“Tulsi says that having pure love for Sita and Rama, without thinking of self-interest or supreme interest, is a reward superior to the four rewards of life. That is my opinion.” (Dohavali, 60)
svāratha paramāratha rahita sītā rāma saneha' |
tulasī so phala cāri ko phala hamāra mata eha' ||
If you want to be successful at something, approach someone who has succeeded. The failures will give you many excuses for not trying. They will tell you that the effort is not worth it to begin with. From their own experience, they can only tell you what not to do. The successful have the gift of insight, and if they are kind enough to share it others become fortunate. Here Goswami Tulsidas gives his opinion of what the most valuable reward in life is. Since he lived very happily, he can be considered a successful person; therefore his opinion is worth listening to.
Though he says that this is his opinion, he doesn’t give his view blindly. A child thinks that playing video games is the best way to spend the days. This is in ignorance because they have yet to experience the rest of the world. There is a lot of stuff going on outside of the living room. If they saw everything first and then concluded the same about video games, their opinion would be more meaningful.
Tulsidas mentions the standard rewards. By standard, we refer to covering all bases, from the religious to the non-religious, from the poor to the wealthy, from the man to the woman, and from the child to the adult. Fortunately, the Vedas already group the standard rewards into four categories; further speculation is not required.
The first reward is dharma. This is religiosity or virtue. If you have a small group of people that you want protected, you can form a governing body. These bodies exist on so many levels, from the nation all the way down to the sports league. For the governing body to function properly, there must be virtue. Otherwise, what is the point to making laws? If every person could determine the law for themselves, you would have rampant conflict. There would never be any justice, as every person would consider their self-interest to be paramount. Indeed, this is the major flaw in the democratic style of government. Something openly wrong like stealing can become legal if it gets enough votes.
Virtue is a nice thing to have, and so is artha, which is profit. Artha can also be translated to “economic development.” “It’s difficult for an empty sack to stand upright.” How can you be expected to be virtuous if you’re always in want? You need some type of return on your work; otherwise you won’t work in the first place.
You exchange the profits from your ventures for things to enjoy. This enjoyment is known as kama in Sanskrit. Playing video games, buying a fancy car, tinkering with electronic gadgets, going on dates - these are all forms of sense gratification. If any of these things are taken away, it’s thought that life has been made more miserable.
The final reward is moksha, which is liberation. So you’ve lived virtuously, been successful in your work, and enjoyed objects of the senses. Now you want to make sure you don’t go through the cycle again. You don’t want to take birth again. You’d rather get release from everything. Moksha too brings a kind of enjoyment, something to be enjoyed personally. It’s like freedom for the soul.
Dharma, artha, kama and moksha are the four rewards of life. They are called fruits in Sanskrit, phala. Tulsidas says that another phala is superior. That reward is love for Sita and Rama, who are the energy of God and God respectively. He does not say love for Brahman, which is the impersonal aspect to God. He does not say love for a concept. He mentions specific personalities because real love can only be offered to people.
Tulsidas mentions a condition, however. Accompanying that love must be a lack of desire for svartha and paramartha. This distinction is important because both belong within the standard four rewards. Svartha is an interest that appears in the present life and paramartha in the afterlife. Love is a higher reward because there is no personal interest involved. This reward is very difficult to achieve. As rare as it is to find the four rewards of life in a single person, pure love and devotion to God is even rarer.
But the poet speaks from experience. He gives his opinion not just because someone has told him. And the people who have told him are already of the highest caliber. Their authority alone is enough to believe. But Tulsidas experienced this truth himself. He succeeded in getting the highest reward in life. He knows the secret to it precisely because he has experienced that the four rewards don’t bring any lasting happiness. He knows that attention to svartha and paramartha is not the best use of the valuable human life. Indeed, both merge into one when the individual takes up bhakti-yoga, which is the regulated way to reach the elusive highest reward.
Better than standard rewards four,
In devotion Sita and Rama adore.
Svartha for the right now,
Paramartha in afterlife enjoyment how.
Both of them cast aside,
And in bliss of bhakti reside.
Other than this nothing worth seeking,
Tulsidas from experience speaking.