Bhaja Govindam – 3

Part 3:  Self love and other loves

V. Ramaswami

We noted in Verse 7 discussed in Part II how our attachment and preoccupations change with time, from playthings in childhood, to members of the opposite sex during youth, and finally to memories and worries in old age.  Not only our attachments, but in fact everything in this world does indeed have an inherently tenuous nature.

Verse 4:

नलिनीदलगतजलमतितरलं तद्वद्जीवितमतिशयचपलम् |
विद्धिव्याध्याभिमानग्रस्तं लोकं शोकहतं च समस्तम् ||

nalinīdalagatajalamatitaralaṃ tadvadjīvitamatiśayacapalam |
viddhivyādhyābhimānagrastaṃ lokaṃ śokahataṃ ca samastam ||

Water [drop] on a lotus leaf (nalinīdalagatajalam नलिनीदलगतजलम्) is very unstable (atitaralam अतितरलम् ).  Similarly (tadvat तद्वद् ), life too is extremely tenuous (jeevitam atisaya chapalam जीवितमतिशयचपलम्).  Understand (viddhi विद्धि ) [that] the entire world, i.e. lives of people, (samastam lokam समस्तं लोकम् ) is swallowed by ailments and attachments (vyādhi abhimāna grastam  व्याधि अभिमानग्रस्तम् ) and is also full of sorrows (śokahataṃ ca शोकहतं च ).

The instability of the water drop on the lotus leaf is such that it may be blown away in a blink of an eyelid.  So, indeed is our life.  Recall from Verse 11 the line “harati nimEshaat kaala: sarvam हरति निमेषात् कालः सर्वम् ” (death destroys it all in a blink).   Many acts of self-improvement for liberation from various bonds get constantly postponed by most of us to our old age or retirement.  But are we sure that we will be given time later? Or that we will be in good health? As stressed in the first verse of this composition, our life is so tenuous that it is imperative we begin our spiritual journey now.

The term “abhimāna (अभिमान)” has two meanings.  One is attachment while another is  pride.  Both get in the way of spiritual enlightenment.   Like diseases of the body, these diseases of the mind are also debilitating.   Hence one needs to shed them realizing fully the tenuous nature of things these are built on.

Part II was devoted almost entirely to our attachment to wealth and acquiring possessions.  Besides these, there are some other attachments we need to be concerned about, the first and foremost being attachment to one’s own body.  Indeed, most identify themselves with the impermanent complex comprising of their body, mind and senses, without realizing that these are not the real Self.  To the true Self – the ātma आत्मा- the body, mind and senses are all but objects of its awareness, and therefore the Self cannot be identified with the objects it – the mind – as a subject, is aware of.  Thus, the real Self is the inner consciousness.  Should we then identify people with their respective bodies or be enamored by bodies?

Verse 6

यावत्पवनो निवसति देहे, तावत् पृच्छति कुशलं गेहे |
गतवति वायौ देहापाये, भार्या बिभ्यति तस्मिन्काये ||

yāvatpavano nivasati dehe, tāvat pṛcchati kuśalaṃ gehe |
gatavati vāyau dehāpāye, bhāryā bibhyati tasminkāye ||

As long as (yaavat यावत् ) the life breath (pavanah पवनः ) resides in the body (dehe nivasati देहे निवसति ), until then (tāvat तावत्)  people in the family (gehe गेहे ) ask about one’s welfare (kuśalaṃ pṛcchati कुशलं पृच्छति ), i.e. are affectionate and care.  When the breath has left (vāyau gatavati [sati] वायौ गतवति [सति] ) and the body decays (deha apāyE देह अपाये ), [even] the wife (bhāryā भार्या [अपि]) takes fear (bibhyati बिभ्यति ) in that body (tasmin kāye तस्मिन् काये ).

The body is important only to the extent that it is an instrument for achieving certain of our goals.  Too much pre-occupation with it is not warranted.  However handsome and well-built a body may be, it is appreciated only as long as it has life in it.  “Once life is gone, the body is laid out, painted with mud, placed on blocks of wood, and set fire to.  Then the relatives and others leave, and the only things that accompany the departed are noble (dhārmic धार्मिक्) acts.” (Mrtam sareeram utsrjjya kaashtalOshtasamam kshitau,  Vimukaa baandhavah yaanti dharmah tam anugachati – मृतं शरीरं उत्सृज्य काष्टलोष्टसमं क्षितौ, विमुका बान्धवा यान्ति धर्मः तं अनुगच्छति ).  Pattinathaar asks in Tamil: the relatives leave you at the door, the wife comes up to the street, the son comes to the cremation ground, but who does accompany one to the very end ? (வீடு வரை உறவு வீதிவரை மனைவி, காடு வரை பிள்ளை கடைசிவரை யாரோ? veedu varai uravu, veedi varai manaivi, kaadu varai pillai, kadaisi varai yaaro?).  The only thing we carry with us are those fruits of our actions in the present and past births which we have not yet fully reaped in the present birth (karmaphala कर्मफल  [See Upadesa Pancakam – III for a lucid discussion of the concept of karma कर्म and karmaphala कर्मफल ].

