(Aśvattha) The name of the pipal (i.e., fig) tree (ficus religiosa) or Tree of Knowledge. The Sanskrit word is derived from a corruption of asva (horse) + stha (stand), i.e., “under which horses stand.” The tree is described as having its roots in heaven and its crown or branches below. The branches symbolize the visible universe and the roots the spiritual realm. The roots represent the manifested Logos, which descends into grosser materiality as symbolized by its branches and leaves. Because a horse is often used to represent the physical body symbolically, the derivation of the word is significant, since the body stands at the very bottom of this cosmic “tree.” However, it also symbolically represents the human body’s nervous system with its “roots” in the brain and its “branches” throughout the body, following the occult principle of analogy (“As above, so below”). One must “climb” this tree to be able to liberate oneself and go beyond even the roots — beyond the manifested Logos.
Helena P. BLAVATSKY says that this symbol is similar to that of the caduceus, where the two serpents grow from the wings of Hansa or Swan, downward through the rod until the two tails join the earth, which is illusion (SD I:549).
The Katha Upanishad speaks of this tree as “ancient” and identifies it with Brahman, adding, “All worlds are contained in it and no one goes beyond.” The same symbolism is found in other mythologies, such as the tree called Yggdrasil in Norse mythology. In the History of Ottoman Poetry (E. J. W. Gibb, Vol. I, p. 37), one also encounters “the wonderful tree called the Tuba or ‘Beatitude,’ the roots of which are in the region of the Loti tree above the highest Paradise, sending its branches down into all the eight gardens.”
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