“With one serving as a canopy and the other as a crown jewel, O Tulsi, the two letters that make up Shri Rama’s name stand supreme amongst all letters of the alphabet.” (Dohavali, 9)
eku chatru eku mukuṭamani saba baranani para jo_u |
tulasī raghubara nāma ke barana birājata do_u ||
Goswami Tulsidas, as a scholar in Sanskrit, Hindi and many other dialects, had a firm grasp of numbers, letters and words. Indeed, Sanskrit is so difficult to learn that it requires years and years of training just to understand the grammar, let alone the meanings of phrases and sentences. Composition of poems in the Sanskrit language has its own rules as well, so to firmly understand the language of the gods, one must be perseverant, dedicated and patient in their study. Yet of all the letters and words of the language, Tulsidas appreciates the word “Rama” the most, declaring the letters constituting this word to be supreme over all others in the alphabet, like a royal umbrella coupled with a crown jewel. Due to what the resulting word represents, the letters themselves become greatly appreciated.
Who hasn’t ever been in trouble? Defeat, pain and heartache come with any endeavor or series of events. Even if we take to an activity and somehow manage to reach a successful outcome, there is some emptiness in the victory. The successful voice the common concern, “It’s lonely at the top.” At the end of each day, one must consider whether all their hard work towards achieving a specific goal was worth it or not. If such concerns are there for the successful, just imagine what the distressed have to go through on a daily basis. “Where will I eat tomorrow? Will my children be okay? Will my friend’s operation be successful? Will I still have a job next week? Will I be able to afford my house payments?”
These struggles are present to varying degrees for everyone; thus the need for shelter becomes self-evident. Simply forgetting problems and escaping through sinful behavior such as gambling, illicit sex and intoxication doesn’t provide any real answers. Sins are not just created on a whim as a way to punish people. The authority figures, those who understood the Absolute Truth from the teachings passed down by their own predecessors, have kindly laid out formulas for achieving success in not only small ventures like maintaining a society and family, but also in the bigger picture of becoming completely God conscious by the time of death. The ancient wisdom of the Vedas, the scriptures of India, declares through the mouthpiece of its founder, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain in the next life.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
This gem-like piece of information should make sense, for we see that even if we are successful in a particular venture, our thoughts and concerns focus on certain things while we sleep at night. The sum total of all thoughts and desires over an entire lifetime form the consciousness at the time of death. At this most critical juncture, a time of great panic and upheaval, wherever our consciousness rests is what state we will achieve next. Naturally, a state beyond all miseries and defeats is an ideal future destination, but this can only come about through concentration on that one entity from whom everything emanates. Some may refer to Him as God, while others refuse to acknowledge His personal form and instead simply bow down to Him in His form of all-devouring death, but His existence is nevertheless always there, as is His promise of granting salvation to those who kindly and voluntarily surrender unto Him by establishing an unbreakable bond of affection.
Sanatana-dharma, or the set of religious principles instituted by the Supreme Lord, represents the guideline for human behavior. Sin is anything that goes against these recommendations for regulation and activity. Some may choose to ignore the guaranteed nature of sinful reaction, but regardless of whether one believes in the law codes of the Vedas or not bears no impact on the result. We may or may not believe in the laws of gravity, but if we drop a television set out of the window, it will surely fall to the ground and break. In a similar manner, disregarding the guidelines for the purification of consciousness will immediately lead to a further development of the sensual consciousness, wherein attachment to objects of the phenomenal world continues. This most damaging effect of sinful activity only precedes the actual deserved negative reaction that will surely come, one that is commensurate with the degree of deviation from the relevant principle. There are established guidelines on how to erect a building structure properly. Flaunting authority and taking your own route for construction will immediately lead to a further clouding of judgment, as other objects of authority will similarly be ignored and chastised in the future. Yet the negative reaction of building a house incorrectly will also bear fruit in the future. Depending on the severity of the deviation, the housing structure can collapse entirely and cause the deaths of the occupants.
The concept of dharma is present in virtually all activities, as it is followed by even those who directly refuse to accept the established principles of religion. For instance, the Vedas recommend that a young girl should be married off as soon as she reaches a suitable age. The purpose behind this stipulation is to lessen the chances of illicit sex in society. The more man is attached to sex life, the less chance he has of thinking of God at the time of death. Moreover, when women are left free and independent in their adult years, they are open targets for the sexual advances of men. Unlike women, men are constantly thinking about sex; hence if they see a beautiful woman who is not married, they will make advances towards her. The counterargument may be, “Well, what is wrong with that? Shouldn’t the woman be free to choose her own sexual partners?” The freedom is always there, but the results from the exercise of that independence are not very palatable. The man can simply use the woman for sex and then leave her immediately afterwards. A pregnant woman especially needs protection and care, but without the covenant of marriage, there is no responsibility on the male’s part.
