Saturday, February 28, 2015

Who Is Really A Friend

[Rama's lotus feet]“When plant life is green, there is grazing. When it becomes old, it turns into fuel for fire. When it grows and bears fruits, people grab at it with an open hand. Tulsi says that all are friends only when a personal interest is met, but Shri Rama meets the supreme interest.” (Dohavali, 52)

hare carahiṃ tāpahiṃ bare phareṃ pasārahiṃ hātha |
tulasī svāratha mīta saba paramāratha raghunātha ||

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At first glance bhakti-yoga looks like any other religion. It has its object of worship, namely the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It has its rules and regulations. It has its book of choice. There is also the desperate call to action:

“Be devoted to God in thought, word and deed; lest your precious human life go to waste.”

Despite these similarities, bhakti-yoga is unique in so many areas, especially in philosophy. Here Goswami Tulsidas gives an interesting take on friendship, a viewpoint shared by all authorities in the line.

“This person is my friend.” Who hasn’t said this before? There is the similar set of statements: “Oh, I have a friend who works in such and such industry. They can help you out.” The latter gives some more clarity into the meaning of friendship. A friend is someone whose association we prefer, but the sentiment is only the result. The initial action is that the friend does something to meet our personal interest.

But is that a valid basis for assessment? I love my parents. Without them, I would be nothing. When I graduated from high school, I was so happy to see them in the crowd, sitting with the other parents. But those other parents are special too. Maybe not specifically to me, but to someone, and that someone is a human being struggling through the same material existence I am currently living in. Therefore why should only my parents be special?

śrī-prahrāda uvāca
paraḥ svaś cety asad-grāhaḥ
puṁsāṁ yan-māyayā kṛtaḥ
vimohita-dhiyāṁ dṛṣṭas
tasmai bhagavate namaḥ

“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose external energy has created the distinctions of ‘my friend’ and ‘my enemy’ by deluding the intelligence of men. Indeed, I am now actually experiencing this, although I have previously heard of it from authoritative sources.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.11)

[Prahlada Maharaja]Why should some people be my friends and others not? Surely others are not always good to me. Some are mean. Some are cheaters. Some are thieves. Some wouldn’t help me out even if their lives depended on it. Does this mean that they are different constitutionally? Also, what happens if my friend suddenly stops meeting my interests? Are they no longer my friend? Shouldn’t there be gratitude for what they’ve done for me?

In the material consciousness, there is only exploitation. The material consciousness is rooted in ignorance, in the fact that my body identifies me:

“Beyond this life there is nothing. If there happens to be something, I have no idea what it is. Therefore let me enjoy as much as possible right now. I will surround myself with those who meet my interests, which are always changing. As my body changes, my desires follow suit. For those new desires, I will look for new friends.”

In Sanskrit self-interest is known as svartha. There is a higher interest, though. It is known as paramartha. Here Goswami Tulsidas says that paramartha is only met by God. Svartha constantly changes and is rooted in exploitation. He gives nice examples to show how this works.

When the grass is green, animals graze on it. The grass can’t do anything here. It is simply going through its life cycle. When it is mature, it is ripe to be eaten by animals. When the same grass dries up and becomes old, it is used as fuel for fire. When plant life bears fruits, people pick at it with an open hand. As long as there is some interest being served by the plant life, there are friends willing to provide protection and attention.

[picking apples]The same situation is there in the office where employees meet. As long as each person serves an interest in the company’s turning a profit, people will congregate. There will be a salary paid. As soon as the employee ceases to meet the interests of the establishment, the relationship breaks.

These are the ways of the world, and nothing can be done to alter them. The wise person realizes that supreme interest is more important. This is only met by Shri Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in an incarnation form. The supreme interest comes in the afterlife. The afterlife is merely the future, so supreme interest is giving something that will arrive at some point that will become the present. So it is more accurate to say that paramartha is a higher interest, that which is beyond the material body.

Rama will never leave you. He will remember even a simple act of kindness done for Him. When you are old and cease to be useful to anyone, where not a friend is in sight, Rama will still look at you as special. He will bring you to a situation where your devotion to Him can continue to flourish. He does not look to exploit you, since He does not need anything. He does not have His hand out, waiting for you to give Him something. He gladly accepts any offering made, for sure, but this does not mean that He insists on worship.

patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ
yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam
aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

[Rama's lotus feet]Rama is so kind that He allows worship of Him through His other forms also, including the original of Shri Krishna. He is beyond the distinctions between matter and spirit; He is the real thing. Devotion to Him is the actual meaning to living, and it turns the person practicing it into a genuine friend to all. That person always has something to offer, so even those focused only on svartha are benefitted.

