The Tree of Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 3: Severing the Root of this Tree of Life

Many a seeker on the spiritual path is often unintelligently enthusiastic with a misapprehension of the nature of spiritual life and the way to the attainment of the goal. Sincere seekers often imagine that yoga is a practice, and they want nothing but practice, with an added notion that it will bring about an immediate experience of a supernormal reality. This is immature thinking, a child’s behaviour towards the realities of life. There is no such thing as a sudden jumping into the practice of yoga, yet they imagine that it is doing something immediately and that it will be followed up by a sudden outburst of supernal light. This is a thorough misunderstanding of the situation.

The Bhagavadgita is also called a Brahma Vidya in addition to its being called a Yoga Shastra. It is a science of the Eternal, and it is a scripture on the practice of yoga. Science precedes practice. If we have to embark upon a business program, we do not suddenly start thinking how to make a profit and in which bank we can deposit it. The idea of business does not consist merely in profit-making. There are processes which have to precede this ideal concept of the aim of business. We have a program which is in our mind. We do not suddenly open a shop on the roadside and keep certain articles for selling. That is not business.

There is a scientific system of the methodology of working laid out in one’s own mind and, as the science of economics tells us, there are stages of the fulfilment of the program. There is a necessity for a location for the business, there is a need for some capital to start it, there is a necessity to find the requisite labour, there is also a need for scientific systematic management, and there is a necessity for enterprise. All these are the theoretical side of the practical system of business called buying and selling. We do not suddenly start purchasing things imagining that we are starting a business, nor do we start selling immediately. To build a house we have a program of making a plan, maybe a master plan. The location, the structure, the nature of the material, the persons who will be entrusted with building, the idea of the work of construction, and the final structure will depend upon the purpose for which it is raised.

Theory and practice are not bifurcated as the North Pole and the South Pole. Idea expressed is action, as I mentioned previously. As water condenses into ice, thought manifests itself as activity. In the same way as water and ice are not different—it is water itself that has become ice, and they are not two different things—likewise, it is the idea that has become practice. Science becomes technology. We cannot have merely a technological organisation without the scientific concept and knowledge preceding this practice.

The aim is the fulfilment of the system of practice, but it is preceded by the important conditioning factor of the ideological structure in one’s own consciousness. The ultimate realisation of the aim is the concretisation of the theoretical foundation already laid in one’s consciousness.

Some centuries back there was a great German thinker called Hegel. He had a system which is hard to understand for lay persons, according to which he developed a thought from the barest minimum of concepts available to human minds, not taking a stand on a phase of experience which is unintelligible. Take the lowest minimum, the irreducible minimum of content of thought, as the foundation of the development of your ideas, and gradually raise the structure of thought until you reach what he calls the Absolute Idea. The Absolute Idea is the idea of there being such a thing called the Absolute, the one not being separable from the other. Your idea of the existence of the Absolute is inseparable from the content thereof. This idea, which is so vast, has to get tagged on to the idea of the external object called the universe. Then there is a necessity for the union of this idea of the Absolute with the content thereof, namely, the physical universe. This union is Absolute experience. This is what we may call God-realisation. When consciousness becomes one with its content and the content does not remain something outside as a perceptional category, that state of conscious experience is called spiritual realisation or God-realisation.

This principle is also emphasised in the Bhagavadgita. It is a Brahma Vidya, or the science of the Absolute, and by science what we mean here is the ideological structural basis for its expression as spiritual practice, which is called yoga. Thus, yoga is an external manifestation of the internal foundation of Brahma Vidya, so it is necessary that we should know where we stand. All enterprise, all business, all activity, if it is to become successful and fruitful, has to be based on a correct understanding of one’s own station in life. There is not to be that mistake of underestimation or overestimation of oneself. Neither are we nothing, nor are we everything. We are in the middle, between the two phases. This is a great difficulty for seekers because nothing can be harder than the assessment of oneself by oneself. We cannot exactly know where we stand in this world, what our relationship is with the atmosphere in which we are living. That is why the need for a Guru arises—a teacher, a guide, a master who has trodden the path and knows the various steps to be taken and the stages to be passed through.

