Why Hindus Worship Trees? it is Aswattha, Narayana, anmd Jagannatha
(Compilation for a discourse by N.R.Srinivasan , Nashville, TN, October2016)
The worship of Trees is an ancient tradition in India among all in general and Hindus in particular. Each religion has its own stories, myths and beliefs to tell. Hindus regard all flora and fauna as sacred. The trees that are sanctified reveal the socio-economic and health concern of the ancient people. While we in the modern world often work to conquer and exploit Mother Nature the ancient worshiped Nature and thanked her for the benefits she gave them. Supreme Being as Self in us pervades all beings be they are plants or animals. Hence they are all regarded as sacred. So the Vedas remind us constantly to “Look upon all beings as your own self” (Aatmavat sarvabhooteshu). They meet our vital needs that make our life possible on earth--food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty and calmness to surroundings. They serve man without expectation and sacrifice themselves to sustain us. If a stone is thrown on a fruit laden tree, they in turn reward us with a fruit. Presently the world is threatened by the destruction of forest lands and the extinction of many species of vegetable kingdom due to our callousness. This is because we take care only what we value. In Hindu culture we are taught to regard plants and trees as sacred. In our concluding prayers we plead for peace in the vegetable Kingdom—Vanaspatayah santih (May calmness prevail in the vegetable kingdom!)
Hindu scriptures mandate that if we cut one tree for any reason we should in turn plant ten more of them. We are also urged to apologize to a tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named soona. In our Sunday schools we learn about the sacrifice and service done by plants and trees and about our duty towards them to plant and nourish them as promoted in Palika sthaapanam and visarjanam( sprouting seeds and immersing the sprouts) in Sacraments. We are told divine beings live in trees and plants and so Hindus worship them to fulfill their desires to please the Lord.
Indian sages and seers eulogized asvattha or peepal (Ficus religiosa), Gular (Ficus glomerata), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Bel (Aegle marmelos), Bargad or Banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Asoka (Sereca indica), Amala (Phyllanthus emblica), Arjuna (Terminalia Arjuna) and many other trees which acquired social and religious sanctity with the passage of time.
Bel, rudraksa (seeds of Elaeccarpus) and Ber (Zizyphus jujuba) are considered dear to Lord Siva, Sala (Shorea robusta) and Pipal to Lord Vishnu; Kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba) to Lord Krishna; Mango (Mangifera indica) to Lord Hanuman, asoka to Kamadeva; Silk Cotton (Bombax malabaricum) to the Goddess Laksmi; and Coconut or Sriphala (Cocos nucifera) to Varuna or the lord of waters, and to many other gods and goddesses.
As sacred forests were replaced by agriculture, a single tree was left out which was designated as sacred tree. The earliest temples were icons placed under the shade of a tree. Rigveda says plants are the ones that grew in old times much earlier than the devas (the shining ones). Plants were revered for their medicinal qualities, like Tulasi about which I have talked about, for their economic value used in catamarans in the South Indian coastal regions; for their ecological importance, mangroves in Chidambaram; and for their socio-cultural role the Banyan tree.
The sacred trees whose fagots are used in Hindu fire sacrifices are: Asvattha, Udumbara, Paalaasa, Samee, Vikankata, Asanihita Vriksha and Pushakaraparna known as Sapta samidhah (seven sacred fagots) creating seven kinds of sacrificial flames (Saptaarchishah). We come across many mantras in Vedas and Upanishads and in Baghavad Gita in their spiritual discussions about Asvattha which we will discuss in detail later in this discourse.
The last Valli of Katha Upanishad sets out with the description of Samsaara Vriksha (the tree of worldly existence) in a poetical language. That tree is an upside-down tree with the root above and the branches below. This root is Brahman. Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upanishad compare draw anology of Aswattha Tree to this Spiritual Tree.
Plaksa or Palasa popularly called Aswattha is a possible Sanskrit term for Ficus religiosa. However, according to MacDonnell and Keith (1912), it denotes the wavy-leaved fig tree (Ficus infectoria) instead. Pipal and Banyan trees are celebrated in Hindu scriptures. Pipal is one of the trees whose twigs are used in Hindu Yajanas and Homas (fire sacrifices) out of the 21 kinds of fagots used. Rituals are often conducted under its shade to beget children and also avoid widowhood. Aswattha is the Sanskrit name for Pippala. As the name indicates Aswattha means where horses stood which animal was very popular during Vedic culture. The nomenclatures Hayavadana, Hayagrieva and Vajasaneya we hear in Upanishads are all derived from horse. Adisankara associated this tree associated with entire cosmos and the word Aswattha according to him meant one that does not remain the same tomorrow (as against saasvata=permanent) referring to the ever changing world. Thus the tree represents the universe itself and therefore most sacred tree for Hindus. Puransa say its roots are Brahma, its bark Vishnu and its branches Siva responsible for creation, sustenance and dissolution functions of Supreme Being. Aswattha is described as “Tree of knowledge”, “Tree of life”, ”Tree of Eternal Life” and “Tree of Creation” etc. It is associated with fertility and worshiped by women for getting children and longevity of life for their husbands. It is looked upon as Incarnation of Vishnu and embodiment of Lakshmi. Felling of this tree is considered as capital sin.