In Closing:

A person as a friend to see,

When meeting an interest for me.


Like grazing on the field when it’s green,

And for picking crops open hands seen.


But is this how worthiness should be made,

Do not all through material ocean wade?


At His interest, Shri Rama not to care,

Real friend to all, of your supreme interest aware.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Taste To Match Intelligence

[Rama's lotus feet]“O mind, everything of this world is tasteless and in Rama there is full sweetness. Tulsi gives this advice to you day and night.” (Dohavali, 51)

re mana saba soṃ nirasa hai sarasa rāma soṃ hohi |
bhalo sikhāvana deta hai nisi dina tulasī tohi ||

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In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Prahlada Maharaja likens a material existence to chewing things that have already been chewed. The taste is there in the first chewing, and then after that there is nothing left. The juice is gone, but in ignorance the conditioned soul tries again to extract the same taste. In fact, the experience wasn’t that great the first time around, but without knowledge of anything better, what is a person left to do? There is actually a higher taste, and Goswami Tulsidas says it comes in the form of the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Tulsidas confirms the sentiment of Prahlada Maharaja. Any person who has found the peerless occupation that is devotional service feels the same way. They experienced the life devoid of devotion already. That was their previous life. They tried different aspects of bhukti, mukti and siddhi, which are enjoyment, renunciation and mystic perfection respectively. They rightfully concluded that these things were lacking in taste. It was the same old thing, just done on different days.

śrī-prahrāda uvāca
matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām

“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)

[Prahlada Maharaja]The nature of the playing field is the cause of the lack of taste. In an existence exclusively devoted to material sense gratification, there isn’t enough that can be done to find full satisfaction. We can think of it like the response to regularly taking a specific drug. After enough time, the effectiveness diminishes. The stimulation from a cup of coffee is strong for a person drinking it for the first time. Yet another person can drink the same cup and not feel much, as they are accustomed to consuming caffeine on a regular basis.

The senses become desensitized to more and more sense gratification. Renunciation is then the typical response, but that doesn’t bring lasting happiness either. If the car alarm outside stopped blaring, that would make you happy for a little bit. But then you need something to do after that. After a while, you won’t even remember that the alarm was a problem. Renunciation is not complete happiness; it is simply an aversion to things that have become tasteless.

“But what if someone doesn’t feel this way yet? Yes, the wise person understands that spirit is the essence of all living things. Spirit is what lasts beyond the temporary matter. But why spoil the fun for everyone? Aren’t they better off not knowing about the spiritual nature? If they are happy in sense gratification, just leave them alone. It seems like the more knowledgeable you become, the more you find things in life to be tasteless.”

[Sesame Street]These are sound objections, as what purpose is served by giving people a jaded outlook on life? The idea is that with intelligence comes a higher taste. We know that certain television programming appeals to children. We know that children prefer to play with toys. We also know that one day they will grow out of the phase. As adults they will find something else appealing. And just because the children are happy it doesn’t mean that their activities are more important than what adults do to find happiness.

In the same way, the spiritual activities of service to the Divine are more important and bring a higher taste. If someone is in ignorance, it doesn’t mean that their preferred activities somehow become more worthwhile than that which is done by people with intelligence.

Goswami Tulsidas and Prahlada Maharaja don’t aim to ruin anyone’s fun. As wise souls, they see into the future. They know that eventually everyone will wise up, that they will see that the temporary is not worth dying over. The temporary objects and temporary relationships will eventually leave the individual back in the same position. It is like going around in a circle, which isn’t a wise utilization of time.

Devotional service is worthwhile even for the less intelligent, since it accurately predicts the future mindset. The parents know that the child will appreciate their education when they are older. They may not know what is good for them now, but eventually they will realize it. Similarly, the knowledge that the higher taste is in devotion to the Supreme Lord is always worth having.

