Monday, January 10, 2011


The Do's & Don'ts of Life


Sri Adi Sankaracharya


This blog has earlier brought before you, the text and commentaries on Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s (1) Maneesha Panchakam (2) Atma Bodha and (3) Nirvana Shatkam.

These three texts reflect the quintessence of Advaitha Philosophy enunciated in the Upanishads.

The specialty of these three works is that – though they represent the quintessence of Upanishads, they are all, original works  by Adi Sankara, and teach us the complete gamut of Advaitha in a simple and highly effective style. They came from the very depths of Adi Sankara’s wisdom.

Nirvana Shatkam and Maneesha Panchakam were the outcome of two special incidents in Sankara’s life itself.

They bring out the clear distinction between procedure ridden and class ridden religions of the world and the universality of Advaitha philosophy.

Adi Sankara was never tired of exposing the hollowness and purposelessness of all mundane distinctions that ordinary religionists observe in the society.

Nirvana shatkam and  Maneesha panchakam, bring forth before readers the universality of the self and its oneness with the Brahman – but they do not give the logic behind the theme. They come as Statements of Fact.

On the other hand, Atma Bodha is an elaborate, logical exposition of the Brahman,  adducing different kinds of proof for the self being the same as Brahman.

Atma Bodha is an extraordinary text, serving the Sadhaka in his Sravanam, Mananam and Nidhidhyasanam. A sincere and Persistent Sadhaka can attain Nithya Mukthi or liberation (as we are alive in this body) with this one text of Atma Bodha.

In the series of original works of Adi Sankara comes another illustrious piece called, Bhaja Govindam.

After reading Atma Bodha, Maneesha Panchakam and Nirvana shatkam, and digesting the oneness of Jeeva and Eswara as one and the same Brahman, Bhaja Govindam seems to take us in another direction.

It apparently seems to lead to conclusions of duality of the Jeeva and Eswara (Govinda), with the Jeeva being a perpetual ignoramus and in dire need of Eswara’s grace. This is Bhakthi yoga in all its glory.

How does Adi Sankara reconcile this Bhakthi Yoga path where duality apparently seems to exist and the Bhaktha becomes a seeker of Eshwara, with the Jnana Yoga path in the Atma Bodha where Brahman is the only one and Jeeva needs only to remove his veil of ignorance or Maya to realize his own true nature of Brahman?

Despite Adi Sankara’s unending love for Advaita (non-duality), he remains the most illustrious devotee who composed the best and most time-less hymns on all gods and goddesses in India. Adi Sankara’s hymns are the most beautiful, rhythmic, poetic and musical hymns in existence today on all these gods and goddesses.

But then, the beauty of his writings is precisely this. He uses all the names of these gods and goddesses in his Atma Bodha and other works to signify the same Brahman. I have brought out this significant aspect in my earlier commentary on Atma Bodha.

I have no doubts at all that, had he toured beyond the frontiers of India in to the other parts of the world, Adi Sankara would have definitely used the names of all gods and goddesses prevalent in those parts like West Asia, China etc, in his Atma Bodha and other works – to pronounce that all these names denote the same, and the one and only Brahman.

For him, all names and forms are of none other than the same Brahman.

This is the greatness of Sankara and his works. No philosophy any where in the world can ever be complete without the addition of Sankara’s works, and without giving primacy to them.

Bhaja Govindam is sung by lakhs of devotees in India today. It is so extraordinarily musical, poetic and devotional that any devotee cannot but get into the total surrender mode that is the hall mark of true devotees.

It does not seem to matter at all for devotees whether they do or do not understand the meaning and significance of what they are singing in Bhaja Govindam. It any way takes them nearer to Eshwara (or Govinda!).

In Puranic stories, we find Lord Siva being asked, O Siva, on whom are you doing this continuous meditation? Lord Siva points to Lord Vishnu. The same question, when asked to Lord Vishnu, he points to Lord Siva.

It is difficult to fully comprehend these divine powers, their division of work, and their ultimate oneness – until one travels some distance with Adi Sankara.

Creation(Sristi), Protection(Sthithi) and dissolution (Layam) are said to be independent duties of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. Adi Sankara, however, uses all these names (and more names) to denote the all pervading Brahman whose nature is ‘Sath-Chith-Aananda’.

As Sankara says, which name you use to denote the Brahman does not matter at all.

What do we need -  to attain to the Brahman? Which is the easiest path?
The easiest path is the one enunciated in Bhaja Govindam.

When and why, was Bhaja Govindam composed?

Once Adi Sankaracharya was walking towards the river Ganges for taking bath. On the path, he saw an old Pundit reciting grammar rules of Sanskrit. Are the grammer rules so important at that age? What is most important in life? It was evident to Sankara that people were wasting their life in  secondary pursuits, and were unable to devote time for the main goal of life.

