On the outskirts of the village of Baandi was a small temple. The temple wore a deserted look. It was apparent on seeing it that the villagers lacked interest in the gods, or had perhaps found a more interesting pre-occupation than worshipping an idol supposed to represent God.
From dawn; as the first rays of the sun played through the eves and brackets of the temple walls, till the hours of dusk, when the last rays of the sun bade farewell to the grains of dust upon the idols of the temple, the temple waited for a visitor, a visitor who could perhaps make it regain its lost glory.
Days and months were passing swiftly by and the ageing temple was growing weary of the wait. Much weakened by neglect, it had lost the strength and vigor to make a ritualistic offering in worshipping God. So it silently prayed in its heart, on behalf of the villagers, as a duty entrusted to it by those who installed it.
One fine morning as the sun sent its rays to visit the temple, a ‘fakir’ happened to pass by it. The ‘fakir’ was an old, but actively fit man. He had been walking all night through the forest, with the hope to find a village where he could probably find some food. The fakir was quite relieved to see the temple. At last he had reached a village.
He went inside the temple and on seeing the state of this place of worship, decided to give it a new look. Even though he was tired he decided not to rest until he had cleaned the temple. It seemed he had communicated with the temple and heard its woes of long term neglect. The temple was infused with the enthusiasm of the fakir, and both the fakir and the temple enjoyed each other’s company. The temple had at last got its most awaited visitor!
The fakir’s hard work was rewarded by few passersby who were pleased to see the temple refreshed. They brought him some fruits and sweets. He thanked God for having sent him the fruits of his labor and keeping alive his belief that no work done goes unrecorded and unrewarded.
After the refreshments he went to the nearby pond for a bath and then set out on the village tour. As he went about the village he was surprised to see almost every house in the village to have a caged bird as a pet. Some had two; some five and some had a whole nursery of birds! Bird catching, rearing and selling was a predominant occupation of the village inhabitants. Some were engaged in cage-making. Cages of all shapes and sizes, ornately designed and decorated were on for sale! Too much of the village life-force was being put into this business.
As the fakir moved on, he stopped to rest a while under a tree. The tree stood near a bird catcher’s home.
Two birds; a parrot and a cockatoo, sitting in the cage there, were talking to each other. Their sound caught the fakir’s attention and he heard the parrot saying to the cockatoo: “Don’t you feel like ever getting out of this cage?”
The cockatoo replied: “Are you foolish! I had been tiring myself all these years in the jungle- flying about searching for food, building nests and saving myself from enemies. Here at least I can sleep in peace. Food is also readily available, and the master takes care that no enemies prey upon us. Plus we have this luxurious cage to stay in. I am so much enjoying this! Who wants to be free! Freedom my foot! Getting into the cage is really blissful! Just think of the many birds that are without cages and masters to look after, poor things have to struggle so hard for a living!”
The parrot was taken aback at the cockatoo’s words. He had always heard the tales of freedom from his elders. All those tales glorified freedom as a valuable thing, something they valued much more than being in a cage! His family values and beliefs had taught him that freedom was the most precious resource a bird could ever have. And here was this cockatoo who spoke from direct experience. His words seemed true and convincing too. But the parrot was torn between his own set of ideals and the experience of the cockatoo.
He started questioning himself “Is it my beliefs and my ideals that are making me sad, while in this cage the cockatoo enjoys himself? Are those age old ideals all a waste? Are they untrue? The cockatoo’s belief is exactly the opposite of my own beliefs, but they are convincing as they are powered by direct experience. My beliefs lack power as they lack experience, they were simply passed down from generation to generation, while those who taught me those beliefs were themselves internally struggling against them. Wishing for an easy life, and hating the daily struggles of a life that was free but not exactly free. Then what exactly is freedom? Simply out of the cage isn’t freedom then what is it?”
The fakir watched and heard all this. He could understand the parrot’s dilemma and somehow felt that the birds needed him. He got up to meet the bird-catcher, the master of those birds.
A little boy’s voice inside the house was saying: “Father, please set those birds free.”
The father replied: “You silly boy, the birds are safe here, if I set them free some cat is sure to feast upon them.”
The fakir heard this, smiled and knocked at the door. The bird-catcher greeted the fakir and asked him what he could do for him.
The fakir said: “I want your cage and the two birds in it, would you like to sell them? I shall pay you a good price for the twosome.”
The bird-catcher was delighted at the offer, and readily agreed. The fakir handed out all the money he had collected in alms, to the bird-catcher. The deal was such that it made all involved in it to be happy, except the cockatoo who was a bit skeptical of how this new master would treat them.
