“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil there is one striking at the root.” — Henry David Thoreau
In the fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the material world is compared to an upside-down tree. It’s upside-down because it is like a reflection of the spiritual world. The reflection of a tree in a lake is real, in the sense that the reflection really exists. However, that reflection is only real because of its connection with the real tree.
In the same way, the material world is real because it’s a real place in which we are all experiencing life. At the same time, it is only real because of its connection with its animating force — spirit. Think about the difference between a corpse and a person… A living body is animated by the soul, while a corpse is a body that has become devoid of a personal, living force. In this way, it is self-evident that a higher energy (spirit) animates and gives life to the lower energy (matter).
These conceptions are relevant to everyone, because something we all share is a desire to not experience dis-ease, whether it is physical, mental, or spiritual (existential).
As one of the great saints in the bhakti yoga tradition said, “Every human being is knowingly or unknowingly struggling to eliminate the dualities which interfere with direct experience of eternity.” — Bhaktisiddhana Saraswati
To give another reference, the ancient scripture Vedānta-sūtra (1.1.12) declares, “ānanda-mayo ‘bhyāsāt” — we are full of happiness by nature. This is why we’re constantly struggling to avoid experiencing dis-ease, because it’s our inherent nature. But as eternal spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting bio-mechanical human bodies it might seem inconceivable to even think of having “direct experience of eternity.”
So how is it that we lose touch with the real tree of existence?
“Bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt.” The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam answers by saying that existential bewilderment and loss of spiritual equilibrium takes place when we become too rooted to material conditions.
Then, how is it that we reconnect with our nature and overcome dis-ease?
In light of Thoreau’s conceptual illustration, we are all like gardeners in this world. If we want to be fulfilled, it’s essential that instead of just hacking away at the leaves of weeds (suffering), we become proactive in strategically uprooting the actual weeds (the causes of suffering).
The Bhagavad Gita (15.3) describes the most effective weapon to use in order to cut down our strongly rooted weeds — the weapon of detachment.
The process of yoga (spiritual connection) is to learn to live in the world and interact with it without becoming entangled or perplexed by it.
Becoming overly rooted to and identified with temporary material conditions is akin to overly focusing on symptoms of an imbalance in our physical health and failing to also consider the underlying causes of these symptoms. For medicine to truly be holistic there has to not only be a focus on suppressing symptoms, but also on identifying and addressing the root cause of those symptoms. Otherwise, it’s like we’re just touching up the paint on an old damaged house instead of also re-fortifying its foundations.
The beautiful thing is that to become detached from material problems and frustrations does not mean to become cold, aloof, or apathetic. In other words, it doesn’t mean we just ignore or bypass the symptoms of our suffering of the suffering of others.
To employ the weapon of detachment actually means to become ATTACHED to spiritual solutions. By so doing we can actually become more present, holistic, and authentic in our interactions with the world and the people in it. Essentially, we don’t actually focus so much on uprooting material weeds as we do planting spiritual seeds. By planting spiritual seeds, strong spiritual roots (Divine love, inner satisfaction, selfless service, etc.) will grow and they will naturally overtake and uproot the material weeds (misconceptions, selfishness, perverted desires, etc.) that hold us back from actualizing our full potential.
I’m feeling particularly inspired by a book by Stephen Covey I recently started called “Spiritual Roots of Human Relations.” Therein, he mentions five roots to focus on nourishing in order to spiritualize one’s life and relationships. These 5 roots very much relate to and complement the Bhagavad Gita’s injunction of cultivating material detachment (through spiritual attachment).
The following are five seeds to plant and nourish in the garden of one’s life and heart in order to spiritualize our material experience:
- Vision: Maintaining a broad perspective through understanding that we are eternal spiritual beings (part and parcel of God) and trusting that all problems and challenges are part of a benevolent, Divine plan to purify and teach us valuable lessons. Essentially, accepting that our material plights offer us cosmic sensitivity training to refine our consciousness and foster spiritual alignment.
- Commitment: Making firm commitments to move towards greater harmony with that spiritual vision.
- Understanding and Example: Staying mindful of the fact that the quality with which we lead our own lives and the depth with which we seek to understand and empathize with others are the two foundations of our success in relationships.
- Communication: Making a point to daily take time to consciously communicate with God through prayer/meditation because this is what empowers us to be able to fully show up to and communicate consciously and beneficially in all of our other relationships.
- Self-Discipline: Building integrity, purity, and spiritual self-esteem through maintaining our commitments and goals that we continually set to gradually align us closer and closer to spiritual ideals.
To continually refine our existential gardening abilities and do everything we can to help and inspire others to do the same is the best investment we can make in life. I’m praying I can follow in the footsteps of the incredible teachers in my life who exemplify this process.
If you have any reflections or thoughts on any of these ideas or points I would love to hear them.
Aspiring in your service,