Chapter 8 — Allegory of the Spreading Tree of Ignorance

Vasishta continued:—

Rama, listen to me explain how this poisonous tree of ignorance has come to grow in this forest of the world and be situated by the side of consciousness, and how and when it came to blossom and bloom.

This plant encompasses all the three worlds and has all of creation for its rind and mountains for its joints It is filled with its leaves, roots, flowers and fruit by the continuous births, lives, pleasures, pains, knowledge and errors of mankind. Prosperity gives rise to our ignorance of desiring to be more prosperous in this or our next lives, which produce future welfare also. So adversity leads us to greater error of practicing many bad deeds to get rid of it, but which on the contrary expose us to greater misfortunes. 5 One birth gives rise to another and that leads to others without end. Hence it is foolish to wish to be reborn again.

Ignorance produces greater ignorance and brings on unconsciousness as its effect. So knowledge leads to higher knowledge and produces self-consciousness as its result. The creeping vine of ignorance has passion for its leaves and desires for its fragrance. It is continually shaking and shuffling the leafy garment on its body. Sometimes this plant grows in the way of the elephant of reason. Then it shakes with fear and the dust that covers its body is blown away by the breath of the elephant’s trunk. Yet the vine continues to creep on byways according to its accustomed habit.

Days are its blossoms and nights are the swarms of black bees that cast shadows over its flowers. The continuous shaking of its boughs throws down the dust of living bodies from it, both by day and night. 10 It is overgrown with its leaves of relatives and overloaded with the shooting buds of its children. It bears the blossoms of all seasons and yields the fruits of all kinds of flowers. 11 All its joints are full of the reptiles of diseases and its stem is perforated by the seabirds of destruction, yet it yields the luscious juice of delight to those who are deprived of their reason and good sense.

12 Its flowers are the radiant planets that shine with the sun and moon every day in the sky. Space is the medium of their light and rapid winds are vehicles that bear their rays to us like odors. 12a Ignorance blossoms every day in the clusters of bright planetary bodies that shine with the sun and moon by day and night. Winds playing in the air bear their light to us like perfume. 12b Ignorance blossoms in clusters of stars and planets shining about the sun and moon every day, and breathes in the breezes blowing at random amidst the empty firmament. 13 O son of Raghu’s race, the innumerable stars that you see scattered in the dome of heaven are the blooming blossoms of this tree of ignorance.

14 The beams of the sun and moon and the flames of fire that are scattered about us like the crimson dust of flowers resemble red paint on the fair body of ignorance with which this delusive lady attracts our minds to her. 15 The wild elephant of the mind ranges at large under the tree of ignorance, and the birds of our desires are continually hovering and warbling upon it, while the serpents of sensual desires are infesting its stem and greed settles like a huge snake at the root. 16 It stretches its head to the blue dome of the sky, forming a canopy over it like black tamara trees. The earth supports its trunk and the sky covers its top, making it a garden of the universe. 17 It is deeply rooted underneath the ground and is watered with milk and curds in the canals of the milky and other oceans dug around its trunk.

18 The rituals of the three Vedas flutter like bees over the tree blooming with the blossoms of beautiful women and shaking with the turnings of the mind while it is corroded inside by sore-making worms of cares and actions. 19 The tree of ignorance, blossoming like the flowers of the garden of paradise, exhales the sweet odors of pleasure around. The serpent of vice twining round it perpetually leads living souls to evil deeds to support their lives.

20 It blooms with various flowers to attract the hearts of wise. It is filled with various fruits distilling their sweets all around. 21 With water about, it invites the birds of the air to drink. Being smeared with the dust of its flowers, it appears to stand like a rock of red earth or granite. 22 It shoots out with buds of mistakes and is beset by the briars of error. It grows luxuriant in hilly districts with the exuberance of its leafy branches.

23 It grows and dies and grows again, and being cut down it springs out again. So there is no end of it. 24 Though past and gone, yet it is present before us. Though it is all hollow within, it appears as thick and sound to sight. It is an ever fading and an evergreen tree. The more it is lopped and cropped, the more it grows and expands itself.

25 It is a poisonous tree whose very touch benumbs the senses in a moment. But being pressed down by reasoning, it dies away in an instant. 26 All distinctions of different objects are dissolved in the crucible of the reasoning mind. But they remain undissolved in their crude forms in the minds of the ignorant, who are employed in differentiating the various natures of men and brutes, and of land and sea animals. 27 They distinguish one world as the nether world and the other as the upper sky. They make distinctions between the solar and lunar planets, and the fixed starry bodies. 28 Here there is light and there is darkness on the other side. This is empty space and that is the solid ground. These are the scriptures and those are the Vedas. All such distinctions are unknown to the wise.

29 The same spirit flies upward in the bodies of birds or remains above in the form of gods. The same spirit remains fixed in the forms of fixed rocks or moves in continuous motion with flying winds. 30 Sometimes it resides in the infernal regions, and at others it dwells in the heavens above. Sometimes it is exalted to the dignity of gods, and somewhere it remains in the state of mean insects and worms. 31 In one place it appears as glorious as the god Vishnu, and in another it shows itself in the forms of Brahma and Shiva. Now it shines in the sun and then it brightens in the moon. Here it blows in winds, and there it sways in the all-subduing Yama.

32 Whatever appears as great and glorious and all that is seen as mean and ignoble in their form, from the biggest and bright sun down to the most contemptible grass and straw, are all pervaded by the Universal Spirit. Ignorance dwells upon the external forms, but knowledge that looks into the inner soul sees the reality.