THE ANALOGY OF TWO BIRDS IN THE UPANISHAD

THE ANALOGY OF TWO BIRDS (DWA SUPARNA)

The analogy of two birds (dwa suparna) is very famous in Vedanta.  In this article I would like to share with you the meaning and implication of this analogy.

The analogy of two birds comes in the Mundaka Upanishad as two verses – 3.1.1 and 3.1.2.

The analogy explains, on a tree with lots of branches and fruits, two birds are sitting on two different branches.  The two birds are of the similar nature except their gunas.  One bird is sitting on the higher branch and the other is sitting on the lower branch.  The bird sitting on the lower branch is hopping from branch to branch and tasting the fruits of the tree.  Some fruits taste good and some are bitter or sour.  Some are very sour.  Immediately the bird gets disappointed and it is taken aback.  It sits quite for some time.  At times it looks up at the bird sitting on the higher branch.  Meanwhile, all the time, the bird sitting on the higher branch is just observing the bird on the lower branch, without moving from its place.  The bird on the higher branch does not taste any fruit.  The bird on the lower branch is attracted by the calmness, peacefulness and the luminance of the bird on the higher branch.  It goes and sits near the bird on the higher branch for some time.  After sometime by its inherent nature, it hops from branch to branch and tastes both good fruits and bitter fruits.  Whenever it tastes a bitter fruit, it goes near the bird on the higher branch and sits there for some time and this drama continues.  The lower bird by its acquaintance at times with the bird on the higher branch, the nature of the lower bird gets gradually transformed like the higher bird.  After sometime, the nature of the lower bird gets completely transformed and it becomes same as the higher bird and gets absorbed in the higher bird.  In fact, the lower bird realizes that, there is no lower bird itself and it is the imagination of the higher bird. 

This analogy explains the mind of a spiritual seeker.

The implication of this analogy is, the bird on the higher branch is compared with the Atma.  The bird on the lower branch is compared with the jiva.  The Atma is always calm and it is the witness of the jiva.  The jiva performs karma and it tastes the results of its karma.  The jiva is the combination of the sthula sarira (gross body), sukshma sarira (subtle body), karana sarira (causal body) and citabasa.  The sthula sarira is the combination of the five basic elements.  The sukshma sarira is the combination of the seventeen components (the five pranas, five motor organs, five sense organs, mind and intellect).  The karana sarira is that darkness we experience in deep sleep.  It has the subtle form of all our karmic impression.  The reflection of the Atma falls on the sukshma sarira and it is called the citabasa.  From the sukshma sarira the consciousness is transferred to the gross body.  The citabasa makes the body and mind active.  Without the citabasa the body and mind are inert.  The consciousness we experience in the body and mind is the citabasa.  In deep sleep this consciousness disappears.  However, when we wake up we are aware of our sleep.  This is due to the pure consciousness, Atma.   

The lower bird which is compared to the jiva is a karta (doer) and bhokta (experiencer).  When the citabasa is attached with the motor organs then the jiva is a karta.  When the citabasa is attached with the mind and sense organs the jiva is a bhokta.  A jiva is a karta and bhokta and so desire arises in the mind.  Whenever a jiva tastes the result of a negative karma, it is taken aback, becomes depressed and it does some spiritual practices to balance its mind.  Again by the instinct of its karma it involves in doing fresh karma and tastes the fruits of the old karmas.  This process goes on.  By involving in spiritual practices, gradually its nature gets transformed and it becomes calm and peaceful.  The jiva continuously involve in spiritual practices, after some time it realizes that, “I am that which I am trying to meditate on”.  The jiva realizes that it is the Atma itself and the jiva is the mere reflection of the Atma.  The jiva realizes that the world is not different from its Self.  This is the ultimate realization.  The jiva become Atma or Brahman. 

This is the implication of the two birds (dwa suparna) analogy.  It is a very important analogy in Vedanta.  Vedanta is nothing but the shift in consciousness from the lower self to the higher self.