“The same reward that is received upon quitting the body in Kashi while living there and performing rituals or by quitting the body forcefully in Prayag, says Tulsi, can be had easily by developing ecstatic love and affection for Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 14)
kāsīṃ bidhi basi tanu tajeṃ haṭhi tanu tajeṃ prayāga |
tulasī jo phala so sulabha rāma nāma anurāga ||
The holy name is the sound vibration representation of Supreme Spirit capable of bringing direct connection with the one entity who can accept an endless and uninterrupted dosage of love and affection from His subordinate expansions, of which there are too many to count. Not only is the Supreme Master in the spiritual sky the kindest of leaders and objects of worship, but He is also the most intimate friend. Therefore His association is the ripened fruit of any existence, the highest reward a person could ask for. Yet due to the gradual increase in aversion to divine love, or devotional service, man has tagged other rewards as being superior. The notable saints, those who maintain anuraga for Rama’s name, understand the mindset of the souls deluded by sense pleasures and the temporary nature of life. Indeed, the saints are even familiar with the spiritual rewards granted to those who follow specific rituals and regulations. Though these fruits provide some satisfaction, they pale in comparison to the ecstatic feelings that are aroused within the heart by having love and affection for the holy name. Therefore the kindest welfare workers try their best to persuade others into making the chanting of the sound vibration representations of pure spirit their topmost practice, as it will automatically bring the rewards of other spiritual practices as well.
“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)
What other sorts of ritualistic performances besides chanting are there that can grant rewards? To be able to accurately identify, assess and compare the resulting benefits, one must first know who they are and why they are currently in their present predicament. The spirit soul is the autonomous functioning unit within any form of life. Therefore it is the spiritual spark and not the body which is the essence of life. Other perceptible and imperceptible functions are related only to the covering the soul has assumed. As an example, let’s say that we are talking to another person. During the conversation, sound vibrations are exchanged as well as personal observations made by the eyes. But in reality, we are not speaking to the body of the other person, but to their self, which is represented by the soul. The other person may change their clothes and even alter their physical appearance through applying makeup or getting a haircut, but the identifiable object is still the same. Even if we talk to the same person ten years later, their identity still has not been altered. Maybe the words coming out of their mouth will be different and their intelligence level will have changed, but the source of identity remains steady.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, bringing the keenest angle of vision to every situation, understand that every life form follows similar changes and bases their identity on the same object, the soul. Therefore it is the spiritual spark within the viable object that is of paramount importance, as its travels determine the overall happiness and enjoyment derived in the resulting life forms. At the core, the soul is inherently linked to the Supreme Soul, who can be addressed by different names according to the specific tradition. The Vedic texts sing of His glories by referencing thousands of names, with the two most important and inclusive being Krishna and Rama. The Supreme Soul is known as Krishna because He is all-attractive in His original form that has a transcendentally situated body that is ever knowledgeable and eternal. Krishna is also Rama because of His ability to provide transcendental pleasure to those who are closely connected to Him. An intimate connection involves two aspects: surrender and an exchange of emotion. Surrender follows renunciation from the fight to compete with the Supreme Lord in areas of creation, maintenance, destruction and enjoyment. The uninterrupted sacrifice of thoughts, words and deeds follows surrender. The basic workings of the mind and the activities they lead to are formed through the consciousness, which is the key component in finding lasting pleasure.
When consciousness is tied to the Supreme Soul, or to His original form in the spiritual sky, the resulting condition is called yoga. Any other condition is not a pleasant one. The living entities flying through the stages of development and destruction from body to body suffer the effects of the broken link. Only when the connection is fully reestablished can the constitutional position, that of eternal servant of God, be revived. While the continual acceptance and rejection of bodies is harmful enough, the real downside to reincarnation is the negative impact had on consciousness. As each new body is assumed, the aversion to divine love, or bhakti-yoga, renews. Therefore the Vedas, through the mouthpiece of the saintly class of men, institute step by step programs, which each provide targeted, smaller rewards as a way of bringing about a gradual shift in consciousness. Just as we need to ascend through the different grades in school in order to graduate, the conditioned soul requires steady practice of divine love and other religious principles to reap the sweet fruit that is Krishna’s association.
A common way to achieve a benefit quickly in most spiritual disciplines is to visit a place of pilgrimage. You visit a site which is considered holy and get merits as a result. In the Vedic tradition, Kashi is as holy a city as you can get. The prime benefit to remaining in Kashi is that the Ganges River, also known as Ganga Devi, flows there. In one of His forms in the spiritual world, the Supreme Lord is known as Vishnu, and the Ganges River emanates from His lotus feet. The feet are the servant of the master, so anything related to the service of the servant will be beneficial for the devoted soul. Even touching the water that has washed the feet, or servants, of Lord Vishnu brings auspiciousness. The reason for the auspiciousness should make sense, as the effect had on consciousness is pretty meaningful. Knowing that the water of the Ganges has touched Lord Vishnu is enough to at least become familiar with the importance of the Lord’s four-handed, ever opulent form eternally residing in the spiritual sky. Just remembering Vishnu and honoring Him bring about spiritual merits, or sukriti.
