From Beginning To End

Lord Rama“Chanting Shri Rama’s holy name with love, faith and according to regulative principles will be beneficial for you from beginning to end, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 23)

prīti pratīti surīti soṃ rāma rāma japu rāma |
tulasī tero hai bhaleā ādi madhya parināma ||

The wonders of the beautiful system of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, are too comprehensive and intricate to accurately describe in just one lifetime. Since the discipline descends directly from the Supreme Person, who acts as the beneficiary to every action undertaken within the system, it possesses the same properties of wonder, amazement and bliss that belong to that ultimate reservoir of pleasure. With three key ingredients incorporated into the sublime engagement of devotional service, there is not only a benefit seen in the end, but there will be good fortunes in the spiritual sense accumulated at every step, even in the beginning. No other regulative system bears these properties. Therefore the wise take devotional service to be the topmost engagement, the one religious system to be acted upon exclusively with love, faith, and deference to the established procedures and guidelines. If there are even benefits to be had in the beginning, what need is there for any other type of meditation, yoga or physical effort?

Though many of the religious traditions popular today focus on sentimentalism directed at a specific spiritual personality, there is still a common trait exhibited by every worshiper: the offering of service. In the conditioned state, where the living entity identifies solely with the temporary body it has acquired at the time of birth – a form which subsequently takes on material elements, develops and then ultimately dwindles – service is offered to the senses and nothing else. Where man separates himself from the animal kingdom is in the area of religion. Only in the human form of body can the acknowledgement and appreciation of a higher power – a creator, maintainer and destroyer – be had and acted upon.

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bhagavad-gita, 8.3)

Krishna and ArjunaThe Vedas, the most prominent scriptural tradition of India, also recommend allegiance to the original Divine Being, who can take on many different spiritual manifestations. But with the Vedas there is also more tangible evidence presented to justify such worship and the need for turning away from material life. The basic understanding is that the living entity is Brahman, or pure spirit. Since every life form is equal, there is no reason to take one entity to be superior to another. Equality is automatically established based on constitution. At the same time, there is also a Supreme Absolute Truth, a person who is beyond the relative dualities of material existence. Birth and death, healthiness and disease, hot and cold, good and bad, etc. only affect the tiny sparks of Brahman mixed with matter, whereas Parabrahman remains above and beyond the dualities introduced in a temporary realm crafted to meet the desires of those individual autonomous sparks desiring to imitate the superior position and activities of the Supreme Person.

How that ultimate person is described and worshiped is where the paths diverge. Followers of the Vedic school generally fall into one of two categories: personalists and impersonalists. The impersonalist philosophy states that God is one giant sum of energy, and that since He has divided, the living entities are miniature versions of God Himself. The material world is governed by maya, or illusion, so the aim of life is to block out as much illusion as possible and merge back into the giant whole. The Supreme Absolute Truth is likened to a giant ocean which has flooded onto land. Each material body is akin to a container, or glass, that holds a tiny portion of the ocean water. When all the containers are shattered, the water can merge back together and make the Supreme Form of God whole again.

Lord VishnuThe personalists view the Supreme Absolute Truth as being a person who is full of form. Depending on the ascendency in education and the scriptural works taken as the highest authority, that Supreme Person is addressed by the personalists as either Vishnu or Krishna. Even the followers of Krishna acknowledge the existence of Vishnu as being the Supreme Person who is just a different manifestation of the beloved Krishna. All of Vishnu’s forms are considered non-different from one another, as they each fully represent the original person, from whom all matter and spirit emanates. The relationship between the individual sparks of Brahman and the Supreme Lord is likened to the relationship between the sunrays and the sun. The sun emits so many powerful rays each day, and yet its strength and potency do not diminish. In a similar manner, from one spiritual fire have come many sparks, but the original Person still retains His individuality and potency. Therefore there is simultaneous oneness and difference between the tiny living sparks and the complete whole. The fact that one person can expand Himself into an unlimited number of tiny fragments and yet remain completely unchanged defies every law of logic, mathematics, physics and biology. Any truth the human brain can conjure will never be able to fully describe and understand the nature of the relationship between the living entities and God.

