Bhaja Govindam – Introduction
Seek Govinda – Seek God
“Seek Govinda, Seek the God, …. Bhaja Govindam”, in this refrain comprising of the two words, “Bhaja” and “Govindam” , Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, has summed up in a nutshell, as it were, the entire preaching of Vedanta and religion for the redemption of mankind. It gives us the key for entering into the realm of Bliss, the abode of Govinda and for terminating the misery of life we are in at present.
In thirty-one, simple sweet and lucid Slokas, giving homely analogies and illustration for our easy understanding, Sankara tells us about the fallacy and fultility of our life; and Sloka by Sloka, he removes veil after veil, dispelling our ignorance, illusion and delusion (moha) and showing us where the remedy for all our misery lies. The poem is therefore, also called Moha Mudgara. He touches all aspects of our life, how these blind and bind us, plunging us deeper and deeper into the abyss of ignorance and misery. He wants each one of us to cultivate a discerning and discriminating eye (viveka) to distinguish the permanent from the transitory, the real from the unreal, to practise dispassion (vairagya) for wordly attraction and distractions, to cultivate devotion for realizing Govinda, the abiding Truth, and thus getting released from the misery and bondage of this phenomenal existence.
Jagadguru Adi Sankaracharya is undisputedly the greatest philosopher that India, or the world, has ever produced. He is unique in the history of the world as he combined in himself the attributes of a philosopher, a devotee, a mystic, a poet and a religious reformer. Though he lived twelve hundred years ago, India and the world feel the impact of the life and work of this spiritual genius even today.
As per the promise given in the Gita that God would descend on earth whenever righteousness and all that is dependent upon dharma is on the decline, Sankaracharya appeared on the Indian scene at a time when moral and religious chaos had overtaken the country.
Sankaracharya was born during the 8th century. By those times Buddhism was widely spread in the country but in a very much changed form from that of the pure and simple ethical teachings of the master. Jainism also had its influence and wide following. Both the religions as per common comprehension i.e as per laymen’s understanding were bereft of the concept of God, with the result that atheism was becoming the vogue and the general creed of the people. Hinduism itself was broken up into numberless sects and denominations, each opposed to and intolerant of the other. The religious coherence in the land was lost and, besides, many unwholesome excrescences such as the vows of the Salvas and Vamachara of the Saktas, Ganapatyas, Sauras and Bhagawatas which crept in, were corrupting the purity and the spirit of the religion. What the times needed was an integration of all thought so as to stop the waning of the eternal principles of dharma, to arrest the religious decadence, disharmony, and discord mounting up among the various sects of the Hindus and bringing about a moral religious and spiritual harmony, integration and renaissance in the land. Such a mighty and stupendous task only God could do.. and Sankara came, and undertook it and accomplished it too.
During the brief span of 32 years of life, Sankara established firmly the Advaita Vedanta philosophy as the essential unifying basis of the Hindu religion. He brought about religious harmony spiritual coherence and moral regeneration of the country.
Sankaracharya was born towards the end of the eighty century A.D. at Kaladi, a village in Central Kerala. He was the only son of a devout Nambudiri Brahmin couple, Sivaguru and Aryamba. It is believed that he was born as a result of their long prayers to Lord Siva of the famous Vrishabachaleswara temple at Trichur. He was an infant prodigy and completed his vedic studies by the age of eight. His father died when he was still young and it was his mother who brought him up with loving care as he was her only source of consolation and support now. The boy exhibited ascetic tendencies and the mother felt very upset. Yet, the divine mission for which that great genius had been born had to be fulfilled, and so something of a miracle had to happen to set Sankara free from worldly ties. So once when the son was bathing in the nearby Purna river and while the mother was standing on the bank, a crocodile caught hold of the boys leg and started dragging him into deeper waters. When death was (seemingly) near, Sankara asked permission of the mother to enter the last ashrama of Sanyasa, which every Hindu was supposed to take before his death. Formal renunciation at such a critical situation. Apatsanyasa was a common practice. Very reluctantly Aryamba gave her consent and lo! mysteriously the crocodile let go the boy! Emerging from the river-the Bala Sanyasin decided to become a wandering monk and soon left his village after consoling and assuring his mother that he would be at her side during her last days and even perform her funeral rites. Thus Sankara set forth on his divine mission at the very young age of eight, when most the boys would not have even left their toy trinkets.
