Critically explain the metaphysics ( the nature of Ultimate Reality ) of the Upanisads as expressed in the metaphor of the “chariot” and the “two birds”. Clearly bring out their differences. What aspects of this theory do you find appealing and what aspects do you find problematic?


2 Answers 2


As I have already discussed it to another similar question of yours.

So, i am giving the source of the verses.

The verses are as follows.:

  1. Two Birds.:

Mundaka Upanishad.:

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते । तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ॥१॥

III-i-1: Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruit of divergent tastes, and the other looks on without eating.

समाने वृक्षे पुरुषो निमग्नोऽनिशया शोचति मुह्यमानः । जुष्टं यदा पश्यत्यन्यमीशमस्य महिमानमिति वीतशोकः ॥२॥

III-i-2: On the same tree, the individual soul remains drowned (i.e. stuck), as it were; and so it moans, being worried by its impotence. When it sees thus the other, the adored Lord (Ishwara), and His glory, then it becomes liberated from sorrow.

Svetaswatara Upanishad.:

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते । तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यन श्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ॥६॥

IV-6: Two birds of beautiful plumage, who are inseparable friends, reside on the self-same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of the tree with relish while the other looks on without eating.

समाने वृक्षे पुरुषो निमग्नोऽनीशया शोचति मुह्यमानः । जुष्टं यदा पश्यत्यन्यमीशमस्य महिमानमिति वीतशोकः ॥७॥

IV-7: Sitting on the same tree the individual soul gets entangled and feels miserable, being deluded on account of his forgetting his divine nature. When he sees the other, the Lord of all, whom all devotees worship, and realizes that all greatness is His, then he is relieved of his misery.

Rig Veda 1.164.:

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परि षस्वजाते । तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभि चाकशीति॥२०॥

“20. Two birds associated together, and mutual friends, take refuge in the same tree; one of them eats the sweet fig; the other abstaining from food, merely looks on.”

यत्रा सुपर्णा अमृतस्य भागमनिमेषं विदथाभिस्वरन्ति । इनो विश्वस्य भुवनस्य गोपाः स मा धीरः पाकमत्रा विवेश॥२१॥

"21. Where those fine Birds HYMN ceaselessly their portion of life eternal, and the sacred synods, There is the Universe's mighty Keeper, who, wise, hath entered into me the simple."

यस्मिन्वृक्षे मध्वदः सुपर्णा निविशन्ते सुवते चाधि विश्वे । तस्येदाहुः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वग्रे तन्नोन्नशद्यः पितरं न वेद॥२२॥

"22. The, tree whereon the fine Birds eat the sweetness, where they all rest and procreate their offspring,- Upon its top they say the fig is luscious none gaineth it who knoweth not the Father."

  1. Chariot.:

Amritnada Upanishad.:

ओङ्कारं रथमारुह्य विष्णुं कृत्वाथ सारथिम् । ब्रह्मलोकपदान्वेषी रुद्राराधनतत्परः॥ तावद्रथेन गन्तव्यं यावद्रथपथि स्थितः । स्थित्वा रथपथस्थानं रथमुत्सृज्य गच्छति॥२-३॥

Mounted on the chariot in the form of Omkara and making Lord Vishnu as his charioteer (guru), the wise man, thinking of the supreme position of Brahmaloka (City of Brahman), one should always remain engrossed in the worship of Lord Rudra, the God of gods and should go by that chariot in the form of Pranava until the path that can be traversed by the chariot is completed. When that path (goal) is completed, then leaving that chariot man automatically reaches the place of the owner of the chariot (Brahman). ॥ 2-3॥

Katha Upanishad.:

आत्मानँ रथितं विद्धि शरीरँ रथमेव तु । बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च ॥ ३ ॥

1.3.3: Know the atman as the lord of the chariot, the body as only the chariot, know also intelligence as the driver; know the minds as the reins.

इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुर्विषयाँ स्तेषु गोचरान् । आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ॥४॥

1.3.4: The senses they speak of as the horses; the objects within their view, the way. When the Self is yoked with the mind and the senses, the wise call It the enjoyer.

Atman/Brahman- Lord of the Chariot.

Intelligence/Guide/Guru - Charioteer.

Horses and Reins- Senses and Mind respectively.

By keeping one's mind and senses under control, a Body becomes the Chariot of Dharma.

धारणाद्धर्ममित्याहुः धर्मो धारयत प्रजाः। यस्याद्धारणसंयुक्तं स धर्म इति निश्चयः॥

The word "Dharma" is derived from the word "Dharana" (meaning that which can be held is Dharma), it is Dharma that holds the society. Therefore, if something has the capacity to hold, then it is undoubtedly Dharma.

As i have mentioned in my previous answer there's no real difference between them. The whole portion is appealing and nothing is problematic.

Hope this helps.


This is a very poetic way of referring to the presence, in our body, of the original consciousness which is abhokta(non-doer) and the mind + reflected consciousness which is bhokta(doer). Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.4.1 talks of Brahman as Pratyagatma and in 3.4.2 it is described as the Seer or the seer, thinker of the thinker,knower of the knower. We cannot objectify this Self. We cannot see the Seer of the seer, cannot hear the Hearer of the hearer, cannot think the Thinker of the thinker, cannot know the Knower of the knower. This is Atma that is within all. Everything else is mithya. The words ‘seer’ , ‘knower’ etc occurring as the object refers to the mind and the words, ‘seer’, ‘knower’ etc. occurring as the subject refers to the Atman. Kenopanishad 1.5 says, that which cannot be known by the mind but by which the mind is known, know That to be Brahman.

Two birds live in the sarne tree as comrades. But one of them eats the sweet fruit of the tree and gets bound in delusion. But the other bird does not eat anything and remains an eternal witness. This analogy occurs in the Rigveda and the Mundaka Upanishad. This is to illustrate that the Jiva and the Paramatman are both in the same body, but the Jiva enjoys through contact the pleasures and pains of Samsara and gets bound, whereas the Paramatman or the Supreme Soul, the Kutastha, remains as a Sakshi or a witness and exists ever in Absoluteness.(First Lessons in Vedanta, Swami Sivananda, page 121)

Jivatma, inseparably until videha mukti, is a mixture of (a) the all pervading consciousness (b), the reflecting medium, the antahkarana and (c) the reflected consciousness. The word, Jivatma means, in different contexts a different combination of these three. When Mundaka Upanishad is interpreted as referring to Jivatma and paramatma as two birds sitting in the tree, one eating the fruit and the other looking on, Jivatma means the mixture of (b) and (c). When in Chandogya Upanishad 6.3.3, Brahman is said to have entered into the three deities as jivatma, jivatma should be taken as (c). When the jnani says I, the jivatma, am Brahman, jivatma means (a). When Sastra talks of travel of jivatma, after death, to other lokas and of rebirth, Jivatma means the mixture of (b) and (c).(Advaita Vedanta, A Bird Eye's View, Page 221)

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