“Tulsi says that one who abandons Hari and Shankara and worships ghosts and lowly persons becomes defamed in the end, like the son of a prostitute.” (Dohavali, 65)
tulasī parihari hari harahi pām̐vara pūjahiṁ bhūta |
anta phajīhata hohiṅge ganikā ke se pūta ||65||
Material desire means to want some kind of enjoyment separate from God. Bhakti is the opposite, where the desire is to enjoy along with the Supreme Lord. The best enjoyment comes through pleasing Him first. The redounding effects are compared to what happens after watering the roots of a tree. The roots take the nourishment and pass it along to the component parts. Watering the parts does not have the same effect. Therefore the wise saints of the Vedic tradition strongly urge against satisfying material desires, as this brings happiness neither to the individual nor to anyone else related.
How do we distinguish bhakti from kama? How do we know that our work is in devotion to God instead of for satisfying lust, which is material desire? In the Vedic tradition there are gods for the different desires. Based on whom you worship, you can tell to which category you belong. The effect of association with the Supreme God is so powerful that even if there is kama in the beginning, the worship is purifying. Goswami Tulsidas says the opposite is true if the Supreme God is abandoned in favor of worship of lower gods, which include ghosts and spirits.
Who is the Supreme God? One name for Him is Hari. This word can have several meanings. It is someone who takes away the distresses of the devotees. The word also means “lion,” which can refer to the Supreme Lord’s incarnation as a half-man/half-lion known as Narasimhadeva. Another name for this form is Narahari. The divine name of Hari addresses Vishnu, who is God in a personality. Since He has distinguishable and definable features, Vishnu is beyond the vague concept of the Supreme Deity that most have. He is the source of the impersonal energy known as Brahman.
In the verse quoted above Goswami Tulsidas also references Hara, which is a name for Lord Shiva. Shiva and Vishnu are one in the same way that yogurt and milk are of the same substance. Yogurt comes from milk, but at the same time it is not equal to it. You can’t offer someone yogurt and try to pass it off as milk. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna, who is another manifestation of the same Vishnu, explains what happens with the worship of the different gods.
yānti deva-vratā devān
pitṝn yānti pitṛ-vratāḥ
bhūtāni yānti bhūtejyā
yānti mad-yājino 'pi mām
“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.25)
The idea is that you go to whomever you worship. If you worship Vishnu, you go to Him. His association means enjoying the bliss of surrender in devotion. Vishnu gives interactions in different moods, depending on the desire of the devotee. Similarly, if you worship Shiva purely you go to him. Shiva worships Vishnu constantly in his form of Rama, which is the worshipable form of choice for Tulsidas as well. Therefore going to Shiva means being in the association of a great devotee.
The person who abandons Vishnu and Shiva in favor of ghosts and spirits does not benefit themselves in the end. In fact, they end up with a very poor reputation. That is important here since desire for material rewards is the only reason to abandon Vishnu and Shiva. Fame is an opulence in the material world and it is an important aspect to reputation. The person who worships the ghosts and spirits becomes defamed, like the son of a prostitute.
It’s not fair in this situation, as the son hasn’t done anything wrong. They get dishonor attached to them due to the circumstances of their birth. Nevertheless, the stigma will be there. If they had the choice, hardly anyone would want to be born as the son of an illicit sexual affair. Worshiping ghosts and spirits brings infamy eventually in the same way, defeating the purpose of seeking material desires.
It should be noted that abandonment is stipulated. A person can worship Shiva with material desires and have those desires fulfilled. If they abandon Shiva afterwards, it means they are headed for the same fate. In Vedic literature there are many examples of Shiva worshipers who turned to the dark side after getting what they wanted. The same is not true of worship of Vishnu. Since He is the supreme deity, Vishnu looks out for the welfare of His devotees, whether they like it or not. Therefore abandoning Him is much more difficult; and whatever progress was made in purification remains.
The safest bet is to worship Vishnu or a Vishnu-devotee. Abandoning either leads to negative consequences in the end, as material desire can never be fully satisfied. It is the cause of rebirth in the ocean of suffering. This cycle, known as the samsara-chakra, continues until one is fortunate enough to return to the safety of devotion to the beautiful lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.
Instead of on Shiva and Vishnu to rely,
Towards ghosts and spirits turning the eye.
By material desire consumed the mind,
When to eternal benefit is blind.
Not to stay long even if gained,
Like prostitute’s son to be defamed.
Shiva the devotee, Rama his Lord so,
Towards that path with confidence go.