Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samsara Vriksha & Samsara Nivritthi

Gita essays 26

The chapter15 contains only 20 verses but it is an important chapter for it contains the essence of the scriptures and teaches Ishwara Tatvam.  It is one of the most significant and complete chapters of the Bhagavat Gita that many people use for parayanam also.  In this chapter Brahman or Ishwara is called Purushothama and therefore this chapter gets the title “Purushothama yoga”.   

This chapter opens with Lord Krishna’s description of samsara as a huge tree (samsara vriksha), with Brahman as its root.  The opening verse runs as: “They (the scriptures) speak of the eternal asvattha tree (of samsāra) whose root is above, whose branches are below, and whose leaves are the Vedas. The one who knows it is the knower of the Vedas”.(15-1).  This is followed up by further description of this tree of life in the second verse as: “Below and above spread its branches, which are nourished by the gunas and which have sense-objects as its buds; and below in the world of men stretch forth the roots, originating action”.(15-2). In the first line of the third verse the description is continued as: “The form of this (tree) is not perceived here, neither its beginning nor its middle or end.”

Before seeing this description in detail, let us see the source for this description, in Kathopanishad from which Lord has taken the analogy. In Kathopanishad 3-2-1, Yama tells Nachiketas “This is that eternal asvattha tree with its root above and branches below. That root, indeed, is called the Pure; That is Brahman, and That alone is the Immortal.  In That all worlds are contained, and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is That.”  The word ‘asvattha’ means that which does not endure till the next day. The universe is compared to the asvattha tree on account of its ever-changing nature.  Brahman is the support for the universe just as the root is the support for the tree. The root is said to be up in a figurative sense as it is qualitatively superior to the lokas of the universe which are described as lower being qualitatively lower to Brahman, the root.  For, Brahman is eternal while the creation is subject to arrival and departure; Brahman is Satyam while the creation is mithya; Brahman is karaṇam, the cause, while the universe is karyam, the product.  In short, the asvattha tree of universe is endowed with perishable branches of lokas.  That Brahman is pure while the creation is full of impurities like papa karma, puṇya karma etc.  These impurities do not affect the Brahman.  That Brahman alone is immortal and is the support of all the lokas.  The existence of all objects is borrowed from Brahman only and nothing can exist outside the Brahman.

To this description of samsara vriksha, Lord has added a few more touches which we shall see now.  Vedas formulate codes of dharma and adharma with their causes and effects and by showing the way to prosperity and well-being in the relative world they protect the world. So just as the leaves protect a tree, the Vedas serve to protect the tree of the world and hence the Vedas are compared to the leaves of this tree of life.  The flow of life in the individual is sometimes for a higher evolution but very often it is to satisfy animal nature i.e. towards a lower purpose. Thus the tree of life has its branches growing both upwards and downwards. The tendency to lead a higher or lower life is determined by the dominance of any of the three gunas.  Thus upward and downward its branches spread, nourished by the gunas.  Nodular buds are potential branches. Sense objects (sabda, sparsa, roopa, rasa, gandha) are the buds because in the presence of these objects there is a tendency to throw away higher values to attain carnal satisfaction.  While the main root of the tree is firmly fixed high above in Brahman, the subsidiary roots grow all around and even downwards in the world of men initiating all actions. These secondary roots are the vasanas created in us as a result of our past deeds driving us to actions and reactions, good or evil, in the world.  Just as the secondary roots bind the tree to the earth firmly, these actions and reactions bind the individual to the plane of likes and dislikes, profit and loss, of earning and spending etc.  In order to avoid any misunderstanding about the mystic symbolism, the Lord adds that its form is not perceived here as such. The tree of life mentioned in these verses represents the entire field of manifested life. As the knowledge of samsara vriksha, gives one the knowledge of both perishable and Imperishable, finite and infinite, which is the complete knowledge, Lord calls such a knower as Vedavit, a knower of Vedas.

Swami Paramarthananda quotes from Sri Sankaracharya’s commentary the similarities between the universe and this tree in his talk on this chapter.  Let me recount a few of them briefly as follows:
1)    Both are huge, mahathvam.
2)    The beginning and end of both cannot be traced, adiantarahitham.
3)    Like the huge tree having many branches spreading far and wide, the universe is a vast tree with the fourteen lokas as its branches, ṣakavatvam.
4)     Leaves of the tree nourishes the tree and Karma kanda of Vedas nourishes the samsara tree, parṇavatvam.
5)    Samsara tree bears fruits of sukha and dukha, phalavatvam.
6)    The tree becomes the support for the nest of the birds. Similarly the samsara tree supports the jiva world, asrayavathavam.
7)    Even though the tree is very huge, by appropriate effort, this tree can be uprooted.  Similarly, the huge samsara vriksham also can be uprooted by the special axe called jnanam, cedyathvam.

The essentials of samsara are presented comparing it to a tree only to introduce the seeker to samsara nivritthi that is moksha.  As samsara nivritthi involves right knowledge of one’s true Self, it is only Athma tattvam that Sri Krishna teaches using this imagery. Lord now proceeds to explain how this tree can be brought down i.e. the means or methods for removal of samsara, starting from the second line of third verse.  Lord, in all, outlines four steps in verses 3,4 & 5 to get out of the hold of  samsara.  They are; 1) Detachment (Vairagyam), 2) Vedantic enquiry (Vedanta vichara), 3) Surrender to Lord (Saranagathi) and 4) noble virtues (Sad gunas). Let us see them in a little more detail.

The tree of samsara owes its existence to the ignorance of one’s Real Self.  It flourishes so long as attachment to worldly objects and material desires function.   Dispassion towards the worlds of perception and realms of emotion spells the end of this tree taking away its sustenance.  This the Lord calls as cutting away with the strong axe of detachment.  The tree’s existence ends on the realization of the Self and this Self-Realisation can be achieved through successful study of sastras under the guidance of a competent guru, which is termed as Vedanta vichara.  As one retires one’s thoughts from worldly pursuits, one should not let one’s mind lapse into nothingness but should transfer all his thoughts and attentions, physical and mental, towards that Primeval Purusha called God, the Brahman, which is termed as surrendering unto Him.  To reach this goal of Self-realization with total detachment to the material world and complete attachment to the Lord, one has to necessarily have certain qualities which had been called as Sad gunas.  These are described by the Lord in verse 5 as follows:
1)    Nirmana moha - Free from pride and delusion: Pride and delusion arise from a false sense of importance or arrogance. These qualities need mental preoccupation to maintain them leaving no opportunity to think about the greater values.
2)    Jitasangha dosha - Evil of attachment conquered: Attachment to sensuous way of life, is an impediment for realizing life’s nobler purpose.
3)    Adhyathma nithya - Ever dwelling in the Self: Detachment from worldly objects is not possible without attachment to something else as human mind cannot function in a vacuum. So the seeker should divert his concentration to the study of Self to keep his mind occupied.
4)    Vinivritta kamah - Desires completely at rest: A mind without desire becomes calm and serene, fit to absorb and imbibe Athma Jnanam.
5)    Dvantair vimuktha sukha dukha samjnaih - Released from the pairs of opposites such as pleasure and pain. Mind is the focal point at which pleasure or pain is contacted. Once the mind recognizes the pairs of opposites, it likes that which is agreeable and hates that which is disagreeable. This continuous process of liking and disliking destabilizes the mind. Hence it is advised that one should be equanimous towards the pairs of opposites.

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