After leaving Kaladi the young sanyasin scholar wandered through South India and ultimately reached the banks of Narmada in search of a guru . There he met Govinda Bhagavatpada, a prominent disciple of the great Gaudapada of Mandukya Karika reputation. Govindapada welcomingly accepted this bala-sanyasin as his disciple and initiated him into the intricacies of Vedanta. After about seven years, when Sankara had completed his Vedantic studies and sadhana, his guru told him to proceed to Kashi, the ancient city of learning and spirituality and spread the message of Advaita Vedanta from the there by writing commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagawad – Gita. As instructed he proceeded to Kashi and there, within a short time established himself as the greatest champion of Vedanta philosophy. He won many debates and disciples came to him in large numbers. Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka were the chief among them. Thus, by the age of sixteen, Sankara had established himself as a great philosopher in the city of Varanasi, then the very heart of the intellectual and spiritual movements in India.
After establishing himself at Kashi as the invincible champion of Vedanta philosophy, Sankara started on a tour of this vast country for Dig-Vijaya or spiritual conquest, under specific instruction from sage Veda Vyasa who blessed him with a vision while Sankara was writing the Brahma Sutra Bhashya. Wherever he went, he won over eminent leaders of the other existing systems of philosophy and firmly established Advaita Vedanta. None could stand against his vast erudition, dialectical skill and spiritual insight. Amongst these debates, the one which was of great importance was his encounter with Mandana Mistra the great disciple of Kumarila Bhatta, a staunch protagonist of ritualism. The Karma Kanda portion of the Vedas had much hold on Hindu religion at that time and this was largely due to the philosopher- leaders and religious authorities like Kumarila Bhatta and Mandana Misra. In order to establish the truths of Jnana Kanda, Sankara had to defeat and win over these two intellectual giants. Kumarila Bhatta was at that time entering the self immolation Fire, a rite which is believed to release the soul into freedom from bondage of matter for ever. Therefore as Kumarila Bhatta could not undertake a debate with Sankara he directed the Vedantin to meet his disciple, Mandana Misra with Ubhaya Bharathi, the scholarly wife of Mandana Misra, acting as the judge. After many days of discussion, Mandana Misra accepted defeat.
The condition of the debate was that he who would be defeated would become the others’ disciple and take up the victor’s way of life. Thus Mandana Misra became a sanyasi and was given the name Sureswara. This victory gave a new impetus to Sankara’s spiritual conquest. Sri Sankara and his disciples traveled all over the land refuting false doctrines and purifying objectionable practices which were then in vogue in the name of religion. He also established Mutts at four places: Sringeri in the South, Badri in the North, Dwaraka in the West and Jagannath Puri in the East. At Kanchi also, he is said to have established a Mutt, Known as Kamakoti Mutt. He chose these places for the beauty of their natural environments amidst snow clad mountains, forests and rivers or on the shores of the ocean, places where heaven and earth meet and transport man’s thoughts to sublime heights. He placed Sri Sureswaracharya at the head of the Mutt in Sringeri, Sri Padmapada in Dwaraka, Sri Totaka in Badri and Sri Hastmalaka in Puri. The establishing of these Mutts indicate Sri Sankara’s realisation of the physical and spiritual unity of India. He wrote in Sanskrit, the lingua franca of cultured India of those times, which alone could appeal to the intellectuals all over the land.
ABOUT BHAJA GOVINDAM
A popular story describes the circumstances in which this great poem burst forth from the lips of Sankara. It is said that once in Banaras when he together with his fourteen disciples, was going along on his daily rounds, he overheard very old Pundit cramming Panini’s grammar rules. Sankara was touched with pity at the ignorance and folly of the man wasting away the most precious ‘dusk hours’ of his life for a mere intellectual accomplishment instead of spending them in contemplation on the Lord, praying for spiritual enlightenment and for release from the bondage of Samsara. He knew that this was not the state of that particular old man alone, but was the general state of most of the men. Men waste and while away their lives in many (or most) futile ways, groveling in the mire of earthly attachments, forgetting God who is the only goal of life. In compassion for man’s plight he burst forth into these stanzas famouns as “Moha Mudgara”, now popularly known by the refrain of the song which is “Bhaja Govindam”
“Oh Mudha! Oh, ignoramus! Grammar rules ( in fact all your secular learning) will not come to your rescue when death knocks to snatch you away. Instead of wasting away the precious span of your life in a fufile manner, turn to seek Govinda, who alone can save you from the jaws of life and death”.
