[Advaita-l] Adi Sankara's Bhaja Govindam - 1

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 14 13:29:37 EDT 2021

Bhaja Govindam – I
Part I : Introduction
V. Ramaswami
Ascribed to Sri Adi Sankara, the collection of verses Bhaja Govindam lays out the primary reasons for adopting a spiritual life and some practical means to achieve
the appropriate mental framework for it. Another name for this work is “मोहमुद्गर Moha Mudgara” which translates to “a stomper of delusion and ignorance,” the delusion
here being the undiscriminating fascination with worldly attractions arising mainly from ignorance about the distinction between the eternal and the ephemeral.
A study of this work is a good step in acquiring a passion for spiritual liberation (मुमुक्षुत्वं mumukshatvam), noted in तत्वबोध (Tatvabodha) as one of the
four quintessential qualifications (साधन चतुष्टय sadhana chatushtaya) for attaining liberation. It is also one that can guide day by day in achieving
a measured dispassion and a great level of inner peace. It brings forth the hidden perils of worldly pleasures and debunks the relationships that tie the
fundamentally free Self. It explains neatly the roles of the Guru (the spiritual teacher) and good company (सत्सङ्गः satsanga), as well as of the correct role
of rituals in one’s journey towards attaining the ultimate goal of inner peace and identification with one’s true self. It demonstrates the absurdity of meaningless
pursuits we mostly engage in, the ostentatious piety of false prophets, and the fruitlessness of rituals performed mechanically without realizing their purpose which
is the regulation of one’s desires and aspirations. It describes in poetic terms the freedom and inner joy of one who has acquired the true knowledge. When carried
with one as a constant reference, the verses of Bhaja Govindam are indeed a great guide in navigating the complex world we live in and in keeping our sight on the
abiding, eternal, and truly worthwhile.
In the words of Rajaji, this and other hymns of Sri Adi Sankara, “who drank the ocean of knowledge as one sips water from the palm of one’s hand,” are great testimony
to the equal stature he affords to devotion (भक्तिः bhakthi) and knowledge ( ज्ञान jnana). They are both important in the context of spirituality and
in liberating oneself from the worldly woes marked by the birth-death cycle punctuated by repeated suffering and misleading fleeting pleasures (संसार दुखः samsara dukkha
and मोह moha). As noted by Swami Tattvavidananda in his New Year message of 2013, akin to a lamp placed in the threshold of the living and family rooms that
illumines both, Bhakthi is the lamp that illumines both spiritual knowledge (jnana) and dispassionate and righteous action (karma). It helps one live in the present
without being sucked into guilt from the unchangeable past or worries about the unknown future. The placement by Sri Sankara of the call for Bhakthi in the very
opening phrase “Bhaja Govindam” does indeed appear deliberate.
Again, as Rajaji notes, “When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the heart, it becomes wisdom. When that wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action,
it becomes devotion. Knowledge which has become mature is spoken of as devotion. If it does not get transformed into devotion, such knowledge is useless tinsel.”
It is a fact that unless senses are controlled, knowledge will not mature and wisdom will not dawn. The secret of getting there is the restraining of natural impulses
and keeping the eye on the ball, the eternal. Bhaja Govindam is not just an assertion of the above facts but a menu of steps that will make it possible. So, without
much further ado, let us start with the very first verse of this great work that encapsulates much of the teachings of Vedanta with great insight into the machinations
of the very world we live in. Worldly distractions do seduce us away often from the path of knowledge and the translation of that knowledge into right action.
Verse 1:
      भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं, गोविन्दं भज मूढमते |
      संप्राप्ते संनिहिते काले नहि नहि रक्षति डुक्रुंकरणे ||
Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam
Govindam Bhaja Moodamathe,
Sampraapte sannihite kaale,
Nahi nahi rakshati dukrumkarane.
Oh, mind steeped in ignorance (मूढमते moodamathe)! Pray unto Govinda (गोविन्दं भज Govindam bhaja). When our time comes near (काले संप्राप्ते [सति] kaale sampraapte [sati]),
mechanical chanting (डुक्रुंकरणे dukrunkarane), will not save us (नहि नहि रक्षति nahi nahi rakshati.)
It is customary for Hindu didactic works to begin with an invocation and a formal verse setting out the topic of the piece, the anticipated fruits, and the qualifications
of the learner. While this may appear to have been eschewed here, a deeper examination will belie that. The very opening words “Bhaja Govindam” – repeated thrice as is
often done for emphasis in the Vedas – serves as the invocation, and the anticipated fruit of learning is unmistakably identified as ultimate salvation. The absence of
an explicit mention of the qualified learner (अधिकारि adhikaari) should be interpreted as asserting that the work is relevant to all, and the particular exhortation not to
wait too long is a call to start walking along the spiritual path of devotion from early on.
(Continued in next post)

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