Bhakti Granthas – Bhaja Govinda (last part)

Bhaja Govindam

Part VII: More Practical Vedanta from Bhaja Govindam

V. Ramaswami

In the previous part, we initiated a discussion of the verses that provide a set of active steps one can take to facilitate one’s spiritual journey, and we continue that here.  Finally, we conclude our series with a checklist of such recommended activities. As noted earlier, the ultimate book of practical Vedanta is the Bhagavad Gita, and one may view Bhajagovindam as a simplified version of that text with a greater emphasis on devotion (bhakthi).

Verse 30

Pranayamam pratyaharam nityaanityavivekavicharam

Jaapyasametasamaadhividhaanam kurvavadhaanam mahadavadhaanam

With care (avadhanam), indeed with great care (mahadavadhanam), perform (kuru) breath control (pranayamam), sense withdrawal (pratyaharam), discriminative inquiry into the permanent and the impermanent (nitya anitya viveka vicharam), and absorption of the mind accompanied by Japa (jaapya sameta Samadhi vidhanam) .

As noted in many earlier verses, all the pains and pangs of human existence arise from the attachment to the impermanent. A constant inquiry into what is permanent (nitya) and what is impermanent (anitya) is necessary for spiritual emancipation and even for one’s own peace of mind on a day-to-day basis. Some tools that make one ready and capable for such an inquiry and understanding are the daily austerities of pranayama, pratyahara and japa mentioned here.

Pranayama is the regulation of one’s breath (pranan yamayati iti pranayamam).  As an integral part of yoga, pranayama brings many benefits including physical well- being and internal peace.  At a physical level, the body needs to be nourished and tended to as an abode of atma, and one may view this as emphasizing the importance of maintaining a fit physique.  But in a wider context, pranayama includes the regulation of all senses, and that is necessary for one’s spiritual health.

Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from various material aspects of the world.  An equivalent term is control of the senses (indriya nigraham.)  Clearly, withdrawal from the distractions and temptations of the world is necessary for the attainment of detachment (vairagya), without which one is constantly focused on the impermanent and illusory as opposed to pursuing the permanent and the truth.   Thus, the quality called dama by Vedantins is what yogasastra calls pratyahara.

Tiruvalluvar, the venerated Tamil poet, has said:

Uran enum tottiyan Oraindum kaappaan, varan enum vaippukkOr vithu

That is, he who uses his intellect as a goad to control his mind and the five senses is like a seed for the land of salvation itself.

Japa is meditation and its goal is a single-minded focus on the Real, the Permanent and the ultimate Truth.  It is also a focus on the Self, one’s inner Atma. That single-minded focus is what is called Samaadhi.   Usually one gets a japa mantra from a guru and performs japa by chanting the mantra within one’s mind.  It is a powerful technique to control one’s ever wandering mind and to give it focus.

Verse 24

Tvayi mayi chaanyatraiko Vishnuvyartham kupyasi mayyasahishnuh

Bhava samachittah sarvatra tvam vaanchasyachiraadhyadi vishnutvam

There is but one all pervading reality (tvayi mayi anyatra ca vishnuh ekah).  Unnecessarily (vyartham) you get angry (tvam kupyasi) at me (mayi).  If (yadi) you desire (tvam vanchasi) emancipation (vishnutvam) very soon (achirat), become (bhava) equipoised (samachittah) in all circumstances (sarvatra).

Anger and frustration are the result of a feeling of incompleteness and want.  Their source is the ignorance of the supreme truth that one, as a manifestation of the Divine that is complete, is indeed complete.  Vishnu, the Supreme, pervades everything (veveshti iti vishnuh), and this is the basis for the assertion “That thou art (tat tvam asi)” of the Upanishads (Chandogya, 6-14-3).  A true understanding of this principle does not allow for a differentiation as you, I , and other, or as mine, yours, and others’.  Therefore, one who wants to attain true liberation should consciously practice being equipoised in all situations.

Bhagavad Gita (BG, Ch 12, Verses 13-20) in its description of the one meditating on the imperishable and dear to God lists a specific bunch of qualities.  Some that are reflected in this verse are: bearing no grudge against any being (adveshta sarvabhootanam); bearing both happiness and sorrow in equipoise (samadukkha sukha kshami); free from elation, depression, fear, or agitation (harsha amarsha bhaya udvegairmukthah); one who has a focused mind in God (sthira mathih bhakthimaan mE).  In many ways, Bhaja Govindam is a distillation of the great truths expounded in Bhagavad Gita extensively.

Verse 25

Shatrou mitrE putrE bandhou mA kuru yatnam vigrahasandhou

Sarvasminnapi pashyaatmaanam sarvathrotsuja bhedagnanam

Do not make (mA kuru) effort (yatnam) (to create) division or attachment (vigrahasandhou) among enemies (shatrou), friends (mitre), offsprings (putrE) or relatives (bandhou).  See (pasya) in everything (sarvasminnapi)  oneself (aatmaanam).  Forsake (utsruja) everywhere (sarvatra) the sense of difference born of ignorance (bheda agnaanam).

