The Staircase Versus The Elevator

[Lord Vishnu]“When your personal and supreme interests can be easily obtained from one place, it is not sensible for you in weakness to beg at the doors of others, O Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 54)

svāratha paramāratha sakala sulabha eka hī ora |
dvāra dūsare dīnatā ucita na tulasī tora ||

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His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada would often compare bhakti-yoga to taking the elevator to the highest destination. All other forms of religion, even those based in the Vedic tradition, are like taking the staircase. With all things being equal, the elevator is the better option. If the elevator is operating properly, then as an option it requires much less effort. It brings you to the desired destination more quickly, and it carries little to no mental strain during the journey. Here Goswami Tulsidas makes a similar comparison in saying that the Supreme Lord Shri Rama provides all that is needed, both in the present life and in the one to come later.

“One should directly approach Krishna, for that will save time and energy. For example, if there is a possibility of going to the top of a building by the help of an elevator, why should one go by the staircase, step by step?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.18 Purport)

What are some of the other kinds of religion? Meditational yoga is one. In this process, a person focuses their mind on God. To do this effectively, outside distractions need to be blocked out. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna describes the basic parameters necessary for success in this path.

śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya
sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ
nāty-ucchritaṁ nāti-nīcaṁ

tatraikāgraṁ manaḥ kṛtvā
upaviśyāsane yuñjyād
yogam ātma-viśuddhaye

“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusha-grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.11-12)

[Krishna in meditation]The yogi has to find a secluded place. They have to be completely free of sex life. They have to sit erect and focus the eyes on the tip of the nose. And by the way, these conditions should exist for the present and the future. Yoga is not meant to be an exercise routine followed for only a few minutes each day. The foundation of this yoga is concentration, after all, so if anything breaks the connection to the Divine, the work is not fruitful.

Another path is worship of divine figures with a motive. This is where you set up a ritual according to authorized guidelines. You prepare what’s needed for the divine figure you are worshiping. You then do everything according to plan and wait to get your reward. The rewards can span the full imagination of the mind. You can ask for anything from good health to full enjoyment in the afterlife.

Then there are paths outside of religion. This is where you’re looking for personal interests to be met. We don’t realize this, but everyone in this world is a beggar of some sort. We require the cooperation of others to have our desires met. When I drive to work in the morning, I’m counting on the fact that other drivers on the road will obey the traffic laws. I’m a beggar at the office since I need the employer and other employees to do their jobs correctly. From the government I beg the strict enforcement of the law. This way if someone cheats me, they get punished. The threat of punishment itself is enough to prevent the cheating.

Generally speaking, begging in religious life is done for meeting the supreme interest and outside of religious life it is for meeting the personal interest. Tulsidas says that both can be met in one place: devotion to God the person. And actually, to a person who is fully realized, svartha and paramartha are identical. They are two separate terms only for those who don’t see the eternal existence of the soul. They are different with respect to time only. Svartha relates to the present life and paramartha to the afterlife.

na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇuṁ
durāśayā ye bahir-artha-māninaḥ
andhā yathāndhair upanīyamānās
te ’pīśa-tantryām uru-dāmni baddhāḥ

“Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leader or guru a similar blind man attached to external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Vishnu. As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labor, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.31)

[Lord Vishnu]Prahlada Maharaja, the famous son of the king Hiranyakashipu, concurs with Tulsidas. He too is a great devotee and he says that the svartha of the living entity is to go to Vishnu, who is the personal God. Vishnu is the same Rama worshiped by Tulsidas. He is also the same Krishna worshiped by Prabhupada and those appearing in that line. The external vision varies slightly, but there is always one God, who is a personality.

Worship of other divine figures does not qualify as worship of the personal God since the arrangement is different. These divine figures work at the behest of Vishnu to distribute material rewards to their worshipers. The process is not much different from begging from people we meet in our world. A person can pray to a demigod to get good health or they can give money to a wellness expert. The processes are practically identical. Payment is made in both cases and there is svartha met. The main difference is that the divine figure here can also give material benefits after the present life is over.

The soul’s satisfaction is what we really need, and in bhakti this objective is met, and quickly at that. All other forms of worship are meant to culminate in pure bhakti-yoga. When there is bhakti, there is no need to beg from others in weakness. Tulsidas mentions approaching the doors of others because he was in the sannyasa ashrama later in life. This was his occupation. We can liken it to a person who volunteers to become homeless. Sannyasa helps to keep the level of renunciation necessary to ensure that bhakti is practiced purely.

[Sita and Rama]Tulsidas was not a beggar in weakness, but he mentions it to remind others in the same ashrama that they are actually working for the Supreme Lord. Bona fide sannyasis have their personal and supreme interests met by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Their begging brings facility for spreading the message of divine love to those who are prone to forgetting it. This message is most important, and to one who hears it with faith, attention and respect the doors to the elevator to the supreme destination kindly open.

In Closing:

Ideal destination for all the top floor,

But to take stairs or enter elevator doors?


Working elevator the choice smart,

Ease and speed there at the start.


Bhakti by Prabhupada in this way compared,

So of needless effort and risk be spared.


Tulsidas and Prahlada on this concurring,

To worship Supreme directly preferring.

Categories: dohavali 41-80

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