Imagine the tree with roots spread far above and branches extending below, and again with roots cast below and branches stretched above. Isn’t it amazing, baffling and elusive in every way? But this is what the world around us is, says Krishna, through this striking illustration. Being surrounded by such a tree of stupendous entanglements, what should anyone with discretion do to be peaceful and free? What is the appropriate safeguard to ensure safety and peacefulness for us? See how deftly Krishna proceeds with his exposition! He gives a two-fold formula:
Neither its constitution nor beginning nor end nor details of prevalence are within our reach. This well-rooted aśvattha tree should be felled using the strong, sharp weapon of dis-attachment.
Thereupon enquire into that abode, on reaching which the earthly denizens take no rebirth. The way of enquiry being: “I seek that supreme Primordial Puruṣa, from whom has emanated this most ancient process of creation.”
Krishna makes it clear that the full dimensions of this Aśvattha Tree are not accessible to anyone on this earth. In other words, the world is endless, infinite, in every way. The planet on which we live is but a speck in the myriad bodies hovering in the expanse of endless unbounded sky. Look in any direction. There is no scope to reach the boundary or limit anytime. What could be the basis for such a display?
Felling the Tree of Worldliness
The world already existed when we were born and has been there for incalculable time. This makes it beginningless (na ādiḥ). Where comes the question then of accessing its origin from here and now? Equally so, the end of phenomenal existence is beyond our comprehension (na antaḥ). Inasmuch as the beginning and end are inconceivable, its prevalence too will remain incomprehensible (na ca saṃpratiṣṭhā).
Our knowledge about this Tree of Creation (saṃsāra) being grossly inadequate, there is no possibility for anyone to uproot or destroy it at all. At the same time, we do want to make sure that it does not disproportionately grow and spread its branches stifling and disabling us from fulfillment.
Krishna has a beautiful formula for the purpose. With discretion one should go on felling the branches that grow towards him. He should not allow the Tree to entrap him. In doing so, the seeker has to be firm and consistent.
For felling the Tree of worldliness, says Krishna, the weapon to be employed is dis-attachment, asanga, a quality of the mind. One has to be firmly rooted in asanga. It is inevitable that the Tree of worldliness, with its branches spread all over, will always surround and entrap the seeker. The seeker must shield himself inwardly. If he gets attached to the flowers and fruits of the Tree, there will be torment and bondage. The sure remedy is to wisely develop dis-attachment.
This safeguard is very inner, personal and subjective. In effecting it no external restrictions are there. None can claim any excuse.
Path to the Imperishable Abode
Dis-attachment only marks the beginning of the effort of felling the Tree of worldliness. It should be followed by a deep, subtle sense of search, enquiry or investigation. Only then the effort will succeed and result in enlightenment, fulfillment and freedom.
Enquiry of what or whom? Krishna says, the introspection should be focussed on the Primordial Puruṣa, from whom has emanated the whole activity, bringing evolution and expression. With asanga, the seeker should insulate himself from worldliness and by the deeper search aimed at discovering and realizing the very source of phenomenal existence, he must fortify himself.
Dis-attachment, asanga, the mind’s emotional response will be fruitful only when it is clubbed strongly with the sustained quest of the intelligence. The whole spiritual sādhanā consists in achieving a functional integration between intelligence and mind. Religion evolves into spirituality at this point and the seeker is then poised to grow.
Those, who are free of pride and enchantment, having won over the evil of attachment, given to constant reflection on the supreme Reality, turning away from desires, get delivered from the pairs of opposites in the form of sukha and duḥkha. They attain that supreme Imperishable Abode.
This is the most significant verse in the whole chapter. It reveals in unmistakable terms what the core of spiritual sādhanā is. If the message is heartily heeded, the seeker is sure to reach his destination.
One should be free from undue pride (abhimāna) and delusion (nirmāna-mohaḥ). All forms of abhimāna generally are based upon or centred around the body, and hence violate the ultimate truth that one is not the body, but the Soul, which is beyond all needs and safeguards. Any abhimāna is therefore, unfounded and misleading. It will only result in humiliation, hurt and self-victimization.
Sanga, which grips one since birth, is another evil to be overcome (jitasanga-doṣāḥ). Needless to say, attachment, identification, of any kind, especially when left uncontrolled, is extremely afflicting and binding.
All kinds of attachment (sanga) are hollow, when properly studied. For, neither the body nor any object around it has any independent status. Everything is made relevant by the mind alone. It is the mind that wields the body and instruments different activities and interactions. The outcome of all these is also on the mind.
Should the seeker then care constantly for the inner mind, to preserve its purity and character or focus on the external? Whenever attachment (sanga) creeps in, instantly it begins to taint the mind, making it dense and distorted. Freed of sanga, the mind becomes light, joyful and expansive. Such a mind truly becomes the Self – transparent, unaffected and blissful.
