PART 4: THE PITEOUS LIFE OF MANY
The previous parts of this series examined a set of verses establishing the transient and illusory nature of many of man’s mundane pursuits and attachments. Though they may bring some transitory joy, their net effect, however, is to bind one and to cause much hardship. Yet, do people in general recognize this truth and live in conformity with the higher principles that will result in their eventual emancipation? In a small set of verses to be discussed here, the āchārya shows the pitiful way in which many lead their lives. These verses form an important aid in critical introspection, a sine qua non for internalizing the wisdom (विवेक: viveka) of detachment (वैराग्य: vairāgya) which is a pre-requisite to an unwavering desire for liberation (मुमुक्षुत्वम् mumukshutvam).
दिनयामिन्यौ सायं प्रात: शिशिरवसन्तौ पुनरायात: ।
काल: क्रीडति गछत्यायुस्तदपि न मुञ्चत्याशावायु: ॥
dinayāminyou sāyam prāta: shishiravasantou punarāyāta:
kālakrīdati gachatyāyu: tadapi na munchatyāshāvāyu:
Day and night (दिनयामिन्यौ dina yāminyou), dusk and dawn (सायं प्रात: sāyam prāta:), winter and spring (शिशिरवसन्तौ shishira vasantou) come again (पुन: आयात: puna: āyāta:) . Time plays (काल: क्रीडति kāla; krīdati), life ebbs (आयु: गछति aayu: gachati). Even then (तदपि tadapi) the gust of desire (आशा वायु: āsha vāyu; ) does not get cleansed (न मुञ्चति na munchati).
With the cyclical play of time marked by the rising and setting of the sun, the dawn of each day and night, and the passing of each cycle of the seasons, our limited life gets closer to its end. Nevertheless, for many, desires do not ebb. The expression “काल: क्रीडति kāla: krīdati” (time plays) emphasizes that time which itself is eternal indeed will have the last laugh even as its passage may get ignored.
In his book on Bhaja Govindam, Swami Viditatmananda quotes two highly pertinent verses of Bhartrhari from the poet’s Vairāgya Satakam, a set of one hundred verses in praise of renunciation. The first one (Verse 43, op cit) proclaims that the world has gone insane from consuming the stupefying wine of delusion (पीत्वा मोहमयीं प्रमादमदिरामुन्मत्थभूतं जगत् pītvā mōhamayīm pramādādirām unmattabhūtam jagat), and being burdened by numerous exchanges of day to day life is impervious to the passage of time (व्यापारैर्बहुकार्यभारगुरुभि: कालोपि न ज्ञायते vyāpārairbahukāryabhāragurubhi: kālōpi na gnāyatē) so much so that no fear is invoked even by the sight of birth, death, old age, and suffering (दृष्ट्वा जन्मजराविपत्तिमरणं त्रासश्च नोत्पद्यते drshtvā janmajarāvipattimaranam trāsascha na utpadyatē). In an earlier part, we talked about how our possessions may indeed possess us if desires are uncontrolled. Bhartrhari says (in verse 7 of the Satakam):
भोगा न भुक्ता वयमेव भुक्ता: तपो न तप्तं वयमेव तप्ता: ।
कालो न यातो वयमेव यातास्तृणा न जीर्णा वयमेव जीर्णा: ॥
bhōgaa na bhuktā vayamēva bhuktā: tapō na taptam vayamēva taptā:
kālōna yātō vayamēva yātā: trNā: na jīrnA vayamēva jīrNā:
Instead of worldly pleasures becoming consumed, we ourselves become consumed. Instead of austerities by fire, we ourselves become scorched. Time (ever present) does not expire but we do. Desires do not dissipate, we ourselves do.
Recall the exhortation of the very first verse of Bhaja Govindam: reciting the sutras of grammar when the end is near does not help at all (सम्प्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले न हि न हि रक्षति डुकृञ्करणे samprāptē sannihitē kālē nahi nahi rakshati dukrunkaraNē). Unknowingly, and often knowingly, many get entrenched in the mundane to such an extent that procrastination becomes subconscious. That deters them from recognizing the transience of their time on earth as well as of their various possessions and relationships. Yet that transience is being reinforced time and again all around them on a daily basis.
The āchārya creates some poignant imagery in our minds through a couple of verses that will haunt our memories in the future as we witness some of the images (yes, sometimes even in a mirror), that are described in the verses below.
अङ्गं गलितं पलितं मुण्डं दशनविहीनं जातं तुण्डम् ।
वृद्धो याति गृहीत्वा दण्डं तदपि न मुञ्चत्याशापिण्डम् ॥
angam galitam palitam mundam, dashanavihīnam jātam tundam
vriddhō yāti gruhītvā dandam, tadapi na munchatyāshāpindam
The limbs (अङ्गं angam) are weakened (गलितम् galitam); the head (मुण्डम् mundam) has turned grey (पलितम् palitam); the mouth (तुण्डम् tundam) has become (जातम् jātam) toothless (दशनविहीनम् dashanavihīnam). The old man (व्रूद्ध: vrddha:) walks (याति yāti) holding (गृहीत्वा gruhītvā) a stick (दण्डम् dandam). Even then (तदपि tadapi) [he] does not give up (न मुञ्चति na munchati) his bundle of hopes and desires (आशापिण्डम् āshāpindam).
