A Suitable Habitat

Lord Rama“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)

jala thala nabha gati amita ati aga jaga jīva aneka |
tulasī to se dīna kaham̐ rāma nāma gati eka ||

“What do you want my son? Ask for anything and I will give it to you?” Imagine being graced with such a benediction. If we met God, the Supreme Person, that individual whom we know is capable of delivering anything and protecting us from the worst fears and most distressing situations, face to face, what would we say to Him? What if somehow or other we managed to please Him through an act of charity, penance or sacrifice? What if He came and asked us to reveal to Him what we really wanted? What would our answer be? From the study of the nature around us, we have visual evidence that the answers are not always the same. Rather, they are just the opposite of uniform. There are millions of different answers, which result in placement in millions of different places. One poet in particular, however, knows that if we recite a sacred sound vibration over and over again, the result will be residence in a singular destination. Indeed, through this most comfortable of abodes, which safely houses a purified consciousness, the individual can then live in any situation and still feel like they are in their most precious home.

How do we know that different answers are given to God’s question? How do we even know that choices are made? From the ancient scriptures of India, the original authorized texts known as the Vedas and any literature which expounds upon their teachings, we learn that karma, or fruitive work and its results, manages the cause-and-effect chain with respect to action. This isn’t very difficult to understand, as we don’t even need to read books or hear from spiritual leaders to know that every action we perform has a reaction. Say, for instance, we place our hand into a fire. The resulting pain will be so sharp that the hand will involuntarily draw back. This result is guaranteed every single time that we place the hand into the fire. If we drop an object out of a window, it will immediately fall to the ground. Based on the influence of wind resistance on the object, the rate of descent may not be uniform, but the forces of gravity will operate nonetheless.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Lord KrishnaKarma is just the more complete definition of the cause-and-effect system that we can visually perceive. What we can’t see with our blunt senses is covered by the authorized statements of the Vedas, who get their notable distinction from having been instituted by the Supreme Person, the original Personality of Godhead. Just as the outward actions perceived by the mature human being have both immediate and long-term consequences, the sum total of every act, both large and small, committed by every single life form, intelligent and ignorant, has results that bear fruit not only in the current life, but in future ones as well. In this way we see that the circumstances of our present birth were determined by the results of actions previously performed. The system of cause-and-effect continues perpetually, as the soul itself does not decay. Though the body may perish at the time of death, the soul continues its travels through ethereal space. Just where it ends up is determined by karma, which is unbiased and guaranteed to deliver on time.

When apprised of this information, the sober individual will ponder the question, “If karma determined how I got to where I am now, what determined my previous circumstances? What was the origin of karma?” This issue is a little difficult to get a handle on for the human being, because as conditioned souls we cannot think beyond the bounds of time and space. In fact, if we were to sit down and seriously ponder these two wonders, we would be left even more puzzled than we were at the outset. Complete knowledge is available only to the Supreme Person, who is not limited by time or space. To give us some understanding of our original position, He institutes religious systems which detail the properties of our identifiable aspect, the soul. It is said that the soul, or atma, is the same in quality as the Supreme Lord, but vastly inferior in the quantitative estimation. This means that the soul is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge, but since it is not God, it can choose an inferior realm as a home. Because there is a choice in the matter, the individual souls, the jivas, are considered to be in a marginal position, for they can take shelter under either matter or spirit.

The differences between these two fortresses can be better understood by further study of the scriptures, but as a crude example we can liken the differences to what results from worshiping an inanimate object like a car instead of a person like a mother or father. The car does not have an independently functioning brain. Even if there is a computer inside that tells it what to do, it had to be programmed by another person. Since the car is just composed of material elements, offering any obeisances to it, honoring it, telling it that we love it, or basing our identity off of it doesn’t bring anything tangible to the worshiper. On the other hand, respecting and honoring our parents, who are autonomous living entities at the core, keeps us under the protection of higher authority figures, those who can teach us about the difficulties in life and how to make the most use of our time. Our parents already protected us during our infant years, so honoring them instead of inanimate objects is always a wise choice.

Lord KrishnaTaking the same example and expanding it out fully, when divorced of their relationship to the Supreme Lord all of the elements of the visible world are akin to the automobile that is worshiped. Therefore matter is considered an inferior energy, one not directly related to God. Though He can never be separated from His energies, when the living entities view something as not related to the original person, the results of their actions are not beneficial in the long run. Contact with pure spirit, on the other hand, only brings benefits.

When the marginal position is exercised in favor of association with matter, the living entities are allowed to enter the material realm in a body suitable for performing the activities they specifically desire. This is where the scenario about being asked by God what you want applies. The same question is also asked in a non-explicit way at the time of death. In each material body, which is a sort of spacesuit required for residence in a specific area, there must come a time when the life ends, when the form assumed is no longer useful. When it comes time to quit the body, the desires of the soul are again measured. Desires are indicated by the previous work performed, which was driven by previous desires.

