Devotee: Guru Maharaj, I have one question about Tulasi Devi. The devotees here at this Math say that even if their japa-mala is not made from real tulasi, when you chant on their beads at the time of their initiation, you turn those beads into a tulasi-mala. So, is it important to have japa-mala made of tulasi or not?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: There is a higher spiritual consideration.
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijyadhih
There is bhauma (mundane), and there is ijyadhih (that which we consider worshipable). What I really want to revere, if I consider that to be of mundane nature, that will be an offence. It is an offence. Archye Visnau sila-dhih: if I think that what I am to worship is simply stone, or Gurusu nara-matih, if I consider Gurudev to be an ordinary man, or Vaisnave jati-buddhih, if I see a Vaisnava as a brahman, a sudra, etc., or Visnor va Vaisnavanam kali-mala-mathane pada-tirthe ’mbu-buddhih, if we think that the water that washes the lotus feet of Lord Visnu or the Vaisnava, charanamrta, is just plain water, or Visnau Sarvesvarese tad-itara-sama-dhih, if we think that the Master of all, the Lord of all, Visnu, is merely one of many gods, then, yasya va naraki sah — we shall have to go straight to hell. This is stated in the Padma-purana.
And in Srimad Bhagavatam, we find yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke: that soul who identifies himself with the body, or thinks that the wife and children are my own, or thinks that our worshipful object is something material, or thinks that it is the material element of water at these pilgrimage sites which is purifying, then sa eva go-kharah: he may be considered to be a donkey which can be used to carry the food of the cows! Khara means the donkey which carries a burden, so go-khara means that beast of burden which cannot even be utilised for the purposes of the human section, but only for the beasts; a very low, beast-conception. So, we are to remove ourselves from the platform of identifying the spiritual with the material. The spiritual is necessary, not the material, and it is imperative that we understand the real position.
Once, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was the guest of a devotee of the primary class belonging to the Ramanuja school who was very much shocked to hear about the abduction of Sita Devi by Ravana. At that time, the devotee managed to give some food to the Lord, but he himself was observing fasting and was always wailing and lamenting. Mahaprabhu asked, «Why are you not taking anything to eat?» He replied, «I want to die. I heard that my beloved Mother Janaki, Sita Devi, was abducted by a demon! If I have to hear that — if that should even enter my ear, then I want to die; I don’t want to live any longer.»
Then, Mahaprabhu consoled him: «No, no, don’t think like that. Sita Devi is Laksmi Devi herself. She is chinmaya, consciousness personified, not having a body composed of any material elements. Sita Devi’s body is not made of flesh and blood, so what to speak of forcibly carrying Her away, Ravana could not possibly touch Her; he cannot even see Her. Sita Devi’s form is composed of such substance that Ravana can neither see nor touch Her! This is the fact. So, don’t disturb your mind. This is the truth, I say, so you take prasadam.» Then, that devotee took prasadam.
Later, Mahaprabhu went further south, and in one place He found that the devotees there were reading the Kurma-purana, wherein it is mentioned that when Ravana came to steal away Sita, She took shelter by entering into fire, and the fire-god Agni gave some imitation Sita to Ravana, and Ravana took that ‘maya Sita’ away. Then, after killing Ravana and attaining victory, before taking Sita from Lanka, Ramachandra said, «To prove Her chastity, She must enter into blazing fire, and if She can pass through that test, then I shall accept Her. For one whole year She was living with the demon family, and therefore I cannot immediately trust Her chastity.» Then, so many devotees began to weep, but by the order of Ramachandra the fire was prepared, and Sita Devi had to enter. When the fire receded, Sita Devi came out with a smiling face, and the devotees began to cry out, «Jay! Sita Devi ki jay!»
This was written in that Kurma-purana, and Mahaprabhu asked the reader, «Please give Me that original page and insert a newly-written copy in there. I met a brahman who is extremely troubled, thinking that Sita Devi was actually abducted by Ravana. I want to show him this old page of this book to convince him that I was not just consoling him, but it is written in the sastra that Ravana could not touch the real Sita Devi because She is consciousness personified — not matter, not any flesh or blood or bone or any such things.»
