Tulsi Sahib: Saint of Hathras
By J.R. Puri, V.K. Sethi, and Dr. T. R. Shangari
Publisher: Punjab, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas,
4th ed. (revised), 2017. ISBN: 978-93-86866-04-2
Now in a new edition, which re-translates the poems of earlier editions and increases their number, this book describes the life and teachings of the bhakti mystic Tulsi Sahib (1763-1843). Tulsi was a Brahmin by caste and the eldest son of the Peshwa or de facto king of Pune. But he became disillusioned with the affairs of the world, abruptly renounced his princely heritage, and left his home to seek God. He wandered throughout India for many years before settling in Hathras, about 35 miles north of Agra. Attaining inner realization, with courage and honesty he conveyed to all a message of hope – that the gift of divine grace and love overcomes all our imperfections.
His writings emphasize devotion to the Master and the practice of Surat Shabd meditation. The parents and family of Seth Shiv Dayal Singh, known as Soami Ji, the founder of the Radha Soami line of masters, were closely associated with Tulsi Sahib. Soami Ji himself was close to Tulsi Sahib from childhood until Tulsi’s death.
Tulsi Sahib revealed that he had earlier incarnated as Goswami Tulsi Das (1532-1623), and in that birth was proud of his social status and had desired a life of indulgence. “All the things of this world greatly appealed to me; arrogance and pride of lineage filled my mind.” But then God in his grace showed him another way, and, “an intense desire arose in my heart to meet a saint and follow him.” His wish was granted; he met a saint who connected him to the deep resonance of the Shabd or divine inner sound.
In that earlier life as Tulsi Das, he relates, he wrote the work Ghat Ramayan describing the inner spiritual journey. But this created such an uproar in the religious community that he withdrew it and wrote instead the poem Ramcharitmanas, an allegory involving the characters of Ram and Ravan:
I realized the disputes Ghat Ramayan had caused,
And therefore I created the characters
of Ram and Ravan.
With this the pundits and imitators were all appeased;
and now everyone was delighted…
I explained to the blind in a way they would understand
and concealed the Ghat Ramayan.
Then, as Tulsi Sahib, he recompiled the Ghat Ramayan and revealed the complete inner secret:
Tulsi says: Whatever I experienced within
I narrated in Ghat Ramayan –
I put in writing what I witnessed within.
And the joy and beauty of my experiences
I related with delight.
Just as one churns curd to extract butter
By following the correct method,
I too extracted the true essence.
Although he never names his own Master, Tulsi Sahib continually extols the benefits of having one.
O disciples, search for a Master
Who will light up the path leading to the Friend.
When the Master hands out his mercy,
His grace will kindle love for the Beloved in your heart.
Raise your soul to the skies within,
So that the Beloved becomes aware of you.
This secret is known to very few; it is revealed to the heart
That is open to the intimacy of friendship…
Having granted us a heart and a radiant soul,
The charming Beloved dwells within this beautiful body!
Open your inner eye, O dear one,
And see who is right there!
Tulsi Sahib vehemently denounced outward practices and rituals in favour of the inward path, and as a result encountered persecution from religious leaders and their followers. Despite this he would meet with Brahmins, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, disciples of Kabir and Guru Nanak, and others, and present the truths of spirituality to them. His accounts of those meetings explain to us the relationship between the spiritual teachings and the beliefs and practices of various religions. In “Dialogue with Mana, Nainu, Shyama, and Other Pundits” (from the Ghat Ramayan) he narrates the pundits’ words:
O Tulsi, we have come to quarrel with you!
We are eminent scholars of religious knowledge and rituals –
So elucidate the methods discussed in the Vedas.
If you win against us, we will acknowledge you as a renowned
teacher and Guru,
And only then will we recognize your path of the saints
He shows the humility of a true saint in his response to them:
Bowing his head at their feet,
he humbly acknowledged his shortcomings and said:
You are learned, while I am an ignorant fool;
Bestow your grace upon me, O merciful ones!
His attitude pacified them and he then reveals what lies beyond all written words, the secret that lies within and above and beyond the Vedas. The questioners then responded:
These teachings reveal the unspoken tale.
Lost in the ways and rituals of the Vedas,
We have remained ensnared by the web of karma.
But, O Master, you have explained other truths
and have clarified all the teachings of the Vedas.
By describing it to us in different ways,
You have now opened our eyes to the truth.
He engaged in dialogue with Shaikh Taqi, a Muslim ascetic, addressing to him the well-known ghazal “Cleanse the sanctuary of your heart…”:
Cleanse the sanctuary of your heart to welcome the Beloved.
Remove your attention from all else
To make room for him to be seated within…
He who dwells in the natural mosque of the body
visits artificial temples and mosques,
only to suffer in misery
Within the arch of the natural Ka’bah
Listen with rapt attention:
A voice resounds from your original abode,
Calling you back home…
The path to reach your Beloved passes through the Royal Vein.
Seek a perfect Master with patience
and a sincere heart, O Taqi, for he will help you
understand the way to reach the Royal Vein.
Your inner ear will open if you put his teachings into practice
for but a few days,
and the path leading to Allah, the Greatest of All,
will lie before you…
For the Qur’an, too, refers to Kun as the means
to reach Allah, the Greatest of All.
Passionate mystic and ardent lover, Tulsi reveals to us the splendour and glory of divine love, all attained through the grace of Satguru and Shabd.
Bowing in humility before the saints who have sung
The glories of the unfathomable One,
I recount what they, too, have seen…
In the vast ocean of this body blooms a lotus
Beyond compare, from which emanates a wondrous melody…
The swan-soul is purified by bathing in the divine melody…
It pecks at pearls on the banks of the sacred pool within.
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