“Tulsidasji’s hope is to become weak without devotion to Rama and to become strong with devotion to Rama. O Raghuvira, when will you make Tulsi like this, in the way of the fish and the water?” (Dohavali, 57)
tulasīdāsajīkī abhilā।sā rāma prema binu dūbaro rāma premahīṃ pīna |
raghubara kabahu'ka karahuge tulasihi jyoṃ jala mīna ||
At the highest level, bhakti-yoga is practiced entirely for the benefit of someone else. The name “yoga” is there. “Bhakti” is also present, and so the combination automatically implies some type of self-improvement. We do yoga to fix problems with our body and mind. Bhakti is one way to practice yoga, so obviously the system must exist to help the individual who is struggling. The Bhagavad-gita confirms that all living entities are struggling in the material world. The trouble comes from the five senses, with the mind making the sixth.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
The same verse says that the living entities are the eternal fragments of God. This first part is necessary for understanding the second. The struggle is not natural. If we are part and parcel of God, children to Him in a sense, we should not have any trouble. Our father is the supreme controller. Time operates at His direction. The inconceivably vast and complex material nature, which scientists have studied for centuries and still only understood just a small fraction of, is the product of the brain of the Supreme Lord; thus making Him the smartest person in the world.
The survival instinct finds ways to avoid misery in this material existence. Yet without knowledge of the relationship to God, there is no such chance for permanent success. Even if physically there are no threats at the present moment, the mind is always there to give trouble. The two aspects causing this trouble are hankering and lamenting. One second we want something. If we don’t have it, we lament. If we are still unhappy after getting it, we start to hanker after something else. The cycle thus continues.
Bhakti-yoga helps to bring an end to the struggle. It is a way of linking the individual with the Supreme. The means is love and devotion. The other means are mental speculation, meditation and breathing, and work done with detachment. In comparison, love and devotion stand out. This is because they can include any of the other methods. You can be working and still be in devotion. Think of the mother who tirelessly looks after the family affairs out of love. She is constantly engaged in work, but she is not attached.
You can similarly be working your brain and be devoted. The Supreme Lord is described as adhokshaja and amita. The first means that His qualities cannot be measured by any blunt instruments. If you put Him on a scale, you won’t get an accurate reading of His weight. There is no way to measure infinity. God can become lighter than the lightest and heavier than the heaviest whenever He chooses. Amita means that His features are inexhaustible. Time and space alone prove this. No one knows the beginning of time or when it will end. The same goes for space.
You can surely meditate and be in devotion. Think of the famous prince named Bharata, the son of Queen Kaikeyi. He spent fourteen years living in a tiny hut, meditating on a pair of sandals the entire time. This was not done out of weakness. He was not down on life with nowhere else to turn. He was the ruling king at the time, but he did not like how that ascension took place. So at the consent of the object of meditation, he took to the renounced life.
Those sandals belonged to Shri Rama, who is addressed in this doha from Goswami Tulsidas. Rama is Bharata’s elder brother, the rightful heir to the throne in Ayodhya during the time of King Dasharatha. Tulsidas makes a request. That is quite natural to do, as the Supreme Lord can fulfill any desire. Does Tulsidas ask for money? Does he ask for dedication to friends and family? Does he want to be a good citizen?
He asks to be like the fish with the water. Tulsidas wants it so that when he has love for Rama he becomes stronger. And when he doesn’t have this love, he becomes weaker. This is not a typical request. The word used is “abhilasa,” which means an ambition or aspiration. Tulsidas knows how difficult it is to reach the position mentioned. The person situated there is in pure devotion. They have no other desires.
This ambition is not for increasing the fame of Tulsidas. The situation is desired because it is most pleasing to Rama. To say that we love someone is to give them a nice compliment. To say that we would die without their association is nicer. The height is to say that without their association we would be like the fish outside of the water. Shri Lakshmana, another younger brother of Rama’s, voiced this sentiment during Rama’s time.
“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
In essence, we could say that Tulsidas hopes to reach a situation that would pay the highest honor to the Supreme Lord Rama. In his humility he does not realize that the desire has already been fulfilled. Bhakti-yoga is unique in that the desire itself will bring success. The same is not true in jnana, yoga, or karma. No one will mistake the life of the poet for anything besides love and devotion to Rama. And so in true selflessness, the person in pure bhakti-yoga always gets what they want: increased honor for their beloved.
With unflinching devotion not to cease,
Actually honor of Supreme Lord to increase.
Tulsi not wanting for personal gain,
Bhakti to please God of Rama the name.
Like comfort of fish in safe water growing,
And going outside impending death sowing.
Tulsidas this situation already accepted,
By his words Rama’s fame further projected.