Bhaja Govindam is one of the minor compositions of Sankara compared to his monumental works called Bhashyas, Commentaries on Indian Scriptures. Bhaja Govindam along with “Atma Bodha” etc., comes under the category of Prakarana Granthas, introductory manual for spiritual studies. They are like primers, explaining the philosophical terms etc for the spiritual initiates. The elementary spiritual truths are brought to the fore in these booklets and make man think, “Ah this is life! I Must seek escape from this prison-hole and may God guide and help me”. Man is thus drawn out of the miry bylanes of life in which he is stuck up and put onto the royal road of spirituality, on the pathway to God!
Bhaja Govindam – Activity
- Picture Matching
- Ribbon of Life
- Bhaja Govindam & Adi Sankara – Quiz
To demonstrate how quickly – time flies and how time waste results in life waste.
MATERIALS REQUIRED :
A coloured ribbon length approximately1 meter/100 cms, a measuring tape and a pair of scissors.
Explain to the children that 1 cm of the ribbon represents 1 year of our life.
The length of the ribbon is 100cms representing 100 years of life. Begin with this question : What is the average life span of an individual? Let us say that the response from the children is that – in today’s time and age, the approximate life expectancy of a normal human being could be around 70 to 75 years. Since, the length of the ribbon is 100cms representing 100 years of life, let us cut out 25 cms of the ribbon so that the ribbon now measures 75 cms
That is, we now have 75 years of life in our hands- Is that right?
Yes – And moving on, the next question we can pose to the children can be : What is the average age of the participants sitting here? The response would be around 9 to 12 years (Group II Balvikas children). In that case let us take the average as 11 years.
So the next step is to cut out another 11 cms of the ribbon. Explain to them that they have already spent 11 years in this world – 11 years that they cannot get back, since time is such a kind of resource that once gone, it cannot be brought back again and is lost forever. Emphasize this line of thought so that children are able to comprehend the concept underlying behind this activity.
So now that we have cut out 11cms (for the 11years of life spent) what is the length of our ribbon at hand? 64 cms!! That’s right.
Meaning – we have 64 years of our life left :
- to use it to the fullest
- to pursue our dreams and passions
- to reach our goals and targets
- to find purpose and meaning to our life
Is that right? That is correct – but that is also wrong. Let us tell them how We are correct about planning to live our life to its fullest but we are wrong about the number of years we have with us in order to fulfill our plans. We definitely do not have the 64 full years in our hand. Wondering how??
Well, here are the answers to that how:
Sundays are generally meant for rest and rejuvenation and we do not exactly get productive work done in the weekend and hence the 52 Sundays in a year are in effect, wasted. If we multiply that by the 64 years in our hand and then divide by 365 days [(52days per year*64yrs)/365days], it comes to about 9 years. So what is our next step ? That’s right – it’s time to cut out another 9 cms of the ribbon. So what are we left with? 55 cms – ie; we now have 55 years of life to fulfill our dreams and achieve our goals – is that right??? Well, again we are slightly mistaken..
Public/National holidays and other holidays add up to about 20 days per year. 20 days that we generally prefer to relax and enjoy and not deploy in useful and productive activities. So now we multiply 20 by 64 and then divide by 365 [(20days per year*64yrs)/365days a year] That comes to about 4 years. So kids-what does that mean? Yes, we reduce ribbon by 4 cms.
Next come the sick leave &annual holidays which add up to about 40 days a year; multiply that by 64 and divide by 365. That comes to 7 years. You know the drill by now. Yes we cut off another 7 cms. And we are not yet done!!!! Think about your daily activities.
You sleep for an average of 8 hours daily. You spend around 2 hours every day eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacking in between meals etc. You spend about 2 hours a day in travel – moving from place to place for school, co-curricular classes and extra-curricular activities etc So that adds up to 12 hours a day. Multiply that by 365 and again by 64. [12hrs per day*365days*64 years] It comes to around 280320 hours. Since we need this in terms of years – Divide the hours by 365 days and then by 24 hours. So that’s 32 years gone. And what do we do next? Yes Cut out 32 cms from the ribbon.
- Now finally what is the length of the ribbon? It looks very small in size now. So how much does the ribbon measure now? 12 cms!!!!!! only Can u believe it – from 100 to 12 it just went down so quickly. And so what we have left in our hands now is just 12 cms of ribbon – ie; effectively, we have only 12 years of our life left with us !!! Just 12 years to get so……. much done.
