“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 ||
It seems paradoxical. In bhakti-yoga, the more elevated you become, the less elevated you think you are. And the sentiment is genuine. It is not merely a façade, whereby one intentionally becomes more humble only because they want to become more dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the savior of the surrendered souls. The sentiment is not anything like making a show of humility with the underlying intent of wanting attention.
The rise in humility is only natural; it is the byproduct of knowledge. The ignorant person thinks their body is everything and that all the success they see is due to their own efforts. Surely, doing the work is what makes the result happen. Shri Lakshmana confirms this. He once counseled his elder brother Rama when Rama was in a moment of despair. Lakshmana said that the good and bad results to action can only occur when there is actually some action taking place.
“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
If I want to get to work in the morning, I have to first get up from bed. In this sense, the successful result of reaching the office is due to my efforts. However, the outcome is not certain. Just because I arise, it doesn’t mean that I will automatically be able to reach my desired destination safely. Just because the same action led to the same result hundreds of times previously, it doesn’t mean that it is guaranteed to happen again.
The person who is a little more intelligent understands that other factors have to cooperate. There are three sources of misery in this world. The mind and body can give us pain. Other people and animals can do us harm. Then there are the acts of God. I may be in perfect physical and mental health and there may be no one around to harm me, but a sudden winter storm can wreak havoc on my morning commute. On days when I am able to successfully reach the office on time, the three sources of misery have kindly cooperated with me.
The person with the most intelligence understands that there is a cause of all causes. In the Brahma-samhita, the term used is sarva-karana-karanam. We don’t know what good or bad things will happen as a result of work. I don’t know if shoveling the snow outside will clear up the driveway or cause a muscle spasm in my back. There is a chance for either or both, but the result won’t happen unless I make the effort first.
In the same way, the infinite number of results we see in this manifest world are due to the initial work of the Supreme Being. He is everything. He glances over the dull and lifeless material substance and thereby instigates the creation. Time operates on this dull matter, which is invigorated by the injection of spirit. The combination of individual spirit and gross matter does some work that has results. This work is known as karma, and the results are effected through time.
The wise person understands all of this, and they naturally become humbler as a result. An example of that humility comes to us courtesy of Goswami Tulsidas. Here he wishes to have the same love and dependency that the fish has. The object of attachment for the fish is water. The fish cannot live outside of the water. It won’t be able to survive for long. A few moments outside of the natural habitat results in death for the fish.
Tulsidas wants the same for him with respect to love for God. He refers to this as “rama-prema.” Synonymous terms are “prema-bhakti,” “bhakti-yoga,” “krishna-prema,” and “bhakti-rasa.” The idea is to have love for God the person. Not that He is a person like you or me, but He is still a distinct individual. He is not an abstract. He is not some concept conceived in the mind. He is a real thing, a person who gives interactions and has likes and dislikes. He is a person, but a really great one. He is a person that is infallible and inexhaustible.
Tulsidas wants it so that with rama-prema he becomes stronger. And when rama-prema is absent, he wants to become weaker. This is not in relation to material strength and weakness. His personal history is a testament to this. According to legend, in early adulthood Tulsidas was a householder. This means that he had sufficient material wealth to maintain a wife and home.
In later adulthood, he became a sannyasi, which is like a mendicant by profession. He voluntarily took up sannyasa, so as to better focus on devotion to Rama. Thus in the material estimation, the situation was reversed. He seemed to become weaker the more devotion he had. The less time he had for service to the Supreme Lord, the greater his material wealth was.
But in fact, the sannyasi who follows devotion carries the most weight. They are known as the guru, which literally means “heavy.” The sannyasi has the facility to practice devotion fulltime by travelling from door to door. Under the pretense of begging for food, they teach others about devotion to Rama. They tell the preoccupied householders how to become bigger in the spiritual estimation.
Tulsidas already had the situation he wishes for. So this means that he didn’t think he was practicing devotion. The person who authored the most wonderful book in history, the Ramacharitamanasa, considered himself to be very fallen. He didn’t think that he was like the fish, but the mere request to Raghuvira showed that he couldn’t live without the Supreme Lord. The hero of the Raghu dynasty, Shri Rama, the elder brother of Lakshmana, is the life and soul of Tulsidas. The devotees can’t survive without Rama’s association, and in that height of devotional practice they consider themselves to be bereft of all good qualities. Their genuine humility is a true sign of their greatness.
In humility helpless feelings to grow,
When more of Supreme Lord to know.
But like paradoxical situation to see,
Since how less more can be?
Though like the fish and the water already,
Tulsi asking for that situation, devotion steady.
Without Rama hopes for living waning,
And with Him spiritual strength gaining.