by Srikanth_S

Mundaka Upanishad, Third Chapter, Canto-1, verses 1-3 (translation):

Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruit of divergent tastes, and the other looks on without eating. On the same tree, the individual soul remains drowned (i.e. stuck), as it were, and so it moans, being worried by its helplessness. When it sees thus the other, the adored Lord, and His glory, then it becomes liberated from sorrow. When the seer sees the Purusha – the golden hued, creator, Lord, and the source of the inferior Brahman – then the illumined one completely shakes off both merit and demerit, becomes taintless, and attains absolute equality [1].


The bound bird is the individual soul who is ignorant of his/her true nature, the free one is God, the tree is the dwelling place (i.e., body-mind complex), fruits – sweet (pleasures) and bitter (pain) – are results of one’s actions (karma), helplessness signifies the travails of being in ignorance, the “seeing” towards Purusha (or the free bird) implies turning attention towards God and doing spiritual practice (sadhana) to attain the Lord. Having attained the goal, the sense of individuality is lost completely and one is beyond the effects of karma (both merit and demerit).

I’ve attempted to depict this symbolism in poetry as follows:


Two birds of beautiful plumage perched on the tree,
One bound to the world and the other eternally free.
The free bird, serene, stood still on the tree-top,
Watching the lower one, bound, on the twigs do a hop.
Eating the fruits both sweet and bitter,
Spend its time and resources in a fritter.
The serene transcended both pleasure and pain,
Eating the fruits, the bound remained in chain.
The pain of bitter fruits taught it lessons of regret,
The pleasure of sweet fruits made it forget.
The pain of bitterness made the bound to ponder,
Resolving to reach the serene on the yonder.
Relinquishing its resolve with the arrival of pleasure,
Indulges in eating fruits again to go beyond at its leisure.
But the frequent bitterness in fruits kept it in remind,
To reach the serene as the goal of the mind.
Rises up to reach the serene, it will, only if little by little
At its own pace and measure to prove its mettle.
Approaching the serene it no longer remains bound
It and the serene were always One and so It found.



[1]. Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Sankaracharya (Vol. 2) – Translated by Swami Gambhirananda