We literally have very little time. To all those of us who think we have all the time in the world – how grossly mistaken are we? This is most definitely something that we need to ponder about. And ponder quickly!! As the clock’s ticking…
- And any of you smart kids who are wondering whether by any chance, you could have finally held a longer size of ribbon in your hands, you are certainly on the right track.. Think of the days and hours that you can put into productive use and not waste unnecessarily and this contemplation will lead you to have a much longer ribbon in your hands – ie; more number of worthy years of your life…
Bhaja Govindam – Further Reading
- Sri Adhi Sankarar Life’s – Divine Message
- Summer Showers in Brindavan
- Divine discourse by Bhagawan
- Other references from Bhagawan
Shri Adi Shankaracharya: His Life – Part 2
One day, Shankara’s mother called him, served him food on the leaf and said, “We have begotten you after a long period of waiting. But you are going to live for a short period. To keep up the clan of our family, I want you to get married.” She asked him to make this promise. To this Shankara replied “Mother, what is Samsara? What is the happiness in this family life? What is the result from this family life? How do you expect to reach your goal in this family life? I don’t relish this family life. I want to be a sanyasi (ascetic).” When he said so, his mother was more grief stricken.
Celibacy is of 3 types. These include Vastra Sanyasa, Indriya Sanyasa and Hrudaya Sanyasa. Vastra Sanyasa means restraint on extravagant dressing habits. Indriya Sanyasa means control on all the desires. Sanyasa means Sarvasanga Parityaga i.e. total renunciation. Giving up all the desires is Sanyasa. We have to give up all these desires which are of a multiplying nature. This is the renunciation of the senses. Hrudaya Sanyasa means there is no relation between mind, the senses and the heart. That which is born, grows and ultimately dies is the body. The body passes through the stages of birth, youth, old age and death. As the body passes through the various stages, there is mental suffering associated. The childhood is spent in playing, the boy hood is spent in studies, youth is spent in family life, old age is spent in discharging responsibilities. Thus there is an intimate relationship between the body and the mind. Take the example of a raw tamarind. If it is hit with a stone, the outer layer as well as the inner layer gets damaged. On the other hand, when we hit a ripe tamarind with a stone, only the outer skin breaks and the juice is available for consumption. Similarly the one with worldly associations should understand that he is like a tamarind. It is the same tamarind that is the gross body, subtle body and causal body. The outer skin is the gross, the pulp inside is the subtle and the seed is the causal body. The seed, skin and fruit, all the three are out of the one self. Like this the body is intimately related with the ephemeral, physical world.
Shankara told his mother, “Mother, you are expecting me to lead a family life. I don’t want to lead a family life. What is family life? Is it wife and children? Desire means Samsara. In fact any desire is Samsara – studying, eating, moving about, sitting, inhalation and exhalation are all different aspects of the Samsara. I am already in that Samsara. This inhalation and exhalation must merge with the Divinity. That is Saayujya – merger with the Supreme. That is Liberation – merger with the Divine. What is this merger? Is it the body, mind, Chitta, life force? No. That which is the basis of the body, that without which this body cannot exist in this world, must merge with the Divine. That which has emerged from the Divine must merge back into the Divine. This is stated in the Bhagavatam also.”
Thus he taught all about renunciation to his mother. On hearing this mother Aryamba felt very sad, which was quite natural. The next day she went to the Poorna river to get water. Because of all the sadness, she didn’t take food and didn’t get proper sleep as she had spent the previous day thinking about the decision that Shankara had made. As she was bringing water she fainted. On seeing her, Shankara thought that he must discharge his duty. Since his mother did not return, he followed the same route on which she had gone. He saw his mother had fallen unconscious. Keeping his mother on his lap, he served his mother. When she became conscious, he brought her back home. Then he started teaching her again, “Mother, my words might have hurt you. But if I keep myself to these problems, I am not doing justice to my dharma. Strictly speaking, you are not my mother and I am not your son. You and I have come out from that Satchitananda (Truth-Awareness-Bliss) principle. You are Satchitananda and so am I. We both must go back to that Satchitananda. It is not good to feel sad like this. This sadness is contrary to spirituality.” The sanyasi
The mother was in deep distress over the son’s resolve. One day she was going to the river to fetch water. The young Shankara followed her earnestly pleading, “Mother! Permit me to take to Sanyasa”. She did not Shankara assists his ailing mother Aryamba on the way to the river Poorna agree. When she got into the river for her bath, Shankara jumped into the river and going down the river for a while, he raised one hand and shouted, “Mother, a crocodile has caught hold of me. At least now permit me to become a Sanyasi”. The mother said, “If you can be saved from the crocodile by taking to Sanyasa, you better do so, so that you may live, it doesn’t matter whether as a celibate or a householder”. Shankara then came out of the river and told his mother, “In the ocean of Samsara, I was about to be drowned by a crocodile in the form of marriage. When you let me become a sanyasi, I was free from the hold of the crocodile. No one could marry a Sanyasi”. Sanyasa does not mean a mere change in the colour of the robe. It is really a change in one’s qualities. Shankara prostrated before his mother and took her leave to embark on his career as an ascetic. At that time, the mother made Shankara give a promise that he should come and see her during her last moments.