I am placing this divergent introduction before you because I had occasion to hear from a sincere sadhaka that what he requires is immediate practice and immediate experience. This is not to be unless the mind is cleared of all its cobwebs of entanglement with phenomenal experience. The mind will not concentrate, whatever be the effort we put forth, because the mind which we think is our mind is really everybody’s mind. It is not our property, and therefore it will not be possible for us to restrain it. If it is ours, we may handle it in the way we like; but unfortunately for us, the mind we are contemplating is one facet of a large structure of universal psyche, and it is not possible to control, regulate, handle or manipulate a part of a large organic continuum without knowing and learning the art of controlling this entirety of continuum. There is no such thing ultimately as my mind and your mind, and to imagine that I can control my mind independent of relationship with other minds would be a fallacy of approach. Most people fail in their attempt at concentration of the mind because they think their mind is theirs and that this so-called mind of theirs has no connection with other things in the world.

Now, this subject we have been discussing for the last two days is capable of throwing sufficient light on the problem of spiritual meditation or the practice of yoga, as we may call it. We were trying to analyse and understand the great analogy of the tree of life the Bhagavadgita presents before us in the Fifteenth Chapter. We had taken sufficient time to go into the deeper intricacies of the nature of this tree of life, the way in which it grows, and the purposes for which it intends to move and grow.

The Katha Upanishad also makes mention of this tree of life. In the scriptures of other nations also we will find mystical reference to trees of this kind—the tree Yggdrasill, for example, as we read in Scandinavian mythology, comparable with the tree that is described in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. This art of comparing life to a tree seems to be common to various nationalities because of the character of growth implied in life, the feature of the ramification of aspects which we find in the movement of life, and the tendency the tree manifests are comparable to the tendency of life as a whole.

In certain scriptures we are told that knowledge of this tree is the knowledge of the Absolute, so that it is identified with some aspect of Ultimate Reality itself. But the Bhagavadgita wants us to cut at the root of this tree with the axe of non-attachment. The Gita is oftentimes known as anasakti yoga, the yoga of detachment or non-attachment, and the whole of yoga is only this much, at least from one point of view. It is an art of detachment. But it is not merely a negative process of withdrawal of something from something else. That is why we have both sides of the picture presented before us. On one side, it is the act of severing the root of this tree; on the other side, it is knowing what this tree is.

This double feature of the tree consists in the fact that the root of this tree is in the Eternal but its branches are spread out in the phenomenal realm. It is just like the human being whose personality stretches from Earth to heaven through all the levels of experience through the various realms or lokas. Everything is in every level at all times, but we are conscious only of one level at any given moment. Though even just now our personality is stretched from the nether regions up to the highest heaven and we can operate upon any level at any time, our egoism tethers us to a particular type of experience. At present, in our case, it is physical experience, which keeps us completely oblivious of even the presence of other levels of our own personality. In a more crude form, psychoanalysts tell us that we have layers of psyche within us of which we are unconscious, and we are presently operating in the so-called conscious level of the mind, not knowing the deeper level is buried in the abysmal depths.

More true is the case with the vaster implications of the human personality. We really exist everywhere in all levels, vertically as well as horizontally. But this is something strange to hear for the mind that is accustomed to think in terms of finite objects which are placed only in one place, located in space and time, and are cut off from our own personalities as bodies. So when it is told that by the shastra of asanga the root of this tree has to be severed, that monition is towards the necessity of withdrawing the consciousness from involvement in objectivity of experience. Here again we have a tremendous problem before us. We have heard about this detachment so many times that this term has become commonplace. Everyone knows what this detachment means, but no one has fully succeeded in the practice of this type of detachment that is required by the Bhagavadgita.

When we think of detachment, we generally conceive of physically moving out of our house, going a few thousand miles away, and then it is detachment. This is the crudest form of the notion of non-attachment in the field of spiritual life. But our bondage does not consist in our physical location in any place. It is not the house that binds us. It is not the land on which we are seated that is our problem. Nothing visible to the eyes as a physical content can be regarded as a bondage. The bondage is a kind of experience that is injected into our consciousness. Our happiness and sorrow are a type of consciousness, a feeling, an operation of the psyche in some way, and if the mind is to work in a different way, we will have a different kind of experience. So we are concerned with experience rather than with objects.