Budddha achieved enlightenment beneath this tree. Dakshinamurty, Siva, the divine teacher and several human beings sat under this tree to learn or teach scriptures of wisdom. In Bhagavad Gita Bhagawan says in 10-26 that he is “Asvatthah sarvavrikshaanam “ I am the Asvattah tree among all the trees. This implies all trees are sacred as Asvattha is most sacred. Bhagavad Gita compares human life to the eternal Asvattha tree with roots growing above and branches beneath. Lord Krishna died under this tree while resting, killed by a hunter accidentally and so people never cut this tree down. The Tenth Theerthankara of Jainism attained nirvana under this tree.
Various Puranas glorify Aswattha and have their own stories: Vishnu Purana says just as Pipal tree is contained in a small seed so is the whole universe from Brahman. Brahma Purana says when Asuras (demons) defeated Devas (divines) Vishnu hid himself in Pipal tree. Therefore the religious worship Pipal as Vishnu. Padma Purana has its own story to tell. Alakshmi occupies this tree every Saturday like the planet Saturn (Sani devata) so she is also worshiped on this day like Sani. Both are associated with misfortune. Skanda Purana considers Pipal tree as symbol of Vishnu. If somebody does not have a son he can consider Pipal tree to be his son. Then the family will continue as long as this adopted tree lives. By taking care of this tree and worshiping one earns merits (punya) and one who cuts goes to hell (Papa). Vayu Purana recommends twigs of this tree for Shraadha Homa (rites to diseased parents).
Tamils think Thiruppullani is the birth place of Vishnu. They believe Pulavar Kalavar and Kanva Maharshi did penance here. The prime deity faces east in the sitting posture with Sri Devi and Bhu Devi here. Similarly, His Consort Sri Padmasani Thayar sits and renders Her blessings to the devotees. Near this shrine is the age-old Pipal (Aswatha) tree and is considered to be the incarnation of Aswatha Narayanan who revealed Himself to the three sages, Pullavar, Kannuvar, and Kaalavar. The Prime Deity is also known as ‘Dakshina Jagannathan’, installed as a Saalagrama by the Devas during the Swayambhu Manvanthara. It is said that the childless Emperor Dasaratha worshipped Lord Jagannatha and received as blessings his four sons. So Vishnu was born here to bless them. Following the legend, childless couple perform a worship called nagapratishtha (installing a statue of snake god) under the tree in the temple. Sweet pudding is offered to childless couple praying for a child. It is believed that Adi Jaganatha bestows a child, like Rama, when such kind of worship is performed.
Bengalis observe Asvatthapatra Vrata on this day with five different kinds of leaves. New leaf for a birth of a son; a young green leaf for beauty and youthfulness; old leaf for longevity of husband; dry leaf for increased happiness and wealth; and withered leaf for wealth beyond expectations.
There are also many folk-lores on Aswattha. In Tamil Nadu Asvattha and Neem trees are grown together and Nagaprathishta is done under these pairs of trees and worshipped praying for wealth and property. Intertwined snake tablets are installed and worshiped for fertility. Coiled snakes are worshiped for childlessness. Devotees bathe and circum-ambulate the shrine 108 or 1008 times. If horoscope predicts widowhood first marriage is done to Pipal tree to prevent the misfortune. Many of the Pipal trees seen in Hardwar today are older than the modern city itself.
Swami Prabhupada has the following spiritual explanation of the Asvattha tree based on Bhagavad Gita:
“The branches of the Asvattha tree are spread in all directions. In the lower parts, there are variegated manifestations of living entities, such as human beings, animals, horses, cows, dogs, cats, etc. These are situated on the lower parts of the branches, whereas the upper parts are higher forms of living entities. : Devatas, the Demigods, Gandharvas (fairies), Sadhyas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Gajavadanas, Hayavadanas, Bhootaganas and many other higher species of lie. As a tree is nourished by water, so this tree is nourished by the three modes of material nature. Sometimes we find that a tract of land is barren for want of sufficient water, and sometimes a tract is very green; similarly, where the modes of material nature are proportionately greater in quantity, the different species of life are manifested in that proportion. The twigs of the tree are considered to be the sense objects. By development of trees of the different modes of nature, we develop different senses, and, by the senses we enjoy different varieties of sense objects. The source of the senses—the ears, the nose, eyes etc.—is considered to be the upper twigs, tuned to the enjoyment of different sense objects. The leaves are sound, form, touch—the sense objects. The roots, which are subsidiary, are the by-products of different varieties of suffering and sense enjoyment. Thus we develop attachment and aversion. The tendencies toward piety and impiety are considered to be the secondary roots spreading in all directions. The real root is from Brahmaloka, and the other roots are in human planetary systems. After one enjoys the results of virtuous activities in the upper planetary systems, he comes down to this earth and renews his Karma or fruits of activities for promotion. This planet of human beings is considered to be field of activities while higher planets are for enjoyment” [Only humans are born mortal while higher species like devatas, gandhrvas etc. are all created immortal(Brihadaranyaka)]
We have all heard of the ancient Vatavriksha in Gaya being worshipped. Next to Aswattha the Vat, Bargad or Banyan tree is one of the most venerated trees in India. It has the ability to survive and grow for centuries and is often compared to the shelter given by God to his devotees. In Hindu mythology, the tree is called Kalpavriksha, the tree that provides fulfilment of wishes and other material gains. It symbolizes Trimurti - Lord Vishnu is believed to be the bark, Lord Brahma the roots, and Lord Shiva the branches like Aswattha who are often dealt at the same level. In Sanskrit we have two distinct names—Aswattha and Vata. The Banyan tree is mentioned in many scriptures as a tree of immortality. Its aerial roots grow down into the soil forming additional trunks and is therefore called Bahupada, the one with several feet. It symbolizes longevity and represents the divine creator, Brahma. The Banyan is associated with Yama the god of death and the tree is often planted near crematoria. Hindus knew the Banyan tree as the vat-vriksha. When the British came to India, they noticed that members of the trading or Bania community used to gather under a large shady fig tree, which they named the Banyan, a favorite meeting place of Banias. The Banyan tree does not let a blade of grass grow under it. Thus it does not allow for rebirth and renewal. That is why it is not part of fertility ceremonies like marriage and childbirth like the Plantain tree.
