“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
bigarī janama aneka kī sudharai abahīṃ āju |
hohi rāma ko nāma japu tulasī taji kusamāju ||
The easiest thing to do is criticize someone else. It doesn’t take much effort. You just look at someone and try to find faults. Every action they take can then come under further scrutiny. For the prominent leaders in spiritual life, who are preaching the glories of the Supreme Lord found in the sacred texts, the spotlight shines even brighter on them. If they are not up to the highest standard of ethical conduct, if they should slip just once, others will be ready to pounce and remind them of their transgression for the rest of their lives. Yet one formula is so potent that no matter how grievous the previous transgressions may have been and how often they were repeated, the negative reactions can be quickly erased. Such is the power of the holy name of Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His manifestation as a warrior prince.
Shouldn’t we criticize spiritual leaders who set a bad example? After all, if a person is preaching about the need to be devoted to God, to avoid sinful activity, and to remain forever fixed in consciousness with the Supreme Lord, shouldn’t they personally exhibit the traits they recommend others acquire? As an example, if I go on a speaking tour discussing the need for weight reduction and adherence to exercise, and yet I eat whatever I want and don’t properly maintain my weight, what gravity will my message carry? Obviously not much, for the personal lack of adherence to the principles expounded shows that the messenger either doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the message or that the principles being preached are flimsy in their effectiveness. If even the greatest champions of the message don’t believe in it, why should anyone else?
While maintaining a critical eye is important in rooting out pretenders, it is still a fact that to ere is human. Every one of us is sinful, a truth that can be confidently accepted based on the fact that we took birth. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and they reveal truths of spirituality not found in any other discipline or philosophy. One of the more intriguing points of fact found in the Vedas relates to reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. How this works is summarily described in the Bhagavad-gita, the ancient discourse on spirituality sung by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. At the time, one of the leading warriors was leaning towards conscientiously objecting to the hostilities, not wanting to kill others to gain command over a kingdom.
To make sure that Arjuna, the hesitant warrior, made an informed decision, Krishna reviewed the basics of reincarnation. For the soul there is never birth or death. The soul never ceases to be, nor did it ever come into existence. The various forms it assumes are the result of past deeds and desires, and just as there is death, there is guaranteed to be birth. We also learn from this discourse that there is a way to stop reincarnation. If one’s thoughts and desires are fixed on the Personality of Godhead at the time of death, there is no more acceptance and rejection of bodies. After the current life ends, eternal spiritual existence begins.
“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)
From this information we can right away deduce that in our previous birth we failed to achieve perfect Krishna consciousness. It’s sad but true, a regrettable reality of life that we have to live with. In our previous life, and the many before that, we were focused on other things, like sex life, gambling, intoxication and overall sense gratification. We may even have performed some rituals relating to religion or avoided sinful behavior, but our primary thoughts were not constantly tied to God in a mood of love.
For the spiritualist sincerely searching for the truth, there are generally two ways to react to this unfortunate news. The first is to beat yourself up over it. Not only yourself, you can also criticize everyone who is presently alive. “Look at you, you karmi. You screwed up in your last life and that’s why you’re in so much trouble now.” But stepping back for a second, we see that every single life form is in the same boat. Is it wise to criticize someone else for transgressions that we also made? Is there anything to be gained by pointing to defects in others when those same defects are present in us?
“I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices. Therefore, those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.24)
The other option is to get over the fact that we screwed up previously and just find the path that will ensure that rebirth stops going forward. Arjuna, though he hesitated and was mistakenly attached to his body and the bodily welfare of his friends and family fighting for the opposing side, nevertheless did not punish himself for having made such a huge mistake. In one sense, his temporary lapse of judgment can be considered more egregious because he was in the presence of Shri Krishna. At the end of the discourse, Krishna revealed Himself to be the Supreme Lord, the object of all sacrifice and worship.
When there is a religious ritual, penance, or austerity, there must be a beneficiary. We wouldn’t just want to punish ourselves for no reason. The athlete arises early in the morning and runs many laps around the track not to inflict self-punishment, but rather to further a purpose. Similarly, every religious practice is meant for the satisfaction of the Supreme Enjoyer, Lord Vishnu. Therefore one of Vishnu’s other names is Yajneshvara. In the Gita, Krishna revealed Himself to be the same Vishnu, the all-pervading Lord. In fact, there is no such thing as one God for one set of individuals and one deity for another group. God is one, though He has different manifestations and energies that allow people to view Him in different ways.
Typically, the Lord is understood to be invisible, for we don’t believe that we’ve ever seen Him. In moments of trouble, the tendency is to look to the sky and address a person whose presence isn’t felt in our near vicinity. But before we actually understand what the Vedic statements describing the Lord as invisible or all-pervading actually mean, we should look at our own self. We have a bodily manifestation, and then we have our identity as spirit soul. The difference between the two is a covering of nescience, which is more technically known as maya, or illusion. Just because illusion is present doesn’t mean that we are not visible.
