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Welcome to Sankara’s Smithy and thank you very much for taking your time off to visit this forge shop and agreeing to receive the hammer strikes (31 in all).
Here is Sankara’s first hammer strike. Adi Sankara begins his first strike as a salutation to God.
“Glory to Govinda. Always pray and meditate on Him. Your worldly knowledge will not help you when your departure time arrives”. This is the essence of this first of the thirty one blows.
You might immediately think “Oh! This is only the first one. It will be mild as the focus is on prayer”. Don’t get fooled by your thoughts. Normally one will realise the severity of the strike only after receiving it. This first strike of Sankara may appear to be mild but the message it delivers is something to be received and realised.
Let us receive the first hammer strike.
भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं,
गोविन्दं भज मूढ़मते।
संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले,
न हि न हि रक्षति डुकृञ् करणे॥१
Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam
Govindam Bhaja Moodamathe,
Sampraapte sannihite kaale,
Nahi nahi rakshati dukrumkarane.
Pray Govinda, Pray Govinda
Pray Govinda, oh ignorant mind
When your designated time arrives
Your grammar education won’t protect you.
Let us understand the Sloka step by step, word by word.
The word "Baja" has the meaning of meditate, pray, worship. In a broader sense, Bhaja means service. Adi Sankara uses this word and the next word Govindam three times in this verse. Why three times? Does it matter? Yes. Here's a brief explanation of why.
Our ancient texts tell us that one of the main purposes of life is to remove the three types of hindrances or to remove the three types of miseries (sorrows). Although the three types of suffering are not clearly defined, each commentator refers to the following three types of suffering:
1. Adidaivika (Divine Origin) - Sufferings caused by the action of God, Nature. Sorrows resulting from the fury of nature.
2. Adibhautika (arising out of body and mater) – Sufferings due to external influences
3. Adhyatmika (Self-created) – Sufferings through physical diseases, mental disorders (desire, anger, fear, hatred, envy, lust, sadness, shame, envy…..)
It is a tradition to appeal three times in worship to remove these three types of sorrows/hindrances.
“The very opening words “Bhaja Govindam” – repeated thrice as is often done for emphasis in the Vedas – serves as the invocation, and the anticipated fruit of learning is unmistakably identified as ultimate salvation. The absence of an explicit mention of the qualified learner (अधिकारि adhikaari) should be interpreted as asserting that the work is relevant to all, and the particular exhortation not to wait too long is a call to start walking along the spiritual path of devotion from early on”.
This Sanskrit word is composed of two words, Go and Vindam.
1. “Go” means - cow, living being, cattle.
2. Vindham means - to maintain (keep), to know.
The one who knows and takes care of the living beings is Govinda.
Govinda is one of the epithets used for Lord Vishnu, the protector of this Universe. This word is used as the 187th, 539th name in Vishnu Sahasranama. This term offers two interpretations.
1. The first is known through the Vedas. The Brahmasutra says that Brahman is realized only through the Vedas (गोपिः वेत्ति इति गोविन्दः gopi: vEthi iti gOvinda:).
2. The second interpretation of this word is the knower of beings (गाः विन्दति इति गोविन्दः கா: விந்ததி இதி கோவிந்த:). Since there is nothing that is not unknown to Him, everything is indelibly full of Him, Govinda is the one who transcends the dimensions of space and time and knows living beings and their actions. The word Govinda thus means Brahman, Paramatma.
Therefore , in the vedantic sense, the connotation of the phrase ‘Bhaja Govindam’ is to be taken as “Know Govinda” which is in the sense of “Know Brahman as thyself.”
Literal meaning is ignorant mind, foolish mind. But this word has much deeper connotations.
As human beings, we have a superior mind and intelligence than other living beings. Only we have the ability to discern what is necessary and what is not, good and bad. We do not live by mere intuition (biological and physiological impulses); Our lives are governed by higher and lofty goals.
Yet, in everyday life, this mind takes us everywhere and is never stable. Very often we compare our mind to a monkey. As mentioned in the previous post, what happens in everyday life is different.
It is therefore no wonder that Adi Shankara calls our mind, which considers the ignorance as knowledge, the unclear as clear, the impermanent as stable, and the incomplete as complete, as “blind mind” and “ignorant mind”.
