A Tree Falls In a Forest

Rama's arrows“Those arrows, decorated with the feathers of a heron, will strike this city from all sides, sparing no space, and destroy the Rakshasas.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.26-27)

rakṣāṃsi parinighnastaḥ puryāmasyāṃ samantataḥ ||
asampātaṃ kariṣyanti patantaḥ kaṅkavāsasaḥ |

There is the famous philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The question is meant to provoke deeper thought into the meaning of perception and existence. If you’re not around to hear something, what is the point to sound? Is not the sound without purpose then? This verse from the Ramayana provides an answer.

From the Vedas we know that the Supreme Spirit is antaryami, which means He is the supreme witness. I am the witness for only the local area. If the fan is on in my room, I hear it. If I go to work and forget to turn the fan off, it still makes a sound, but I am not in the room to hear it. Thus my presence cannot extend; I have a limited range of perception.

Oscillating fanAs I am the same in quality as everyone else, the same defect is present in everyone. My friend can only perceive locally as well. With the help of modern technology, we can maybe hear a sound coming from thousands of miles away, but again that sound is more or less relayed to the local area. It originates somewhere else, but then travels. This is sort of like the car alarm or the thunder from the clouds above. We can hear it locally, but that’s just because the sound is so great that it can travel to where we are.

With God, the presence is extended everywhere. Therefore the premise of the tree question is itself flawed. There is always someone around to hear the tree fall. The plants are spirit souls as well. Due to their body type, they are severely restricted in their motions. There are moving and nonmoving creatures. The plants are part of the latter category. Even if you think that there is no plant life in this forest, there is still a witness. If, for some odd reason, the forest has only this one tree that is about to fall, the tree itself is a symbol of existence.

TreesWithin that tree are two souls. One identifies the tree and the other the Supreme Lord. If the tree should happen to lack the sense of hearing, the Supreme Witness is still there to hear what happens. This is important to note because when others are not around, we tend to think that we can get away with things. “If I eat a forbidden food on a certain day and no one sees me, how will I get the negative impact?” Actually, if the food is forbidden for whatever reason, the act of taking it itself will violate whatever rule was in place. Therefore the negative reaction will come.

Eating forbidden food in secret seems like a harmless enough act, but in the case of an infamous king a long time ago, the acts were many and the punishment seemed to be lacking. It was so missing that one wondered if it would arrive at all. This king’s sinful life culminated in the taking of another man’s wife. He took her away in secret, without fighting for her. He was too afraid to battle her husband one-on-one. He seemed to get away with the act, too. He brought her back to his island kingdom and tried his best to woo her. She would not budge. She insisted that she be returned to her husband. Such an act would forgive the offense.

The fiend didn’t listen, and so here the beautiful princess informs him of the future. Her husband was the greatest bow fighter of the time. In fact, there has never been such a fighter on this earth. Her husband is famously known as Rama, and He is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as He is all-pervading in His travels with each individual soul, His weapons can reach any destination. Here Sita tells the fiendish king Ravana that Rama’s arrows will attack him on all sides. No space will be spared. There will be nowhere to hide. Destruction will come about for all the Rakshasas, not just the king. The Rakshasas were the species inhabiting the island at the time. Ravana was a Rakshasa as well.

Lord RamaSince he took Sita away in secret and nothing bad came of it right away because no authority figure saw it, Ravana thought he was in the clear. His act can be likened to the tree falling in the forest with no one around. But the Supreme Lord has eyes and ears everywhere, so every act committed by every single person is recorded. If one acts to intentionally thwart the devotional efforts of an innocent soul, then there is direct intervention from the Divine. In all other cases, the laws of karma take care of distributing the appropriate results.

Bhagavad-gita, 13.14“Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes and faces, and He hears everything. In this way the Supersoul exists.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.14)

The Supreme Lord is the figure central to an existence. As He sees all bad deeds, He sees all good ones as well. Even if we think that He can’t see us, if we stay devoted to Him through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” glorifying Him to others, serving those devoted to Him, and remaining always conscious of Him, He will surely reward us with the gift that we are desperately seeking: eternal devotion to His lotus feet.

In Closing:

If in forest to fall a tree,

Sound there if no one to see?


Question to ponder for the mind,

From Sita’s words answer to find.


Since to take beloved wife to dare,

Rama’s arrows not an inch to spare.


That He is everywhere this means,

Always to hear sound at every scene.


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