There was a king who presented his daughter with a beautiful diamond necklace. The necklace was stolen and his people in the kingdom searched everywhere but could not find it. The king then asked them all to search for it and offered a reward of Rs 50,000 to anyone who found it.
One day, a clerk was walking home along a river next to an industrial area. This river was completely polluted, filthy and smelly. As he was walking, the clerk saw a shimmering in the river and when he looked carefully, he saw the diamond necklace. He decided to try and take it out so that he could get the Rs 50,000 reward.
He put his hand in the filthy, dirty river and grabbed at the necklace, but somehow missed it and did not catch it. He took his hand out and looked again and the necklace was still there. He tried again. This time he walked into the river and dirtied his pants in the filthy river, immersing his whole arm in to catch the necklace.
But strangely, he still missed the necklace! He came out and started walking away, feeling depressed. Then again, he saw the necklace, right there. This time he was determined to get it, no matter what. He decided to plunge into the river. Although it was disgusting, he plunged in and searched everywhere for the necklace. Yet one more time, he failed. This time he was really bewildered and came out feeling very depressed that he could not get the necklace that would get him Rs 50,000.
Just then, a saint who was walking by, saw him, and asked him what the matter was. The clerk did not want to share the secret with the saint, thinking he might take the necklace for himself, so he refused to tell him anything.
The saint could see this man was troubled. Being compassionate, he again asked the clerk to tell him the problem and promised that he would not tell anyone about it. The clerk mustered some courage and decided to put some faith in the saint. He told him about the necklace and how he tried and tried to catch it, but kept failing.
The saint then told him that perhaps he should try looking upward, toward the branches of the tree, instead of in the filthy river. The clerk looked up, and true enough, the necklace was dangling on the branch of a tree. He had been trying to capture a mere reflection of the real necklace all this time.
Srila Prabhupada instructs:
We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there are substance and reality. In the desert there is no water, but the mirage suggests that there is such a thing as water. In the material world there is no water, there is no happiness, but the real water of actual happiness is there in the spiritual world.
The material world is a reflection of spiritual happiness. But when we go to enjoy the material world, we are frustrated. We are struggling in the reflection with no knowledge of the spiritual world. People are also falsely thinking that this reflection is all. Their lives are failures because they have no spiritual knowledge of the true source.