The imagery presented of an old, decrypt man unable to carry his own weight but still carrying the burden of his desires and ambition is indeed graphic. If with age, the maturity to let go does not come, then old age becomes an even greater burden after all. Recall the line “वृद्धस्तावच्चिन्तासक्त: vrddhastāvat chintāsakta:” of Verse 7 in Part 2 whereby only worries and despair become the only capacity left to the old who fit the description of that verse “परमे ब्रह्मणि कोपि न सक्त: paramē brahmani kōpi na sakta:” (incapable of setting one’s mind on Brahman).Age does not automatically engender maturity. Emotional and spiritual age should indeed accompany physical age, and that is the primary import of this verse.
In the following verse, the āchārya notes that the above plight does not befall just the wealthy, who are endowed with various means for pleasure, but can befall even the homeless destitute, or for that matter even an ascetic. The poverty of desire and inadequacy is the greatest equalizer on this earth sparing none in any segment of the social scale except those who have gained an inner sense of adequacy and dispassion.
अग्रे वह्नि: पृष्ठे भानुःरात्रौ चुबुचुकसमर्पितजानु: ।
करतलभिक्षस्तरुतलवासस्तदपि न मुञ्चत्याशापाश: ॥
agrē vahni: prishtē bhānū: rātrou chubukasamarpitajānu:
karatalabhikshastarutalavāsa: tadapi na munjatyāhāpāsha:
In front (अग्रे agrē) [is] fire (वह्नि: vahni:), behind (पृष्ठे prishtē) is sun (भानु: bhanu:). At night (रात्रौ rātrou) is the face huddled between the knees (चुचुकसमर्पितजानु: chuchukasamarpita jānu:). In the palms are alms (करतलभिक्ष: karatalabhiksha:). [He is] living under a tree (रुतलवास: tarutalavāsa:). And yet (तदपि tadapi) [his] desires and attachments (आशापाश: āshāpāsha: ) do not wane (न मुञ्चति na munchati).
Interpreted as applying to a renunciate, the above verse can be explained as stressing that creating physical distance with one’s possessions and dear and near ones is not the real key to true detachment. Renunciation is an act of the mind, the renunciation of one’s cravings and desires. Vedānta points out that desires are a consequence of the inadequacy born out of a lack of recognition that the Self is complete (पूर्णम् इदम् pūrnam idam) as Brahman itself (पूर्णमद: pūrnam ada:) with no separation between the two since after all there cannot be two things that are both distinct and complete. The ultimate victory over desires and attachments is through knowledge of this ultimate truth only. True renunciation involves overcoming one’s likes (राग: rāga) and dislikes (द्वेष: dvēsha); through the former one sheds the desire to acquire anything (प्रवृत्ति pravrtthi) and through the latter the desire to avoid and get rid of anything (निवृत्ति nivrtthi), enabling one thereby to accept all that comes as a blessing (प्रसादबुद्धि: prasāda buddhi) and indulging in action only as an offering to God (ईश्वरार्पणबुद्धि: Iswarārpana buddhi). A true ascetic is one who has acquired these two qualities and is therefore without desires or an agenda of one’s own (सर्वारम्भपरित्यागि sarvārambha parityāgi).
Yet there are many who think renunciation is a matter of garb and appearance or one of austerities and penance alone. The next two verses together underscore the āchārya’s disdain for ignorant and blind acts of faith and superficial appearances much of which, in the absence of true enlightenment, may only amount to an ostentatious piety.
जटिलो मुण्डी लुञ्छितकेश: काशायाम्बरबहुकृतवेष: ।
पश्यन्नपि च न पश्यति मूढःउदरनिमित्तं बहुकृतवेष: ॥
jatilō mundī lunjitakēsha: kāshāyāmbara bahukrutavēsha:
pashyannapi cha na pashyati mūda: udaranimittam bahukrutavEsha:
One is with matted hair (जटिल: jatila: ) , another with a shaven head (मुण्डी mundee), yet another with hair pulled out (लुञ्छितकेश: lunjitakēsha: ). One is with a saffron attire (काषाय अम्बर वेष: kāshāya ambara vēsha: ). Each is a fool (मूढ: mooda: ) for he sees and yet doesn’t see (पश्यन्नपि च न पश्यति pashyannapi cha na pashyati). [They donn] diverse disguises (बहुकृतवेष: bahukrutavēsha: ) but only for the sake of [feeding] their belly (उदरनिमित्तं हि udaranimittam hi).
