Stairway to the Stars

Lord Rama“Without the support of Shri Rama’s holy name, how can you hope to have spiritual assets? It’s akin to wanting to climb up to the sky using the raindrops falling from the clouds.” (Dohavali, 20)

rāma nāma avalaṃba binu paramāratha kī āsa |

baraṣata bārida būm̐da gahi cāhata caḍhana akāsa ||

Your dream starts today. The removal of all the perilous conditions, worries, fears and impositions of the world which attack through the vulnerable senses is only a heartbeat away, provided you have the fortitude and strength of conviction to take the difficult step forward. To acquire the necessary bravery, sincerity of thought and purpose, a commitment to the recitation of a specific sound vibration, one that represents the Supreme Absolute Truth in all His glory, must be present. Those who have been fortunate enough to make the chanting of this holy name their primary occupation in life can attest to the validity of the process and also the flimsiness of any other system of dharma, or religiosity. Indeed, without a drastic shift in consciousness, wherein the thoughts of the mind are turned towards meeting the interests of the Supreme Object of Pleasure, trying to secure paramartha, or spiritual profits, is virtually impossible. The paths to spiritual freedom not built on the cornerstone practice of recitation of the holy name are riddled with debilitating forces that present a steady and most formidable opposition. These forces are so strong that very few have overcome them. But with the holy name, a tailwind of massive proportion helps to thrust the sincere spiritualist back to the spiritual world. Presented with these two options for attaining spiritual assets, the choice is rather obvious.

Lord RamaWhat is this “holy name” and why is it so important? Though we think we will be happy with an absence of distress or the living out of a new experience, the key to happiness is actually found in the thoughts and concerns of the mind. When there is calm in this area, when there is no more hankering or lamenting, the consciousness can be considered to be peacefully situated, in a pleasant circumstance. Since the desires within the mind steadily attack the psyche like a raging river, consciousness requires constant pacification and purification. Therefore the recitation of the holy names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes all the more important.

While different meditation techniques and the repetition of mantras aimed at calming the mind have been tried for centuries, the sound vibrations of “Krishna” and “Rama” are on a completely unique level. They represent the Supreme Absolute Truth, that entity we are all inclined to serve and worship. This inclination forms the basis of the full spectrum of activity and emotion, including even hatred. The holy name serves as a way to guide the flow of service emanating from the soul back in the proper direction. The soul can be considered a spiritual machine that never stops ticking. Through its attached form, it is constantly working, moving, desiring, feeling, willing, etc. Though the forces of nature may inhibit its effusion of true knowledge and potency, the soul’s active propensity is still always present. Therefore the key to finding a lasting pleasurable situation is to direct the energy along the proper course. Any misdirection naturally will lead to a further clouding of intelligence, bringing about increased misery and unhappiness.

TulsidasBecause of the clouding, the misdirection of the output of energy, the individual soul has great difficulty understanding the worthiness of direct worship of God through recitation of His holy name. Therefore other, less potent, dare we say even “useless”, processes are adopted. Goswami Tulsidas, in the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, is summarizing his opinions on the various religious systems commonly employed. Indeed, even the avowed atheist, one who is completely ignorant of his identity as spirit and the need for spiritual life, is likened to one who tries to understand God without chanting the holy name of Rama. Tulsidas especially preferred the name of Rama, for it represents the Supreme Lord’s non-different form of Shri Ramachandra, the pious prince of Ayodhya and protector of fallen souls. Those who surrender unto Lord Rama are never turned away, with Tulsidas serving as a great example of this fact. The saint only had his devotion to Rama and nothing else. All he wanted to do was glorify the Lord, and because of this so many enemies came and tried to stop him, with some even wanting to kill him.

Was Tulsidas inciting a national uprising? Was he asking others to overthrow the government? Was he instigating violence against innocent people? Obviously he wasn’t doing any of these things. He only glorified his life and soul, Shri Rama, through poetry and song. But because of his sincerity, the poet became extremely popular, and a groundswell of worship of Rama soon followed. Therefore the enemies of the Lord, those who either refuse to acknowledge His existence or take worship of Him to be the greatest assault on the progressive march towards hedonism, became very envious of Tulsidas. The poet nevertheless continued to chant Rama’s name, and, as a result, his devotion never wavered nor his popularity. To this day the miscreants try to attack him and explain his philosophy as being impersonalist, simplistic, or not grounded in the Vedas, but there is nothing they can do to take away his glory. For as long as Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, continues to be glorified on this earth, Tulsidas’ fame and honor will remain intact.

Hanuman worshiping RamaIn the preceding verses from the Dohavali, Tulsidas remarked that both the gross materialist and he who is searching after an invisible God are on the wrong path due to their neglect of Shri Rama’s holy name. The human being, at the time of birth, inherits the false identification brought on by material contact. The “I” and “Mine” mentalities are technically invalid because nothing actually belongs to us. The material elements were here before our birth, and they will remain manifest for long after our death. The soul is the identifiable aspect, so if we are to take any identity it should be aham brahmasmi, or “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of Brahman, the all-pervading Truth.” For the person deluded by the flawed possessive mentality, one option for reformation is to sit quietly and perform basic functions of religious life. Through steady practice and hearing, there can hopefully come an awakening as to the real nature of the individual.

