The Purpose of the Incarnation of the Masters: Saint Tulsidas
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on January 7, 1972)

I shall try to touch upon a novel aspect of genius in general, of which Saint Tulsidas has a specific characteristic. It is not the Ramayana that he wrote or a story that he narrated, but a culture that he revealed, a new life that he infused, and a special meaning that he conveyed to people as a whole. Great masters do not descend merely to tell us stories or to cajole us with narrations. They come with a purpose, the purpose being an introduction of a new significance into the lives of people. This is the case with all masters – it may be Saint Tulsidas, it may be Surdas, it may be Buddha, it may be Sankaracharya, it may be Jesus the Christ. These personalities come as commissioners, as it were, from the realm of God, conveying to us a message from realms beyond the ken of human perfection. They do not tell us merely what is sensory, psychological, intellectual or empirical, though what they convey is given in the human tongue and in the language of the human mind.

Just as brilliance is exhibited through a burning electric bulb and medicine is conveyed through a sweet tablet, a significance is conveyed through the words of genius. Genius is nothing but a new kind of profundity revealing itself through language, through expression of ideas, and through conduct, behaviour, and personal example. It can manifest itself in any manner.

We have great narrations of the Ramayana apart from that given to us by Saint Tulsidas. The original Ramayana of Valmiki is there, of course, as the sun shining beyond the human effort at all language and expression, and we have the same narration of the glory of the advent of Rama given in other languages. Unfortunately, people who are proficient only in one language cannot know the depths conveyed in other languages. For example, a great pundit in Sanskrit may not know what Shakespeare gave to mankind. People who know only English may not know what Tulsidas gave to mankind. People who know only Hindi may not know what Kamban gave to mankind through his masterly exposition of the Ramayana in Tamil.

There was a set of scholars who made a survey of all these epics of the world. There was a great national leader of our country, one V.V.S. Aiyar from southern India. He was regarded by the British regime as a kind of revolutionary, but he was a national worker. He was a master of many languages. He read Valmiki in Sanskrit, Tulsidas in Hindi, Milton and Shakespeare in English, Kamban in Tamil, and the Iliad and the Odyssey in their originals. He made a comparative study of all these epics.

The opinion of such comparative studies is that these epics are epics of life; they are not narrations of stories or mere words expressed in language. The Mahabharata, for example, is an epic of human life. The great plays of Shakespeare, such as Hamlet and King Lear, are epics of human life. So is the epic of Saint Tulsidas or the Ramayana of Valmiki. They give us a message of humanity, like the gospel of the Bhagavadgita. These messages are not meant for today or tomorrow, but for all times. They have no history. They have no past, present and future. Therefore, these masters may be said to have spoken in a language of eternity. It is not Hindi or Sanskrit that was the medium of their expression, but a soul force.

Why is it that millions of people take the name of Rama today, and feel delight in reading the Ramayana of Tulsidas – not merely because of the words he spoke but because of the force that he manifested through his language, the force of the soul which life he lived in his personality, the life of saintliness. It was a saint who gave this work. It was not merely a professor of a university or a poet that put this Ramayana before us. It was saintliness and sagacity that spoke the wisdom of human life though the medium of the epic of the Ramayana. This is the message, the message of the life of the soul.

We shall take this also as an opportunity to know something about darshana. I am reminded that darshana is nothing but vision. We have no philosophies in India; we have only darshanas, or visions of truth. We do not give academic disquisitions or ideas or viewpoints. We are supposed to give expression to what we see with the inner vision. The darshanas are nothing but visions of truth. You see first, and speak afterwards. You cannot speak what you have not seen. And what you are supposed to see is that which really is, not which merely appears. The perception of Reality is what is known as darshana.

In this connection may I make a small digression, that we contemplate for a few minutes on the meaning of what this darshana is, what this vision is, what this perception of Truth or Reality is. We had umpteen darshanas in this country. Various levels of perception were revealed to us as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, and the darshanas which are today known as heterodox – the Charvaka, the Jaina, the Bauddha, and so on.