[Rama's lotus feet]Better still if the individual acts upon the wise counsel after receiving it. Tulsidas gives this advice to the mind on a daily basis, as it is difficult to remember. We somehow think that one more spin of the wheel of material existence will yield a different result, when it actually won’t. Rama is the deity of choice for Tulsidas, but Rama is the same Vishnu worshiped by Prahlada Maharaja. Rama is the same Krishna who delivers spotless words of advice to the warrior Arjuna. Rama is the detail behind the abstract image of God.

God the person can be served, which is what bhakti-yoga facilitates. Service to Rama is with taste, or sarasa. He is the core of this universe, the vital force of everything. He is the life of the living, and so it would make sense that He is the taste of all tastes. That which is tasteless is His external energy, and so the wise avoid it. They know this fact in their minds and they kindly try to instill the same lesson to others.

In Closing:

Children with toys playing and on candy feeding,

Adults to office going and latest books reading.


Though youths happiness finding in this way,

That superior their path no wise person to say.


So knowledge of this world take without fear,

Tasteless material existence, everything to us dear.


The Supreme Lord and service to Him accept,

And the highest taste for your intelligence expect.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Like A Movie That’s Already Over

[Rama's lotus feet]“O mind, everything of this world is tasteless and in Rama there is full sweetness. Tulsi gives this advice to you day and night.” (Dohavali, 51)

re mana saba soṃ nirasa hai sarasa rāma soṃ hohi |
bhalo sikhāvana deta hai nisi dina tulasī tohi ||

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In Vedic philosophy the material existence is likened to a dream. We have no control over what happens during the dreaming state. It occurs during a period of rest, where the subtle body consisting of mind, intelligence and ego become the shelter for the soul. The escape from the gross senses is so strong that an alarm may not even be loud enough to break the sleeping state.

[dreaming]Within a dream so many things happen. The scene seems real and the emotions surely are. The latter we know because when we wake up our heart can be pounding. We can be emotionally affected by the dream throughout the day. Yet the objects and settings vanish upon waking up. It is then realized that the objects only existed temporarily. They weren’t real.

“How is this an accurate comparison to the material existence? Isn’t the dream part of that existence? If I can make a distinction between sleeping and being awake, doesn’t it mean that I exist? If the whole thing is a dream, what is the opposite state? What is real if everything is an illusion?”

The comparison to the dream is used because matter is temporary in its manifestation. Matter is dull and lifeless. These descriptions have meaning only when there is something that is vibrant and full of life. The presence of the shadow means that light must be somewhere. The dreaming means there is a state of full alertness also. In the same way, when there is something that is inanimate, there must be something that animates it.

That animating force is the spirit soul. We learn of its qualities in the Bhagavad-gita, which summarizes Vedanta philosophy. The soul is full of life, blissful and knowledgeable. It can never be destroyed. There is no such thing as dreaming for the soul, since it never goes dormant.

acchedyo 'yam adāhyo 'yam
akledyo 'śoṣya eva ca
nityaḥ sarva-gataḥ sthāṇur
acalo 'yaṁ sanātanaḥ

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)

Then what is the sleeping state? It describes a difference in condition for the material body only. The soul is alive throughout. Moreover, the comparison to the dream helps to give the conditioned soul information on how to reclaim its constitutional position. The soul is always an animating force, but depending on where it ends up it could have its properties covered. A person may be very strong in real life, but in the dream they could get overpowered by something much weaker. The dream means that the change in situation is not permanent, and in the same way the soul may find itself in different material bodies, but it is not affected.

anāditvān nirguṇatvāt
paramātmāyam avyayaḥ
śarīra-stho 'pi kaunteya
na karoti na lipyate

“Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.32)

[movies]Since matter is temporary in its manifestation, there are many ways to compare the material existence. We can use the example of a movie. Let’s say that we are watching one. We may be in the middle of it; a fact we know based on the allotted time given. Though we are at some point in the timeline, the movie is actually over. It has ended already. We simply haven’t reached that point in our viewing experience yet. The movie was shot previously, and it has its final destination set. There is nothing we can do to change it.

In the same way, our life is already over. In fact, everything we see around us is destroyed. It has vanished into thin air. That giant building we see in the horizon has crumbled to the ground. The torrential downpour outside has moved on and left sunlight in its wake. The snow remaining from yesterday’s blizzard has melted away. All of our possessions are gone and we have moved on to another body.

dehino 'smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
tathā dehāntara-prāptir
dhīras tatra na muhyati

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)

[the changing body]A wise person doesn’t put too much value in something that will not remain for long. In fact, if I know that something won’t be important to me in the distant future, I might not keep it with me. Goswami Tulsidas says that everything of this world is devoid of taste, nirasa. This word can also mean “detachment.” In this verse from the Dohavali the poet gives advice to the mind, saying that everything of this world is tasteless. We should not have attachment to things that are temporary.

