“Prabhu always resides in Chitrakuta alongside Sita and Lakshmana. For those who chant Shri Rama’s holy name, the Lord fulfills all their desires, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 4)
citrakūṭa saba dina basata prabhu siya lakhana sameta|
rāma nāma japa jāpakahi tulasī abhimata deta ||
Leave it to Goswami Tulsidas to put the reader into the best of moods. Not only is there hope for a bright future given in this verse, but the most beautiful picture, one that never has to fade away or be removed from the memory, is painted for the listener who is sincerely interested in real profit, parama-artha, a reward that never diminishes in its returns. Only through chanting the holy names of God can all desires, regardless of their nature, be fulfilled.
What if we want to do some nefarious activity or if we want something that we shouldn’t have? Can we still chant Rama’s name and be guaranteed of seeing the results that we don’t even know are harmful? Is that how God operates? To understand the secret behind chanting, familiarity with the beauty and importance of Chitrakuta and other holy places is helpful. Lord Rama along with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. In fact, since they are direct manifestations of eternally existing divine figures, the trio is always enacting pastimes in some universe or another. Just as the sun is rising at this very second somewhere on earth, the Supreme Lord along with His closest associates is appearing on some planet at this precise moment and enacting wonderful pastimes for the pleasure of those who desperately need it, the sincere devotees who have handed over control of their emotions and happiness to the most pleasurable person and the treasure house of all good qualities.
The only entity who is universally a candidate for receiving the potent emotional force capable of flowing from the soul is the Supreme Soul, who is known by many names in the Vedic tradition. Lord Vishnu is most commonly taken to be the original form of the Lord, while some texts say that Shri Krishna, often considered an incarnation of Vishnu, is actually the original form, for He is the most attractive and thus capable of engaging in rasas, or transcendental mellows, not available to devotees of other forms of Godhead. Regardless of the knowledge base or belief system present in the devotees, the non-different forms of the Lord are so powerful that devotion to them brings about tremendous bliss and simultaneous release from the cycle of birth and death. Just as a star athlete repeatedly participates in seasons and tournaments of his specific professional sport, the players engaged in material activities repeatedly take birth in the phenomenal world until their desires for material association cease. The professional athletes are helped by the fact that their abilities eventually diminish due to age; thus making them no longer able to play after a period of time.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
Within the materially manifest world, old age and disease lead to retirement in the form of death, but since the desire to play is still present, a new body is given for the next life. As such, the cycle of birth and death known as samsara continues perpetually until desires are changed. Worship of the Supreme Spirit also takes place in cycles, except that there is no misery involved and no diminution of abilities. Instead, devotional service, or the sublime engagement of connecting with God through a purified consciousness, is the only activity that continues without interruption and is not driven by any motivation. This seemingly paradoxical combination can only be understood by those who are in divine trance, or samadhi. Once that blissful state is attained, there is not even concern over whether one is behaving properly or not, for the fire of devotion rages so intensely that all unwanted influences are automatically removed.
How do we reach the samadhi state? How does an individual who is eternally conditioned through playing on the field of material nature shift their desires towards service to the Supreme Lord? In order to change consciousness, behavior needs to be altered. For behavior to change, habits need to shift, i.e. routine activities need to be altered to the point that new habits are formed that help maintain a link with God in yoga. The honest skeptic will at this point question how one can know who God is with any ontological certitude. After all, weren’t there many television evangelists who urged their followers to send in money to get a better seat at the table? Simply giving away money to a specific figure will not get you a seat in heaven, and neither is the heavenly realm the ultimate destination. What we conceive heaven to be is actually just a nicer version of the playing field we are currently on. We can think of the heavenly realm as a higher professional sports league, one that has more enjoyments and state of the art venues. Yet the cycle of birth and death is still present, thus making ascension to heaven an inferior reward for the sincere spiritualist.
Purifying consciousness through a shift in behavior requires a steady object of worship, a beneficiary of the service propensity of the soul. Irrespective of one’s engagement and their level of dedication to spirituality or lack thereof, the element of service is always present. The CEO is serving his senses and his customers, the worker the boss, the wife the husband, the children the parents, the politician the constituents, and so on. No one is independent, for even the most selfish person is serving their own needs. When service is offered to the only entity truly worthy of accepting it, the resulting benefits are unmatched. Not only does the consciousness of the entity offering the service change, but the love felt towards the object of service never diminishes in any way. The reason for the variety in engagements present before us is that the different worshiped objects fail to provide supreme pleasure. Each one of the previously mentioned serving relationships found in material life can be broken due to disagreements or the expiry of the intended benefits. For instance, if an ordinary worker gets another job or retires, they no longer feel the need to serve their current boss. If the husband and wife should start having strong disagreements, the loving relationship can break through divorce or separation.
Love for God, the all-attractive spiritual powerhouse, doesn’t follow the same pattern. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, kindly enumerate some of the more important incarnations, or expansions, of the original Lord to appear on earth. Each form has specific features that attract worshipers, and since these incarnations are like candles lit from the original person, they are equally as capable of providing spiritual benefits. Though the tendency for those who are not familiar with the Vedic tradition will be to take Rama, Krishna and Vishnu to be sectarian figures or mythological characters, the truths of the Vedas are revealed to whoever is fortunate enough to sincerely adopt the recommended practices, especially those pertaining to bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. The Vedas prove to be enough of an authority for millions around the world to accept vishnu-bhakti as a legitimate spiritual practice, but even one who is skeptical can still take to chanting the Lord’s names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and see for themselves what all the fuss is about.
