Just as children mature as they learn, spiritual seekers continue to mature by learning from, and reflecting on life.
To support us on our journey, we often gain inspiration from the words of the wise. One great wise one was a master of Vedanta named Adi Shankara. He lived in India from 788 to 820 C.E.
A Wake-up Call
One of Adi Shankara’s most famous works is a compilation of 31 musical verses called, Bhaja Govindham, (Sanskrit) which means, ‘Seek the Eternal’.
The story goes that one day, as Adi Shankara and his disciples walked through the streets of the holy city of Kashi, they heard an elderly scholar reciting Sanskrit grammar rules. On seeing him, the great teacher, Adi Shankara, was filled with compassion and urgent concern for the man who had very few years of his life left. The verses of the Bhaja Govindham spontaneously poured out of him.
In the first verse, which is now popularly sung as the chorus, Adi Shankara said: “Seek the eternal, O Fool. Of what use will grammar rules be at the time of your death? They will surely not save you.”
‘Eternal’ here refers to the spiritual essence, which lies deep within us. ‘Grammar rules’ represent the acquisition of worldly knowledge and things. They will never save us from death and will be left behind when we die.
Why not put in efforts in gaining spiritual knowledge and inner growth instead? These will advance the evolution of the soul and bring us closer to the eternal spiritual essence within. This is where true happiness lies.
Life is as uncertain as a trembling dewdrop playing upon a lotus petal. – Swami Chinmayananda
Life is uncertain. Wealth, possessions, power, fame, youth, health, jobs, situations and people that we hold so dear can be snatched away from us at any moment.
What’s more, we are never truly happy. We suffer from physical diseases, emotional unrest, doubts, fears, confusions and false pride in what we deem to be ours. We easily give in to worldly temptations and compromise our ideals to gain what we desire.
The teacher points out that our human life is exquisitely precious, and with great purpose. Why are we squandering it away chasing after temporary things?
While we are not asked to deny ourselves the joy that they give us, they should not be our main focus in life. Adi Shankara encourages us to put in efforts to seek the divine within, cultivate inner peace and self-sufficiency independent of these things.
Clinging Attachments To People
This life of yours is just one incident in your eternal existence. – Swami Chinmayananda
We do not live only once. We live again and again in various bodies, using our life experiences and relationships to evolve spiritually.
We come here alone and die alone. Between birth and death, we share experiences with others. In that short time, we unwittingly develop clinging attachments to them. We then suffer when our expectations are not met and when we have to face the inevitable parting. We should ask ourselves why and how we have come to be so attached to our near and dear ones.
The master, Adi Shakara, advises us to enquire deeply: “Who are you? Who am I? From where did I come? Who is my mother? Who is my father?”
In his commentary on the Bhaja Govindam, my Guru, Swami Chinmayananda suggests that we treat our near and dear ones the same way we treat fellow travellers on a long train or plane trip. We are kind, respectful and giving to each other while we are together. But, when we reach our destination, our relationship ends. We wish each other well and happily part our ways.
Fascination with the body
Adi Shankara points out that we are overly fascinated with the physical body and deluded by its tempting appearance.
The body is attractive, cared for, respected, and loved only so long as there is life in it. Once dead and decaying, even near and dear ones recoil with disgust at the sight of it.
Swami Chinmayananda says that the body is “nothing but modifications of fat and flesh, with death and decay inherent in it.” Shockingly true isn’t it?
He also reminds us that our over-anxious care and concern for our bodies is out of proportion to the returns we gain and stands in the way of our spiritual progress.
Things, people and the body
The verses of the Bhaja Govindham urge us to become aware of our false notions and foolish ways of living. The ideas above are just a few of the strong words of advice of the spiritual master, Adi Shankara.
The objects of the world, relationships and our bodies are three major sources of our sorrow. The strange thing is none of them actually have the capacity to make us unhappy. It is our own wrong identification and attachments with them that make us suffer.
So, Adi Shankara encourages us to re-evaluate our life and experiences in the light of the greater goal of unfolding the eternal Self within. Only then can we progress spiritually and ultimately attain true happiness.
Like this post? Sign up for the free fortnightly Spiritual Solutions Newsletter and receive the latest articles, news and updates in your email inbox!