The ancient Hindu scriptures speak of the Universe as an inverted Banyan/Ashwattha tree with its roots in the Higher Worlds of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss) and its branches in the many lower worlds that have been created. This is a comprehensive list of references to this tree in the ancient scriptures and the works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The world tree motif is present in many other religions and mythologies (See World-Tree)
Rig Veda, 1.164.20
dvā suparņā sayujā sakhāyā samānam vŗkşham parişhasvajāte,
tayor anyaĥ pippalam svādvatty anashnan anyo abhi chākashīti.
Translation: Two birds beautiful of wing, friends and comrades, cling to a common tree, and one eats the sweet fruit, the other regards him and eats not.
In each individual there is the Divine Self which presides over that manifestation but keeps itself above it, not involved in the movement. There is a projection of this Self in the movement of evolution, a soul that is associated with nature and grows by the experience of this interaction. Both the Self and the soul are on the same tree of Nature; but the Self sits above, overseeing but not participating in the experience of the soul involved in it.
Translation: Yama speaks: “This is an eternal Ashwattha-tree whose root is above, but its branches are downward. It is He that is called the Bright One and Brahman, and Immortality, and in Him are all the worlds established, none goes beyond Him. This is That thou seekest.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Katha Upanishad
Translation: This that cometh is he that destroyeth evil, Rudra the Terrible, born of the tree that dwelleth in the waters; let the globe of the storm winds come too, that destroyeth for thee all things of evil omen.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Nilarudra Upanishad
Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation: Rudra, whom we know as the slayer of evil, comes. The Rajarshi describes him as born of the tree that is in the waters. Bheṣa is by philology identical with the Latin ficus or fig-tree, aśvattha. The aśvattha is the Yogic emblem of the manifested world, as in the Gita, the tree of the two birds in the Shwetashwatara Upanishad, the single tree in the blue expanse of the Song of Liberation. The jala is the āpah or waters from which the world rises. The Rishi then prays that the vātī mass of winds of which Rudra is lord and which in the tempest of their course blow away all calamity, such as pestilence etc. may come with him.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Commentary
Shwetashwatara Upanishad refers to the two birds (Purusha and Prakriti) sitting on the tree
6. They are two birds that cling to one common tree; beautiful of plumage, yoke-fellows are they, eternal companions; and one of them eateth the delicious fruit of the tree and the Other eateth not, but watcheth His fellow.
7. Man is the bird that dwelleth on one common tree with God, but he is lost in its sweetness and the slave of its sweetness and loseth hold of God; therefore he hath grief, therefore he is bewildered. But when he seeth that other bird who is God, then he knoweth that nothing is but God’s greatness, and his grief passeth away from him.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Shwetashwatara Upanishad
Bhagavad Gita, Chap 15, Verse 1
ashvattham prahur avyayam
chandamsi yasya parnani
yas tam veda sa veda-vit
Translation: The Blessed Lord said, “There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.”
Sri Aurobindo in the Essays on the Gita : First there comes a description of cosmic existence in the Vedantic image of the aswattha tree. This tree of cosmic existence has no beginning and no end, nānto na cādih, in space or in time; for it is eternal and imperishable, avyaya. The real form of it cannot be perceived by us in this material world of man’s embodiment, nor has it any apparent lasting foundation here; it is an infinite movement and its foundation is above in the supreme of the Infinite. Its principle is the ancient sempiternal urge to action, pravrtti, which for ever proceeds without beginning or end from the original Soul of all existence, ādyam purusam yatah pravrttih prasrtā purānī. Therefore its original source is above, beyond Time in the Eternal, but its branches stretch down below and it extends and plunges its other roots, well-fixed and clinging roots of attachment and desire with their consequences of more and more desire and an endlessly developing action, plunges them downward here into the world of men. The hymns of the Veda are compared to its leaves and the man who knows this tree of the cosmos is the Veda-knower. And here we see the sense of that rather disparaging view of the Veda or at least of the Vedavada, which we had to notice at the beginning. For the knowledge the Veda gives us is a knowledge of the gods, of the principles and powers of the cosmos, and its fruits are the fruits of a sacrifice which is offered with desire, fruits of enjoyment and lordship in the nature of the three worlds, in earth and heaven and the world between earth and heaven. The branches of this cosmic tree extend both below and above, below in the material, above in the supraphysical planes; they grow by the gunas of Nature, for the triple guna is all the subject of the Vedas, traigunya-visayā vedāh. The Vedic rhythms, chandāmsi, are the leaves and the sensible objects of desire supremely gained by a right doing of sacrifice are the constant budding of the foliage. Man, therefore, so long as he enjoys the play of the gunas and is attached to desire, is held in the coils of Pravritti, in the movement of birth and action, turns about constantly between the earth and the middle planes and the heavens and is unable to get back to his supreme spiritual infinitudes. This was perceived by the sages.
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Three Purushas
Sri Aurobindo explains the symbol that a disciple saw in a vision
A bird is a very frequent symbol of the soul, and the tree is the standing image of the universe – The Tree of Life.
The Aswattha usually symbolises the cosmic manifestation.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Visions and Symbols – VII
The tree whose fruit Adam and Eve [Purusha and Prakriti] have eaten
If all is in truth Sachchidananda, death, suffering, evil, limitation can only be the creations, positive in practical effect, negative in essence, of a distorting consciousness which has fallen from the total and unifying knowledge of itself into some error of division and partial experience. This is the fall of man typified in the poetic parable of the Hebrew Genesis. That fall is his deviation from the full and pure acceptance of God and himself, or rather of God in himself, into a dividing consciousness which brings with it all the train of the dualities, life and death, good and evil, joy and pain, completeness and want, the fruit of a divided being. This is the fruit which Adam and Eve, Purusha and Prakriti, the soul tempted by Nature, have eaten. The redemption comes by the recovery of the universal in the individual and of the spiritual term in the physical consciousness. Then alone the soul in Nature can be allowed to partake of the fruit of the tree of life and be as the Divine and live for ever. For then only can the purpose of its descent into material consciousness be accomplished, when the knowledge of good and evil, joy and suffering, life and death has been accomplished through the recovery by the human soul of a higher knowledge which reconciles and identifies these opposites in the universal and transforms their divisions into the image of the divine Unity.
[Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine – I: The Ego and the Dualities
In one case, it is called the tree of the cosmos
In the immutable nameless Origin
Was seen emerging as from fathomless seas
The trail of the Ideas that made the world,
And, sown in the black earth of Nature’s trance,
The seed of the Spirit’s blind and huge desire
From which the tree of cosmos was conceived
And spread its magic arms through a dream of space.
Immense realities took on a shape:
In another verse, it is referred to as the world-tree
His crucified voice proclaims, “I, I am God;”
“Yes, all is God,” peals back Heaven’s deathless call.
The seed of Godhead sleeps in mortal hearts,
The flower of Godhead grows on the world-tree:
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – II: The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain
The Mother explains the mystic tree as experienced by a disciple
This experience last night also enabled me to understand what X had felt during one of our meditations. He had explained his experience by way of saying that I was this mystic tree [i.e. the Ashwatha Tree The Upanishads: Katha Upanishad] whose roots plunge into the Supreme and whose branches spread forth over the world,’ and he said that one of these branches had entered into him – and it had been a unique experience. He had said, ‘this is the Mother’.
The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: May 24, 1960