DIVINE DISCOURSE DATE:D6 SEP 1996 WAYS OF THE DIVINE: ADVENT OF SANKARA
Clay is one substance. But out of it a variety of products with different names and shapes can be made. Likewise, out of gold a variety of ornaments can be made. The same white milk is got out of cows of different colors. The Supreme Self is one, but dwells in innumerable bodies, with different names and forms.
If you examine the cosmic scene, you will find that out of the same basic substance a variety of objects with different forms are produced. For instance, out of a single seed, comes a tree with various branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. These different things vary in form, name and use. But they have all come from one seed.
Ekoham Bahusyaam. The One chose to become the many. There are three factors involved in this. For making a pot, a potter is the cause (the instrument for its making). The potter is the cause and the pot is the effect. The base for the production of the pot is clay. The pot may break but the clay remains as such.
Out of the permanent substance, clay, the potter makes a pot. The fate of the pot does not affect the potter The clay in the pot also remains as such. The analogy applies equally to gold, the goldsmith, and the jewels made from gold. On the same analogy, God is the changeless creator who creates the innumerable objects in creation which are subject to changes in names and forms. The relations between the three entities involved should be properly understood. The potter cannot make a pot without clay. No pot can be made if there is clay alone but no potter. Both potter and clay are necessary for making a pot. The Creator is the instrumental cause of creation (nimitha-kaarana). The bodies are like the pots. They are used for various purposes and are a source of enjoyment. But, like the pots, the bodies are perishable. When their time is up, they fall away. But the Creator is permanent. The elements out of which the bodies were made remain. Only the bodies have gone. The bodies are capable of being put to good or bad uses.
FIVE FORMS OF THE LORD
Divinity has five names. The first is Paranaamam. Second, Vyuhanaamam. Third is, Vibhavanaamam. Fourth, Antharaatmanaama. Fifth, Archananaama. The Divine functions in the cosmos in these five names.
Paranaamam refers to the abode of the Supreme, Vaikunta . Vaikunta means that which is unchanging. There the Supreme Lord dwells under the name Paranaamam . No one can enter that abode of the Lord. The Lord dwells there as an effulgence. He oversees everything. But He is not visible to anyone and no one can see His form.
The second is: Vyuhanaamam. This name refers to the Lord who reclines on a serpent on the ocean of milk. The Lord in this form can be seen only by Devas (the various deities). Only those with special powers can see the Lord here. Ordinary beings cannot do so. But the Lord in His Vyuha form fulfills the desires of the Devas. You are aware of the story of Hiranyakasipu. He was harassing the Devas in various ways. So, they went to the Lord’s couch on the ocean of milk and prayed to Him. In answer to their prayers the Lord agreed to incarnate on earth.
Third is: Vibhavanaamam. This refers to the various human forms in which the Lord incarnates on earth as Avatars of Rama and Krishna to protect the good and punish the wicked and turn them to the righteous path. The incarnations that are adored as the ten Avatars belong to this category of Vaibhavanaama. In this form, the Lord manifests the relationship between God and the devotees. The fourth is: Antaraatmanaama. In this form, the Lord pervades every part of a human being as an indwelling spirit. This indwelling spirit is Divine. The fifth is: Archananaamam. This refers to the form in which the Divine can be worshipped, praised and adored for securing His grace.
MAN THROUGH THE AEONS
Avatars of the Lord in these different forms have been manifesting themselves for aeons and aeons. This may be quite astonishing to children of today. For instance, when they hear about the state of things in the Kritha Yuga they will feel that they are amazing and incredible. Human beings in that age used to live for hundreds of years. Moreover, their bodies were not as small as in this age. They were gigantic figures, with arms as long as six feet. What kind of life did they lead? In the Kritha Yuga, life remained in the body as long as the bones were intact. All other parts of the body may disintegrate, but life remained in the skeleton.
