There was a big banyan tree. The trunk of the tree which sustains it symbolizes one’s karma, accumulated and carried over in successive births. The branches having leaves and fruits represent the different experiences one undergoes in life. As the leaves grow up, mature and fall, the experience that one gains also pass on and one gains new experience. The flowers and fruits which the tree bears signify one’s actions. Seated on top of a tree is a beautiful bird that is self-sufficient. This bird has no desire and is ever in a state of bliss. It survives on its own strength. On the other side of the tree, there is another bird which vacillates here and there, shifts from one branch to another and is always restless. As it tastes new fruits, its desires increase. It sees the self-effulgent bright bird above and aspires to be like that. It repeatedly makes attempt to reach the bird above and after some initial failures reaches it ultimately. Now, the radiance of the bird above is reflected on this bird. Its restlessness gone, it absorbs itself with the higher bird. It transpired that the reality was the single bird above. The lower bird was just a shadow of the bird above. Similarly, there is a supreme Self, above all of us and there is a mind below which asserts its own individuality. When the realization is dawned that the Self is supreme, the individuality ceases and the Self, like the bird above, alone exists.
A man endowed with knowledge of the self, though experiencing disease, old age and death, remains unruffled by them because he knows they are the characteristic of the body and not of the self. He is free from desires, which arises only when one is identified with the body. He sees himself in the universe and the universe in himself and so does not desire anything. Why should he desire anything more when he has attained complete fulfillment.
But why we find it difficult to attain that state? We do not regard ourselves as the oneness of existence. We link our happiness and sorrow with others. We are chained to the world, its attractions, its attachments etc. We are caught in the net of Maya. Our eyes are blurred. It is the mind that has taken control of us. Our concept of happiness is defined by the mind. Just as the clouds overshadow the sun, the mind overshadow the Self (Atman). With the mind working its own way from within and Maya (the world of illusion) working its way from outside, we become the prisoner.
Just as the clouds move away and sun becomes visible, if we overcome the mind, we will see the ever existing pure Atman shining as the “I-I” within. This is made possible through devotion, contemplation and self enquiry. Once we attain the knowledge of Self, we become liberated.
Liberation does not mean going away from responsibilities, duties or any engagement from the world. Liberation simply means being aware of our true and essential nature. Once the Self knowledge is gained or regained, we become free from fear of death because death occurs only to the body. We become free from attachments and aversions. Neither the past nor the future worry us. We always live in the present. What is a free soul? Let us hear what Swami Nikhilananda says: “Sometimes like a fool, sometimes like a sage, sometimes possessed of regal splendour, sometimes wandering about, sometimes behaving like a motionless python, sometimes wearing a benign expression, sometimes honored, sometimes insulted, sometimes completely ignored-thus lives a free soul, ever happy in the knowledge of Brahman.’