“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)
brahma rāma teṃ nāmu baḍa bara dāyaka bara dāni |
rāma carita sata koṭi maham̐ liya mahesa jiyam̐ jāni ||
Goswami Tulsidas very nicely addresses an important issue of contention amongst followers of the Vedic tradition who are unaware of the real nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His relationship to other heavenly figures. What is today known as the Hindu tradition is filled with worshipable figures, gods if you will, so the tendency for those who are not wholly dedicated to the fountainhead of all forms of life is to equate their specific worshipable figure – whose supreme status was assigned through personal motive or a faulty ultimate conclusion in life – with the Supreme Person, declaring that there is no difference between any of the gods. “Just worship whoever you want. Whoever you see as God, that is who you should worship. The final destination of understanding Brahman is the same regardless.” Here, Tulsidas gives the correct explanation, one based on the authority of the Vedas, that Shri Rama, who is none other than the Supreme Person Himself, is superior to any heavenly figure, for even Lord Shiva, who is considered the greatest god, Mahadeva, constantly recites the Lord’s name. Shri Rama’s name is also superior to the all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth known as Brahman.
The superiority over Brahman is very important to know because once you get passed sentimentalist feelings and sectarian boundaries, the differences of opinion between followers of the Vedic tradition ultimately come down to the issue of personal versus impersonal. The impersonalists believe that the ultimate feature of God is that of a formless energy, one that is bereft of any bliss, knowledge, and variegatedness. Rather, the variety we see in life is due to maya, or illusion, and once one is able to see past these allures, they can concentrate on the light of Truth. Practices such as chanting, going to church, worshiping a deity, and reading stories are aimed at understanding Brahman and gaining detachment from the false world. The soul is Brahman, so once all the individual souls combine together through release from the cycle of birth and death, the total Brahman can become whole again.
The impersonalist views the personalist, one who worships Lord Vishnu or one of His non-different forms like Shri Krishna, Rama, or Narasimha, to be on a lower platform of intelligence. “They’re having trouble renouncing the world, so they are tricking themselves into worshiping the saguna aspect of Brahman. Once they have enough detachment and self-control through this process, they can abandon their support system and spend their time meditating on the formless aspect of the Truth.” Under this model the ultimate goal is to stop activity, reach a state of mind opposite from that inherited at the time of birth. The grossly ignorant try to enjoy as much of material nature as possible, hence they essentially harbor a desire to exploit.
The Vedic version, however, does not favor either extreme. Material existence, wherein the spirit soul, the essence of life, is trapped on a pendulum that swings between bhoga and tyaga, acceptance and rejection, does not represent the soul’s constitutional position. Rather, as the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit, the individual souls are given the choice between blissful life and a hellish existence with sparse opportunities for enjoyment, which is substandard. Material existence is the result of the wrong choice being made by the marginal potency. Since the individual souls are Brahman, they are beyond the duality of like and dislike, heat and cold, happiness and sadness. The soul is brimming with knowledge and bliss, and since it emanates from God, it is eternal. Nothing can kill the soul, not even the horrific death of the body can do anything to alter the constitution of the individual spirit sparks.
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)
The impersonalist philosopher, through their own mental speculation, without consulting the authorized words found in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, assumes that the Absolute Truth divided up to create the innumerable sparks roaming the different worlds. They explain this using the analogy to a clay pot that breaks into pieces. When broken, the pot is incapable of being used, but once all the pieces come together, it becomes whole again.
This analogy can never apply to God, however, for the mundane laws of science and logic cannot even begin to explain the wonders of the Supreme Person. The living entities are Brahman, or Truth, but the Supreme Lord is Parabrahman, or the Supreme Truth. He is capable of expanding Himself into tiny energy fragments and remaining completely the same in quality. In the material world, one minus one always equals zero, but in the spiritual world one minus one can equal two or five or any other number that doesn’t seem possible. Such is the magic of Vishnu that His personal self never undergoes any diminution or suffers fault.
The personalists are not after Brahman realization, so they cannot even be accurately compared to the impersonalists. This is the point addressed by Tulsidas in the above quoted verse. The name of Shri Rama, who is a celebrated incarnation of Parabrahman, the original Personality of Godhead who is full of form and quality, is superior to Brahman. This immediately indicates that those who are simply after Brahman understanding are really the inferior spiritualists, as their object of worship is not the ultimate realization of the Supreme Person. A commonly invoked analogy used to describe the different realizations of the Supreme Truth is the viewing of a massive hill. When we are far away, all we see is the outskirts of the hill, so we are not able to truly understand it. When we get a little closer, we can understand the shape of the hill and its color. When we actually reach the hill, we understand that there are living beings residing there.