Therefore, if the experience does not change even after isolation of the body from its physical atmosphere, that would not be counted as detachment, or non-attachment. What the mind is thinking is the touchstone of success in the practice of non-attachment. You may be having a house in Switzerland but you are physically seated in the Himalayas. Will you call this detachment? You may say, “Yes, why not, because my house is in Switzerland and I am not there. I am here.” But what is the mind thinking? Is the mind conscious that it has a property? That would be a subtle silken thread connecting the consciousness with its object, which can slowly become stronger, strengthening itself into an obstacle in the direction of the mind towards the spiritual goal of life.

Bondage consists in a type of movement of the mind. We can create bondage within our mind even inside our room because the mind is not inside the room. It is not even inside the body. It is an ethereal, unintelligible, all-pervading medium, and that is why it cannot be controlled, even as we cannot control the wind. How can we control a tempest or a cyclone or a tornado? Likewise is the hardship involved in the control of the mind. The mind is connected to everything everywhere, and to detach the mind from objects would be to withdraw it from everything.

In the system of yoga propounded by Patanjali, an analysis of the mind is made towards the achievement of detachment. There are two kinds, at least, of the movement of the mind in respect of objects—an emotional kind and an intellectual kind. The emotional connection of consciousness with an object is what is usually called affection, love, or the so-called attachment, clinging. This sort of relationship of the mind with the object is called a klishta vritti, a painful operation of the mind, because when we are emotionally related to an object there is anxiety in the mind at all times. Prior to the connection of the emotion with the object, there is the anxiety as to when that object will become the content of one’s mind. When it is already a content of the emotion, there is the anxiety as to how long this will be within the content, and when it will be severed. And when it is actually severed, the sorrow is untold.

Therefore, emotional relationships with objects are tantamount to a perpetual sorrow in the beginning, in the middle, as well as in the end. That is why it is called klishta or sorrow-giving, grief-ridden. This is the crudest form of mental connection with an object. That is bad enough, and no one would endorse the presence of such an attachment in respect of things. But there is a very subtle condition which the system of yoga lays before us. Even if we have no emotional attachment to an object, we may be bound by the very consciousness of its presence. There is a wall in front of us. I cannot say that any one of us is emotionally attached to this wall. None of us has an affection towards this wall as a mother may have towards her child, for instance. But we are aware that there is a wall. We are conscious that we are inside a hall. This consciousness itself is a bondage. This is an aklishta vritti, or a non-painful operation of the mind, yet conditioning the mind to objectivity.

Now we can imagine the extent to which we have to go in the control of the mind in order that it may be steadfast in the practice of yoga. If yoga is steadfastness of the mind in the Ultimate Reality of things, no thought, ordinarily speaking, can be regarded as a healthy thought in the light of the requirement of yoga. There is a morbidity attached to every thought, even if it be a so-called unconcerned thought. As the mind operates, it takes a form in the shape of the object; therefore, it is a vritti. When I see a wall, the mind is connected to that operation of the sight. The feature, the structure, the form, the limitation, the finitude of the wall is due to the character of abstraction in which the mind engages itself when it perceives anything whatsoever, for the matter of that.

All perceptions of objects, whatever be their nature, are abstractions from the infinitude of content in nature. Nature has no walls. There are no buildings for nature. It is doubtful if the whole of nature is aware that there are buildings in the world. It is a different type of experience altogether. But we are aware of limited things—marble stones, electric lights, rainfall, wind blowing, people sitting. These are all limited experiences which assume an importance in reality on account of an assumption of isolatedness of these contents abstracted from the totality of nature, in which function the mind engages itself perpetually. It does not mean that the universe is made up of only what we are seeing with our eyes. There are infinitudes of content in the structure of the cosmos, and one phase, one particular characteristic of experience, is culled out from the infinite possibility of the universe for the purpose of present experiences of the jivas or individuals living in this cosmos, which means that in the next creation the world may not take this shape.

As I mentioned yesterday, any image or form can be taken out from the block of stone by a sculptor. From the block of stone the sculptor can carve a tiger, a Jesus Christ or a Bhagavan Sri Krishna. He can carve a donkey or a monkey. Everything is present in that block of stone. Any thing, any form, any structure, any pattern can be said to be present in this impersonal block of stone. In the same way, every type of universe is present in the Divine Mind. Any universe of any kind of experience can be extracted out of it. This is not the only world that can be created by the will of the Supreme Being. This is why God is sometimes called Ananta Koti Brahmanda Nayaka—the Lord of infinite crores of universes. How many crores are there, nobody can know, just as we cannot say how many crores of images are there inside a block of stone.

