The Marginal Position

Lord Rama“[O mystic] First know yourself, then realize the Supreme Absolute Truth, and then see the material nature standing in between. O wretch, without seeing these how can you understand what the unmanifested [invisible] feature of the Absolute Truth [alakh] actually is? Chant Shri Rama’s holy name instead, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 19)

hama lakhi lakhahi hamāra lakhi hama hamāra ke bīca |

tulasī alakhahi kā lakhahi rāma nāma japa nīca ||

In the verse previous to this in the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas addressed those who have a false sense of proprietorship over worldly objects. He admonished their ignorant viewpoint by rhetorically asking if they know who they are, for they refer to everything as “Mine”. In this verse, the poet is addressing those with the converse mindset, wherein they simply look to address God in His invisible, or alakh, form and take everything in the world to be false. As the identity of the individual is still not properly realized through this practice, the worship of the Supreme Lord remains a mystery perpetually, as the very concept of unmanifested/invisible is misunderstood. Tulsidas’ prescription is that such a mystic should first understand who they are, then the glorious nature of the Supreme Lord, and then the spirit soul’s relative position in the material world governed by maya, which is an energy that separates the conditioned soul from association with the Absolute Truth. Individual spirit is considered the marginal energy; hence there is always a choice as to which realm to reside in. By chanting Lord Rama’s name, all the mysteries of spiritual life are solved very quickly.

Lord RamaIn the popular spiritual traditions of the world, you have saints, angels, devils and other notable figures who are not on the same level as human beings. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, also describe similar personalities, but more concrete information is given as to the reason for their existence and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. From the authorized information passed down by the acharyas of the past, and also from reading the important texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, we understand that there are essentially two worlds. One is inhabited by pure souls who have no desire other than to act in the service of the master of the realm. The other land is a perverted replica of the purified land. Hence the activities are very similar, but the one difference is the desire of the inhabitants. Indeed, there is no supreme ruler in the reflected world, so there is always competition for acquiring the top post. Since the leader of the spiritual land is actually the master and creator of everything, any struggle for supremacy in the temporary and perishable replica world turns out to be a giant waste of time.

The pure realm is known as the spiritual world and the opposite area the material world. The invisible dividing line between the two is known as the brahmajyoti, or the light of Brahman. Not surprisingly, the ruler of the spiritual world is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or just “God” to most people. The light of Brahman can be thought of as the rays emanating from the Lord’s gigantic spiritual body. The material realm facilitates the desires of those who want to imitate the Supreme Person or forget His fixed position as the only worthy beneficiary of service and sacrifice.

Lord RamaFor the material nature to serve its purpose, there must be an illusory agent, a force which allows for the delusion of the otherwise pure soul into worldly activities. In the absence of illusion there would be no chance for any material activities to operate, as the soul within every life form is eternal, blissful and knowledgeable. Only when enveloped in a covering of nescience can the Supreme Lord’s intimate friendship and well-wishing attitude towards all of His children go ignored.

In the material nature is found various activities driven by the three modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. All activities and all body types are made up of these modes. Hence we see up to 8,400,000 different species, all of whom possess perishable bodies. One living entity may live for just one day, while another remains in existence for billions of years, but in either case there is no such thing as immortality as it relates to a specific form. In this light the idea of there being angels, saints, heavenly and hellish figures isn’t difficult to understand. The desires of the individual along with the results of the work they perform, or karma, determine their specific body type. One thing for sure is that as long as the desire to return to the imperishable land, where there are no differences between body and spirit, is absent, continuation of the cycle of birth and death, or reincarnation, is assured.

Since the spirit soul in the material world is originally from the spiritual land, he is constitutionally the same in quality as the Supreme Lord. Yet since he is prone to falling down and associating with the governing agent of the material land, maya, he is considered marginal in his position. He has a choice as to which area to remain in. Understanding the marginal position is very important because it allows the soul to know that there is a difference between itself and the person it is meant to worship. Those who understand God as only being unmanifest or a giant collection of spiritual energy can at best merge into the Brahman effulgence. In that spiritual light there is no individuality; hence residence there is akin to the loss of existence.

TulsidasIn the above referenced verse Tulsidas is addressing the spiritualists who are fond of worshiping the Supreme Lord as being alakshyam, or invisible/unmanifest. The poet is specifically referencing the many transcendentalists in India who chant “alakh”, which means “invisible” or “all-pervading”, as their primary method of worship. The gross materialist deluded by maya doesn’t understand the temporary residence in perishable bodies and the workings of nature. As such, they are driven by a false identification, one that takes the temporary senses and body parts to be the beginning and end of existence. Ironically enough, the transcendentalist who rejects bodily association and is always focused on an unmanifest deity is found to be in a similar situation. Without understanding the identity of the individual, no progress can be made in spiritual life, as cognizance of the relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit serves as the foundation for all bona fide spiritual practice, and hence salvation as well.

