“When plant life is green, there is grazing. When it becomes old, it turns into fuel for fire. When it grows and bears fruits, people grab at it with an open hand. Tulsi says that all are friends only when a personal interest is met, but Shri Rama meets the supreme interest.” (Dohavali, 52)
hare carahiṃ tāpahiṃ bare phareṃ pasārahiṃ hātha |
tulasī svāratha mīta saba paramāratha raghunātha ||
At first glance bhakti-yoga looks like any other religion. It has its object of worship, namely the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It has its rules and regulations. It has its book of choice. There is also the desperate call to action:
“Be devoted to God in thought, word and deed; lest your precious human life go to waste.”
Despite these similarities, bhakti-yoga is unique in so many areas, especially in philosophy. Here Goswami Tulsidas gives an interesting take on friendship, a viewpoint shared by all authorities in the line.
“This person is my friend.” Who hasn’t said this before? There is the similar set of statements: “Oh, I have a friend who works in such and such industry. They can help you out.” The latter gives some more clarity into the meaning of friendship. A friend is someone whose association we prefer, but the sentiment is only the result. The initial action is that the friend does something to meet our personal interest.
But is that a valid basis for assessment? I love my parents. Without them, I would be nothing. When I graduated from high school, I was so happy to see them in the crowd, sitting with the other parents. But those other parents are special too. Maybe not specifically to me, but to someone, and that someone is a human being struggling through the same material existence I am currently living in. Therefore why should only my parents be special?
śrī-prahrāda uvācaparaḥ svaś cety asad-grāhaḥpuṁsāṁ yan-māyayā kṛtaḥvimohita-dhiyāṁ dṛṣṭastasmai bhagavate namaḥ
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose external energy has created the distinctions of ‘my friend’ and ‘my enemy’ by deluding the intelligence of men. Indeed, I am now actually experiencing this, although I have previously heard of it from authoritative sources.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.11)
Why should some people be my friends and others not? Surely others are not always good to me. Some are mean. Some are cheaters. Some are thieves. Some wouldn’t help me out even if their lives depended on it. Does this mean that they are different constitutionally? Also, what happens if my friend suddenly stops meeting my interests? Are they no longer my friend? Shouldn’t there be gratitude for what they’ve done for me?
In the material consciousness, there is only exploitation. The material consciousness is rooted in ignorance, in the fact that my body identifies me:
“Beyond this life there is nothing. If there happens to be something, I have no idea what it is. Therefore let me enjoy as much as possible right now. I will surround myself with those who meet my interests, which are always changing. As my body changes, my desires follow suit. For those new desires, I will look for new friends.”
In Sanskrit self-interest is known as svartha. There is a higher interest, though. It is known as paramartha. Here Goswami Tulsidas says that paramartha is only met by God. Svartha constantly changes and is rooted in exploitation. He gives nice examples to show how this works.
When the grass is green, animals graze on it. The grass can’t do anything here. It is simply going through its life cycle. When it is mature, it is ripe to be eaten by animals. When the same grass dries up and becomes old, it is used as fuel for fire. When plant life bears fruits, people pick at it with an open hand. As long as there is some interest being served by the plant life, there are friends willing to provide protection and attention.
The same situation is there in the office where employees meet. As long as each person serves an interest in the company’s turning a profit, people will congregate. There will be a salary paid. As soon as the employee ceases to meet the interests of the establishment, the relationship breaks.
These are the ways of the world, and nothing can be done to alter them. The wise person realizes that supreme interest is more important. This is only met by Shri Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in an incarnation form. The supreme interest comes in the afterlife. The afterlife is merely the future, so supreme interest is giving something that will arrive at some point that will become the present. So it is more accurate to say that paramartha is a higher interest, that which is beyond the material body.
Rama will never leave you. He will remember even a simple act of kindness done for Him. When you are old and cease to be useful to anyone, where not a friend is in sight, Rama will still look at you as special. He will bring you to a situation where your devotion to Him can continue to flourish. He does not look to exploit you, since He does not need anything. He does not have His hand out, waiting for you to give Him something. He gladly accepts any offering made, for sure, but this does not mean that He insists on worship.
patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁyo me bhaktyā prayacchatitad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtamaśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
Rama is so kind that He allows worship of Him through His other forms also, including the original of Shri Krishna. He is beyond the distinctions between matter and spirit; He is the real thing. Devotion to Him is the actual meaning to living, and it turns the person practicing it into a genuine friend to all. That person always has something to offer, so even those focused only on svartha are benefitted.
A person as a friend to see,
When meeting an interest for me.
Like grazing on the field when it’s green,
And for picking crops open hands seen.
But is this how worthiness should be made,
Do not all through material ocean wade?
At His interest, Shri Rama not to care,
Real friend to all, of your supreme interest aware.