In Tretha Yuga, the height of human beings was less. The longevity was also less. Life remained as long as muscles and flesh remained in the body. In Dwapara Yuga, life remained as long as blood circulated in the body As you may know, Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows alter he had been wounded in the Kurukshetra war. As long as blood remained in his body, he lived. His life lasted for 56 days. In the Kali Age, life lasts as long as there is food in the body. Without food man cannot survive. In Kritha and Tretha Yugas, men had intimate relationship with God. Food was not so important. In Dwapara Yuga, the head became important. In the Kritha and Tretha Yugas, Dharma was all-important. Dharma moolam idam jagath. The cosmos is based on Dharma. In Dwapara Yuga, the decline started and wealth became all important. Dhana moolam idam jagath. The world is founded on wealth The war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas was over property rights. In the Kali Age, neither Dharma nor Dhana (wealth) is as important as Daya, Compassion. It is because of the absence of compassion that the world today is afflicted with so many troubles.
THE ADVENT OF SANKARA
In the early centuries of the Kali Age, Buddhism and Jainism were predominant religions. At that time, a young child was born in a village called Kaladi in Kerala to a couple, Sivaguru and Aryaamba. In those days, there used to be frequent wars between Kings of different territories. These wars generated hatred between peoples of different regions. The feeling of national unity was lost. With the loss of unity, all kinds of bad practices developed. Untruth, injustice, dishonesty and disreputable conduct became the order of the day. Nor was that all. Even the learned pundits, scholars and intellectuals of the time started interpreting the Vedas in perverse ways. The very face of the scriptures was blackened. With the result that the people’s faith in the Vedas and scriptures was undermined.
At such times, God or a divinely inspired saint or messiah makes His advent on earth to reform the wicked and restore the reign of Dharma. Such incarnations are known as Archananaama forms of the Divine. In this Archananaama form, the manifestations are regarded as Amsa-avathars – manifestations of aspects of the Divine.
The Vibhava avatars (like Rama and Krishna) are Purna-avatars (total manifestations of the Divine). The Archa- avatars are Amsa-avatars (or partial manifestations). Such avatars incarnate from time to time, not only in India but in all countries.
Jesus declared at first that He was a messenger of God. Who are these messengers? They are of two kinds. Avadhutha and Yamadutha. Yamaduthas are messengers who inflict harm on people. Avadhuthas are messengers who protect. Jesus belonged to the second category. In due course, he recognized his own inner divinity. Then he declared: I am the Son of God. Thereby he proclaimed his right to a share in all the qualities of God. When he acquired all the qualities of the Divine, he announced: I and my Father are one.
The same threefold progress can be seen in the pronouncements of Zoroaaster. First, he declared: I am in the light. Then he said: The light is in me. Finally he declared: I am the light. These declarations can be compared to the three systems of Indian philosophy: Dualism, Qualified Non-dualism and Non-dualism. In propagating the doctrine of Non-dualism, Sankara considered himself a servant of God.
The mother was in deep distress over the son’s resolve. One day she was going to the river to fetch water. The young Sankara followed her earnestly pleading: O Mother! permit me to take to sanyasa. She did not agree. When she got into the river for her bath, Sankara jumped into the river and going down the river for a while, he raised one hand and shouted: Mother, a crocodile has caught hold of me. At least now permit me to become a sanyasi. The mother said: If you can be saved from the crocodile by taking to sanyasa, you better do so, so that you may live. Sankara then came out of the river and told his mother: In the ocean of samsara I was about to be drowned by a crocodile in the form of a wife. When you let me become a sanyasi I was free from the hold of the crocodile. No one could marry a sanyasi. Sanyasa does not mean a mere change in the color of the robe. It is really a change in one’s qualities. Sankara prostrated before his mother and took her leave to embark on his career as an ascetic. At that time, the mother made Sankara take a pledge that he should come and see her at her last moments.
Sankara set out on his wanderings, visiting all the sacred shrines in the land. All travel had to be done by foot. He went to every assemblage of scholars and vanquished them in debates. He propagated the Advaitic doctrine. He declared: The bodies are different, the forms are different, but the inner Self is one alone. The Divine is present in all like sugarcane juice, which is the same, regardless of the cane from which it is got.
