A parrot in the wild is an amazing sight to all who are sensitive to beauty. Here is the great master J. Krishnamurti seeing a parrot on a tree. Listen to the thrill in his voice as you read his words.
“A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn't preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone.
“You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren't even conscious that you weren't thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink - and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place.
“Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time; in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.
“Someone called from the house beyond the garden, and the dead branch was suddenly bare.”
Here is a sight I witnessed a few days ago.
It was quite early in the morning. The east had just begun to turn crimson. I was on my usual walk when I saw two men standing under a tall, green wild tree next to a posh school not more than two minutes from my house. They were both looking up and excitedly gesturing while making strange sounds. And then I heard one of the sweetest female voices I have ever heard calling – “Mithoo! Mithoo!” It was as though the whole surroundings and all the trees and vegetation around had goose bumps at the sweetness of the voice. The morning itself seemed to melt in the love in the voice. I turned and looked and saw the source of the voice: a young woman in her early youth – svelte, delicate, tall, fair. She was obviously from a well to do family. As I was walking towards the two men who were animatedly making sounds looking up at the tree, she was approaching them from a side road, walking like grace itself, like embodied loveliness, almost floating towards the tree.
It was then I saw it with a shudder – she carried in her hand one of the ugliest things in existence – a bird cage. No, the cage itself was not made without beauty – what was ugly was the fact that it was a cage. What can be uglier than a cage?
I looked up at the tree once again. Perched on the topmost branch of the tree was an incredibly beautiful green parrot, its beak glowing in the early morning light like ruby.
The girl was now directly under the tree. Looking up and raising her sweet voice she called again, “Mithoo, Mithoo!”
The next instant the parrot spread its wings and fluttering them, took off from the tree without so much as a glance at the pretty girl with the cage. A sense of deep, unspeakable joy filled my heart. My steps suddenly became more jubilant and I felt as though they had suddenly developed wings, as though they hardly touched the ground as I continued on my morning walk. There was a fresh bounce to my steps now. The sweetness of the morning suddenly multiplied many times for me.
I hate all kinds of bondage, even when it is in the name of love.
We cage birds without giving a thought to what a horrible experience it would be to them. To have birds in cages is supposed to be an expression of love for them. How can imprisoning them, taking away their freedom, their flight, denying them the sky and the wind and the rain be love?
I have been practicing and teaching meditation for several decades now. One of the first things that meditation does to you is to make you sensitive. As a great master puts it, “Meditation will bring you sensitivity, a great sense of belonging to the world. You become so sensitive that even the smallest blade of grass takes on an immense importance for you. Your sensitivity makes it clear to you that this small blade of grass is as important to existence as the biggest star. And this sensitivity will create new friendships for you – friendships with trees, with birds, with animals, with mountains, with rivers, with oceans, with stars. Life becomes richer as love grows, as friendliness grows.”
We cage and chain up animals too. One of the saddest sights I have seen in my life is of a young monkey chained to a tree – to one of the horizontal branches of the tree. The branch stood some ten feet above the ground and the poor monkey had a short chain around its neck that did not allow it to move more than a couple of feet. There the monkey stayed, endlessly walking up and down on that branch, day and night, in summer and winter, in rain and thunder…
Birds are born to live in the open air, to hunt or gather their own food, and to live the joyfulness of flight. Instead we imprison them in tiny cages, feed them what we assume would please them and expect them to entertain us, as though they were created for our entertainment.
Here is a small, beautiful poem from the Chinese saint Zhuangzi:
The little marsh pheasant
Must hop ten times
To get a bite of grain.
She must run a hundred steps
Before she takes a sip of water.
Yet she does not ask
To be kept in a hen run
Though she might have all she desired
Set before her.
She would rather run
And seek her own little living
One of my favourite Hindi poems is Shivmangal Singh Suman’s Ham Panchhi Unmukt Gagan Ke.
Ham panchi unmukt gagan ke
Pinjar baddh na gaa paayenge
Kanak teeliyon se takraakar
Pulkit pankh toot jaayenge
We are birds of the boundless sky,
Locked up in cages, how can we sing?
Flapping against the bars of gold
We shall break our feathers frail.
Running brooks give us drinks
Locked up in cages, how can we drink?
Much better the bitter fruits of neem
Than delicacies served in golden wares.
According to the Padma Purana, once child Sita in Mithila hears two parrots, a male and his wife, speaking of how Rama would wed her and how they would live a happy life as king and queen. Sita asks her sakhis, her girl friends, to catch the birds and bring them to her so that she could get more details of her future from them. The birds answer all her questions, but still little Sita refuses to let them go. She would let them go, she says, only after Rama comes to Mithila and marries her as they say. They have created longing for Rama in her heart through their words, she explains. She assures them she would keep them in her palace with all love and care. But the female parrot says that wouldn’t do, they’d not be happy in the palace since they are birds of the wild. She also tells Sita she is with eggs and needs to go to the wild to lay them. She even goes to the extent of assuring Sita that after the eggs are hatched and the chicks are born, she would come back to her.
Still Sita does not agree. Now the male parrot speaks, promising to bring his wife and give her to Sita after the chicks are born. Sita tells him he can go wherever he likes, but she is not going to let the female parrot go. The bird begs her repeatedly to let his wife go, but Sita adamantly refuses.
Eventually, in her frustration, the female bird gives up her life after cursing Sita that she too would be separated from her husband Rama while she is pregnant. Seeing his wife dead, the male birds throws himself into the waters of the Ganga, vowing he would be reborn in Rama’s city and because of his words Rama would abandon her.
It is this male bird who dies with vengeance in his heart after cursing Sita that is reborn as the washer man of Ayodhya who becomes the cause of Rama abandoning Sita.
Perhaps the Padma Purana story is told to absolve Rama from the responsibility of abandoning innocent Sita while she was pregnant, something Indian culture has not been able to digest and has made numerous attempts to find justifications for. But whatever it is, I love the story for speaking against cruelty to animals and birds. In our greed, our insensitivity, all over the world today we practice brutality towards animals and birds in the name of fashion, medicine, and profit without a thought to the pain and agony caused to them.
Papillon, in the inspiring and celebrated movie of that name, says: I shall either live free or not live at all.
It was Maya Angelou who said “A caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.”
When our Vedic ancestors wanted to choose a symbol for ultimate freedom, spiritual freedom, they chose a bird – Garutman or Garuda, the eagle. For them Garuda was the symbol of the enlightened mind, the awakened mind, mind that has broken all shackles. Garuda, a bird, was the metaphor for the free mind, the empty mind, which is the ultimate goal of yoga, of spirituality, what the Japanese call mushin, the No-Mind. And what could be a better symbol for freedom than the free flying bird in the open sky? It is that bird that we put in cages in the name of love!!