“Those who have chanted Shri Rama’s holy name, keeping it on the tongue, have become auspicious and most happy. But those who are lazy about chanting will meet with destruction sooner or later, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 12)
rāma nāma japi jīha’ jana bhae sukṛta sukhamāli |
tulasī ihā’ jo ālasī gayo āju kī kāli ||
The solution presented here by the wonderfully kind Goswami Tulsidas is simple enough to accept. “Chant Shri Rama’s holy name because it will bring all fortunes and every desirable.” Conversely, those who are lazy in their practice of repeatedly creating the transcendental sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth with the tongue can vanish either today or tomorrow. Not meant to be taken as a threat, but more as a call to action, the poet humbly beseeches every single person to make permanent progress along a path that leads to the highest auspiciousness. More than just telling people what will happen if they fail to find the true light of bhakti – the path of changing consciousness for the better that is alighted when one regularly hears about the Supreme Lord and associates with His dearmost friends, or the sadhus – Tulsidas creates a situation of dire urgency, one where the recitation of the holy name is required for amelioration. Fearing the lethargy that would arise with future generations, the wonderful poet dedicated his life towards making the holy name widely available and setting up traditions where it could be recited regularly by even those who have every unclean desire within their heart.
Why is chanting Rama’s name so important? Though Rama may seem like a sectarian figure meant to be worshiped only by those who are born into the Hindu tradition, the rules and benefits of spiritual life can never apply so narrowly. Even Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, spoke of a kingdom of God, where there would be universal brotherhood and respect for all forms of life. You can’t have real religion if there is only focus on specific human beings who have made outward professions of faith. Just as the good parents apply their affection equally to all of their children, even the ones that stray from the path of virtue, the mercy of the Supreme Spirit is open to every form of life, irrespective of their specific body type or level of consciousness.
Lord Rama is celebrated as being one of the primary figures of the Vedic tradition, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The incarnation, or avatara, is arguably the most merciful aspect of the Divine, as without the visible presence of the Supreme Person, His names, attributes and pastimes would be kept away from the living entities so desperately seeking a worshipable object. By studying human history we see that man has always chosen to offer their services to a higher power, even if sometimes the ruling body was a tyrannical one. The desire to serve is locked safely within the heart, and it can never be removed. It is seen that if an adult is not married and is living alone, they will buy a dog or cat to keep them company, as the pet demands a lot of attention, or love, from the owner.
The desire to offer service is always there. When operating under a pure consciousness, which is the original position of the soul, affection is offered to the Supreme Lord. But the questions always remain as to who the Lord is, how to offer Him service, and how to know the difference between blind sentiment and legitimate spiritual practice. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, exist for the very purpose of answering life’s most difficult questions. Rather than run experiment after experiment through the ascending process of knowledge acquisition, more complete information about the Absolute Truth can be had by tapping into the always online link of disciplic succession originating from the Supreme Lord Himself. The descending process of knowledge gathering taps into the storehouse of Vedic wisdom through either reading books or approaching a spiritual master, or guru. Without the guru’s blessing and instruction, the Vedas become almost impossible to understand, especially for the fallen souls of this age.
“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)
How can we confirm that the Vedas are legitimate? Why not read the Bible or the Koran? In any religion, the pillars must be made of love for God, which then support all other activities, establishing a strong affection that remains up until the end of life. Any method of spiritual practice that can evoke the natural loving sentiments within the heart for the Supreme Lord should be considered bona fide. The Vedas not only provide the most complete detail about the nature of the spiritual realm and the differences between temporary matter and the undying internal energy of the Lord, but they also fill us in on the qualities, names and forms of that entity we are intended to offer our undivided attention to. After all, if we are to worship and adore someone, shouldn’t we know what they look like, what their demeanor is, and what they want from us?
In His original form, God is described as being all-attractive, possessing a complexion similar to that of a dark raincloud, holding a flute in His hand, and wearing a peacock feather in His hair. Due to the wondrous and beautiful nature of this form, the original Personality of Godhead is addressed as Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive”. The Supreme Person must have a form; otherwise He is not even an object. Without being a tangible object, He cannot be worthy of worship. Without understanding God’s spiritual attributes, any method of spiritual practice will fall short not only in effectiveness, but also in the ability to arouse feelings of bliss within the heart. In the absence of a known form to worship, man will be more prone to misdirecting his loving propensity towards worldly objects, those things which aren’t personally God. Krishna is everything, but not everything is Krishna. “I am God” is an incorrect statement, while “God is me” is more accurate. The hands and legs are part and parcel of me, but I am not my hand. If someone wants to speak to me or offer me food, they must approach me directly, not simply talk to one of my hands or legs.