We know that the body shall eventually perish.  What about the atma आत्मा, the inner consciousness, the one that gives it life?  This verse should direct us to inquire upon such questions.  Along with that inquiry will come many other dependent questions such as whether there is something eternal, and if so what it is, and how we relate to it.  It is indeed these pursuits that constitute spirituality and religion, to which the very first verse of Bhaja Govndam called us without any further waiting.

Men and women not only bear an attachment to their own bodies, but they are also attracted to those of others, and particularly to those of the opposite gender.   It is said that all beings including humans are driven by the need to quench their hunger, their need for sleep, security from fear, and satisfaction of sensual desires (aahaara nidraa abhaya maithunam cha, saamaanyam Etat pasubhir naraanaam आहारनिद्रा अभयमैथुनं च, सामान्यमेतत् पशुभिर्नराणां).  But what separates the humans from animals is a sense of righteousness (dharma धर्म ), and those without it are but equal to animals (dharmO hi tEshaam adhikO visesha:, dharmEna hInA pasubhir samaanah धर्मो हि तेषां अधिको विशेषः, धर्मेण हीना पशुभिर्समानः).  Among others, dharma requires that people regulate their sensual desires within the confines of marriage (grahastaasrama गृहस्ताश्रम) and do not indulge in other associations. How unfortunate that some stray away from that dharma धर्म  only to suffer terrible consequences.

Verse 28

सुखतः क्रियते रामाभोगः, पश्चात् हन्त शरीरे रोगः |
यध्यपि लोके मरणं शरणं, तदपि न मुञ्चति पापाचरणम् ||

Sukhatah kriyatE raamaabhogah, Paschaatdanta sareerE rOgah
Yadyapi lOkE maranam saranam,   Tadapi na munjati paapaacharanam

Man indulges in sensual plesures (raama aabhOgah kriyatE राम आभोगः क्रियते ) very readily (sukhatah सुखतः ).  But alas! (hanta हन्त !).  Later that results in diseases in the body (paschaat sareerE rOgah पश्चात् शरीरे रोगः ).  Even though (yadyapi यदपि ) in the world (lOkE लोके ) death is the ultimate end (maranam saranam मरणं शरणं ), even then (tad api तदपि) [man] does not give up (na munjati न मुञ्जति ) sinful behavior (paapa aacharanam पाप आचरणं).

The aacharya (आचार्यः) explicitly admonishes improper behavior in the following verse.

Verse 3

नारीस्तनभरनाभीदेशं दृष्ट्वा  मा गा मोहावेशं |
एतन्मांसवसादिविकारं मनसि विचिन्तय वारं वारं ||

Naaree stanabhara naabheedesam,    Drshtvaa maa gaa mOhaavesam
Edat maamsavasaadivikaaram,    Manasi vichintaya vaaram vaaram

Seeing (dhrshtvaa दृष्ट्वा ) the bosom and naval region of women (naaree stana bhara naabheedesam नारी स्तनभर नाभीदेशं ), do not attain (maa gaa मा गा ) an infatuated state (mOha aavesam मोह आवेशं ).  Deliberate (vichintaya विचिन्त्य ) in [your] mind (manasi मनसि ) again and again (vaaram vaaram वारं वारं ) [that] this (Etat एतत् ) [is only] a modification of flesh and fat (maamsavasaadi vikaaram मांसावसादि विकारं ).

The particular reference in the verse to gory flesh and fat is to emphasize the perishability of those objects of desire and not to be fooled by outward appearances. Seeing the defects in objects of desire (vishaya dOsha darsana विषयदोषदर्शन ) is a powerful technique of autosuggestion in overcoming improper desires.  Though addressed at renunciates, the above verse equally applies to the householder with regard to women other than one’s spouse and also in maintaining a proper behavior with one’s own spouse.  Needless to say, this and other pieces of advice in the saastras (शाश्त्राः) have a parallel applicability to women as well.

