“Anyone who loves Sita and Rama more than himself, Tulsi would gladly use the skin from his own body to make their shoes.” (Dohavali, 59)
āpu āpane teṁ adhika jehi priya sītārāma |
tehi ke paga kī pānahī tulasī tanu ko cāma ||
Anyone aspiring to advance in a particular field sees that there are already people at the top. The successful provide an example for those wishing to reach the same height. There is valuable insight to be gained from such people, and therefore it is not surprising to see meetings between higher and lower. The concept of “kissing the ring” is paying respect to a higher personality in order to get their blessings. In the realm of bhakti literature, no one is higher than Goswami Tulsidas. And through this verse from the Dohavali he reveals that he is willing to become someone’s servant if they surpass him in the respective field.
Bhakti is love and devotion. It is superior to jnana, vairagya, dhyana, ashtanga and other kinds of transcendentalism coming from the Vedic tradition, the oldest in the world. Bhakti is often paired with the term yoga; the love and devotion are meant to be used in connecting with the Divine. The Divine is already all around us. Everything rests upon Him, like pearls strung on a thread. His influence is woven through the universe, in both the large and the small.
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva“O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)
Vairagya is renunciation. It is a means for achieving the end of devotion to God. Dhyana is concentration and ashtanga is the eight-fold system of mysticism commonly known today by the term “yoga.” Bhakti is always superior to the means because the means doesn’t necessarily bring the proper understanding. The Bhagavad-gita, the most famous Vedic text and the one cited as authority by anyone who knows the spirit soul in truth, says that the most confidential knowledge is the truth that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The person who knows this knows everything needed to be known.
iti guhyatamaṁ śāstram
idam uktaṁ mayānagha
etad buddhvā buddhimān syāt
kṛta-kṛtyaś ca bhārata
“This is the most confidential part of the Vedic scriptures, O sinless one, and it is disclosed now by Me. Whoever understands this will become wise, and his endeavors will know perfection.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.20)
This makes sense if we think about it. Karma is fruitive action. Action that brings results, either good or bad - that is karma. Our past karma determined our present circumstances. The travel through time, with the changing of bodies, takes place for the spirit soul, which is thus the identifying factor at the individual level. The exact manner in which the transport to the next body takes place is determined by the consciousness at the time of death. The reason the knowledge of Krishna is the most important is because consciousness of Him brings the best destination in the afterlife.
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
Renunciation doesn’t automatically bring this consciousness. I can be totally detached from the world, living in a remote cave and barely eating anything. I can be free of the demands of sex life in marriage, of society’s desire for my financial advancement, of the pressures to run a large state. But in the mind I still might have desires.
Similarly, I could be the wisest person, who knows how to solve complex math equations, who can figure out a way to cheat anyone with persuasive words. But none of these things will matter at the time of death. It is the consciousness which counts. You can be totally wrong about everything. You could have aligned yourself with the wrong political party your whole life. You could have thought incorrectly about good people through honest mistakes. Still, if you are conscious of Krishna, the Supreme Lord, and ready to serve Him in thought, word and deed, you have succeeded in life.
For such a person, Goswami Tulsidas is ready to give up his skin to be used as shoes. Those shoes would then adorn that person, who is a devotee of Sita and Rama. Krishna is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He expands into Shri Ramachandra, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. Ramachandra’s eternal consort is Sita Devi, and this is the couple that Tulsidas worships.
That worship is so pure that Tulsidas only seeks the pleasure of Sita and Rama. When he sees someone else worshiping them in the same way, he thinks that person is superior to him. This is the poet’s genuine humility. Rather than ask anyone to kiss his ring, he is willing to become their shoes. He is ready to serve them. Indeed, his beautiful works of literature are service to all of mankind, showing to them the knowledge, renunciation and self-control to help bring them to the bhakti platform, which is the height of an existence.
Since in his works God’s glories to sing,
Tulsi of high stature, benefit to kiss his ring.
But when others in same devotion seeing,
Ready to make their shoes from his skin freeing.
Part of his humility real,
Sita and Rama not for only one to steal.
Let all in bliss of devotion spend,
All paths meant in bhakti to end.