“When your personal and supreme interests can be easily obtained from one place, it is not sensible for you in weakness to beg at the doors of others, O Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 54)
svāratha paramāratha sakala sulabha eka hī ora |
dvāra dūsare dīnatā ucita na tulasī tora ||
To someone not familiar with the traditions of the Vedas the spiritual institution known as sannyasa might seem a little strange. At the most advanced stage in life, when there is maturity through both accepted knowledge and practical experience, a person abandons everything. They renounce wife, family, home and job. Instead of working for the food they eat, they beg from door to door. In this verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas confirms that any person, including the sannyasi, can have their personal and supreme interests met by approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They have no need to beg from the doors of others.
Going door to door like this is apparently done in weakness. The sannyasi has no other means of survival. They are a beggar by occupation, one which they take up voluntarily. Why would anyone do this? Isn’t it demeaning? Especially someone who has a choice, why intentionally head towards destitution?
In the material world, there is duality in everything. One day we hear that coffee is bad for us and the next a story comes out saying that it is indeed healthy, when consumed in moderation. Yesterday we heard that saturated fat leads to early death, and today a study says that saturated fat is not so harmful. In this way, anything we see that is good also has some bad aspects. The same goes for things which we consider bad; they have some benefits too.
As there is free will in the material world, anything good can be used incorrectly. We need a knife to cut vegetables. If an intruder should enter the home, the knife can be used as protection. Yet that same knife can be used incorrectly. That very intruder can use the knife as their weapon to commit their crime. The knife can also accidentally cut our skin in the kitchen.
Based on duality, there is potential for the sannyasa institution being used improperly. A person who wants to live off the mercy of others can accept the garb of an ascetic and go door to door. This is getting their svartha, or personal interest, met. The person who has no other recourse for food can tread the same path.
Goswami Tulsidas explains that the bona fide sannyasi is not a beggar at all. This is because they have surrendered fully to the Supreme Lord. They have let go all attachments. Vairagya, or renunciation, is a spirit more than a show. True renunciation is known to the individual from within, but the exhibition of it lessens the risk of attachments remaining. In the advanced stage of life to renounce everything is to leave more time for complete focus on God. Consciousness of Him is the purpose to the existence anyway.
Begging takes care of personal interest, but paramartha is not met. The two interests are really the same; it’s just that their arrival is staggered. The time factor creates the dichotomy. Svartha is interest that we see in this life and paramartha is for the afterlife. As the soul exists eternally, throughout the time continuum, the future eventually turns into the present. Thus paramartha eventually turns into svartha.
Both interests are met through devotion to God. That devotion is the eternal occupation for the spirit soul, which lives eternally to be blissful in knowledge. That knowledge is of the simultaneous oneness and difference between individual spirit and supreme spirit. In knowledge of the Supreme Lord’s all-attractiveness, the individual spirit can take up service and stick with it. This service meets the paramartha of the individual, and since the service is eternal, svartha is met at every step as well.
So why the need for sannyasa? Goswami Tulsidas speaks to himself in this verse, since he was a sannyasi in adulthood. He begged from door to door. He apparently did so in weakness, but that was not the case. The sannyasi in this situation is actually not begging. They are spreading the mercy of the Divine to those who are less fortunate. To be consumed by thoughts of making money and protecting possessions is not very auspicious. The soul is meant to be happy, and without peace there cannot be happiness.
nāsti buddhir ayuktasya
na cāyuktasya bhāvanā
na cābhāvayataḥ śāntir
aśāntasya kutaḥ sukham
“One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66)
If there is constant worry over how the bills will be paid, how can there be peace? The sannyasi mercifully goes from door to door to give the message that the valuable human life is meant to be spent in consciousness of the Supreme Lord, who is a person with distinguishable attributes. God is an individual, but unlike other individuals His influence is spread everywhere. He appears to be divided, but He remains one; such is His greatness.
Under the pretense of begging, the sannyasi travels from home to home. The householder donating to the sannyasi’s cause is greatly benefitted. Instead of having to search out a remote area where a wise person may have taken up residence, they get the highest wisdom arriving right at their doorstep. In the guise of a professional wanderer, the sannyasi sacrifices everything so that others also learn the secret that svartha and paramartha are both met in service to the lotus feet of Bhagavan.
Though appearing as destitute so,
Sannyasi as beggar not to go.
Without attachments living,
So that highest knowledge giving.
Svartha and paramartha the same,
Just through time with different name.
With ways of devotion the wanderer versed,
Knows that God the one to approach first.