Two Birds on the Tree of Life

Two Birds on the Tree of Life - allan godfrey 180429

Two Birds on the Tree of Life (Photo by Alan Godfrey on Unsplash)

By Jayant Kalawar

Many of you may know about the metaphor used in the Upanishads. Of the two birds on the tree of life.

It is a way of deconstructing ourselves, to become aware of how we function in this world.

We are the two birds. The tree of life is the cosmos we perch on.

One of the birds is the eater bird. The other is the observer bird.

The eater bird has desires and it has fears to match its desires. It desires to eat the fruits it sees on the cosmic tree. It starts by eating what is nearest to it. Then its appetite increases and it hops to other branches. Higher branches, with apparently big juicy fruit. We start by only wanting to eat, be just about warm and to sleep. Then we want to have fun. Then we want to have social status: more food, more house, more car, more degrees, more fashion statements, more show-off. Many of us want to have children. We want them to maintain and increase our social status. We do this every day and night. We are either nibbling or grasping off the cosmic tree or we are plotting and planning how to eat more and more.

The eater bird starts triggering its fears as soon as it starts desiring. What if I do not get to the fruit. What if some other eater bird grabs the fruit before I can eat it all. What if there is no more fruit on the branch I am on. What if I cannot jump to the higher branches. What if other eater birds knock me off this branch. What if they do not let me get on to another branch. What if. What if.

Those are the fears we carry with us all the time. Free floating anxieties. Many times those fears come true. It is an uncertain world out there. We, as eater birds, have very little control. We may deceive ourselves to believe that we are in control of some part of some fruit. We know we are not in control. And it reinforces our anxieties.

Many of us hear inner voices sagely telling us to stick to what we know. In our comfort zones. Those voices are our fears talking to us. They are telling us how to manage our fears down and make the most of the fruits in hand. We give it fancy names. Managing risks down. Maximizing returns. We feel good that we are sophisticated and modern. We are eater birds on the cosmic tree. Eating fruit we do not own. On which we have very little control on.

And then hopping along with the eater bird part is the observer bird. Always there, besides us. If only we were to look. It is that part of us which has an understanding of the nature of the cosmos and our part in it. When we connect and immerse ourselves in the observer bird part of us, we may be able to calm down our desires. As our desires become minimal, so do our fears. When our fears become minimal, we can sleep better. We are more energized with less.

There are primal desires that never go away. We manifest in this physical body. It comes with the desire to survive. And the other desire most of us come with is the one to procreate. So while we may be able to minimize material and social desires at a personal level, these primal desires of the eater bird need a culture that helps manage these primal desires to a minimal level, without being violent with each other. That is where the personal become social.

The cultural fabric seems to be collapsing in slow motion around us, as science and technology of the material becomes our master, ruling how we live and connect with each other under the guise of Reason. We seem to be slowly but surely becoming even more disconnected from the observer bird part of us.

The challenge is not just at a personal level. It is even more so at a social level. And it is global. Start with a contemplation: what will the world be like to really act out that we desire minimally and flourish as observers of the cosmos. Step back, from time to time, from being an eater bird, and be the part that is naturally you: the quiet observer.

Have a great week.

© 21BanyanTree.com and Jayant Kalawar