“By remembering Shri Rama’s holy name, even those who are born into a low caste become worthy of fame, just as the wild trees that line the streets in the heavenly realm are famous throughout the three worlds.” (Dohavali, 16)
rāma nāma sumirata sujasa bhājana bhae kujāti |
kutarūka surapura rājamaga lahata bhuvana bikhyāti ||
This wonderfully sweet, kind and insightful verse should dispel any myths claiming Goswami Tulsidas to be a bigot who only favored brahmanas and looked down on other castes. Every one of the poet’s conclusions follows the teachings of the Vedas, so there is no chance of the dear devotee of Lord Rama ever concocting any opinion on his own. What are commonly known as “castes” are actually referred to in Sanskrit as varnas, which can mean colors or divisions of social standing based on the inherent qualities a person assumes at the time of birth. The so-called “caste system” is present in virtually every field of endeavor, so the Vedas aren’t so foolish as to completely deny the inherent differences in quality and penchant for work that span the multitudes of living entities. Yet qualities only account for variations in the material world and the statuses that result. Since the spirit soul is the identifiable aspect within each life form, every single person is eligible for the supreme abode in the spiritual sky. Even those who seemingly have a low birth and are thus not given much importance in society can become famous and worthy of respect by regularly remembering Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord, and His wonderful name, a sound vibration which automatically transports the contemplative soul back to the spiritual land, where there are no such things as social status and bigotry.
It should be noted that Goswami Tulsidas, who was a brahmana by birth and occupation, had a high regard for the priestly class. This shouldn’t be that surprising, as there have to be some members of society who are inclined towards studying the scriptures, teaching the information contained within such works to others, performing sacrifices, and showing others how to regularly worship the Supreme Lord. In the absence of qualified brahmanas – those who both possess the qualities required to be a priest and who take up the necessary work in their daily lives – society will lack tangible leadership. Without adherence to religion, or a bona fide system of spirituality, mankind is no different than the animal.
“How much greater then are the brahmanas, the righteous, the devotees and saintly kings who in this temporary miserable world engage in loving service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.33)
High regard for the brahmanas is affirmed in the Vedas many times over, including in many instances by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is no different from His other forms of Lord Rama, Vishnu, Narasimha, etc. God is one, though He can take many forms who each have their own names. The Lord is known as brahmanya-devaya, which means that He is the personality of worship for the priestly class. The existence of other devas, or figures of worship, is inherently implied in this title given to Krishna. Depending on the angle of vision of the individual and their maturity in consciousness, different ultimate conclusions are accepted. In the animalistic mindset, the one adopted at the time of birth, the primary aim is to meet the demands of the senses. As one gets older, how these demands manifest can vary, with some wanting money and others wanting safety and protection for their families.
Brahmanas are those who understand Brahman, or the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Accompanying realization of Brahman is the understanding that all life forms are equal and that the material world is a temporary realm where the souls occupy different bodies. With entry there must come exit; therefore with any gains acquired in life, there must be loss as well. Knowing the eternal nature of the soul and how it can never be killed or destroyed, the brahmanas see past the need for sense gratification and the alleviation of distress. For this reason they primarily worship the original Personality of Godhead instead of giving allegiance to heavenly figures who can only distribute material opulence.
Since the bona fide brahmanas, those who actually perform the work required in their field, are so knowledgeable and rare to find, they are given an elevated social status in the varnashrama-dharma system, which, for all intents and purposes, is what people refer to as Hinduism. Obviously, due to the effects of Kali Yuga, the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy we currently find ourselves in, the title of “brahmana” has degraded to the point where people are claiming high status simply off of birth, or janma. There is a lot to be gained by this practice, as one can garner preferential treatment and respect from others without having to do a single thing. Therefore the genesis of the degradation is not difficult to understand, but it should still be remembered that a brahmana must exude the proper qualities and perform the vital work necessary for their occupation in order to be worthy of a high status.
