The reputed author of the Hindi Ramayana, Saint Tulsi Das, in his old age used to live in the holy city of Benares. His verses had won the hearts of the people of northern India, and his fame had been established as a great classical writer forever. Tributes were poured on him from the Imperial Court and also from common sources.
He lived the life of a devotee in voluntary poverty and in a simple style at the Asi bank of the holy Ganges. Very few in the neighbourhood knew that the great poet Tulsi was living in the midst of them. He passed his whole time in adoration of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Shri Hanuman. He worshipped their images at a certain temple and passed the remainder of his days in adoration, devotion and composition of his great poems, the writing of which was also a method of his adoration. Now he was old, his body was subject to the usual feebleness of age. Being undernourished and having lived a stranger even to the initial comforts of life, he looked very frail and presented an unattractive and perhaps an unimportant figure to the eye of the observer.
It was announced one day that the Emperor of Delhi was to ride through the holy city in a long and splendid procession. The city was decorated, festooned, beflagged, carpeted and arched where the procession was to pass. Nearly the whole city had turned out to see the procession, but Saint Tulsi Das was sitting on the sands of the Ganges and writing verses in adoration of his favourite deity, Shri Ramachandra.
A nun who had a nodding acquaintance with the Saint happened to pass the place where he was sitting. She greeted him and said: “Grandfather, are you not going to see the procession?” “What procession, my daughter? It is news to me. Is Shri Ram coming to Benares?”, asked the holy man. The young nun smiled at the simplicity of the holy poet. She paused a little, holding her heavy pot filled with Ganges water in her right hand, and said: “Grandfather, the Moghul Emperor is coming to-day. Many of our poets have been invited to read their verses to the Emperor. Surely there is no greater poet than you to-day in the whole of India? Won’t you go and receive the honour of the great monarch?”
Tulsi Das was silent; he went into a meditative trance. The nun also stood transfixed, wondering why the foremost of the poets was not seeking renown in the Imperial Court.
Then Tulsi Das said: “My daughter, I acknowledge only one king, one emperor, one master and only one lord, and it is Shri Ramachandra. I have given my fullest allegiance to Him alone. If He came, surely Tulsi Das would go, crawling on his forehead and pouring out all his verses. As to the temporal kings and emperors, they also depend upon Him Who commands the sun to rise and to set.” And then he recited the following verse, which perhaps he composed impromptu:
He alone is clever
Whose mind is absorbed in the meditation of Ram.
If cleverness consists in acquiring others’ wealth
And influencing their minds,
Then there are many prostitutes ,
Who can claim to be the cleverest.”
How true are the words of Tulsi Das! Indeed, the real cleverness is to see unity in diversity, to recognise the one supreme cause, both material and efficient, of the whole universe and to be absorbed in His meditation. Why has man been given the capacity to love, which means forgetfulness of one’s own interest in the adoration of the object of beauty? There is no other purpose for it but to adore Rama and to live in the sweetness of His contemplation. Wealth, love, physical tangible beauty, are the ephemeral objects which derive their existence from a fragment of the permanent Truth, eternal Beauty and heart-enchanting Virtue called Shri Ram.
Let us also adore Him, to-day and at all times, and for His sake love the poor and the rich alike, and promote beauty in art, in literature and in other elevating forms to attract the attention of the world to Ram. What can be a greater avocation than this? What can be a more beautiful life than this?