On the flip side, Tulsidas says there is full taste in Shri Rama. As sarasa is the opposite of nirasa, this word can also mean “to have attachment.” The poet gives this advice to the mind day and night. Repetition is necessary to get a point across. As this material existence is like a dream or a movie that has already finished, it is not surprising that we are victims of forgetfulness. We hear that matter is temporary, but we soon forget, as our mind moves on to thinking about something else.

Rama is full of sweetness, as He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He will remain with us in the future. This is the law that He has created. He travels with every creature through His expansion of the Supersoul. The Supersoul rests within the heart of every living entity, regardless of whether they are awake or dreaming. Whether they believe in Him or not, Shri Rama accompanies them wherever they go.

[Rama's lotus feet]Attachment to Rama means finding happiness that transcends birth and death. Since He appears to us in this dreamlike existence, He is the only reality. He is the cause of the creation, and He annihilates it as well. He can permanently remove our ignorance and rescue us from this constant dreaming, this illusion that we’ll be happy without consciousness of Him.

In Closing:

Though now in movie’s timeline some,

Know that its end has already come.


Previously shot the scenes each,

Just that point we have yet to reach.


Material existence, of everything we’re fond,

Of the same nature, already gone.


Supreme Lord and soul objects real,

Escape the dream and real sweetness feel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Being Equal With God

[Rama embracing Hanuman]“The monkeys were on the branches of the tree and the Lord under the tree, but He still treated them as equal to Himself. Tulsi says that you will not find such a boss as Rama, who is a mine of politeness.” (Dohavali, 50)

prabhu taru tara kapi dāra para te kie āpu samāna |
tulasī kahū' na rāma se sāhiba sīla nidhāna ||

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Are we God? In the spiritual science that is Vedanta, we learn that everything that is living is spirit. This truth isn’t limited to just the human species. This doesn’t mean that the creatures that can consult the end of knowledge are the only ones that are spiritual. Everything that has the lifecycle, from birth to death, is spirit at the core.

As everything is the same, does this mean that the concept of God equates to a collection? Is God the sum total of everything spiritual? Do all the fragments merge back together at some point? This would help explain the difficulty right now. Fragmented from the entire whole, each spark is struggling. The ant loses its life in an instant by an accidental step of a larger being. The human seemingly has more control, but even they must eventually quit their body.

In the Bhagavad-gita we learn that the sparks of spirit have a source. The sparks we perceive presently live in a land that is temporary and changing. That land is known as the material nature and the condition for residence is a body made up of similar elements. The spotless spark that is spirit gets covered up by a combination of earth, water, fire, air and ether. There are the subtle elements also: mind, intelligence and false ego.

bhūmir āpo 'nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego - altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)

[Krishna's material and spiritual energies]The sparks are Brahman and the source is Parabrahman. The source does not have false ego. The source does not have a covering, since there is no distinction between matter and spirit in Him. The source is a singular personality, while the sparks are all separate individuals. The six senses, which include the mind, lead to the trouble in the material existence. It is the false ego which leads to the erroneous conclusion that the individual soul is equal to Parabrahman. This conception is considered the last snare of the material existence, with the first being identification with the temporary body.

Parabrahman equates to the concept of God. Parabrahman is far superior to the Brahman that emanates from Him. He is equal in the sense that the qualities are the same. Spirit lives forever, has inherent knowledge and is by nature blissful. The same goes for God. But spirit can travel to a material existence and have its qualities covered up; God cannot.

Still, since He is the mine of politeness, by default the Supreme Lord does not act as if He is superior to everyone. He has no false ego, so He does not demand worship. He does not insist on it, either.

Why the existence of religion, then? Why so many rules and regulations to follow? Why give man the institution of marriage, which seems to bring so much trouble?

The guidelines are put into place to show the way towards transcendence, which was the situation at some point in the past. So religion is the way to reclaim the spiritual life, free of the burdens of a material existence. Another way to understand religion is to think of it as the pathway that leads to the condition of having the Supreme Lord act like you are His equal.