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
The Supreme Lord must be addressed directly through one of His many non-different transcendental forms. Worship which remains attached to matter, which is an inferior energy, cannot bring about the most sublime reward of eternal association with Krishna in the spiritual world after our time on earth is finished. Connecting with Krishna is sufficient for achieving a permanent shift in consciousness, but since people have different tastes, or rasas, for spiritual life, there are other forms of the Supreme Lord that are the same in potency, beauty and transcendental makeup as the original. Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the prince of Ayodhya roaming the earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, is one such expansion. Exalted figures of the Vedic tradition like Shri Hanuman, Agastya Rishi, Kalidasa, and more recently, Tulsidas, all viewed Rama as their worshipable object. Despite the cajoling of others who take to worshiping Krishna in His original form or even Lord Vishnu, who is almost equally as spiritually potent as Krishna and from whom Rama comes, the devotees of Rama will not budge in their allegiance to the husband of Sita Devi, Shri Rama.
It is said that reciting the name of Vishnu, who is Krishna’s four-handed form presiding over the Vaikuntha spiritual realm, is enough to gain liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The name is the most important aspect of the Supreme Spirit because it can be easily instantiated and automatically incorporates the other three aspects, namely the forms, attributes and qualities. Other methods of worship, such as impersonal meditation, sacrificing the results of fruitive activity, and deity worship are not as potent as chanting the names of Vishnu because they are limited in scope. The limitation with meditation is that the beautiful form of the Lord is absent from the consciousness. Fruitive activity involves devotion to some worldly business for the majority of the day, with only the end result being purified through a sacrificial donation. Deity worship is superior to these other two methods, but one loses their object of adoration once outside the confines of the temple. Recommending that members of a congregation visit a house of worship at least once a week certainly will prove beneficial, but what about the rest of the time? Does God only live in a temple? If we are to worship God with all our hearts, should not we keep Him at the forefront of our consciousness at all times?
The true benefit of the holy name is seen in its ability to remedy the aforementioned deficiencies. The name can be invoked at any time and at any place. Even if one is not allowed to speak for some reason, the voice within the mind can regularly repeat sacred formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and immediately be reminded of the beautiful deity residing within the temple, the qualities of the Divine Being, and the eternal pastimes occurring in the spiritual land. Chanting is the foremost spiritual practice because it automatically purifies and increases the effectiveness of every religious tradition followed. Prahlada Maharaja, the five-year old devotee son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, used to meditate on Vishnu by remembering the holy name within the mind, and thus his worship was first class. He didn’t have temples to visit on a regular basis, nor was he able to perform any elaborate sacrifice. All he had was the name, and that was sufficient for gaining protection from the demonic forces of his father.
The Vedas say that even more powerful than the name of Vishnu is the name of Rama. The Padma Purana says that one recitation of the name of Krishna is as powerful as three recitations of the name of Rama. Nevertheless, there are two sides to every story, different ways to look at the same thing. The devotee of Rama will take the statement from the Padma Purana as an even greater impetus for reciting the name of their beloved. “Oh, I have to say Rama’s name three times just to equal one recitation of Krishna’s name? I guess this gives me even more reason to recite the holy name of the son of King Dasharatha over and over again.” Tulsidas especially loved Rama’s name, so his prescriptions all focus around the beauty of regularly chanting it. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, the poet synthesizes the benefits of regular recitation of the sound vibration representations of Supreme Spirit and presents them in an easy to understand couplet. Whether we know it or not, all auspiciousness and everything desirable comes to those who associate with Shri Rama.
In the absence of direct association with God through a loving engagement, or bhakti, the individual is left to fend for themselves, forced to live under the dictates of karma, which, as a system of maintenance, is the epitome of fairness. Every action must have a commensurate reaction, irrespective of whether the worker is aware of it or not. Just as an object will fall out of a window despite our ignorance or knowledge of the laws of gravity, the harmful effects of sinful behavior will rear their ugly head at some point in the future. The root cause of all sin is the desire to be separated from God, the best friend of every living entity. Since the aversion to divine love has steadily increased since the beginning of time, as it is fueled by the constant assumption and renunciation of bodies through the process of reincarnation, understanding the root cause of sin and how to eradicate it is very difficult. Therefore the Vaishnava acharyas recommend the chanting process over all others, as it takes the most assertive approach at curing the fever of material existence.