If a ghost can show his form or a yogi can show his form, then is not God able to show His form? He can do so by His will. «Let there be water», there was water, and when He said «Let there be light», there was light. His will is law. Whatever He wants to do, at once it is done. So will He have to have a permanent flesh and blood body? At His will, He can show anything as He likes, and it is all spiritual with no touch of the contamination of any mundane substance. But the eye in the higher domain of reality is not like the fleshy eye here. Everything is there — the eye, the ear — but they are not the same as here. Just as in dreams, our fleshy eyes do not work, these ears do not work, yet within our dream we see, feel, walk, eat, and drink. The mind is only ‘half material’, and if even in the mental plane all these activities are possible, then transcending that also is the pure spiritual world, and there is the spiritual eye, the spiritual ear, the spiritual mind — everything is spiritual. It is possible.
On the battlefield, when two tanks come to fight, the men within the tanks may think, «The tanks are moving like two demons pushing one another!» The tanks are crashing together, but the man is within. Similarly, the soul within this body has its own body, its own plane of living, its own food — everything of its own in the spiritual realm — and this world is the perverted reflection of that realm. We must purely aspire after a life in that spiritual realm, and purity depends on love, and love means sacrifice: «Die to live.» We have to die wholesale in regard to our interest in life here, and then another sort of interest will awaken within us, and we shall live there in that place. That is our aspiration, and for that we have left all our ‘concrete’ things — our house, our property, our friends, our father, mother, children, and other relatives. So many things we have left, and we have gone out in the quest of other things. We have no more charm for mundane possessions; we are seeking something which is supramundane.
‘Mundane’ means under the jurisdiction of mortality; at every second, it is dying. Everything on which we depend for the maintenance of this body is dying at every second. Everything. So, we want to be out of this dying land, and if it is possible, we want to live in a land where there is no death. That is amrta — that which is without death — and that is sweet. It is Vaikuntha; it is Goloka. Vaikuntha means in the consideration of the infinite perspective — that conception. Kuntha means limitation, and Vaikuntha means unlimited. To live in Vaikuntha means to live in the relativity of the infinite whole.
Devotee: Maharaj, also regarding Tulasi Devi — I noticed that at this Math, while circumambulating Tulasi during her arati here, the devotees don’t like to chant the mantra yani kani cha papani brahma-hatyadikani cha, tani tani pranasyanti pradaksinah pade pade («Those who circumambulate Srimati Tulasi Devi step by step destroy whatever sins they have committed, even the killing of a brahman»). Why is this?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: A devotee of higher order must not have any prayer to «absolve me from sin.» The first-class devotee will pray, «Whatever I have done wrong, I am ready to suffer for that, to the farthing. But my prayer is only that I may get a drop of the nectar of the favour of Krishna.» That should be the prayer of a real devotee.
pasu-paksi haye thaki’ svarge va niraye
tava bhakti rahu bhakti-vinoda-hrdaye
According to my karma, I may be a bird, I may be a beast, I may be a worm or an insect, I may be in heaven or in hell — I don’t care about that. According to my own karma, let me suffer accordingly. But my only prayer is, «Let me not be devoid of the favour of Krishna; let me get that. I want His grace. I want devotion for Him, only devotion — that is all I want. Whether I have to enjoy the result of my good works in heaven, or I have to suffer for the misdeeds of my previous life and go to hell, I don’t care to get out of that. As a result of my karma, I shall have to suffer or enjoy, but I don’t care about that. My prayer is not to remove the reactions to my sins, to take away any good merit or bad result, but only that I may obtain pure devotion independent of these two.
«I do not want release from either happiness or suffering; let it be, according to my previous karma. Rather, what I want from this moment on is that I will never try to waste the favour of Krishna by only praying to be able to face any eventuality, and that whatever I shall acquire from now on, however small, even a drop, that must be nectar of the highest order, and the lower delegation can deal with the question of heaven and hell.»
For removing our reactions or delivering us from hell or heaven, many lower agents are required; they can do that. But we shall only pray for Krishna’s favour as a positive attainment and never try to minimise our previous karma: the result of bad activities performed due to misconception. I don’t care about the ‘passport’; I want the ‘visa’. If I get the visa, no passport trouble will be able to disturb me. It is something like that. So, to merely do away with maya, misconception, is nothing. The positive attainment in the domain of Krishna is a much higher thing. By passing maya, we can attain Viraja, Brahmaloka. We can get mukti (liberation), the marginal position. But why should I waste my energy only to acquire a position in the marginal plane? All my attempts must be focussed toward the prayer for a position in Goloka, and that will be a gain of the very highest order. I shall pray only for that, and automatically everything else will be accomplished.
