na rūpam asyeha tathopalabhyate
nānto na cādir na ca sampratiṣṭhā
aśvattham enaḿ su-virūḍha-mūlam
asańga-śastreṇa dṛḍhena chittvā

tataḥ padaḿ tat parimārgitavyaḿ
yasmin gatā na nivartanti bhūyaḥ
tam eva cādyaḿ puruṣaḿ prapadye
yataḥ pravṛttiḥ prasṛtā purāṇī

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 15.3-4

The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment. Thereafter, one must seek that place from which, having gone, one never returns, and there surrender to that Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything began and from whom everything has extended since time immemorial.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

It is now clearly stated that the real form of this banyan tree cannot be understood in this material world. Since the root is upwards, the extension of the real tree is at the other end. When entangled with the material expansions of the tree, one cannot see how far the tree extends, nor can one see the beginning of this tree. Yet one has to find out the cause. “I am the son of my father, my father is the son of such-and-such a person, etc.” By searching in this way, one comes to Brahma, who is generated by the Garbhodakashayi Vishnu. Finally, in this way, when one reaches the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that is the end of research work. One has to search out that origin of this tree, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through the association of persons who are in knowledge of that Supreme Personality of Godhead. Then by understanding one becomes gradually detached from this false reflection of reality, and by knowledge one can cut off the connection and actually become situated in the real tree.

The word asanga is very important in this connection because the attachment for sense enjoyment and lording it over the material nature is very strong. Therefore one must learn detachment by discussion of spiritual science based on authoritative scriptures, and one must hear from persons who are actually in knowledge. As a result of such discussion in the association of devotees, one comes to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Then the first thing one must do is surrender to Him. The description of that place whence having gone one never returns to this false reflected tree is given here. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is the original root from whom everything has emanated. To gain favor of that Personality of Godhead, one has only to surrender, and this is a result of performing devotional service by hearing, chanting, etc. He is the cause of the extension of the material world. This has already been explained by the Lord Himself. Aham sarvasya prabhavah: “I am the origin of everything.” Therefore to get out of the entanglement of this strong banyan tree of material life, one must surrender to Krishna. As soon as one surrenders unto Krishna, one becomes detached automatically from this material extension.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Moreover, the real form of the tree cannot be perceived in the world of men. This is because of the great variety of opinions such as “The world is real. The world is false. The world is eternal.” It has no end, no termination (na antah), and because it is unlimited, it has no beginning as well. Because it has no beginning, it has no shelter (sampratistha), or support. One cannot understand what it is, because of lack of real knowledge. In any case, knowing that detachment is the weapon to cut down the tree, which is the only cause of the suffering of all jivas, cutting down the tree with that detachment, one should look for the treasure situated at the base of the root.

The word asangah here means detachment, or complete renunciation. Having cut it down with the axe (sastrena) of complete detachment, separating it from oneself, one should then search (parimargitavyam) for the object (tat padam), brahman, the great treasure, existing at the root. What type of thing is that? One should look for that object which having attained (yasmin gatah), one does not return. He then explains the method of searching. I worship (prapadye) that original person from whom the long standing (purani) action of samsara (pravrttih) has spread out: one should search by the process of bhakti.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

15.3 – 15.4 The form of this tree, having its origin above, i.e., in the four-faced Brahma and branches below in the sense that man forms the crest through continual lineage therefrom, and also having its branches extended above and below by actions done in the human state and forming secondary roots — that form of the tree is not understood by people immersed in Samsara. Only this much is perceived: ‘I am a man, the son of Devadatta, the father of Yajnadatta; I have property appropriate to these conditions’. Likewise, it is not understood that its destruction can be brought about by detachment from enjoyments which are based on Gunas. Similarly it is not perceived that attachment to the Gunas alone is the beginning of this (tree). Again, it is not perceived that the basis of this tree is founded on ignorance which is the misconception of self as non-self. Ignorance alone is the basis of this tree, since in it alone the tree is fixed. This Asvattha, described above, firm-rooted, i.e., the roots of which are firm and manifold, is to be cut off by the strong axe of detachment, namely, detachment from the sense objects composed of the three Gunas. This can be forged through perfect knowledge. As one gains detachment from sense-objects, one should seek and find out the goal from which nobody ever returns. How does this attachment to sense-objects, which consists of the Gunas and erroneous knowledge forming its cause, cease to exist? Sri Krsna now answers: One should seek ‘refuge (Prapadyet) in the Primal Person’ alone in order to overcome this ignorance. One should seek refuge (Prapadyeta) in Him who is primal, namely, the beginning of all entities, as stated in the following text: ‘With Me as the Lord, the Prakrti gives birth to all that which moves, and that which does not move’ (9.10), ‘I am the origin of all; from Me proceed everything’ (10.8), and ‘There is nothing higher than Me, O Arjuna’ (7.7). From Me, the creator of everything, has streamed forth this ancient activity, continuing from time immermorial, of attachment to sense-objects consisting of Gunas. This has been declared already by Me: ‘For this divine Maya of Mine consisting of the Gunas is hard to break through. But those who take refuge in me alone shall pass beyond this Maya’ (7.14). Or a variant of this stanza is ‘prapadya iyatah pravrttih’ (in place of ‘prapadyet yatah pravrittih’). This gives the sense that this discipline of taking refuge in the Supreme Person for dispelling of ignorance has continued from a distant past. The tendencies of ancient persons seeking liberation are also ancient. The purport is this: The ancient liberation-seekers, taking refuge in Me alone, were released from bondage. [This can be taken to mean that Prapatti or taking refuge in the Lord had originated in the Bhakti tradition of the Sri-Vaisnavites from ancient sages i.e., from the Alvars who preceded Ramanuja by several centuries. It is not a creation of Ramanuja].