He indeed is a seer who sees another’s wife as  mother,  another’s possessions as dirt, and all beings as oneself.  (मातृवत् परदारान्स्च परद्रव्याणि लोष्टवत् आत्मवत् सर्वभूतानां यो पश्यति सो पश्यति Maatrvat paradaaranscha paradravyaani loshtavat, aatmavat sarvabhootaanaam yah pasyati sah pasyati).  Chastity is given a much wider meaning in our sastras and encompasses much more than avoiding physical contacts.  To quote a piece from the Sarva vEdaanta sidhaanta saara sangraha (सर्ववेदान्त सिध्धान्त सार संग्रह)  of Sri Adi Sankara, chastity (brahmacharya ब्रह्मचर्य ) is defined as the avoidance of the following eight fold associations: thinking with bad intentions; ogling; flattering the qualities and actions of members of the opposite sex; contemplating their good looks; loving amorously; indulging in too much conversations; living together; and physical relationship. (स्मरणं दर्शनं स्त्रीणां गुणकर्मानुकीर्तनम् समीचीनत्वतीस्तासु प्रीतिः संभाषणं मितः सहवासं  च संसर्गः अष्टदा मैथुनं विदुः  smaranam darsanam streenaam guna-karma-anukeertanam, sameecheenat-vatIstaasu preetih sambhaashanam mitah, sahavaasam cha samsargah ashtadaa maithunam vidu:).

Verse 10

वयसि गते कः कामविकारः शुष्के नीरे कः कासारः |
क्षीणे वित्ते कः परिवारः ज्ञाते तत्वे कः संसारः ||

Vayasi gatE kah kaamavikaarah,   SushkE neerE kah kaasaarah
Ksheene vittE kah parivarO,    JnaatE tatvE kah samsaarah

When youthfulness has passed (vayasi gate वयसि गते), where is lust and its play (kah kaama vikaara: कः काम विकारः)?  When water has dried up (sushkE neerE शुष्के नीरे) where is the lake (kah kaasaarah कः कासारः)?  When wealth is spent (Ksheene vittE क्षीणे वित्ते) where are the relations (kah parivara: कः परिवारः)?  When the Truth is realized (jnaatE tatvE ज्ञाते तत्वे), where is the bondage (kah samsaarah कः संसारः)?

With the passage of youth, the expression of lust vanishes in the body.  The dry lake and spent wealth are given to exemplify the correlation between youth and physical desires.  But verily, that circumstance is related primarily to the gross body (sthoola sareera स्थूलशरीर).  Various desires may continue to exist in the subtle body (sookshma sareera सूक्ष्मशरीर) comprising of the mind, etc., and one needs active intervention for their removal.  Such removal is accomplished through knowledge of the Truth, here Truth referring to the truth concerning the eternal and the bondage of our desires and attachments that get in the way of its realization.  When that Truth is realized, there is no place for such desires and bondage even within one’s thought,  and that makes it possible to attain brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) , chastity in the wider sense as noted above.

What our scriptures advocate is not the suppression of our desires.  Suppression is inherently dangerous in that there is always the risk that suppressed desires could come out with redoubled vigor and cause much harm.   What is advocated is rather the sublimation of those desires through involving one’s mind and thoughts on higher goals through prayer, good company, and association with a guru (गुरु).

Finally, we come to what creates the utmost bondage for us humans, namely our attachment to our kith and kin.  We shall discuss the two verses below together as they bring forth a common theme.

Verse 8

का ते कान्ता कस्ते पुत्रः संसारोयमतीव विचित्रः |
कस्य त्वं कुत आयातः तत्त्वं चिन्तय तदिह भ्रातः ||

Kaa tE kaantaa kastE putrah, SamsaarOyamatIva vichitrah
Kasya tvam kuta aayaatah,  Tattvam chintaya tadiha bhraatah

Oh, brother! (bhraata: भ्रातः ) Who is your wife? (tE kaantaa kaa ? ते कान्ता का ?)  Who is your son? (kah tE putrah? कः ते पुत्रः ?).  This life is very strange (ayam samsaara: atIva vichitrah अयं संसारः अतीव विचित्रः ).  Whose are  you ? (kasya tvam? कस्य त्वं )  Where did you come from? (kuta aayaatah? कुत आयातः ).  Dwell on these truths here (tat tvam iha chintaya तत् त्वं इह चिन्तय ).

Verse 23

कस्त्वं कोऽहं कुत आयातः का मे जननी को मे तातः |
इति परिभावय सर्वमसारं विश्वं त्यक्त्वा स्वप्नविचारं ||

Kastvam kOham kuta aayatah,   Kaa mE jananI kO mE taatah
Iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram,   Viswam tyaktvaa svapnavichaaram

Who are you (tvam kah? त्वं कः)  Who am I (kah aham? कः अहं) Where did we come from? (kuta aayatah? कुत आयातः)  Who is my mother? (kaa mE janani? का मे जननि) Who is my father (kah mE taatah? कः मे तातः)  Giving up [the entanglements] (tyaktvaa त्यक्त्वा), consider (paribhavaya परिभावय ) the entire worldly experience (sarvam viswamसर्वं विश्वं) as [being] without essence and dreamlike (asaaram, swapnavichaaram iti असारं स्वप्नविचारं इति).

