|Chapter 15||Realization of the Ultimate Truth||Verse 1|
Rudra Vaisnava Sampradaya:
Without dispassion spiritual knowledge will not be able to manifest. Therefore the Supreme Lord Krishna clearly delineates the science of spiritual knowledge together with dispassion. In the last two verses of the previous chapter he has emphasized unwavering devotion unto the Supreme Lord which awards entrance into the consciousness of the eternal, imperishable brahman by His grace. But as it is impossible for one bereft of dispassion to ever achieve spiritual knowledge, the compassionate Supreme Lord first expounds the nature of this mundane material existence by the metaphor of asvattha or banyan tree with its roots upwards and its branches downwards and its leaves the Vedic aphorisms. The roots above refers to the root of all the eternal Supreme Lord and the imperishable atma or immortal soul. The branches downward refers to transitory living entities consisiting of the demigods headed by Brahma, who all have a finite span of life in material existence even if they live for millions and billions of years. Transitory is another meaning of asvattha and for the devotees of the Supreme Lord the material world may not last even unto tomorrow. That which lasts until tommorrow is known as stvattha so asvattha is that which will not last until tomorrow. It is avyayam or indestuctible because it is like a continuous stream although ever changing it never stops. The Katha Upanisad III.I beginning urdhva mulo avak shakha states: There is an ancient banyan tree whose roots are above and branches are below. Whose leaves are the Vedas refers to aphorisms in the Vedic scriptures which propound the activities which should be done and the activities which should not be done by human beings. The absolute authority of the Vedic scriptures establish the criteria for all living entities and confirms that this mundane tree provides sanctuary to all living beings by the results of their karmas or reactions to actions which can be compared to the shade of their leaves. One who comprehends this ancient banyan tree with this understanding is therefore spiritually knowledgeable and is praised as a knower of the teachings of the Vedic scriptures.
Brahma Vaisnava Sampradaya:
Hari OM! The nature of what is known as freedom or bondage in samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death is delineated in this chapter by Lord Krishna. The word urdhva means above as in superior to. The Supreme Lord is the superior quality abiding in all virtues. He is superior principle residing within the atma or immortal soul. Urdhva means paramount in all respects. The word andhah means below and is base, mundane and even vile. The branches refer to the jivas or embodied beings who are subjected to transmigration in samsara and they include the demigods also headed by Brahma who lives for billions of years. Although asvattha refers to a banyan tree another meaning is everlasting in the sense that it exists in a continuous stream without changing even though innumerable myriads of jivas are coming and going incessantly. But their coming and going does not change its nature. Whatever form and function it had in the beginning of creation that form and function it will have at all times throughout creation. So that is why it is known as everlasting and indestructible. The word chamdamsi refers to the leaves of the tree which are the aphorisms of the Vedic scriptures which propunds what actions in life are to be performed and what activities are to be performed and the results of violating or adhering to the Vedic injunctions determines the karma or reactions to actions that one will have to experience in joy or misery. These reactions are like the fruits of a tree which can never come about without the leaves.
Now begins the summation.
Hari! Hari OM! What was briefly mentioned in chapter 13 is now elaborated upon by Lord Krishna with further clarification. The roots being distinctly above refer to the Supreme Lord as the universal tree even as the Earth representing prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence is the reflection of this tree. Attributes of consciousness represent the primary roots while non-consciousness are the secondary roots. Here the Vedic association of consciousness and unconsciousness as being similar to a tree is well known. The Earth like the demigods activates the conscious and the Supreme Lord becomes the stable and eternal root. The unconscious who are base and vile are put in bondage by a great sense of false ego get attracted by their senses and attached to the elements. The chamdamsi or leaves are the karma due to activity and the fruits are desires such as name, fame, wealth and moksa or liberation from material existence. Another meaning of chamdamsi is to unseal. Thus the words of the Vedic scriptures are called chandas or that which unseals the esoteric meaning of the eternal wisdom of the Vedas.
Sri Vaisnava Sampradaya:
In the previous chapter the Supreme Lord Krishna expounded upon: 1) The jiva or embodied beings relationship with matter in both its subtle and physical forms due to attraction to sense objects and subsequent attachment and the karma or reactions to one's own actions thereof along with the karma from the types of food one has eaten determines the physical body one receives in the next life. 2) The manner in detail how the association with the three gunas or modes of material nature keeps a jiva enslaved in material existence is given in verses 6 to 25. 3) The method by which a jiva is able to overcome and transcend the three gunas and assume one's actual spiritual position of atma tattva or soul realisation by bhakti yoga or exclusive loving devotion unto the Supreme Lord.
Now in this chapter the most worshippable and resplendent Lord Krishna reveals His absolute dominion and sovereign glory over all creation and everything that is in it. Creation is constituted by kshara or transient souls in bondage and aksara or eternally liberated souls. Both kshara and akshara constitute His spiritual form which constitutes the cosmic manifestation but He is inconceivably distinctly different from both. The Supreme Lord being the Supreme creator and controller of all, the source of all glorious attributes and wonderful qualities is a fountain of righteousness and the antithesis of all that is evil and demoniac. For the elucidation of this eternal truth the Supreme Lord cites the Asvattha or banyan tree as a metaphor to symbolise the material manifestation as a place of bondage and enslavement for the atmas or immortal souls trapped as a jiva in samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death. How kshara souls may escape from samsara and become the akshara souls is His glorious plan of evolution and it is enacted by the sword of knowledge which destroys the tree of materialism by the weapon of non-attachment.
