Welcome to Sankara’s Smithy again. We are now well prepared after the first two strikes which were direct and powerful blows.
In this verse, Shankara deals with our infatuation with sense enjoyment and uses the technique of “pratipaksha bhavana” to overcome this infatuation. Pratipaksha bhavana is one of Shankara’s greatest contributions to Vedantic thought. It is the ability to look at the same object or situation in many different ways.
One of the ways of looking at objects is by “Seeing the defects in objects of desire (vishaya dOsha darsana विषयदोषदर्शन ). This is a powerful technique in overcoming improper desires”.
This is the technique that Sankara adopts in this Strike/Sloka.
Let us understand this Sloka.
dr̥ṣṭvā māgāmōhāvēśam ।
manasi vicintaya vāraṁ vāram ॥
Meaning of the Sanskrit Words
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 - vikaaram मांसावसादि विकारं
Meaning in English
“Seeing the bosom and naval region of women, do not attain an infatuated state. Deliberate in [your] mind again and again [that] this [is only] a modification of flesh and fat”.
The sight of the breast and lower hip (navel area) of a woman arouse lust for menfolk. This is a natural instinct.
These two body parts are nothing but manifestation/transformation of lumps of flesh and fat covered under skin like any other. Sankara emphasizes the idea that appearances cannot lead to permanent happiness because all of them are not permanent.
In general, overcoming the odds is considered manly by the society. But the most difficult thing is to conquer inward lust and greed. Therefore conquering improper lust is praised as noble virtue.
The essence of this sloka is to avoid lust. 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.
Though appears to be 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).
In the Tamil literature, there are epic verses in Thirukural, Naaladiar, Jeevaha Chinthamani and Kamba Ramayanam about these concepts. These are highlighted in the Tamil Version of this blog; link given below:
This third hammer strike is the stroke that highlights the need to control lust for body. Two body parts of a woman is taken as examples to highlight our dark ignorance - Simple Words yet deep meaning.
“For us, the objective of studying this verse is to use pratipaksha bhavana to rise above our obsession for sense enjoyment. Most of us have a weakness for one of the five senses. Yet, when the sense objects are broken down into their individual components, we find none of them attractive. Put together, they somehow seem to mesmerize us. Thus the enjoyment really isn’t in the object, it is in our minds. We project our enjoyment on the object when it is really self-created. Thus the happiness isn’t in the object, it is within us. This is maya, illusion. It is difficult to overcome. Hence the appeal to think over it again and again”.
Let's absorb the impact; stabilise our physical, mental and intellectual complex and prepare for the next strike. Until then……