“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||
This verse from the Dohavali appears to present a contradiction. Lord Vishnu’s devotees are famous to the world, thanks to the estimable and voluminous Vedic literature. Hanuman, Prahlada, Janaka, Bhishma, Brahma, and Yamaraja are some of the more notable personalities who practice pure devotion to God. They are known as mahajanas, or great people. Lord Shiva, who is also known as Shankara, is included in the list of mahajanas. He has his own devotees, many of whom are infamous instead of famous. If Vishnu’s devotees are mahajanas and Shankara’s not always, how can the worship of the two be put on the same level?
Goswami Tulsidas gives the answer. In the verse quoted above he mentions abandoning Hari and Shankara for worship of lowly spirits and ghosts. He says this move is so bad that the end result is a lowering of reputation to the point that it is like taking birth as the son of a prostitute. The prostitute may be innocent. She may have fallen into the lowly profession out of necessity. The son is also not to blame in that instance, but the fact remains that the reputation takes a hit.
Why not mention Hari alone? Hari is another name for Vishnu, who is the personal form of God. When we speak of God’s grace, His mercy, His kindness, His benevolence, His watchful eye, we imply a person. An abstract cannot do such things. An idea can’t have attributes. Though He is nirguna, Vishnu still has distinguishable features. This makes Him simultaneously saguna, or with attributes. Those features are on display in the personal form of Vishnu and also in the non-different expansions like Krishna, Rama and Narasimha.
Lord Shiva is in a unique position. He is not identical to Vishnu, but he is one with the Lord through devotion. One side does the worshiping and the other side accepts the worship. Lord Shiva is considered the greatest worshiper of Vishnu, with his form of choice being Lord Rama. Tulsidas has the same preference, making Shankara very dear to him.
Lord Shiva also carries out various functions in the material world. His most notable role is as destroyer. When the cosmic manifestation’s time has come to an end, Shiva destroys. Lord Brahma then creates, and Lord Vishnu maintains throughout. Vishnu maintains everything and everyone; therefore He stands above as the highest god.
Lord Shiva is also known as Ashutosha, which means “easily pleased.” Rather than have his meditation break to maintain attention on those who approach him, Shankara doesn’t require much from his materialistically-minded devotees. He basically gives them what they want very quickly in order to get back to his meditation on the names of Hare and Rama.
When Shiva is worshiped purely, it is akin to worshiping Vishnu in the sense that there is association with a devotee of God. Shiva is also a founder of one of the four primary lineages of the devotional tradition. He is therefore a spiritual master, and worship of the spiritual master eventually brings the association of the Supreme Lord.
Impure worship of Shiva is akin to abandoning him. It is like leaving the shelter of the spiritual master, who is always willing to guide his disciples. Leaving the spiritual master is like leaving Hari, and so the result is the same. In Vedic history there are many examples of bad characters who first worshiped Shiva and then abandoned him. Their devotion was not pure; they wanted something from the great god. Vrikasura got a boon from Shiva and then immediately tried to kill him using that boon. Ravana got tremendous abilities from Shiva and then tried to use those against Rama.
When abandoning devotion to God, the default option is to be devoted to something material. Just like you can leave one job for another, every individual is free to choose where they repose their affection. Even ghosts and spirits are potential candidates for devotion. The wicked-minded go to them to get some ability in black magic, which is then used for evil purposes. This is never good in the end, even though temporary gains may be there.
Worship of Vishnu is so powerful that even ill motives in the beginning become purified. Therefore Vishnu should never be abandoned. Shiva should always be respected as the greatest Vaishnava. This combination of respect and devotion will be pleasing to Tulsidas, whose happiness will in turn please Shri Rama. God’s happiness is our happiness, and so it is no wonder that the devotee automatically achieves the highest reputation.
When God’s happiness to see,
The same in you to be.
Shiva as highest devotee respect,
And worship Vishnu with nothing to expect.
Abandoning for ghosts and spirits with a cost,
Like prostitute’s son reputation to be lost.
Make not the mistake, Tulsi’s words heed,
In Shankara and Hari everything you need.