The other three primary divisions of social standing are the kshatriya, vaishya and shudra, or the administrators, businessmen and laborers. Though the caste system is often railed against by those who don’t understand it, the concept of a pecking order and priority system is seen in virtually every field of endeavor. No one can claim to be equal to everyone else in every situation. For instance, if we were to board an airplane and see a young child demand to enter the cockpit and steer the aircraft, would we allow them to do so? After all, the child is no different spiritually than the pilot commanding the plane. One individual may be older and wearing a fancy uniform, while the other is an ordinary human being in plain clothes, but the essence of individuality is the same in both.
Obviously we wouldn’t let just anybody fly the plane, because not everyone has the proper training. Without knowing how to steer the aircraft, the common man would likely crash the plane and kill everyone on board. Therefore the unnatural urge towards universal equality would bring a disastrous result in this situation. Similarly, in sports players are treated differently according to their skill level. In a business environment, the boss is respected, honored and viewed in a unique way by the common man. Even a classroom has a caste system, as the teacher has responsibilities not assigned to the students.
With these divisions present in every sphere of life, why on earth would they be absent in the most important engagement known to man, that of helping everyone become God conscious? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t recommend blind sentiment. Since the conclusions provided in the sacred texts are derived from knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth in His ever-blissful and eternal form, they are not ordinary speculations that are prone to defects. The recommendation for having divisions in society based on quality and work is wholly scientific and capable of producing peace and harmony for all.
So what should those who are not brahmanas do? Is their hope for spiritual enlightenment lost? Do they have to wait for a future birth in a higher caste to get in the good graces of the Supreme Lord? Tulsidas very nicely provides the formula for not only becoming respected in society, but also becoming famous and honored in the eyes of the Supreme Lord and His well-wishers. Let’s first take the point of comparison and study the importance of the different components. Tulsidas notes that the lowly trees [kutaruka] that line the king of paths [rājamaga] leading to the heavenly city [surapura] are famous throughout the three worlds. This comparison is exquisitely brilliant, as it explains so many important concepts. The heavenly realm, the place where the suras, or demigods, reside, is in a higher planetary system within the material world. The difference between something material and something spiritual is that the material is perishable, mutable and ever-changing, while the spiritual is eternally the same in constitution. Therefore any planet in the material world is destined for destruction, even the land inhabited by the demigods, who are exalted living entities blessed with terrific powers.
Those who are pious and dedicated to virtue at the very least get ascension to the heavenly realm in the afterlife. Mundane piety without a purified consciousness focused on the Supreme Lord in the mood of love and affection leads to a temporary stay in the city of the suras, where material opulence is available at an absurdly high level. The road to heaven is lined with many trees, as are most paths leading to some destination. Now, when we travel to a common destination, the surroundings are hardly noticed. Nothing can be more ordinary than trees, especially since they are found in abundance when they serve as backgrounds to important areas. On our way to work in the morning, we will likely drive past hundreds of trees, not paying them any attention. What to speak of the lowly trees, bushes and weeds, even the most glorious trees are ignored, for our primary objective is to reach our destination, where some work or enjoyment will take place. Who cares about the minutia surrounding the path to the target destination, as trees and plants are a dime a dozen?
Yet since the heavenly realm is wonderful and unique, even the lowest trees, the ones that aren’t even that tall or beautiful in appearance, lining the road to that land are worthy of fame and attention. A heavenly tree is known as a surataru, and it is capable of granting any wish. If we go up to an ordinary tree and ask for a benediction, we won’t get anything. The tree is a living entity but it is incapable of speech or movement. Indeed, someone who talks to a tree will likely be considered crazy by the rest of society. But in heaven, everything is wonderful and beautiful, and the trees there are not ordinary in the least bit. If we go up to a surataru and ask for sumptuous food, our wish will be granted immediately. There is no limit to the material enjoyment in the land of the demigods, because any wish can be granted by any living entity there, even the abundant trees.
