“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)
स्वारथ परमारथ सकल सुलभ एक ही ओर |
द्वार दूसरे दीनता उचित न तुलसी तोर ||
svāratha paramāratha sakala sulabha eka hī ora |
dvāra dūsare dīnatā ucita na tulasī tora ||
The Sanskrit word svartha translates to “self-interest.” What other interest can there be? I could want something for someone else. Altruism. Philanthropy. Charity. I could work tirelessly to save someone else from injury. Perhaps I put in the effort to build a new hospital in the community.
In truth, even working for others in such a way is svartha. I have some personal interest to the outcome, even though the direct beneficiary may be another person. More obvious cases of svartha are looking for a new job, purchasing a new home, moving to a place in the world with a more suitable climate, buying a new television, and so forth.
To meet these desires there are specific places to go. No one is entirely in control over their destiny. In fact, we have very little control, though we tend to think otherwise. Shri Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that the living entity is not the doer; material nature must first cooperate.
गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः
कर्ताहम् इति मन्यते
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
Expecting such cooperation, we petition the employer for the new job. We hire the real estate agent for help in finding a home. We exchange money for goods at the local retail outlet. We hire the personal trainer to improve our physical health. We visit the doctor for treatment against disease.
The Sanskrit word paramartha translates to “supreme interest.” The general context is the long-term interest or the afterlife. I should prepare for the end, since it is destined to happen. I can postpone the discussion, if I want. I can pretend that the forced exit from the body will not take place for me, but such ignorance makes no determination on the reality.
There are different ways to meet paramartha. I could pray to a specific god on a certain date. I could attend a house of worship and accept the promise of the person speaking, who is authorized by the institution to give advice. I can also try my best to avoid harmful behavior, to be a “good” person.
Goswami Tulsidas, a saint of the Vaishnava tradition, says that there is no reason to go begging in weakness. No need to knock on doors for help in either svartha or paramartha. This is because both can be met in a single place.
This is the ideal way of living. Prahlada Maharaja makes a similar recommendation. He says that the short-term interest, svartha, is met through approaching Vishnu, who is the personal God. In most cases, we avoid such association even when focusing on paramartha.
This is because Vishnu is known to deny requests. If I want to ascend to heaven in the afterlife, Vishnu might say “no.” If I want to be a beautiful heavenly figure in the next life, perhaps that will not be my fate if I follow devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The distinction is that He will do what is best for me. Bhagavan will satisfy both my svartha and paramartha. No one else can do this. No matter how honest they are, how much money they have, how many years of experience offering advice they have, no one has potency comparable to the Supreme Lord.
Thus the saints reveal the proper perspective to carry in this living experience. Everything will work out for me properly, in the end, though it may take time, if I stay on the path of devotion. There may be many impurities in the beginning, since I have had countless desires since time immemorial, but the closeness through worship, upasana, will gradually correct the mistakes.
A rope for a snake,
Susceptible to this mistake.
In many paths choosing wrong,
Under sway of illusion strong.
But from acharyas a better way,
Fixed in short and long to stay.
That when everything Supreme Lord for,
Not to beg at another’s door.