In fact, Krishna referred to sanga and the need to eschew it right in the second chapter, when he exhorted Arjuna: “yogasthaḥ kuru karmāṇi, sangaṃ tyaktvā dhanañjaya” (Being established in Yoga, perform actions renouncing all attachments – 2.48). Again in the third chapter he emphasized that wholesome sādhanā consists in acting without sanga. Action rid of sanga alone is sufficient to lead the seeker to the Supreme. Tasmād-asaktaḥ satataṃ kāryaṃ karma samācara, asakto hy-ācaran karma param-āpnoti pūruṣaḥ (Therefore, without attachment perform actions well. With dis-attachment alone one attains the Supreme – 3.19).
Here now in summarizing the sādhanā, Krishna again stresses the importance of overcoming the evil of sanga. He also specifies the means to accomplish this.
Adhyātma-nityāḥ. This means the seeker has to be constantly given to spiritual and philosophical reflection, rumination, with the help of Scriptures and the company of the Guru, listening to his words and serving him. He has to develop fondness for both. Such fond involvement will bring about extinction of sanga and all kinds of desires.
Vinivṛtta-kāmāḥ is a very significant phrase. The mind, by itself, feels clearly how futile it is to foster and pursue desires. What truly happens when each desire is fulfilled is that the desire verily becomes extinct. It is therefore clear that one tries hard to fulfill a desire only to get rid of it.
Thus, if in the mind level the effort to fulfill desires is only to make them extinct why not take up directly the pursuit of ‘not generating any desire’ at all? What a great benefit will it be if the desires as a whole become extinct!
Krishna next speaks about vimukti, liberation, deliverance. He also specifies from what or where should the deliverance be. Sukha-duḥkha- dvandvas are the ones from which one has to be freed. To be freed from these will mean deliverance from all the dvandvas surrounding us.
Success and defeat, gain and loss, heaven and hell, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, sin and virtue, all these only result in sukha and duḥkha. The entire objects and their qualities can, ultimately result only in one of these i.e. sukha or duḥkha.
This is a great fact. To train oneself to dissolve the sukha-duḥkha dvandvas is verily to be delivered of all external and internal dvandvas. How lofty and wholesome a proposition!
Heaven becomes alluring only when contrasted with the afflictions of hell. The mind that is able to evenise and transcend dvandvas will neither be seduced by any allurement nor repelled by any abhorrence.
This kind of harmony and transcendence as related to sukha-duḥkhas is to be gained by coursing through them and making the process a full-fold sādhanā. Then the same sukha-duḥkha-dvandvas that tend to delude and dislodge the mind, will transform as the sublime cause for bestowing liberation, freedom. Is this not what Krishna stated in the 2nd chapter too? Mātrā-sparśās-tu kaunteya śītoṣṇa-sukhaduḥkha-dāḥ .. .. tān titikṣasva (Through sensory contacts heat and cold, pleasure and pain are felt. They come and go. Forbear them. 2.14). He also declared that the one not tormented by pairs of opposites is fit for liberation.
Supreme abode is neither distant nor external
Krishna now clarifies and confirms that to be freed of sukha-duḥkha delusion is to win the supreme spiritual glory, life’s fulfillment. Such a one attains that eternal abode (tad avyayaṃ padam). Is it something like the Vedic Brahmaloka, Creator’s world? The next verse clarifies it significantly:
That, which neither sun nor moon nor fire illumines, is the abode of the Supreme, on reaching where no return or rebirth will ever be.
It is that magnificent abode, which the sun cannot illumine; nor can the moon. Likewise, fire too lights it not. It is that lofty, safest abode, on reaching which, one does not ever return. It is verily immortality, absolute and wholesome!
This is where Krishna excels, the Kurukṣetra dialogue becomes illustrious. The supreme Abode, says Krishna, is not external, objective or sensory. Anything external and objective can be lit up by the sun and similar luminaries. But the senses and external luminaries become powerless to reveal the inner abode. Whatever is outer alone becomes perceptible to the senses. Whatever is within the body, will remain invisible.
What is the summary finding, then? The seeker has to focus his search within himself and unearth the supreme Abode. The means for it is freeing the mind and intelligence from misplaced notions and evaluations like māna, moha and sanga. Therefore, Krishna extols, be given to spiritual knowledge and introspection, and their pursuit, thereby rid desires and their latent causes. Sukha-duḥkhas instead of alluring and repelling, should be made to lead the seeker transcend them resulting in sublimation and enrichment.
The whole pursuit thus becomes personal, inner and based on mind and intelligence. It is equally interactional. None can say that any external factor can intercept it at all. Sharpness and subtlety in understanding it precisely is what really matters.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 5)