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Conversation held on Thursday May 3rd 208 at 12 EST 

“Cut down this Asvattha so thoroughly rooted with the hardened axe of disinterest. ”  (Chapter 15,  lines 1-5)

Summary of Chapters 14 and 15 

Krishna elaborates the idea presented in the previous chapter, which says that everything rides on knowing the distinction between the “field” and “guide”, involving the Shamkyan conception of three gunas, Prakriti and Parusa.

In the beginning of Chapter 15, with respect to the conception of reality in terms of the gunas, Prakriti and Parusa, Krishna makes use of analogy of an Asvattha tree (Ficus Religiosus). The aerial roots extending down to the earth from above are the gunas reaching into the world of men, binding men to karman and rebirth. Devotion to Krishna is cutting down the tree of the gunas with the “hardened axe of disinterest”.

Opening Question

How do we understand the image of the Asvattha tree with respect to both the gunas and the act of “cutting it down”?

Observations 

The Asvattha tree is a reference to a certain kind of tree found in India and other regions that have aerial roots, extending to the earth from the high branches.  Here in the text, the image of the tree indicates how deeply entwined human life and action is in the action of the three gunas.

We discussed a little the mindset that someone who is a highly skilled artisan of any sort – a gardener to name only one example. Where do we see interest and disinterest coming into play here? Om the one hand, a good gardener becomes absorbed in the work at hand, paying attention to what the work needs, and not what the gardener needs. She will take all the time the work needs to do a beautiful job.  In this sense, the gardener is disinterested.

On the other hand, to a gardener, a lump of clay and a lump of gold are not equal. (Chapter 14 line 25)  The kind of soil, the kind of plants, the sort of mulch and stones used, relative amounts o sun and shade make all the difference. Someone described this attention as ‘concentrated interest’, instead of disinterest.  

Given the nature of the gunas as presented in Chapter 13, it might seem reasonable to approach the Tree – not with an axe of disinterest, cutting it down, but with a ‘pruning knife of concentrated interest’, selecting only the sattva guna and guiding the Tree’s growth away from the other two, finding a better balance that holds between all three.

The force of Chapters 15 (after elaborating the gunas more precisely in Chapter 14) seems to reside in the possibility that there is something beyond the conceptions of the gunas – of sattva, rajas, and tamas, that beyond the light-and-dark, graces and sufferings, of the world of man – and even beyond the ‘Two Persons’ – Prakriti and Parusa. And that something beyond all – even the gods, as was claimed in earlier chapters – is Krishna.

We returned to the question of what sort of knowing is involved in devotion to Krishna, having decided that it is not necessarily intellectual knowing, the operation of the “bodhi”; and something in conception higher than study (Chapter 13 line 11 page 123). But even here, contemplation is higher than knowledge, the relinquishment of fruits surpasses contemplation, and “upon resignation follows serenity.”

Is a sort of knowing that is innate to human beings, that knows as it were from the inside?  Whether or how that knowing appears in the body or the mind is hard to say. The very possibility of “disinterest”, in the many ordinary ways it might be experienced in life, at least points to the possibility that that there is some part of us that transcends the relentless pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, as well as  desire, anger and greed.        

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