The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas
By Dr. K. N. Upadhyaya
Publisher: Radha Soami Satsang Beas;
In India, the majority of people grow up knowing of Goswami Tulsidas and his book the Ram-Charit-Manas, often called the Hindu Bible. For non-Indians, however, the life story, teachings, and mystic poetry of Tulsidas are an amazing discovery.
In The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas, K.N. Upadhyaya translates and explains selections from Tulsidas’ Ram-Charit-Manas, as well as others of his works. The Ram-Charit-Manas is considered “one of the most distinguished works of Indian literature.” It is a retelling of the epic story of Ram, first composed by Valmiki thousands of years earlier. It is said that one cannot understand India until one understands the story of Ram.
The Ram-Charit-Manas was the first major Indian spiritual text written in Hindi, rather than in ancient Sanskrit. Thus, the “common man” in India at last had access to the story of Ram directly, rather than through interpretations by the priestly class.
What difference does it make whether one writes in the vernacular or in Sanskrit? What is needed is true love. If one’s purpose is served by a blanket, what’s the use of a costly silken shawl?
The literal meaning of Ram-Charit-Manas is “The Inner Holy Lake of Ram’s Act.” The book sets out “to disclose the secret of that inner divine lake which lies within everyone and which is always filled with the water or nectar” of God’s name.
Ram … is the protector of shelter-seekers … And the ocean of compassion. He will grant you shelter, forgetting your offences, if you turn to Him for refuge.
The theme of the “shelter-seeker” has parallels in Tulsidas’s life. Born into the Brahman class, he was orphaned at a young age and was never even given a proper name. Alone, poor, seeking shelter and help, he wandered around saying, “Ram, Ram, Ram.” People called him Rambola, meaning one who utters the word “Ram.” Unlike countless orphans who live and die in obscurity, Rambola was found and given shelter, both physically and spiritually, by his guru Narhari Das, who also changed the child’s name from Rambola to Tulsidas. Later, others added the title of Goswami, meaning “one who has gone beyond the senses.”
Tulsidas lived with his guru about 15 years, studying the Vedas, Puranas, and various systems of Indian philosophy. After his guru’s death, he returned to his birthplace, worked in agriculture, and married. Apparently, he then lost his focus on God, becoming deeply attached to his wife, to the point of obsession. Ironically, it is because of her that the world enjoys the writings of Tulsidas. Early in their marriage, when his wife had gone to her parents’ house for a few days, Tulsidas could not bear the separation. Desperate, he followed her, even crossing a raging river by clinging to a corpse. When he arrived, she was mortified and scolded him:
Are you not ashamed that you have come running for my company? Fie to such a love! What else should I say, O my beloved? You have so much love for this body of mine, which is made up of skin and bones. If such a love were there for God, you would have gone beyond the fear of the world.
Her words shocked Tulsidas. Waking up to the reality of life, he turned once and for all towards God.
Ram is the mother, father, master, brother, as well as friend, companion, son, the Lord and the lover.
Tulsidas emphasizes the importance of a living saint. He explains that the assembly of the saints is the true pilgrimage. In fact, he describes the saint as “the moving place of pilgrimage.”
The same One who is beyond intellect, speech and senses, who is uncreated, beyond mind, maya …
And who is truth, consciousness and bliss unified, is playing the gracious role of a human being.
Tulsidas explains that only those who are extremely fortunate come into the company of a saint.
… Saints are found only when the Lord melts with compassion.
He goes so far as to say:
The company of the Saints is the root of all joy and blessings.
Tulsidas also emphasises the great good fortune of obtaining a human body.
There is no form as good as the human body. Every living creature yearns for it. It is the ladder that takes the soul either to hell or heaven or to final deliverance …
The true purpose of human life is to seek God.
The one who always looks upon Ram as his only goal, he alone truly lives in the world, says Tulsi;
All others are mere corpses, moving around in living forms.
Tulsidas warns us not to get caught up in worldly attachments.
Son, wife, home, friends and family – look upon them as highly distracting company. Give up attachment for all of them, equip yourself with equanimity and sit in the company of a saint. Reflect and see, what is the purpose of this human body? Ruin not your real work, O fool.
This “real work” is to realize the True Sound.
Without the realization of the True Sound, tell me, who has not gone astray? It is only when the light of the inner sun arises with the grace of the Guru, the manifest form of God, that a rare few come to know the true Sound.
But this blissful Sound cannot be described; it must be realized through meditation.
The mystery of the Sound and Light is an indescribable tale; it can only be blissfully realized but cannot be described.
Tulsidas enjoins us to practise meditation in the comfort of our own homes, within the context of our own lives.
Now, my friends, return to your homes and meditate on me regularly with steadfast devotion. Knowing that I always abide in each one of you and am your benefactor, give your utmost love to me.
Finally, he gives a powerful message of hope.
What has gone wrong through countless lives can be set right today in this human life at this very hour, assures Tulsidas.
The personal experience of God, the path of love and devotion, the great good fortune of finding a guru and learning how to meditate, the inspiring story of Ram – all these and other spiritual themes make this book a treasure for any sincere seeker. The poetry is beautiful, uplifting, and compelling. One finishes the book thrilled with the timeless, universal message of mystic possibility, eager to experience for oneself what Tulsidas experienced in his lifetime.
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