Wednesday, January 12, 2011



Sri Adi Sankaracharya


The first 3 verses of Bhaja Govindam  highlighted  before us some of the important human needs which also tend to become our major human weaknesses, when carried beyond reasonableness.

First verse : Knowledge is essential – but acquire it in younger days and use it for all worldly purposes. All this secular knowledge is futile, when death is approaching you, as it surely will, at its appointed time. Let us remember that Sankara is particularly addressing the deluded old man, who in his ripe old age, in stead of concentrating on the worship of almighty, is still memorizing a mundane thing like grammar rules!

Second Verse : Money is essential for life.  But, as it is said, one should earn for one’s needs and not for one’s greed. Also, you can earn money through righteous ways – and not through dishonest ways.  Then again, money must be be spent in righteous ways, for our happiness.  Money, its earning and spending in righteous ways are all perfectly in order. When does money become our weakness? It becomes our weakness, when we develop unending, insatiable thirst for money. We do see people madly running after money-earning – as if that is the only goal of life. Buddha says poignantly that, many of these are all busy in life, amassing different forms of dust, all around us (the dust includes money and wealth), until, we turn into dust themselves.

Third verse :   Adi Sankara speaks of the dangers of our lust and passion for sex and bodily pleasures. They enslave us and spoil our  peace and sanity totally. Does it mean that sex and bodily pleasures are total taboo? No. Grihasthaasrama, the longest period is intended for it. Here also, the means and ends must be clear. It must be in righteous path. Mad running after sex and lust are the danger to us.


Knowledge, money and bodily pleasures  are good for us and help us in life – but only if they remain under our control. We must not come under their control. Then, life goes astray. If we hold their reins in our hands and use them in a righteous, socially beneficial way, they do give us immense happiness and will be of great help to the Society as well. But, if we become their slave, our life will be in total restlessness, direction-less-ness and unhappiness. Who Holds the Key – you or they? This is what matters.

As you can see, Adi Sankara is explaining the most essential Dos and Do'nts of life in Bhaja Govindam.


Nalineedalagatha Jalamathi tharalam

Thadvajjeevitamatisaya Chapalam

Viddhi Vyaadhyabhimaanagrastham

Lokam Sokahatham Cha Samastham

( Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam, Govindam ..)


Lotus flower is born in waters, lives in waters and fades away in waters. All around it are only waters. A water drop falling on the lotus petal, however, does not even wet the petal. It continuously swings on the petal along with the swinging of the water waves below and the air waves above. It leads a totally unsteady life on the lotus petal – until it falls back into the waters below. Once back in the waters, it has no more identifiable, independent existence.

Human life is equally unsteady and unstable.

Understand, that this world is beset with disease and conceit, which toss you with every swinging of life within and outside. Disease rocks you from within and conceit rocks you from outside as well. Your Life becomes totally unsteady until you fade away into the universe.

Life undulating under disease and conceit, is therefore full of restlessness and misery.


Adi Sankara is highlighting the fourth and fifth weaknesses of human beings in this verse.

Disease pervades the whole of the world at all times and makes life full of sorrow and grief. No one is born in this world, who has not fallen sick at all.  Buddha renounced the world – especially on seeing the sick and the dead.

Have you met a single person who has never fallen sick? That kind of fortune is not given to any human being. Like the drop of water swinging wildly on the lotus petal, you too will fall to the pangs of disease, periodically in life. The water drop must fall into waters. So will you too – you will fall off the life petal back the universe. You can swing till then. 

When sickness overtakes you, grief, misery and unsteadiness are bound to enter into your life. Do keep that understanding in you.

Abhimaana or conceit is the fifth weakness in us. Conceit creates ahankaara or ego in us. It can be a little more in some one and a little less in some other, but all of us keep our conceit as if it is a great treasure and suffer on account of it continuously in life. We are almost unaware that most of our suffering is springing from this conceit (Ego) in us. This is also at the root of our likes and dislikes. These dualities toss us up and down in our life  and cause our downfall all the time.