Then there are those who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They think that everything in the world is completely false and that only the invisible God, alakshyam, is Truth. Following this mentality, they simply negate all activity, live by the strictest austerities and try to worship the invisible Lord, whose form and name remain mysteries. This method of worship is employed by many established religions around the world as well, as the form and personality of the Supreme Lord are denied at every step. Complete worship and surrender under these models involve a basic profession of faith followed by a return to the animalistic way of life driven by meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Even if there are restrictions imposed on these sinful activities, the desires for eating, sleeping, mating and defending remain at the forefront of the mind.

For those who are spiritually inclined but remain ignorant of the forms and names of the Lord, the process recommended is to first look at the living entity’s manifested form, then the Absolute Truth, or pure spirit, and then maya, or the illusory energy, which stands in between the living entity’s real identity as Brahman and his current manifested form. The spiritual energy is original and undying, and it is where the Supreme Lord resides; hence the living entities belong there. The material energy is the separated expansion, having an illusory nature meant to cloud the individual soul into ignorance and forgetfulness of his real position. The jiva, or living entity, is considered the marginal energy, somewhere in between the spiritual and material energies. By constitution, we spirit souls are part of the internal energy, but since we have a choice as to which nature to associate with, we are considered marginal. One who simply views the Lord as invisible and unmanifest will have a very difficult time understanding their real position as the marginal energy. When Lord Rama comes to earth, is He invisible? One who doesn’t know who they are will think that the Lord’s body is also maya, or false. If someone thinks that Rama assumes a body of maya, how can they ever make progress in spiritual life? For the method of worship that studies the unmanifest aspect of the Absolute Truth to bear any fruit, there must be intense study of the different energies and properties, followed by a practical realization of these facts.

“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 KrishnaTulsidas says that these other processes are very difficult for a conditioned soul to follow, and that it is better to simply chant Rama’s name instead. Indeed, this is the same conclusion put forth by Lord Krishna in the famous Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete discourse on spirituality to be found in this world. After being questioned by His dear friend and disciple Arjuna, Krishna said that following the impersonal path of self-realization is very difficult for the embodied living beings, and that only after much effort is invested in this path can there be any progress made. But for one who is attached to the Lord’s original feature as the Personality of Godhead, consciousness changes very quickly. This path is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and the chanting of the Lord’s names is its quintessential activity.

Tulsidas summarizes the futility and difficulty of following any path devoid of bhakti by comparing the processes adopted to that of trying to reach the sky by taking hold of falling raindrops. The drops of falling rain are flimsy at best, so they are impossible to hold onto to begin with. Right away the analogy beautifully illustrates just how difficult it is to find paramartha without chanting the Lord’s name. To make matters worse, the rain is destined to hit the ground due to the influence of gravity. The raindrops are difficult enough to hold onto to begin with, and they are flowing in the polar opposite direction of where the sincere transcendentalist wants to travel. Therefore it is impossible to receive any type of spiritual merits without sincere faith in the holy name of the Lord, which is like a strong pillar.

escalatorIn modern terms, the difficulty in following paths devoid of bhakti can be compared to trying to ascend to a higher floor in a shopping mall by climbing an escalator that travels only downwards. The escalator is a wonderful invention of convenience, as it takes away the need to ascend or descend long flights of stairs by walking. The electronic motor carries the pedestrian to whichever floor they need to go. But in order to travel upwards, an escalator travelling in the right direction is required. Taking the opposing escalator makes reaching the higher floors much more difficult.

Not only does Tulsidas’ analogy to the raindrops apply to spiritual practices outside of bhakti, it can also be used to understand the need for good association. The raindrops are steadily falling away from their original home, the clouds in the sky. Similarly, those who are deluded by the illusory aspects of material nature are drifting further and further away from their original home, the spiritual planets where the Personality of Godhead and His many non-different forms reside. Therefore taking shelter of such bad association, maintaining intimate relations with non-devotees, makes achieving salvation, the bliss that comes with sharanagati, or full surrender, as difficult as trying to reach the sky by climbing the falling raindrops. The non-devotees wholly dedicated to turning their backs on the Supreme Lord can only carry their friends and associates in the same direction they are travelling. Therefore the better option is to take shelter of those going the right way, those who follow the escalator headed straight for the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha.

Lord RamaShri Rama’s name can be held onto, for it is a pillar of strength and conviction. Unlike other processes of religious life, the chanting of the holy name can be applied to any and all situations. If, while falling asleep at night, we are distressed over the outcome of events from the current day or the worries pertaining to what needs to be done in the future, we can invoke the holy name within our minds. On the flip side, if we are in the happiest of conditions, full of glee and exuberance, we can similarly remember the holy name and hold onto it as our sustenance, the glue holding together our comfortably situated consciousness. The forces of material nature are like the winds of a hurricane trying to knock us down from the straightened path. By holding onto the pillar of the holy name of Rama, nothing will be able to knock us down. And even if we should happen to fall, we’ll get right back up again, as the holy name never leaves the bhakta, not even for a second. The rapid currents of the material ocean are difficult to traverse, but by taking shelter of the life raft of vishnu-bhakti, which is inflated and protected through the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, we can cross the ocean of nescience and reach the land of eternal peace and joy.

Categories: dohavali 1-40

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1 reply

  1. Hare Krishna
    Thank you for this amazing post. Is it possible to get an audio mp3 file for these kind of posts so that one can listen to them while travelling.
    Hare Krishna

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