“Like the world is an enemy to the fish when it leaves the water, just think, O Tulsi, what your destination will be if you are without Rama.” (Dohavali, 56)
jyoṃ jaga bairī mīna ko āpu sahita binu bāri |
tayo tulasī raghubīra binu gati āpanī bicāri ||
Upon maturing in intelligence, we come to a truth that is bitter, harsh, and impossible to reverse: we are going to die. This happens to everyone. No matter how strong they look now, no matter how much they have already survived, no matter how much future planning they’ve done, they will one day be forced to leave their body. One of the consequences of coming upon this truth is the realization that this world must be full of danger at every step. Goswami Tulsidas confirms this, likening the experience to what happens to the fish when it leaves the water. The analogy is appropriate because there exists a safe place for the living entity.
Death is guaranteed but its exact time of arrival is unknown. This means that anyone can die at any time. Deducing further we see that danger is everywhere; there is no safe place. If we are sitting quietly at home, thinking that everything is alright, a weather event can suddenly change things. If we’re driving home late at night in the winter, if our car breaks down, we might be in a lot of trouble. We need the car to generate heat; otherwise we will gradually freeze to death.
Disease can strike at any moment. There is mental pain as well. If we get scorned by a close friend, the sting of the betrayal can remain with us for a while. In the Vedas the causes of misery are put into three categories, which are basically sources. Those sources are the body and the mind, other living entities, and the forces of nature. These miseries are the immediate cause of death as well, though in fact the actual cause is time. In Sanskrit the word for time is synonymous with death: kala.
If this world is so dangerous, is there some place that is not? Is there a place where time does not operate?
A safe place does exist and it is described in the Bhagavad-gita. The person who actually understands time does so in terms of the day and night of Lord Brahma. That day and night is billions of our years in terms of the rising and setting of the sun. The universe gets destroyed after one hundred of Brahma’s years, but there is a place that neither gets created nor annihilated. In that place time has no influence.
paras tasmāt tu bhāvo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati
“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.20)
Yet this does not mean that one cannot find shelter while residing in the land where time does have an influence. The way to get that shelter is the same as for reaching the higher land that is never annihilated. Goswami Tulsidas explains in this verse from the Dohavali, where he is kindly speaking to himself, while in the process giving priceless advice to all the living entities struggling in the world.
He acknowledges that the world is dangerous. He compares the experience to how the fish feels when it is taken out of water. For starters, the fish cannot survive outside the water. Its body simply won’t allow for it. Secondly, it is only out of the water for one reason: to die. It gets tricked into biting at bait, which is a trap dropped by the fisherman. Taking the bait here is equivalent to taking poison.
If the whole world is an enemy to the fish, then it must have something that is friendly. That place is the water, which Tulsidas likens to devotion to Raghuvira, who is also known as Rama. Raghuvira is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the same individual who lives in that imperishable land mentioned previously. Not only does time lack influence in Raghuvira’s home, but it has no influence on Him, either.
Devotion to Rama is an extension of Him, and so time is similarly impotent against the work of the devotee. Tulsidas reminds himself of this because it requires remembering. In this dangerous world there is the bait of the fisherman all around us. The fish only sees it in the water, but we see it everywhere. The most alluring traps are meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.
The name Raghuvira means “the hero of the Raghu dynasty.” The name is intentionally used here because Rama heroically stands by the devoted soul. If they take up devotion to Him, they have no reason to fear. If they voluntarily leave His company, however, there is no telling what their future holds.
Where will they end up? There are millions of species. These are nothing more than different kinds of bodies. Think of it like walking into the largest closet in the universe, where you can try on so many different outfits. Not all clothes are the same. Some feature greater speed. Some feature an extended duration of life. Some allow for living in the water and some for flying in the air. Only the human set of clothes, however, gives facility for understanding God.
If you understand Him, you can take up devotion to Him. With devotion, you can find real safety, protection against the undefeated force known as time. With the analogy to the fish and the water, we have a better understanding of both God and devotion to Him. The wise don’t take chances with the future; they happily accept the shelter that is devotion to Raghuvira, who always seeks what is best for them.
Towards the bait in water to come,
Taken away, by this the fish undone.
World for living beings similarly a dangerous place,
Threefold miseries to attack even in safest space.
Changes effected through force as time known,
But no influence on Lord’s abode His own.
Same protection for the devotees there,
Safety from Raghuvira’s attention and care.