“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.22)

There are so many varieties of species in the universe because desires are never the same. One soul wants to be wealthy and powerful, so it takes birth in a family that allows for that to happen. Another person wants to fly high in the sky and have a body composed mostly of the material element of air. Therefore they are given the body of a bird, which lacks intelligence but has the facility to meet the desire of the jiva who chose against God’s association. Then there are those who desire unending sex life and intoxication. They are rewarded with the body of a dog or a monkey. In this way we see that not only are different bodies crafted according to the various desires for material association, but so are suitable homes given to each form.

TulsidasThis wonder of nature is not lost on Goswami Tulsidas, a wonderful writer, person, devotee, lover of God and so many other things. In the above quoted verse from his Dohavali, Tulsidas mentions that there are countless living entities, both moving and nonmoving, that have their homes on earth, in the sky and in water. Indeed, the number of living entities and corresponding homes is aneka, or not one. The Supreme Lord is considered eka, or a singular entity, but His expansions, which include the jivas, are plural. Despite the number of expansions, God still remains complete and whole; such is the wonder of the spiritual nature.

The number of creatures residing in the different realms of the material world is too many to count, but Tulsidas says that for him he only wants one home. This abode is created through the regular chanting of the holy name of Rama, which means “one who gives transcendental pleasure”. The Supreme Lord is given thousands of names in the Vedic tradition, as each one references a different feature. The same original Person also descends to earth from time to time for various purposes. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God appeared on earth to annihilate the miscreants headed by Ravana, give protection to the residents of Ayodhya and the sages being harassed in the forests, and give pleasure to countless purified individuals, both human and animal alike.

Though Rama appeared on earth many thousands of years ago, He still remains complete. He is the person from whom the many living entities have come, and He remains forever situated in the spiritual sky. In His Vishnu forms, Rama lives in the Vaikuntha planets, and in His original form as Krishna He remains in Goloka Vrindavana, which is considered the highest of the spiritual planets. Nevertheless, just because Rama lives in the spiritual world doesn’t mean that one can’t take shelter of Him. Tulsidas and his attitude are living proof of this. Through this wonderful verse the poet wholly appreciates God’s ability to grant the jivas whatever they want, and he also makes no judgment on their desires. Whether spirit souls want to live on the earth or in the water is of no concern, for the consciousness is what really matters. By regularly reciting the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, one can live anywhere and remain satisfied.

Lord RamaIf one person lives on the land and another in the sky, are not their abodes different? If the jiva identifies with the body and their surroundings, then surely their homes have different qualities. But for someone who regularly chants the name of Rama, which directly addresses the Supreme Person and thus brings His association immediately, they can live anywhere and remain unaffected by their surroundings. If we go back to the original scenario of God approaching a person and asking them what they want, the devotee only requests that they be able to remember their beloved Lord, who is full of transcendental form and bliss. To facilitate this desire, they request that they be able to recite and glorify the holy name wherever they go. The Supreme Lord therefore agrees to their request by placing them in different circumstances favorable for the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Those making the holy name of the Lord their home can live anywhere. While the jiva choosing in favor of matter must be granted a specific body type and a corresponding home in an area of a particular quality, the bhakta, or lover of God, is placed wherever he can benefit others by his example. Fortunately for us, Tulsidas was placed into just the right time and circumstance that allowed for a maximum benefit to not only the human population inhabiting the earth during his time but also to countless future generations. Since he took shelter of the holy name, he was able to thrive in his surroundings in medieval India, composing poetry praising Lord Rama that was so brilliant and wonderful that no literary work previous to that or since can ever even come close to it.

The Vedas, which sing the glories of Shri Rama and His dear devotees, are humbled by the wonderful works created by Tulsidas, who never had any desire to criticize others or defeat them in the arena of bhakti. He kept his home always with Shri Rama’s name, and the Lord in turn ensured that the poet’s fame and glory would continue forever and ever. Thus we see that the only suitable habitat for the jiva is the company of Shri Rama, who can be reached by regularly chanting His name. By reminding ourselves to chant on a daily basis, we too will get only one home, a shelter that will never crack even under the heaviest pressure.

Lord RamaIn Closing:

For Tulsidas there is only one home,

Removed from this place he will always feel alone.

The shelter of Shri Rama and His holy name,

Brings one the highest happiness, the only worthy gain.

The jiva can live on earth, in the sky or in the water,

But by having Rama’s name, with matter why bother.

The jiva has a choice in his association,

Live with matter or take God’s protection.

The choice with matter leads to homes that are many,

In different body types and surroundings, joy there is not any.

But by following the formula of divine devotion,

Happiness found anywhere, regardless of commotion.

Rama places devotees into just the right place,

World honored by their work and their grace.

Immerse yourself in bhakti and live in happiness,

Erect shelter of Rama’s name, abode of goodness.

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