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

The reality of this asvattha or ancient banyan tree having its roots above and branches below is not perceivable by jivas or embodied beings habitating material existence in samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death for 43,200,000 lifetimes that transpire for a human in one day of Brahma. Neither can its end be discerned or its beginning determined. It is unlimited and its continuity and how it exists is unknown. Since this tree is extremely difficult to uproot and surmount and is also the actual cause of all suffering, a spiritually knowledegable living entity should sever all ties from this tree by the weapons of nonattachment and dispassion and strive for attaining atma tattva or realisation of their immortal soul. Enunciated clearly having severed all ties to this deep rooted and all encompassing tree with the powerful discriminative weapon of renunciation which consists of relinquishing all concepts of ego such as I and mine and instead see oneself as belonging fully to the Supreme Lord Krishna in complete communion with Him, who is the ultimate source from where this tree has arisen. Upon realising the Supreme Lord one achieves moksa or liberation from material existence and is no longer subject to samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. In conclusion one must wholeheartedly seek communion with the Supreme Lord and take full shelter of Him by bhakti or exclusive loving devotion.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

This ancient asvattha or banyan tree represents material existence but it is not perceivable yet it is seen to have been established. The word adi means beginning and anta means the end which refer to the Supreme Lord. The Bhagavad Purana states: The Supreme Lord is the beginning, the end and the middle as well. The Moksa Dharma states: The Supreme Lord has neither beginning nor ending, more the demigods and seers cannot penetrate. The compound word asanga-sastrena means the wisdom of non-attachment arising from association with Vaisnava devotees of the Supreme Lord. With the sword of detachment sharpened by meditation on the wisdom of renunciation. By this method the world does not become a place of bondage. By knowledge of the Vedic scriptures and practice the knowledge of the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence will be revealed to one. It is confirmed in the Vedic scriptures that: Meditation verily is the way and the means for discrnment and detachment. Such a one will not be bound although others will.

The purport is that with the weapon of detachment one should sever ties with everything except the Supreme Lord Krishna and His authorised avatars or divine incarnations and expansions. The Moksa Dharma states: When on surrenders unto the Supreme Lord one does not suffer or grieve. Neither is one born, nor does one die. Such a one is verily situated in the brahman. Only one who has been graced by the blessing of the Supreme Lord can be elligible to become qualified to attain this. The describibng of the means of severing attachment have been given for the sake of an aspirant receiving the Supreme Lord grace. No other shelter or refuge exists in all creation other than the Supeme Lord Krishna and this fundamental understanding must be realised. Since this material existence is like a horse with an unstable gait it is known as unsteady. That it is immutable is because samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death is like a stream and endless until one achieves moksa or liberation from material existence. This liberation is determined by detachment. The firm conviction that the Supreme Lord is transcendental to everything in the physical existence is the knowledge gained from the destruction of this ancien banyan tree. The Vedic aphorism neti neti meaning it is not this, it is not that clarifies what is the unmanifest. Realising that the Supreme Lord Krishna is the seperate and distinct from all else is what makes Him clearly superior and paramount. He is the primal Supreme Lord, the only progenitor. All created beings including Brahma, Shiva, Indra and all the 300 million demigods are nothing but emantions from Him like rays of sunlight from the sun.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna is explaining that knowledge of this asvattha or banyan tree which symbolises material nature is very rarely understood and not by many. What its roots and branches represent, described as all the jivas or embodied beings is not perceived but by a few in this world. It has neither a beginning nor an end as its stream of samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth amd death is continuous. It is very difficult to fathom from a human perspectuive on Earth. Does it begin for each jiva at birth? Does it end when a jiva disentangles themselves from material nature by detachment? Is it relative to the individual or is it collective? From what position is it operating: beginning, middle or end? So from all these suppositions it can be understood that this tree is beyond perception of the five mundane senses and the mind. To terminate this firmly rooted and durable asvattha tree in the form of material existence with its ardent desires for name, fame, wealth and family which link to the evils of birth, old age, disease and death for everyone; is a very serious and extremely difficult task to accomplish. Yet it can be overcome by bhakti or exclusive loving devotion unto the Supreme Lord Krishna which insures detachment from the objects of the senses and sensual pleasures. One desirous of their own best interests and highest good will by the sharp intellect of discrimination and the formidable weapon of dispassion abandon all desires for sense gratification which are products of the three gunas or modes of material nature. Succeeding by knowledge and effort one should then diligently strive for the Supreme state of consciousness for once attaining one is no longer subject to samsara and never again returns to the material worlds.

