We Flit About Joyfully in the Light

Imagine a vast hall in Anglo-Saxon England, not long after the passing of King Arthur. It is the dead of winter and a fierce snowstorm rages outside, but a great fire fills the space within the hall with warmth and light. Now and then, a sparrow darts in for refuge from the weather. It appears as if from nowhere, flits about joyfully in the light, and then disappears again, and where it comes from and where it goes next in that stormy darkness, we do not know.

Our lives are like that.

Those are the opening words of the introduction to The Upanishads as translated and collected by Eknath Easwaran, a classic of Indian / Hindu spiritually.

From where we came and to where we go afterwards — who knows — but for minuscule amount of time that we’re alive, we are like the sparrow that emerges and follows the light, darts around playfully, and then before long returns to the vast darkness outside, never to be seen again. I like this image.

5 comments on “We Flit About Joyfully in the Light
  • I don’t know, Ben. Reincarnationists would tell you that it’s the same sparrow multiple times.

  • Don’t mean to be rude, but I think that Easwaran had a different meaning when he was talking about the sparrow. If I remember correctly, he is using the sparrow for one who is “enlightened.” We see them come from somewhere and then leave, but from where we do not know. And if we are curious enough we will peer out to see. And if we are brave (or some other word) enough, we will leave our safe hall and wonder into the dark to see what is there.

    just my 2 cents

    • You’re right. The right context has to do with exploring the unknown — darkness is the unknown, not death. Apologies for the mis-framing — I interpreted darkness as death.

  • Okay, I read Eknath Easwaran’s Wikipedia article, and he has quite the résumé as a spiritual teacher. most impressive.

    So it was quite a jolt to read those opening words of his introduction to the Upanishads, the very bedrock of Indian spirituality, written in a metaphor most meaningful to English people, the oppressors of the subcontinent for almost two hundred years under the British Raj.

    It makes him sound like the Uncle Tom of India.

    No one knows if this life is a one-shot deal, not even Indian gurus.

    And I don’t think the sparrow returns to the “vast darkness”; I think he returns to the light.

    You may wonder why the resident naysayer puts his energy into making such comments; well, this is work and I feel a moral obligation.;-)

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