In iconography, Shiva is visualized as Dakshinamurti, he who faces the south, that being the direction of death and change. He sits under the Banyan, the botanical embodiment of the universal soul, facing the terror of death and change stoically, unafraid because of his profound understanding of the world. This tree is also sacred to the Buddhists. After attaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha is believed to have sat under a Banyan tree for seven days, absorbed in his new-found realization.
Yet another plant that is popularly worshiped by Hindus is the Banana. Kadali in Sanskrit means flagger or banner. Kela in Hindi means shaking or trembling. Mocha in Sanskrit means juicy or acetic. Banana is also celebrated in several Puranas. Tamils consider Bananana to be incarnation of Siva and worship the plant. It is the most popular fruit offered to the Lord during all worships. Bananas fertilize without cross pollination. So it is incarnation of Parvati Plantain tree is worshipped as Nanda Devi. In Bengal marriages are performed under it. Plantain branches are very sacred to all Hindus and all its parts are used during worship and rituals. Young and matured cut out plants are always seen as auspicious welcoming plants on all sacraments celebrations and temple worships. Adam and Eve used Banana leaves as clothing to cover their naked bodies.
Sometimes we wonder how something so obvious becomes oblivious for the eyes not to recognize, for the soul not to realize, the significance, the reverence, the deference, of God's creation, which is all-around us without the recognition like the divine Lotus Flower!
Lotus is the first product of the creative principle. So plant life was the beginning of life in creation. Even among humans we still find stone-person (jada), plant-person, animal person and person-person culminating in super-person or Jnaani showing that creation started with non-sentient to sentient. We will talk about this later in detail. Padmapurana says that the world was born through a "Golden Lotus" and also mentions of Padmakalpa, the Lotus Age. Lotus is India’s National flower. It is the symbol of Truth, Auspiciousness and Beauty (Satyam Sivam Sundaram). The Lord is also of that nature and therefore he is often described as possessing lotus eye, lotus feet, lotus hands, and often addressed as the lotus of the heart (spiritual heart) or Self. Almost all Hindu scriptures extol the beauty of the lotus. Hindus names are often drawn from lotus—Padma, Pankaj, Kamala, Padmakshi, Padmapriya, Kamlakshi, Padmalochan etc. The lotus blooms with the rising sun and closes with the setting sun. Our minds too, open up and expand with the light of knowledge. Its leaves and petals remain beautiful and untainted despite the muddy and dirty surroundings. It reminds us that we too should strive to remain pure and beautiful within, under all circumstances. It symbolizes a Man of Wisdom (Jnaani) who remains ever happy unaffected by the world of sorrow and change as described in Bhagavad Gita: “Brahmanyadhaaya karmaani sangam tyaktvaa karoti yah | lipyate na sa paapena padmapatramivaambhasa”
He who does actions, offering them to Supreme Being (Brahman) abandoning all attachments is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus leaf remains y unaffected in muddy water on it. Please go through my detailed discourse on the subject “Padmapatramivaambhasa”
From this we learn that what is natural to the man of wisdom becomes a discipline to be practiced by all spiritual seekers and devotees. Our bodies have certain energy centers described as Kundalinee power and Chakras about which I talked about. For example Sahasraara chakra at the top of the head, that opens when the Yogi attains Godhood or Realization, is represented by a lotus with one thousand petals. Also, the lotus posture (Padmaasana) is recommended when one meditates.
The lotus emerged from the navel of Vishnu and from it Brahma was born. Hence the lotus symbolizes the link between the creator and the Supreme cause. It also symbolizes Brahmaloka, the abode of Brahma. The auspicious sign of swastika is said to have evolved from the lotus.