He had an encounter with Mandana Misra, who was an upholder of the Karma siddhaantha (the doctrine of action). He defeated Mandana Misra in the debate. In this manner, Sankara went all over the country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, several times. He convinced the scholars of the truth of Non-dualism. Ekam eva Advitheeyam (The Self is one only; there is no second). Adi Sankara was able to convince all the scholars about the truth of Advaita. People are deluded by the multiplicity of names and forms. But the basis for all this diversity is the one Divine. Without the basis nothing can exist. This fact is recognized by all faiths. God is one and the goal is one. The doctrine of Advaita is not easily understood. It has to be explained to the students in simple and intelligible terms.
Sankara passed away at the early age of 32. But he had completed the mission for which he had come. Before his passing, he collected five lingas and installed them in five different centers: Puri, Dwaraka, Sringeri, Benares and Kanchi. At Kanchi he installed the Yoga Linga. One of the pontiffs was Suresa, who was none other than Mandana Misra before he took to sanyasa. By establishing these mutts and promoting the sense of spiritual oneness among the people, Adi Sankara promoted harmony in the country. Unfortunately some of his disciples started distorting Sankara’s doctrines and attributing their own views to Sankara. Vidyaranya was also a disciple of Sankara. Ultimately the disciples fell apart and opposed each other’s views.
Similarly, among Christ’s eleven disciples differences developed and they fell apart. Only Matthew remained true to Jesus. He propagated the gospel. Peter was the first among Jesus’s disciples. But he denied Christ when the authorities questioned him.
Ramanuja who came after Sankara enunciated a modified version of Sankara’s Non-dualism. Then came Madhvacharya, who propounded dualism. (Swami said that He would be explaining their doctrines in subsequent discourses). [Bhagavan concluded His discourse with the song: Bhaja Govindam]
Every Indian has now to question himself of his awareness about the real truth about his country and her spirituality, asking whether he is helping by his acts, words and thoughts to promote the glory and splendour of his Motherlandx?… exhorts Bhagawan speaking of Bharat’s Sanathana Dharma, recounting the illustrious life of Adi Shankara and the message of his famed composition ‘Bhaja Govindam…’
India was the nursery of halos who adventured into the realms of the spirit, and achieved victories against the final of evil; they opened up the paths to God that are described in the texts of Sanathana Dharma. India is the sacred land from where the Voice of the Vedas rang over the world. It is the land which still retains the splendour of Yoga, and the glory of Renunciation. But, every Indian has now to question himself whether he is aware of this fact, and whether he is helping by his acts, words and thoughts to promote that glory and that splendour. One has to admit that the glory is being dimmed, the splendour is fast fading out. The Gayatri Mantra, enjoined on all, because it is the crucial mantra of the Vedas, has become a ritual of holding the nose while mumbling illegible sounds. Pranayama and its later stage of Pratyahara (the control of the senses and of their listless pursuit of external pleasure) are discoverable only in dictio naries. Yama and Niyama—the first steps in spiritual discipline are not practised at all, even by those who claim to teach and guide. Members of the monastic order, who have vowed to detach themselves completely from, worldly involvements and attachments are running about frantically, accumulating and investing money, with even greater fanaticism than householders. One wonders whether this is the same land that one reads about, the land that held high the ideals of the spirit and of mental peace!
With the return of Krishna to His abode after the Incarnation Interlude, the Age of Kali darkened the World. Many Preceptors, Saints and Sages tried subsequently to remind the people of their heritage and guide them, along the ancient path. Of these, Sankara, who realised the weakness of a dualistic interpretation of the Universe and the need for a unifying philosophy, was the most effective. He was born in the village of Kaladi, situated in the Kerala State. Initiated into the Gayatri Mantra in his fifth year, he mastered the Vedas and their Supplementary Texts on Grammar, Logic, Prosody, Astrology, etc., and in his fourteenth year itself, he ventured forth on his mission of counteracting the forces of doubt, dissent and denial and establishing faith, wisdom and devotion throughout the land. He encountered many scholars reputed for their dialectical skill and convinced them of the validity of the non dualistic basis of the subjective and ob jective worlds. He wrote commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras generally accepted as the authentic texts of the Hindu Faith. He dedicated his short life of 32 years to the re vitalisation of the Sanathana Dharma.