Those who are left to fend for themselves while living under the stringent laws of karma can leave this world either today or tomorrow. Being lazy in chanting the holy name is not a good idea because the travels of all-devouring death are unpredictable. No one knows when they are going to die, and more importantly, they don’t know what type of body they will receive in the next life. We may hear today over and over again that it is important to chant the name of Rama to receive all benefits, but if we die tomorrow and have to take birth again, there’s no telling when or if we’ll ever come back to the same position. With chanting, however, there is never any loss. As Lord Krishna so kindly states in the Bhagavad-gita, the unsuccessful yogi never makes any wasted effort, as he is allowed to continue his devotional practice in the next life at the position from which he left off.
“On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.43)
Tulsidas has laid down the formula for how to erect a sturdy shelter. This is a kind enough act, as the recipe for success is easily understood and presented in a straightforward manner. But the saints are not known to relax on the sidelines while others let their lives rot away. The saint will not only give the formula for success, but he will then try himself to erect the sturdiest shelter possible that can protect the most number of people. Tulsidas did just that by creating so many traditions of recitation of the holy names. He wrote numerous bhajans, or songs of devotion, that became tradition throughout the land. It is much easier to remember a song containing the holy name of the Lord than it is to study the Vedas and follow stringent rules and regulations aimed at elevating consciousness. Tulsidas also wrote the most wonderful poem this world has ever seen, the Ramacharitamanasa, which eloquently describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. The original Ramayana is a staple of Vedic literature and thus unmatched in its brilliance. But due to its length and its composition in the Sanskrit language, it is not readily available to those who, for some reason or other, can’t take the time to study it.
Seeing this impediment, Tulsidas created a more accessible Ramayana, one which could be adored, understood and worshiped by all classes in society, even women. It is seen today that regular readings of the Ramacharitamanasa take place, wherein people look for specific benefits such as the alleviation of distress and the granting of favors. Obviously the aim of bhakti is to develop love for God, but since Tulsidas was familiar with man’s aversion to divine love, he created a tradition where at least some pious credits could be gained through regular hearing and recitation of Rama’s name. That a person gains pious credits, or sukriti, through any tradition of recitation of the holy name cannot be doubted. Even a famous Indian politician used to chant part of one of Tulsidas’ bhajans about Lord Rama. Though he invoked the name for political purposes, this leader was nevertheless benefitted by hearing the holy name of the Lord over and over again.
As a byproduct of the immense popularity of his poems and songs, Tulsidas is often criticized in scholarly circles for a host of unfounded reasons. Those who read the Ramacharitamanasa for personal benefit obviously aren’t surpassing the material platform, but this doesn’t indicate a defect in the poem or the author. After all, some of the greatest miscreants and atheists in the world have studied the Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by Krishna Himself. Do their erroneous interpretations and motives indicate a flaw in the text, its speaker or those who take the work to be their life and soul? Obviously not, as the secret to developing bhakti is to understand the sacred texts in the mood in which they were presented. Those who understand Tulsidas’ deep love and affection for Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman will take the name of Rama found in the sacred bhajans and poems of the famous kavi to be what it is: the ultimate ticket to spiritual freedom.
The saints have kindly erected the shelter made of the tradition of chanting the holy name for us, so we should honor their hard work by taking advantage of this protection. Glorifying the holy name and pointing out the defects in systems of worship other than bhakti surely are noteworthy activities that go a long way towards changing hearts and minds. Yet the saints are so kind that they basically beg others to recite the holy name of the Lord. Even if others are unwilling, the devotees don’t give up, as they just find new ways to make sure that at least the sound vibrations emanating from the spiritual world are heard on a regular basis. This level of kindness can never be truly repaid, but we can at least honor it on a daily basis by making bhakti-yoga our only business in life. Whether we are gone today or tomorrow, the holy name of Rama and the beloved sentiments of His dear devotee Tulsidas can remain with us forever.
Categories: dohavali 1-40