Upanishads repeatedly say that the Atman dwells in the lotus within the heart. Within the center of the lotus, see a small light. Atman within the heart looks like a brilliant light about the size of your thumb, just a small light. This light is an emanation of your radiant being. It is dwelling right within. The Self God is deeper than that. The lotus is within the heart, and the Self God dwells deep within that lotus of light. Within each human is the spirit of the sacred lotus. It represents eternity, purity, divinity, and is widely used as a symbol of life, fertility, ever- renewing youth. Upanishads describe that water represents the procreative aspect of the Absolute, and the cosmic lotus, the generative. The object and place for the unbroken meditation of the Supreme Divine is the Lotus of the Spiritual heart says MNU in its Mantra:
Dahram vipaapam varavesmabhoota yat Pundareekam puramadhyasa(ga)mstham |
Tatraapi dahre gaganam visokam tasminyadantastadupaasitavyam ||
In the citadel of the body there is the small sinless and pure lotus of the heart which is the residence of the Supreme. Further in the interior of this small area there is the Ether devoid of sorrow. That Ether is to be meditated upon continuously. (The holy inner apartment is called by the name Pundarika as the name suggests says Bhattabhaskara—punyaa dareee pundaree, taam kaayati sabdayat iti)
Trilok Chandra Majupuria of Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu says: The Taittiriya Brahmana describes how Prajapati, desiring to evolve the universe, which was then fluid, saw a lotus-leaf, pushkara parna, coming out of water. It is described that when divine life-substance was about to put forth the universe, the cosmic waters grew a thousand-petal lotus flower of pure gold, radiant like the sun. This was considered to be a doorway, or an opening of the mouth of the womb of the universe. Lotus is the first product of the creative principle. The role of Lord Brahma was to re-create the universe after the great flood on this planet. In order to create the universe, He used the different parts of the lotus plant. Lotus stem based food delicacy in North India. Orthodox Vaishanvites in South India do not use lotus stem in cooking as this plant is part and parcel of Vishnu (umbilical cord of creation).
Mahabharata says Lakshmi emerged from a lotus which grew from the forehead of Lord Vishnu. That is why a garland of 108 lotus seeds is used for the worship of Lakshmi. The Goddess of Power Durga was created by Lord Siva to fight demons and was adorned with a garland of lotus flowers by Varuna. Goddess of Wisdom, Saraswati is associated with the white Lotus. Virtually every God and Goddess of Hinduism; Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Durga, Agni, Ganesha, Rama and Surya; are typically shown sitting on the lotus, often holding a lotus flower in their hand. The lotus which serves thus as the seat of the Deity, signifying their divinity and purity, is called Padmasana or Kamalasana.
Spiritual focus on Lotus has also taken root in Chinese cultures with a famous statement made by the 11th century Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi: "I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained." In Buddhist philosophy the lotus is symbolic of purity of the body, mind and speech, as while rooted in the mud, its flowers blossom on long stalks as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. It is also symbolic of detachment as drops of water easily slide off its petals. According to mythology Gautama Buddha was born with the ability to walk and everywhere he stepped, lotus flowers bloomed. For Buddhists, the lotus flower symbolizes the most exalted state of human; head held high, pure and undefiled in the sun, feet rooted in the world of experience.
Glorifying trees and plants that inspire spiritual thoughts in scriptures is not peculiar to Hinduism alone. In Christian theology, consuming the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the original sin committed by Adam and Eve that subsequently became known as the Fall of Man in Genesis.
Here is a brief citation of the Forbidden Tree in Wikipedia in Abrahamic Religions:
The Forbidden Tree in Abrahamic Religions
Judaism: In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. Before that time, the two were separate, and evil had only a nebulous existence in potential. While free choice did exist before eating the fruit, evil existed as an entity separate from the human psyche, and it was not in human nature to desire it. Eating and internalizing the forbidden fruit changed this and thus was born the yeitzer hara, the Evil Inclination.
In Kabbalah, the sin of the Tree of Knowledge (called Cheit Eitz HaDa'at) brought about the great task of beirurim, sifting through the mixture of good and evil in the world to extract and liberate the sparks of holiness trapped therein. Since evil has no independent existence, it depends on holiness to draw down the Divine life-force, on whose "leftovers" it then feeds and derives existence. Once evil is separated from holiness through beirurim, its source of life is cut off, causing the evil to disappear. Thus, the task of beirurim rectifies the sin of the Tree and draws the Shecinah back down to earth, where the sin of the Tree had caused Her to depart.
Christianity: In Christian theology, consuming the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the original sin committed by Adam and Eve that subsequently became known as the Fall of man in Genesis 2-3.
In Catholicism Augustine underlined that the fruits of that tree were not evil by themselves, because everything that God created was good (Gen 1:12). It was disobedience of Adam and Eve, who had been told by God not to eat of the tree (Gen 2:17), that was obnoxious and caused disorder in the creation, thus humanity inherited sin and guilt from Adam and Eve's sin.
In Western Christian art, the fruit of the tree is commonly depicted as the Apple which originated in Central Asia. This depiction may have originated as a Latin pun: by eating the malum (apple), Eve contracted mālum (evil). It is also possible that this depiction originated simply because of the religious painters' artistic license.
Islam: The Quran does not name this tree and it is always referred to as "the tree". Muslims believe that when God created Adam and Eve, He told them that they could enjoy everything in the Garden but this tree, and so, Satan appeared to them and told them that the only reason God forbade them to eat from that tree is that they would become Angels or become immortals.