The forms of experience which are the objects of the mind are the bondages which confine everyone to the processes of life called samsara, which is equated with suffering. This is the tree which the Bhagavadgita expects us to cut at the very root—the tree of phenomenal experience. Asanga is supposed to be the methodology to be adopted. We should not be attached to anything.

Leaving aside the other more intricate teachings of the systems of yoga for the time being, we may take for our present consideration what this anasakti means. It appears to us that this is hammered into our minds again and again by the Bhagavadgita. We cannot detach ourselves from anything unless we are simultaneously attached to something else. The mind cannot be in a vacuum. We cannot ask the mind to lose everything, and give nothing to it. This is not possible. Therefore, to imagine that we can vacate the mind of all thoughts and keep it absolutely blank is a foolish idea. We cannot keep it absolutely blank. If someone asks us what we are thinking, we may answer, “Nothing. I am thinking nothing.” The idea that we are thinking nothing is itself a thought, so how can we say that we are not thinking anything? Even when we say we will not do anything, we have already done something because the very idea of not doing is an action of the mind. So na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty akarmakṛt (B.G. 3.5): No one can exist for a moment without some kind of action. Everyone is psychologically engaged in action, which is real action. Physical action is no action if the mind is detached from it.

Hence, to be detached, to be anasakta, to be able to sever the root of this tree of life, a positive method has to be adopted. Unless we are sure that we have gained something superior, or at least there is a prospect of gaining something noble and high, we will not be able to withdraw ourselves from something else. We cannot expect to lose everything and be nothing. That is an impossibility.

Therefore, the Bhagavadgita, being conscious of this psychological secret at the base of human nature, says tataḥ padaṁ tatparimārgitavyaṁ (B.G. 15.4): You have to pursue this great goal simultaneously; yasmin gatā na nivartanti bhūyaḥ: having reached which, there will be no return to the sorrow of phenomenal life. Once we wake up from our dream, we need not experience it again. We are happy that we have woken up. Who would like to enter into the sorrows of the dream world once again? A tiger might have been attacking us there. Well, the tiger is gone, by God’s grace, because the experiences in dream and waking are so constituted that while the one inheres in the other in the degree of their expression, they differ from each other.

The thought of God is the real axe that strikes at the very root of this tree of phenomenal experience. We cannot find any other axe to cut at the root of this tree. Axes made of steel or iron will not be able to cut this tree. Because this tree is not physical, a physical axe will not work here. It is a cosmic tree. It is a tree that is spread out everywhere, and perhaps its roots are also everywhere. Inasmuch as this is the situation, the weapon that we have to employ in laying low this tree of life should also be equally powerful.

It is not possible to overcome this illusion of phenomen-ality. Daivī hyeṣā guṇamayī mama māyā duratyayā (B.G. 7.14): It is impossible of crossing and impossible of handling. With the furthest stretch of imagination and the greatest of effort conceivable, it is beyond us. But, mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te: The resort of the mind to God is the positive step which will at once annul all movement of the mind in the direction of objects of sense. The love of God engulfs the loves for everything else in the world.

How does the love of God swallow every other love? This is another problem for seekers of Truth. There have been complaints and complaints that even after meditation on God one has not been able to sever oneself from affection to things. It is our daily experience that when we think of God, our mind goes to a shop, to a bazaar. It goes to a club. It goes to anything. Why does it go like this? Because we have, unfortunately, limited God-thought to an object-thought. For us, God also is an object like any other object. Maybe He is a larger object, but nevertheless He is some kind of existence somewhere, to concentrate upon which we have to exert much. And the mind, being aware that there are also other things external to the ideal of God on which we are trying to meditate, seeks immediate satisfaction. The mind wants immediate satisfaction; it is not satisfied with remote promises. The immediate hunger of the mind is its prominent concern just at this moment. We have been told many a time that religion cannot be taught to hungry stomachs, and this psychology applies here. The mind is hungry, and we cannot fill its stomach with a remote God-thought which is religion.

The thought of God or the love of God can engulf all other loves only if it is as vast as everything, like the ocean itself. The ocean swallows up all the drops, but one drop cannot engulf another drop. If the mind persists in its notion that God is also one of the objects, a content in the universe, then it will not be possible to withdraw the mind from the thought of objects.