We can take the above referenced verse from the Dohavali to see how this works. Here Goswami Tulsidas mentions two groups: individual souls and the Supreme Soul. One side consists of the Brahman we mentioned previously and the other Parabrahman. As Brahman is spirit, it can appear in any form. This instance references spirit souls in the bodies of monkeys. They roam from tree branch to tree branch. They are not civilized. They are not considered trustworthy or pious.

[Lord Rama]Parabrahman is in the form of the incarnation named Shri Rama. He looks like a human, though He is not ordinary. He does not suffer. He does not have defects. He controls the material nature instead of the other way around. Following the behavior of civilized human beings, He rests underneath tree branches. He is not wild like the monkeys.

In this instance He treats the monkeys as His equals. Tulsidas says this is due to Rama’s politeness, of which He has so much. These monkeys are His friends. They will do anything that He asks. They are ready to die for Him. They did not undergo training in a religious path. They did not suffer for a long time in the hopes of gaining the chance to serve Rama. They have spontaneous devotion to Him, and so the Supreme Lord does not put so much weight on their outward behavior related to their body type.

Indeed, every individual accepting a material body has their defects. In the human being there are four general ones: the tendency to cheat, having imperfect senses, the tendency to commit mistakes, and the tendency to be easily illusioned. People cheat to get ahead, not knowing that everything will be destroyed eventually.

yaṁ yam artham upādatte
duḥkhena sukha-hetave
taṁ taṁ dhunoti bhagavān
pumāñ chocati yat-kṛte

“Whatever is produced by the materialist with great pain and labor for so-called happiness, the Supreme Personality, as the time factor, destroys, and for this reason the conditioned soul laments.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.30.2)

The imperfect senses of man don’t allow him to perceive everything that is going on. They need the help of the sun to see what is around them. They need the testimony of others to be informed of things occurring not within vicinity. Man commits mistakes in judgment, regretting decisions many years after the fact. And in illusion they come to such faulty conclusions as “God is dead” and “man is God.”

[Rama hugging Hanuman]Rama knows these defects. He overlooks them when there is sincerity. He is the original boss, or sahiba, but He does not demand that others follow His orders. The sparks of Brahman struggle enough in a material existence. Rama is there to rescue them, and He does not discriminate as to where, when, or who. The Vanaras in Kishkindha are like His equals, which Rama shows vividly when embracing the most courageous among them, Shri Hanuman. This is the result of pure devotion to God, which is the aim of life.

In Closing:

At heartstrings of the devoted tugging,

Vision of Rama and Hanuman hugging.


Though in a monkey body one,

Difference to Him considering none.


Same for all the Vanaras done,

Though roaming from branches in fun.


Only the spiritual quality in each to see,

The mine of virtues, kindest boss is He.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Kindest Boss

[The Vanaras working for Rama]“The monkeys were on the branches of the tree and the Lord under the tree, but He still treated them as equal to Himself. Tulsi says that you will not find such a boss as Rama, who is a mine of politeness.” (Dohavali, 50)

prabhu taru tara kapi dāra para te kie āpu samāna |
tulasī kahū' na rāma se sāhiba sīla nidhāna ||

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It’s been a problem since as far back as anyone can remember: class distinctions. There are the obvious ones drawn by race. One race decides that another race needs to be enslaved. In order to get a laborer to keep with them, the excuse is made that the lower race is lacking in good qualities, and that their freedom will only mean doom to society.

There are distinctions made on birth. One person comes from a high family, while another belongs to a family that isn’t as well known. In the flawed belief that honor descends, the person in the high family looks down at others. But in fact, they have done nothing on their own. At the time of birth, the slate is clean, ready to be filled with deeds. Those deeds then determine one’s character, but succumbing to the tendency to cheat, some choose to take any advantage they can get.

“For honor, worthily obtained is in its nature a personal thing, and incommunicable to any but those who had some share in obtaining it. Thus among the Chinese, the most ancient, and from long experience the wisest of nations, honor does not descend, but ascends. If a man from his learning, his wisdom, or his valor, is promoted by the Emperor to the rank of Mandarin, his parents are immediately entitled to all the same ceremonies of respect from the people, that are established as due to the Mandarin himself; on the supposition that it must have been owing to the education, instruction, and good example afforded him by his parents, that he was rendered capable of serving the public.” (Benjamin Franklin)

[Benjamin Franklin]There are some subtler examples of class distinctions which sometimes are difficult to avoid. Picture this situation at an office. Two people are friends on the outside. One works for the company already; they are in the upper management. They help their friend out by getting them a job at the office. The new employee friend isn’t as skilled, so they become one of the ordinary workers.

