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The world as inverted Peepal tree || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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ऊर्ध्वमूलमध:शाखमश्वत्थं प्राहुरव्ययम् ।

छन्दांसि यस्य पर्णानि यस्तं वेद स वेदवित् ।। 15.1 ।।

śhrī-bhagavān uvācha

ūrdhva-mūlam adhaḥ-śhākham aśhvatthaṁ prāhur avyayam

chhandānsi yasya parṇāni yas taṁ veda sa veda-vit

They speak of an eternal Asvattha rooted above and branching below whose leaves are the Vedas; he who knows it; is a Veda-knower.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 1

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अधश्चोर्ध्वं प्रसृतास्तस्य शाखा

गुणप्रवृद्धा विषयप्रवाला: ।।

अधश्च मूलान्यनुसन्ततानि

कर्मानुबन्धीनि मनुष्यलोके ।। 15.2 ।।

adhaśh chordhvaṁ prasṛitās tasya śhākhā

guṇa-pravṛiddhā viṣhaya-pravālāḥ

adhaśh cha mūlāny anusantatāni

karmānubandhīni manuṣhya-loke

Below and above spread its branches, nourished by the Gunas; sense-objects are its buds; and below in the human world stretch forth the roots, originating action.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 2

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न रूपमस्येह तथोपलभ्यते

नान्तो न चादिर्न च सम्प्रतिष्ठा ।

अश्वत्थमेनं सुविरूढमूल

मसङ्गशस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्त्वा ।। 15.3 ।।

na rūpam asyeha tathopalabhyate

nānto na chādir na cha sampratiṣhṭhā

aśhvattham enaṁ su-virūḍha-mūlam

asaṅga-śhastreṇa dṛiḍhena chhittvā

Its form is not here perceived as such, neither its end. nor its origin, nor its existence. Having cut asunder the firm rooted Ashvattha with the strong axe of non-attachment.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 3

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तत: पदं तत्परिमार्गितव्यं

यस्मिन्गता न निवर्तन्ति भूय: ।

तमेव चाद्यं पुरुषं प्रपद्ये

यत: प्रवृत्ति: प्रसृता पुराणी ।। 15.4 ।।

tataḥ padaṁ tat parimārgitavyaṁ

yasmin gatā na nivartanti bhūyaḥ

tam eva chādyaṁ puruṣhaṁ prapadye

yataḥ pravṛittiḥ prasṛitā purāṇī

Then that goal is to be sought for, going wither they (the wise) do not return again. I seek refuge in that Primeval Purusa whence streamed forth the Eternal Activity.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 4

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Questioner (Q): Here Shri Krishna is presenting an analogy of a tree upside down. Please help us understand the import of this analogy.

Acharya Prashant (AP): This is one of the most popular as well as most mystical and insightful images in all of spiritual literature.

Shri Krishna says that the world is like an inverted peepal tree. An inverted peepal tree. The roots are up there in the skies, and then there is a trunk, and then there are the branches and sub-branches and twigs and leaves etc. He says, such is the nature of existence.

What is he saying? He's saying, “I am the root or the roots, of this tree called existence or the world. Brahma is the trunk, and then from him comes Prakriti with its various guṇas which are the branches and the sub-branches etc. And such is the world.”

So, the world that we see all around is actually rooted in Krishna or Truth. We are the final manifestations. We are the final branching out, the end sprouts.

It begins with Krishna, the Truth. And then Brahma as Hiranyagarbha or the primeval Purusha is the trunk, the origin of existence and the originator of existence. Just as the trunk is what is visible above the ground, and it is easy and facile to say that the trunk is from where the entire tree comes, in the same way Brahma, the trunk is called the creator of the universe in mythology. And then from that primeval creator, Hiranyagarbha, comes the entire spread and branching out of Prakriti. That's how Shri Krishna is presenting it here.

And then he says that the purpose of life, the aim of all consciousness is to hack this tree down. “Hack it down using the Vedas as your support, as your axe, as your instrument. Otherwise this tree is a bondage. You will remain forever caged or entangled in it.” So that's what he's trying to tell us. All this that you see all around yourself is actually meant to be reduced to zero, in the sense that you need freedom from all of this.

