Translated by S. N. Sastri
Bhaja Govindam is one of the most popular works of Sri Sankara. The essential teaching conveyed through this work is the need for cultivating an attitude of detachment towards all worldly matters and intense devotion to God. These two are necessary even for leading a happy life in the world. They are also the most important requisites for seekers of Self-knowledge.
1. Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, you deluded one! When the end is near, knowledge of grammar will not save you.
Note: The word 'moodhamate' used by Sri Sankara in this verse does not mean 'fool' or a person of deficient intelligence. It means 'one deluded by maya into identifying oneself with one's body, mind and senses'. We are all in reality the infinite Brahman, but, because of ignorance of this truth we think of ourselves as the body-mind complex. This wrong notion is what is called 'bondage' in Vedanta. In this sense even the most intelligent human being is a deluded person until he realizes the truth that he is none other than Brahman. The translation of this word as 'fool' does not bring out its real vedantic sense in the present context.
It should not be concluded that Sri Sankara decries the study of grammar. On the other hand, knowledge of grammar is essential for understanding the upanishads and Sri Sankara's Bhashya. Here grammar stands for all worldly knowledge. The Mundakopanishad says that there are two kinds of knowledge - the higher and the lower. The lower knowledge includes the four Vedas, the science of pronunciation, the code of rituals, grammar, etymology, metre, and astrology (including astronomy). The higher knowledge is that by which the Immutable (Brahman) is realized. The lower knowledge is necessary for all worldly purposes, but it is only the higher knowledge that will deliver one from the continuous chain of births and deaths. This is the idea conveyed by the statement that knowledge of grammar, that is, mere worldly knowledge, will not save you from samsaara. So one should strive to attain Self-knowledge.
2. O deluded one, give up your craving for wealth. Make your mind free from desire and fill it with the thought of Brahman. Be happy with whatever you get as a result of your past actions (karma).
3. Do not be infatuated by the feminine body. Repeatedly remind yourself that it is only made up of flesh, fat and similar substances.
4. Life is as impermanent as water drops on a lotus leaf. Know that the whole world is in the grip of disease, sorrow, and ego.
5. A person's family loves him only as long as he is able to earn money. Afterwards, when the body has become weak, no one in the house even enquires about him.
6. As long as there is breath in the body, people in the house enquire about his welfare. Once the breath has left, even those who were dependent on him are afraid of his dead body. [The verb 'bibhyati' is in the plural. So the word 'bharya' means not only wife, but all dependents.]
7. Remember that wealth is always evil; there is not the slightest trace of happiness in it. For the rich there is fear even from their sons; this is the rule everywhere.
8. The child is ever intent on play; the young man is infatuated with the opposite sex; the old man is ever immersed in his worries; None ever thinks of the supreme Brahman.
9. Who is your wife? Who is your son? This mortal world is very strange indeed. To whom do you belong? Wherefrom have you come? O brother, ponder over the truth of all these.
10. Association with the good brings about detachment towards worldly pursuits. Detachment leads to freedom from delusion. From freedom from delusion arises constancy of the mind (in meditation on the supreme Being). Constancy of the mind leads to liberation even while alive.
11. What lustful enjoyments can there be when one is very old? How can there be a lake when the water has dried up? What followers can one have when one's wealth is exhausted? Once the ultimate Reality is known, how can there be worldly life any more?
12. Do not be haughty because of wealth or friends or youth. Time destroys everything in a twinkle. Give up attachment to this world which is nothing but Maya and attain to the state of Brahman through knowledge of the Reality.
13. Night follows day, evening follows the morning, winter and spring repeat themselves. Time plays and the life is running out. But the force of desires never lessens.
14. Through this bouquet of twelve verses was instruction given to a scholar in grammar by the learned Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. [The twelve verses are those starting from the second verse. The first verse is an introduction].