“For those who have merged in the transcendental mellow of devotion to Shri Rama, being free of all material desires, their minds are like fish that swim in the nectar made of supreme love for the holy name that rests within the heart.” (Dohavali, 30)
sakala kāmanā hīna je rāma bhagati rasa līna |
nāma suprema piyuṣa hada tinhahum̐ kie mana mina ||
The mind will wade in whatever type of water is found by the captain. Depending on the type of activities taken up by the individual, the mind, which can be likened to a fish, will have to swim in waters that may or may not be compatible. Despite how hard we may try to clean the water formed from the results of our actions, there will always be contamination, and hence an incompatible habitat for the mind. Only by being immersed in devotion to the Supreme Lord, who is known as Rama because of His unmatched ability to provide transcendental pleasure to His devotees, can the mind perpetually swim in an ocean of nectar. This reservoir is filled through the chanting process, which focuses on the sweetest collection of words found anywhere in the spiritual and material worlds, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Why the comparison to fish? Why the need to make an analogy at all? Can’t we just live our lives and be at peace? In every activity, the mind’s desires, which are driven by consciousness, lead to future conditions, similar to the concept of “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The resting place at night doesn’t magically appear on its own and neither does the dwelling that we come home to after a hard day at the office. Every visible object of this world, including our different conditions, results from action, which is driven by desire. Therefore the analogy to the fish swimming in water is completely appropriate in describing how karma, or fruitive activity, operates. Every action has a commensurate reaction, even if we are ignorant of the fact.
Let’s say, for example, that we place our hand into a blazing fire. Under the spell of ignorance, a person may think, “Oh, nothing will happen. Everything in nature occurs on its own, so I can do whatever I want and not have to suffer consequences.” Unfortunately, the laws of nature will not take kindly to ignorance. In fact, whether one is in total ignorance or complete knowledge, the burning propensity of the fire will rage nonetheless. The hand placed into the fire will burn and negative conditions will result. The same cause-and-effect is seen in all activities; therefore the resulting conditions we find ourselves in are due solely to the actions that we take.
In the state of ignorance, the types of water produced by action are incompatible for the mind, which continues to function as long as the soul is present. Irrespective of what anyone thinks, the soul is the driving force to activity. Birth is the event where a soul is injected into a life form, thus causing the body’s growth, maintenance and penchant for activity. Death is the opposite event, when the soul exits the body. Without the soul, dull matter is just that: lifeless. When the soul is within the body, its presence is indicated through the functions of the living entity, with the mind operating constantly. As the famous philosopher said, “I think therefore I am”, we can understand that consciousness indicates the presence of the soul.
Yet when activities are accepted that have no basis in scriptural injunction and bring no tangible reward, such as when placing the hand into fire, the results are not favorable. Intoxication is a great example of this. The liquor consumed can be likened to a pond that is created by the mind through the act of intoxication. Obviously a fish is not meant to swim in a pool of vodka or beer, but neither is the individual, who is brimming with spiritual potency. The spirit soul has distinct properties which are enumerated in Vedic scriptures. These properties are also evidenced through the natural penchant for action. The soul has a desire to serve, which it derives from its loving propensity. The soul is also wholly knowledgeable and eternal. Therefore the water it swims in must also bear the same properties for there to be a match. The pool of liquor is the worst kind because it keeps the mind totally in ignorance, not allowing for any advancement in consciousness. Without a positive impact on consciousness, the human birth is no different from life in an animal species.
Above ignorance is activity driven by passion, which creates a purer version of the pool for the mind, but which still has many contaminants. We can think of the resulting pond as one that has pollution at every corner but still allows for the fish to continue living. In the mode of passion, the individual understands that they must go through many trials and tribulations to gain a short term reward, but the flickering happiness that results is deemed worth the effort. Sports, gambling and even sex life devoid of the desire to purify consciousness are examples of activity in passion. Some may take exception to the negative portrayal of this mode. After all, the self-help gurus and self-esteem doctors recommend creating goals and being driven by passions to find happiness in life.
What’s so wrong with working hard to have a stable family life? What’s wrong with getting up every day and having a fervent desire to achieve a goal? Again, the nature of the results must be analyzed if we are to properly assess the worthiness of the actions accepted. In sports and gambling, the results are temporary, so much so that as soon as the goal is achieved, new ones have to be set; otherwise laziness and an increased penchant for activities in ignorance will follow. Sex life, which is seen as the pinnacle of fruitive enjoyment, is very difficult to secure comfortably for the human being. The animal kingdom has a leg up in this regard, as they do not have to worry about wooing members of the opposite sex or maintaining them by regularly purchasing jewelry and other gifts. Just like the rewards from gambling, the joy felt from sex life is very short-lived, thus requiring constant repetition of the engagement.
