The basis of all spiritual practice is the understanding that I am not the body but the spiritual being or soul who dwells within the material body. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget this fact when caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. And when we forget the reality of our spiritual identity, we tend to engage in activities aimed solely at satisfying the body, and we neglect our real and deepest needs.
A wealthy lady once bought a bright yellow canary from a pet-shop. The bird was lively and playful, and whistled beautifully. But the bird was in a plain cage which the lady felt did not suit the décor of her house.
So she scoured the antique shops to find a cage she thought was really special. Finally she found the most amazing cage. It had once belonged to the King of Ethiopia. The cage was beautifully handcrafted in gold and was dazzling like the sun. It was supported by pillars of jade, and had perches crafted from ivory. Its sparkling canopy was bedecked with rubies and sapphires, and even the seed and water containers were made from pure silver.
The lady brought home the cage and installed the bird. She could not wait to show it off to her wealthy friends – she knew they’d be impressed. She became so enamoured by the beauty of the cage that she was constantly polishing and decorating it. She would walk back and forth admiring its rich lustre, and she failed to even notice the small bird perched inside. She became so obsessed with the cage that she forgot to feed the bird inside the cage, and one morning she came out, and the bird had died. The cage now seemed empty and pointless despite its gold and precious jewels. It was only then that she realized how lively and playful were the bird’s movements, and how sweet was its song.
So the soul within the body is like this bird in a gilded cage – no matter how well we look after the needs of the body, if we neglect to feed the person within, we cannot thrive and be happy. We are all spiritual beings and we need spiritual nourishment. And this inner nourishment – food for the soul – will give us far deeper and more lasting satisfaction.
The pure happiness of the soul in yoga, union with the Supreme, is described in the Bhagavad-gita:
… This is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses.
Lord Chaitanya, in the first of His Siksastaka Prayers, has shown the way to experience the transcendental happiness of the soul through kirtan, meditation on the names of the Lord. He describes this ecstatic process as being:
… the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.