A Story of Two Birds – Quote from Mandukya Upanishad

Mandukya Upanishad Quote

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते ।
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ॥

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte ।
tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvattyanaśnannanyo abhicākaśīti ॥ 

English Translation:
Two birds, inseparable companions, perch on the same tree,
one eats the fruit, the other looks on. The first bird is our
individual self feeding on the pleasures and pains of this world;
The other is the universal Self, silently witnessing all.

Hindi Translation:
दो पक्षी, अविभाज्य साथी, एक ही पेड़ पर आश्रय करते हैं,
एक फल खाता है, दूसरा केवल देखता है।
पहला पक्षी हमारा व्यक्तिगत स्वयं है जो अपने कर्म से सुखों और दुखों का भोक्ता है;
और दुसरा सनातन स्वयं है, जो मौन रहकर साक्षित्वरूप​ से सब कुछ देख रहा है।

Mandukya Upanishad 3.1.1 

Explanation by Swami Krishnanand

There are two birds in this tree of life. This tree of life may be either this body of the individual, or it may be the entire creation itself.

Ishvara (God) and Jiva (living beings) are present in the world of creation as well as in the human body. They are friends. They are inseparable siblings, one connected with the other perpetually. These are compared to birds living on a single tree which is this vast creation. And they enjoy their existence on the tree.

The only difference is, one of these birds is busy enjoying the delicious fruit that is of the tree and the other bird is not interested in eating anything. It is merely looking on, unconcerned and unattached.

This unattached bird is God, Ishvara, seated in your own heart and everywhere in this world. The bird that is eating the sweet fruit of this tree is the individual soul, the mind-body complex. So there are two phases of experience going on in one’s own body: a consciousness that is totally detached, and a consciousness that is very much involved.

The detached consciousness in us is called Kutastha- Chaitanya. It stands uncontaminated even in the state of deep sleep and enables us to regain our consciousness of the identity of personality when we awake the next morning and feel that we are there.

This consciousness of our being the same person that we were yesterday is not the action of the mind, not of the sense organs, not the body. The body cannot know anything; it is unconscious, and the mind and the senses were not functioning in sleep. So who told us that we existed yesterday?

There is some minimal awareness, consciousness qua being, as it is called, which is our essence that existed in deep sleep, and that is responsible for our memory of the fact of our having existed yesterday also. That is the uncontaminated detached consciousness in us. It is not connected with body, mind and sense organs. That is the Ishvara-tattva that is in us. The jiva-tattva is our own selves.

The very consciousness that is contaminated by the body, mind and sense organs becomes jiva. Consciousness connected with the sense organs, mind and body is the jiva, the individual, so-called. The detached consciousness, unconnected with these, is Ishvara himself because the general consciousness we experience in the state of deep sleep unconnected with the senses, body, and mind is Universal in its nature. Because consciousness cannot be located only in one place, cannot be divided into parts, cannot have fractions, it is therefore Universal.

Hence, Universal being is inside us. In the deep sleep state, we land ourselves on it, as it were, and feel the bliss of it so intensely that we do not like to wake up in the morning. So intense is the joy of sleep that we want to go to sleep again and again. But when we wake up, we are once again the jiva, the fruit-eating bird in this world tree of samsara, and not even conscious that there is another bird sitting there, always uncontaminated.

Are we aware that we have a universal background in us? No, never. We always think we are Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so – this body, that body, this individual, that individual, performing this work and that work. Has anyone time to believe that there is a universal ocean at the back of our consciousness? We are floating on the sea of Absolute Being. Do we know that? Has anybody had time to think like this? No. Because we are eating the sweet fruit of life, we are very busy indeed. Let the Universal be there; what does it matter to us? So this bird that is eating the sweet fruit does not even know that another bird is sitting here, as it is so much engrossed in the indulgence of the bliss, joy, pleasure of eating the sweet fruit. These are the two birds – dvā suparṇā.

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What are your thoughts on this? Vedānta is considered as the base of Hindu Philosophy which deals with the subjects like Soul, Super-soul and the Universe.

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  • Pradeep Bhargava on

    Ref: A Story of Two Birds – Quote from Mandukya Upanishad
    The quote is from Mundak Upanishad and not Mandukya Upanaishaad
    Kindly consider correcting the same

  • Srinivasan on

    That the bird eating the fruits is individual self and the other watching is the universal self is your interpretation- not explicit in the shloka. The eating bird could be our mind with body doing actions and the watching bird could be the Atma according to Advaita.

  • parimal radadiya on

    I think this story is from mundaka upanishad and not from mandukya upanishad.

  • Ravi G on

    Dear Swami, thank you for the excellent commentary. I still have a question:

    We become the enjoying bird when awake but merge with the ishvara in sleep. Who’s this entity that either becomes the bird during wakefulness while merging with ishvara during sleep or say in a deep meditation. Looks like This entity is the one that has the ability to become aware of jivatma or paramatma and merge 8th either depending on its state of illusion.

    Could you please elaborate on this entity?

    Thank you.

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