[Advaita-l] Adi Sankara's Bhaja Govindam - 2

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Sat Oct 23 19:29:11 EDT 2021

(Continued from previous post)
As humans, we are blessed with a mind and an intellect far superior to other beings that allow us not to live only by our instincts, but in a way governed by lofty goals.
Yet, our mind often gets tripped by many of the trappings of the world we live in. It often gets fooled into mistaking some fleeting pleasures for true joy and many
untruths as truth without recognizing the real Truth. Much of its energy gets wasted by us in trivial pursuits that have little edifying value. Hence it is addressed
as “मूढमते mooda mathe” (Oh, ignorant mind!). Would it rather not be rested on the divine, Govinda? Then, why Govinda?
The choice of Govinda as the deity to be worshipped is undoubtedly inspired by the author’s reverence for his own guru Sri Govinda Bhagavadpada. Through the insertion of
this particular name of the divine, Sri Sankara appears to communicate to the aspirant that Vedanta is something that should be learned from a guru and is not to be
attempted as an exercise of self-learning. Elsewhere, the Acharya has stated, “Brahman can be known only through one’s spiritual teacher” (आचार्य आगमादेव ज्ञातुं शक्यं ब्रह्मः
Aachaarya aagamaadEva jnaatum shakyam Bhrahma.) Furthermore, the guru himself should belong to a distinguished teacher-student-lineage (गुरुशिष्यपरंपर
guru-sishya-parampara). Finally, Govinda in the form of Gopala is the family deity (कुलदैवत kuladaivata) of Sri Adi Sankara.
Contrary to misconceptions, Hinduism at its core asserts Brahman, the ultimate reality, to be निर्गुण (nirguna beyond attributes), since ascribing an attribute is to
impose a limitation on its infinite nature through the absence of the negation of the assigned attribute. Therefore, that the ultimate वेदान्तिनः (vedaantin)
Adi Shankara, who has expounded much on the nirguna nature of Brahman, calls upon us to worship and dwell on a personal God – Govinda – does require some examination.
Note that this seer is also the author of hymns on many personal deities with forms and also renowned, among others, for his commentary on thea विष्णु सहस्रनाम
(Vishnu Sahasranama), the thousand names of Lord Vishnu. First of all, the very omnipresence of Brahman implies that its worship in a diverse set of forms bears no
contradiction whatsoever. For the Hindu, the form is only a concrete aid to concentrate on the abstract. We get reminded of this in every religious ceremony by both
the invocation of the divinity in a form such as an idol and the subsequent retiring of the idol at the conclusion of the ceremony. Secondly, with Bhaja Govindam
being primarily addressed at the aspirant and not at the achieved, an easier means accessible to all is perhaps offered by the great teacher Sankara.
Govinda is one of the epithets used for Lord Vishnu, the supreme protector. The term lends itself to two interpretations. The first is as one who is known through the vedas
(गोपिः वेत्ति इति गोविन्दः gopi: vEthi iti gOvinda: ). Brahmasutra says that Brahman is realized only through the vedas (शास्त्रयोनिवत् saastra yOnivat). The second interpretation
of the word is as one who knows the living beings (गाः विन्दति इति गोविन्दः gaa: vindati iti gOvinda: ). Being omniscient, He knows all living beings and their deeds,
and his knowledge is described as one transcending the three time divisions (past, present and future) and serving as the illuminator of the entire universe (जगत् jagat).
The word भज (bhaja) has many meanings: worship; meditate upon; seek; know; love. In the sense of भक्ति (bhakthi), “ गोविन्दं भज Govindam bhaja” can be translated as
“Love and worship Govinda.” For the worshipper (भक्त bhaktha), love towards Him is the means to attaining yet another prerequisite for salvation, namely detachment
(वैराग्य vairagya) from the mundane. There are many sayings that assert this, such as the couplet of the Tamil sage Tiruvalluvar, “பற்றுக பற்றற்றான் பற்றினை அப்பற்றை
பற்றுக பற்று விடற்கு Patruga patratraan patrinai, appatrai patruga patru vidarku” – acquire that affection of the renounced so as to relieve oneself of other affections.
However, in the vedantic sense, the connotation of the phrase ‘Bhaja Govindam’ is to be taken as “Know Govinda” in the sense of “Know Brahman as thyself.” According to
the adherents of the path of knowledge (ज्ञानमार्ग jnaana maarga), if one does not realize the identity of oneself with Brahman, then no amount of good deeds done will
help to liberate the person from the cycle of birth and death; hence the interpretation “Know Govinda.” Adi Sankara has stated in many contexts that salvation does not
result from actions or rituals (कर्म karma) alone, and the word करणे (karane) used in the verse adds credence to that interpretation. Again, as noted in
तत्वबोधः (Tatvabodha), true wisdom/knowledge (विवेकः viveka) is understanding the eternal (नित्य nitya) and being able to differentiate it from all others
that are but ephemeral (अनित्य anitya).
“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.” Folklore has it that during his stay at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi
(काशि Kaashi) where he composed one of his famous commentaries (ब्रह्मसूत्रभाष्य Brahmasutrabhashya), Sri Adi Sankara saw at the river bank a very old man chanting
such sutras endlessly and wondered if the latter had enough time to ascend the many steep steps of the arduous path of knowledge (ज्ञानमार्ग jnanamaarga). That path
involves the study of grammar and then of the scriptures, meditating upon (मनन manana) and internalizing (निधिध्यासन nidhidyaasana) their teachings, and realizing that one
is but Brahman, and thereby attaining salvation. Would one rather not spend the time worshipping Brahman and reaching Him through the easier path of worship
(भक्तिमार्गः bhakthi maarga)?
(Continued in next post)

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