The Bird in the Cage


Hey lady! Lady!! Wake up! Your bird is starving. Hey lady!

by Dravida dasa


Why is that woman blithely dusting the birdcage when it’s the bird itself, obviously sick or hungry, that urgently needs attention? She seems so caught up in polishing her golden cage that she’s forgotten all about the poor creature. Or perhaps she’s just too deaf and nearsighted to perceive its distress.

The urgency we feel in wanting to do something to remedy this outrage roughly parallels the urgency a self-realized spiritual master feels as he looks upon those of us who are suffering the pains of life in the material world. The parrot, you sec, represents the spiritual soul, the spark of consciousness encaged within the material body. The cage is the body itself, which covers the soul and keeps him trapped in the material world. And the old woman represents the person in spiritual ignorance, oblivious of the needs of the spiritual self within and absorbed in satisfying the demands of the external body.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada felt intense compassion for people suffering from spiritual ignorance, and he dedicated his life to teaching the science of Krsna consciousness so they could be enlightened. In his commentary on India’s greatest spiritual classic, Srimad-Bhagavatam, he writes, “The spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself. The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.”

Now, you may ask. How did the bird ever get into the cage in the first place? How did the soul ever become covered by matter? How did we ever lose sight of God?

The Vedic literature explains that each of us is a part of God, a minute particle of His spiritual energy. And because we are part of God we have His qualities, but in minute quantity. One of those qualities is independence.

God, or Krsna, has complete independence—He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. Our independence consists of being able to choose between serving Krsna and trying to imitate Him.

Serving Krsna is our constitutional activity and brings us eternal bliss in Krsna’s spiritual world. But when we try to imitate Krsna—when we try to usurp His position of supreme enjoyer and controller—we must come to the material world. Here we forget Krsna, acquire a body made of matter, and suffer perpetually in the cycle of repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. Eons ago, in some unimaginably distant millennium, we chose not to serve Krsna but to imitate Him. And we’ve been encaged in matter ever since.

To end our suffering, we need only choose now to serve Krsna. There is no other way, as Krsna affirms in the Bhagavad-gita (7.14): “My material energy is insurmountable—unless one surrenders to Me.” After all, Krsna is God, the supreme controller of both the spiritual and material energies. He has created the material world only to teach us that living apart from Him is misery. Once we learn that and begin to serve Him again, He compassionately lifts us above the painful dualities of material life.

The Vedic literature says that one who serves the Lord with his full energy is free of material bondage, even while still living in the material body. In other words, at every moment he understands himself to be transcendental to the pleasures and pains, the ups and downs, of material existence. Even in the greatest difficulty he remains undisturbed, serene in his transcendental loving relationship with Krsna. So life in the world of matter can be a pleasure when we’re nourished by spiritual contact with Krsna, just as life for our bird in the golden cage would be a pleasure if he were properly fed and cared for.

Of course, the bird in the cage would find ultimate happiness only in freedom: he wants to return to his home in the forest. Similarly, the self-realized soul yearns to return home, back to Godhead, to live with Krsna eternally. And this is the fruit of full surrender to the Lord.

“Wake up!” call out the Vedas. “Try to understand the great value of the human form of life. Don’t remain in the darkness of spiritual ignorance. Come to the light of transcendental knowledge.” The devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement, following the lead of Srila Prabhupada, echo this call of the Vedic literature. Human life is very rare, and it is the only form of life in which the soul enwrapped in ignorance can understand the science of God consciousness. The purpose of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is to provide knowledge of God in the form of books and other media, to provide a practical method for reestablishing our loving relationship with God through bhakti-yoga, devotional service, and to show by example how we can live in this world in a liberated and joyful state, serving God with all our vital energy. Now it is simply up to each of us to choose to quit polishing the cage and take care of the suffering bird within.

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