Though friends at home, there is a world of difference at the work place. The people in upper management have their own offices in a separate section of the building. The ordinary workers are scattered throughout. In the lunch cafeteria, the two friends meet, and they want to sit together. But they see that the tables are divided, that no one from management will sit with anyone from the ordinary laborers.

As He is the wisest person and also the one who lives inside of every heart, the Supreme Lord does not make such distinctions. By definition He can’t, as He has endless love for all of His children. Part of that love includes giving them the freedom to leave His association, at least in consciousness. He does not control their minds, not even if He wants to. He can try to steer them in the right direction, but ultimately the choice is up to them. That is the meaning to the little independence that the innumerable living entities who are not God receive.

There are many historical examples that show the Lord’s kindness in equality. In this verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas references the behavior of Shri Rama with the Vanaras of Kishkindha. The mere mention of the name Kishkindha brings great joy to a person who knows God and serves Him with all their hearts. It was in this area that Rama first met with the famous Hanuman, who was an inhabitant. Hanuman was the chief minister for Sugriva, who at the time was exiled from his kingdom. Sugriva was the chief of the Vanaras, who were monkey-like.

“Sent by the great soul Sugriva, the king of Vanaras, I have arrived here. My name is Hanuman and I am a Vanara.” (Hanuman speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.21)

[Meeting Hanuman]Through Hanuman’s efforts, Rama formed an alliance with Sugriva. Rama would help get the Vanara-kingdom back from the rival Vali and Sugriva would help Rama regain His missing wife Sita Devi. This is God’s play on earth. He puts on a dramatic performance, filled with exchanges of the kinds that are familiar to us.

Still, He is the Lord, or prabhu. This means that He will do things that no human can do. In class distinctions, there was a gulf of difference between Rama and the Vanaras. Rama was the son of the King of Ayodhya. He upheld the responsibility of protecting the innocent. He always gave and never took. He was dedicated to the truth, as was His father King Dasharatha. Rama lived underneath tree branches as He roamed the forest as an ascetic; something brought on by tensions within the family

The Vanaras roamed from tree branch to tree branch. They were not civilized. No one looked to them for protection. Though the Vanaras jumped on the branches above Him, Rama did not mind. He treated them like equals. They were His good friends, and not just for a short while. It is understandable to forget good deeds done for us. Man makes mistakes, after all, and one of them is forgetting.

Rama never forgets, however. And He only keeps in mind the good. It is for this reason that the yogi in devotion has no need to fear a wasted effort. Even if they don’t perfect their practice in this lifetime, in the future they get to continue from where they left off. This is due to the remembrance of the Supreme Lord.

[Rama and Lakshmana with the Vanaras]Tulsidas says that you won’t find as kind a boss anywhere else. He says that Rama is a mine of politeness. This is true in so many ways. Ordinary bosses look for their work to be accomplished. If the bottom line is not being met, they get upset. Rama too gives work, but He cares only for the mentality in the service. The results don’t matter so much. If the effort is sincere, He will never get angry. He helps those who want to help Him. He considers the Vanaras of Kishkindha to be as important as the people in Ayodhya. Thus the sharpest vision belonging to the most polite person sees past all distinctions determined by material qualities. The spiritual quality of love and devotion for God is what counts most.

In Closing:

In monkeys and humans difference we see,

One on branches and another under tree.


Yet Rama considered them the same,

Vanaras living in forest of Kishkindha name.


At only what’s in the heart detecting,

Only sincerity in effort expecting.


Such a kind boss nowhere else to find,

Helps His devotees like Hanuman shine.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rama And The Boatman

[washing Rama's feet]“Tulsi wonders how someone who can see what happens on the inside and out can ever oppose the One who gave mercy to the boatman by allowing him to wash His feet.” (Dohavali, 49)

tulasī jāke hoyagī aṃtara bāhira dī।thi |
so ki k।rpāluhi deigo keva।tapālahi pī।thi ||

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The unique attitude of the devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is illustrated nicely in the meeting between Shri Rama and the boatman in the forest. Meeting God is not a regular occurrence; it is a seemingly chance encounter given to only the most fortunate. The origin of all can be the benefactor of all as well. He can give anything and everything to any person who should please Him. But what the boatman asked for will surprise you.