Sampraapte sannihite kaale
Literal translation means “at the appointed time”.
Appointment to whom, by whom, where, when and at what time?
The answer is - appointment by the Lord at a place, date and time decided by Him which is unknown to us. That's right, death; but for whom?
"Oh Partha: you are worried about death of of those whom you identify as your relatives. Understand what death is . The human soul does not die. It will be reborn. You can only kill their bodies. Even if you don’t, their bodies will perish one day. So, go ahead and fight”
advises Lord Krishna to Arjuna at the battlefield at Kurukshetra in the epic “Mahabharata”.
Here is a pictorial depiction of what we terms as our lives.
For all of us, Life is nothing but the time spent between the maternity ward and crematorium on the “surface of a tiny rock-ball 26000 light years away from the black hole, rotating around a spherical fire in a tiny galaxy in an ever expanding galaxies” as depicted in the above picture.
Some call it as the time between between the drop of a water (semen) and the spark of fire lit. In commercial terms, it is akin to a rental agreement between the mortal frame and the immortal soul.
The essence of these words has been written by many Tamil sages and Saiva Siddhanta scholars and poets in the form of innumerable poems. There are exclusive chapters on impermanence of body in Thirumandra, Naaladiaar and Thirukkural.
The reality is that body will give us up, but we will not give up the body that easily till our subtle body becomes purified.
For that purification only Sankara says Bhaja Govindam.
One can counter Sankara saying that “why should I do it now for an event which will occur later; I will do it at that time”. For that the answer to be understood in this Sanskrit sentence is :
“Kaala is time and also the Lord of Death. Our scriptures assert that one attains whatever one’s mind is filled with at the time of death. But one is not given to know when that time comes. Therefore, one should at all times in one’s life, have one’s mind rested on the Eternal, for it is the Eternal that we, without doubt, eventually reach”.
Nahi nahi rakshati
Literal translation is “does not protect, does not protect”.
What is Sankara trying to say here? Whose, When, and what won't protect?
Who - The body with which we ignorantly/foolishly identify ourselves will not be saved.
When - at the time of death; destiny - It is the time of termination of the lease agreement between us and our body. Our Time to leave the body.
“The broader interpretation of this verse’s caution is as one asking not to become conceited and totally self-assured”.
“डुकृङ्ग् Dukrung” is a root in Sanskrit grammar with meaning करणे (karane) action. Knowledge of Sanskrit grammar is highly desirable for the study of Hindu scriptures like the vedas and Vedanta. One of the ways scholars acquire proficiency in grammar is by chanting and memorizing many सूत्राणि sutras (aphorisms) such as that of the great grammarian Panini exemplified here through “Dukrung karane”. Much as Sanskrit grammar proficiency is a great facilitator of the study of scriptures, it must be understood that it is neither sufficient nor absolutely necessary for acquiring true knowledge, namely, knowledge of the eternal. It is like the plantain leaf (or the plate today) for having one’s meal, a facilitator only. Indeed, an overemphasis of scholarship can indeed become counter-productive.”
Here, we should not take it only as formal education, but we should understand it in a more comprehensive scope. It essentially implies that all that is prescribed/defined for us in our scriptures both in the worldly transactional sphere and in the religious duties and karmas will not help us at the time of departure unless we understand who we are and realise our relationship with Brahman, the Ultimate reality.
It is precisely the reason that Sankara is striking us, only with the sole objective of transforming our mind set.
Only if the mind is habituated to stay with God during life, then the mind will stay with God at the time of death. Therefore all of us should carry on with our life’s mission (which is to secure permanent happiness free from all sorrows as seen in the introduction) while meditating on God and leaving the fruits of our actions/karma to Him, Govinda.
A word of caution from the Guru:
“None of the above, however, is to be misinterpreted as a denigration of the various rituals and prayers embodied in the पूर्वभाग (purva bhaga, the early part) of Vedas. For most, they play a significant role in the purification of the mind and body and in preparing one for the greater journey. The chosen few like Sri Adi Sankara, born prepared to undertake that journey directly without elaborate preparations, are very atypical in that respect. Indeed, the criticism is to be taken as aimed at mistaking the means for the end and for allowing oneself to be content only with rituals, and for performing them without caring to understand their true purpose and meaning”.