Trees make great tools to explain complicated spiritual models. All cultures across the world use trees as their holy symbols, imagery and signs. There is a concept of the upside down Banyan tree in the Bhagwat Gita, where God-head is part of the roots and the actual tree is a representation of the entire world, the Samsara (the endless cycle of birth and death). The leaves of the tree are the life-giving Vedas or sacred hymns through which the tree is sustained. The banyan tree is no ordinary one as it grows roots from its branches and sends them down towards the earth. Later, these roots become part of the trunk of the tree.
A Banyan tree can expand sideways to cover a very wide area. So an upside down Banyan tree has roots that go upward, this represents the human world consisting of endless manifestations of the eternal being, a mirror image or illusion of the roots but not the actual roots. The innumerable branches, stems and flowers are our entire universe, as we know it. These represent the multifarious ideologies, faiths, beliefs, cultures, religions, millions of species of insects, birds and animals, 6 billion humans each with their own thoughts and nature etc. One common source but many manifestations.
A soul has to journey through 84 lakhs (8.4million) species before it can have the opportunity to be in a human body which enables it to enjoy the physical world. Hence the human body is a precious little thing that even the gods take to (avatars) from time to time. The Boddhi Satvas, highly evolved souls, come on earth to help alleviate the suffering of mankind.
At some point we too were angles or demi-gods or divine beings who got bored of our otherworldly existences and expressed a desire to come to earth and experience this great Illusion or Maya (The Matrix). Before every birth we are presented with some limited choices of race, family, country, talent etc. based on our previously accumulated actions. We then choose from those options. So this is not a random, sadist world created by a God who only wishes for you to suffer but rather a delicately balanced, near perfect world crafted by motherly love and compassion towards all beings.
A noble tree gives shade to a weary traveler without judging his character or achievements. The river does not judge before she doles out fresh water to a robber or a saint alike. Nature at large is not judgmental rather objective. Human beings love to pass judgment, live in subjective reality and react quickly.
Nature is made up of five elements or Bhutas (in Sanskrit) namely Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space. Another name for ghost in Hindi is Bhuta. Bhuta in Sankrit language is the past participle of the verb-root bhu, meaning “to be,” or “to become”; hence Bhutas literally means, “has beens” – entities that have lived and passed on. The Bhutas are “shells” from which all that is spiritual and intellectual (real entity) has fled and what is left but a decaying astral corpse. The Bhutas are the spooks, ghosts, remnants, of dead men. Bereft of all that pertains to the real entity, the genuine man, the Bhuta is as much a corpse in the astral realms as is the decaying physical body left behind at physical death.
A tree has a predominant earth element restricting its movement or motion. Similarly a fish is restricted to live in the water element. Birds can do what even humans are not able to do, fly. There are beings that exist with two or three or four elements. For examples ghosts are those who do not have the earth element and hence they cannot be seen in the physical world. Probably that’s why the same word, which is used to describe the five elements, is used also to describe ghosts.
Science is the study of this physical world only hence it is of a limited nature. Like all previous religions, “the religion of science” too has staked its claim to be the one and only true religion debunking all previous ones as false. Science stands on the pillars of logic and proof. It has proselytized young minds through out the world to the fanatic extent that humans have forgotten their own true nature and purpose of existence. The human ears can hear things within certain frequencies. The human hearing range is commonly given as 20 to 20,000 Hz. Cats, Dogs and bats can hear at much higher frequencies. A cat is also able to see infra-red or ultra-violet frequencies, which a human eye is not able to pick up. The scientific experimentation is of the seen, heard or felt – the input of which is provided by the limited range inbuilt in the human senses (see, hear, touch, taste and smell). Hence science limits itself to the physical plane of a subjective human body/mind limitation. Is modern science so arrogant to think that we are the only people in this vast universe?s
Nature on the other hand is governed by objective laws, which have been set in motion since the beginning of time. God too does not interfere in the implementation of these laws, which are extremely just and perfect. If God were not perfect than he would not be a God. It is the imperfection of a human being that balances the perfection of god-hood.
The Fruit-bearing tree of Karma
Somehow the law of Karma has been often tied up to agriculture. In the bible it says, “As you Sow, So shall you reap”. Or then the quoting from Gita, “Do your Karma without any expectation of the fruits of your actions”.
