From Snake to Swan

Lord Rama“The tongue is like a snake and the mouth like a snake hole for the person who does not chant the holy names of the Lord. Those who have no love for Shri Rama are understood to be bereft of the creator’s favor, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 40)

rasanā sam̐āpini badana bila je na japahiṃ harināma |
tulasī prema na rāma soṃ tāhi bidhātā bāma ||

A sincere lover will always think of new ways to properly describe their intense and pure emotions to others. It’s not easy to put what you feel into words, especially if you are presenting your thoughts through poems that can also be sung. Because of the constraints accompanying poetry, the writer must use brevity, which Shakespeare referred to as the soul of wit. In this nice verse from the Dohavali, the poet Tulsidas very succinctly and emphatically declares his love for Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and at the same time provides valuable insight into the purpose of human life. Our bodies were crafted through nature’s influence, which works under the direction of the creator. Just as a machine is the result of fine craftsmanship on the part of one or more intelligent human beings, the form adopted by the spirit soul is due solely to the work of a higher power, the creator who is in charge of distributing the results of karma, or fruitive work. When a particular individual has no love for the Supreme Lord, who is a loving God through and through, then the creator obviously has not been favorable to them.

japa malaIn the verse above, Tulsidas first says that anyone who doesn’t chant the names of Hari essentially has a tongue which is like a serpent and a mouth which is like a serpent hole. The comparison is so extreme that it is even a bit humorous, as it conveys the deep love and affection held by the poet not only for the person addressed in harinama-japa, or the silent chanting of a devotional mantra, but also the recitation process itself. The tongue reveals the thoughts of the mind; through our speech our ideas and feelings are communicated to others. When time is spent chanting the Lord’s holy names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the tongue is put to good use.

Hari is another word for God that means “one who removes distresses”. The Supreme Lord’s position is not to facilitate desires for personal sense gratification or advancement in some material endeavor. These aspects of life essentially take care of themselves through the workings of nature, which are managed by elevated living entities that are godly but not equal to the Supreme Lord. The distresses that Hari removes relate to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. In the absence of God consciousness, the living entity, in any form he accepts, takes part in activities driven only by animal instincts. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, have sexual relations when you are stimulated, and defend your property from foreign attack. But consciousness is the real gift given to the soul, which is the essence of life. Therefore the true aim in any form of body is to develop this consciousness fully and purify it by connecting it with God.

Yoga is meant only for this purpose. The root meaning of yoga is “plus”, or “addition”. The two operands in the equation are the individual spiritual entity and the fountainhead of all things matter and spirit, God. Since the Supreme Lord is superior, if He sees someone steadily determined in yoga, trying very hard to connect with Him, He removes their fears. In this sense the tongue is one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon the living entity. Through the medium of the tongue, one can regularly chant the names of Hari, or harinama, of which there are too many to count. Rama is the favorite name for Tulsidas, as it represents the Supreme Lord’s divine incarnation of Shri Ramachandra who appeared on earth in the guise of a warrior prince many thousands of years ago. Tulsidas dedicated his whole life to chanting the glories of Rama and persuading others to take to pure bhakti, wherein one’s life and soul would be surrendered to the interests of Hari.

Lord RamaAside from its ability to purify, chanting the names of Hari is a very pleasurable experience, especially for one who is able to steadily develop their God consciousness. In every other endeavor the instigating factor is the desire for happiness or enjoyment. When engagement or dedication in an activity ceases, it is to be understood that the enjoyment has withered away. If we suck the juice out of sugarcane, we really have no use for the plant anymore. Therefore once one activity gets boring, we will jump to another and try to squeeze the sweetness out of it. With bhakti, however, it is seen that the dedication to chanting and devotional service in general only increases with further practice. This property of spiritual science can never be understood by blunt measurements or deductive reasoning. In the spiritual land, one minus one can equal one, as the Supreme Lord is not limited by any rules of a temporary land governed by matter.

Just as Hari knows no exhaustion, defeat, fear or loss, the devotees who regularly chant His names grow increasingly attached to bhakti-yoga and the happiness it brings. One who develops a taste for harinama will naturally compare their new situation to the way they felt before. Since everyone starts off at the same position, as unintelligent human beings needing guidance, even the advanced yogi can remember a time when he wasn’t wholly dedicated to connecting with the divine consciousness. Looking back on his previous life he will think of how uneventful and painful it was. He now loves chanting the names of the Lord so much that he will wonder how any person gifted with a tongue could ever refrain from such an activity.

The tongue is a very powerful instrument, as it can not only bring about a purification in consciousness, it can also lead the conditioned soul astray. When the tongue is used to chant the names of Hari and eat the remnants of foodstuff offered to Him [prasadam], the true benefit of the wonderful tongue included with the human body is realized. In the absence of God consciousness, the tongue talks about all sorts of nonsense, curses others, can’t be controlled in speech, and takes to eating varieties of impure foods. As the aim of human life is to realize God through yoga, any engagement which prohibits this connection can be considered impure and a waste of time. Since eating is a necessity for any life form, it cannot be neglected by the aspiring transcendentalist. Fortunately, every angle is covered by bhakti. For eating, the devotee is advised to eat the remnants of sacrifice, or yajna-shishta. A sacrifice is typically a formal ritual aimed at pleasing the enjoyer of all sacrifice, Yajneshvara, which is another name for Hari.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

offering to Radha and KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, the same Hari, in His original form of Lord Krishna, states that if someone offers Him a flower, a fruit, a leaf or some water with love and devotion, He gladly accepts it. This doesn’t apply just to Krishna the original person, but to His deity representation as well. God is Absolute, so the sound vibration of His name and the picture depicting His transcendental features are non-different from Him. When food items are sacrificed in this way, Hari accepts them and then returns the remnants to the person doing the offering. By eating prasadam the tongue gets purified and remains immune to the effects of the material world, which act at every moment to attack the vulnerable senses.

