The Gilded Cage
We were on a visit to the zoo, and the kids were having the time of their lives. They stopped in front of each and every cage housing different animals, making faces at them. We stopped in front of the parrots cage. The din was deafening, with the parrots shrieking at the top of their shrill voices, annoyed at the unpresentable human faces confronting them and calling to each other to beware of the noxious Homo sapiens. One parrot said to the other, Look at their flat noses! Aren't they real specimens of ugliness?
The other replied, Yes, indeed they are. And isn't it really funny, they think we are in the cage, realising little that it is they who are eternal prisoners!
More than the first bird's personal remark, it was the second one's impudence that was more insulting, and we were stunned at a mere bird having the temerity to abuse its human masters. Anger and annoyance bubbled in us and we were contemplating all sorts of mayhem, when the truth of the bird s remark struck us upon reflection.
Parrots have always been held out to be intelligent creatures. We hear of the parrots of Mandana Mishra arguing among themselves about such advanced concepts as SphOta vAda (...when the Universe is created, the Brahman or Impersonal God first manifests Himself as a Word or Logos called the Sphota and then, through the power of the Word, the perceptible Universe comes into being - Sphota is often symbolised and expressed by the sacred word AUM). The parrots kept by Sri Kodai Nacchiar were endowed with an equal measure of love for Sri Krishna and constantly kept calling, Govinda, Govinda. Even if She were to punish the birds by starving them, they still cried out Trivikrama, Vamana etc.-
Koottil irundu KiLi eppOdum Govinda Govinda endru
azhaikkum oottakkodAdu seruppan Agil UlagalandAn endru uyara koovum .
The Venkatesa Suprabhata Stotram speaks of the parrots of Thirumala rising very early in the morning and singing a sweet wake-up call to the Lord of the Seven Hills-
ShukA: patanti Sri Venkatachalapate Tava Suprabhatam
Srimad Rahasyatraya saram too recounts the tale of two parrots, one brought up by Rishis and the other by bestial hunters, imbibing the qualities and habits of their respective masters, demonstrating that conduct and character are more a function of the company one keeps than of good or bad birth.
When the credentials of such parrots flashed in our minds, we felt that the insult the bird in the zoo had hurled at us must indeed have an element of truth. This set us thinking.
What a strange thing to say! We, human beings, in a cage! What a preposterous idea! However, the more we thought about it, the more we started wondering.
What is the effect of being caged? It is the denial of freedom, of movement, of action as per one s will and pleasure. Are we free? Are we our own masters? Do we have the independence to act out our whims and fancies?
Do we have the freedom to determine how long we live?
And, after this life, do we have the right to determine where we go? Starting right at the beginning, do we have any say in where, to whom and as what we are born in this world?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding No .
Those who think otherwise are merely deluding themselves about their imaginary freedom .
We have it on good authority that we are prisoners of Karma, dancing to its dictates. The strong shackles of Karma bind us hand and foot, says Sri Nammazhwar-
thiNNam azhunda katti pala seivinai van kayittrAl
puNnai maraya varindu ennai pOra vaitthAi puramE .
If we appear to have a measure of independence, it is only to the extent of a bird tied to a post with a piece of string-its degree of freedom is limited to the radius of the string. It can never exceed its limits, try as it might-
soothra baddha sakunim iva .
We are but pet parrots in a gilded cage, confirms Swami Desikan in Sri DehalIsa Stuti
leelA shakuntam iva mAm sva pada upalabhdhyai
Svairam kshipan duritha panjaratO guNasttham
This world is indeed a huge cage, in which all Jeevatmas have been imprisoned. Given that the true nature of the Atma is eternal bliss and boundless wisdom, it is the continued imprisonment in this cage that robs us of our normal attributes, makes us slaves to our faculties and makes us forget our original stature and wisdom. This imprisonment is so debilitating to our spirit that we first reconcile ourselves to it and then actually start liking it. Then there comes a stage when we find this incarceration delightful and give up all thought of getting out of the cage.