Obviously even after you hack down the tree, the root will still remain. He says, “I am the root Arjuna, I will remain. But all else that you see does not necessarily need to remain. You can gain freedom, and you must strive for it.”

Why an inverted Peepal tree?

You see, he is Krishna. And his wit is unbounded.

What he's saying is, “It's never the way you perceive it in your world. Truth is never the way you perceive things in your world. In your world, the roots are below the soil, below the surface, and the tree rises upwards. That's your world. Don't take your observations, your perceptions, your experiences as the Truth. I'll tell you, the world is actually like an inverted Peepal tree.”

Now, for the common mind, for our usual consciousness, the inverted Peepal tree is too much of an abstraction to handle. How to even imagine an inverted Peepal tree? How will it sustain itself? There is just nothing to hold it or to root it somewhere.

Krishna says, “The Truth is never like you see things in the world.” Here he is only saying that the real Peepal tree is an inverted one. But even that much of a relation between how things appear in the world and how things actually are, is an overstatement.

Not only is the Truth nothing like how things appear in this world, Truth is not even the opposite of how things appear in this world.

So, Truth is obviously not like the Peepal tree we see all around us, the usual Peepal tree in the jungle, ‘Ficus Religiosa’ as we call it. Truth is not even like an inverted Peepal tree. Truth really has nothing to do with our observations here. The observer himself is a deluded entity. How will his observation be any way related to the Truth?

So this is Krishna's way of playing a sweet prank upon us. He says, “You see? (pointing gesture) Inverted Peepal tree. That's what your world is. You think things arise from the soil, Arjuna? Seriously?” What does the soil represent? Body. What does the soil represent? Body. The soil is Pañcabhūta, elemental, earthly. So is the body.

“Arjuna, you think things arise from the soil? You think your world here, all these trees, and all the people, and all the animals and everything, arises from the soil? Seriously Arjuna? Arjuna, you think your palace is founded on the soil? Arjuna, you seriously think that the foundation of your palace is in the earth?”

Arjuna feels like saying, “Yes, yes, yes. The foundations of anything are always in the earth, are they not?” Men, women, they all arise from soil. Animals arise from soil. Trees arise from soil. Every single human creation is founded on the soil.

Krishna is saying, “You will remain stupid, Arjuna! No, the foundation of the world is not in the earth, but in the sky. The roots of the real Peepal tree are in the sky. You are deluded! You think it is the earth that supports you? No. It is not the earth that supports you or holds you; it is the sky that supports you. And that's your basic fallacy that keeps you deluded and suffering.”

You think that you come from the soil, whereas the fact is that you come from the sky. You don't come from the soil; you appear to come from the soil. You actually come from the sky. The roots of the Peepal tree are in the sky. Only the branches and the spread, the whole extension is on the earth. The earth is where the sky manifests itself. But everything that is manifested upon this earth is actually rooted in the sky.

Please understand this, and also see the implications of what Krishna is saying.

You are not someone who has arisen from the sexual union or the sex cells of two persons. You do not come from the soil. You do not come from the earth. You are not the body. Had you been the body, then you could have been called to be arising from the earth. You are the consciousness, and your consciousness does not belong to this earth; it comes from the skies. And if you think that you are the body, then you will also have to say that you come from the soil, and you will go back to the soil. That's the fate of all bodies. That's the cycle that they meet. Are you getting it?

So, the Peepal tree is positioned in a way that it would be finding itself extending on this earth. But that should not make it identified with the earth. That should not make it a resident of this earth. And if it starts identifying too much with the earth, as Arjuna does─ Arjuna is right now entangled in all earthly emotions—then Krishna says, “Use the sharp words of Vedanta as your axe, and cut this tree down. Let only the root remain. Let only Me remain for you Arjuna. Māmekam śaraṇam vrācha.”

Let only the root remain. All else is anyway ephemeral. Why are you talking so much about it?

That's what the symbolism stands for.

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