There is a story from the Puranas which illustrates this principle, the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Savitri was a chaste lady who had acquired special capabilities through the performance of certain penances, and one day she went to the forest with her husband Satyavan, knowing that this day was the day of his death. She knew that this was the day of her husband’s death, but he did not. While cutting wood in the forest, Satyavan said, «I have a headache. I need to take a nap.» Savitri was prepared, and Satyavan put his head on her lap and slept. In his sleep, he died of heart failure, and Yamaraj came to take him. First, Yamaraj’s agents came, but finding that Satyavan’s body was on the lap of his very pure and chaste wife, they could not venture to take him.
Then, Yamaraj himself came and told Savitri, «You leave him; he’s dead. Leave his body.» Savitri said, «Yes, you may take him.» Yamaraj took Satyavan’s soul, but then he saw that Savitri, by dint of her penances, was closely following him in pursuance of her husband. Yamaraj said, «Oh, why are you coming? I am taking him. You must go back.»
Savitri replied, «No, I can’t. I shall go also.»
Yamaraj said, «No, you must not come. Why are you disturbing my duty? This is the arrangement of the creator, Lord Brahma, and you must obey that.»
Savitri replied, «It is better to die than to live without my husband.»
Then, Yamaraj said, «All right, I will give you a boon. Accept that and be satisfied.» Savitri asked that her father-in-law and mother-in-law, who were blind, would regain their sight. Yamaraj said, «Yes, they will regain their sight.» But Savitri continued to follow him, saying, «I am not yet satisfied completely.»
«Then take another boon.»
«Well, if you are pleased to offer another boon, my father-in-law and mother-in-law have also lost their kingdom, so now please arrange for them to be reinstalled in their own kingdom.»
«Yes, I say they will get back their kingdom.» But again Savitri began following him.
«Again you are coming?»
«Yes, I can’t live without the company of my husband.»
«Take another boon.»
«What is that?»
«I want one hundred sons.»
«Yes, you shall have one hundred sons.» Still, Savitri kept following behind Yamaraj. «Now why are you coming? I told you that you would have one hundred sons.» She replied, «If you are taking my husband, then how can I get any sons?»
Then, Yamaraj was perplexed: «Yes, that’s true. What can I do?» So, he appealed to the higher force. Savitri’s boon was sanctioned, and she got her husband back. Yamaraj had already committed himself — «You will get a hundred sons» — so Savitri asserted, «You have clearly sanctioned that I will get a hundred sons; therefore, you certainly can’t take my husband!»
The general idea is that if we get some backing from the higher sphere, that will overrule all mandates imposed by the plane of mortality. If we are given a place in Goloka, we cannot be detained in this mundane world. When Tulasi Devi can give us a place there, then why should we waste our prayer to her by asking, «Please clear away the dirt on which I am standing»? That is self-deception. So, we shall always pray to the higher servitors for the higher service of the Lord. We won’t care about where we might be; that problem will automatically be solved. If we get some higher appointment in the divine realm, then automatically we can’t be detained here. Therefore, a suddha bhakta, a pure devotee, from the core of his heart will never pray for anything else, for that would be a waste of energy. Only, «Pure inclination toward the service of my eternal Lord — that I want. I know nothing else but that, and I do not want anything else.»
A pure devotee won’t pray for anything but for the higher service of the Lord of his heart. He can’t even imagine asking for anything for his or her own interest. In Christianity, such self-sacrifice is also present. And greater than that is self-forgetfulness. The self is there, but the servitor is forgetful of that and is cent-per-cent absorbed in attending to the pleasure of the Lord. No self-interest, wholesale self-forgetfulness — they are unconscious of their own particular interest because it has become merged in the interest of the Lord, the Absolute Whole.
So, one who is aspiring to become a pure devotee should never desire anything else but to purely serve and give joy to the Lord of his heart. When one is unconscious of everything else — «Let it be, whatever He may like» — that is pure devotion for Tulasi, or whomever we are praying to. If one has got that higher sukrti, that suddha-bhakti, the seed of prema-bhakti, then he won’t be able to think of anything else but Krishna’s pleasure. He’ll think only of the pleasure of his Lord, cent per cent, forgetting his own body, mind — everything. That is the purest type of prayer.