Shankaracharya is widely known for his teachings on
Vedanta. Shankaracharya was born in the village of Kaladi, in
South India, about 2500 years ago to his Brahmin parents, Sivaguru and
Aryamba. He traveled throughout India during his life, preaching and
establishing four important maths, or centers, and accepted numerous
disciples. He had also
composed a number of verses and hymns of his knowledge and insight.
Bhaja Govindam is perhaps his greatest. He is still today one of the
greatest influences in the present-day
understanding of Vedic philosophy, with numerous schools of thought
India still expounding his teachings.
He primarily taught the non-dual, or
advaita, form of understanding, teaching that everything is ultimately one. Many
of the commentaries on the Vedic texts, such as the Brahma-samhita, the Upanishads, and others, are written
with commentaries by those who follow his
advaitic principles. Thus, many such texts have the impersonalistic sway to
them, leaving out the idea that everything comes from a personal or Supreme
Creator. However, before he left this world, he composed the Bhaja Govindam
prayers that evokes the mood of devotion to Lord Govinda, Krishna.
It is in this prayer that he emphasizes above all else
the importance for developing devotion for Lord Krishna, which is
the principle means for attaining the Grace for the Supreme, and the freedom
from further rounds of reincarnating in material existence. It is this prayer
that leaves us
no doubt that his final instruction was to give up our egotistical differences
and surrender to Lord Krishna. It also encapsulates the
sum and substance of all Vedantic thought in whatever other works that he had
There is a story attached to the composition of this Hymn. It is said that
Shankara was walking along a street in Varanasi one day,
accompanied by his disciples. He heard an old scholar teaching his grammatical rules. Taking pity on
him, he went up and
advised him not to waste his time on grammar at his age but to turn his mind to
God in worship and adoration. The Hymn to Govinda was composed on this occasion.
Besides the refrain of the song beginning with the words "Bhaja Govindam", Shankara is
said to have sung twelve verses, hence the hymn bears the title
"Dvadasamanjarika-Stotra" (A hymn which is a bunch of twelve
verse-blossoms). The fourteen disciples who were with the Master then are
believed to have added one verse each. These fourteen verses are together called
"Chaturdasa-manjarika-Stotra" (A hymn which is a bunch of fourteen
sampraapte sannihite kaale
nahi nahi rakshati dukrijnkarane
Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda. Oh fool! Rules of Grammar will not save you at
the time of your death.
mudha jahiihi dhanaagamatrishhnaam
kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitrishhnaam
vittam tena vinodaya chittam
Oh fool! Give up
your thirst to amass wealth, devote your mind to thoughts to the Real. Be
content with what comes through actions already performed in the past.
manasi vichintaya vaaram vaaram
Do not get drowned
in delusion by going wild with passions and lust by seeing a woman's navel and
chest. Bodies are flesh, fat and blood. Do not fail to remember this again and
again in your mind.
lokam shokahatam cha samastam
Uncertain is the
life of man as rain drops on a lotus leaf. Know that the whole world remains a
prey to disease, ego and grief.
staavannija parivaaro raktah
pashchaajjiivati jarjara dehe
vaartaam koapi na prichchhati gehe
So long as a man is
fit and able to support his family, see the affection all those around him show.
But no one at home cares to even have a word with him when his body totters due
to old age.
yaavatpavano nivasati dehe
taavatprichchhati kushalam gehe
gatavati vaayau dehaapaaye
bhaaryaa bibhyati tasminkaaye
When one is alive,
his family members enquire kindly about his welfare. But when the soul departs
from the body, even his wife runs away in fear of the corpse.
pare brahmani koapi na saktah
Childhood is lost in
play. Youth is lost by attachment to woman. Old age passes away by thinking over
many past things. Alas! Hardly is there anyone who yearns to be lost in
kaate kaantaa kaste putrah
kasya tvam kah kuta aayaatah
tattvam chintaya tadiha bhraatah
Who is your wife?
Who is your son? Strange is this samsara. Of whom are you? Where have you come
from? Brother, ponder over these truths.
From Satsanga comes
non-attachment, from non-attachment comes freedom from delusion, which leads to
self-settledness. From self-settledness comes Jivan Mukti (liberation).
vayasigate kah kaamavikaarah
shushhke niire kah kaasaarah
kshiinevitte kah parivaarah
gyaate tattve kah samsaarah
What good is lust
when youth has fled? What use is a lake which has no water? Where are the
relatives when wealth is gone? Where is samsara (the continuaiton of birth and
death) when the Truth is known?
maa kuru dhana jana yauvana garvam
harati nimeshhaatkaalah sarvam
brahmapadaM tvaM pravisha viditvaa
Do not boast of
wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these are destroyed within a minute.
Free yourself from the illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless
dinayaaminyau saayam praatah
kaalah kriidati gachchhatyaayuh
tadapi na mujncatyaashaavaayuh
darkness, dusk and dawn, winter and springtime come and go. Time plays and life
ebbs away. But the storm of desire never leaves.
