ऊर्ध्वमूलमध:शाखमश्वत्थं प्राहुरव्ययम् |
छन्दांसि यस्य पर्णानि यस्तं वेद स वेदवित् || 1||
ūrdhva-mūlam adhaḥ-śhākham aśhvatthaṁ prāhur avyayam
chhandānsi yasya parṇāni yas taṁ veda sa veda-vit
śhrī-bhagavān uvācha—the Supreme Divine Personality said; ūrdhva-mūlam—with roots above; adhaḥ—downward; śhākham—branches; aśhvattham—the sacred fig tree; prāhuḥ—they speak; avyayam—eternal; chhandānsi—Vedic mantras; yasya—of which; parṇāni—leaves; yaḥ—who; tam—that; veda—knows; saḥ—he; veda-vit—the knower of the Vedas
The Lord said: They speak of an imperishable Aśvattha Tree with its root above and branches below. Its leaves are the Vedas, and he who knows it knows the Vedas.
Samsara is compared to a tree. It is unlike any other tree that we see in nature. All trees have roots below and branches above. But this tree of Samsara has roots above and branches below. What is the explanation?
1. From Paramatma originate Avyakta, Mahadahankara, and from them arise the whole universe along with all beings. So Paramatma is the highest source (above), and down below we find the Universe and the beings in it. So this tree is said to have its roots above (in Paramatma) and its branches below. Paramatma is the root, and the universe the branches of this tree of Samsara.
2. Another explanation may be offered. The work of Maya is to show everything upside down. The impure appears pure and the pure impure; the good appears to be bad, and the bad good, the unreal appears to be real and the real unreal; pain appears to be pleasure and happiness pain. Accordingly Patanjali describes avidya thus-“anitya asuchi duhkha anatmasu ninya suchi sukhatmakhyatir avidya” A tree reflected in water appears upside down. So is the tree of Samsara reflected through Maya.
3. A tree by the side of the road in its natural form is not an obstacle. But if it is turn up by the roots and falls across the road, it becomes an obstacle to the way-farers with branches down and the roots sticking up. To the pilgrims on the path of Brahmavidya, this tree of Samsara is definitely an obstacle.
Asvattham: ‘svah‘ means ‘tomorrow’, and ‘na sthah‘ means ‘not existing’. So Asvattha means ‘not existing tommorow’. This tree of Samsara is of doubtful existence. No one can say whether it exists the next day or even the next hour, or even the next minute. It is perishable. It is rightly described as ‘Asvatthah’, because of its perishable and mutable character. But it is described here as ‘avyayam‘ – not perishing. How? The explanation is, here Samsara, like a flood, flows ceaselessly, birth and death occuring in an endless series for man. It continues till the moment when true knowledge is attained. It stops and disappears then. So it is in one sense imperishable and in another sense perishable. To the ignorant, it exists continuously. To the wise, it ceases to exist. So the word ‘avyayam‘ here should not be interpreted as eternal. If it is eternal, nothing can destroy it. In the third verse, the Lord instructs Arjuna to strike down the tree with the sword of Vairagya.
Yas tam veda sa vedavit: He who understands the nature of Samsara, is the knower of the Vedas. The essence of the Vedas is known by him. The Vedas declare that this reflected Universe proceeds from Paramatma, who is the origin and source of all. From Him, this Universe is projected as the tree is projected from the seed. So the sage who knows this is the real knower of the Vedas.
Question: Describe the tree of Samsara?
Answer: It has its roots above and branches down. It is imperishable till ‘jnana’ is attained. The ‘Vedas’ are its leaves.
Question: Who is the knower of the Vedas?
Answer: He who understands the nature of the tree of ‘samsara’ (i.e.) who knows that the tree is projected out of ‘paramatma’, who knows that ‘paramatma’ is its seed and origin, is the knower of the ‘Vedas’.