I shall restrict myself merely to a few salient points on what darshana proper is. It is the vision of Truth. But what is Truth? What is the Reality which is supposed to be revealed through the genus of language? We had, for example, the Bauddha darshana, precedent to the advent of great acharyas like Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallava, Chaitanya, and so on. The Bauddha darshana may be said to have been the forerunner in the genus of the efforts of these later acharyas. The dialectics of Nagarjuna, Buddha himself, and certain other followers of the doctrine paved the way for the later incisive dialectics of Sankara and the further series of masters such as Ramanuja, Madhva, and so on.

The occasion for Buddha to speak the doctrine of what today goes by the name of Buddhism was the discovery of the momentariness of all things. Everything is transitory. Today we are, tomorrow we are not. What is seen today may not be there tomorrow. What we saw yesterday is not there today. Everything is moving, a flux, like a flame of a lamp or the movement of a river. The growth of the body is an example. Nothing seems to be permanent. We are not the same person for two consecutive moments. We do not touch the same water in the river for two consecutive moments. Yet, there is a continuity, as it were. We see a single flame, though it is a series of movements of atomic energy. What is called the flame of a lamp is movement, it is not a single steady flame, and this is the case with everything in the world.

Mostly in common parlance, we are given to understand that Buddhism taught the doctrine of the momentariness of all things, that everything is moving; and the momentariness of things, or the transitory character of things, implies the existence of a thing that is transitory. There cannot be movement without something that moves. Something is flying. We cannot have merely flying without a bird that flies or an airplane that flies. Momentariness implies the existence or the presence of something that is momentary, and this doctrine of the momentariness of things involved certain consequences which were most unexpected.

The ethics of the Buddha, the moral that he set before people as one of austerity, self-control and compassion to all mankind, was metaphysically interpreted as the doctrine of the negation of all values – the non-existence of the Self of man, particularly. There are three principal doctrines of Buddhism: Anatmavada, Dukhavada, and Kshanikavada. While the doctrine of the sorrow of life and the momentariness of things is partly, though not wholly, appropriated by other schools of thought also, the doctrine of the absence of Selfhood, or the non-existence of what is called the Atman, was a surprising consequence that followed from what is regarded as the teaching of the Buddha, though many scholars believe that he did not teach this doctrine because a very pertinent, pithy and short answer to this point is given by Sri Sankara in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya. How do you know whether the Self, or the Atman, exists or not? Can you prove it? For this, a large, elaborate argument is not necessary. In a very short sentence, Sankara gives an answer in his commentary on the Brahma Sutra. The answer is that the negater, at least, should be. If you deny everything, you have to be as the denier behind all denials. You deny everything – God, world, soul, mankind, everything; nothing is, but the one who denies, is. If the denier also is not, the denial itself is not. The denial gets denied. Then there is no denial. Minus into minus is plus. So you are positing the Atman while you are trying to negate the Atman. This was the great argument of Sankara, with which he commenced his masterly commentary on the Brahma Sutra. You cannot deny an ultimate residuum of being. When everything is denied, something is.

There was another great philosopher, called Descartes, in France. He followed a similar line of argument: The world may be or may not be, God may be or may not be, the Self may be or may not be, I may be or may not be. Everything is doubtful. The devil may have entered my mind and made me think as I am thinking today. How do you know I am sane at this moment? I may be insane, I may be crazy, I may be thinking slipshod ideas; everything may be chaotic, nothing may be meaningful, everything is doubtful. Well, this is a wonderful conclusion.

“How can you be certain about anything?” was what Descartes put forth as his preliminary argument. But, like Sankara, he came to a very marvellous conclusion. Everything is doubtful, yes, beautiful. The devil might have entered me, and the devil may be speaking through me; everything is accepted, but behind and beyond all these doubts, the doubter exists. I cannot doubt the existence of the doubter. This is a beautiful comparison and a similarity that we see between masters, whether they are of the West or the East.

