The first step in yoga ecology is to connect and communicate to Prakriti. Prakriti is the Sanskrit word for nature, and through the tree we start to communicate to Prakriti. Swami Niranjanananda says that trees represent prithvi, the earth. Every quality of the tree is that of the prithvi quality. If we think about the trees and what they do, they are probably one of the most generous species on the earth.
Trees purify water and play a vital role in the hydrological cycle of the planet. They provide the oxygen for life, stability, aeration and the nutrient cycle of soil. They provide homes, shelter and shade. They provide food, in the form of fruits, flowers, nuts, and they provide wood, paper and medicines and much more.
The connection between trees and human beings goes right back in time. As the young earth was evolving, it was the plants and trees that provided the atmosphere and environment required for animals including human beings to evolve, so we are indebted to trees for the source and breath of life.
Human beings are such a selfish, self-centred and quite stupid species. We have been chopping down trees faster than they can grow, we are destroying the one thing that actually gives us life â€“ trees and forests.
Through the practices of yoga ecology, we reconnect to the source that has given us life, and that is through the practice of Ashwattha Aradhana. Ashwattha is the name of the peepal tree, and ashwattha means non-dying, continuous. The asthwattha tree is perhaps the oldest tree on earth, that has been worshipped for over 5,000 years. They are a species of the ficus. The peepal tree has the ability to grow in any environment. I am sure if the human species disappeared tomorrow it would be the ashwattha tree that would start to grow everywhere and take over everything. They are also known as the world tree, and they are symbolized as upside-down, as the roots are reaching upwards, rather than down.
The world tree is known in many cultures as the symbol of life. Tree worship exists in many cultures around the world. It is not a new concept. There is one tree in India which you will find in nearly every house, it is a small plant called tulsi.
Our guru Swami Satyananda worshipped tulsi every day in the morning and evening during his panchagni sadhana. He said that she is the mother of all healing plants, and he didn't have to touch the plant or even eat the leaves for any healing effect, just the simple worship of the tree was enough to keep him healthy day in and day out for many years.
Swami Niranjan also worships tulsi throughout his panchagni sadhana and we notice that if either of them fell even slightly unwell the other would also, that is how close his connection to the tulsi plant is. In yoga ecology every tree has a deity, a spirit residing in it. As you perform the aradhana that spirit and energy awakens and you connect to it and thereby the communication and connection takes place between the person and the tree.
In 1996, Swami Niranjan started the practice of Ashwattha Aradhana in the ashram, and all the residents, students and guests were given a tree to care for during their time in the ashram. We also give the sick or weak trees and we found that after some time the trees would become strong and grow healthy through the daily aradhana, and we saw many people go through personal transformation through the aradhana.
Through the care of the tree and through the aradhana, the connection between you and the tree becomes strong, and you will protect that tree no matter what, just as you care for the people around you. The same relationship spreads into all of prakriti, nature, and it is a very big step for most people to take.
In Ashwattha Aradhana, or with any aradhana, the five elements — earth, water, fire, air and ether — are always represented. The tree is the object we are offering the aradhana or worship to. The tree represents prithvi tattwa, the earth element. We begin by lighting the deepak, and this is the fire element or agni tattwa.
Then we light the incense. Incense represents vayu, the air element, and we wave the incense in front of the tree to clear away any negativity, particularly from our human mind. Now we offer one flower to the tree which also represents the element of prithvi and the beauty of nature.
We offer water, the water element or apas, to the roots of the tree. This is also a symbolic watering of our own spiritual nature. The tree that we see above ground is only one third of the tree, for the roots travel right down into the ground. They are the main mass of the tree, therefore we offer the water to our own spiritual growth and spiritual self.
At the end, we chant the mantras which represent the ether element, the shabda, sound and vibration. We finish the Ashwattha Aradhana with the Shanti Mantras, a prayer of thanks to the tree.
—29 July 2017, Raquira, Colombia