“Meditating on Shri Rama, who has Janaki to His left and Lakshmana to His right, brings all auspiciousness and is your wish-fulfilling tree, O Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 1)
rāma bāma disi jānakī lakhana dāhinī ora|
dhyāna sakala kalyānamaya surataru tulasī tora ||
When the mind wanders astray, it is best to bring it back into focus, to keep its attention on something that won’t cause harm. The objects of the senses, the allures of the external world, constantly pull the mind in every which direction. Since these wonderings are mostly undesired, not only should one learn to harness the powerful mind, but they should also find that one object worth paying attention to. The Supreme Lord alongside His energy and His support brings the most pleasurable vision for those practicing dhyana, or steady meditation. Not only does focusing on the perfect image of God keep the mind from being deluded by the senses, but all auspiciousness is found at the same time.
“From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.26)
His Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say that those who are endeavoring for self-realization should kick the mind each day a certain number of times in the morning and then again at night. Obviously the recommendation applies to internal, metaphorical kicking, as physical harm to the brain would not do any good. The need for such a recommendation speaks to the flickering nature of the thought processes of the conditioned human being. How many of us have tried to focus on positive thoughts and avoid dwelling on negative experiences of the past, only to fail in the end? The mind is so powerful that when left uncontrolled, it can be the source of the greatest distress. Therefore the kindest welfare workers, those sincere devotees of the Supreme Spirit who have been nice enough to share their thoughts with others, have made the issue of tackling the uncontrolled mind a top priority in the foremost system of religious practice, bhakti-yoga.
We can think of devotional service, or bhakti, as a kind of mysticism, though the outward behavior of a devotee may not give the indication of yoga or meditation. After all, yoga today is generally equated with sitting in various postures and performing difficult breathing exercises and gymnastics routines. Meditation is correlated with quietness of motion and the absence of verbal sound. Yet at the heart of both of these techniques is the resultant effect on the mind. Sitting in the various asanas of yoga allows the senses to be controlled in such a way that the mind ultimately does not wander or become agitated by sights, sounds and other external objects encountered during the course of the day. Meditation, or dhyana, is actually a central aspect of the ancient system of yoga first introduced by the Vedas, the scriptural tradition of India.
“Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.8)
Though meditation and mystic yoga are certainly bona fide Vedic practices that prove to be highly effective in delivering their intended results, their implementations in the current age are somewhat defective due to limitations of time and space. As an example, we may sit in a quiet room and meditate on the Absolute Truth for a set period of time, but as soon as our concentration is broken, we are left to perform our daily tasks. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord and greatest orator of Vedic wisdom, accurately points out that even during His time on earth some five thousand years ago He had to perform work. At the bare minimum, one must maintain their body, which involves regulative principles of hygiene and systematic work performed to meet the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. During times where we are engaged in work, which is generally referred to as karma, the individual cannot sit quietly and meditate. In this vulnerable state, the mind becomes an open target to the allures of the senses, forces which emerge victorious when the individual delves into intoxication, gambling, illicit sex or meat eating.
A similar defect is present with mystic yoga practice. Karma is fruitive activity, so even though the gymnastics and breathing exercises of yoga are kinds of work, they are not aimed at procuring visible fruits to be enjoyed. Yet when the body needs to be maintained through work outside of yoga, the concentration and control over the senses slackens. In the current age especially, the amount of time in a given day spent to maintain the body is actually quite high. We must drive very long distances to the office, put in a good amount of hours at work, and then drive all the way home. By the time the diligent worker finally finishes their day, they are too tired to do anything tangible. Not surprisingly, during rest hours the practices of yoga and meditation are subsequently given lower priority, which then leaves the mind open for attack.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
Bhakti-yoga is a little different because it directly tackles consciousness, an aspect of the individual that is the most important as far as determining future fortunes. One’s consciousness at the time of death carries them into their next life, so whoever is interested in becoming free from the daily grind and all the punishments that come with it should take aim at altering the regular thought processes of the mind. In bhakti, the mind is trained to always think about God, who is more accurately described as the Supreme Object of Pleasure in the Vedic tradition. More than just an order supplier or an original owner of all objects, God, who is also known as Krishna, is the one entity who gives supreme pleasure to whoever associates with Him in a loving mood. A person whose consciousness is linked with the Supreme Lord is deemed to be in full yoga. Yoga is simply a connection of souls, the addition of two operands. Any other yoga practice besides bhakti has a beginning and end phase, an objective stated at the outset and the hopeful attainment of that goal in the end. But bhakti is the only full-time engagement, the one discipline where the meditation continues perpetually, even into the afterlife.
So what kind of meditation does bhakti involve? The Supreme Lord has many different forms and aspects, each of which appeals to different moods of worship. Goswami Tulsidas, the beloved Vaishnava saint of Northern India, particularly had an attraction to Lord Rama, who is a non-different expansion of Krishna. Rama roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga as a warrior prince. Tulsidas, as an ideal devotee, never worshiped Rama alone, but rather always kept Rama’s associates close by during times of worship.
