Seed-tree metaphor : page 203

In this short note, we discuss the incorrect conclusion drawn on page 203 of the biography.

His essays on these subjects are clear and well-expressed, though not particularly original. Many of them try to harmonize the Upanishads and late Victorian science by means of evolution. Some of his arguments now seem rather quaint. A seed grows into a certain sort of tree, Aurobindo wrote, because the “tree is the idea involved in the seed”. In the light of molecular biology, this is at best a vivid metaphor.

(Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p 203)

This “seed-tree” argument has nothing to do with molecular biology.  Peter inadvertently exposes his ignorance when he criticizes Sri Aurobindo’s thought.  If you search the web for “seed tree vedanta” (go ahead, try it) you will discover that many other spiritual masters have used the same analogy to explain the circle of life. The Seed-tree principle is called Bija-Vriksha Nyaya  in Vedanta. (Bija=Seed, Vrisha=Tree, Nyaya=illustration or principle)

Osho discusses it:

Ends and means are not two things. Don’t divide. The end is just the flowering of the means, the end is just the realization of the means. The end is hidden in the means, just like the tree is hidden in the seed. The seed is the tree. Don’t look at the seed as if the seed has some secondary importance and the tree is meaningful and significant, and you can avoid the seed. If you avoid the seed the tree will never be there. Take care of the seed, love the seed, give soil to it, prepare the ground, and help the seed to grow. It will become the tree. It is already the tree unmanifest.

(Osho, Vedanta: the first star in the evening, p 118)

Swami Vivekananda discusses it:

The seed produces the tree. The tree dies, leaving only the seed. Again it comes up as another tree, which again ends in the seed, and so on. Look at a bird, how from; the egg it springs, becomes a beautiful bird, lives its life and then dies, leaving only other eggs, containing germs of future birds. So with the animals; so with men. Everything begins, as it were, from certain seeds, certain rudiments, certain fine forms, and becomes grosser and grosser as it develops; and then again it goes back to that fine form and subsides. The whole universe is going on in this way.

Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol 2, Practical Vedanta)

Swami Sivananda discusses it.  In fact the link given below tabulates 20-30 Nyayas which are commonly used in Vedanta to illustrate various phenomena.

The seed is the cause of the tree and the tree is the cause of the seed. It cannot be said which is the cause of which. This is to illustrate that every question and statement has got a counter-question and counter-statement, that every this is also every that, that the whole world is bound in relativity, and that the Ultimate Truth is Silence, which Dakshinamurti followed.

(from  http://www.dlshq.org/download/vedbegin.htm)

These are some 20-30 Nyayas (maxims) from the URL seen above:

  1. Rajjusarpa-Nyaya
  2. Mrigatrishna-Nyaya
  3. Shuktirajata-Nyaya
  4. Kanakakundala-Nyaya
  5. Samudrataranga-Nyaya
  6. Sphatikavarna-Nyaya
  7. and many more at http://www.dlshq.org/download/vedbegin.htm

Sri Aurobindo has also discussed the seed-tree principle in several places in the Life Divine.

One begins to understand also how arrangement of design, quantity and number can be a base for the manifestation of quality and property; for design, quantity and number are powers of existence-substance, quality and property are powers of the consciousness and its force that reside in the existence; they can then be made manifest and operative by a rhythm and process of substance. The growth of the tree out of the seed would be accounted for, like all other similar phenomena, by the indwelling presence of what we have called the Real-Idea; the Infinite’s self-perception of the significant form, the living body of its power of existence that has to emerge from its own self-compression in energy-substance, would be carried internally in the form of the seed, carried in the occult consciousness involved in that form, and would naturally evolve out of it. There would be no difficulty either in understanding on this principle how infinitesimals of a material character like the gene and the chromosome can carry in them psychological elements to be transmitted to the physical form that has to emerge from the human seed; it would be at bottom on the same principle in the objectivity of Matter as that which we find in our subjective experience,—for we see that the subconscient physical carries in it a mental psychological content, impressions of past events, habits, fixed mental and vital formations, fixed forms of character, and sends them up by an occult process to the waking consciousness, thus originating or influencing many activities of our nature.

(SABCL, vol 18, Life Divine, pp 304-305)

Here is another remark from Purani’s Evening talks on the same topic.

Sri Aurobindo : That is like the question which someone put the other day : whether “the egg is first or the hen” and I had to say : “Both together and the Cock.” {Laughter) There must be the collective personality for the individual to be and vice versa !

(Purani, Evening Talks, p 292)

Ain’t nothing quaint here as you can see…

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One Response to Seed-tree metaphor : page 203

  1. anahata says:

    Seed-tree principle is also found in the Paratrimsika-Karika text of Kashmir Shaivism

    Verse 24 says
    Just as a great banyan tree
    is present in its seed
    only in the form of potency
    So the whole of the universe
    with its moving and immovable things
    is present in the heart of the Lord

    Yatha nyagrodhabijasthah saktirupo mahadrumah
    Tatha hrdayabijastham visvam etac caracaram

    (Isayeva, From Early vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism)

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