In the previous chapter, Shree Krishna explained that by transcending the three modes of material nature one attains the divine goal. He also revealed that the best means for going beyond the guṇas is to engage in exclusive devotion. To engage in such devotion, we must detach the mind from the world and attach it to God alone. Thus, it is necessary to understand the nature of the world. In this chapter, Shree Krishna explains this material world in a graphic manner, to help Arjun develop detachment from it. He compares the material world to an upside down aśhvatth tree (sacred fig). The embodied soul wanders up and down the branches of the tree, from lifetime to lifetime, without comprehending from where it originated, how long it has existed, and how it keeps growing. The roots of the tree are above, as it has its source in God. The fruitive activities described in the Vedas are like its leaves. The tree is irrigated by the three modes of material nature. These modes create sense objects that are like the buds on the tree. The buds sprout aerial roots that engender further growth of the tree. The chapter describes this symbolism in detail, to convey the idea of how the embodied soul suffering in this material world only keeps perpetuating its bondage here, in ignorance of the nature of this tree of material existence. Shree Krishna explains that the axe of detachment must be used to cut down the tree. Then, we must search for the base of the tree, which is the Supreme Lord himself. Finding the source, we must surrender to him in the manner described in this chapter, and then will attain the divine abode of God, from where we will not return to the material world again.
Shree Krishna then describes how the souls in this world are divine, being his eternal fragmental parts. But bound by material nature, they are struggling with the six senses including the mind. He explains how the embodied soul, though divine, savors the material objects of the senses. He also describes how the soul transmigrates to a new body at the time of death, carrying with it the mind and senses from the present life. The ignorant neither realize the presence of the soul in the body, nor when it departs from it upon death. But yogis perceive it with the eyes of knowledge and by the purity of their mind. In the same way, God is also present in his creation, but he needs to be perceived with the eyes of knowledge. Shree Krishna reveals how we can cognize the existence of God in this world through his glories that shine forth everywhere. The chapter ends with explanations of the terms: kṣhar, akṣhar, and Puruṣhottam. Kṣhar are the perishable beings of the material realm. Akṣhar are the liberated beings in the abode of God. Puruṣhottam is the Supreme Divine Personality, who is the unchanging controller and sustainer of the world. He is transcendental to both the perishable and imperishable beings. He must be worshipped with all our being.
The Supreme Divine Personality said: They speak of an eternal aśhvatth tree with its roots above and branches below. Its leaves are the Vedic hymns, and one who knows the secret of this tree is the knower of the Vedas.
The branches of the tree extend upward and downward, nourished by the three guṇas, with the objects of the senses as tender buds. The roots of the tree hang downward, causing the flow of karma in the human form. Below, its roots branch out causing (karmic) actions in the world of humans.
The real form of this tree is not perceived in this world, neither its beginning nor end, nor its continued existence. But this deep-rooted aśhvatth tree must be cut down with a strong axe of detachment. Then one must search out the base of the tree, which is the Supreme Lord, from whom streamed forth the activity of the universe a long time ago. Upon taking refuge in him, one will not return to this world again.
Those who are free from vanity and delusion, who have overcome the evil of attachment, who dwell constantly in the self and God, who are freed from the desire to enjoy the senses, and are beyond the dualities of pleasure and pain, such liberated personalities attain my eternal abode.
Neither the sun nor the moon, nor fire can illumine that supreme abode of mine. Having gone there, one does not return to this material world again.
The embodied souls in this material world are my eternal fragmental parts. But bound by material nature, they are struggling with the six senses including the mind.
As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carry the mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.
Using the sense perceptions of the ears, eyes, skin, tongue, and nose, which are grouped around the mind, the embodied soul savors the objects of the senses.
The ignorant do not perceive the soul as it resides in the body, and as it enjoys sense objects; nor do they perceive it when it departs. But those who possess the eyes of knowledge can behold it.
Striving yogis too are able to realize the soul enshrined in the body. However, those whose minds are not purified cannot cognize it, even though they strive to do so.
Know that I am like the brilliance of the sun that illuminates the entire solar system. The radiance of the moon and the brightness of the fire also come from me.
Permeating the earth, I nourish all living beings with my energy. Becoming the moon, I nourish all plants with the juice of life.
It is I who take the form of the fire of digestion in the stomachs of all living beings, and combine with the incoming and outgoing breaths, to digest and assimilate the four kinds of foods.
I am seated in the hearts of all living beings, and from me come memory, knowledge, as well as forgetfulness. I alone am to be known by all the Vedas, am the author of the Vedānt, and the knower of the meaning of the Vedas.
There are two kinds of beings in creation, the kṣhar (perishable) and the akṣhar (imperishable). The perishable are all beings in the material realm. The imperishable are the the liberated beings.
Besides these, is the Supreme Divine Personality, who is the indestructible Supreme Soul. He enters the three worlds as the unchanging controller and supports all living beings.
I am transcendental to the perishable world of matter, and even to the imperishable soul; hence I am celebrated, both in the Vedas and the Smṛitis, as the Supreme Divine Personality.
Those who know me without doubt as the Supreme Divine Personality truly have complete knowledge. O Arjun, they worship me with their whole being.
I have shared this most secret principle of the Vedic scriptures with you, O sinless Arjun. By understanding this, a person becomes enlightened, and fulfills all that is to be accomplished.