In the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, Tulsidas describes the perfect picture on which to meditate. Lord Rama is at the center, with His beautiful wife Sita Devi to His left and His younger brother Lakshmana to His right. There is no need to struggle to find any symbolism in this picture, as the beauty, grace, power and benevolence of the individuals in question speak for itself. Rama is the Supreme Lord, Sita is His energy manifestation, and Lakshmana is His dear protector. Rama is never alone; His closest associates are always with Him. Tulsidas’ description in this verse is quite interesting, as he directly tackles the issues of auspiciousness and the fulfilling of wishes. Our attention tends to jump from one place to another when we are desperately seeking a specific benefit. Those who are sexually stimulated glance at various members of the opposite sex in the hopes of having conjugal affairs. The hungry man stares at sumptuous food items to hopefully enjoy the taste that will result from eating. The lover of a particular politician or celebrity will gaze at posters and pictures in the hopes of either one day becoming equal to that person or to be reminded of the glory that comes with success in material ventures.
Tulsidas doesn’t want any of these things. He meditates on Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki [Sita, the daughter of King Janaka] simply for transcendental pleasure. Lest anyone think he will be deprived in some way by performing this highest practice of bhakti, Tulsidas accurately points out that anyone who meditates on such an image will be brought every type of auspiciousness, sakala kalyana. Meditating on worldly objects lures the mind towards that which is not God, or maya. The effects of illusion go beyond simply tricking the mind into misidentification. Illusion caused by sense objects leads to a further attachment to matter, which in turn keeps the consciousness in a conditioned state. The constitutional position of spirit is to be a lover of God, so any activity which has no relation to divine love is deemed conditional, or that which leads to further separation from the Supreme Lord.
Sins are the actions that provide negative consequences. The reactions are deemed detrimental because the conditions are not pleasant, nor were they ever intended to be encountered. The greatest negative reaction there could ever be is separation in consciousness from God. Tulsidas directly addresses this fact by saying that by meditating on Rama, all auspiciousness is found. By definition, there cannot be anything unfavorable resulting from direct association with the one entity after whom the entire world is searching. Even the scientists and grossly foolish atheists are searching after God. But since they don’t have any tangible information about Him, they have no idea how to see Him or where to even look. They will scoff at the notion of God’s existence, claiming that they have yet to see any proof that there is a Supreme Spirit. The comet that flies through the sky is greatly admired, for it represents a unique occurrence in nature. But for one who has no interest in science, the travels of the comet are completely meaningless. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord’s wonderful influences are seen at every second in the visible world, yet one who is not aware of the Divine’s existence will have no interest in appreciating the creation of the world, the regularities in function seen in the planets and the stars, and the man responsible for every result: God.
When the mind wanders off to associate with worldly objects, the desire for auspiciousness and tangible results remains nonetheless. Even amongst followers of the Vedic tradition, there is a system of practice below divine love that is aimed at providing heightened enjoyment. Similar to going to church to ask God to give you something, there is a system of religious worship aimed at providing worldly enjoyments. By offering tribute to various elevated living entities known as devatas, or demigods, worshipers are promised ascension to the heavenly realm in the afterlife, where material amenities take longer to exhaust. The demigods, who are devoted souls, are referred to as suras. In their splendorous realm, which is still part of the perishable material world, there are wish-fulfilling trees known as suratarus. Just by approaching one of these trees and asking for something, the wished for object will immediately manifest. But since these trees are only found in the heavenly realm, one must first perform dedicated worship of the proper demigods and abide by the rules and regulations handed down.
But for Tulsidas, his surataru is Shri Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki. Not only are they capable of granting all of his wishes, but they do so directly through their image that is contemplated on. Tulsidas only wants to think of God at all times, for that is the nature of the bhakta. This behavior corresponds with the true position of the individual. By meditating on Shri Rama, the worshiper is not only able to focus the mind during the period of meditation, but the image of the Supreme Spirit remains within the consciousness for a considerably long time afterwards. Moreover, when in separation, the fervent desire of the mind will be to have the repeated future association of Rama. “When will I see my beloved again? When will I be able to meditate on the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the most beautiful and handsome prince to have ever roamed this earth? When will I see the giver of liberation to the fallen Ahalya, the slayer of the powerful demon Ravana, and the delight of the celebrated son of Dasharatha, Bharata? When will I see Rama together again with His wonderful wife Sita Devi, the kindest lady to have ever graced this earth who always ensures that devotees of Rama are never bereft of the association of their cherished Lord? When will I next see Lakshmana standing by Rama’s side, ready to protect Him at any and all costs? When will I again see Lakshmana, the greatest spiritual master, one who teaches not only by precept but also by example?”
Judging by Tulsidas’ behavior and the beauty of his writing, there was no exaggeration in his assertion of Rama being his surataru. Through his meditation, the poet brought all auspiciousness to not only himself, but also to countless others spanning many generations. The celebrated writer is still bringing pleasure to people the world over to this day, some four hundred years after his time on earth. Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki never let anyone down, so whoever has the good fortune of meditating on their transcendental forms will find auspiciousness everywhere they turn.