When they ate from this tree their nakedness appeared to them and they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the Garden. The Qur'an mentions the sin as being a 'slip', and after this 'slip' they were sent to the destination they were intended to be on, Earth. Consequently, they repented to God and asked for his forgiveness and were forgiven. It was decided that those who obey God and follow his path shall be rewarded with everlasting life in Jannah and those who disobey God and stray away from his path shall be punished in Jahannam.
God in Quran states: "[O] Children of Adam! Let not Satan tempt you as he brought your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their garments to show them their shameful parts. Surely he [Satan] sees you, He and his tribe, from where you see them not. We have made the Satans the friends of those who do not believe."
The Tamil poem "Tala Vilasam" recounts a legend of the tree that parallels the Biblical account. In it, the Creator Brahma finally allows the people access to the tree which, in this case, is the Palmyra palm tree Barbicels flabelliform. Unfortunately its detailed texts are not clearly reproducible in its dilapidated state of preservation.
American ethno mycologist, ethno botanist, and philosopher Terence McKenna proposed that the Forbidden Fruit was entheogen, identifying it as the Psilocybin cogenesis mushroom, consistent with his "Stoned Ape" model of human evolution.
Dr. Hermann Hesse has beautifully summarized Western Thoughts as well as his on Trees that inspire Spiritual thoughts in us:
Trees Inspire Spiritual Thoughts in Us
Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier and nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them and whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought and I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers and I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree! He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
Hindu saints still meditate beneath sacred fig trees, and Hindus do circum-ambulation or meditative pacing (pradakshina) around the sacred fig tree as a mark of worship. Usually seven pradakshinas are done around the tree in the morning time chanting "vriksha rajaya namah", meaning "salutation to the king of trees." It is claimed that the 27 stars (constellations) constituting 12 houses (rasis) and 9 Navagrahas are specifically represented precisely by 27 trees—one for each star. The Bodhi Tree is said to represent the star Pushya (Western star name γ, δ and θ Cancri in the Cancer constellation).
Volumes can be written on various trees as to their spiritual, religious significance and medicinal values described in Ayurveda, life Science. Space and time does not oblige the same. But I would like to confine present discourse on important spiritual focus on trees contained in Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita often discussed by Vedic Scholars and focused in spiritual discussions. The main focus in these again is on Aswattha Tree.
We come across the following Rigveda Mantra in Svetasvatara Upanishad which is also repeated in Mundaka Upanishad that speaks of two birds perching on the same Aswattha tree. One perched on the branch of the tree that signifies the body and eating its fruit (jivatma) while the other (Paramatma) is merely watching it. This is a Mantra which clearly indicates Paramatman (Supreme Being) and Jeevatman (Self) are distinctly different though Adavaita mentions they are one and the same—Jivatma goesa after desire while Paramaatman has no need for any desire. The tree referred here is Aswattha:
Dvaa suparnaa sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vriksham parishasvajaate |
Tayornyah pippalam svaadvatti anasna annayo abhichakaseemi ||
Two birds of similar qualities which are inseparable from each other are perched on the same tree. Of the two, one tastes the sweet Pippala fruit and the other is witnessing without eating.
Rig Veda Samhita is more elaborate on the subject matter of the above mantra:
1.164.20. Two birds associated together, and mutual friends, take refuge in the same tree; one of them eats the sweet fig; the other abstaining from food, merely looks on.
1.164.21. Where the smooth-gliding rays, cognizant, distil the perpetual portion of water there is the Lord and steadfast protector who says all beings accepted me, though immature in wisdom.
1.164.22. In the tree into which the smooth-gliding rays feeders on the sweet, enters, and again bring forth light over all, they have called the fruit sweet, but he partakes not of it who knows not the protector of the universe.
The first bird represents a Jeevaa, or individual Self. She has a female nature, being a Sakti, energy of God. When the Jeevaa becomes tempted by the fruits (signifying sensual pleasure), she momentarily forgets her Lord and lover and tries to enjoy the fruit independently without him. This separating thinking is Maha-maya, or enthrallment, spiritual death, and constitutes the fall of the Jeevaa into the world of material birth, death, disease and old age.
The second bird is the Paramatman, Supreme Spirit who accompanies every living being in the heart while Jeevaatmaa remains in the material world. Supreme Spirit is the support of all beings and is beyond sensual pleasure.
It can be stated that this concept of Atman and Jiva have been personified and taken into the Bible as Adam and Eve and the fall of man. Jagadguru Chandrashekharendra Saraswati opines that the term "Atman" is also often referred to as "Atmaa". Then Atman stands for “Adam” and Atmaa for Eve while God is Paramaatman. It can then be inferred that this temptation of Jiva is the immutable essence related to the events surrounding the fall of man.
Another interpretation is the two birds are two options: one is to eat the sweet fruits; other is merely look on and recognize where the smooth-gliding rays distil the perpetual water (the leaves and the root); there the Lord and protector accepts the enjoyer bird Self in the tree, into which the smooth-gliding rays feeders on the sweet and brings light over the tree. First consciousness has to know the protector of the universe and then partake of it.