Another doctrine of Buddhism is that everything is mental. The walls that you see in front of you are mental. They are created by the mind through imagination. The trees, the mountains, the rivers, the people, everything is nothing but a psychological projection of the human consciousness, which was interpreted as another form of the denial of all values in the world. That you people seated here in front of me are only my imagination, which means that you do not really exist, is called Vijnanavada, the doctrine of idealism carried to its logical extreme. Ideas only exist. But Sankara gave an answer to it in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. Sankara himself was a great idealist, but he differed from Buddhist idealism, and contended that the fact that objects perceived are expressions of the subject’s mentation need not necessarily prove that nothing exists outside because appearance presupposes a reality. If the whole world is an appearance, it is an appearance of something. There cannot be merely appearance.

If objects in the dream world are projections of the human mind, the mind that dreams, the dream objects are not totally unreal. They are indicators of the existence of something behind them. Just as nothing can appear without a basis for appearance, idealism cannot cut ice unless the appearance of objects has a reality behind them. We call this vishaya chaitanya. Just as there is atma chaitanya within, there is what is called vishaya chaitanya outside. Vishaya chaitanya is nothing but consciousness that is immanent, hidden within the objects, just as you have a consciousness of your own. How do you know that there is consciousness outside? Who told you? Can you see consciousness in anybody here? You see only faces, you see bodies, you see persons, you see things. Where do you see consciousness? How do you know that a person is intelligent? “He is a very intelligent person,” you may remark. Can you see the intelligence of a person? You see only his face and his body. You see nothing of a character of intelligence or consciousness. What do you see, then? How do you remark that intelligence exists outside? This is done by inference. Perceiving consciousness is an impossibility because consciousness is the perceiver. “Vijñātāram are kena vijānīyād,” (Brihad.Up. 2.4.14) says Sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Who can see the seer, who can know the knower, who can speak the speaker, who can think the thinker, who can understand the understander? This is the climax of Vedanta philosophy, which Sage Yajnavalkya reached in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, beyond which the mind cannot go. It is the ultimate reach of man’s thought.

This analysis of it being impossible for consciousness to manifest itself as an object is an answer to why we do not see consciousness outside, yet can infer its presence. The Vedanta philosophy is the final answer to all the doubts of man’s mind. How do you know that consciousness is there outside in a mountain? According to the Vijnanavada it is only a mental notion or an idea. Sankara argued that the very fact of the deduction that ‘the mountain in front is only an idea’ proves the existence of something more than an idea behind it.

To cite an example, you know that there is a mountain in front of you. How do you know that there is a mountain? It is through the perception which you have by means of the eyes. But do the eyes go and touch the mountain? The mountain is far away, a mile away perhaps, and the eyes are here. How do the eyes know that the mountain is there a mile away without touching the mountain? You may say, light rays from the sun or from a torch or from some source, moving from the location of the mountain touching the retina of the eyes, gives you the idea that the mountain is there. But light is unconscious. The sun’s rays are insentient. They have no consciousness or understanding. How can inert rays give you an idea of the existence of a mountain outside? The mountain is inert, the light rays are inert, and the space through which the light rays move towards your eyes is also inert. The whole thing is jada jagat; it is an inert world. How do you get the idea, the consciousness, that there is a mountain in front of you? This is a very interesting psychological analysis that everyone has to make, which the Vedanta makes. It is not light rays that give you the idea that it is a mountain, nor does it mean that the mountain jumps into your eyes, nor does it mean that the eyes go and touch the mountain. How do you know that there is a mountain? It is by an implication that is deeply hidden beneath perception, of which normally we have no knowledge.

We are too busy with our jobs and professions to find time for this kind of analysis. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is called samsara – not being able to find time for what is essential. We are very busy with non-essentials. But what matters most in our life, which is the crux of the troubles of man – to analyse this, to understand this, to know this – for that, we have no time. The moment you find time for it, you are free in this world. No more bondage.