There are many gods, especially in the Vedic tradition. Visit a home of someone within that tradition and you’ll likely find an altar somewhere that features paraphernalia and pictures of several divine figures. Are they all equal? Is every one of the gods the same? If they were equal, then what would the purpose be to worshiping more than just one?

[gods of the Vedic tradition]Just as there are different departments within the government, so within the administration of the material universe are found many elevated personalities, dignitaries if you will. They hold special powers. They can live for a long time and they can do amazing things. Of importance to the less powerful is the ability of these figures to grant benedictions. You can be blessed with money, fame, good health, speech, learning, or a clear path towards success.

The boatman could have asked for any or all of these things when he met Rama. Rama is the head of all the dignitaries; He is the person whom they all serve. They do this happily. They are not compelled to worship Him. When playing the role of gods, however, they are forced to give whatever gifts are asked for properly by their worshipers.

Rama is not. In fact, when someone approaches Him, He might deny the request. Think of the child who asks to eat ice cream for dinner every night. Think of the friend who wants to borrow your car, when you know that they can’t drive very well. Rama looks out for the welfare of His devotees, so He assesses their requests first. He uses intelligence to see whether or not the worshipers will be benefitted in the end.

The boatman was about to take Rama to the other side of the river. The Nishada chief Guha arranged for this boat. Rama was travelling in the forest with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana at the time. In the Ramayana of Valmiki not much detail is given about the boatman; we get more information in the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. The Ramayana is the original work describing Rama’s deeds, but as the creation goes in cycles, so there are many appearances and disappearances of Shri Rama and other incarnations. There are also many works of the Vedic tradition that describe Rama’s deeds. Some feature greater detail for certain incidents and some feature lesser. The Ramacharitamanasa is a work that touches on many aspects that are found in works other than Valmiki’s Ramayana.

[Rama liberating Ahalya]Ready to serve, the boatman made one stipulation. In pure devotion, he was not afraid of Rama. He did not worship in awe and reverence. He was not handcuffed by veneration. Instead of asking something from God, He insisted on being able to serve in a certain way. In order to get Rama to agree, the boatman brought up a recent incident. He said that Rama’s feet were known to turn stone into women. This references the time when the wife of the sage Gautama got liberation from a curse. She was turned to stone and remained so for a long time, and she regained her form only when Rama’s feet touched her.

The boatman told Rama that he was worried that his boat would be turned into a woman if Rama stepped aboard. This boat was the man’s livelihood, so how could he survive if he lost it? The request of the devotee could not be denied. Rama allowed the boatman to wash His feet. The boatman’s family then all came to drink that sacred water. Such mercy is rarely bestowed on anyone. For starters, not many will ask for it. The initial inclination is to ask things from God; not to serve Him. The boatman was different.

Another unique thing about the boatman was his social class, and namely that it wasn’t very high. He lived in the forest after all. He was not known to be a reputed scholar. Neither was he a warrior, nor a business man. Rama, as the Supreme Lord, sees both within and without. He saw the pure devotion in the heart of the boatman, and that alone qualified him to receive the special mercy.

[Rama with the boatman]Goswami Tulsidas wonders how any person can be opposed to Rama. Especially if they are intelligent enough to see the spirit soul within and the maya without, they should appreciate what Rama did. They should go to Him and no one else. They should know that behind the impersonal Brahman is the transcendental personality who does anything for those who love Him.

In Closing:

“Turned stone into woman did You,

So to my boat You’ll do that too.


Thus first I insist to wash Your feet,

Then with the other side You’ll meet.”


Granted request the son of Raghu’s fame,

Boatman’s family to drink water then came.


Worship by the wise should also be done,

As Rama for class distinctions caring none.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

For Those With Knowledge

[Kevata washing Rama's feet]“Tulsi wonders how someone who can see what happens on the inside and out can ever oppose the One who gave mercy to the boatman by allowing him to wash His feet.” (Dohavali, 49)

tulasī jāke hoyagī aṃtara bāhira dī।thi |
so ki k।rpāluhi deigo keva।tapālahi pī।thi ||

Download this episode (right click and save)

It’s not difficult to see how someone whose intelligence is not yet sharpened can take to religion. It’s not difficult to understand why they would worship a higher power, with whichever name they choose to ascribe to Him. In the immature state of consciousness, the first inclination is to ask for things from God. He is like the best online retailer, with the greatest selection. It doesn’t cost much to get what you want; just pray. In this verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas mentions those with a little more intelligence, and how and why they should also worship God.