What is the remedy?

The ancient saying is ‘Deho devalayo prokthaha’, meaning, body is like a temple for the Jeeva who is deathless. You must care for the body, as if it is a temple. Keep it as much as possible away from Disease and conceit. It must house the Jeeva (You).  Your house must be clean and healthy. Keep it so. But, know that, whatever we do, the physical body is bound to attract disease some time or other. When disease strikes, there is another enemy within pouncing on us to take its share of flesh. That is your Abhimaana or conceit. The worst conceit is Deha-abhimaana or pride of the Body. When Body is falling to disease, pride of the body takes the biggest hit.

The remedy is –know the reality. You are neither the body nor the body is yours. You are the trustee within and the caretaker. You do not own the body. Take care of the body; be joyful; Avoid disease as much as possible; but avoid conceit totally.


Yaavadvittopaarjana sakthah

Thaavannijaparivaaro Rakthah

Paschaajjeevathi Jarjjaradehe

Vaarthaam Kopi Na Prichchati Gehe

 (Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam, Govindam…)


So long as you are fit and capable of earning money (or wealth), that long will your family members continue to shower their love and affection on you.

What about life after that? How will your life in the family be, when you are no more capable of earning either for yourself or the family?

You will live your life, after that, with a body which is tottering; which is becoming more and more weak and infirm. No one in the family will now find time and words for you or your welfare.


Sage Narada came down from the heavens to the dacoit Valmiki to make him realize this truth in a slightly dramatic way.

Valmiki was robbing the people to enrich his wife, his parents and family members and make them happy. Sage Narada asked him – to find out who among his people are willing to share his SIN  also, along with the booty. Valmiki was horrified to find that not even among his people were unwilling to share his sin, though they gladly shared the wealth he brought by robbing others.

That realization made the dacoit Valmiki into Maharshi Valmiki, and eventually made him to write the great epic, Ramayana.

Remember, Adi Sankara wrote this verse 12 centuries ago, when family values were still reasonably sacrosanct.

When a man is capable of earning and providing for the needs of his family members, surely the family members shower a lot of affection on him. The family surrounds him and behaves as if the home itself is a heaven for the breadwinner of the family. If this happens, it is not unwelcome for anyone.

But, in every one’s life, the time surely comes, when the body becomes weak and infirm; when one is  no more capable of earning for himself or for the members of his family. This stage cannot be avoided by any one.

Will you get the same level of attention and affection then, as you used to get when you were capable of earning for the family members?

No way, says Adi Sankara. This is human nature. Your family members now need some one else to earn for them and take care of them. Their love and affection shifts to the new bread-winner.

You fade into the background in your own family. No one has time for you now. No one has any more words of affection for you.

This is another compelling reason, why ancient India had prescribed a life style called vaanaprastha as the third stage when wife and husband are still alive and reasonably healthy. They must retire from other family members gradually and find joy in worship of the almighty, even while not leaving family joys fully. Thereafter sanyaasa is the fourth stage of life, when usually, one of them is no more alive. Then, it is total devotion to the almighty and finding joy in him.

In this verse – one more need which becomes a weakness is highlighted. We must earn income and wealth for our self and for family members. Likewise, love for the head of family from the other family members also is an automatic happening.

But, be ware – that you be not carried away, assuming this love and affection springing coming from your earning capabilities to be permanent. No. This is not permanent. But still, do thy duties as head of family. Reality must always be kept in mind. If your expectations are less, your disappointments are less. If you do your duty without expectation, you will be rewarded richly. If not – since there is no expectation, you have no disappointment any way.

As you can see –Sankara is pointing out the most common causes of suffering and their remedies.

If Old age and loss of earning capability can bring in these shocks of life, what about death? What happens when death comes? We will see in the next verse.

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