“Tulsi says for one who doesn’t naturally love Rama it is useless to shave their head and leave home.” (Dohavali, 63)
tulasī jau pai rāma soṃ nāhina sahaja saneha |
mū'da mu।dāyo bādihīṃ bhā'da bhayo taji geha ||
If the dress were everything in spiritual life, every person would shave their head. If the place of residence guaranteed winning the favor of the Supreme Lord, every person would leave home for the forest. At least those who are sincerely interested in advancing in the spiritual consciousness would follow this line. Though certain factors are more conducive to achieving the fruit of the human birth, real love and devotion are not dependent on anything. When the love flows easily towards the lotus feet of Shri Rama, the worshipable deity of Goswami Tulsidas, then one can live with or without a shaved head, in a palatial building or in a renounced forest.
ya āste manasā smaran
mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate
“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.6)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that a person who renounces everything externally but maintains attachment internally is a pretender. This makes sense. In certain areas, the externals are all that matter. For instance, in weight loss if I eat less, it doesn’t matter what my mind does. The decrease in caloric intake will lead to a decrease in weight.
But here even the mind plays a role in the aftermath. If there is still heavy attachment towards fatty foods, the weight will not stay off permanently; hence the concept of “yoyo dieting.” One day you are watching what you eat, and the next you are not. Therefore your renunciation is not permanent. You still have attachment to that which you’re trying to renounce.
In spiritual life, the symbol of formal acceptance of training under a bona fide spiritual master is the shaved head. Think of it like getting a haircut for entering the military or buying a specific uniform after enrolling in private school. The clean-shaven look is not a requirement for success, but it helps to maintain the culture of renunciation. The less distractions there are, the more time there is for assimilating knowledge of the difference between matter and spirit.
As there is free will in this world, there is the chance for cheating in every area. Just because someone accepts the garb of a spiritualist, it doesn’t mean that they are advanced in the discipline. They could be doing everything with ill intentions. In the Vedas there are many examples of this. One time a king named Pratapabhanu got fooled by the outer dress. He lost his way in the forest and came upon someone who looked like an ascetic. But in fact, this person was an old enemy to the king. Using his false guise to his advantage, this person steered the king in the wrong direction. That mistake ultimately led to the king’s being cursed to take birth as a man-eater in the next life. That Rakshasa’s salvation came when Shri Rama personally killed him.
Goswami Tulsidas shows us how to weed out the pretenders. He says that a person should have spontaneous devotion to Rama. God is one, but He appears in different spiritual forms whenever He so chooses. Since He has the ability to think, choose and will, He cannot be incorporeal. From His effulgence came a spiritual energy that lacks attributes, but the source can never be devoid of qualities.
Krishna is the same Rama, and during His time on earth there was an imposter named Paundraka. He dressed just like Krishna and even sent a challenge to the Lord. In this instance, if a person went simply off of externals, they might mistake the fiend for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Shri Krishna took care of the pretender and his challenge without issue.
The same Pratapabhanu used a false guise in his next birth as Ravana. He pretended to be an ascetic in order to win over the favor of Shri Rama’s wife Sita. She was hospitable towards him at first, but she soon found out his real intentions when he spoke. Ravana wanted to take Sita for himself. Instead of being renounced, he was driven by lust.
In these instances we see that speech gave away the true position of the cheater. Their speech gave an indication of their desires. In pure bhakti, the only desire is to serve the Supreme Lord. This is a difficult platform to reach; therefore the formalities exist to help the process along. The rules themselves are never superior, as Shri Rama Himself can break any of the rules of nature. He does so for the pleasure of His devotees, who can be found in any guise.
Ravana and Paundraka examples two,
With a false guise easily to fool me and you.
From dress as devoted souls to know,
But their speech true intentions to show.
Shaved head and for forest fleeing,
From rituals alone devoted not being.
Judge by whether Lord’s praises to say,
For continued devotion only do they pray?