This bouquet of
twelve verses was imparted to a grammarian by the all-knowing Shankara, adored
as the bhagavadpada.
kaate kaantaa dhana gatachintaa
vaatula kim tava naasti niyantaa
trijagati sajjanasam gatiraikaa
bhavati bhavaarnavatarane naukaa
Oh mad man! Why this
engrossment in thoughts of wealth? Is there no one to guide you? There is only
one thing in three worlds that can save you from the ocean of samsara. Get
into that boat of satsangha (knowledge of the Truth) quickly.
jatilo mundii lujnchhitakeshah
pashyannapi cana pashyati muudhah
There are many who
go with matted locks, many who have clean shaven heads, many whose hairs have
been plucked out; some are clothed in saffron, yet others in various colors ---
all just for a livelihood. Seeing truth revealed before them, still the foolish
ones see it not.
angam galitam palitam mundam
dashanavihiinam jatam tundam
vriddho yaati grihiitvaa dandam
tadapi na mujncatyaashaapindam
Strength has left
the old man's body; his head has become bald, his gums toothless and leaning on
crutches. Even then the attachment is strong and he clings firmly to fruitless
agre vahnih prishhthebhaanuh
tadapi na mujncatyaashaapaashah
Behold there lies
the man who sits warming up his body with the fire in front and the sun at the
back; at night he curls up the body to keep out of the cold; he eats his
beggar's food from the bowl of his hand and sleeps beneath the tree. Still in
his heart, he is a wretched puppet at the hands of passions.
muktim na bhajati janmashatena
One may go to the
Ganga, observe fasts, and give away riches in charity! Yet, devoid of jnana,
nothing can give mukthi even at the end of a hundred births.
sura mandira taru muula nivaasah
shayyaa bhuutala majinam vaasah
sarva parigraha bhoga tyaagah
kasya sukham na karoti viraagah
Take your residence
in a temple or below a tree, wear the deerskin for the dress, and sleep with
mother earth as your bed. Give up all attachments and renounce all comforts.
Blessed with such vairagya, could any fail to be content?
sangarato vaa sangaviihinah
yasya brahmani ramate chittam
nandati nandati nandatyeva
One may take delight
in yoga or bhoga, may have attachment or detachment. But only he whose mind
steadily delights in Brahman enjoys bliss, no one else.
bhagavad giitaa kijnchidadhiitaa
gangaa jalalava kanikaapiitaa
sakridapi yena muraari samarchaa
kriyate tasya yamena na charchaa
Let a man read but a
little from the Bhagavad-Gita, drink just a drop of water from the Ganga, worship Murari
(Krishna) just once. He then will have no altercation with Yama (the lord of
punarapi jananam punarapi maranam
punarapi jananii jathare shayanam
iha samsaare bahudustaare
kripayaa apaare paahi muraare
Born again, death
again, birth again to stay in the mother's womb! It is indeed hard to cross
this boundless ocean of samsara. Oh Murari! Redeem me through Thy mercy.
rathyaa charpata virachita kanthah
punyaapunya vivarjita panthah
yogii yoganiyojita chitto
There is no shortage
of clothing for a monk so long as there are rags cast off the road. Freed from
vice and virtue, onward he wanders. One who lives in communion with God enjoys
bliss, pure and uncontaminated, like a child and as someone intoxicated.
kastvam ko.aham kuta aayaatah
kaa me jananii ko me taatah
iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram
vishvam tyaktvaa svapna vichaaram
Who are you? Who am
I? From where do I come? Who is my mother, who is my father? Ponder thus, look
at everything as essence-less and give up the world as an idle dream.
tvayi mayi chaanyatraiko vishhnuh
vyartham kupyasi mayyasahishhnuh
bhava samachittah sarvatra tvam
In me, in you and in
everything, none but the same Vishnu dwells. Your anger and impatience is
meaningless. If you wish to attain the quality of Vishnu soon, have Sama Bhaava
shatrau mitre putre bandhau
maa kuru yatnam vigrahasandhau
Do not waste your
efforts to win the love of or to fight against friend and foe, children and
relatives. See yourself in everyone and give up all feelings of duality
kaamam krodham lobham moham
tyaktvaa atmaanam bhaavaya ko aham
aatmagyaana vihiinaa muudhaah
te pachyante narakaniguudhaah
Give up lust, anger,
infatuation, and greed. Ponder over your real nature. Fools are they who are
blind to the Self. Cast into hell they suffer there endlessly.
geyam giitaa naama sahasram
dhyeyam shriipati ruupamajasram
neyam sajjana sange chittam
deyam diinajanaaya cha vittam
from the Bhagavad-Gita, meditate on Vishnu in your heart, and chant His thousand glories.
Take delight to be with the noble and the holy. Distribute your wealth in
charity to the poor and the needy.
sukhatah kriyate raamaabhogah
pashchaaddhanta shariire rogah
yadyapi loke maranam sharanam
tadapi na mujnchati paapaacharanam
He who yields to
lust for pleasure leaves his body a prey to disease. Though death brings an end
to everything, man does not give up the sinful path.
arthamanartham bhaavaya nityam
naastitatah sukhaleshah satyam
putraadapi dhana bhaajaam bhiitih
sarvatraishhaa vihiaa riitih
Wealth is not
welfare, truly there is no joy in it. Reflect thus at all times. A rich man
fears even his own son. This is the way of wealth everywhere.
Regulate the pranas
(life airs within),
remain unaffected by external influences and discriminate between the real and
the fleeting. Chant the holy name of God and silence the turbulent mind. Perform
these with care, with extreme care.
drakshyasi nija hridayastham devam
Oh devotee of the
lotus feet of the Guru! May thou be soon free from Samsara. Through disciplined
senses and controlled mind, thou shalt come to experience the indwelling Lord of
muudhah kashchana vaiyaakarano
Thus was a silly
grammarian lost in rules cleansed of his narrow vision and shown the Light by
nahi pashyaamo bhavatarane
worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord's names,
there is no other way to cross the life's ocean.