An emancipated soul devoid of likes and dislikes (raga dvesha) accepts people as they are.  As the Bhagavad Gita says, he is one without any agenda (sarvaarambhaparityaagi) in his interactions with the world.  As one who understands and perceives everything in the world as a fragment of the Divine, he can view any sense of duality only as a result of ignorance, and sees oneself in everyone in the sense of appreciating the all pervasiveness and oneness of aatman, the true Self.   Once again, Bhagavad Gita calls him the seer who sees every being as oneself (aatmavat sarvabhootaani yo pashyati sah pashyati).  This verse is a prescription to evolving to be such an emancipated being.  It asks one to get above the self defeating acts of fostering either closeness or enmity among others, to give up any feelings of division among people, and to see oneself in everything.

Verse 9

Satsangatve nissangatvam Nissangatve nirmohatvam

Nirmohatve nischalatatvam nischalatatvE jeevanmukthih

Detachment (nissangatvam) [results from] good company (satsangatve); freedom from delusion (nirmohatvam) from detachment (nissangatve);  an unwavering abidance in truth (nischalatatam) from lack of delusion (nirmohatve); and ultimate salvation (jeevanmukthih) from such abidance in truth (nishalatatvE).

There is a saying, “Tell me who thy friends are, and I will tell thee who thou art.”  It is not only that like people attract each other hang together, but it is important that one who wants to evolve spiritually should seek out good company.  Such good company comes in the form of great teachers and religious exponents, spiritually inclined friends and colleagues, prayer groups, religious discourses and gatherings, etc.    This verse extolling the virtue of such good company says that such company gives one the ability to overcome delusions that lead to attachment towards impermanent things and relationships.  When such delusions are shed, one’s mind focuses on the permanent – the Ultimate Reality – and one develops an unwavering anchoring in (spiritual) values leading one to eventual emancipation from mundane bondages.

Verse 31

Gurucharanambuja nirbhara bhakthah samsaradachiradbhava mukthah

Sendriyamanasaniyamadevam drakshyasi nijahrudayastham devam

Oh one who is steadfastly clings to the lotus feet of one’s Guru (gurucharanambhuja nirbhara bhaktah)!  May you become (bhava) a liberated one (mukthah) soon (achiraat) from attachment (samsaaraad).  In this way (evam) through the control of your mind and sense organs (sendriyamanasaniyamad), you will come to see (drakshyasi) the Lord (devam) dwelling in one’s own heart (nijahrdayastam).

Just as Sanskrit didactic works begin with an invocatory verse and by spelling out the qualifications of the one to whom it is addressed to, they also end with a phalastuti a verse explaining the benefits accruing to the study of the piece. This verse serves that purpose and indirectly also emphasizes the need to have a Guru for guidance and adherence to the teachings of that Guru.  The benefits coming from such guidance of the Guru that formed the many verses we have discussed is asserted to be the ability to shed one’s attachments to the impermanent and to not only realize the Permanent but to obtain the true knowledge that that Permanent one indeed resides within.  Self realization (atmajnana) liberating one and attaining the status of emancipation even while living in the world, i.e., becoming a jeevanmuktah is claimed to be benefit accruing to one learning and practicing the teachings of this work that summarize Vedanta.


The ultimate goal of a spiritual aspirant is the shedding of illusions that create various types of bondage towards impermanent things and relationships and to attain liberation through true knowledge of the permanent and real.  That path is not easy, and there are many specific steps that one can take to evolve. Some of the important ones listed in Bhaja Govindam can be summarized as follows.

  1. Develop a sense of prayerfulness and faith in the Lord immediately.
  2. Understand the impermanent nature of our body and its ultimate decay and avoid any narcissist attachment to oneself.
  3. Yet, take care of the body as the abode of the soul by performing needed austerities,  exercising due discipline in the form of control over one’s senses, and avoiding indiscriminate indulgence in harmful pleasures.
  4. Understand that all our relationships are evanescent and develop a measured detachment even towards close family members like one’s spouse and children.
  5. Shed all pride and vanity such as those arising from youthfulness, bodily strength, wealth, or connections, since they make no difference in the eyes of death and time.
  6. Understand all possessions and wealth as being major distractions and even as having much destructive potential, and therefore eschew consciously their indiscriminate pursuit as well as undue attachment towards them.
  7. Develop an attitude of contentment accepting one’s lot and results of one’s actions as ordained by one’s karma and as a gift of god (iswara prasada).
  8. Respect nature (like water and rivers) and live in harmony with all things and all  beings.
  9. Strengthen your spirituality through visiting holy places, reading scriptural texts, and above all through good company.
  10. Appreciate the oneness, indivisibility, universality and omnipresence of the Divine and develop a sense of oneness with all.
  11. Practice meditation and prayer that help to rise above the mundane and the external world.
  12. Attach yourself to a spiritual teacher (guru) and follow the teachings of the scriptures under the guidance of the guru.

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