If we were to simply worship God as being invisible, the mind would be bereft of a tangible object of contemplation. As such, the consciousness would be more prone to associating with worldly objects. Even if there is strict renunciation, ananda, or bliss, would still be missing from the regimen. Without bliss there cannot be any lasting dedication to a particular activity. The alleviation of distress is not enough to satisfy the soul, who is beaming with potential for spiritual service, the likes of which never dies out or fades away.

Lord KrishnaFor students of spiritual life following the Vedic tradition, the first instruction taught has nothing to do directly with the Supreme Lord or His all-pervasive nature. Rather, the first instruction targets the identity of the individual, advising him to understand aham brahmasmi, “I am Brahman”. Right away, we see that the living entity is truth and not nescience. Brahman is that spiritual light emanating from the body of the Personality of Godhead, who is thus known as Parabrahman. By first understanding that we are Brahman, we can take the necessary steps to get to know who our complementary entity in our spiritual endeavors is.

The embodied living entity, who is known as a jiva, must first understand their true nature as Brahman and then the Supreme Lord’s position as Parabrahman. The jiva is the individual spiritual energy, and the Supreme Lord is the source of all potency. After understanding these two components through careful study and dedicated austerity, the jiva can understand that what is keeping them from the spiritual land is the material nature, which is governed by maya. Through this review the marginal position of the individual is simultaneously understood, as the jiva has the choice to associate with maya or turn the eye towards Parabrahman.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)

Lord KrishnaThese concepts are very difficult to grasp even through study and practice in spiritual life. The effects of Kali Yuga, the current age, don’t make things any easier. The association with maya is very strong today, so even bona fide spiritual endeavors are not viewed as being favorable. More concern is given towards meeting of the basic necessities of the body than towards meeting the needs of the soul. If so much attention is paid on earning a living and taking care of friends and family, how much time can be spent on studying the unmanifested aspect of the Absolute Truth? Lord Krishna even states in the Bhagavad-gita that following the path of impersonalism is very difficult for those who are embodied, for even in the most ideal conditions realizing what formless, or attributeless, in the spiritual sense actually means is nearly impossible.

Tulsidas, in the above referenced verse, actually uses a play on words to get the same point across. Alakhahi, or that which is unmanifested, is a negation of lakhahi, which means “visible” or “manifested”. The poet invokes the term “lakhi” over and over again to show that the living entity constantly observes so many things. Even spiritual life involves seeing, such as reading Vedic literature and viewing the deity. If there is so much seeing already going on, what is the point in addressing God as being unseen, or invisible? How can someone who constantly sees things ever understand what it means to be unseen? In reality, the descriptions of the Absolute Truth as being formless, or unmanifest, refer to His possession of a spiritual body, a form which has transcendental attributes. The Supreme Lord is also described as adhokshaja, which means He is beyond the perception of blunt senses. If He is beyond our perception and has spiritual attributes, what is the point in focusing on these features right away, before any knowledge is acquired? Better to just chant the holy name and realize His wonderful form and presence through a loving attitude. Though God is beyond sense perception, the Lord reveals Himself to those who sincerely want to associate with Him.

“Being beyond the range of limited sense perception [adhokshaja], You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.18.19)

Lord KrishnaThough so much attention is focused on addressing issues of minimal importance in the Kali Yuga, all hope is not lost. As the material world exists only to facilitate the desires of those who want to forget God, the natural solution to all problems is to alter consciousness. When the thoughts of the individual are fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Person at the time of death, the marginal entity goes back to its original home, where it remains in the company of the Supreme Lord and His liberated associates for all of eternity.

Since it is more important to alter consciousness than to simply sit around and profess allegiance to a God that we know nothing about, chanting the name of the Lord becomes the most important activity. This is the recommendation made by Tulsidas as well. Indeed, without first understanding the marginal position of the living entity, the superior position of Parabrahman, and the material nature separating the two entities from enjoying together, there is no chance for any progress. Yet even with the requirements for knowledge and the inhibiting effects of Kali Yuga, the simple chanting of the Lord’s name can bring salvation. The holy name is non-different from the person it represents. The name of Rama directly identifies the Supreme Lord in His avatara as the prince of the Raghu dynasty. This name also describes the original Person’s ability to provide unmatched transcendental pleasure to the devotees.

Lord RamaThough Tulsidas presents both options here, i.e. the path of knowledge and understanding and the path of devotion through chanting, recitation of the holy name is actually the more important and effective of the two. When the holy name is recited regularly, cognizance of the Supreme Lord’s forms, activities and qualities quickly follows. As such, that person who was previously viewed as being alakshyam, or invisible, immediately becomes visible. The Supreme Lord is bereft of a material form, but this doesn’t mean that He is not a person with features. His hands, legs, feet and facial attributes are spiritual in nature; so their potency and reach remain inconceivable to those who are not tied to the Lord in an unbreakable bond of affection. Through the chanting of the holy name, that bond can be reestablished, and thus the invisible man in the sky can be soon seen for who He is, the most loveable entity capable of providing unending bliss to every individual the world over.



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