In one of the views of Upanishad Aswattha is a Vyahriti of Brahma (Deva or Tadekam) just as we propitiate Indra, Varuna, Agni and other Devatas as emanations of Brahman alone (Tvam indrasvam……)
Maha Narayana Upanishad (MNU) states in one of the Mantras: “Vriksha iva stabdho divi tishtatyekastenedam poornam purushena sarvam “—The One who stands like a tree established in heaven—all this is filled. The mantra implies Parmaatman is all that exists even as the visible universe. The simile of the tree here is perhaps similar to that Eternal Aswattha Tree with roots in heaven which is described in Gita as well as Kathopanishad. But what is this mysterious Tree (Vriksha)? We get a light on it in Taittariya Brahmana which reads:
Kim svid vanam ka vu sa vriksha aaseet yato dyaavaaprithivee nishtatakshuhu | maneeshino manasaa pricchatedu tat yadadhyatishthat bhuvanaani dhaarayat || Brahma vanam sa vriksha aaseet yato dyaavaaprithivee nishtatakshuhu | Maneeshino manasaa vibraveemi vah brahmaadyatishtat bhuvanaani dhaarayan ||
Was it forest? What was the tree from which the world was fashioned? O wise men! Think out an answer for this and verify by ascertaining from your preceptor. Further, ask what is the cause which sustains all the world within itself? This is the reply of the teacher: Brahman is the Forest, Brahman is the Tree out of which heaven and earth were fashioned, for all efficiency needed is in Brahman. O wise ones, I, the teacher, have arrived at the conclusion and tell you so. The Brahman stands above all other causes, holding the whole universe in itself. Thus the Supreme Divinity is non-different in the transcendent and immanent aspects.
Supreme Spirit is the supreme abode and by it this Universe is pervaded. It is the inner Atman in all and that it is pervading all this. The orders of sentient are also sustained and supported by it.
Now let us turn our attention to Bhagavad Gita and listen to what Bhagawan says:
Oordhvamoolam adhahsaakham asvattham praahur vavyayam |
Cchndaamsi yasya parnaani yas tam veda sa vedavit || 15-1 ||
They speak of the eternal Aswattha tree that has its origin above in the Supreme Being (Parabrhman) and its branches below in the cosmos, whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who understands this tree is a knower of the Vedas.
Adhaschordhvam prasritaas tasya saakhaa gunapravriddhaa vishayapravaalaah | |
Adhascha moolaany anusantataani karmaanubandheeni manushyaloke ||
The branches of h this cosmic tree of Illusion (Maayaa) spread all over the cosmos. The tree is nourished by three modes (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – three Gunas) of material nature (prakriti): sense pleasures are its sprouts; and its roots of ego and desires stretch below in the human world bound by Karma.
Na roopam asyeha tathopalabhyate naanto na chaadir na cha sampratishthaa |
Asvattham enam suviroodhamoolam asangasastrena dhridena cchitvaa || 15-3 ||
Tatah padam tat paramaargitavyam yasmin gataa na nivartanti bhooyah |
Tam eva chaadyam purusham prapadye yatah pravrittih prasritaa puraanee || 15-4 ||
The real form of this tree is not perceptible here on earth, nor its beginning and end or existence. Having cut the firm roots—the desires--of this tree by the mighty axe of self-knowledge and detachment, and thus thinking: “in that very primal person I take refuge from which this primal manifestation comes forth” that supreme abode should be sought reaching where one does not come back (to the mortal world ) again.
Gita describes the eternal Ashvattha Tree with roots above and branches below. While trees usually have their roots growing downwards, this tree has them growing upwards. Why so? Because this alone is the Truth. That is Brahman. That alone is the immortal. In it all worlds are contained, and none goes beyond. This, verily, is That. It is the description of the famous Tree of Life. The analogy of this tree is not peculiar to our scriptures alone. The tale of this tree can also be found in the mystical texts of other cultures, though descriptions may differ slightly; but they all symbolize life.
We can find such a tree beside a reservoir of water. We can see that the trees on the bank reflect upon the water with their branches down, and the roots up. In other words, the tree of this material world is only a reflection of the real tree of the spiritual world. This reflection of the spiritual world is situated on desire, just as the tree’s reflection is situated on water. Desire is the cause of things being situated in this reflected material light. One who wants to get out of this material existence must know this tree thoroughly through analytical study. Then he can cut off his relationship with it.
Just as a tree has an origin, life has an origin. As the tree goes through the process of growth and evolution, so does life. As the tree is sustained by certain elements, life also is sustained. As the tree has many branches, life is manifold too. As the tree sprouts forth into flowers and fruits, life does similarly. As the tree is exuberant in certain seasons, so is life. As the tree can be felled, life can be cut. As the tree falls, life also ends. The process of living can be compared to the growth of the tree. The reason why its roots strike upwards is the process of life itself. Jeevatma yearns to join its root that is Paramaatman that can be reached only, looking upwards or elevating oneself.
