Shree Krishna had enlightened Arjun in the previous chapter that by transcending the effects of the three gunas (modes of material nature), one can achieve the divine goal. He also declared that engaging in exclusive devotion is the best means of transcending beyond these gunas. Such devotion is practiced by detaching the mind from the world and attaching it to God alone. Therefore, it is essential to understand both. He has already explained the nature of God in the previous chapters. In this chapter, He explains the material world graphically—so that Arjun can understand its nature and develop detachment from it.
Shree Krishna compares the material world to an upside-down aśhvatth (sacred fig) tree. On the branches of this mysterious tree, the embodied souls wander up and down, from lifetime after lifetime. They are unable to comprehend its origin, age, expanse, or how it continues to grow. However, as God is the source of this tree, its roots face upwards toward the sky. Its leaves are the fruitive activities defined in the Vedas. The three gunas irrigate this tree, which creates the objects of the senses that are like buds on the tree branches. These buds sprout aerial roots that further propagate this aśhvatth tree over a large area.
By describing in detail this symbolism of the upside-down aśhvatth (sacred fig) tree, this chapter conveys the concept of how in ignorance of this tree of material existence, the embodied souls keep growing their bondage in the material world. Shree Krishna declares that if we are searching for the Supreme Lord, then we must first cut this tree of material existence with the axe of detachment. Then we must look for its base because the Supreme Lord Himself is the source of the material world as well. Once we find the source and surrender to Him as advised in this chapter, we will reach the Abode of God forever and never return to this material world.
Shree Krishna then explains that, as the souls are also His eternal fragments, they too are divine. However, they are under the influence of material nature, thus, struggle with their six senses, including the mind. The embodied soul, ignorant of its divine nature, savors the material objects of the senses. He then describes the transmigration of the soul to a new body at the time of death and how it carries with it the mind and senses; from the present and previous lives. The ignorant can neither perceive the presence of the soul in the body when alive nor its departure upon death. However, the yogis see this process clearly with the eyes of knowledge and purity of their minds. Similarly, God is everywhere in His creation; one needs to use the eyes of knowledge to realize His presence.
Lord Krishna reveals that, by recognizing the glories of God that shine forth all around us in this world, we can realize His existence. At the end of this chapter, He explains the terms: kshar, akshar, and Purushottam. Kshar are the perishable beings residing in the material world. The liberated beings who live in the Abode of God are called akshar. The Supreme Divine Personality, who is the eternal source, sustainer, and regulator of the entire world, is called Purushottam or God. He is transcendental to both imperishable and perishable beings. Therefore, we must worship God with complete surrender.
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 on the self and on God, who are free 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 Vedant, 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.