Love for things in the world can melt in the menstruum of God-experience only when God-thought is inclusive of all other affections. The affection or love for God is not a love that is different from other loves, but it is a transcendent love which includes all other loves, just as the values of the dream world are included in the values of the waking world. When we wake up from dream, we do not have a feeling of loss. The mind does not run towards the treasures which it might have had in dream. Is a beggar in the waking state sorry that he has lost the kingdom he had in dream? A beggar on the road might have dreamt yesterday night that he was an emperor, but when he woke up into the consciousness of a beggar he was not grieved. He was not sorry because the beggarhood of waking is superior to the kinghood of dream. Though it is true that the beggar is not happier than the king, the consciousness is what matters. It is not the content of consciousness, but the nature of consciousness itself.

Likewise, if our thought of God or our love for God or devotion to God can assume the nature of a higher degree and a greater vastness than the thought which is moving towards external objects, then the mind will be happy at the very thought of God. But there is a subtle suspicion in the mind that it has lost something in the world when it is moving towards the idea of God. We may not be consciously, deliberately feeling that it is so, but we have deeper levels of the psyche. The heart has a reason which the reason does not know. Our feelings inside will speak a different language from the operations of the reason working in the waking condition. Our real friends are in the subconscious and unconscious levels. Our waking friends are not real friends, and they will whisper into our ears that we are making a mistake, that these dacoits are our brothers and we belong to that group while we appear to be friends with the waking world of things, which is far from the truth.

Our deeper levels in the inner layers of our psyche are connected to subtle objects of sense, and these are the impulses that disturb our meditations and even the very thought of God. How can anyone be seated throughout the day and think of God? We will feel restless and out of sorts because of the unnaturalness of this thought. It is a wonder that the thought of God should appear as unnatural and be rushed forward into the outer atmosphere to become natural.

Don’t you feel, even all you people seated here, a slight sense of relief when you finish the satsanga and go out? “Oh, the boredom is finished. Let us breathe.” You feel a sense of limitation and uneasiness when you are restrained like this inside a hall. This is unnatural satsanga, if going out of this place is natural to your minds. If you feel a sense of relief when you go out into the open air, and feel the other way around when you are inside the hall, this sadhana is unnatural. But if you feel restless when you go out—“Oh, it is over. I want it more. I want to be seated here. I want to listen. I want to contemplate. I want to absorb myself in this idea”—then your sadhana is natural. Otherwise, the kitchen would be natural, the shop would be natural, not the satsanga here.

Unfortunately, likewise is our meditation on God. It has somehow or other become unnatural to us. Japa is unnatural, worship is unnatural. Who would like to sit there? It is a great headache. We would like to go out as early as possible. The whole of sadhana becomes a nuisance to the innermost layer of our personality. But we force ourselves to believe the other way around. “No, no, it is not like that. I want God.” Who is telling this? It is our conscious level, which is the least part of us, the weakest part, and perhaps the most unreliable part. The reliable part, our real substance, is inside, and it is connected to objects of sense by a power of prehension, which is different from the apprehensions of the conscious mind. So this asaṅgaśastreṇa dṛḍhena chittvā (B.G. 15.3) admonition of the Bhagavadgita will be like pouring water on the rock of the human mind if its implications are not properly understood. We will be simply chanting and chanting, and gaining nothing.

We cannot really love God, let us be honest to ourselves, because we have subtle loves for our children, for our families, for our properties, which of course we will deny outright if it is told. We say it is not so, that we are fed up with everything. But we are not fed up because, again to reiterate, we have a personality deeper than the one which we know about ourselves, and we cannot know what we are thinking.

So there is, again, a very great necessity before us to sit at the feet of powerful Masters who emanate a force of rejuvenation and positive thinking, who have dedicated themselves entirely to God-living, and whose totality of being is immersed in the search for this great Reality. All people cannot succeed in this attempt because we cannot go under our own skin and enter into our own psyche.

Therefore, blessed souls, I evoke the blessings and the grace of the Almighty upon you all that you have time enough to think over these difficulties, and do not think that everything is milk and honey in this world. There is neither milk here, nor honey, nor friends in this world. You have terrible problems before you every moment of time if you mistake things for what they are not. God is before you, and nothing else is before you.