Just like some trees take many years to bear fruit or blossom, so too, the game of Karma is slow, tedious and difficult to comprehend for the limited intelligence of the human mind. Just like a gardener must daily water the plants and tend to them with utmost care, we too must nurture the Tree of Karma within us for it to bear fruits. We must have faith in a divine super-intelligent system which only wants the best for the evolution of our soul, for a parent cannot want anything less for their child. It is our ego and personal conflict, which causes us to question these laws, and make the world look like an unfair place besotted with wars, famine and rape. Human Karmas bear fruit within an average human life span of 100 years. Karmas of countries or cultures can span out for a few thousand years, as they are the collective karmas of all the people living in that country/culture, further complicating the structure.
Since we live in the age of the Kali, the darkest age out of a total of four ages according to Hindu scriptures, Karmic retribution in this age has been heightened and speedened up giving us results of our actions in this very life itself. There is no need for taking birth again and again to work out our karmas. If you are honest to yourself, towards the end of your life, one would have a very strong intuition of the negative or positive retribution of his/her actions during the course of their lives. It all here and now.
Heaven and hell are on earth itself. There is no original sin. Unfortunately there are no virgins waiting up in heaven to dance to our tunes.To better understand the concept of Karma, we must understand the three types of Karma.
Kriyaman Karma – everyday actions done by us to keep alive. Actions enacted in the present, which bear us immediate results. For example we are thirsty and we drink water to quench our thirst. These repetitive actions done by us can over a period of time lead to the second form of Karma known as Sanchit (cumulative) Karma. Over-eating food every day would lead to obesity. These actions could be likened to watering the tree on a daily basis. They are essential and mundane karmas, which we must fulfill for a healthy and living body.
Sanchit Karma or Cumulative Karma – are actions done in the present, which do not bear immediate results because present circumstances are not favorable/favorable not allowing immediate results. Sometimes because of our storehouse of previously enacted good karmas we do not feel any effect of our negative actions in fact we are protected from them. Eventually the good effects wear out and we are forced to pay. Sanchit karmas can be likened to the sowing of the seeds. We have to carefully select the type of tree we wish to grow in our backyard. You cannot expect a cherry tree if you have sown a Mango seed. Bigger trees with juicer fruits take as long as 10 years before they may bear a single fruit.
Prarabdha Karma (Fruit of Karma) – are nothing but Sanchit Karmas which have now fructified as present circumstances allow them to do so. This is essentially the bonus, the lottery or the jackpot. These are the fixed karmas, good or bad, which we have endure with no choice. These also consist of the older karmas possibly from previous lives, which have now fructified to give us positive or negative results. These are the only rigid part of our karmic retribution over which free will can have no effect. The other two Sanchit and Kriyaman Karmas are done in absolute free will. Your intellect follows your Prarabdha i.e. nature makes you take some decisions so that you may follow your destiny. There is a saying, “Vinash Kaale, Vipreet Buddhi” meaning when your bad time is going to come your intellect gets corrupted i.e. you are not able to think the correct thing.
So for example if you are destined to receive a 1,000 crore rupees in this life, you might be sitting in an isolated place without a job, and nature will contrive a situation to make sure that you receive the same. Your present day actions of Sanchit and Kriyaman Karmas can only bear you fruit for the later portion of your life or future lives but whether you are destined to win the lottery in this life is a question which has already been answered at the time of birth. This situation can be likened to watching a movie in a cinema hall. The movie has already been shot and edited. You are simply experiencing it. Your many reactions to the movie will result in the creation of further karma, trapping you further in the quagmire of Karma or then you may simply accept the situation and watch the film as a silent witness because the end cannot really change dramatically.
Why make any effort at all if all is destined?
Purushartha – means new efforts. There have been cases when things can literally fall from the roof but generally speaking the only thing in our hand is to do “Action” – that’s a separate thing altogether that the outcome of the action did not turn out to be as we had imagined or strategized but in the process of doing that action something else unfolds, a new idea that we couldn’t think of before which only revealed itself when we reached a step further thus leading us down the same path in the maze of life. So instead of being stubborn keep flowing constantly, bending constantly, and layer by layer your destiny will unfold itself. It is an amazing process because all you have to do is to simply witness it, quietly, don’t try and control it, or over-think it too much. There are many a pitfalls. The humble reed bends over for the mighty storm whereas the humungous oak tree with all its might get uprooted. Stay small and humble. Purushartha is inversely proportionate to your Prarabdha Karmas. More efforts less destiny will bother you.
