I was at a yoga and philosophy retreat this summer when a teacher introduced the concept of Bhijavrkshanyaya.
My ears perked up and I carefully wrote it down in my notebook: Bhijavrkshanyaya. The seed contains the tree.
There wasn’t a great deal of discussion about it, but it was already growing little roots in my mind: Bhija (seed) vrksha (tree) nyaya (logic).
The symbol of the seed is one of the most universally compelling images in our human culture; no one is unaffected by the seed. The seed symbolizes potential, growth and nourishment. It invokes a sense of the Earth and its sacredness. It brings with it echoes of initiation, of reproduction, of the great cycles of creation and dissolution. It promises provision, hope and abundance.
The saving of seeds represents our very survival as a species that no longer forages for food but must rely on organized agriculture to feed us.
The tree is a similarly vivid image.
The tree provides shelter and shade, fruit from its branches and materials for building. Trees have been regarded as mysterious and powerful beings in many traditions. They have been considered focal points of worship or ritual, and their enormous stature can conjure a sense of wonder in even the most closed of souls. The tree can be a symbol of flourishing health and a balanced ecosystem as it provides a whirling dance of colors in the fall and a jagged and dramatic tableau through the winter.
Trees are inarguably majestic in both their descent into the earth and their extension into the sky; they represent our rootedness in place as well as our exploration and expansion out into space.
The concept of bhijavrkshanyaya comes from a story in the Upanishads, in which a young man named Svetaketu returns home from his studies in becoming a Brahmin priest. The young man is puffed up with pride at all of his learning, and his father, also a priest, bids him to fetch a fruit from a nearby tree.
The father asks the son to break it open, to break open the seeds, and to tell him what he sees inside the seeds. The son replies that he sees nothing. To this the father replies, “My son, that subtle essence which you do not perceive there, of that very essence this great Nyagrodha tree exists. Believe it, my son. That which is the subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and you…Svetaketu, you are it.”
When Svetaketu says that he sees nothing in the seeds, his father understands that he does not yet perceive the interconnectedness and relatedness of the seed and the tree. Of the unmanifest and the manifest. He does not understand the essence that lies in all things, which his father calls “the Self.” And then his father offers the most mysterious utterance of all, that somewhat infuriating axiom that appears in so many different forms in Tantric and Vedantic texts and tales…“You are it.”
You are it. I am that. I am This. This am I.
These tiny sentences are the simplest indications of what the wisdom traditions of Tantra and Vedanta are trying to point to. They are the smallest distillations of these wide philosophical tracts and practices into sensible linguistic triads. They make a kind of syntactical sense, but are quite challenging to think about in the cultural frame that we are used to.
I am that? I thought I was…me.
I am…the subtle essence? I am…all that is? I am the mystery of being? The infinitesimal seed? The Self?
I can say the sentences, I can ask them as questions, and still feel unsure of what they mean.
If we take this concept back to the image of the seed and the tree, we might have a bit more traction.
Bhijavrkshanyaya. The seed contains the tree.
These are two symbols that we know have a relationship; we know that seeds can grow into trees. What I take this concept to mean is that the seed contains the tree unconditionally. That the full expansion and expression of the tree exists in its completeness within the seed.
This is different from saying that the seed contains the tree if it gets planted and if it gets watered and if it has all the right conditions for growing. There are no ifs or conditions to this idea, which confuses our concepts of linear time and conditionality.
The seed contains the tree, full stop. In that unperceivable essence in these infinitesimal seeds, the great tree exists.
And we, we contain the tree. We contain, and are, all that is. There are no conditions to that oneness, that sameness. There is no time that we must pass through to be that. We contain the full realization and expansion and potential of all that is. We are that.
I offered this idea to a special class I taught this New Year’s Eve, at Queen Street Yoga in Kitchener, Ontario.
I invited the students, through the practice, to create their seed for 2013. To nourish a nexus of energy that was already full. To hold their intention and desire for the coming year alongside the understanding that it was already fully existent.
I joked with them that they shouldn’t make their seed about working out, that their seed was bigger than that. Their seed was how they wanted to be in the world, what kind of tree or forest they wanted to plant and cultivate for the next era of humankind.
I urged them to create a seed that was worthy of them, worthy of this pivotal time on the planet, worthy of their hearts.
Through rounds of vrksasana (tree pose), adho mukha vrksasana (downward facing tree pose, or handstand) and vasisthasana (side plank) with top leg in vrksasana, we embodied and explored and experienced ourselves as fully expanded trees. And before savasana, as our bodies cooled and the lights dimmed, we wrote about our seeds on postcards to ourselves, to be mailed out sometime during the coming year. Students left the class looking taller, looking grounded, looking ahead.
I sifted through the cards after the class and imagined a forest growing up out of them. Integrity. Abundance. Love. Replenish. Brave. Whole. Ocean. Trust. Stability. Shield. Sacred. Listen. Magic. The most mysterious was “Wolf Music,” and one that made me smile big was “Prepare for Joy!”
You are it.
I am that.
The seed contains the tree.
Happy New Year.
Emma Dines is a poet, gardener and keeper of chickens. She is based in Waterloo, Ontario. She teaches at Queen Street Yoga and loves writing, tending to her flock and making soup.
Assistant Ed.: Jayleigh Lewis