[eyes]What is a sign of that maturity? How is such a person different from the one who looks to God to get things? Intelligence relates to vision. It is seeing things which are not obvious in the immediate vicinity. It is seeing the past and the future in addition to the present. What stands before us is easy to see. I see a person and I notice the color of their skin. I see a plate of food and decide what I like and what I don’t. I feel the enjoyment I have right now and focus on how to maintain it.

If I have some intelligence, based on these perceptions I can go out a little further. The color of the skin I see on the person standing before me indicates that they are of a certain race. Yet I’ve met so many people who had a different skin color. They behave similarly. They speak similarly. Therefore the color of the skin can’t be that important.

From seeing the plate of food in front of me, I think back to how it got there. The meat dish is from the flesh of an animal. That animal was killed, and most likely it was innocent. Therefore simply to satisfy the tongue an innocent life was taken.

From taking a peek into the future, I see that the enjoyment I feel right now will vanish. I see a living, enjoying body right now, but eventually the individual within that body will vanish. The egress is known as death, and it occurs for everything that is living in the present.

With the highest intelligence, there is the vision of the spirit soul. This soul lies within all creatures. It lives on eternally; nothing can kill it. You can only know of this soul’s properties through consulting authorized information. In simpler terms, someone has to teach you about the soul.

avināśi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
vināśam avyayasyāsya
na kaścit kartum arhati

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

[Bhagavad-gita As It Is]The soul is on the inside and matter on the outside. Matter constantly shifts. Spirit instigates the shifts; without spirit matter cannot do anything. That which occurs on the outside yields results that are temporary. As the creation goes through cycles of manifestation and dissolution, so everything in it must follow the same course.

The person who sees spirit and matter, purusha and prakriti, sees everything in the same way. They do not discriminate based on race. They look to see the goodness of a person on the inside, and then they act accordingly.

Such a person should also worship God. Rather than take his word for it, Tulsidas points to a specific incident as proof. One time the Supreme Lord gave special mercy to a boatman. The Lord was on earth at the time in His incarnation of Shri Rama, the son of Maharaja Dasharatha. Rama was in the royal order, so He was well respected. He easily could have chosen to not associate with lower class people.

One time He was travelling through the forest with His wife Sita Devi. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was with them too. The trio needed to cross from one side to another and there was a boatman there to help. The group was ready to go, but the boatman had one stipulation. He insisted on washing Rama’s feet. Rama politely declined, but the boatman insisted.

[Rama meeting the boatman]The people living in the forest were considered less civilized. They were a lower class, both by birth and in general behavior. Yet Rama saw the love in the boatman’s heart. He did not care for the matter on the outside. Just as the wise person understands spirit and matter, Rama understood the innermost desires of the kind boatman, looking past his bodily features. Rama then gave special mercy by allowing the boatman to wash His feet.

If you visit a large temple featuring a deity of Rama or one of His non-different forms like Krishna or Vishnu, you will see a similar bathing ceremony. The feet of the deity are washed, and there is likely restricted access for this process. Not just anyone is allowed to do this. The restriction makes sense, as someone who doesn’t know Rama very well will not approach the process with the proper respect required. It is therefore considered a special mercy to be able to wash the Lord’s lotus feet.

[Sita and Rama deities]Rama gave that mercy to a tribal boatman. From this we can understand that Rama should be dear to those who can see within and without. The least intelligent should approach God with their requests, because by going to Him they will gradually become purified. The most intelligent should similarly approach the Lord, since He is like them in understanding both the inside and out. He is the most favorable as well, not discriminating between intelligent and unintelligent, small or large, old or young. He looks simply for devotion, which the boatman had.

In Closing:

Less intelligent’s worship easy to understand,

For with rewards looking for helping hand.


But the wise folks what about,

Who can see both within and without?


Tulsi says they should worship too,

For Rama observing with the vision true.


Like with the boatman’s love in the heart,

Allowed feet to be washed before to depart.