“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the tulasi tree, which can immediately vanquish volumes of sinful activities. Simply by seeing or touching this tree one can become relieved from all distresses and diseases. Simply by offering obeisances to and pouring water on the tulasi tree, one can become freed from the fear of being sent to the court of Yamaraj [the King of death, who punishes the sinful]. If someone sows a tulasi tree somewhere, certainly he becomes devoted to Lord Krishna. And when the tulasi leaves are offered in devotion at the lotus feet of Krishna, there is the full development of love of Godhead.” (The Nectar Of Devotion quoting the Skanda Purana)
“What is so important about a plant? Is it the medicinal properties? Are people just following a ritual passed on through the generations, without asking questions? Are they blindly believing in mythology? How can so much benefit accrue from honoring a single plant?”
Indeed, water offered only a single time to the sacred tulasi plant can bring so many wonderful benefits.
1. She is a devi
Though in the form of a plant, Tulasi is originally a goddess. As the Supreme Lord is eternal, so are His sparks. As He says in the Bhagavad-gita, there never was a time when He did not exist, nor the person spoken to [Arjuna], nor the people assembled around them.
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
Nityo nityanam. There are many eternals, and God is the chief among them. Chetanash chetananam. He is the chief living force of all the living forces. He is supporting the many. In the spiritual world there are eternals accompanying the chief eternal. One of them is Vrinda Devi, who is known as the goddess of devotion. On the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka she carefully arranges the pastimes of the Supreme Lord Krishna and His eternal consort Shrimati Radharani.
There is a pastime where Vrinda Devi descends to earth and marries a king of bad character. The only way for her husband to be defeated and for the gods to be saved is if she breaks her chastity. As she is the goddess of devotion, she can only do this with Krishna Himself, who descends as Vishnu.
The work of the gods is done through some deception by Vishnu, and in anger Vrinda Devi decrees that Vishnu will now appear on earth in stone form; hence the origin of the shalagrama shila. For her sacrifice Vrinda Devi gets the benediction of becoming the sacred tulasi plant. Anyone who worships her faithfully gets bhakti, or devotion, very quickly.
2. Worship brings bhakti
That is the real benefit to respecting the tulasi plant. Vedic knowledge is compared to a tree with many branches. Those branches represent different areas of knowledge, fields of study. If you want good health there is information to follow. If you want to ascend to heaven in the afterlife, there is a branch for that. Even if you want harm to befall your enemies, the goal can be arranged.
Bhakti is unique because it stands above all desires. It is easy to practice and not difficult to get, but the desire for it is elusive. Tulasi Devi makes the process simple. Pay some respect. Offer some water. Circumambulate with faith. Then the highest reward of devotion to God will come very quickly.
3. Turns the home into a tirtha
Spiritual tourism is popular in Vedic culture. The idea is that by visiting a sacred place meritorious credits amass quicker than they would otherwise. The real benefit of a tirtha is the association of saintly people, who can help others to clear the consciousness and achieve the highest perfection of living. Purushartha, the highest result, is devotion itself.
For this reason the tulasi plant turns a home into a place of pilgrimage. An elaborate alter is not required. The plant flourishes in response to the attention provided. More attention means more devotion. More devotion means a special place to visit.
4. Nothing else is required for success
Famous saintly people from the past have reached complete perfection in renunciation through simply worshiping the tulasi plant. The famous poet who authored the Ramacharitamanasa was given the name Tulsidas due to his devotion to the tulasi plant. The acharya of chanting the holy names, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, would take up residence in a cave and simply recite the maha-mantra in front of a tulasi plant.
There is the story of the hunter reformed by Narada Muni. The travelling saint noticed that the hunter was half-killing different animals. The admonishment came that either he should give up killing entirely or put the animals out of their misery. Narada Muni did not go into a lengthy explanation about the difference between spirit and matter or the cycle of birth and death. He simply advised the hunter to go to a place near the river, erect a simple residence, worship the tulasi plant and chant the holy names in front of her.
Following that basic formula the hunter soon completely transformed. He went from killing for a living to being conscious of the lives of even the tiniest of beings, not wanting to harm them in any way. He turned into a saint himself, purified through the association of the goddess who is so dear to Shri Krishna.
Medicinal benefits certainly giving,
But tulasi goddess in plant living.
Turning into tirtha the home,
Bhakti from worship alone.
Elaborate alter not required,
Devotion to Krishna inspired.
Transformed hunter who mercy lacking,
Into saint not even ants attacking.
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