Similarly, just because we can’t perceive of God’s presence doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist. Neither does it mean that He is invisible. Rather, the covering of nescience separates us from seeing the Lord’s influence in every aspect of life. Krishna is the very same Lord but in His original, transcendental body. Yet many miscreants couldn’t understand who Krishna was even after seeing Him personally. Should they then believe that God is invisible, even when they saw Him standing before them? Obviously it is consciousness and the clarity of vision that determines how or if God can be seen.
Despite Arjuna’s temporary fall down from the spiritual plane of consciousness, which was marked by his decision to not fight based on concern over temporary bodies, Krishna did not hold the transgression against him. How could He anyway? Arjuna was a surrendered soul, one wise enough to place his issues and concerns before Krishna. Only the stubborn person with a poor fund of knowledge thinks he can solve every one of life’s problems without any guidance. If we didn’t have any control over where we were born and who are parents are, how much of life can we really control? We think we are independent because we choose how to interact with nature, but the results of the exercise of this freedom are completely out of our hands.
Since every person alive today took birth, it means that they made some past transgression. If they make more during the course of this lifetime, it doesn’t really change anything, as so many past errors were also made. From the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, we see that in one second, immediately, starting today, if we regularly chant the holy name of Rama, we can rectify all of our past mistakes. Lest we think this is a false promise, the aftermath of the Bhagavad-gita discourse proves that Goswami Tulsidas is correct in his assertion. Lord Rama is the same Krishna but in the guise of a warrior prince, so His name is equal to God. Arjuna had made the mistake of contemplating surrender in a war that he had every right to win. Krishna did not hold this against him; rather, as soon as Arjuna surrendered and kept the Lord within his thoughts at every second, all the past mistakes were immediately forgotten.
“I have in the past addressed You as ‘O Krishna,’ ‘O Yadava,’ ‘O my friend,’ without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love. I have dishonored You many times while relaxing or while lying on the same bed or eating together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends. Please excuse me for all my offenses.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bg. 11.41-42)
To dispel the doubts of future listeners, during Krishna’s conversation with Arjuna the Lord showed His universal form, or the virata-rupa. This awe-inspiring vision contained the numerous planets in the universe and their notable inhabitants. After seeing this wonderful form, Arjuna felt even more remorse. You see Arjuna was Krishna’s cousin during their time on earth together some five thousand years ago. They were also the best of friends. Now seeing that his dear friend was the Supreme Lord, Arjuna apologized for previously having addressed Krishna in friendly terms and not having shown Him the respect due God.
Among males especially, the friendships involve constant ribbing and joke-making. You can tell that someone is your friend if they are willing to jest with you, for otherwise there is a veil of formality creating a separation in the relationship. When male friends are placed together in a group, the joke-making almost turns into a competition, where one person tries to come up with even funnier jokes at the expense of one of the members of the group. These types of interactions are the source of great pleasure for the parties involved, as it was with Krishna in His dealings with Arjuna. In technical terms, interaction with God in a mood of devotional friendship is known as sakhya-rasa.
Though he really had no reason to feel bad over being friendly with Krishna, Arjuna did nonetheless. But he did not let his contrition get in the way of devotion to Krishna. Rather than harp on the past, Arjuna took the Lord’s advice and continued to fight on while keeping His beautiful friend’s words and form in his consciousness. Since the holy name is all-inclusive, reciting it is the best way for others to follow the path laid down by Arjuna. Despite our past transgressions, of which there are too many to count, if we take the plunge into devotional service and regularly recite wonderful mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the fruit of our existence will be tasted very soon.
The accompanying recommendation put forth is that we avoid the company of those who are not devoted to God. This should make sense, for if we have intimate association with those who have divergent interests, those who continue to offend the Supreme Lord and don’t even know it, there is every chance of spoiling yet another birth. This seems like a harsh restriction, as we may know so many kind people who have no inclination towards spiritual life at the present moment. Yet when the first recommendation is taken to heart, the issue of bad association pretty much takes care of itself. If the devotee relishes reciting the name of their beloved Lord and thinking about His wonderful pastimes, why would they want to spend much time doing anything else? If we’re in the company of those who don’t want to think of God at all, how long will we be able to stand being with them?
Every single error committed in our many past lives can be rectified by bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Through the repetition of birth and death the conditioned soul sees not his fall from grace, his descent from the spiritual sky into the ocean of nescience. Yet if we have spoiled only one birth or one million, every mistake can be rectified by having love for Shri Rama and His holy name. This formula should be tried immediately, as the healing power acts instantly. We may not believe this promise or we may be leery of what it might do to us, but there is nothing to fear about cleansing all of our past transgressions, wiping the slate clean and beginning the building of our way back to something much better.
Categories: dohavali 1-40