SUMMARY: Bhaja Govindam Class 1 - 08/01/23
Chinmaya UK Study Class, Śaṅkarācārya, Swami Chinmayananda (Sw.C.)
Bhaja Govindam gives, within the limited canvas of its composition, a more eloquent picture of the art of realisation and a deeper diagnosis of human unhappiness.
~ Swami Chinmayananda
In our previous study, we have seen that the ultimate purpose of human existence according to Hinduism is freedom, liberation, mokṣa, Self-realisation... (the words are many.)
In this text, Śaṅkarācārya, very lovingly uses the bluntest of language, advising us to discern correctly and not get lost in life, as there is little guarantee in what form or place we will return in the next life.
He reminds us that it is only in a human body with its capacity to understand, discern and change that this can happen. An animal body is there simply to exhaust vāsanās, and a heavenly/hellish abode is attained to enjoy/suffer the fruits of our past deeds...all of these come to an end once the karma/blessings/sin has been spent and the account is cleared. Human birth is the only birth in which there is the capacity to break the wheel of saṃsāra.
Adi Śaṅkarācārya is one of the most revered and respected ācāryas (guru/spiritual teacher) in Indic philosophy and religion.
In a very short span of time (he lived for only 32 years), he reignited Sanatana Dharma (eternal Truth) and the Advaita (non-dual) philosophy of the Upaniṣads to wade away the ritualists (where animal sacrifice and other bizarre rituals to appease the gods/goddesses for boons were in full swing) and the atheist and Buddhist mindset that was prevailing.
In his short life, this mighty spiritual general, who Swami Chinmayananda describes as "an exquisite thinker, a brilliant intellect, a personality scintillating with the vision of the Truth, a heart throbbing with industrious faith and an ardent desire to serve the nation, sweetly emotional and relentlessly logical" brought about a Vedic renaissance that we are privileged to benefit from today.
Bhaja Govindam is one of the shorter texts composed by Śaṅkarācārya and is considered a stotra (a devotional composition) because of its poetic rhyme and devotional theme. Although it is less technical than other works, it is also considered a prakarana grantha (an introductory text) because of its Vedantic import. (Śaṅkarācārya's philosophical treaties can be found in his commentaries on the Upaniṣads, Bhagavat Gita and Brahama-Sutras (the three main texts of Vedanta, together known as the prasthantrya))
In Bhaja Govindam, Śaṅkarācārya provides the fundamentals of Vedanta in simple, musical verses so that even children can grow up easily learning the melody of Advaita philosophy.
The original title of Bhaja Govindam is Moha Mudgara meaning 'hammer to delusion'.
We are helpless in this 'moha' (delusion), as it is part our past karma and part societal conditioning that stacks up and veils life as it is.
It is only when we start to question and sincerely seek, either because we suffer in some way OR despite material and outer success, we are still evaded of a feeling of fulfilment, that the limitations of our thought and experience become hauntingly apparent.
And even then, even when we can see things as they are, many of us don't change because we either don't know how or feel more comfortable in our delusion than the discomfort of working through it.
So, just as in the objective field, we use a hammer when things are tough or difficult to break through, so too in the subjective field, when our conditioning and veiling are thick, it needs a hammer to crack through it. Thus, the title Moha Mudgara or 'hammer to delusion'.
Oh, dear God!
Initially, Śaṅkarācārya's words may seem uncomfortable. It is indeed painful to hold a mirror up and see things as they are, to fully understand the delusion of our present condition, but by wiping the mirror clean, we begin to see things clearly and are ultimately able to crack through the mirror! We let go of the suffering and open to Life.
As the saying goes, the truth will set you free, but first, it will p**s you off (Gloria Steinman).
The urgency in Śaṅkarācārya's verse is due to the fact that not one of us knows when we will pass. This life is so very uncertain, and, in the hurriedness of everyday life, we tend to take it for granted. Thus, "when the house of life is ablaze with death", no formalities are needed as the loving Guru tries wholeheartedly to wake up his beloved slumbering disciples.
Next week we explore the first verse of this remarkable text...