Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 15, Verse 3-4

न रूपमस्येह तथोपलभ्यते
नान्तो न चादिर्न च सम्प्रतिष्ठा |
अश्वत्थमेनं सुविरूढमूल
मसङ्गशस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्वा || 3||
तत: पदं तत्परिमार्गितव्यं
यस्मिन्गता न निवर्तन्ति भूय: |
तमेव चाद्यं पुरुषं प्रपद्ये
यत: प्रवृत्ति: प्रसृता पुराणी || 4||

na rūpam asyeha tathopalabhyate
nānto na chādir na cha sampratiṣhṭhā
aśhvattham enaṁ su-virūḍha-mūlam
asaṅga-śhastreṇa dṛiḍhena chhittvā
tataḥ padaṁ tat parimārgitavyaṁ
yasmin gatā na nivartanti bhūyaḥ
tam eva chādyaṁ puruṣhaṁ prapadye
yataḥ pravṛittiḥ prasṛitā purāṇī

nanot; rūpamform; asyaof this; ihain this world; tathāas such; upalabhyateis perceived; naneither; antaḥend; nanor; chaalso; ādiḥbeginning; nanever; chaalso; sampratiṣhṭhāthe basis; aśhvatthamsacred fig tree; enamthis; su-virūḍha-mūlamdeep-rooted; asaṅga-śhastreṇaby the axe of detachment; dṛiḍhenastrong; chhittvāhaving cut down; tataḥthen; padamplace; tatthat; parimārgitavyamone must search out; yasminwhere; gatāḥhaving gone; nanot; nivartantireturn; bhūyaḥagain; tamto him; evacertainly; chaand; ādyamoriginal; puruṣhamthe Supreme Lord; prapadyetake refuge; yataḥwhence; pravṛittiḥthe activity; prasṛitāstreamed forth; purāṇivery old


BG 15.3-4: 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.


The embodied souls immersed in samsara, or the perpetual cycle of life and death, are unable to comprehend the nature of this aśhvatth tree.  They find the buds of the tree to be very attractive, i.e. they are lured by the objects of the senses and develop desires for them. To fulfill these desires, they undertake great endeavors without realizing that their efforts only nourish the tree to grow even further.  When desires are satiated, they come back with redoubled intensity in the form of greed.  When they are obstructed, they give rise to anger, which bewilders the intellect and deepens the ignorance. 

Shree Krishna explains that this riddle of the aśhvatth tree is understood only by a few.   All that the soul understands is “I am Ramprasad, son of Hariprasad, etc.  I am living in this town of this country.  I want to maximize my happiness.  So I act according to my bodily identification, but happiness eludes me and I become confused.”  Not comprehending the origin and nature of the tree, the living being engages in worthless actions and endeavors.  To satiate one’s materialistic desires, a human being sometimes commits sins and goes downward into the lower species and the nether regions of the material world.  Sometimes, the propensity for material enjoyment attracts one to the leaves of the tree, which are the ritualistic ceremonies of the Vedas.  By engaging in these activities, one goes upward to the celestial abodes, only to come back again when the pious merits are depleted.  Thus, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said:

kṛiṣhṇa bhuli ’sei jīva anādi-bahirmukha

ataeva māyā tāre deya samsāra-duḥkha

kabhu swarge uṭhāya, kabhu narake ḍubāya

daṇḍya-jane rājā yena nadīte chubāya

(Chaitanya Charitāmṛit, Madhya Leela 20.117-118)

“Since the soul is forgetful of God since eternity, the material energy is subjecting it to worldly miseries.  Sometimes, it lifts the soul to the celestial abodes, and other times it drops it down to the hellish regions.  This is akin to the torture meted by kings in olden times.”  As a form of torture, ancient kings would have a person’s head ducked into the water until he was close to suffocation, and then release him for a few gasps, only to duck him in again.  The situation of the soul is similar to this.  It finds temporary relief in the celestial abodes, only to be dropped back on earth again. 

In this manner, endless lifetimes have passed.  All the endeavors of the soul for material enjoyment are only resulting in expanding the tree further by sending more roots to the ground.  However, Shree Krishna says that the axe to cut this tree is dispassion.  The word asaṅg means detachment, and it is the remedy for the soul’s endless miseries.  The desires fuelled by the three modes of material nature will have to be destroyed by the axe of detachment.  This axe should be made from knowledge of the self: “I am an eternal spiritual being, and not this material body.  The eternal divine bliss that I seek will never be attained from material things.  The material desires that I harbor while thinking that I am the body only perpetuate my existence in the samsara of life and death.  There is no satiation or respite in this direction.”  When one develops detachment, further growth of the tree stops and it starts withering. 

We must then search for the base of this tree, which is situated above the roots and is higher than everything else.  That base is the Supreme Lord, as Shree Krishna previously stated:  “I am the source of both the material and spiritual creation.  Everything emanates from Me.  The wise who know this perfectly worship Me with great faith and devotion.”  (Verse 10.8)  Thus, finding the original source of the tree, we must surrender to it in the manner described in this verse:  “I submit unto Him from whom the universe came into being a long time ago.” 

In this manner, the tree that was previously unfathomable and difficult to comprehend can be overcome.  Shree Krishna had also previously stated: “My divine energy, Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome.  But those who surrender unto Me cross over it easily.”  (Verse 7.14)  Hence, on taking refuge of the Supreme Lord, the aśhvatth tree will be cut down.  We will not have to return to this world again, and will go to His divine Abode after death.  Shree Krishna discloses in the following verse what the process of surrender entails.