Grasping the tree of life

“Among trees, I am Ashwatha,” declares the Lord in the Bhagavad Gita. The Ashwatha is often described as the tree of life; its roots grow upwards and its branches downwards.

The supreme state can only be reached by cutting off the strong branches of this tree with the axe of non-attachment. The meaning of this tree is not easily grasped by everybody.

“Free of pride and delusion, having conquered the stain of attachment/ permanently dwelling in spiritual knowledge/ turned away from desires/ liberated from the pairs of opposites named pleasure and pain/the undeluded ones go to that imperishable state/Neither the sun nor the moon nor the fire illuminates that going to which they do not return/That is my supreme abode/”

Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna that he who has succeeded in dispelling the darkness of ignorance by the fire of wisdom attains the state of Brahman. This is the final objective of all aspirants who embark on the spiritual journey.

The Gita says: “There are two conscious principles in the world, perishable and imperishable/The perishable one is all beings and the absolute one is said to be imperishable/But the highest conscious principle, Purusha, is elucidated as the Supreme Self (Paramatman), the immutable Sovereign, who has entered and then upholds and nurtures the three worlds/Because I am higher than the perishable and also beyond the imperishable one, therefore both in the world and in the Vedas, I am glorified as the highest Self/”

The first principle is subject to change, while the second is not: it is eternal. Underlying both is a substratum that helps the three worlds subsist and that highest entity in the Supreme Self.

“When the realisation of the supreme self is accomplished, the individual soul becomes one with the supreme Self. The student should understand and firmly know that the supreme Self resides in the innermost recesses of the body and that the physical body is only an outer and gross sheath. The journey that one should follow in the course of his life is not a journey in the external world but an internal journey leading from gross to subtle and finally to the subtle-most supreme Self.”

This is a key teaching of the Bhagavad Gita: the journey is an internal journey and not an external journey. The Gita asserts that the mind by its very nature is strongly extroverted. It is by making it introverted that the mind is brought under control. The key challenge for the spiritual aspirant is therefore to live from the inside, to manage the imperfection of the outside from the perfection of the inside and realize the perfection present in all through direct experience. Freedom from attachment is the key.

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