It is well known to followers of the Vedic tradition that performing vidhis, or prayers and religious rites, in Kashi brings about a desired reward more quickly. One who regularly performs these vidhis and then subsequently renounces their body in Kashi no longer has to accept the repetition of birth and death. The topmost planetary system in the spiritual sky consists of Goloka Vrindavana and the Vaikuntha planets. This area is considered the personal realm of the Absolute Truth, the place where the Personality of Godhead and His non-different expansions reside. Just below Vaikuntha is the brahmajyoti, or spiritual effulgence. Anytime blanket liberation, or mukti, is rewarded to the soul who has not yet perfected their consciousness, the next destination is the brahmajyoti, or the light of Brahman. Though there is no repetition of birth and death in this blissful light, there is no identity either. In that sense misery is absent, but enjoyment is also missing because of the lack personal of association with the Supreme Spirit.
Those who are advanced beyond the animal consciousness that drives man to worry only about eating, sleeping, mating and defending take mukti to be the final reward in life, the benefit ideally achieved at the latter stages right before the body is to be renounced. The first three rewards are dharma, artha and kama. First there must be an adherence to religious principles, or dharma. Subsequently, economic development, or artha, is required, as one needs a way to maintain their lifestyle. This is followed by kama, or sense gratification, which comes about through regulated religious life and the economic development procured as a result. Finally, at the end of life, moksha, or mukti, is obtained through following the proper regulations. Dying in Kashi while residing there and following religious principles is an automatic ticket to liberation, as having respect for the holy city is enough of an indication that the soul is not completely contaminated by material life.
The way liberation is granted to the dying person in Kashi is quite interesting. Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadeva, is an important deity in the Vedic tradition. He is considered the destroyer and in charge of the mode of ignorance, the level of activity bereft of any passionate desires or true knowledge. Though he is tasked with carrying out specific functions, Mahadeva’s only concern is worshiping the lotus feet of Vishnu in His form of Lord Rama, the warrior prince incarnation who roamed the earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. There is an area in Kashi known as Manikarnika, which means “jewel from the ear”. Lord Shiva whispers the name of Rama into the ear of the dying man in this city, thus giving them immediate emancipation. The name of Rama is non-different from the Lord; therefore it can grant any boon. Even the form of liberation that is considered impersonal, or without a direct relation to the Lord, is brought about through God’s personal aspect.
Goswami Tulsidas, a great devotee of Lord Rama, though knowing the benefits of performing rituals and dying in Kashi, still would rather others take to lovingly chanting the holy names of his beloved Lord. Tulsidas also mentions Prayag in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali. Prayag is another important site of pilgrimage in India, as Tulsidas even notes that one who is forced to quit their body there also gets tremendous spiritual merits. This means that Prayag is such a wonderful place that even if one isn’t a resident or performing vidhis, simply dying there brings a spiritual reward. Nevertheless, the same rewards achieved in Kashi or Prayag can be easily had by acquiring a spontaneous loving attraction for Rama’s holy name.
The recommendation provided by Tulsidas is multifaceted in its brilliance and purpose. The first concern for the saint is how others will become liberated. Actually, the humble devotee simply wants to glorify the Lord, and they know that spreading the transcendental loving attitude is the only way to bring about real change for the better in the rest of society. Tulsidas first wants everyone to chant Rama’s name, not to gain a personal benefit or to get some healing magic, but because Rama’s name is ever-brilliant. If it brings Tulsidas so much pleasure, why wouldn’t chanting the Lord’s name bring happiness to others? The saint also knows that others may not have the opportunity to travel to Kashi or Prayag, nor can they know for sure when they are going to die. Due to the influences of Kali Yuga, the current age of darkness, adherence to religious principles is at an all-time low. The primary manifestations of religion now involve either a desire for gaining paltry rewards through praying for gifts or the extreme of rigid regulations aimed at propping up dictators and zealots who have no interest in purifying consciousness whatsoever.
Foretelling the predicament facing future generations, Tulsidas didn’t want others to despair over their inability to practice religion through formal rituals. If a discouraging attitude is presented, it will be more likely that the inquisitive soul will remain a servant of material nature, which operates under the control of the illusory energy known as maya, or that which is not personally God. In the Kali Yuga there needn’t be concern over being unable to make it to places of pilgrimage and regularly perform rituals. Even if we are locked out of temples and assemblies due to caste or status distinctions assigned by society, there is never a reason to feel that hope is lost. The same fruits achieved after so much effort in travelling and sacrifice can be acquired very easily by regularly reciting the holy names of the Lord.
Chanting becomes truly fruitful when there is anuraga, or ecstatic attachment. Tulsidas really wants everyone to love Rama even more than he does. Though this is not possible, the saints nevertheless desire every person in the world, regardless of their family lineage or standing in society, to become the greatest devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as this will make the Lord very happy. Chanting Rama’s name with loving attachment also brings about a permanent shift in consciousness, a condition which allows the individual to remain liberated even while in their present body. The effects of the senses and nature around us are only inhibiting when we are not aware of the beauty and attractive nature of the Supreme Lord. One who is intimately connected with Rama through yoga can feel at peace in any situation. For the saint, every area in the world is a place of pilgrimage because the holy name can be instantiated and worshiped universally.
Not only are the areas where Tulsidas traversed considered places of pilgrimage, but so is the ethereal space that houses the sound vibrations carrying his beautiful poetry in praise of Shri Rama. The reward of having attachment to the Supreme Lord is far tastier than any fruit grown through mundane religious practice. Whether living or dying, the spirit soul fully connected with God never has to bother with temporary gains and setbacks. Once reestablished, love and affection for Rama never go away. Rather than bothering with this practice or that, simply regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and remembering the honor and glory of the saints who made preaching the supremacy of bhakti-yoga their life and soul are enough to bring about the highest benefits.
Categories: dohavali 1-40