The manifestation of the universe can be seen in two ways: it is not clear whether God created it instantaneously, by an act of Will, or whether it evolves, rising from one stage to another. The Bible says that God willed, and the universe came into existence. But the view of the scientists does not agree with this doctrine of yugapat-srishti; they hold that it has evolved. Vedanta accepts both theories. Even if creation is yugapat, this does not exclude the idea of evolution. The fact that time and space belong to creation does not necessarily suggest that it need be in space and time. In this timeless causation which is difficult for the mind to understand, the process of world evolution is super-intellectual. Iswara creates in a mysterious manner, not in the logical way we think of. If His sudden Will were the cause of creation, it might be called whimsical. He would be accused of having made some people good and some bad. But, according to the Gita, God has no fancy. He takes the karmas of the jivas into consideration. Many trees grow on this earth: somewhere mango trees; somewhere thorns; various kinds in various places. The earth will bring forth whatever you sow, and sustain it, whether it is a tree with sweet fruit or a tree with bitter fruit. Likewise do the sun, the river, etc.; they shed light or give water to all in the same manner. Nature is absolutely impartial. So is God, the general Sustainer; He is supreme Impartiality, sustaining both the wicked and the virtuous. “The seeds are there,” says Shankaracharaya. Seeds represent those jivas who have been wound up in the previous cycle and who lie in deep sleep, as it were. Upanishads say the world was created as before. But no one knows when that before was! Who knows whether the tree came first or the seed?
Dr. Ramananda Prasad of The American Gita Society beautifully summarizes these four slokas as follows: “The human body, a macrocosmic universe may be also compared to a beginning-less and endless tree. Karma is the seed in fruits, the countless desire are its roots, five basic elements are the main branches, three modes of material Nature provide the nourishment. Sense pleasures are its sprouts the ten organs of perception and action are its sub-branches. This tree is ever changing; but eternal without beginning and end. Just as the leaves protect the tree, similarly, Karma Kaanda of Vedas protects and perpetuates this tree. The one who truly understands this marvelous tree, its origin or root, its nature and working, is the knower of the Vedas in a true sense.
Two aspects of Eternal Being (Brahman)--the divine controller Iswara and the controlled, living entity (Jivatma) –make their nest on the same tree as a part of the cosmic drama—Leelaa. Virtue and Vice are its glorious followers: Pleasure and Pain are its fruits. Jeeva due to ignorance, eats these fruits; whereas Iswara sits on the tree, watches and guides Jeeva when it looks up to it.
The Creation is cyclic without beginning and end. It is ever changing and has no permanent existence or a real form. One must sharpen the axe of metaphysical knowledge and detachment over the stone of spiritual practice called Saadhanaa; we must cut the feeling of separateness between the living entity (Jeeva) and the Iswara (the Lord)—the seeker and the sought; cheerfully participate in the drama of life made of passing shadows of joys and sorrows (Pravritti Maarga); and live in this world as Jeeva-Mukta, free from ego and desires (practicing also Nivritti Maarga)”
Focusing on Sankhya Philosophy the world has evolved from Mulaprakriti or fundamental Nature. Human body is part of it. This seed constitutes the form which the trunk emerges as Mahat and then on two main branches emerge as Brahmanda and Pindanda based on its Ahankara Tattva. Here again one is huge and other is small. Huge branch is occupied by Paramaatman that does not have any material desire. The small branch is Jivatma that goes in search of food as sweet fruit having pangs of thirst and hunger. On this side there are the psychological organs—ten senses, Pranas all organically connected to the trunk. On the other side we have Tanmatras which mixed to form five elements and the Mahabutas. This is what Svetasvatara explains as two birds on different branches. The psychological organs of Jivatma have fatal attractions and have their love and hatred, the tendency to virtue and vice, all the strong and weak points of human nature; the urge to evolution and involution, for sense-gratification and God-realization. That is why this bird jumps to pick the fruit while the other is least bothered living ever complete and full in the state of Bliss.
In Hindu culture as well as in others it is customary to name the new born; Aswattha, Aswattha Narayana; Charu Lata; Lata, Valli, Kumuda, Kamala, Padma, Mallika,Tulasi,Rosa, Jasmine etc.
The world is constituted of such unsteady elements, and so it is said to be ashvatha, that which will not last till tomorrow; and yet it appears as permanent, shashvata. This so-called tree of samsara has its roots struck in Prakriti constituted of sattva, rajas and tamas, but it is ultimately made up of one substance (Brahma Padarta talked about in Jagaannatha Idol of Puri), whatever may be the variety of this vast creation. The absolutely pure Brahman is the Source of it, and also its Sustainer and Withdrawer. From THIS everything starts, and into THIS everything returns. Many examples are given to illustrate this point. Like the spider and its web, so is creation. The web is part of the matter of the spider’s body, but it appears as outside it; or like the flashing forth of sparks of fire. This life-tree has its roots in Brahman. Even Prakriti is in Brahman. Thus Asvattha Tree stands for both the perennial and the ever changing with its main branches.
1. Ramanada Prasad, The Bhagavad-Gita, American Gita Society, Freemont, CA, USA.
2. Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-Gita, The Macmillan Company, New York, NY, USA.
