The phenomenal world of samsara is always in a state of flux and none can fathom its mysterious quality. Unless we know about it in its true essence, we truly do not know it. How easy it is to believe a rope to be a snake and live a life in fear and dread when relief could be sought if one was determined to find the actual truth?
To enable us to comprehend the true nature of samsara, Lord Krishna invites us to imagine an inverted tree with its roots above and branches flowing downwards (contrary to the normal tree which grows upwards from the roots on the earth), pointed out Swami Swaropananda in a lecture.
This eternal aswatha (peepal) tree is a mythical symbol to illustrate life in all its aspects — to show how samsara draws its sustenance from the Supreme Brahman and that as it gets involved in worldly affairs it distances itself from its source.
The leaves and branches of this tree act in two ways — provide a cover for the tree and also reveal its identity and nature. When the leaves spread over the tree’s structure, one may not see beyond the attractiveness of the external appearance.
The leaves that are nourished by the gunas and sense objects are compared to the Vedic hymns which also serve a two-pronged purpose.
Path to salvation
The Vedas are revelations that contain guidance about life and how to live in this world on the one hand, and, on the other, also reveal the path to salvation.
For instance, worldly knowledge pertaining to say, physics, chemistry or history, widens the experience of life and helps us to be aware of the universe and its functioning. But it should not lead us to believe that this is the ultimate goal.
Adherence to the former aspect leads to a more intense attachment with this world and consequently, getting entangled in the cycle of birth.
To one who opts for salvation, the Vedas show the path to transcend this worldly existence and seek the imperishable Brahman.
The branches of the tree go in all directions extending downwards as well as upwards to indicate that it is possible to redeem oneself from the bondage of karma.