[Advaita-l] Adi Sankara's Bhaja Govindam - 3

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 17 13:27:56 EST 2021

(Continued from previous post)
Much as Sanskrit grammar proficiency is a great facilitator of the study of scriptures, it must be understood that it is neither sufficient nor absolutely necessary
for acquiring true knowledge, namely, knowledge of the eternal. It is like the plantain leaf (or the plate today) for having one’s meal, a facilitator only.
Indeed, an overemphasis of scholarship can indeed become counter-productive. The broader interpretation of this verse’s caution नहि नहि रक्षति (nahi nahi rakshati,
does not save) is as one asking not to become conceited and totally self-assured only through one’s knowledge. It may also be interpreted as implying that one should not
stop at the worship of सगुण ब्रह्मन् (saguna Brahman) alone as done through routine chants, prayers and oblations, but should indeed try to develop an appreciation
for the निर्गुनब्रःमन् (nirguna Bhrahman), the true substance of one’s seeking.
None of the above, however, is to be misinterpreted as a denigration of the various rituals and prayers embodied in the पूर्वभाग (purva bhaga, the early part) of Vedas.
For most, they play a significant role in the purification of the mind and body and in preparing one for the greater journey. The chosen few like Sri Adi Sankara,
born prepared to undertake that journey directly without elaborate preparations, are very atypical in that respect. Indeed, the criticism is to be taken as aimed at
mistaking the means for the end and for allowing oneself to be content only with rituals, and for performing them without caring to understand their true purpose and meaning.
Kaala is time and also the Lord of Death. Our scriptures assert that one attains whatever one’s mind is filled with at the time of death. Bhagavat Gita asserts
यं यं वापि स्मरन्भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम्‌ |
तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावितः ||
    “yaṃ yaṃ vāpi smaranbhāvaṃ tyajatyante kalevaram |
      taṃ tamevaiti kaunteya sadā tadbhāvabhāvitaḥ ”
–  Chapter 8, verse 6
But one is not given to know when that time comes. Therefore, one should at all times in one’s life, have one’s mind rested on the Eternal, for it is the Eternal that we,
without doubt, eventually reach. Again, to quote Bhagavat Gita,
तस्मात्सर्वेषु कालेषु मामनुस्मर युध्य च |
मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्मामेवैष्यस्यसंशयः ||
     “tasmātsarveṣu kāleṣu māmanusmara yudhya ca |
       mayyarpitamanobuddhirmāmevaiṣyasyasaṃśayaḥ ”
– Chapter 8, verse 7.
In this context, we highly recommend the reading of the poignant भीष्मस्तुति (Bhishma Stuti) in Mahabharata chanted by Bhishma in seeking liberation from the mundane with
a mind cultivated in an attitude of detachment (वितृष्णा मतिः vitrushna upakalpita mati:). The great grandfather (पितामहः pitaamaha) of our venerable epic has indeed set a
worthy example of a glorious exit.
>From even a practical, mundane perspective, the journey towards spiritualism should start early on. We Hindus consider life’s purpose as attainment of the four पुरुषार्थ
(purushaarthas, the goals for humans), namely, धर्म (dharma), अर्थ (artha), काम (kaama) and मोक्ष (moksha.) Among these, the fulfillment of our desires and
aspirations (कामः kaama) in a way conforming to duty and righteousness (धर्म dharma) through the acquisition of weath and security (अर्थः artha) are only the means
(साधन saadhana) to the much larger goal (साध्यं saadhyam), namely, liberation (मोक्ष moksha). While for the religious and the spiritual, moksha entails liberation
from the birth death cycle and effectuating the oneness of the self with Brahman, the need for liberation from the many bonds we create for ourselves through our
likes and dislikes and passions is one that is felt by all including the atheists. At one time or the other in one’s life, most materially motivated actions and pursuits
do get questioned if not understood as the root cause of most problems, both physical and mental. Modern psychology does attest to the oncoming of such eventual doubts;
see, for example, the book, “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life” by Gail Sheehy. It is somewhat unfortunate that most formalized education of the day is aimed only
at the first three of the four purushaarthas and has placed little emphasis on the most important one, namely, moksha. Thus, the advice of this verse not to wait for
one’s late years but to start along the path to moksha from early on, deserves a constant place in one’s mind at every age and in all stations of one’s life.
If it is indeed so, what then are the obstacles that get in our way? How do we realize the illusory and ephemeral nature of this world and the absurdity of our bonds? 
What are the means to overcome them? What fruits do we get by overcoming them? Those are the subject matter of the verses that follow, and we will examine those in
some detail later.
•    This series of articles is inspired by the lectures of Pujyasri Swami Omkarananda (http://www.vedaneri.org/AboutSSO.aspx ) which have been summarized also in a
Tamil book titled “Bhaja Govindam” by Om Sanatana Publications, Chennai, India Yet, this is not a literal translation of the book, for we have taken the liberty of
adding some relevant material including from the Swamiji’s own other lectures and re-arranging the material along some basic themes. The author offers his pranaams to
the Swamiji with great admiration for his deep knowledge and the clarity with which he shares it. Any mistakes of omission or commission are entirely of the author and
are to be forgiven as that of a novice prayatnavaan (one making an attempt).
(Continued in next post)

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