Well, to come to the point, the implication behind this perception is that underlying the process of the perception of the mountain there is a link between your subjective consciousness and the object outside in the form of a mountain, and it is this underlying current that is responsible for the knowledge that such and such an object exists. The link between the mountain and your eyes is something which is invisible to your eyes. It is a judge, as it were, in a court, which connects the arguments of two parties, taking evidence from both sides. The judge is impartial and absolutely impersonal. He does not take sides. He does not belong to either party. Similarly, this undercurrent of link between you and the object does not belong either to you or the object. It is transcendent.

But what is the structure of this link between you and the mountain? What is it made of? There are only two things in this world: matter and consciousness. We cannot find a third thing. Now, is this link between the object, or the mountain, and yourself material or conscious? If it is material, it cannot connect consciousness with the object. Therefore, it has to be consciousness. Chaitanya is the underlying current between you, the perceiver, and the object outside, and the object is also nothing but a configuration or an embodiment of this universal consciousness, Vaishvanara. The whole world is one person, and that person is known as Vaishvanara, Mahapurusha or Purushottama. The Purusha Sukta, the Rigveda, the Vaishvanara Vidya or the Upanishad, and such other great upasanas described in our shastras, give us an idea of the comprehensiveness of the cosmos and its structure of consciousness, and not of jadatva or materiality.

What is the outcome of all this? The universe is not merely momentary. Behind this momentariness there is satta,  pure existence, because without the basis of the satta, or existence, there cannot be momentariness. It is existence. And it is not jada, or unconscious. Otherwise, there would be no knowledge of anything. You and I would all be blind, knowing nothing whatsoever. But we aspire for knowledge. We ask for more and more understanding. We are inquisitive. We ask for learning. What is this an implication of? It is that we are essentially intelligent. Even a fool does not want to be called a fool. If you tell a fool, “You are a fool,” he will be annoyed. Though he is really an idiot, he thinks he is intelligent because his essential nature is intelligence. The essential nature manifests itself in spite of what appears on the surface as an encrustation.

Therefore, the essential nature of the cosmos is pure Being in spite of the transitoriness of external characteristics. That is the first conclusion. The second conclusion is that it is intelligence in nature, and not jada, or unconscious. And the third conclusion is more marvellous, and to the satisfaction of all people. It is ultimate freedom, ananda, or bliss. The whole cosmos is essentially sat-chid-ananda – existence, consciousness and bliss. This is the nishkarsha, or the outcome, the essence, the butter that is churned by the great acharayas out of the arguments of Buddha. The dialectics of Nagarjuna, the great propounder of the Madhyamaka doctrine, were directed by Sankara against Nagarjuna himself.

There was another great master, called Sri Harsha, who wrote a book called Khandana Khanda Khadya, which means ‘the sweetness of refutation’, in which he says that everything is wrong, and what I say also may be wrong, but yet behind this refutation of even the refutation there is consciousness. That alone is. That is the outcome of Khandana Khanda Khadya: Consciousness alone is.

Thus, this consciousness is the soul of man. I began by saying that the work of Tusidas and masters of his calibre are the manifestation of soul force. It is the cosmic force that focuses itself through the personality of the saints and sages, and comes out in the form of poems, epics, narratives, and personal lives.

It is, therefore, a blessed occasion and an auspicious opportunity for us all to deeply meditate and contemplate on this invisible significance of human life which gives meaning to all that appears on the surface, and the moment this significance, this deepest meaning in life, is discovered and implemented in our day-to-day activities, we become free not merely politically, socially or intellectually, but spiritually and absolutely. This is what is known as moksha, or the ultimate salvation of the soul, for which purpose great masters and geniuses, and saints and sages like Saint Tulsidas incarnate themselves on earth. May their grace be upon us all!