Impure actions by the tongue indicate that the material forces have a strong influence on the individual. When the tongue eats animal flesh, especially that of a cow mercilessly killed in a slaughterhouse, the individual’s lack of God consciousness is revealed. All forms of life are Brahman, or pure spirit. Therefore even the animals are in the same boat as the human beings. They may not have the potential for high intelligence and the ability to fully develop consciousness, but this doesn’t mean that we should unnaturally stop their progression through the various forms of body. A small infant is very unintelligent, as are many innocent human beings, but this doesn’t give us license to kill them. When the tongue engages in unauthorized meat eating, the love for the Supreme Lord that naturally exists within the heart is understood to still be in a dormant state.

When the tongue talks about Hari, His forms, names and activities, the true benefit of speech is achieved. Accompanying japa is kirtana, which means “to glorify”. Kirtana usually takes the form of songs sung that describe the glories of the Supreme Lord. Japa is usually performed quietly and alone, while kirtana typically involves groups of people. The tongue that regularly takes part in these two activities obviously lives in the mouth of a wise person. Such a tongue belongs to the body of an individual who is very fortunate; to whom the creator was favorable.

Sankirtana partyThe opinion that those who don’t chant the names of Hari have tongues like snakes and mouths like serpent holes seems a bit harsh. After all, we may know many people who are kind, pious, sweet and caring but don’t take part in bhakti. Should we consider their tongues to be like snakes? Let’s think of it this way. If we see a student in a classroom who is nice and polite but does not do any of their homework nor pass their exams, will we say that they are a good student? If we work with someone at the office who never tells a lie and never says a mean word but at the same time fails to complete the tasks assigned to them, would we say that they are a valuable asset to the company?

As the aim of human life is to become God conscious, for as long as that mission is not furthered, the body parts granted by the creator are not taken full advantage of. When the tongue doesn’t chant the names of Hari and glorify Him through speech and song, it must glorify and praise other living entities and things. Since these objects are not God, the tongue cannot be said to be properly utilized. A snake is a cold-blooded reptile, and a snake hole is not something we prefer to see, as it probably scares us more than anything. If someone speaks regularly about the glories of material life, which is fueled by illicit sex and unhealthy desires, their influence must be considered poisonous, as it will do nothing to further awareness of life’s real mission. The news media serves as the most notable culprit in this regard. Every day they have another new lead story, which either blasts a person they don’t like or praises someone they view as worthy of adulation and fame at the time. Obviously the attention paid does nothing tangible for anyone, as news from a few days ago is rarely revisited. If you give someone a newspaper that is more than a day old, they will not have any desire to read it. As a newspaper’s worthiness comes from its content, it is to be understood that the stories themselves become worthless after a few days.

While it may be harsh to say that the tongue of the materially conscious individual is like a snake, it should be remembered that the snake in this instance can be turned into a swan very quickly. Those who have made the best use of their tongues through chanting the names of Hari can distribute the nectar of the holy names to others, inducing them to take up their constitutional engagement. The soul is meant to serve in a loving mood, so when there is no information about Hari available, the individual will take to serving its own interests or the desires of other materially conscious individuals. Through distribution of the names of God, which is the primary aim of the bona fide spiritual preachers and the Vaishnava poets, thousands of snakelike entities can turn into wonderful swans that always remain amidst the lotus flowers represented by the sweet, transcendental vibrations that glorify the Supreme Lord.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)

Hanuman chantingTulsidas states that the creator has been unfavorable to those who don’t have love for Lord Rama. In the absence of bhakti, how can any situation gained in any form of body be considered favorable? As death takes away all accumulated gains, nothing remains for the conditioned soul at the time of quitting their body other than a return ticket to the same cycle of acceptance and rejection, which repeats perpetually until consciousness is purified. Bhakti’s benefits, on the other hand, are always increasing, as is evidenced by the increase in fervor and attachment that results from continuous practice in devotional efforts. The materially conscious individual was not shown favor by the creator, but the spiritually attached liberated soul has the full blessings of the Supreme Lord, who is the creator of even the creator. These benedictions can be received at any time, even if the creator was not originally favorable to us. God’s mercy is open to everyone, just as the sun’s rays hit every corner of the earth. One who knows how to take advantage of the divine mercy will make the most of their human form of life. Even if the creator grants us birth in an aristocratic family, a home full of spiritually conscious individuals, or the most pleasant circumstances, unless and until we tap into the divine consciousness, we cannot validly claim to have been favored by him. But when pure love for Shri Rama, the same God that everyone naturally believes in, is established, every body part and every condition of life becomes favorable, as they only further increase one’s God consciousness.

In Closing:

Those who attention to chanting Hari’s names do not give,

Their tongue like a snake in its hole of the mouth does live.

Seems like a harsh comparison for poet to make,

But from it great lesson we can take.

Tongue indicates what the mind is thinking of,

Whether it wants material enjoyment or divine love.

Purify eating by using tongue for prasadam tasting,

No more on unclean foods senses indulging.

Purify speech by talking of God, whose glories are broad,

No more wasting time on entities who are flawed.

Those without love for Rama by creator are not favored,

With the pains of material life are they beleaguered.

But within a second the snake can turn into a swan,

By on holy names and form of Rama concentrating on.

Categories: dohavali 1-40

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