Chapter 15. Supreme Spirit


Krishna
1The wise speak of the perennial Ashvattha tree,
which has roots above and branches below.
The leaves protecting it are the Vedas.
One who knows this, truly knows.
Ashvattha is the sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa); it is used as a metaphor for existence. The roots above show our spiritual dimension, whereas the branches below depict our material bondages. Material existence is rooted in the spiritual. The perennial nature of the tree represents cycles of birth and death. Just as the leaves nourish the tree, knowledge (the Vedas) nourishes human life. One who understands this metaphor truly understands both the spiritual and material dimensions of life.

2The tender sprouts of this mighty tree
are the senses nourished by the gunas.
The branches extend both above and below.
The secondary roots going downward represent actions
that bind the individual soul to earthly existence.
Guna refers to the inherent tendency of a person.
3The true nature of this tree –
its basis, beginning, or end –
is not readily perceived.
It is difficult for us mortals to be a part of life and understand it too. The only thing we know for certain is that life goes on.

Cut down this firmly-rooted tree
with the sharp axe of detachment.

4Then seek that eternal goal –
attaining which one is liberated –
by submitting yourself
to the supreme purusha,
the primal cause of
this ancient universe
and its relentless activity.

5Free from false pride and delusion,
overcoming the burden of attachment,
renouncing desires entirely,
always conscious of the atman, and
unaffected by pairs of opposites
such as pleasure and pain,
the wise reach that eternal goal.
Atman is the inner, higher self.

6Neither sun nor moon nor fire
can illuminate that state;
it is verily my supreme abode and
having gone there, you will not return.
Here, ‘that state’ refers to the state of brahman, the supreme being. The supreme abode is self-luminous, beyond all light. ‘…you will not return’ indicates that no force can dislodge you from there.

7A fragment of my own self becomes
the soul in the world of mortals.
It attracts towards itself
the five senses and the mind,
which are a part of the body.

8When one acquires a body or departs from it,
the master within carries these senses,
just as the wind carries scents
from one place to another.
We acquire a body when we are born; we depart from it when we die. Here, ‘the master within’ refers to the soul, the eternal witness which carries the vasanas (past baggage).

9Through the mind, the ear, the eye,
and the organs of touch, smell, and taste,
the atman experiences the sensations.
‘Sensations’ are the experiences of sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch but in a broader sense, it refers to the worldly pleasures and pains that one feels.

10The deluded ones fail to perceive the atman
residing, entering, or departing the body.
They also fail to see the atman
enjoying the sensations
as well as being impacted by the gunas.
See 13:21.

But those with the eye of wisdom perceive this.
They sense the atman at all times.

11Those who strive with discipline
can see the fraction of the lord
situated in their own self.
But those who are selfish and insensitive
fail to see, however hard they try.
The selfish ones are too full of themselves
and fail to see anything else.
Preoccupied with lower motives, they miss out on the higher ideals.
12The radiance of the sun which lights up the world,
the radiance in the moon and in fire –
I am the source of all that radiance.

13Entering the earth,
I support all creatures with my energy;
becoming the life-giving sap,
I nourish all plants and herbs.

14Having entered the bodies of creatures as the digestive fire
and working along with inward and outward breaths,
I digest the four kinds of food.
Foods that are chewed, foods that are sucked,
foods that are eaten by licking, and foods that are gulped/drunk
are the four kinds of food.

15I am seated in the hearts of all;
I grant memory and knowledge,
and I also make them disappear!
Perhaps a part of our memory and knowledge should recede if we want to function coherently. For example, we know death is certain, yet we are able to live without being troubled by that idea every day.

I know all the Vedas and
I am the author of the Upanishads
I am the one who is to be known in them.
Upanishads are the concluding portion of the Vedas.
Vedas are the foremost revealed scriptures in Hinduism.
The initial portions of the Vedas largely comprise contextual knowledge, while the Upanishads mainly contain universal wisdom. One needs to know both and use them appropriately.

16There are two entities in this world:
ksharam and aksharam.
Ksharam consists of all beings
(yet to be liberated).
Aksharam refers to those
that are immutable
(the liberated beings).
Ksharam refers to something that is changing
while aksharam refers to something that is beyond change.

Another way of looking at this verse is by considering
ksharam as a reference to all beings, and
aksharam as a reference to the individual soul.

17But above these two entities,
there is a higher principle:
the supreme soul, the ultimate person,
known as the eternal god
who sustains and pervades the universe.

18I am beyond ksharam and
I am superior to aksharam.
So I am respected as the supreme spirit
by the people and in the Vedas alike.
The idea of a higher power is shared by
the laity and the learned.

19One who is free from delusion
knows me as the supreme spirit;
indeed, he knows all there is to know
and he wholeheartedly worships me.

20Arjuna, I have taught you a great truth.
He who learns this will become enlightened and
will have accomplished everything.



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