This cage, with its apparently golden bars and meshes, appears to us too beautiful to be forsaken and the morsels of ephemeral pleasure that we are fed occasionally make us long for more and more, totally oblivious to the indescribable bliss that was ours once and that could be ours again, if only we made the effort. Within the world, which is the bigger cage, there is a smaller one, the human body, which forms the inner wall of the prison encircling the Jeevatma. Even if the sentence in a particular cell comes to an end, it doesn t mean an automatic release for the soul, which often leaps from the frying pan of one body into the fire of another.
Our five faculties, the indriyAs, form our jailors, which ensure total and implicit obedience to themselves-
Avi thigaikka iyvar kumaiikum chittrinbam
PAviyEnai pala nee kAtti paduppAyO
Laments Sri Nammazhwar, despairing at the hypnotic influence of these five faculties, which make us abject slaves to them, ensuring our permanent captivity in this body and mundane morass.
Are we then doomed to eternal internment in this Gilded Cage? Is there no way out of this rigorous imprisonment?
Even persons guilty of the gravest offences have a limitation to their sentence. Why not we, then? When are we going to walk free, with our feet rid of the shackles of good and bad deeds and our head held high, shorn of the stigma of being a permanent prisoner? Would we ever inhale the invigorating breath of freedom? When would we become a free agent, free to act as we like?
The all-powerful Judge who put us in the penitentiary also gives us the opportunity to redeem ourselves. Prisons are after all reformatories, meant to bring errant humanity back on the twin rails of Sathya and Dharma. Once we learn the lessons of our own nature, that of the Lord, the inalienable relationship that subsists between Him and ourselves, and, above all, that the place we are living in is a cage, however pleasurable it might appear to be, and is in fact the root-cause of all sorrow-when we learn these lessons, the Lord signs a decree commuting our life sentence and sets us free, once we adopt the upAyAs (remedial measures) of Bhakti (devotion) or Prapatthi (surrender). We are freed forever from the vicious cycle of births and deaths.
Free at last of our constricting bonds, we return to our natural abode, Sri Vaikuntam, restored to our pristine purity by the purgatorial prison life. We then become free as the air, our own masters for all practical purposes, but subject to the overall supremacy of the Lord - Sa SvarAt bhavati says the Upanishad, describing the bounty of freedom that greets us on our ascent to Paramapadam. In addition to setting us free, the Lord also grants us a status equal to Him ( niranjana: paramam sAmyam upaiti ) in all respects (except, of course, the power to sentence others to imprisonment and to dispense justice-in other words, the power to create, protect and destroy - Jagat vyApAra varjam ). We thus become full-fledged members of the egalitarian society of Sri Vaikuntam, blissfully engaged in the service of the Lord, constantly drinking in His matchless magnificence ( sadA pasyanti ). The Lord is as enamoured of our company as we are of His and would never think of sending us back to where we came from, even in the unlikely event of our wishing it ( puNai kodukkilum pOga ottAn ).
Thus, though all of us are indeed in prison, the keys to the prison gates have been left with ourselves. If we prefer to stay in the Gilded Cage, immersed in its passing pleasures, we throw away the keys and remain in fetters. If, on the other hand, we choose to shake off the seductive influence of the five faculties (five senses) and appeal to the ever merciful Judge for a reprieve, He would throw the prison gates open and allow us to walk free and tall, freed forever from stigma.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Once, in a class of management students there was a very involving discussion on the subject of "Social bonding and the strength of a society".
The opinion was clearly divided. A group of students was all for a society of achievers , while the other was favouring a society with care and space for all.
The professor asked the students to elaborate on their stands. One group said that it is the concept of survival of the fittest. Only achievers can compete and excel in all fields , giving rise to a strong society. Non-achievers in fact weaken the society , hence have no place in a strong society.
The other group suggested that a society could not be strong & healthy unless all its constituents are provided with equal opportunities and resources are shared amongst them in equitable manner. As per this group disproportionate resources and status realities weaken the society.
After a while, when the class could not arrive at any consensus, the professor interrupted and said " My dear young friends , let me tell you a story which may help you understand as to what factors are most important for a strong and integrated society."
"Friends, this is the story of Concrete. You all know what is Concrete !"