The above two verses constitute a call to examine some fundamental questions.   All the relationships I have in this world – with a spouse, father, mother, son, etc. – are all that of me as the mind-body-sense complex.  But if the real “I” is not any of them but the consciousness that gives life to them all, then where was I before I took this body?  So also, where were all my relations before they took their respective bodies?  We don’t even know who we are and where we came from and definitely so little about others, and yet we act as though we know each other and get very attached to each other.  When one starts to ponder over these questions, all worldly interactions do indeed appear strange and unreal.  As stated by the aacharya (आचार्यः) in the Dakshninaamurthy Stotram (दक्षिणामूर्ति स्तोत्रं) , this entire world is just a projection of our mind like the image of a city seen in a mirror (viswam darpana drsyamaana nagarI tulyam विश्वं दर्पणदृश्यमान नगरीतुल्यम् ).

Once again, we note that the above is not to deprecate one’s affection and the performance of one’s duties in one’s role as a father, son, spouse, etc.  We quoted earlier some statements of the aacharya that recognize unequivocally the importance of grihastasrama (गृहस्ताश्रम) in the sustenance of the world.  He is also one who took on his entire community and despite being sanyaasi (सन्यासि) still fulfilled the desires of his mother to be by her side at the time of her death and performed her final rites.  At a practical level, what he is pointing out here is that even as we relate to others in our various roles and show affection to them, we should maintain a sufficient level of objectivity and not let those bonds blind us and get in the way of our seeking liberation for ourselves.

A full understanding of the above requires a deeper dive into the non-dualistic (advaita अध्वैत) philosophy which is not possible here.   In a nut shell, that philosophy cogently argues that the real “I” is pure consciousness, that the consciousness is all pervading and negating the very concept of two distinct entities, and that the diversity we observe in this world is purely illusory and a projection of our minds as in a dream (maayayaa bahirivOrbhootam yatha nidrayaa मायया बहिरिवोर्भूतं यथा निद्रया – Dakshinamurthy stotram).

With or without the understanding of any philosophy, there can be no denying, however, that the questions posed above are really important and fundamental.  But can we really ponder over these questions and grasp the explanations given in the saastras while our minds are clouded by preconceived and unsubstantiated notions underlying our relationships that bind and blind us?  So, we need to disengage from the various relationships that bind us to find time to contemplate.   This disengagement does not imply running away to another place, for the “another place” would still be a location in the illusory viswa विश्व ; what is implied is the attainment of a psychological and internal disengagement and freedom.   The maturity to effect that requires much preparation of the mind.

The important aids in preparing the mind are association with noble people (satsanga सत्सङ्गः), guidance from a guru, and, most importantly, prayer and a prayerful attitude. Tatvabodha (तत्वभोध) asserts four important qualifications for one seeking spiritual knowledge, namely, wisdom (vivekah विवेकः ) which consists of understanding what is eternal and what is ephemeral, dispassion (vairagya वैराग्यः ), the six-fold noble qualities like forbearance (shamaadi shadka sampathi: शमादि षट्क संपत्तिः [1]) and a passion for liberation (mumukshutvam मुमुक्षुत्वं ).  Through the various verses that expose the hollowness of many of our worldly affections and pursuits, Bhaja Govindam, is indeed imparting viveka and vairaagya and kindling in us a high degree of mumukshutvam.

The essential lesson of the verses covered in this and the previous part is eloquently stated in the following verse from NarayanOpanishad (नारायणोपनिषद्), invoked as a prayerful welcome to sanyaasins everywhere:

न कर्मणा न प्रजया धनेन , त्यागेनैके अम्रुतत्वमानसुः      
Na karmanaa na prajayaa dhanEna, tyaagEnaikE amrutatvamaanasu:

“Not through actions, not through one’s offspring, not through wealth is attained immortality; it is attained only through renunciation.”  While not everyone is fit or may be willing to enter sanyaasa and renounce the world entirely, the gaining of a high degree of detachment from the world is absolutely necessary to realize significant freedom from the feelings of guilt, wants, worries, and worldly bonds that collectively go by the name samsara संसारः .

ॐ तत्सत् |


[1] शमादि षट्क संपत्तिः refers to the following six qualities: forbearance – mastery of one’s mind (शम ); mastery of sense organs (दम ); observance of one’s dharma(उपरम );  endurance in the sense of ability to accept pleasure and pain (तितिक्षा );, faith in the scriptures and in one’s guru (श्रद्धा ); and a single pointedness of the mind (समाधान ).


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