“O mind, everything of this world is tasteless and in Rama there is full sweetness. Tulsi gives this advice to you day and night.” (Dohavali, 51)
re mana saba soṃ nirasa hai sarasa rāma soṃ hohi |
bhalo sikhāvana deta hai nisi dina tulasī tohi ||
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Prahlada Maharaja likens a material existence to chewing things that have already been chewed. The taste is there in the first chewing, and then after that there is nothing left. The juice is gone, but in ignorance the conditioned soul tries again to extract the same taste. In fact, the experience wasn’t that great the first time around, but without knowledge of anything better, what is a person left to do? There is actually a higher taste, and Goswami Tulsidas says it comes in the form of the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Tulsidas confirms the sentiment of Prahlada Maharaja. Any person who has found the peerless occupation that is devotional service feels the same way. They experienced the life devoid of devotion already. That was their previous life. They tried different aspects of bhukti, mukti and siddhi, which are enjoyment, renunciation and mystic perfection respectively. They rightfully concluded that these things were lacking in taste. It was the same old thing, just done on different days.
śrī-prahrāda uvācamatir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vāmitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānāmadānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁpunaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)
The nature of the playing field is the cause of the lack of taste. In an existence exclusively devoted to material sense gratification, there isn’t enough that can be done to find full satisfaction. We can think of it like the response to regularly taking a specific drug. After enough time, the effectiveness diminishes. The stimulation from a cup of coffee is strong for a person drinking it for the first time. Yet another person can drink the same cup and not feel much, as they are accustomed to consuming caffeine on a regular basis.
The senses become desensitized to more and more sense gratification. Renunciation is then the typical response, but that doesn’t bring lasting happiness either. If the car alarm outside stopped blaring, that would make you happy for a little bit. But then you need something to do after that. After a while, you won’t even remember that the alarm was a problem. Renunciation is not complete happiness; it is simply an aversion to things that have become tasteless.
“But what if someone doesn’t feel this way yet? Yes, the wise person understands that spirit is the essence of all living things. Spirit is what lasts beyond the temporary matter. But why spoil the fun for everyone? Aren’t they better off not knowing about the spiritual nature? If they are happy in sense gratification, just leave them alone. It seems like the more knowledgeable you become, the more you find things in life to be tasteless.”
These are sound objections, as what purpose is served by giving people a jaded outlook on life? The idea is that with intelligence comes a higher taste. We know that certain television programming appeals to children. We know that children prefer to play with toys. We also know that one day they will grow out of the phase. As adults they will find something else appealing. And just because the children are happy it doesn’t mean that their activities are more important than what adults do to find happiness.
In the same way, the spiritual activities of service to the Divine are more important and bring a higher taste. If someone is in ignorance, it doesn’t mean that their preferred activities somehow become more worthwhile than that which is done by people with intelligence.
Goswami Tulsidas and Prahlada Maharaja don’t aim to ruin anyone’s fun. As wise souls, they see into the future. They know that eventually everyone will wise up, that they will see that the temporary is not worth dying over. The temporary objects and temporary relationships will eventually leave the individual back in the same position. It is like going around in a circle, which isn’t a wise utilization of time.
Devotional service is worthwhile even for the less intelligent, since it accurately predicts the future mindset. The parents know that the child will appreciate their education when they are older. They may not know what is good for them now, but eventually they will realize it. Similarly, the knowledge that the higher taste is in devotion to the Supreme Lord is always worth having.
Better still if the individual acts upon the wise counsel after receiving it. Tulsidas gives this advice to the mind on a daily basis, as it is difficult to remember. We somehow think that one more spin of the wheel of material existence will yield a different result, when it actually won’t. Rama is the deity of choice for Tulsidas, but Rama is the same Vishnu worshiped by Prahlada Maharaja. Rama is the same Krishna who delivers spotless words of advice to the warrior Arjuna. Rama is the detail behind the abstract image of God.
God the person can be served, which is what bhakti-yoga facilitates. Service to Rama is with taste, or sarasa. He is the core of this universe, the vital force of everything. He is the life of the living, and so it would make sense that He is the taste of all tastes. That which is tasteless is His external energy, and so the wise avoid it. They know this fact in their minds and they kindly try to instill the same lesson to others.
Children with toys playing and on candy feeding,
Adults to office going and latest books reading.
Though youths happiness finding in this way,
That superior their path no wise person to say.
So knowledge of this world take without fear,
Tasteless material existence, everything to us dear.
The Supreme Lord and service to Him accept,
And the highest taste for your intelligence expect.