Goswami Tulsidas, a prolific writer and an absolute sweetheart, was especially devoted to Lord Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of God. They say that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, always resides in Vrindavana, the holy land that is always filled with Krishna’s most dear devotees like the gopis, Mother Yashoda, Nanda Maharaja, and the sacred tulasi plant. Even though Krishna sometimes leaves Vrindavana when He appears on earth, the higher authority figures reveal the secret that Krishna actually never leaves His favorite land; other expansions or forms of the Lord are who exit and take part in pastimes elsewhere. As such, anyone who is fortunate enough to go to Vrindavana will be blessed with Krishna’s presence.
In a similar manner, Tulsidas says that Shri Rama along with Lakshmana and Sita is always in Chitrakuta, the remote forest that played an integral role in a specific time period of Rama’s life. As the eldest son of a king, Rama was the rightful heir to the throne of Ayodhya, but due to a series of unfortunate events, for which Rama was not to be blamed, the throne was passed on to Rama’s younger brother Bharata. To add insult to injury, Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. He would have to roam the forests in the garb of an ascetic, thus not having ties to anything, royal or otherwise.
Rama kindly agreed to the requests, as this would ensure the good name of His father, King Dasharatha. The Lord then embarked on His journey taking Sita and Lakshmana with Him, for they refused to remain at home without their beloved for such an extended period of time. Early on in their travels, the group visited the hermitage of the illustrious sage and poet, Maharishi Valmiki. After humbly offering His obeisances, Rama asked Valmiki if he knew of a good place to set up camp. Valmiki used this question as an opportunity to describe the sublime qualities of Rama’s devotees, stating that Sita and Rama should reside in the hearts of such individuals. After finishing his description, Valmiki informed Rama of the nice area known as Chitrakuta.
Based on the sage’s recommendation and the way in which it was presented, we can understand that Chitrakuta is full of good qualities. After all, Valmiki stated that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana should always reside in the hearts of those who never tire of hearing of the Lord’s pastimes. Those who attribute all of their bad traits to themselves and all of their good fortunes to Rama, who worship the guru, the brahmanas and the cows as their life and soul, and who always chant Rama’s names forever have Sita and Rama residing within their heart. Indeed, the devotees take to devotional practices and don’t ask for anything except undying devotion to Rama’s feet.
Whichever place Rama chooses to live will have the properties mentioned by Valmiki, even if the area seems to be an inanimate land that is not capable of thought or worship. Chitrakuta is Tulsidas’ favorite holy spot because Sita, Rama and Lakshmana live there in pure happiness without any hint of the material opulence found in royal kingdoms. There is nothing wrong with wealth, jewels and pompous worship when they involve God, but the most elevated saints, those who are always in divine trance through chanting and remembering, prefer to worship the Lord in a more intimate mood, one that is stripped of any reverence that inhibits the full expression of transcendental love. When God is worshiped as the greatest order supplier and the richest entity, the mood of the devotee tends to be one of fear and respect. In the mood of pure love, however, such a closeness is established that the fears pertaining to God and His punishments are completely removed. Rama in Chitrakuta represents the most endearing form of the Lord, one that can only be worshiped in a loving attitude. Those who are afraid of God and those who are steeply entrenched in the mindset of respect worship images of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in other settings like the kingdom of Ayodhya.
To those who chant His name on a regular basis, Shri Rama, as the benevolent Lord, grants whatever is desired, abhimata deta. First the proper scene is set, that of Rama in Chitrakuta, and then the chanting takes place. With this combination the mind remains focused on God in a bliss-evoking mood; thus making the desires of the chanter quite obvious to decipher. In the topmost stage of devotion, there is still an interest, even though the behavior of the bhakta is described as unmotivated, ahaituki. One who goes to a demigod or saintly personality may be granted whatever they want, but with Vishnu-worship, the effect of the desired fruit is taken into consideration by the benefactor, the Supreme Lord. Nevertheless, this discrimination doesn’t contradict Tulsidas’ assertion in any way. If one understands that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana always reside in Chitrakuta and then they take to chanting Rama’s name, naturally their desires will be focused on just one thing: the continuation of bhakti. Rama will always grant this wish, as the ability to chant God’s name just one time without offense is considered the greatest boon, one that is available only to those who sins have been completely washed away.
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.28)
Chanting God’s names is the only recommended dharma, or system of religion, for the current age. Even if one is full of selfish desires, plans for self-destruction or other tainted motives, chanting Rama’s name will always prove to be a benefit. At their core everyone desires to love God, even if they are unaware of it. So by remembering the forms of the Lord that are the most bliss-evoking, the dormant desire for a pure loving relationship with the undying Supreme Spirit can be awakened. Service to any entity besides God will not fulfill all desires, for the rewards received will expire at some point, thus causing new desires to sprout up. Only the bhaktas steadily engaged in service are akama, or without desire, because their primary wish in life, eternal association with the Supreme Lord, remains forever fulfilled.