3. Swami Vimalananda, MN Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
4. Ananta Rangachrya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India.
5. Hermann Hesse, Baume—Betractungen and Gedichte., Interne.
6. Wikipedia and various other Internet Sources.
7. Swami Vimalananda et al., Why do we…., Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
8. Swami Bhaskaranada¸ The Ten Cardinal Upanishads¸ Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
The Immortal Banyan Tree in Kurukshetra
There is a Banyan tree in Kurukshetra under which Lord Krishna explained Bhagavad-Gita 5000 years back to Arjuna to his greatest friend and devotee. There is a board placed on the tree in which is written as “The Immortal Banyan Tee Witness of the Celestial Song Bhagavad-Gita”.
This place is named as the Gitopadesh sthal – place where the Bhagavad-Gita was spoken. The tree is full of birds and squirrels which adds to the mystic aura of the holy place which is eternally peaceful despite amidst coming and going of pilgrims throughout the day.
The banyan tree under which Lord Krishna gave upadesam (Spiritual advice) to Arjuna is still existing. Priest there tells all visitors that since that day, the tree is neither growing nor withering. It is remaining as it is. He said that they don’t even allow the leaves to fall down and hence the entire tree is covered with net.
10 Most Amazing Plants in the World
Posted by Mysterious World | Sep 07, 2015 | India Divine.Org
The Earth is home to more than 298000 species of plants. The diverse group balances the nature and life on Earth. Some plants produce beautiful pleasant smelling flowers, some produce nutrient rich fruits, some have medicinal properties and some have totally strange appearance. Followings are 10 strangest plants around the world.
Actaea pachypoda or baneberry is a small ball type plant native to North American forests. It is also called as doll’s eye because of its special shaped fruits. This plant stands 60 cm tall and only has very few leaves. Its red thick stems also looks very attractive.
The fruits of white baneberry are toxic. The flowers of white baneberry is very small, only have size of 6mm.
It is generally known as euphorbia obese native to South Africa. The plant has exactly the same shape of a baseball. It is an unbranched plant with an average height of 20 cm. The special species of baseball plant is protected by national nature conservation as it is very rare in the world.
Male and female flowers of euphorbia obese grow on different plants. Baseball plants are quite toxic, makes severe skin problems.
Hydnellum peckii is a special type of fungi that produce blood or juice like fluid on its surface. This plant is also known as ‘bleeding tooth funguses’. It is the Scarlet pigment causes blood like color on the fluid of this plant. This strange plant mainly found across North America and Europe. It is edible but the blood like fluid is extremely bitter in taste.
Hydnellum peckii has an unpleasant odor. The color of fluids on Hydnellum pecky can be varies as orange or pink.
Welwitschia Mirabilis is a unique plant that only found in the desert of Namibia. The estimated lifespan of this strange looking plant is 500 to 1500 years. It can survive within many extreme weather conditions. The most interesting thing about Welwitschia is the plant only has two leaves that grow continuously over time. This strange species also have separate male and female plants.
Lithop can be described as living stones, a plant that exactly looks like stones or pebbles. In fact its unique shape causes by the merging of two separate leaves at the outer edges of the plant. The leaves of the lit-hop plant grow in very rainy season. This extremely strange plant species mainly found in South Africa.
The thick pebble like leaves are main visible parts of lit-hops. Unlike other plants the leaves of lit-hop are in brown or grey. Lit-hops can be found in various colors like white, grey, pink and purple. Lit-hops will live for more than 50 years.
Mimosa podia also known as ‘sensitive plant’ or ‘shy plant’ is native to South America. But mimosa podia can see all around the world especially in shady areas. The most attractive feature of mimosa podia is nothing but its response to touch. Its leaves immediately fold up on touch. The primitive nervous system within this plant which balances flow of water from beneath of leaves that causes this sensitive nature.
Corpse flower is generally known as ‘titan arum’. It is the largest branched main stem concern flowering plant in the world. Corpse flower is endemic to Sumatra. During flowering the plant stands at 8.2 feet tall. The plant also produces the smell of decomposing animal.
Corpse plant blooms only in every 40 years. It is the smelliest and largest flower in the world. Corpse flowers are protected by law as it is very rare.
Raffles Arnoldo is the biggest individual flower in the world. In fact it is smaller than corpse flower by considering some elements. It is mainly found in forests of Sumatra. Raffles will grow up to a size of three feet. Like corpse flower the plant produce an unpleasant irritating smell. Raffles Arnoldo is unisexual, have both male and female reproduction system.
Venus flytrap also known as Dionaea muscipula is a carnivorous plant. It means the plant consumes small insects and animals as food. Venus flytraps can be found in the Eastern Carolina especially in wet inhabitants. Venus flytrap has special lobes to trap the prey animals.
The Venus flytrap close its lobes immediately when the insects come in contact with the plant. This plant will digest the insects within a time span of 10 days. The leavesVenus flytrap opens its lobes widely to catch the preys.
Pitcher plant is another type of carnivorous plant native to South East Asia. The plant has an attractive deep red color. The attractive smell of pitcher plants helps it to easily catch the preys. The insects and small animals become main preys of pitcher plants. It is said to be some species of pitcher plant can even consume mice.
The deep cavity that is filled with special fluid helps to catch the preys. The plant has most mysterious leaf structure and features special digestive enzymes.
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further. These lectures are posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.