“First a child is shown the branches of a tree, and then he is shown the moon through the branches. This is called shakha-chandra-nyaya. The idea is that first one must be given a simpler example. Then the more difficult background is explained.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 21.30 Purport)
“If God is everything, why do you need analogies to explain Him? For instance, I’ve heard that the individual soul is like a drop of water from the ocean and that the Supreme Soul is like the total ocean. The drop is like the complete whole but at the same time it is different. This helps us to understand the simultaneous oneness and difference between God and His innumerable children. But if the ocean is necessary for explaining God, doesn’t that make God subordinate to the ocean? So many other analogies are used, such as to the parent-child relationship, the friendship, and the relationship in service. It seems to me that without these analogies you can’t properly explain God, which means that He must not be Supreme.”
In the Vedas we will find so many analogies. There is one for explaining pretty much every truth there is. One of the common modern misconceptions is that religion is about faith. “One person has their faith and another person has theirs. Who are we to reconcile between the two? The faiths are like the different sports teams that people prefer. One person likes the team from Boston and another the team from Chicago. They both like teams, so what is the difference, really?”
In fact, real religion is scientifically based. It has laws that are indisputable, like the addition of two plus two. Two plus two always equals four. It doesn’t equal four only for the Hindus or the Christians. The sum is four no matter how you slice it. Again, even in this explanation so many analogies are used. There is the reference to mathematics and its equations. There is the reference to science, which is generally accepted as fact. It is not considered faith, though in actuality so much of material science is politicized. There is also the subtle reference to the pie, which is sliced up and divided. You can divide the pie in a bunch of different ways, but the constitution of the pie doesn’t change.
Likely the most important analogy used in Vedic literature is the one to describe the material existence. This land we know of is like a dream. It is real in its existence, but it will eventually vanish. The dream may create fake scenarios, but the experience through the dream is real. If you are frightened in a dream, you are frightened in real life. Nevertheless, the dream will end eventually, dissipating the scenario that caused the fright.
In the same way the material nature is temporary in its manifestation. It is also considered a shadow copy of the original spiritual realm. The material creation is likened to an inverted tree, which we see when a real tree is reflected in water. The real tree has its roots on the ground, and everything grows upwards from it. In the inverted tree, the roots are at the top, and the branches and leaves descend from it. The material creation is like the inverted tree because the root is the spiritual sky, where the Supreme Lord lives in His personal forms. The material planets descend down from the spiritual sky, and in that downward trend the quality of life decreases as well.
“Now, there is no ready experience in this world of a tree situated with its branches down and its roots upward, but there is such a thing. That tree can be found beside a reservoir of water. We can see that the trees on the bank reflect upon the water with their branches down and roots up. In other words, the tree of this material world is only a reflection of the real tree of the spiritual world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.1 Purport)
The desire of the living entity to be away from God is responsible for the downward growth. The downward motion is appropriate because the desire to separate marks a descent, a fall from grace. As a loving father, the Supreme Lord grants this wish, though He knows there is no benefit to come from it. If He were to deny it, there would be no independence to the living entity. Without some degree of independence, there is no existence, and so we see that the Supreme Lord merely stays true to the nature of all existences, which emanate from Him.
The caring father welcomes back His children with open arms when they decide they want to return home. With the spiritual world, you can go home again. It is never too late. If you think of God at the time of death, you will reside with Him in the next life. This is guaranteed.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
With so many analogies presented, we might be tempted to think that the explanation of God is dependent upon them, that without these reference points we couldn’t even conjure up a Supreme Lord. “Without the aspects of the material creation, how would we understand the original Divine Being? When we explain piety, we point to sins and the sinners, so in this sense our explanation is dependent on those whom we criticize. So isn’t it the same way with God? Isn’t He dependent on the aspects of the material creation?”
Actually, this is a flaw in our logic, that we think anything can be separated from God. He refers to the material energy as inferior, but it is still His. The inferiority is with respect to interest. God has no interest in birth, death, old age, disease, sense gratification, renunciation, knowledge, or mysticism. But this doesn’t mean that such things have an independent existence, separate from Him. God IS the complete whole. Using the material nature to explain Him is for our benefit, not His. He is not dependent on anything. He is an Absolute Truth. No matter which way you view it, He is God.
Interestingly enough, there is an analogy to explain why analogies are used. The Sanskrit term is “shakha-chandra-nyaya”, which means seeing the moon through the branches of a tree. The moon is very large. We can’t really conceive of its size, just as we can’t really understand how large the earth is. It is easier to see the moon through the branches of the tree. The branches here have no effect on the moon. The moon is so many miles away, while the branches are nearby. The branches merely provide a contrast for the eyes of the observer.
Just as when we watch television we may put on eyeglasses to see more clearly, we use analogies to mentally see God. Better than seeing is hearing, which is best accomplished through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” The potency of this chanting cannot be explained by any analogy, because there is no other practice that compares to it. The potency can only be realized by one who takes to the chanting in the proper mood. This chanting is the mercy of the Lord, just as the branches are His gift to allow us to better understand the moon.
The moon I see with my eyes,
How to understand its actual size?
When through branches of tree,
Moon better I can see.
Explains why analogies so high rate,
In use for explaining God who is so great.
But God complete on His own,
Comparisons for our benefit alone.
Analogies to see Krishna so dear,
But better if His holy name to hear.