿ veda sa veda-vit ||

BG 15.1

“There is an indestructible Peepal tree. But its roots are above and its shoots are towards the bottom. Its leaves are the Vedas. Whoever knows is the knower of the Veda.”

This is a topsy-turvy, root-over-head tree! Look at its speciality! Its roots are up somewhere - unseen by our eyes, unreachable by our hands while its branches point downwards where we can reach them. This means that the branches and twigs of this tree form the entire material of the world. This tree is - avyayam prāhuḥ - said to be unmodifiable; that can never be destroyed; always of one form. The Vedas are the leaves of this tree. He who knows the secret of this tree knows everything.

adhaś cordhvaṃ prasṛtās-tasya śākhā
guṇa-pravṛddhā viṣaya-pravālāḥ |
adhaś ca mūlāny-anusantatāni
karmānubandhīni manuṣya-loke ||

BG 15.2

“The tree’s branches extend both upward and downward. The three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas are the fertiliser that nourish the tree. The objects of desire are its tender shoots. Its props and roots sprawl across the human world, binding jīvas with karma.”

As long as the three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas are operating, this tree stands well-nourished. The shoots of this tree - viṣaya-pravālāḥ - are objects of desire that are ever fresh; making us think “I need this, I desire that” and have myriad cravings. This tree’s props and roots are anusantatāni - which continuously follow, and are karmānubandhīni as well - they bind us with our own karmas. Manuṣya-loke is mentioned here as humans are endowed with more awareness and responsibility than animals and birds. The world of humans lies between the upper heavens of the devas and the nether regions. The human jīva can go up or down.
The origin of the world-aśvattha cannot be comprehended by the human mind. It is not possible for humans to newly extend the tree. It is Prakṛti that has sustained the growth of the tree from time immemorial using her three guṇas. It is only the tree’s fruit that is for man’s consumption. 
Let us look at the many interesting features of this saṃsāra-tree. Saṃsāra is not to be construed just as family and children. It is the river of life of the form of birth and death. Whatever we meet in our life journey - all of it constitutes saṃsāra while being - karmānubandhīni - binding us with karma.
Any tree could have been used as the object of this metaphor. Why was the Aśvattha or the holy Peepal tree chosen? The use of this tree as a metaphor is as ancient as the Vedas. Why did the great sages choose this tree? What is the secret behind their choice of the Aśvattha? The features of the Aśvattha tally well with the circumstances of saṃsāra. This great tree has four special characteristics that are the same as saṃsāra.

  1. Longevity: The Aśvattha has a long lifespan. While one of its sides wilts away another side blossoms.Saṃsāra is similar - non-existent on one side while growing on the other. Through the succession of offspring, it is long-lived as well.
  2. Widespread: The branches, the roots and props of the Aśvattha extend in all directions for a long distance. The branches of saṃsāra too extend afar from hither to thither.
  3. Many knotted: The props and the branches of the Aśvattha are knotted and braided haphazardly. Saṃsāra similarly is knotty in its numerous narrow and arduous circumstances that arise due to the push and pull of relationships.
  4. Nourishes many: The Aśvattha gives refuge to many insects and birds and protects them. Saṃsāra too protects and nourishes many relatives, friends, guests,  strangers, and those who come in contact with us through their professions and trades.

Thus the comparison is quite apt. This is an ancient metaphor described in the Yajurāraṇyaka as follows.

ūrdhvamūlamavākśākham । vṛkṣaṃ yo veda samprati । na sa jātu janaḥ śraddadhyāt । mṛtyurmā mārayāditiḥ ।

-Taittirīyāraṇyaka 1.11.5

“The one who knows the secret of the tree with its roots at the top and branches at the bottom will not be afraid that death might strike him. This is because he knows that the tree’s roots lie in eternal Brahma-consciousness.”

Bhagavān’s statement echoes the same. The one who knows that the world originates in Brahma does not need to fear death. There is no need to fear for the tree’s existence just because a branch dries and falls off. Likewise, there is no danger to the primordial consciousness because of one man’s death. A jñānī thus has realised the eternality of the ātmā. This indeed is the essence of statements from the second chapter such as “nainaṃ chindanti śastrāṇi”, “acchedyo’yamadāhyo’yam.” The same is taught in the Upaniṣads as well. The Kaṭhopaniṣad is clear about this.

ūrdhvamūlo’vākśākha eṣo’śvatthaḥ sanātanaḥ |
tadeva śukraṃ tad brahma tadevāmṛtamucyate || 
tasmiṃllokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tadu nātyeti kaścana ||

Kaṭhopaniṣad 2.3.1

“The roots are above and the shoots below. This aśvattha is eternal. That is the light. That indeed is Brahma. That indeed is immortal. All the worlds are dependent on it. There is nothing beyond it.”

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.

About:

Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...