The personalists therefore understand that simply merging back into the transcendental body of the Lord does not represent any true elevation. Since both entities exist eternally and always share similar qualities, the inherent relationship established is that of master-servant, wherein both parties derive tremendous pleasure by voluntarily being true to their respective positions. The personalists are devotees; so their main business is to think about and remember the Supreme Person in one of His non-different, fully qualified forms at all times. On the highest level of practice the aim is to constantly seek the Lord’s company and nothing else.

bicycle with training wheelsTo the impersonalist, the different forms worshiped by the personalist are considered imaginary, tools aimed at achieving the same end the impersonalist is after . The thought process of the impersonalist philosopher is that the devotees need tools akin to training wheels to get to the higher platform of consciousness. When learning to ride a bike, the balance required to remain steady is difficult to acquire right away. Therefore, in the beginning teachers add training wheels to the back of the bicycle to ensure that the student doesn’t fall off while practicing. The training wheels can be removed once the necessary balance is acquired.

The impersonalists feel they don’t need the training wheels of love and devotion to God, for they have already transcended the need to trick themselves into worshiping a form that is maya. What they don’t understand is that their desire for liberation and merging into Brahman itself represents a lower standard of consciousness. The devotees have abandoned the desires relating to the alleviation of distress, liberation from reincarnation, and the merging into an all-encompassing energy. The bliss the personalists derive from worshiping the qualified and original forms of the Personality of Godhead far exceed the happiness found in any other endeavor. Indeed, when the method of the personalists is practiced properly, there is a benefit at every stage along the way, not just at the end.

What does this mean exactly? For one who cannot fathom the inconceivably brilliant qualities possessed by the form of the Lord that has spiritual attributes, the only options available are to continue in material existence through activities in karma – which have accompanying good and bad results, some of which are difficult to predict – or take to meditating on Brahman. Neither one of these options are guaranteed to provide tangible results at every step. Meditation on Brahman is very difficult, especially considering that impersonal Brahman is not even an object. Void, or nothingness, is naturally lacking names, forms, qualities and pastimes, all of which are necessary ingredients in attracting the service mentality of the spirit soul. Activities in karma are even more dangerous, as there is much risk taken to acquire a reward which brings enjoyment that is destined to fizzle out.

Lord RamaIn the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas very kindly reveals the secret formula for attaining bliss and good fortune at every step in life. Though he is reminding himself of these benefits and the correct procedure, the lesson applies to everyone. Tulsidas’ object of worship is Lord Rama, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In many circles, Lord Rama is considered the original Personality of Godhead, and since there is no difference between Krishna and Rama, there is no harm in having such a mindset. More than just an elevated form of Brahman or a historical personality who was adept at fighting off evil elements, Rama is Bhagavan; thus He is fully featured with the qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree and at the same time.

Since the name of the Lord is non-different from Him, devotees make the recitation of that sound vibration their primary business in life. Tulsidas states that the key to chanting Rama’s name properly is to do it with love, faith and adherence to established guidelines and procedures. Love is the first requirement, as it will hold everything together while the devotee progresses on the path towards eternal felicity. Right away this requirement eliminates as candidates the non-devotees of all kinds, including especially the impersonalists. One may say that he loves Rama and that Rama is the Supreme Brahman, but if the Lord is considered formless, how can there be any real affection? Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati accurately notes that the prayers of the impersonalists are more offensive to the Lord than the insults hurled at Him from enemies.

Do we have any experience of loving something that is not even an object? This requirement of having love implies that the devotee taking to chanting understands the blissful nature of the Supreme Lord and His possession of undying, spiritually infused attributes. Maya, or illusion, works with ordinary matter, or prakriti, but in the spiritual sky there is the divine nature, or daivi prakriti. Manifestations are never absent; it is just that in the spiritual world matter is not inhibiting. Everything in the Lord’s realm is spiritual, including the bodies possessed by the liberated souls always engaged in bhakti.