The question in mind is how can this be accomplished? Lord Krishna has already confirmed previously in chaper VII.XIV: That although His maya or illusory potency in the material existence is almost impossible to overcome, those who prapadye or surrender unto Him are able to transcend it. This means by completely making Him their sole refuge they activate the inherent divine potency abiding within the atma or immortal soul of all jivas. This divine potency is eternally on standby waiting for the jiva to turn away from the external mundane world and look internally for the atma within one’s heart. The Supreme Lord Krishna has made all provisions for this activation to immeadiately come into effect the very moment one fully surrenders unto Him or any of His authorised incarnations and expansions. How wonderful! How merciful is the Supreme Lord Krishna. Without His mercy, without His grace through His bonafide representative, the spiritual master in authorised disiplic succession as revealed in the Vedic scriptures, it is totally impossible to be released from samsara and achieve moksa or liberation from material existence. Those blessed spiritual beings who take complete shelter in the Supreme Lord transcend this world and go to the eternal spiritual worlds never to return again. As for all the others they are recycled byck into the material existence incessantly and subject to the Supreme Lords eight-fold potencies of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and false ego which comprises prakriti or the physical substratum pervading physical existence as the Supreme Lord Himself has stated in VII.IV.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

15.3 But, asya, its-of this Tree of the World which has been described; rupam, form, as it has been presented; na, is not at all; upalabhyate, perceived; iha, here; tatha, in that way. For, being like a dream, water in a mirage, jugglery, an imaginary city seen in the sky, it is by nature destroyed no sooner than it is seen. Therefore, na, there exists neither; its antah, end, limit, termination; so also, neither; its beginning. It is not comprehended by anyone that it comes into existence beginning from any definite point. Its sampratistha, continuance, the middle state, too, is not perceived by anyone. Chittva, after felling, uprooting, together with its seeds; enam, this, above described; asvattham, Peepul, the Tree of the World; suvirudha-mulam, whose roots (mula) are well (su) developed (virudham); drdhena, with the strong-hardened by a resolute mind directed towards the supreme Self, and sharpened on the stone of repeated practice of discrimination; asanga-sastrena, sword of detachment-detachment means turn ing away from the desire for progeny, wealth and the worlds; with that sword of detachment-.

15.4 Tatah, thereafter; tat, that; padam, State of Visnu; parimargitavyam, has to be sought for, i.e. realized; gatah, going, entering; yasmin, where, into which State; they na, do not; nivartanti, return; bhuyah, again, for worldly life. As to how It is to be sought for, the Lord says: Prapadye, I take refuge; tam, in that; adyam, Primeval-existing from the beginning; purusam, Person, who has been mentioned by the word State; eva, Himself. The search has to be carried on thus, i.e., by taking refuge in Him. Who is that Person? That is being stated: Yatah, from whom, from which Person; prasrta, has ensued, like jugglery from a magician; purani, the eternal; pravrttih, Manifestation, the magic Tree of the World. What kind of persons reach that State? This is being answered:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

15.3-5 Na rupam., upto avyayam tat. Cutting this [tree] etc. Here the action [of cutting] mentioned with regard to the qualified one [viz.. the tree] appropriates for itself, the place (or word) of qualification [viz. the root below], just as in the case of the injunction : ‘Let the man-with-stick recite the Praisa hymns. By this way [we get the meaning] : ‘Let him cut off the roots tha are grown below. That Abode : The absolutely Tranquil One. The changeless Abode is nothing but That.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

na rupam asyeha tathopalabhyate
nanto na cadir na ca sampratistha
asvattham enam su-virudha-mulam
asanga-sastrena drdhena chittva

tatah padam tat parimargitavyam
yasmin gata na nivartanti bhuyah
tam eva cadyam purusam prapadye
yatah pravrttih prasrta purani

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

na — not; rūpam — the form; asya — of this tree; iha — in this world; tathā — also; upalabhyate — can be perceived; na — never; antaḥ — end; na — never; ca — also; ādiḥ — beginning; na — never; ca — also; sampratiṣṭhā — the foundation; aśvattham — banyan tree; enam — this; su-virūḍha — strongly; mūlam — rooted; asańga-śastreṇa — by the weapon of detachment; dṛḍhena — strong; chittvā — cutting; tataḥ — thereafter; padam — situation; tat — that; parimārgitavyam — has to be searched out; yasmin — where; gatāḥ — going; na — never; nivartanti — they come back; bhūyaḥ — again; tam — to Him; eva — certainly; ca — also; ādyam — original; puruṣam — the Personality of Godhead; prapadye — surrender; yataḥ — from whom; pravṛttiḥ — the beginning; prasṛtā — extended; purāṇi — very old.