The Bhagavad-Gita: Chapter 15 Devotion Through the Knowledge of the Supreme Spirit

The Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 15

Devotion Through the Knowledge of the Supreme Spirit

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Chapter XV: Devotion Through Knowledge Of The Supreme Spirit


“Men say that the Asvattha, the eternal sacred tree 1, grows with its roots above and its branches below, and the leaves of which are the Vedas; he who knows this knows the Vedas. Its branches growing out of the three qualities 2 with the objects of sense as the lesser shoots, spread forth, some above and some below; and those roots which ramify below in the regions of mankind are the connecting bonds of action. Its form is not thus understood by men; it has no beginning, nor can its present constitution be understood 3, nor has it any end. When one hath hewn down with the strong axe of dispassion this Asvattha tree with its deeply-imbedded roots, then that place is to be sought after from which those who there take refuge never more return to rebirth, for it 4 is the Primeval Spirit from which floweth the never-ending stream of conditioned existence. Those who are free from pride of self and whose discrimination is perfected, who have prevailed over the fault of attachment to action, who are constantly employed in devotion to meditation upon the Supreme Spirit, who have renounced desire and are free from the influence of the opposites known as pleasure and pain, are undeluded, and proceed to that place which endureth forever. Neither the sun nor the moon nor the fire enlighteneth that place; from it there is no return; it is my supreme abode.


“Men say that the Asvattha, the eternal sacred tree 1, grows with its roots above and its branches below,"

Is this a metaphysical statement?  Is this referring to something like Plato's divided line distinguishing Being from Becoming?


This is a good observation Alex.  Although I am not too familiar with what Plato had said about this divided line of Being and Becoming, however, I do believe it might be quite related.

The Asvattha is said to represent samsara, the modified Reality.  It is indeed a metaphysical concept, look here;

"They speak of the indestructible Asvattha having with roots above and branches below, whose leaves are the meters."

Indestructible, or eternal, as some translations read, gives us the nature of this tree of samsara.  To me, the interesting idea is of the leaves being the meters.  The leaves, to me at least, signify a method of understanding the natures of conditioned reality.  In other words, I suppose the answers of life can be found though life.  A commentary recommends the idea of viewing them as the four vedas in which can be found the methods of observance, teachings, dharmic and a-dharmic practices  that might provide aid to the aspirant.  However, these are lower knowledge, as to the knower of all the Vedas,  nothing else is to be known.  

"... He who know it knows the Vedas."

Vedas here signifies Wisdom- Absolute Truth.  As Sankaracarya states;
"He who knows the Tree of Samsara, and its Root [as described above] is a knowe of the Teaching of the Vedas.  Indeed nothing else, not even an iota, remains to be known beyond this Tree of Samsara and its Root.  He who knows It is therefore omniscient." 

The Asvattha (अश्वत्थ) Tree has been mentioned before in the Gita, prior to this particular chapter. Remember what was said by Sri Krsna in the 10th discourse 26th sloka;

" Of all trees (I am) the Asvattha..."

So here we have a very interesting topic.  Regarding this, I believe it might be important to note the last sloka (27th) of the 14th discourse.


From the Johnston rendition


Rooted above, downward-branching, they say, is that immemorial tree, whose leaves are the hymns; who knows it, knows the Vedas.

Down and upward stretch its branches, grown strong through the powers, and with things of sense for twigs; downward stretch its roots which bind to works in the world of men.

The form of it cannot be so perceived in this world, nor its end, nor beginning, nor its foundation; with the firm sword of detachment cutting this tree, whose roots grow firm,

Let him then follow the path to that resting-place, whither going, they come forth no more, saying: “I enter into the primal Spirit, whence hath flowed forth the ancient stream of things.”

They who are free from pride and delusion, who have conquered the fault of attachment; who dwell ever in the Oversoul, who have turned back from desire, who are freed from the opposites called pleasure and pain, go undeluded to that everlasting rest. (5)

The sun shines not there, nor the moon, nor fire; whither going, they return not again, that is My supreme home.


Next Section Judge Rendition

“It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draweth together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again. And those are carried by the Sovereign Lord to and from whatever body he enters or quits, even as the breeze bears the fragrance from the flower. Presiding over the eye, the ear, the touch, the taste, and the power of smelling, and also over the mind, he experienceth the objects of sense. The deluded do not see the spirit when it quitteth or remains in the body, nor when, moved by the qualities, it has experience in the world. But those who have the eye of wisdom perceive it, and devotees who industriously strive to do so see it dwelling in their own hearts; whilst those who have not overcome themselves, who are devoid of discrimination, see it not even though they strive thereafter. Know that the brilliance of the sun which illuminateth the whole world, and the light which is in the moon and in the fire, are the splendor of myself. I enter the earth supporting all living things by my power, and I am that property of sap which is taste, nourishing all the herbs and plants of the field. Becoming the internal fire of the living, I associate with the upward and downward breathing, and cause the four kinds of food to digest. I am in the hearts of all men, and from me come memory, knowledge, and also the loss of both. I am to be known by all the Vedas; I am he who is the author of the Vedanta, and I alone am the interpreter of the Vedas.