Story of the saint and robber – one of my most favorite!
A very wise and enlightened saint was passing through a dense forest when he accidently steps onto a massive thorn which pierces through his flesh almost reaching his bone. He lets out a scream and falls down in a nauseated trance. His foot starts to bleed profusely and he is looking out for help to save himself from this sudden misery. As he calls out for help, a thug is passing by in the same forest. The robber comes to meet the saint thinking of another opportunity to steal from someone who is helpless. On seeing the penniless saint wailing in pain seated on the earth, the robber helps him and then tells him his story. He tells the saint that he has been a local thug in the forest for over 20 years now. He made a lot of petty cash by looting innocent passerbyers and travellers but nothing had prepared him for the bounty that he stumbled upon today. Few hours ago he tripped on a large stone and fell flat on his face. When he tried to look at what made him to fall, he was astonished. He uncovered from the red mud a diamond the size of a parakeet. He was not able to believe the turn destiny had taken for him. He told the saint that now he was going to give us stealing, buy a house and settle down in life.
A few days later after the saint had gotten proper medical attention for his wound, he sat in deep and contemplative meditation. A multitude of thoughts and questions kept propping up in his mind disturbing his normal practice. “God – I have been praying to you since I was six years old. Never have I asked you for anything. Is this the reward I get for my 20 years of strict penance and devotion to you? Do you expect me to continue to pray to you with the same feeling after what has just taken place in my life? That thug has been robbing from innocent people and he stumbles upon a diamond and me, poor little me, after being devoted to you for many lifetimes, I get a thorn that rips apart my body? What justice is this GOD? I need an answer for my questions??” After much questioning and debating, the saint went into a trance like state.
In that state a bright light appears in front of him and speaks, “Oh Holy saint! Do not be disappointed. I maybe late sometimes in my justice but I never fail to make my devotees happy! On this very day because of your Prarabdh Karmas (previous lifes karmas) you were to be hanged until death but because of your strict penance and devotion to me, you were let off by a simple prick of the thorn. The robber on this very day was to be appointed the emperor of the world, but because of his negative actions in many lives, all he received from that was a diamond. So my dearest there is always justice in the end.” His trance like state ends. The saint never again questions god. He is content.
Intention of the doer of the Karma
The most important thing to bear in mind is the intention with which you perform your daily tasks. Are they like chores that need to just be gotten over with? Are you helping someone because of your personal ego or then because you think you may receive something back later from that person? Are you saying things that you do not mean to please people? Etc. To stop your karmic cycle from growing like the ever-expanding aerial roots of the Banyan tree you need to keep the following things in mind:
Actions must be performed without any bias (attachment/likes/dislikes) in mind. Actions must be performed with any ego of the doer. Actions must be performed for the good of society at large. (largest common good) Actions must be performed selflessly with devotion unto God. (Niskam Karma or desireless actions)
When is it ok to lie?
There is a concept of “Dharma Jhooth” or “lies of righteousness” in the texts. This is the biggest oxymoron but holds some truth. If by telling lies to someone you can change or save his/her life then in certain circumstances it is ok to lie. For example if someone were standing on the edge of tall building and about to jump down and you had to lie to him to convince him not to jump down, then it is ok to lie.
A very easy example to understand the laws of Karma is a barrel full of poor quality grain with an opening at its bottom end. If we keep pouring in good quality grain from the top we will still continue to receive the low quality grain when the tap is opened. This will frustrate us to the point that we might loose faith and stop doing good but if we are able to keep the faith and continue to pour the good quality grain from the top, eventually the lower quality grain will finish and we will be able to finally have the best grains for ourselves.
Modern science is discovering that species including humans are able to change their genetic make up over a period of time. Then destiny doesn’t seem to be that big a thing. It’s all in mind. Mind over matter as the famous saying goes. My granddad once told me that even if we have an abundance of good karmas then too we are not free from this cycle of birth and death. We will have to take birth to exhaust them. So even while doing good be alert, be careful, be humble