"Concrete is a mixture of cement and sand. It is used in construction of all civil structures. Some of the tallest and strongest of all time great buildings, monuments, sky scrappers, roads, Dams and bridges are in place only on the strength of the "Concrete".
"But what is the story of concrete ? " asked a boy who was getting anxious to know the story.
"Friends, Concrete is by far the strongest man made material that is the force behind the infrastructure required for growth & development of the mankind."
"Let's have a look ! What is this Concrete stuff made up of and how is it prepared."
"Well, One would immediately notice a grey mass of small "Pebbles" of all shapes and sizes , which are held together."
"Just take a close look and they appear to be packed to the limit, with no scope for further compression, isn't it !"
" Yes , they are held close to each other , but they leave sufficient space around them to accommodate the "Gravel".
"Watch the "Gravel" which are also closely held together as if nothing could pass through them. But when coming together to form a tightly held mass in Concrete, these "Gravel" also leave enough space between them to easily accommodate the "Sand Grains".
"Friends, "Sand Grains" come together to fill up the space left by other constituents, but are courteous enough to leave space around them to accommodate the "Cement Particles".
Well, "Cement Particles" too make a homogenous mass that actually binds all other constituents. They really can not afford to be loose. However, these "Cement Particles" also in a display of their magnanimity, leave enough room between them to allow "Water Molecules" have a free flow within the structure.
"Water Molecules" made of ions, quickly cover whatever space is left by others, but still are obliged to leave enough space for the "Air particles" to move in"
"Friends, this is the story of "Concrete" where although there is nothing equal, common or same amongst the constituents, they are gracious enough to provide the required space to one another and accommodate each other."
"This probably is the secret behind the strength of the "Concrete". The constituents seem to derive strength from each other, just by providing space to each other."
There was a pin drop silence in the classroom as the professor concluded. Every one was listening to the story with rapt attention. Suddenly the whole classroom was filled with sound of applause. Every one in the room was on his feet with expression of appreciation on their face as if giving a standing ovation to the "Concrete" structure around them.
The discussion was over. The concept was well understood. Consensus had blossomed like a newly born flower. They had discovered a lot of space for each other and certainly, there was no room for a dispute on the subject.
An article by : Nitin Kulkarni
Now think of Krishna consciousness - bhakti in relation to that binding cement. With it, all material things can be intergrated and utilised to bond the material world we live in with spiritual service to the Lord. Without it, we still have all manner of material elements - bahyopadhi, and there's still the spiritual realm - swarupopadhi, but the bond is lacking.
As Srila Prabhupad so nicely puts it;
“The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyäsadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth.” (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 4:29:36-37 purport.)
"We have various senses—the powers of seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, etc.—and all the propensities of our senses can be satisfied when the senses are engaged in the service of the Lord. Hrishikena hrishikesha-sevanam bhaktir ucyate: 'Bhakti means engaging all the senses in the service of the master of the senses, Hrishikesha.' (Närada-pancharätra) These material senses, however, cannot be engaged in the service of the Lord; therefore one has to become free from all designations. Sarvopädhi-vinirmuktam tatparatvena nirmalam [Cc. Madhya 19.170]. " (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 4:24:44 purport.)
As stated in the Närada-pancharätra, sarvopädhi-vinirmuktam tatparatvena nirmalam: [Cc. Madhya 19.170] when the mind and senses are purified, one’s total existence is purified, and one’s designations are also purified. One no longer considers himself a human being, a demigod, cat, dog, Hindu, Muslim and so forth. When the senses and mind are purified and one is fully engaged in Krishna’s service, one can be liberated and return home, back to Godhead. (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 5:11:7 purport.)
“One should be free from all material designations and cleansed of all material contamination. He should be restored to his pure identity, in which he engages his senses in the service of the proprietor of the senses. That is called devotional service.” [Chaitanya charitamrita. Madhya 19.170]
"The Krishna consciousness movement is a movement of bhakti-yoga. Vairägya-vidyä-nija-bhakti-yoga [Chaitanya charitamrita. Madhya 6.254]. By following the principles of this movement, one becomes disassociated from material mental concoctions and is established on the original platform of the eternal relationship between the living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead as servant and master." (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 10:1:43 purport.)
...and that's concrete.