Orange is the color of fire into which oblations are offered to the deities and which is considered a great purifier. It is signifying this fact that monks wear orange and saffron. Similarly, an ascetic shaves his head since hair plays an important role in enhancing one’s appearance, and concern over hair is a demonstration of one’s attachment to one’s body.Indeed, a part of the ritual marking the entry into sanyāsa involves the plucking of some hairs off one’s head. In short, these are all but symbols of an inner commitment to purity and renunciation in the pursuit of Brahman alone. The ones who adopt such symbols without seeing their true purpose are indeed deluded (मूढ: mooda: ). Their adoption of such appearances then ends up as an act of self-aggrandizement only or as a base subterfuge for finding food and mundane necessities.
कुरुते गंगासागरगमनं व्रतपरिपालनमथवा दानम् ।
ज्ञानविहीन: सर्वमतेन भजति न मुक्तिं जन्मशतेन ॥
kurutē gangāsāgara gamanam vrataparipālanamathavaādānam
jnaanavihīna: sarvamatēna bhajati na muktim janmashatēna
One undertakes (कुरुते kurutē) pilgrimages to the Ganges and the ocean [and such] (गंगासागरगमनम् gangāsāgara gamanam), performs various austerities taking vows (व्रतपरिपालनम् vrataparipālanam) or else (अथवा athavā) charity (दानम् dānam). Even in a hundred life times (जन्मशतेन janmashatēna) the ignorant (ज्ञानविहीन: jnānavihīna: ) does not attain (न भजति na bhajati) salvation (मुक्तिम् muktim) through all those undertakings (सर्वमतेन sarvamatēna).
Pilgrimages to holy rivers like the Ganga and holy sites are prescribed austerities for the religious as are the observances of various vows (व्रतपरिपालनम् vrataparipālanam). The arduous nature of some of these practices is to strengthen one’s inner resolve and develop a greater level of forbearance and equanimity in the presence of difficulties. Just doing them for its own sake is of no value. Similarly, it is important to do charity, but such charity should be done without expecting anything in return including even a simple thing as a public recognition of one’s good deed. Swami Omkaarananda discusses the example of one who donates a large lamp to a temple but only after having one’s name engraved thereon and asks whether that lamp has indeed given the enlightenment it symbolizes. One has to donate with a true attitude that this is indeed not mine (इदं न मम idam na mama) and should expect nothing in return. Otherwise nothing has been donated. Swāmiji further says that even taking pride in or boasting of great deeds, even if it be that of building a grand temple should be completely eschewed. All the good acts described here are only some preliminary steps in one’s spiritual journey whose culmination in liberation (मोक्ष: mōksha) depends on shedding one’s ego and attaining true knowledge about the eternal Brahman (ज्ञान: jnāna). Those without such knowledge (ज्ञानविहीन: jnānavihīna: ) unfortunately cannot cross the ocean of life, death and misery in a hundred lives even if such lives were to be filled with numerous pilgrimages and austerities. Once again, it is important to recognize that the intent of this verse is not to denigrate pilgrimages, performances of charity, or observances of vows, but to be ever mindful of the reasons for observing them and to go beyond them. The role of various rituals and austerities and their importance in purifying one and getting one ready for the quest for knowledge has been stressed in many places in the Vedas as well as in Sri Sankara’s own writings.
We end this part with a beautiful prayer.
पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् ।
इह संसारे बहुदुस्तारे कृपया पारे पाहि मुरारे ॥
punarapi jananam punarapi maraNam punarapi jananI jadarE shayanam
Iha samsārE bahudustārE krupaya māhE paahi muraarE
Once again birth (पुन: अपि जननम् puna: api jananam), once again death (पुन: अपि मरणम् puna: api maranam), once again (पुन: अपि puna: api) repose in a mother’s womb (जननी जठरे शयनम् jananī jatarē shayanam). In this world (इह संसारे iha samsārē) that is hard to cross (बहुदुस्तारे bahu dustārē), with compassion (कृपया krpayā) save me (पाहि पारे pāhi pārē, Oh destroyer of the demon Mura (मुरारे murārē).
We believe that rebirth is a consequence of unfulfilled desires and the result of one’s actions in this and prior lives that generate karmaphala (कर्मफल)that need to be enjoyed or suffered in a later birth. Confinement in the limited space of a womb is the first pain a living being (जीवात्मा jīvātma) suffers, but like many other pains, it too gets forgotten or goes unregistered as one begets more opportunities to undergo that pain again. This type of lunacy is illustrated in an imaginary tale in Yogavasishta where a man trying to escape a tiger jumps into a well but grabs a protruding root of a tree by his nails only to be bewildered by a pair of rats gnawing at those very roots portending his fall into a well of snakes. Even in these dire circumstances the man is unable to resist stretching out to grab some drops of honey dripping from a honeycomb above. In many ways, at varying degree human life resembles this tale. The prayer to the slayer of demons is to slay the demon of desire through knowledge. In a later part, we will examine the prescriptions for a life that avoids the common pitfalls and enable the acquisition of the frame of mind and knowledge that leads to one’s emancipation.
|| ॐ तत्सत् ||