This Sloka is an extension of the previous Sloka. In the previous blog, Sankara declared that recognition and respect is a result of your wealth earning capability.
This Strike (Sloka ) is an auxiliary strike to the previous one; it amplifies the same thought to yet another bitter reality. The theme begun in the previous Sloka is continued here with a graphic touch added to it, to drive home the same point with added emphasis. It looks at things straight in the eye.
Let us start with a small incident that we often come across.
A child saw a balloon vendor opposite and wanted to get a a balloon. The mother of the child was not willing to get the child the object of her love. The. Child got disappointed and started crying. An elderly saint saw this, went to the vendor, got the baloon, gave it to the child. The child was extremely thrilled, she started playing with the baloon and was very happy.
The mother asked the seer as to why he bought the baloon. The saint smiled at her and responded:
“Look at the child; she is so happy as long as the baloon is in her hand. The moment the baloon goes out of her hand or the baloon gets deflated, the child will be disappointed and will be unhappy again. We all are children like her. We are very happy with our body, play with that in life and are happy because we think we own them and we love the body of ours. The moment the air inside us gets deflated/released, we are gone; there is only distress and crying all around. So don’t bother much” he said and walked away.
This in ident involving the greatest saint of Kanchi Kamkoti Mutt sets the background for this strike by Adi Sankara. Let us now receive the sixth strike.
yāvatpavano nivasati dehe,
tāvat pṛcchati kuśalaṃ gehe |
gatavati vāyau dehāpāye,
bhāryā bibhyati tasminkāye ||
Meaning of the Sanskrit Words
यावत् - yaavat. - so long as; पवनः - pavanaH - air/breath (life breath) निवसति - nivasati - lives/dwells; देहे - dehe- in the body; तावत् - taavat - till then; पृच्छति - pR^ichchhati - enquires about; कुशलं - kushalaM - welfare; गेहे - gehe - in the house; in the family गतवति - gatavati - while gone; has left वायौ - vaayau - air(breath); देह अपाये - dehaapaaye - life departs the body; भार्या - bhaaryaa - wife; बिभ्यति - bibhyati - is afraid;fears; तस्मिन् काये - tasminkaaye - tasmin.h+kaye - in that body;
Meaning in English
As long as he/she is alive, the family members crowd around and enquire about the welfare. But when the breathing stops, even the spouse who has enjoyed this body fears the corpse.
For ordinary people like us, death is frightening. We are people with likes and desires and attachments to worldly beings and things. So, we all tend to shun the topic of death. We close our eyes to the reality that is certain to overtake us one day.
Even if someone talks about it in a conversation, we tend to say “Don’t talk about “inauspicious” matters. We will see when it comes. Why do you worry about that now. We all have very good health now and we have family and friends to take care of us. Relax now and enjoy.” Fine for that moment. But, is this the reality?
The body is important only to the extent that it is an instrument for achieving certain of our goals. However healthy a body may be, it is appreciated only as long as it has “breathing” or life in it. The departure of prana (the spark of consciousness) changes the entire outlook.
Once breathing stops and life is gone, the person becomes a body or a corpse. “He” or “She” becomes “it”, a fast decaying object no longer required. “It” needs to be disposed off first. Everyone including the wife will be scared to be with a corpse. So, the body is laid out, placed on blocks of wood, and set fire to or laid to rest with Mother Earth. The only things that accompany the departed are noble (dhārmic धार्मिक्) acts”.
Then the relatives and others leave. And after the ceremonial rituals, everyone without exception moves on in life to seek new avenues of joy and the dead person becomes history and fades away in memory. This is a sour fact. As long as the gasp of life is there, people come and surround.
This is reality. So, “The blind affection which we give to our family is never shown towards something is ever-present. Unless there is detachment from worldly pleasures, mind can not be turned inwards. The utter worthlessness of the ties will become apparent after one contemplates on the impermanence of the worldly ties. If one enquires deeply, one can rise about merely satisfying the needs of the body and make the mind suitable for self-enquiry by making time for the spiritual dimension of life. So pray Govinda”
Adi Sankara clearly brings out this and advises us to weigh our priorities.
“Knowing the limitations of the body will help us keep a healthy outlook in life and turn the mind to everlasting principles, rather than being obsessively engaged in pampering our bodies. This, however, doesn’t mean we don’t take care of the body and neglect it. Yes, we should take care of the ‘vehicle’ (our body) for living a meaningful life and use that as a means or a tool to understand and realise the truth, but without undue attachment to it. We must pray to the divine to give us the understanding to dispel the ignorance in which we are slowly drowning every day. So, Shankara through this verse reminds us of the temporary nature of the body and advises us to chant the name of the Lord who will ultimately guide and help us to realise our true self”.
This is the essence of the Strike 6. Let us understand the reality of our lives and prepare ourselves dor the inevitable which Adi Sankara continues to remind us in this Bhaja Govindam.
We will get ready for his next strike. Until then……