A higher mode aligns with knowledge and is thus considered to be in goodness. Activities under this mindset lead to a very pure pond of water for the mind to swim in. These actions are undertaken without a desire to enjoy the results. The man in goodness goes to work to support his family, but he knows that these aspects of life aren’t of primary importance. Rather, he is more concerned with understanding the differences between spirit and matter and the meaning behind life itself. Life’s necessities are given concern, with the bare essentials being enough to satisfy the senses. There is adherence to religious rituals, penances and austerities. Activities are free of sin, meaning they don’t lead to unfavorable conditions in either this life or the next. Since the soul has the property of eternality, it exists beyond the present birth. When it exits its current body, the soul immediately gets a new one crafted through the laws of karma, which take into account all of the work performed during the just completed life.
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.6)
The mode of goodness seems perfect in every respect, no? Though the pool created is pure, the fish doesn’t derive the highest pleasure by swimming in it. Surely the water is compatible and there is no pollution getting in the way, but there is nothing there for the fish that is the mind to truly enjoy, a bliss that gives the highest taste. From the above quoted verse from the Dohavali of Goswami Tulsidas, we see how to create the proper pond, one that the mind can swim in perpetually. Since the soul desires pleasure, it must have a corresponding object with which to associate. Since the soul is eternal, its object of pleasure must also have the same property. Not surprisingly, this matching entity is the Supreme Lord, who can be described as the reservoir of all pleasure.
So, how does the mind connect with this Supreme Person? That answer is also not a secret. The key is to remove all material desires, or kama, and take to bhakti, or devotion. Devotional service to Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord, brings about the highest taste, or rasa, for the mind. Activities in ignorance bring illusory tastes that are actually poisonous, while behavior in passion brings tastes that are short-lived in their duration. Activities in goodness bring almost no taste, but they keep the bitter tastes away. Only through immersion in devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Rama bhakti-rasa lina, where the soul voluntarily surrenders itself unto the kind demands and guidance of God, can the highest taste be relished.
Once the nectar is tasted, there needs to be a steady supply kept on hand for the enjoyment to continue. If we really enjoy one cookie, we want to have more and more. In the material sense, this desire is detrimental, as Lord Krishna, the same Lord Rama but in a different visible manifestation, states in the Bhagavad-gita that only the yogi who neither eats too little nor too much can make advancement. This makes sense, as eating too little strips away the mind’s ability to contemplate on God, while eating too much leads to lethargy and an increased desire for sex. Since the taste derived from devotion to Rama is transcendental in every way, however, the laws calling for moderation do not apply. No amount of bhakti is too much.
How do we keep the taste going? Tulsidas also provides that answer. Within the heart of the devotee, a pool of transcendental nectar is created from the love that is harbored for Rama’s name. By regularly chanting the names of God, which are fully representative of His complete feature as the Personality of Godhead, the mind turns into a fish that swims in a pool of nectar. From devotional service we get the highest taste, and from chanting the holy names, the quintessential act of bhakti, the nectar remains fully stocked, allowing the mind to remain in one habitat without having to move.
The holy name is so wonderful because it can be recited anywhere. Any person, irrespective of their level of intelligence, can keep the mind fully enthralled by chanting. Through this formula Tulsidas reveals both his own doctrine, or life’s motto, and the ancient secret to happiness well established in the Vedas. Indeed, Shri Hanuman, Rama’s faithful servant, started practicing this formula many thousands of years ago. Hanuman always chants the glories of Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana and never feels unhappiness.
Bhakti is not a modern concoction or a sentimentalist movement created by a few poets and saints in India. Under logical analysis, the Vedas and bhakti are equivalent terms, as devotion to God is the constitutional position of the soul, its dharma. Unlike religious sentiment and dry philosophy, dharma cannot be changed. Whether or not one knows their true dharma is a different story, but the foremost characteristic of the spiritual sparks emanating from the storehouse of spiritual energy, the Supreme Lord, never changes. The saints who take bhakti as their life and soul don’t actually create any doctrines or philosophies; they simply reveal to others what is the highest form of religion, as passed down by God Himself. The descriptions of the ocean of nectar created through bhakti don’t only reference the experiences of Tulsidas and other saints. Rather, the transcendental nectar in the heart can be created by anyone, should they follow the same formula of eliminating kama and loving the Lord’s name.