Lord RamaThe second requirement is pratiti, which can mean faith or confidence. Chanting mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, with love is the first requirement for success, as that will keep the soul satisfied in its desire to act upon its loving propensity. Faith and confidence ensure that the chanting will continue. We may say that we love someone or something, but if we don’t take the necessary steps to maintain that loving relationship, our affection will be directed elsewhere. Faith is a requirement, as the mind is incapable of conceiving of and deriving bliss from the relationship with the Supreme Lord simply through logical understanding. Mathematics, or any practical discipline for that matter, becomes truly appreciated when the principles learned are acted upon in real-life exercises. Confidence in chanting the holy names of the Lord allows the love harbored for God to continue in an active state and only increase with time.

The third ingredient is devotion through adherence to regulative principles, wherein the chanting process is performed according to prescribed guidelines. The name of the Lord is so wonderful that it can be chanted at any time and any place and still provide benefits, but the devotional aspect must be present. Devotional service as a way of life indicates that there is some steady dedication to the practice. This ensures that the love and faith aspects of the chanting remain alive through regular recitation. Faith keeps the belief alive that the love offered to the Supreme Lord will not go to waste, and devotion allows the sincere soul to exhibit their loving feelings towards Rama regularly. If chanting is done without devotion or without adherence to prescribed rituals and regulations, the benefits will not be there. For instance, in many unauthorized traditions in India that claim to be following bhakti, there is all sorts of debauchery engaged in under the name of devotion. Since these practices are not authorized or even recommended, they cannot be considered devotion. While the loving sentiment exists naturally within the heart, the proper method of worship cannot just be conjured up within the mind. Chanting of the holy name is the most liberal in this respect, as it can be performed anywhere and everywhere, but the methods employed must always maintain the Supreme Lord as the ultimate beneficiary. In addition, the mood of the devotee must follow the devotional path, otherwise the practice takes on blind sentimentalism which can lead the sincere follower astray, down a road that doesn’t bring any tangible exchange of loving emotion.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

Hanuman chantingWhen there is love, faith and devotion, the practice of chanting Rama’s name will bring benefits from start to end. In any other area of endeavor, the beginning stage is the most painful. If one does not advance past the beginning, there is a loss. With chanting Rama’s name, however, there is no such defect. Even if one only chants with love, faith and devotion for one day, there is tremendous spiritual merit accumulated, benefits which carry over into the next life, as is confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. Chanting the name of Rama just once with sincerity indicates a desire to associate with the Supreme Lord and derive pleasure from His company. In this respect there will be every attempt made by Rama and others to help the sincere devotee along.

Continuous chanting is beneficial in the middle stages because the consciousness gradually develops into always thinking about the Lord and His pastimes. In the beginning stages, there may be pain and discomfort from having to adhere to a strict regulative practice. In the tradition started by Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of God, the recommended guideline is that one chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. One round equates to one hundred and eight recitations of the particular mantra, therefore sixteen rounds will obviously take up quite a bit of time. If the tongue is not accustomed to reciting the names of Krishna and Rama, chanting this many mantras each day will be quite difficult. But as more and more progress is made, the devotee starts to see more and more benefits. In the middle stages, a high level of consciousness is found, and regular thoughts of Krishna and His different forms appear within the mind. In any other endeavor, quitting the job halfway through results in a total waste of effort, but the devotee who reaches the middle stage of their evolution towards pure Krishna consciousness has taken a great leap forward in their progress. Indeed, just the fact that the Lord can be remembered at all on a regular basis brings tremendous benefits in terms of lack of distress and pleasantness of mind.

Lord RamaThe end benefit to chanting with love, faith and devotion to regulation is the most obvious and easy to decipher. After all, every spiritual practice has some promise for an end-goal that is wonderful, a panacea of enjoyment. The result of steady practice in bhakti is the continued ability to remember and honor the Lord and His names. The taste of spiritual bliss is certainly present at every step, but the magnitude of the delights enjoyed increases as further progression is made. If we remember Tulsidas’ formula for success in bhakti, there is no chance of there ever being any difficulty in the end. And since Rama’s name is so wonderful, there will be boons received in the middle and beginning stages as well. Becoming familiar with these effects, the wise not only take to performing bhakti on a regular basis, but they also preach the glories of the Supreme Lord and His names to others, kindly begging everyone to find welfare from beginning to end by following the only dharma for this age, the chanting of the holy names.

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