There is this famous story in the Upanishads which you also mention sometimes in your talks.
Two birds live together. They are friends and have made the same tree their home. One of them, the embodied being, eats the tree’s delicious fruit while the other one, the witnessing consciousness, simply witnesses what is going on without eating anything. The first bird grieves helplessly about the snares of infatuation. But when it finally looks at its companion in all its grandeur, the bird transcends its sorrows.
Please explain the significance of this story to us.
All the agony of life, all its anguish, and also the possibility of all the blessings of life that become available to the man who has attained enlightenment are hidden in this story. Contained in this anecdote is all the agony and the ecstasy possible to man. Let us understand first the agony of life and then the ultimate bliss of life; then the meaning of this story will become clear on its own.
While asleep at night you dream that you have lost your way in a dark forest. You search and search, but you cannot find the path. You want to ask somebody the way but there is nobody there. You are thirsty too, and hungry, but there is no trace of either any spring of water or any fruit as far as you can see. In deep agony you cry and weep so much so that you wake up. And in that waking, everything changes in an instant. Where before there was sorrow, now laughter prevails and you start to smile, seeing that your agony was only a dream.
But how is it that the dream touched you so deeply? How is it that the dream was felt to be so real? Why did you get so lost in the dream? Why couldn’t you remember in the dream that this was only a dream? Why did the awareness not arise in you that it was not real, that it was only your imagination? Your awareness did not arise because even during your waking hours it is difficult to be a witness; how could you possibly be a witness in your sleep, in your dream? When even during our waking hours we choose to be the doer, it is a matter of certainty that the same will be the case in our dreams. And it is this being the doer that is our agony in life – that is the whole trouble.
To be the doer means that we assume ourselves to be doing things that are really happening on their own. Whatever is happening to my sense organs we assume it is happening to “me”; whatever is happening on the outside, we assume it is happening to our interiority. To be the doer means that where you are in fact only a witness, where your presence is only that of a watcher, you have fallen into the illusion that you are actually a character in the drama you are watching. The one who lost his way in the dream is certainly not you, because you were asleep in bed the whole time! The one wandering in the forest is only a creation of your mind.