Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, two weeks last Tuesday in fact, an ancient future primitive teacher of yoga was walking up Broadway in his ocher robes and matching reeboks. As the Times Square of dawn commenced he noticed a very rare and special herb magically appearing in a matted son’s square garden, where it rested in flakes shrouded by the finest white linen and enveloped by a small and exquisitely made box constructed from a single thin slice of the rare and exotic glossy 5-color kardhbored. And all of this protected by a large piece of perfectly transparent plane of clear crystal over which read: “East Village Coop.”
Noticing the look of deep reference, and reverence, that the Guruji gave this herb, his disciple, Aliceananda Inwonder Giri, asked: “Guru ji, what is this herb that is brewing such reverence in your mind?”
To which the Guru enigmatically replied, “Tulasi, the Balance of my Being!”
“Pray tell, I want to know more about this Tulsi, I want to know what is its why?” stammered the student.
Falling out of character faster than a lead balloon, he quickly shot an incredulous look at the lucky lass who was about to taste her new favorite tisane, and said:
Is this a trick question? Is there a camera on me or something? Pray tell, just what makes you think, or assume, that there is a “why” about Tulsi, or should I say, a valid “why.” Why do you think that the choice of having Tulsi in our life is ours? What if certain plants, or plants in general, had an intelligence too great for our mere human intelligence to cognize much less understand? Does the walker choose the path or the path the walker? Might a life form that has lived on this good earth for thousands of times longer than humans have developed strategies for thriving that had, ah – strategy? If the Vedas, Puranas and Pollan are right, and I am right in there with ‘em, then the “why” about Tulsi would be something like this:
“Because Tulsi is a great being with incredibly empowering past associations, she compassionately chooses to engage in a symbiotic pas de deux with humans, who, oblivious to the true nature of the Nature about them, assume that Tulsi is nothing more than a mere tasty tisane that tames our trials and tribulations.”
Now, if one considers that this answer is just a bit too flavored with superfluous theoretical ontology to be considered admissible to a proper Yogini like yourself, then perhaps they should also consider realigning their views to those of the Yoga tradition by spending a little time studying the RgVeda, or the AtharvaVeda, or the Vrksayurveda of Parasara, or the Chandogya Upanisad, or the Shanti Parva nested so nicely in its host the MahaBharata, or the more recent texts that are only a millennium or so old like Sankaramisra’s Upaskara, or the 13th century Prthviniraparyam of the great logician Udayana, or the Buddhist flavored Nyayavindutika of Dharmottara, or Gunaratna’s Saddarsana-samuccaya.
Having done that while simultaneously avoiding the traps of the eisegete, one would know the validity of this yogic view, even if it “sees” beyond that luminosity-lacking limited landscape which the mediocrely myopic collective consciousness is so insidiously bound by.
At this point the poor student whimpered a barely audible though resounding, “what?”
Increasing the joviality by three shades after remembering his Bodhisattva vow, the Guru decided to try another tack and continued:
OK, so if Yogic Ontology wasn’t your favorite class in High School, well then, how did you do in Medical Anthropology?
One does not and perhaps cannot understand the importance of the role of the ancient “Clan Fire-Keeper” when one lives in a world that surrounds you with sources of flames that include lighters, matches, torches, zoe saldana and stoves that give us fire whenever we want it. Imagine the life if fire was difficult to make, if ignition wasn’t a mere flick of a thumb away.
In the same way we cannot understand how developed, and keen, and motivated the Ancient ones sense of herbal medicine was, and how vitally important herbs have been to humans since and even before our days as primates, as evidenced by endogenous cellular receptors that no endogenous molecules fit, but that phytochemistry does trigger. And of these herbs “noticed” and used, one might think that those plants whose leaves had tasty essential oils in them would be the first to be plucked and tasted in a “testing” kind of way.
And so to ask about the history of Tulsi, the why, then surely we have to look far back to those pre Homo sapiens humanoids that lived in India for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years before our species made it there, as I am quite sure it was. There, where the payoff of reward-based behavior was usually nothing more than simple survival itself, you will find the original “why” about Tulsi, and get to the roots of our use of her today.
In a spontaneous outpouring of lucid articulation the student croaked, “Huh?”
Raising his eyebrows while deepening the furrows in his pitta-fied forehead the Guruji finally sighed with sweet renunciation and annunciated the Truth of Tulsi in the timelessness of twittering tongues and gently spoke:
“Ahh…, so it isn’t your fascination with those hefty Anthropology tomes that keeps you up to the wee hours, its quipping the night away with Sri Social Media ji that really juices up your zen. I get it if you don’t always want to face books of wisdom.”
So then just try this tweetable “why” out for size instead:
“#Tulsi’s timeless tastyness arises from a phytomolecular pharmacy unrivaled in its healing power and epigenetically evolutionary potential.”
To which the student announced, “Cool Daddio, I’m gonna try the Tulsi Cinnamon Rose first!”