The ability of an ordinary object to take on importance due to its relation to something famous is seen in our present life as well. Museums and tourist attractions are built around this very concept. The homes of the Founding Fathers of the United States, great statesmen like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, are visited quite frequently. These homes are just ordinary establishments, so why should there be any fanfare regarding visiting a housing structure made of brick or wood? What can be gained by walking around someone’s house and seeing the rooms inside? These experiences can be had within our own home or the homes of our friends. The museums and tourist attractions are given importance because of their relation to someone famous and respected. Since a great political leader is studied, honored and heard from, anything relating to their life, even the ordinary aspects like a house, a car, or birthplace, become important and worthy of attention.
For those who are in the lower social strata based on their work, there is likely not much attention or honor given to them. For instance, when visitors come to the office building of a Fortune 500 company, they likely won’t want to meet the janitors, secretaries, or ordinary office workers. These workers play a vital role in the success of the company, as somebody needs to handle the day-to-day business to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Yet the fame, glory and honor go to the executives, the suits, and especially the CEO or owner of the company. The higher ups are lower in number as well, as ordinary workers can be found anywhere. It doesn’t take a tremendous skill level to be able to clean, answer phones, or do other menial tasks.
In the varnashrama-dharma system, the common laborers and the businessmen of society aren’t given too much attention. A laborer is deemed less intelligent because of their occupation, and the businessman is considered slightly more intelligent, but still on the lower priority of the scale because of their affinity for earning money. The administrators, or kings, and the brahmanas are given higher priority because of the protection they offer. The kings protect the citizens from dangerous elements, and the brahmanas offer guidance in spiritual life, which itself is the most worthwhile protection anyone could ask for.
Yet if one simply remembers the name of the Supreme Lord, who is the most famous and worshipable person in all the worlds, they immediately become the most important and honored. A person can be of a low caste, like an ordinary laborer or businessman, and thus not be considered unique or noteworthy, but if they remember Rama’s name and His glorious activities, they immediately become eligible for fame, just like the otherwise lowly trees lining the road to the heavenly realm.
In addition to becoming famous, such devotees of the Lord become worshipable, or worthy of being approached by those looking to connect with God. A CEO may be honored and respected, and a brahmana may similarly be paid great tribute, but only the divine figures attached to Vishnu worship are considered worthy of being paid the highest homage. Tulsidas isn’t exaggerating by saying that even the low born devotees can become worthy of fame. After all, one who regularly chants Rama’s name knows the true secret in life, that devotional service is the highest engagement for any person. Birth into a high caste may represent a better chance at altering consciousness, but this doesn’t mean that loving God is restricted for other members of society.
There are many examples that prove Tulsidas’ point. During Lord Rama’s time on earth in the Treta Yuga, many low born individuals became famous. Indeed, Rama’s best friends were a band of monkeys living in the Kishkindha forest. Shri Hanuman, a divine Vanara, is arguably the most famous and respected figure for followers of the Vedic tradition. He is not a brahmana or a kshatriya, for he appeared on earth in a Vanara form. Yet he is Rama’s greatest devotee, someone who never forgets the divine activities of the Lord, His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. The female sage Shabari similarly was totally devoted to Rama, and thus today she is honored and respected for her dedication. Women especially are deemed to have a lesser chance at success in spiritual understanding in the Vedic tradition; hence the importance given to finding a suitable husband to care for them. But even Shabari, who lived in a time when allegiance to Vedic traditions was very strong, achieved the supreme destination by regularly remembering Rama’s name.
The roadmap for all the sincere souls of this age looking for salvation is quite straightforward. If we simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and remember the glorious activities of Shri Rama and His wonderful devotees, we’ll never have to worry about social standing or the opinions of others. The Supreme Lord will see to it that our service continues uninterrupted and that others can learn from our example and honor the sublime engagement that is bhakti-yoga.
Categories: dohavali 1-40