“When you abandon Rama, who is like a desire tree, and instead serve Kali Yuga, which is like a dying tree, your worldly interest, supreme interest, what you want, all your desires – they become like lies.” (Dohavali, 76)
rāma kāmatarū pariharata sevata kali tarū ṭhūm̐ṭha |
svāratha paramāratha cahata sakala manoratha jhūm̐ṭha ||76||
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Playing on how in composition of letters the two words are the reverse of each other, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada would often lament how in the modern age man is more keen on serving dog than they are God. One is Almighty, full of bliss and knowledge, with not a single feature lacking full attractiveness. The other is a dependent, not as intelligent as the human being. Serving one leads to all good things and the other maintains attachment to the temporary. As Goswami Tulsidas puts it, on one side there is a desire tree and on the other is a barren one.
From the Vedas we get the concept of pious and sinful trees. We typically don’t think in these terms. During the drive to work in the morning, we likely pass by thousands of trees. They zoom past our car window since we’re travelling at such a high speed. These trees are considered sinful for the reason that they don’t produce fruits. By contrast, the fruit-bearing ones are pious.
The sinful trees at least serve the purpose of giving oxygen to the world. They can also provide shelter during heat and rain. The pious ones are more beneficial, however, since they give fruits, which sustain life. Though it would be difficult to adopt, the diet consisting exclusively of fruits would be sufficient to keep us alive. Many yogis voluntarily adopt this austere lifestyle. Thus they are fully dependent on pious trees.
Tulsidas compares Shri Rama to the most pious tree, the kama-taru. The same is known by other names like kalpa-taru and kalpa-vriksha. Based strictly off word definition, these are desire trees. Basically, when you go up to these trees you can ask for whatever you want. You don’t need to ask for only a mango or an orange. Do you want beauty? Do you want good health? Do you want sustained happiness? These trees can deliver, and they do so quickly.
By contrast, Kali Yuga is like a dying tree. It barely has any leaves left. Therefore it’s really serving no purpose. You might chop down such a tree to use as fuel, but otherwise there’s no use to come from it. Only the fool would choose the dying tree over the desire tree. Only in ignorance would you continue to water and manage a tree that will not provide anything.
Yet this is exactly what happens when Kali Yuga is the preferred option over Shri Rama, who is God. Kali Yuga is the name for the present age. Picture the timeline for the creation, from start to finish. Obviously time is infinite in both forward and reverse, so this timeline is with respect to the currently manifest creation. The full cycle is known as a yuga, or maha-yuga. Within the maha-yuga are four divisions, which are also known as yugas. Indeed, these four yugas repeat for quite some time until the entire universe is destroyed and then created again.
Kali Yuga is the last of the four divisions, and it is known for more than just where it is situated in the timeline. In Kali Yuga the attention to dharma greatly diminishes. Dharma is duty or religiosity. We see evidence of this truth from even our short time on this earth. Every day there is more debauchery, more defining deviancy down, as a famous politician once said.
In this last of the four ages, man does indeed choose the dying tree. The sinful choose the sinful; this is not surprising. What does it mean to be sinful? As long as one does not serve the Supreme Lord in love, they are sinful to some degree. Just as the sinful tree is not very useful to society, so sinful activity is not really good for the individual.
In what ways is it not good? Tulsidas mentions svartha and paramartha. These are worldly interest and supreme interest. For our understanding, the only difference between the two is time. One is for the right now and the other is for later on, like the afterlife. If you serve the dying tree, you don’t serve any interest right now or later on. You’re basically wasting your time.
Tulsidas says that whatever you want, all your desires, will turn into lies with this path. Shrila Prabhupada’s criticism of the service to the dog is based on the same principle. If we only serve our dog, what is the benefit? We don’t get anything real right now, and later on there is no rescue from the cycle of birth and death. Death is guaranteed for everyone, so the wise person questions their purpose to life and how they should live.
Rama is indeed like a desire tree. Whatever you want He can give you. He is the root of the entire existence. Like watering the roots of the tree keeps the entire object alive, service to Rama automatically means service to our fellow man and the animal community. The reverse doesn’t work the same way. If you have the desire tree, you can feed anyone. If you have the dying tree, you can’t feed even yourself.
Service to Rama, who is God the person, is purifying. Though any desire can be met through Him, after a while the devotee asks only for continued service. This devotion becomes their own desire tree, where they don’t feel like they lack anything. All their desires are fulfilled, for they live a life in truth. God is the Absolute Truth, so genuine service to Him is the best way to spend every lifetime, in any age.
Abundant with many fruits to see,
Another with nothing, a dying tree.
Like age of Kali the latter,
In end service to it no matter.
Rama like tree desire every giving,
With thrills when in devotion living.
In service to everyone you’ll be,
When watering roots of original tree.
Categories: dohavali 41-80