The state of samsara is symbolised by the asvattha or banyan tree which in real ilfe has its roots growing upwards and its branches growing downwards. The indestructible nature of samsara is symbolised in the second division of the Katha Upanisad III.I beginning urdhva mulo avak shakha which means: With roots upwards and branches downwards this primeval tree is everlasting. With roots upwards refers to our Brahma with four faces, the secondary creator who is situated above the seven worlds of Bhur, Bhuvah, Svah, Mahah, etc.. The branches downwards refer to all the denziens of creation in the form of humans, animals, birds, fish, plants, insects, etc. The indestructible nature of this tree is due to its being avyayan or everlasting like a river with no end and because as a tree it is impossible to uproot until one is weaned from sense gratification and material desires by the mercy of the Supreme Lords devotee and atma tattva is achieved by His His grace. The word chandamsi refers to the injunctions and prohibitions of the Vedic scriptures which are symbolised by the leaves which flourish or dwindle in proportion to the karma or reactions to the actions one accrues by adhering to or ignoring such provisions. Leaves are very instrumental in preserving the longevity of trees. Whoever is knowledgeable of this tree as just explained comprehends the Vedic scriptures as the knowledge of non-attachment is the ways and means of uprooting this tree and allows one to achieve atma tattva.
Kumara Vaisnava Sampradaya:
In the preceding chapter the Supreme Lord Krishna described the state of bondage the jiva or embodied being is forced to undergo due to being controlled by the three gunas or modes of material nature which keeps one revolving in samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. At the end of the chapter He revealed that the only way to become eligible to overcome the three gunas was by bhakti yoga which is exclusive loving devotion unto the Supreme Lord. Indeed one who everyday consistently without cessation worships Lord Krishna with the yoga of exclusive devotion or also to any of His authoratative avatars or incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures, certainly becomes eligible for achieving the consciousness of the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence and attain the eternal association of the Supreme Lord in the immortal spiritual worlds.
Now in this chapter He speaks about the Supreme Lords position as paramount to all establishing Him as the highest being and as thus His original spiritual form is the quintessence of all worship along with His authorised avatars or incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures. The Supreme Lords form is naturally situated in spiritual perfection endowed with infinite auspicious attributes and qualities far above His external energy prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence and beyond the dualities of perishable and imperishable.
Lord Krishna elucidates that the imperishable atma or immortal soul is eligible for attaining the supreme consciousness of the brahman and that they are both direct portions of Himself and that only by exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord is one able to remove the bondage of samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death which is indicative of detachment from all other desires and pursuits. This is why in order to properly emphasise detachment the Supreme Lord uses the metaphor of the asvattha or banyan tree which represents material existence and speaks of detachment as the weapon cutting the knots of bondage asunder. One who perceives the reality that this asvattha tree which is transitory existence and which is declared in the Katha Upanisad II.III.I beginning urdhva mulo avak shakha meaning: This ancient tree with roots upwards and branches downwards is certainly transient. Such a tree appears imperishable due to its ever flowing current of samsara which dissolves with atma tattva or realisation of the soul. The beginning or source are the roots comprising the jiva's or embodied being comprised of the three gunas or modes of material nature originating from prakriti which is the external energy of the primeval Supreme Lord and far above and beyond Brahma's heavenly planet known as Satyaloka although it is the seventh and topmost planet in the material creation. But a devotee of Lord Krishna transcends all the material worlds and all the heavenly worlds and achieves the eternal spiritual worlds attaining association with the Supreme Lord. It is there in the form of the atma or the immortal soul that is the starting point of this asvattha tree representing material existence and acceptance of a material body by a jiva. With its branches upwards symbolises the fruits or rewards of karma or reactions to actions which are incurred by residence in one of the seven lower or seven higher totalling 14 worlds. Beginning with Satyaloka and descending down through seven worlds until reaching the seven subterranean worlds ending with Pataloka. The leaves are symbolised by the injunctions and prohibitions of the Vedic scriptures. This is because a tree is nourished by its leaves and the jivas who follow the injunctions enjoined in the Vedic scriptures are also nourished by this tree and the tree itself prospers by the optional rituals performed by the jivas. The Apastambha Srauta Sutra X:II:I states: This asvattha tree of material existence is resorted to by humans full of desires for rewards in its shade in the form of fruitive actions.
The essence is that this tree of material existence is rooted in prakriti comprised of the three gunas or modes of material nature. Its branches are the fourteen material worlds which provide pleasure and enjoyments based on the performance of meritorious deeds. Its leaves are the Vedic scriptures by whose injunctions when followed lead to its growth and allow its performers to enjoy their rewards for all the innumerable and uncountable jivas from Brahma downwards. Thus the tree is transitory by nature but appears everlasting because of its perpetual flowing in samsara and because it is only by knowledge of the Supreme Lord Krishna and bhakti or exclusive loving devotion to Him which is all jivas natural, constitutional position and an eternal activity; that this tree can be transcended. This esoteric wisdom is verily the essence of the Vedic scriptures and one who comprehends and realises this in reality is factually a knower of the Vedas.