“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)
Friend1: I receive this question every now and then from people. In reading books by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada there are so many analogies used.
Friend2: Well, to be technically correct here, the analogies are in the Vedas themselves. The genuine acharya does not invent anything. They simply take the baton and pass it on.
Friend1: Another analogy!
Friend2: Just for you [eye wink]. It’s membership in a team. The founder is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan. The Vedas are like the instruction manual for living. I know what you are going to say, that some people can figure out how to install an air conditioner without reading the instructions. The analogy is not perfect, but it will suffice.
Friend1: That mankind cannot figure out everything on their own. Perhaps a great deal. Maybe they can discover enough to live a full life, whatever that means.
Friend2: But to make the existence saphala, truly successful, they need help from high above. This is because time and space are beyond the understanding of the mind, which is limited due to being material.
Friend1: Anyway, people ask about the analogies. Why the heavy reliance? Why are they used so much?
Friend2: That is how we understand things. It’s found even in the Bhagavad-gita, where Shri Krishna compares changing bodies to putting on and taking off clothes.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
The Sanskrit words commonly used when making such comparisons are yatha, tatha, and iva.
Friend1: That is a good way to explain reincarnation. It demystifies everything.
Friend2: An easier way to understand is seeing the changes that already take place. From boyhood to youth, to old age, and so forth.
Friend1: The so forth is death. The individual within does not die. It continues on to another existence.
Friend2: You will be pleased to know that the Vedas use an analogy to explain why analogies are used.
Friend1: Haha, really?
Friend2: The Sanskrit is shakha-chandra-nyaya. Understanding the moon through the branches on the trees.
Friend1: What does that mean?
Friend2: The potency, distance and size of the moon are better appreciated when viewed in comparison to other objects. You know how children sometimes think the moon is following them?
Friend1: Yes, when you are driving on the road.
Friend2: A child might think they can grab it, too. They’re not sure how far away the moon is.
Friend2: If you view the same moon through branches on a tree, you get a much better idea. Learn the branches first; then understand the moon in context. The material world is the same way. There are so many similarities to the spiritual world. It makes sense because the material world is like a perverted reflection.
Friend1: Isn’t there an analogy to explain that, as well?
Friend2: Yes. The inverted tree. You can find one by looking at the image in a pond. That means the reflection. The tree is inverted because at the root is the spiritual world, the abode of the Supreme Lord and His eternal associates. The branches that go down are the different aspects of the material world. You can jump from place to place. You can spend a significant amount of time, like a monkey swinging on a tree, forgetting that there is even a root at the top.
Friend2: Just further evidence of the merciful nature of Shri Krishna. He uses every tool available to rescue us from the sad fate of repeated birth and death. He provides analogies to demystify complicated topics. He arrives as the deity to give an idea of what spiritual attributes are. He sends the guru to rescue us from suffering, for we are like stranded in a vast ocean without a boat. That guru gives the holy names so that we no longer feel separated from our best friend, who looks out for us more than anyone else: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
At moon child gazing with eyes,
But not understanding its size.
So first shown branches of tree,
Then in background farther to see.
Same way for God and topics complicated,
Analogies for principles demonstrated.
As Deity Lord most merciful to come,
Benefited by understanding even some.