When Sankara was residing at Varanasi (Benares City) on the Ganga with his pupils he used to visit the pundits in their own houses, and draw them into beneficial conversation on themes of philosophy. One day, when he went to a pundit, he found him immersed in complications of rules of grammar. When asked why he had taken up the intensive study of grammar, he replied that it would fetch him a few pieces of silver. “If I am designated a Pundit, I can go to the homes of some big Zamindars, and hope to receive alms and offerings from them, for the upkeep of my large family,” he said. Sankara advised him in appropriate terms, and charged him with self confidence and courage.
Returning to his hermitage, Sankara wrote a verse summarising the advice he gave the poor struggling Brahmin house-holder
Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam,
Bhaja Govindam, Moodha Mathe!
Sampraapthe Sannihithe Kaale
Nahi Nahi Rakshathi `Dukrn’ karane…
Praise God, Praise God, Praise God, you fool! When death does knock at door, rules of grammar cannot save.
Sankara exhorted his pupils to dissemi¬nate the ideal of this verse, and, they too, responded with a set of verses on the same lines, each of the 14 contributing one verse. Sankara added another twelve of his own, as well as four more verses about the transformation that the teaching would confer. Thus, there are 31 verses in all, in the text called Bhaja Govindam, or Moha Mudgaram. The latter name means, “The weapon with which delusion can be destroyed.”
The study of these verses and the inspiration derived from them will promote discrimination and detachment, and thus, prepare the mind for the vision of the Supreme. You have to be initiated into these disciplines now itself, when you are young and entering on the adventure of living, and so, I have decided to expound to you one verse a day, during this course.
Sankara addressed these verses, to “moodha mathi” “the foolish person”. Now, who are these fools? He has given the answer in another context: `Nasthiko moodha uchathe’ (These who deny the Atma are fools.) Those who assert and believe that “I am not this perishable body; I am not this feeble intellect; I am the undying everlasting all knowing all inclusive Atma” are few indeed. The vast majority assert and believe that “I am the moulder of my destiny I am the captain of my ship. I choose my likes and dislikes. I fulfill my desires through my own efforts.”
But, even this vast majority pay taxes in ordinary life for the water they use, the electricity they consume, the houses they live in, and the professions they are engaged in! Now, what tax are they paying to Him who provides them with the essential requisites for mere living—the sun, the moon, fire, water, air, space etc? Those who do not recognise the Giver, the Provider, the Principle, the Person, they are the fools.
Scientists can weigh, measure, and analyse materials that already exist. They can, by means of permutations and combinations, put into currency strange forms and shapes from out of existing matter. But, they cannot create oxygen or hydrogen or any other thing anew! That can happen only, through the Will of God. Without any matter originally supplied, no scientist can deal with things from the very beginning. They are helpless in the realm beyond earth, water, fire, air and space, the subject matter of the senses. Their activities are confined to nature, which is but the part manifestation of the Divine.
The verse with which Sankara started off the Moha Mudgaram speaks of the moment of the approach of the end of life. This indicates that of all the fears of man, the fear of death is the fiercest as well as the most foolish. For, none can escape death, having committed the error of birth. To get rid of the wheel of birth and death, awareness of the undying unborn Atma which is one’s Reality is the only method available for man.
So, Sankara advises man to pray to Govinda. He refers to God as Govinda. Govinda means, ‘He Who Is a Cowherd’. Man is both an animal and a Divine Being. He has risen from the animal level and is on the way to reveal his Divinity. He should be vigilant that he does not slide into the animal again. Man alone can rise into God hood, for, he is equipped, with the endowment needed for the achievement.
Cattle come near when a handful of grass is shown; they are scared and run away when a stick is shaken before them. Man should not fear; nor should he cause fear. Without cowardice; without aggressiveness, he should examine words deeds and thoughts, and progress from animality to Divinity.
The Word `Go’ means also sound, all sounds from the mooing of cattle to the chanting of Vedas. All sounds, emanating everywhere, praise or adoration, elation or adulation, are offerings to God. `Go’ also means the Earth. Govinda means, overlord of the Earth and all its phases and objects. The Earth is the arena of His Glory, the Stage on which His Play is enacted. So man has to remember Him in grateful joy.
Through this string of verses, Sankara called upon `foolish persons’ straying away into misery and mortality to proceed towards mukti or liberation. Moodha-mathis or foolish persons were exhorted to set their feet on the ladder of 31 steps (each verse being a step) and climb towards Muktimathi, the mind illumined by release from the bonds of desire.