In my volatile teens, I was struck by the poignant beauty of an ancient metaphor (contained within the Mundaka Upanishad) that speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a tree: one bird eats the fruit of the tree while the other watches.
The first bird represents the individual self/soul; distracted by the fruits (signifying sensual pleasures), she forgets her lord and lover and tries to enjoy the fruit independent of him. (This separating amnesia is known in Sanskrit as maha-maya or enthrallment; it results in the plunge of the individual into the ephemeral realm of birth and death.) As for the second bird, it is an aspect of the Divine/Self that rests in every heart—and which remains forever constant even as the individual soul is bedazzled by the material world.
This teaching implies that it is ignorance of our true nature that creates a vicious cycle: the individual, being blinded by the illusion of existing as a separate entity, has no option but to act—and therefore fresh misery is piled on the old. But the Absolute is whole and free of illusion; performing no actions it is not bound by karma. Continue reading