This has prompted Adi Sankara to come out with his first sloka of Bhaja govindam.

Adi Sankara pin points Moha (attachment) as the source of all sorrows and delusions. For this reason, Bhaja Govindam concentrates on breaking this prime reason of sorrows, namely, Moha. Bhaja govindam was initially known as Moha Mudgara, the hammer that breaks this attachment. It was later popularised as Bhaja Govindam.

‘Govinda’ means the One who is known through the Vedas. Bhaja means worship, recite and pray.

The first 12 verses (slokas) are known as dwadasa manjarika sthotram as these verses were told at a time to the old man immersed in reciting grammar rules without thinking of the almighty. The 13th is like a concluding verse for the first 12.

Sankara’s disciples wrote the next 14 verses which are known as Chaturdasa manjarika sthotram.

Adi Sankara wrote another 4 verses to complete the Bhaja Govindam, as it exists today.

We will now see the verses and understand them.


Bhaja  Govindam,  Bhaja  Govindam

Govindam  Bhaja,  Moodhamathe

Samprapthe  Sannihithe  Kaale

Nahi  Nahi  Rakshathi  Dukrinkarane

Meaning :

O Fool (or deluded person)! Chant the name of the Lord Govinda (one who is known from the Vedas), Chant his name, chant his name; for, when death approaches you near your appointed time, none of these grammar rules will save you.

Commentary :

Sankaracharya starts with a triple emphasis on chanting the name of Lord Govinda. One cannot emphasize the importance of worshipping the almighty and praying to him any more than this.

Sankaracharya’s obvious advice is – there is nothing more important than worshipping the almighty, in one’s life.

Why so? Because, this is the only permanent attachment you have in this life and beyond this life as well.

There are other reasons and You may forget all those reasons. But, there is one compelling reason why you should be worshipping the almighty, as the most important work of your life.

Jaathasyahi dhruvam mruthyuhu” says Lord Krishna, who is also called Govinda. This means - Know that death is certain for all those who are born.

There is an appointed time for death. When it approaches you, as it certainly will, at its appointed time, none of your worldly knowledge and achievements can come to your rescue.

When it comes, all that you can do is – be ready to go happily, wherever Govinda takes you. But then, Govinda will take you in his kind and loving arms, only if you keep him in your heart and love him too. Be ready and be happy to go with him.

There is a saying that God showers his grace equally on all. Though it is true as a starting point, he then showers his grace much more on those who are grateful to him for his grace. He too loves those who are righteous and stride in his path. He is kinder to them at the time of and after the death too.

This is like Karma phalam for your actions. If you remain loyal to a friend, your friend remains loyal to you and help you in time of your need. All friends come and go out of your life. Only one friend accompanies you wherever you are and wherever you go. That friend is ever ready to help you, if only you are willing to abide in him as a friend. The almighty is ready to help you! Are you ready to remain his devoted friend? This invisible comes to you in all shapes and forms and in formless ways too. Know him; see him everywhere. Worship him. Bhaja Govindam! He is all around you ever willing to help you in life, in death and beyond that.

Indian culture prescribes Sanyasaasrama for all those in the last lap of their life. In thios stage, we are required to devote totally to renunciation of worldly life and remain utmost joyful in the almighty’s service.

Preparatory to sanyasaasrama is  Vaanaprastha, in the third stage of life. This is gradual withdrawal from family life. Know that, in this stage, you do receive the happinesses of worldly life, but at the same time, gradually withdraw from them, consciously, when the going is good.

The second stage of life is – Grihasthaasrama, or, the life of a householder, in which, you enjoy your worldly life in full, albeit in the righteous way. This is the longest stage of life.

The first stage of life is Brahmacharya, in which you devote yourself to studies of all kinds but control your mind from all sense pleasures.

So, life is well prepared to get educated in the first stage, enjoy life fully in the righteous way in the second stage, then recede from the house holder duties in the third stage and finally devote fully to the devotion of the almighty and for the final journey beyond this body in the fourth stage. Nobody dies a fearful death in this way. Death is as happy an event as life. 

No stage of life is an unhappy stage. Joy is built into every stage.

But, if some one is reciting grammar rules in his old age, without devoting himself to the almighty’s service, he must be made to understand that death is approaching; this is no more the time to be acquiring worldly knowledge (like grammar rules); and that this worldly knowledge will not come with you or save you when death finally takes you away from this body.

Moodhamathe – means one who is in a deluded state. His delusion can be removed. He can be brought back to the right path. We are all in a deluded state to some extent. Bhaja Govindam applies to all of us.

What about those of us who are not yet in the third or fourth stage of life? 

The answer comes in subsequent verses.

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