Brahman understanding is the equivalent of viewing the hill from afar. Unable to understand the blissful and wonderful position of Shri Vishnu, the Mayavadis, those who take everything in the perceptible world, including God’s names and pastimes, to be maya, speculate about what the light of Brahman represents and what its realization can bring about. The yogis, those who meditate on the Absolute Truth’s expansion found within the heart, understand that Brahman can be localized as the Paramatma; thus every single person has God living inside of them. But only the devotees, those who dedicate their life and soul to chanting the Lord’s names and worshiping His original, personal forms, understand Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is complete in every way. Brahman and Paramatma are simply different, less complete aspects of Bhagavan’s personal self.
This also debunks the theory that the various gods are equal representations of Brahman and are thus the same as God. God is Parabrahman, and all forms of life are Brahman, even the celestials capable of granting boons. Tulsidas notes that even those who are capable of granting boons get benedictions from Rama’s name. This has been documented many times throughout history. Lord Brahma granted benedictions to demons of the past who worshiped him properly. When the miscreants started using their powers for evil instead of good, the same Brahma, representing the interests of the numerous celestials in charge of managing the different aspects of the material creation, approached Lord Vishnu and asked Him for help. In the case of Ravana, the evil king of Lanka aided by Brahma’s boons, Vishnu descended to earth as the warrior prince of Ayodhya, Shri Rama, the beloved of Tulsidas. On another occasion, Mother Earth and the demigods approached Vishnu to deal with the punishing influences inflicted by the evil King Kamsa. Vishnu then again came to earth, this time in His complete and original form of Lord Krishna.
The demigods would never claim to be on the same level as Vishnu, so why should anyone else? The celestials are living beings just like us, except they have been granted tremendous powers of authority by the Supreme Person. They can be likened to state administrators, people who work at the pleasure of the head of the state. Worshiping them can certainly bring wonderful benedictions like a long life, success in material ventures, money, and the ability to perform amazing feats. But as aspects of Brahman, the constitutional position of the individual spirit souls is to be in the company of the Supreme Lord in a mood of love and affection.
The impersonalist fails to understand this, therefore they need to first realize Brahman before making the leap into devotion. Understanding that God, or anyone for that matter, can possess mutually contradictory attributes is very difficult. That Parabrahman can be both formless and with form, with eyes and without, bluish in complexion and also white, at the same time, is unfathomable to the human mind. To properly understand the Supreme Person requires an element of faith, at least in the beginning stages. As the blissful exchanges continue, the Personality of Godhead, in His spiritual form, gradually becomes revealed to the devotee. The final reward is eternal association with Bhagavan, life after life, an unbreakable link in consciousness to the spiritual world. This sort of interaction is reserved for the devotees and not those who are stuck on a vague conception of the Absolute Truth.
Beyond having faith, how do we actually practice devotion? Tulsidas addresses this issue as well. He states that Mahesha, Lord Shiva, can choose from a hundred crore of verses describing the glories and activities of his beloved Lord Rama, but he nonetheless settles upon the name itself. Lord Shiva, though in charge of the material mode of ignorance, is a wonderful devotee at heart, wholly dedicated to Vishnu. He especially prefers Vishnu’s expansion of Lord Rama to worship. And he practices his devotion by chanting the name of Rama over and over again. The Ramayana poem composed by Maharishi Valmiki has thousands of wonderful verses describing the glories of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and the exploits of His friends and family during His time on earth during the Treta Yuga. Indeed, the entire collection of Vedic literature is dedicated to glorifying the Supreme Lord and His attributes. All the sacred texts contain wonderful descriptions of the forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Person.
Even though such comprehensive information is available, Lord Shiva picks out only the name of Rama and cherishes it as his life and soul. Through the authority of Mahadeva, the holy name is thus revealed to be the most powerful aspect of the Supreme Person, as it directly represents God’s other aspects. This name, when chanted in a mood of love and devotion, reveals the jiva’s marginal position as being in between Parabrahman and maya. Without this understanding, the soul will always be bewildered as to what action it should take. When we understand that there is a God and that we should worship Him, the level of understanding represents a step up from the animalistic mentality adopted at the time of birth. Unless we know how to act upon that information, however, we will remain in the dark and thus continue to be open targets for the influence of maya, or material nature.
Chanting the names of God, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, allows for spiritual cognition, along with an understanding of the bigger picture and the individual’s place in it. When chanting the names of God in a mood of love is absent, the tendencies towards impersonalism or its opposite extreme, pure material enjoyment, will increase.
Rama’s name is the most valuable jewel to be found in this world. It grants benedictions to even those who are seemingly capable of supplying everything to the world’s population. It is the one word that Lord Shiva takes as his life and soul out of a seemingly unlimited number of verses describing Rama and His glories. If the name is good enough for Lord Shiva, who is second to none in his level of devotion to God, then it should also be good enough for us, who are looking for pleasure every day. When seeking pleasure, it is best to shoot for the top, to find the highest level of satisfaction that will not leave any room for unhappiness or delusion. The Supreme Lord, as Parabrahman, is the all-pervading witness and the loving friend of every single living entity, large and small. Those who chant the holy name realize this wonderful mercy and bask in its glory for all of time.
Categories: dohavali 1-40