Even while bucking the authority of the Vedas, those who fly on their own still try to create their own dharmas. The supermarket magazines are full of recommendations for women relating to when they should sleep with the guy and how they should behave in a relationship. There are even recommendations for when a couple should move in together and when they should decide to get married. These helpful hints are all guiding principles, yet since they were crafted by those who couldn’t see beyond sense gratification, they fail to provide any protection. Dharma carried forward by bona fide authority figures has already passed every quality assurance test; hence the regulations recommended are the least likely to provide negative conditions in the future. On the other hand, one who is wholly devoted to illicit sex, gambling and intoxication will craft guiding principles aimed at continuing these activities. Therefore their prescriptions will not provide any shelter whatsoever. There are so many recommendations made for dating and relationships and even counseling sessions provided by church groups for couples about to get married, yet divorce is still very common. No other conclusion can be reached except that the dharmas created by man fail to provide real peace in every way.
The true shelter for any person, regardless of the level of their past adherence to or defiance of established law codes, is the topmost system of religion known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Dharma is the set of recommendations that maintains an essential characteristic for a particular venture. Since the soul’s primary quality is to be a lover of God, the religion of transcendental love can be considered the supreme set of law codes, the guidelines for maintaining the essential aspect of the soul, a quality, which, when adopted and maintained to the fullest degree, automatically brings pleasure and happiness in any and all situations. Bhagavata-dharma is an effective system in any age, but its importance is more pronounced in modern times, when other forms of spirituality are not regularly adhered to in the least bit.
How does one go about practicing the religion of love? Do we have to avoid sinful activities and pledge allegiance to a particular religious group? Just as love has no boundaries, the pleasing of the Supreme Spirit is not restricted to time, circumstance, income, or country of origin. In fact, at the core of devotional service is a name, a sound vibration that represents absolute truth and bliss. There are many names for the Supreme Person, but Krishna is considered superior, as it describes the all-attractiveness of the man who resides eternally in the spiritual sky. He who is the most attractive will be best equipped at evoking from the most number of people the natural loving sentiments found within the heart.
Yet for Goswami Tulsidas, the most attractive name for God is Rama. In the Vedas it is said that chanting the name of Krishna once is as good as chanting the name of Rama three times. In this sense, one can take Krishna to be a superior sound vibration, but for the devoted souls firmly attached to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama, the difference in results provides even more impetus for regularly reciting Rama’s name. The time spent chanting is the most pleasurable and anticipated for the devotee. If someone tells a devotee of Rama that they need to chant more to get the same benefit as that derived from another religious practice, the bhakta will view the apparent defect as a wonderful opportunity for spending even more time immersed in the transcendental nectar that is the sweet sound of Shri Rama’s holy name.
To Tulsidas, the two letters that make up Rama’s name, “ra” and “ma”, are the most beautiful of all the letters and words in Sanskrit and their derived languages. Tulsidas wrote most of his poems and songs in Hindi dialects, which all use the Sanskrit alphabet. In Rama’s name, the first letter, “ra”, is compared to a canopy or umbrella. The distressed are looking for shelter, a person or thing to make their lives better. One who is constantly in a wasted state from intoxication views their bottle of whiskey as their best friend whose company they should enjoy on a regular basis, i.e. their shelter. For the dedicated lover, the image and sight of their beloved represents true shelter, an umbrella to protect against distress. Similarly, children may take shelter of their video games, television shows and anything else that has no relation to responsibilities, chores, or school.
Shelter is only one part of the comfort. A home itself represents a protective fortress from the heat of the summer months and the chill of the winter, but once the dwelling is erected, there must be activities to take up, engagements which bring pleasure through association. In this respect, Tulsidas says that the second letter of Rama’s name, “ma”, represents the crown jewel, the most valuable of all letters in any language. The crown jewel cannot be enjoyed when there is tremendous rain pouring down or a beaming hot sun scorching its rays onto the skin. The shelter of “ra” allows the crown jewel of “ma” to be enjoyed, observed and contemplated on.
A crown jewel can be admired, worn, or shown off to others, but since the word Rama represents the Absolute Truth’s ability to give transcendental pleasure, its component letters are best utilized when heard and recited. Therefore chanting the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, represents the quintessential and most potent activity of devotional service. Chanting brings the names of the Lord to light, thus allowing shelter to be erected and the crown jewel to be enjoyed, observed and kept close to the heart.
Letters and words are useful in communication and expressing loving feelings, but when they combine to create a non-different form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the benefit derived by the reciter and the listener is unmatched. The holy name evokes memories of the forms, pastimes and qualities of the person it represents. In the case of the word “Rama”, the transcendental image of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty of kings, Shri Raghunatha, the prince of Ayodhya, immediately comes to mind. His pastimes with His wife Sita Devi, younger brother Lakshmana, and dear servant Hanuman are also remembered. Who would ever want to leave the company of such a benevolent master? Indeed, Tulsidas’ assertion is wholly accurate, brilliant and ever applicable. Wherever we are and in whatever predicament we find ourselves in, if the supreme shelter and crown jewel of all words should remain with us, the possibility of remembering anyone except the Supreme Lord at the time of death gets wiped out, thus guaranteeing ascension to the supreme destination in the afterlife.