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Tree of Life Symbolism and Causation
Seeker: I need to be clearer on the meaning of the tree of life quote in the Gita, Chapter XV.
I’ve understand so far that the branches represent Maya’s Creation (objects, scriptures, jivas…) and the roots, the pure Self. The whole tree is nourished by the gunas. There are different branches according to our understanding of the Lord. The tree is a reflection of the pure Self.
Is it the right understanding or there is more to know about this subject?
Sundari: The meaning of the Tree of Life symbolism in the Gita is that the tree of samsara is rooted in the Self, that everything is born out of consciousness. Of course it is a convenient, partial truth, and not entirely true, because nothing is caused by existence/consciousness, but it is an important one nonetheless for beginning inquirers, which is what the Gita is designed for. Consciousness does not cause anything, because it is actionless and has no parts. To understand this, we need to dig a bit deeper into the cause-and-effect teaching, which looks at how the Creation comes into being, through the manifesting and deluding powers of Maya.
There is only one consciousness out of which everything arises and depends upon to exist, but it is always free of the objects, the Creation. Consciousness is adjata, unborn. Vedanta is the path of the unborn because it reveals that although there appears to be a Creation, nothing ever really happened, from consciousness’s point of view, i.e. consciousness does not see a Creation, because all it “sees” is itself. Non-dual means nothing other than. Yet all objects are made up of consciousness and dissolve back into it in that they appear in the mind, and the mind appears in consciousness. The mind/jiva (subtle body), like all objects, is an object known to you, consciousness. The thoughts that appear in the mind belong to the gunas, Isvara.
The apparent reality (mithya) is a union of paraprakiti, or “higher” reality (meaning Isvara, or consciousness plus Maya), and aparaprakiti (jiva), “lower” reality. Their common identity is uparaprakriti: consciousness. When Maya appears, consciousness in association with Maya seems to “become” the Creator, bringing forth the Creation. Isvara is the both the intelligent cause, that which shapes the materials into form (without ever losing or modifying its own nature), and the material substance, meaning the effect from which the forms are created. The gunas, or the three forces in Creation, are synonymous with ignorance, or Maya, and appear simultaneously, although there appears to be a progression. This is because the Creation is a simultaneous projection. There is no time in reality; time is just the interval between experience and not real. The Creation is like the spider’s web emerging from the spider and is made up of the spider, but it is not the spider. Isvara is the name for all forms, not for a particular form. All forms come into being through the three forces in Creation: sattva, the intelligence behind or inherent in all forms, and rajas, the active principle acting on tamas, the substance.
Vedanta provisionally accepts duality, i.e. cause and effect. The more advanced teaching on this topic covered in the Mandukya Upanishad presented in Gaudapada’s Karika, called the non-origination teaching, is beyond the scope of most inquirers, as it is very advanced. Once the cause-and-effect teaching has been assimilated, then we negate it with the non-origination teaching.
Actually, the symbolism of the Tree of Life is interesting. It is the chart James teaches in an upside-down tree metaphor. The trunk is moola avidya, root ignorance, the limbs are the subtle body, the leaves the senses, etc. The next verse says that you need to cut it down at the root with the firm axe of non-attachment, meaning to be free of ignorance (duality), you need to negate its reality with Self-knowledge.
Verses 1 to 2: the nature of Creation is presented using a tree metaphor borrowed from the Upanishads. The universe is a vast banyan tree supported by an invisible root, the unmanifest Isvara. Just as a banyan tree has up and down branches, the universe branches into higher and lower fields of experience. Its fruits are bitter and sweet karmas. The jiva birds consume the painful and pleasurable fruits. They hop from higher to lower branches and lower to higher branches – one field of experience to another – and make a lot of pleasant and unpleasant noises as they experience the pleasurable and painful results of their experiences. Individual trees begin and end, but “treeness” flows on eternally. The jivas produce karmas, which in turn produce vasanas that sprout new karmas forever. The vasana-karma chain is beginningless and eternal. Individuals come and go, but individuality (jiva-hood) is eternal. Did the chicken or the egg come first? The chicken idea is eternal, and the egg idea is eternal. They are out of time. There is no “first.” Neither came first, because from the standpoint of the cause (past karma), it is an effect, and from the standpoint of the effect (future karma), it is a cause. It is an appearance generated by Maya. Before Creation, there was karma, and after karma, there is Creation. If you try to figure it out, you will be stymied, because the cause and the effect are one. The same logic applies to fate and free will because of fate, free will works, and because of free will, fate works. It is the same with every duality. Cause and effect, fate and free will, likes and dislikes, body and mind are all mithya, unreal. They are mutually dependent concepts. Each influences the other. It is also inexplicable because the minute you understand it, it becomes something else.
~ Much love, Sundari