Gracing the pages of the Svādhyāya Study Sessions on the Siddha Yoga path website is a beautiful and distinctive symbol that holds great meaning for our study. As you have shown such interest in learning about all aspects of svādhyāya, study of the Self, I would like to tell you more about this symbol—and thereby give you another gem to examine as part of your study.
The design for the symbol for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions was created according to teachings, instructions, and explanations given by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda when she first requested that these study sessions be held.
Behind the symbol are flowing shades of green, orange, and red. These colors are reminiscent of the changing hues of a mango as it matures, over time, from raw green to ripe red-orange.
In the Indian philosophical and scriptural traditions, the color red is associated with knowledge, and orange (specifically, saffron orange) is representative of purity, as it is the color of fire, which burns away impurities. Green, meanwhile, evokes the natural world and represents related qualities of peace, happiness, and harmony. In Western schools of thought, green has similar associations, and it also represents wisdom. Orange is one of the colors thought to stimulate mental activity and creativity, and red is a color of energy, strength, power, and determination.
The main aspect of the Svādhyāya symbol is a tree. Trees connote life. They are valued for the essential benefits they provide to life on the planet—oxygen, food, sustenance, tools, beauty, shelter, and protection. Their bark and roots and their foliage and fruits have numerous medicinal and healing properties. Simply being in the presence of trees brings nourishment and peacefulness.
Since ancient times in India, and in many cultures, trees have been venerated as sacred beings. The Rig Veda describes them as Lords of the Forest (vanaspati), self-regenerating and eternal, the homes of the gods.1
Trees are known as storehouses of knowledge; in stories and legends they personify such virtues as fortitude, steadfastness, and selfless generosity. They are often characterized as sages themselves, imparting wisdom and granting boons to those who sit under their shade and protection.
Trees have the innate ability to recover and regenerate no matter what befalls them. Even after the most destructive wildfires, trees will grow again—revivifying themselves and their surroundings. They teach us that no matter what the situation is, the life force within is always ready to rise upward—to grow, flourish, and help nourish all living beings.
Significance of the Pīpal Tree
The tree depicted in the symbol for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions is a pīpal tree, a sacred fig tree. Its purple color is associated with deep meditation and the attainment of spiritual knowledge.
Through the ages in India, countless sages and saints have meditated under pīpal trees and attained Self-realization. Therefore it is also known as the bodhi tree—the tree of wisdom or the knowledge-giving tree.
In many Indian scriptures, it is called the Ashvattha tree. The sages associate the roots with Lord Brahma, the leaves with Lord Shiva, and the trunk with Lord Vishnu. In Shrī Bhagavad Gītā, Lord Krishna says, “Among trees, I am Ashvattha.”
Later in Shrī Bhagavad Gītā, Lord Krishna gives the image of an inverted pīpal tree, with its roots above and its branches flowing downward, to explain the nature of samsāra. The roots draw nourishment from the abode of the supreme Self, from supreme Consciousness. The leaves and fruits on the branches are the forms of life—all the individual souls—on earth. As these souls get embroiled in worldly affairs, they grow further and further distant from their source. For this reason, the Lord tells us to always practice detachment; we can stay grounded in the source of knowledge while continuing to make steady progress in our sādhanā.
The tree in the Svādhyāya symbol has a broad, bowl-like base, which signifies the steady spiritual posture that we must hold in life. Its strong trunk signifies upward movement and growth. As the tree continually grows towards the light, it stays rooted in the life-giving foundation of the earth.
The tree’s heart-shaped leaves and arching boughs give the appearance that it is forever rejoicing. The leaves are especially emblematic. Pīpal trees never shed all their leaves at once—as old leaves start to fall off the tree, new leaves take their place, and the tree remains evergreen. Thus the pīpal tree is considered to be immortal.
Writers and artists in India have, since ancient times, found function and inspiration in the leaves of the pīpal tree. Before paper was invented, the leaves would be dried and used for writing or painting. To this day, pīpal leaf painting is a highly prized art form. Artists use the leaves as miniature canvases, and on them they create meticulous depictions of deities, people, animals, and natural scenery. These artworks are so precious because of the immense patience and skill it takes to create them, and for the sheer beauty of the painted leaves.
The symbol for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions is evocative of the nature of sādhanā. It reminds us of the inner qualities, resolve, and focus that are necessary for progress on the spiritual path. As we look at it, we can conceive of the upward movement of the kundalinī shakti from the base chakra, the mūlādhāra, to the sahasrāra in the crown of the head. This is the divine journey of sādhanā from awakening to enlightenment, and this is the goal of svādhyāya , the study of the Self.