From an Anthill

Valmiki visited by Lord Brahma“Just as within the earth are found every kind of seed and within the sky live all the stars, Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama’s holy name is the reservoir of all dharma.” (Dohavali, 29)

jathā bhūmi saba bījamaya nakhata nivāsa akāsa |
rāmanāma saba dharamamaya jānata tulasīdāsa ||

To convey the wonders of the integral component of bhakti, the chanting of the holy name, Tulsidas makes the beautiful comparison to the earth and the sky, which are both filled with so much potential. From the tiny seeds within the earth come the future trees, flowers, fruits, grains and grass that sustain life. Even for those who live primarily off eating meat, like the tigers and the human beings doing their best impersonation of animals, there is still a dependency on the earth, for without grass and grains the animals that are eaten would not be able to mature. The magnanimous cow, the free giver of milk who asks nothing in return but to be protected, can survive simply on the grass found on the pasturing grounds. But the first step to understanding the wonders of the earth, and also the sky which houses the innumerable planets and the almighty sun, is faith. Without a little faith in the beginning, one can’t take the necessary steps to maintain life on earth. That a single seed found within the sacred ground can lead to so much is known only to those who trust fully in the process of cultivation. Similarly, to one who has firm faith in the holy name and its power to deliver the results of every single dharma, or system of religiosity, ever created, the fruit of the human birth, the benefit to having an existence, is very quickly realized.

cowsFor a more comprehensive understanding on the issue of faith, we can look to a historical incident documented in Vedic literature pertaining to the travels of Narada Muni, who is arguably the greatest reformer in history. By singing songs glorifying the Supreme Lord a poet can make tremendous progress in his own spiritual advancement. The sound vibrations travelling through the ether can penetrate the thick wall of nescience surrounding the thoughts of those who are conditioned by material life. The welfare workers can also make a difference by feeding the poor and helping the downtrodden through different, albeit temporary, struggles, but the guru, or spiritual master, is uniquely benevolent, because he can assertively rescue a person from the clutches of maya, or that which is not Brahman.

On the most basic level, the jiva souls, we living entities who search after and worship God, can be looked at as the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit. The spiritual energy consists of God and His direct energy expansions, while the material energy is a separate force consisting of dull matter and the like, those objects which don’t have any direct presence of the Divine. Similar to how our arms and legs are part of our body but our identities are not in them, the material energy does not carry God’s personal influence.

The jivas are on the marginal side because they have a choice as to which energy to take shelter of. By constitution, jivas are on the spiritual side, therefore their natural home is in the spiritual world alongside God and His eternally liberated associates. When drowned in the ocean of material suffering, however, which continues to impose discomfort like a wheel that never stops spinning, knowledge of the marginal position remains far, far away. Therefore the same liberated souls whose association gives us great pleasure in the spiritual sky must be sought out in our present habitation to gain rescue from the sinking ship that is material life and the activities it encompasses.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe guru is the most benevolent welfare worker because he can give personal recommendations aimed at delivering the human mind from its sufferings. At the heart of unhappiness is fear, which is strengthened through attachment and ignorance. We fear the day of death because we have grown accustomed to the body we acquired through virtually no effort of our own. We don’t remember taking birth from the womb of our mother, nor do we even know where we were prior to being born. In the grand scheme of things we are virtually powerless, yet through experiences accumulated in the temporary dwelling known as the body we create attachments and hence fear losing everything.

The guru is a wise man who has seen the light, as he has taken shelter of the Supreme Lord and realized that life’s mission is to serve Him. What to speak of this specific instance, every single go around within a specific life form is meant for finding that same engagement; hence religion is known as dharma in the Vedic tradition. Religion may change, as the faith system an individual subscribes to can be influenced by experiences and outside teachings, but one’s dharma cannot be altered. The intrinsic dharma is thus described as sanatana, or “that which has no beginning or end”. Dharma is an essential characteristic, and when it applies to the soul, the individual functioning unit of life, it speaks to the spiritual spark’s tendency towards divine love, or devotional service. The service mentality never leaves us; it just can take on different natures.

Narada MuniThe many welfare workers perform some type of service to their fellow man, but only the guru aims to rekindle the spiritual spark’s true dharma, its natural tendency towards service to God. In this connection, Narada Muni was once travelling the world, as he is known to do. As a sannyasi, one in the renounced order of life, Narada doesn’t stay in one place; he likes to go around and chant the glories of Narayana, which is another name for God. There is only one Supreme Lord, but devotees like to address Him by different names, as this practice not only serves to further glorify their beloved, but it also brings tremendous pleasure to the chanter, for the holy name and the person addressed are non-different from one another.

