“The path to love for Rama can only be found after one turns their back on worldly pleasures, like how the snake can only concentrate after having shed its skin, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 82)
rāma prēma patha pekhi’ai di’em̐ biṣaya tana pīṭhi |
tulasī ken̄curi parihareṁ hōta sām̐pehū dīṭhi ||82||
“What is the value in science? If I study the nature around me, how much good will it actually do? For instance, say that I know how a snake acts. I learn the properties of venom and what to do if I accidentally get bitten by a snake. I learn about where the snake moves and what it looks for in food. I get all of this through scientific books, journals and television programs. What is the real benefit, though? I hardly ever go into the woods. Is there a better use of my time?”
Science or religion? Human perception or God? Practical experience or faith? In studying bhakti-yoga, which is the science of self-realization, one learns that there needn’t be such exclusivity. Just because you know science doesn’t mean that you have to eschew religion. If you come upon a discovery relating to something in nature, it doesn’t automatically disprove what you read in ancient books called the Vedas. As a Sanskrit word veda means “knowledge,” after all. If you know the Supreme very well, even your praise of Him becomes highly informative.
There is the example of the above referenced verse from the Dohavali. This was authored in the medieval period in India by a mendicant religious man known as Tulsidas. The name is given during the second birth, known as initiation with a spiritual guide. This specific name is a compound Sanskrit word. The suffix of “das” means servant. The first word of “tulasi” refers to a sacred plant.
There are life forms all around us. Life comes from life, and the essence of life is the soul. The soul is spiritual, while that which covers it is material. The material is made up of different ingredients, sort of like how the variety of colors are variations of three primary colors. The coverings to the soul are made up of combinations of the material modes of goodness, passion and ignorance.
This means that even a plant is a living being. The soul inside is not different from the soul inside of a human being. The same with a cat, a dog, an elephant and a cow. The souls are equal, while the coverings are not.
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
The soul of the tulasi plant is special. It represents a divine being, a lady who is fixed in devotion to God the person. Therefore the name Tulsidas references a servant to someone who is very dear to God. In his service to his spiritual master, the disciple must have been so devoted to the tulasi plant that the guru gave him the name Tulsidas.
In this verse from the Dohavali, Tulsidas describes how to find the path of devotion to God the person. He says that one must first relinquish worldly desires. This is done by turning one’s back. If you’re at a concert and you don’t like the opening act, one way to voice your displeasure is to turn your back while they are playing. This is a kind of insult. You don’t even want to see them. We can do the same with worldly pleasures. Simply don’t engage them. Don’t even think about them. By so doing, the eyes clear up so that they can both see the path of devotion and understand its superiority to all other paths.
Tulsidas makes the comparison to the snake. He says that the snake sheds its skin in order to survive. The skin that is shed also covers the eyes. Therefore the snake needs to clear its eyes before it can see properly. It needs proper sight in order to survive, to find its prey. Without removing the skin, it has no idea where to go.
This reference combines science and nature. There needn’t be a separate endeavor. Through the path of devotion one gets all the knowledge they require. What they already know gets put to the best use as well. What need is there to know that a snake sheds its skin? Tulsidas knew this at a time when there wasn’t a nature channel. He didn’t specifically go out into the jungle to study all the different animals. What he heard in the course of life was sufficient. His knowledge of science was put to the best use in glorifying God, who is also known as Rama.
Actually, that is the best use of everything. We have this body for devotion. Used for any other purpose, the end result is misery. We have intelligence to use for convincing ourselves of the need to practice devotion. Through intelligence we can see the many species in the proper light. We can understand their properties and use that knowledge to further glorify Shri Rama, who is the source of everything.
To glorify the proper course,
Since Rama of everything the source.
Shedding skin also over the eyes,
The snake then to focus on prize.
Information to Tulsidas easily came,
Not needing channel of nature the name.
Science and philosophy, of both make use,
With intelligence on God heap praise profuse.
Categories: dohavali 81-120