Different Paths To God

[Rama's lotus feet]“Tulsi says don’t play two games; play one. Why fool yourself? Either have attachment for Rama or abandon attachment to others.” (Dohavali, 79)

tulasī du’i maham̐ eka hī khela chām̐ḍi chala khelu |
kai karū mamatā rāma soṁ kai mamatā parahelu ||79||

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God is one. A particular religion may have a specific name for Him, but it doesn’t mean that the author of all things can only be addressed through that name. It also doesn’t mean that if a person has a different understanding of God through their own authorized tradition of spirituality they will never get the divine mercy. Though He is one, He is realized in different ways. Here Goswami Tulsidas gives approval for two paths which are seemingly quite different. As a liberal Vaishnava saint, Tulsidas understands that the paths to the Lord may be many, but any advancement made along a bona fide path will be to the worshiper’s benefit.

[dictionaries]Are all religions the same? Are the Vedas the same as the Bible and the Koran? A good analogy used by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to explain the difference is to the dictionary. There is something called the pocket dictionary, which gets its name because of its relation to the larger, deluxe edition. Both are valid dictionaries. They contain proper definitions and spellings to words. Yet there are some things missing from the pocket dictionary. The smaller book serves a viable purpose, but to know everything one must consult the deluxe edition.

In a similar manner, the Vedas contain as much information about God as can possibly be absorbed by the flawed mind, which is a product of the material nature. The mind doesn’t belong to us forever. The same goes for the body. In total there are eight separated energies of God. These energies are known as prakriti, which also means “that which is enjoyed.” God is purusha, or the enjoyer. In the local sphere we living entities are also purusha, as we enjoy the separated energies of God surrounding us. In the higher scheme, we are prakriti, but a different kind, a superior energy coming from the same creator.

apareyam itas tv anyāṁ

prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām

jīva-bhūtāṁ mahā-bāho

yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat

“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)

The deluxe edition of the dictionary that is Vedic literature says that God can be realized in three distinct features. He is the impersonal Brahman, which is an attribute-less energy. We can’t see Brahman, though it is all around us. We are in fact a spark of that Brahman. Anything that is living is Brahman. That which Brahman acts on is the mahat-tattva, or the total material substance. The difference between something alive and something dead is the presence of Brahman.

A more complete realization is Paramatma, which is the Supersoul. The Supersoul is known as a purusha incarnation of the Supreme Lord. In discussions, purusha always gets paired with prakriti. If you have purusha, you have prakriti as well. The purusha incarnation that is Paramatma acts as the sanctioning body for all activities performed by the sparks of Brahman. The Paramatma realization introduces distinction between us and God. In Brahman realization we are the same as the Lord, but through knowing Paramatma we see that we are different from Him. While our influence is limited to a particular body, Paramatma is within all bodies. He extends Himself in this way without effort.

The complete realization is Bhagavan. The best way to translate the word is to say “Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Tulsidas here addresses Bhagavan as Rama. Rama is also an incarnation of God, but a personal one. He has transcendental features that can be seen, studied, meditated upon, and enjoyed by the otherwise distressed living entity.

What is the cause of their distress?

[Lord Rama]They are attached to temporary things. Tulsidas mentions two paths that lead to perfection. He says that a person should either be on the first path of devotion to Rama or abandon attachment to the temporary. Anything else is playing a dangerous game. If there is mixture of service to Rama and attachment to the eightfold separated energies, the person is kidding themselves; the second negates the value of the first.

The first path is sufficient, since Rama is Bhagavan. If you know Bhagavan, you don’t need to know anything else. You don’t need to separately endeavor for good qualities, such as detachment. Yet the Vaishnava saint knows how difficult it is to take up devotion to God in earnest. Therefore they don’t deny someone who desires a different path at first. Renunciation is a great step towards advancing in consciousness. A person can become Brahman realized and then take up devotion. The same goes for understanding Paramatma before Bhagavan.

yo na hṛṣyati na dveṣṭi

na śocati na kāṅkṣati


bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ

“One who neither grasps pleasure or grief, who neither laments nor desires, and who renounces both auspicious and inauspicious things, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.17)

[Hanuman worshiping Rama]In spiritual traditions not based on the Vedas, one does not get a clear idea of God. Still, there is no need to abandon one’s religion outright. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna tells Arjuna to abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Him. Surrender unto God the person. Don’t take religion to be for increasing your bank balance, enjoying in a temporary world known as heaven, or becoming absolved of sinful reaction. Take to the one religion that is love and devotion to God. Try your best to understand Him. The long way is knowledge and renunciation, jnana and vairagya, and the short way is bhakti-yoga, which is the occupation of Tulsidas for lifetime after lifetime.

In Closing:

For different religions to understand,

Compare dictionaries in hand.

A smaller one, valid it is still,

Deluxe all words its pages to fill.

For the Supreme completely to know,

Path of renunciation way that is slow.

To the goal of Bhagavan eventually to meet,

Better if in path of bhakti your feet.


Categories: dohavali 41-80

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