This particular incident involving Narada is nicely described by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his book, Raja-vidya, which is a short, summary study of the Bhagavad-gita, providing the essence of the classic work to those who are not yet ready to delve deep into studying the many verses of the sacred text. Narada Muni passed by two different men, both of whom posed a similar question. They knew that Narada often visits Narayana, the source of all men and the Supreme Lord Vishnu Himself, so they wanted to see if he could find out from the Lord when their salvation would come. One man was a cobbler and the other was a brahmana, or one of the priestly class. The question was a little strange coming from the cobbler, as his occupation was seen as not being conducive to immediate salvation. Karma and guna, or work and qualities, determine the type of birth we take. A brahmana is considered a high birth, the result of many pious deeds from previous lives. If one is purely God conscious, however, they don’t take birth again; they immediately return to the spiritual sky. Yet on the material sphere, when desires and work are not wholly surrendered unto the lotus feet of the sweet and transcendent Lord, pious activities lead to a promotion in birth in the next life, circumstances more conducive to spiritual understanding and ultimate liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Narayana in VaikunthaNarada then made his way to Vaikuntha, the spiritual realm where Narayana always resides. The beloved saint asked his questions, and he was a little surprised by the answers given. Narayana said that the cobbler would attain salvation very quickly, while the brahmana would have to wait for a very long time. Narada couldn’t understand this, as he hadn’t seen any glaring distinction between the two men aside from their occupations. Lord Narayana then told Narada to tell both men that in Vaikuntha the Lord was threading the eye of a needle with an elephant. By relaying this information to both men, Narada would be able to tell the reason for the difference in their future outcomes.

Narada returned to earth and approached the same two men. Sure enough, they both asked what Narayana was doing in Vaikuntha. When the brahmana heard about the threading of the needle, he could not believe it. He perhaps thought Narada was speaking mythology or giving some symbolic lesson. The cobbler, on the other hand, was thrilled to hear such information. He remarked that from a tiny seed can come a large tree that provides endless fruits, so why couldn’t Narayana thread the eye of a needle with an elephant? In this way the cobbler was shown to have firm faith in religious practice and the mercy of the Supreme Lord, while the brahmana was merely going through the motions of spiritual life.

Lord RamaThis wonderful historical incident supports the comparison made by Tulsidas. One who has faith in the holy name to deliver all results will soon realize that the rewards of every single type of religious practice, high or low, can be attained by chanting the name of Rama, which is another word that describes the same Narayana. Indeed, in the beginning of the Ramayana, Lord Vishnu states that He will descend to earth in the form of a human to do the work of the demigods, the elevated living beings in charge of the material creation, who were being harassed by the asura element at the time. The devas are also considered dehinam, or embodied, but through their elevated status they reap the rewards of past pious activities that weren’t done on the purely God conscious level.

Tulsidas not only had faith in the holy name to deliver results in the future, but he had past experience as well to support his belief. In his previous life Tulsidas was the venerable Valmiki Muni, the poet who compiled the original Ramayana, which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. Valmiki too had a wonderful encounter with Narada Muni, a meeting which changed his life. In his youth he unfortunately got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus ended up being a hunter who stole for a living. While trying to rob Narada Muni one day, the dacoit was asked several pertinent questions by the sage to give justification for his rogue lifestyle. Narada doesn’t have any possessions, so the thief couldn’t get anything out of him. What he got instead was the most powerful spiritual instruction, words that would save him from the sinful life he was accustomed to.

ValmikiNarada advised the dacoit to ask his friends and family if they would share in the sin of his theft. The thief had given the excuse that he was stealing only to support his family members. When they retorted that they didn’t know he was stealing and that they wouldn’t share in his sin, the dacoit’s eyes were opened. Narada had proved his worthiness not by citing his relationship to Narayana and not even by pulling rank as far as his knowledge of the Vedas went. Narada simply applied some logic to the situation and thus opened the eyes of the thief. Returning back to Narada, the puzzled dacoit wanted to know what to do next. Narada, as a wonderful spiritual master, instructed the thief to simply sit down and chant the name of Rama. He didn’t talk about the differences between matter and spirit, the mercy of the Lord, the marginal position of the jiva, the need for performing sacrifice and austerity, the intricacies of reincarnation, or the benefit of human life. Narada just asked the bewildered soul to sit down and chant the holy name.

But the dacoit couldn’t say “Rama”. He was so accustomed to hunting and stealing that all he could say was “Mara”, which means death. “Never mind”, Narada said, “Go ahead and chant ‘Mara’, but say it over and over again.” By saying death repeatedly, the dacoit was actually saying Rama’s name, though he was unaware of it. Since Tulsidas does not exaggerate about the power of the holy name of Rama, this chanting was all the dacoit needed to be delivered. He became so engrossed in his meditation on the holy name of Rama that many years passed by. Pretty soon the dacoit was covered in an anthill, which he hadn’t even noticed. Narada returned to the scene and then initiated the former thief by giving him the name “Valmiki”, which means one who comes from an anthill.

ValmikiThis chanting brought the initiated sage all the wisdom, knowledge and fortunes that spiritual life has to offer. Valmiki went on to become a great devotee of Rama, and his Ramayana is still worshiped, honored and respected to this day. It all started with a little faith, that the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Lord could provide the rewards and benedictions of every other system of dharma combined. The faith in God, or at least in his spiritual master, the guru, is required for success. The Vaishnava acharyas recommend the chanting of the holy names as the singular religious practice for the people living in the present age of Kali. No other aspect of spirituality better encapsulates the meaning of life and the purpose to our existence. In Rama’s name is found all dharma, so one who holds on to it for dear life and regularly hears it through explicit chanting will not be poor in any way. If we have Rama, the same person who can create the wonderful earth and the endless sky, what more could we ask for?

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