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lakshmi-nrsimha-karAvalamba-stOtram-18

From: sudarshan madabushi (sudarshanm_at_hotmail.com)
Date: Sun Jun 13 1999 - 13:33:53 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

The 8th verse of the "lakshmi-nrsimha-karAvalamba-stOtram" contains the 
following lines:

"samsAra-vruksha-maGhabeejam-anantha-karma shAKhAshatam…karaNa-patram 
anangapushpam..
       Aruh~ya dukhapalinam patha-taha…".

"An endless Fall's indeed my fate
>From the Tree of Life with sin as its seed
With greed its boughs and lust as leaves
With love as flower and woe its fruit."

In this verse Sankara bhagavathpAdA deals with yet another primal fear of 
Man, the Fear of Delusion portrayed through the imagery of a precipitous 
fall from an archetypal "vruksha" … the "Tree of Life"…held up to us as a 
symbol of this life and world… this "samsAra".

Every great poet in the world has been known to lace his verse sometimes 
with elements of autobiography. To my mind, this particular verse of Sri 
Sankara bhagavathpAdA, besides dealing with the theme of Man's primeval Fear 
of Delusion, also affords us a veiled glimpse into the history of his times 
and life-experiences…. But we are anticipating too far ahead…

Let us, for a moment, first examine Sankara's metaphor, "samsAra-vruksha", 
before we proceed to ponder about parts of his biography that are relevant 
to the appreciation of this extraordinary stanza in the LNKS.

*********      ************      ************

The world as "samsAra-vruksha"… a great and awesome Tree… is a widespread 
motif in the myth, legends, folktales and languages of many peoples, 
religions and cultures of the world. It is known as the "World Tree" or the 
"Cosmic Tree". One has to recall but a few examples to realise how popular 
is the notion of the Tree in the universal imagination of Man:

· In the hagiography of Srivaishnavism there is the well known account of 
how at Tirukkurugur in South India, our most venerable "AchArya", Saint 
NammAlwAr, for the good part of about two decades, remained residing inside 
the hollow of a tree, and absorbed completely in transcendental 
contemplation ("bhagavath-dhyAna"). Pilgrims to Alwar-tirunagari, to this 
day, go and worship the remnants of that old, desiccated tree.
· In the 'MundakOpanishad', in one of the finest passages of Vedantic 
allegory, there is a famous philosophical dialogue between two birds perched 
atop a branch of the pipal tree. (It is a wonder of suggestive nomenclature, 
indeed, that the botanical name given to this tree is "ficus religiosa"!)
· The banana-tree and the leafstalk of the mango tree, as we all know, are 
the auspicious insignia of all Vedic rites.
· From the Semitic traditions of the Mediterranean lands arose the 
significance of the twig-leaf of the olive tree as a universal symbol of 
peace and human brotherhood.
· The Buddha was known to have attained Enlightenment one day as he sat 
meditating under a 'pipal' or 'bodhi' tree in the city of Bodhgaya in Bihar, 
India.
· There is the biblical account of Adam and Eve, Man's first ancestors in 
the Christian religion, tasting the 'forbidden fruit' from the 'Tree of 
Knowledge' and consequently falling from a state of grace to one of sin.
· Trees are regarded as objects of ritual and oracle in certain Celtic cults 
even to this day.
· There is the ever enchanting fairy-tale of the Western world (which little 
children everywhere around the globe seem to enjoy very much) of "Jack and 
the Beanstalk". It is all about a giant beanstalk growing out from earthly 
soil and reaching through the skies into a magical empire high up somewhere!

The 'Encyclopaedia Britannica (1994 edition)' has the following interesting 
entry for "samsAra-vruksha", 'World Tree', and we must make particular note 
of it:

"The World Tree is the centre of the world. In the folktales and myths of 
Asia, Australia and North America, it is the symbol by means of which people 
understand the human and profane condition in relation to the sacred and 
divine realm.

"Two main forms are known and both employ the notion of the World Tree as 
centre. In the one, the tree is the vertical centre binding together heaven 
and earth; in the other, the tree is the source of life at the horizontal 
centre of the earth. Adopting biblical terminology, the former may be called 
the "Tree of Knowledge"; the latter, the "Tree of Life".

"In the vertical "Tree-of-Knowledge" tradition, the tree extends between 
earth and heaven. It is the vital connection between the world of gods and 
the human world. Oracles and judgements or other prophetic activities are 
performed at its base.

"In the horizontal "Tree-of-Life" tradition, the tree is planted at the 
centre of world and is protected by supernatural guardians. It is the source 
of terrestrial fertility and life. Human life is descended from it; its 
fruit confers everlasting life; and if it were cut down, all fecundity would 
cease. The "tree of life" occurs most commonly in quest romances in which 
the hero seeks the Tree and must overcome a variety of obstacles on his 
way."

         *********       ************             *************

When you read the 8th Verse of the LNKS and reflect carefully even upon its 
literal, if not substantive, meaning, you gather that the poetic idea of a 
'World Tree', a "samsAra-vruksha", is being employed in the 'stOtra' in the 
special sense of both 'traditions' mentioned by the Britannica entry.

Sankara bhagavatpAdA was referring to a world in the mould of the "Tree of 
Knowledge" tradition: a great, big tree "extending between earth and heaven… 
the vital connection between the world of gods and the human world"… and the 
seat of oracles, judgements and lofty prophecies. He was also referring to 
the world in terms of it being a great "Tree of Life" … the "source of 
terrestrial fertility and life… protected by supernatural guardians".

Now, if you have noticed, there is something extraordinarily significant 
about the way the Britannica entry describes the World Tree, the 
"samsAra-vruksha". It uses certain expressions of rare insight and they must 
be emphasised and carefully noted by us: The "samsAra-vruksha", it is said, 
is (1) "the VITAL CONNECTION BETWEEN THE WORLD OF GODS AND THE HUMAN WORLD". 
It is also (2) the "SOURCE OF TERRESTRIAL FERTILITY AND LIFE… PROTECTED BY 
SUPERNATURAL GUARDIANS".

The key to truly understanding the real message of the 8th verse of the LNKS 
lies in grasping what Sankara bhagavathpAda meant by the expression 
"samsAra-vruksha" and Man's steep Fall from it.

And the clue to understanding "samsAra-vruksha" lies in probing what is 
meant in saying that the Tree of Knowledge or Life is the "VITAL CONNECTION 
BETWEEN THE WORLD OF GODS AND THE HUMAN WORLD" and that it is also the 
"SOURCE OF TERRESTRIAL FERTILITY AND LIFE… PROTECTED BY SUPERNATURAL 
GUARDIANS".

Let's do the probing in the next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,
Sudarshan



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