The Tree of Knowledge
Adi Shankaracharya’s Bhaja Govindam
On May 8th we celebrated Sri Adi Sankara Jayanti (birthday) one of the most revered Hindu saints. Although Adi Shankara’s life was tragically cut short after only 32 years, he has been described as “undoubtedly the greatest son of the Indian continent after the Buddha.” Also known as Shankara, the Teacher, or Adi Shankaracharya, he mastered the Vedas as a child and fully dedicated himself to a spiritual life when he was only eight years old. We pay a special homage to Sri Adi Shankaracharya by posting an English translation (by Swami Chinmayananda) of his composition — Bhaja Govindam. The 31-stanza composition in Sanskrit is not just a devotional song; each word in Bhaja Govindam is pregnant with meaning and the composition is a sort of short synopsis of the teachings of Santana Dharma.
1. Seek Govinda, seek Govinda, seek Govinda, o Fool! When the appointed time comes (death), grammar-rules surely will not save you.
2. O deluded minded! Give up your lust to amass wealth. Give up such desires from your mind and take up the path of righteousness. Keep your mind happy with the money, which comes as the result of your hard work.
3. Do not get attracted on seeing the parts of woman’s anatomy under the influence of delusion, as these are made up of skin, flesh and similar substances. Deliberate on this again and again in your mind.
4. Life is as ephemeral as water drops on a lotus leaf. Be aware that the whole world is troubled by disease, ego and grief.
5. As long as a man is fit and capable to earn money, everyone in the family shows affection towards him. But afterwards, when the body becomes weak no one enquires about him even during the talks!
6. Till one is alive, family members enquire kindly about his welfare. But, when the vital air (Prana) departs from the body, even the wife fears from the corpse.
7. In childhood we are attached to sports; in youth, we are attached to women. Old age goes on worrying over everything. But there is no one who wants to be engrossed in Govind, the Supreme Brahman at any stage.
8. Who is your wife? Who is your son? Indeed, strange is this world. O dear, think again and again who are you and from where have you come.
9. Association with saints brings non-attachment, non-attachment leads to right knowledge, right knowledge leads us to permanent awareness, to which liberation follows.
10. As lust without youth, lake without water, the relatives without wealth are meaningless, similarly this world ceases to exist, when the Truth is revealed?
11. Do not boast of wealth, friends (power), and youth, these can be taken away in a flash by Time. Knowing this whole world to be under the illusion of Maya, you try to attain the Absolute.
12. Day and night, dusk and dawn, winter and spring come and go. In this sport of Time entire life goes away, but the storm of desire never departs or diminishes.
13. Oh deluded man! Why do you worry about your wealth and wife? Is there no one to take care of them? Only the company of saints can act as a boat in three worlds to take you out from this ocean of rebirths.
14. Matted and untidy hair, shaven heads, orange or variously coloured cloths are all a way to earn livelihood. O deluded man, why don’t you understand it even after seeing.
15. Even an old man of weak limbs, hairless head, toothless mouth, who walks with a stick, cannot leave his desires.
16. One who warms his body by fire after sunset, curls his body to his knees to avoid cold; eats the begged food and sleeps beneath the tree, he is also bound by desires, even in these difficult situations.
17. According to all religions, without knowledge one cannot get liberated in hundred births though he might visit Gangasagar or observe fasts or do charity.
18. Reside in a temple or below a tree, sleep on mother earth as your bed, stay alone, leave all the belongings and comforts, such renunciation can give all the pleasures to anybody.
19. One may like meditative practice or worldly pleasures, may be attached or detached. But only the one fixing his mind on God lovingly enjoys bliss.
20. Those who study Gita, even a little, drink just a drop of water from the holy Ganga; worship Lord Krishna with love even once, Yama, the God of death has no control over them.
21. Born again, die again, stay again in the mother’s womb, it is indeed difficult to cross this world. O Murari! please help me through your mercy.
22. One who wears ragged cloths, move on the path free from virtue and sin, keeps his mind controlled through constant practice, enjoys like a carefree exuberant child.
23. Who are you? Who am I? From where I have come? Who is my mother, who is my father? Ponder over these and after understanding, this world to be meaningless like a dream, relinquish it.
24. Lord Vishnu resides in me, in you and in everything else, so your anger is meaningless. If you wish to attain the eternal status of Vishnu, practice equanimity all the time, in all the things.
25. Try not to win the love of your friends, brothers, relatives and son(s) or to fight with your enemies. See yourself in everyone and give up ignorance of duality everywhere.
26. Give up desires, anger, greed and delusion. Ponder over your real nature. Those devoid of the knowledge of self come in this world, a hidden hell, endlessly.
27. Sing thousand glories of Lord Vishnu, constantly remembering his form in your heart. Enjoy the company of noble people and do charity for the poor and the needy.
28. People use this body for pleasure which gets diseased in the end. Though in this world everything ends in death, man does not give up the sinful conduct.
29. Keep on thinking that money is cause of all troubles, it cannot give even a bit of happiness. A rich man fears even his own son. This is the law of riches everywhere.
30. Do Pranayam, the regulation of life forces, take proper food, constantly distinguish the permanent from the fleeting, Chant the holy names of God with love and meditate, with attention, with utmost attention.
31. Be dependent only on the lotus feet of your Guru and get salvation from this world. Through disciplined senses and mind, you can see the indwelling Lord of your heart!
Thus through a deluded grammarian lost in memorizing rules of the grammar, the all-knowing Sri Shankara motivated his disciples for enlightenment. O deluded minded friend, chant Govinda, worship Govinda, love Govinda as there is no other way to cross the life’s ocean except lovingly remembering the holy names of God.
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