ममैवांशो जीवलोके जीवभूतः सनातनः।
मनःषष्ठानीन्द्रियाणि प्रकृतिस्थानि कर्षति 
A ray of Myself, the eternal Jiva in the world of Jivas, attracts the senses, 
with manas the sixth, abiding in Prakrti.

This sloka alone is very signifiant.  Taking a look at the SD.i.238 a subject intimately related;


What is that "Spark" which "hangs from the flame?" It is JIVA, the MONAD in conjunction with MANAS, or rather its aroma—that which remains from each personality, when worthy, and hangs from Atma-Buddhi, the Flame, by the thread of life.

Any thoughts?


Looking at sloka 7 in the light of the SD reference (i.238), in addition to the 8th sloka;

"When the Lord acquires a body, and when He leaves it, He takes these and goes, as the wind takes scents from their seats."

we have a very major topic of genesis regarding the Human form/individuality and the Cosmos.  Much can be said about these two slokas.  Finding no expounder better regarding the Gitas esotericism, I will pull a commentary from T. Subba Row on this particular sloka (8);

Here Krishna refers to that human individuality which resides in the karana sarira. It is the human monad or karana sarira, that is the one connecting link between the various incarnations of man; when it leaves the body for Devachan, it takes with it all the germs of conscious existence, the essence of the five Tanmatras, the Manas and the Ahankaram. Strictly speaking, in every stage of conscious existence, there are seven elements which are always present, via., the five senses, the mind (also recognised as a sense by some of our philosophers), and the Ego. These are the seven elements that constantly manifest themselves whenever consciousness manifests itself, or conscious existence makes its appearance. They exist in the sthula sarira, further also in the sukshma sarira, and they are latent in karana sarira. Not only are they latent in karana sarira, but even the impulses generated in connection with the seven elements of conscious existence reside in it, and form that latent energy which tries to spend itself, as it were, by bringing about the future incarnations, the environments being those determined by the past Karma of the man and the impulses already generated thereby.


These passages here seem to point to the concept of the pilgrimage of the soul (jiva) through the many levels and planes of existence, picking up experience, acquiring self-knowledge, and heading in the direction of reabsorption into the notion of the One Self.


Next Section Johnston:

The immemorial part of Me, which becomes life in the living world, draws the mind and the powers of sense and action which dwell in Nature.

When the lord of the body takes a body, and when he departs from it, he goes forth, taking the powers with him, as the wind carries perfumes with it.

Through hearing, seeing, touch, taste and smell, and likewise mind, he partakes of objects of sense.

Fools perceive not him as that which leaves the body or lingers in it, tasting through union with the powers, but those perceive who possess the eye of wisdom. (10)

Seekers of union, who press on, perceive him within themselves; but even pressing on, the uncontrolled, devoid of wisdom, perceive him not.

The light that, dwelling in the sun, illumines the whole world, the light that is in the moon, in fire, know that light to be of Me.

Entering the world and all beings, I support them by my force; and I feed all plants, becoming Soma, the essence of the sap.

I, becoming vital fire, and entering the bodies of all living things, joined with the forward breath and the downward breath, prepare the four-fold food.

And I have entered into the heart of each, from Me come memory, knowledge, judgment; through all Vedas am I to be known, I am the maker of the Vedanta, the knower of the Vedas. (15)


Last Section Judge edition

“There are two kinds of beings in the world, the one divisible, the other indivisible; the divisible is all things and the creatures, the indivisible is called Kutastha, or he who standeth on high unaffected. But there is another spirit designated as the Supreme Spirit — Paramatma — which permeates and sustains the three worlds. As I am above the divisible and also superior to the indivisible, therefore both in the world and in the Vedas am I known as the Supreme Spirit. He who being not deluded knoweth me thus as the Supreme Spirit, knoweth all things and worships me under every form and condition.

“Thus, O sinless one, have I declared unto thee this most sacred science; he who understandeth it, O son of Bharata, will be a wise man and the performer of all that is to be done.”


Last Section Johnston

There are two Spirits in the world, the changing and the unchanging; the changing is all beings, the unchanging is that which stands firm.

But the Highest Spirit is other than these, it is called the Supreme Self; it is the everlasting Lord, who, entering the three worlds, upholds them.

As I transcend the changing, and am also more excellent than the unchanging, therefore in the world and in the Vedas I am praised as the Supreme Spirit.

Who knows Me thus, free from delusion, as the Supreme Spirit, he, all-knowing, loves Me with his whole heart, O son of Bharata.

Thus this most secret scripture is declared by Me, O blameless one; who understands this, possesses wisdom, and has attained his goal, O son of Bharata. (20)


In meditation we seek to draw back into the Supreme Spirit and leave our personality behind temporarily.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on July 4, 2015 at 8:28am

"To live for and as the SELF of all beings."  What a beautiful thought Tamiko, meditation is a form of practice in self-transcendence.