On reaching the temple, the fakir set open the cage. The birds walked out but did not fly away. They had forgotten how to fly. Staying in the village bird farms for long and then in the cage, they had developed a dependant mind-set. They had no idea where to go, where to find food. They looked up at the fakir to give them some food. Now the fakir knew exactly what to do. He threw some grains up in the air, which fell at a little distance from the birds. The birds walked up to the grains to swallow them. And ah! They were already tired by this extra effort. They had forgotten to fly! Forgotten the meaning of being a bird!
The fakir was not a bird trainer; he knew that flying was instinctive in birds, so he had set them free to go wherever they wished to, while he busied himself in the upkeep of the temple and the worship. The birds roamed about freely in the temple with the fakir, watching him do his daily rituals. They followed him at work, ate when he ate, and rested when he slept. They had started feeling at home and like family with the fakir. They felt much healthier than they were in the cage. Felt lesser hunger than before as their mind was not focused only on the food. They had lots to explore about and learn. They could now fly short distances, perch upon the trees, look down and search their own food and water. But as of now, fear had not left their hearts. They could perch upon trees, but what if a cat was to climb up. They knew they were safe as long as they were in the temple but beyond that, it was an unknown world!
The fakir sensed this fear, and wanted to use it to their advantage. He knew that extreme situations bring out the best in individuals, so he brought a cat. The two birds took a magnificent flight upon seeing the cat. A flight as such as they had never before undertaken. A flight which they believed they could never make. They were frightened when they took off, and were trembling when they landed. But both were happy to realize that they could fly high! Each of them smiled at the other.
Until now they had viewed cats as enemies. Enemies were meant to be despised, to be feared and kept away from, a species that had always seemed to be a threat to them; today became their propellant to strength. They were seeing the cat in a new light now. They realized that all that we fear makes us stronger in a way. If they could fly swiftly and with ease to escape the cat, they would obviously be stronger than what they used to be, and had they been caught and feasted upon by the cat, even then, their whole being would become part of a stronger animal and they would continue to remain in existence as part of the cat. Death that they feared was totally out of question! The whole of existence is so well planned that it doesn’t support fear, rather it supports evolution.
From that day on they made it daily practice to fly. To fly for the sake of flying only, not just for food, or escaping predators. They had learnt a valuable lesson for life, ‘do not sharpen your arrows only when you need to strike – if they are sharp, you can strike anytime you need to.’
Gradually and with practice they were developing their flight muscles. They could fly higher and higher each day. All fears were slowly receding from their hearts. They now enjoyed landscapes from far atop, and had discovered the joy of flying. They discovered that flight itself was joy, and the food and protection it offered was only an added advantage. They understood the meaning of what they had once heard “One doesn’t live by bread alone” and found it to be true!
The parrot was beginning to realize the true meaning of freedom. How freedom meant much more than simply being out of the cage. Freedom that meant much more than simply finding one’s food and escaping with it. Freedom that meant not seeing an enemy as an enemy, and not simply escaping it. A freedom that opened a vast – vast world, which was unexplored till now! Freedom that widened and broadened the vision! The freedom whose tales he had heard from his elders. And now his beliefs were powered by his own experience, and he could feel the difference in the power. He could feel how experience actually outdoes the beliefs and one can always turn a belief into an experience or an experience into a belief!
The cockatoo also understood the value of true freedom. He understood that death was inevitable even in the cage that seemed comfortable, but was a meaningless life a cyclic repetition of feeding and excreting! It did not add to life the zest of flight. Freedom not only made you safe and comfortable but truly secure. True freedom was true security as true freedom happens only in absence of all fear. And when one has overcome all fear, one really feels secure! This was an invaluable learning that had changed the beliefs of cockatoo which were once powered by his experience and now slain to waste by the greater experience!
He also realized that a true master was not one who feeds you in a cage for his own amusement, but one who sets you free, helps you understand true freedom, overcome your fears, and helps you discover that true security is not just being ‘safe’ but overcoming fears. Both of them returned back to the fakir to thank him for releasing them from the cage and bringing them to this realization.
And the fakir said to them: “God made a bird of himself, not for food, or to run away from enemies, but to fly. Fly and do His work, let God fly through you and may you be one with Him as you fly.”
Then the cockatoo asked the fakir: “What of the others like us, who are caged?”
And the fakir replied: “Fly with fervor, fly with passion and fly with joy… and your joy shall make them seek theirs.”
With this, the fakir set on his journey once again. His work in the temple was complete now. More temples in other villages awaited him…
Author: Jyoti Prateek