Sathya Sai - The Eternal Companion (Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2024)
The Ladder to Liberation
Bhaja Govindam - Part 1
On behalf of the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization (SSSIO), we wish everyone a happy and holy holiday season and a blessed new year filled with love, peace, and bliss. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says that time is God, every second is new, and the best way to sanctify time is by remembering God, chanting His name, contemplating His form, singing His glories, participating in His divine mission, and serving all, recognizing everything as a manifestation of divinity.
In this issue of Sathya Sai–The Eternal Companion, Swami blesses us with the message (January 1, 1992 discourse) of how to sanctify one’s life. He mentions three important points and elaborates on them:
- The three sources of sorrow for everyone
- How to get rid of this sorrow and live in bliss
- The three things to be aware of to achieve bliss–giving up ignorance, acquiring knowledge of the Self, and attaining the Goal of life.
He exhorts us to realize Tat Twam Asi (That Thou Art), as mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda, repeated nine times by the father and Guru, Uddalaka to the son and disciple, Shwetaketu. To understand this, we need to be aware of three principles:
- What is it that goes but never comes?
- What is it that comes but never goes?
- What is it that neither comes nor goes?
This issue also contains a letter by Bhagawan emphasizing the importance of Tat Twam Asi to live in God-Consciousness.
To realize this truth, one must live in love. Swami says, “God is Love. Live in Love.” The best way to practice this is to put love into action through selfless service and by remembering the omnipresence of God. In this issue, a young lady beautifully narrates how the service of a domestic help changed her life and assured her of Swami’s constant, compassionate presence. SSSIO members around the world engage in selfless service, serving food, providing clothes to the needy, and planting trees, glimpses of which have been captured in this issue. Spreading the message of human values itself is an excellent service, and such service was rendered by the SSEHV Conference in Barbados, where people from diverse backgrounds–educators, parents, teachers, government executives, and others were all inspired.
In the discourse delivered on December 24, 1972, Swami says, “There is only one language; that of the heart. There is only one religion, that of love. There is only one caste, that of humanity. There is only one God who is omnipresent.” This issue features the story of a devotee from the Netherlands who was dissatisfied in his quest for truth in following his Christian tradition. He came face to face with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who transformed his life. This story shows how Swami makes a Christian a better Christian. The issue also contains the story of a young Muslim lady who became a better Muslim following Swami’s teachings and developed a better understanding of the Quran.
Divine Discourses on Bhaja Govindam
All these various activities, be they devotional, educational, or service-oriented, are based on love for God, detachment from sensory pursuits, and service to the Lord. On this subject, Swami gave a series of special discourses as part of the summer course starting in May 1973. These discourses are based on Bhaja Govindam, a famous poetic composition of the great Advaitic teacher, Adi Shankaracharya. The work is also called Moha Mudgara (destroyer of delusion). Swami spoke at length on these verses in this seminal work. Swami beautifully says that the first verse addresses all of us as ‘Moodhamathi,’ the foolish one or a mind that is ignorant of the truth. After contemplating on these verses and putting them into practice, one gets transformed into ‘Mukthimathi’, one ready for liberation or enlightenment.
Such is the importance Swami gave to the Bhaja Govindam that He had His students perform a drama about it on two occasions. The first time was on May 13, 1975, and the second time was in March 1988 at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Bombay (Mumbai today). Swami personally supervised the preparation of the script, production, and direction of the drama, including giving guidance on dialogue delivery and acting. Swami also wrote a Telugu version of the Bhaja Govindam verses, translating not just the words but also conveying the true import and the real essence of the verses.
In these 31 verses, Adi Shankaracharya imparts practical Vedantic philosophy, which is the essence of the Vedas and Upanishads. Adi Shankara was a great teacher of Advaitic philosophy who composed many spiritual texts, including devotional works (Bhaja Govindam, Soundarya Lahiri, Shivananda Lahiri) and Advaitic texts (commentaries on the Prasthana Traya, foundational texts of Vedanta–Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras). These treatises serve as guidebooks and guideposts even today to pilgrims on the spiritual path seeking enlightenment.
Birth of Bhaja Govindam
Once, Adi Shankara was at Kashi (Varanasi today), the holy pilgrimage center for Lord Shiva. There, he saw a Brahmin reciting the rules of grammar. He was indulging in grammatical jugglery and memorizing the term ‘dukrnkarane’ to earn a living and support his family. Spontaneously, Adi Shankara burst forth with the poem:
This poem is considered a masterpiece of Sanskrit literature and a summary of the Vedanta. The poem consisting of 31 verses is widely recited and sung by Hindus of all sects and traditions as it conveys the universal message of spiritual wisdom and devotion.
Bhaja Govindam exhorts one to worship the Lord. Swami adds that real ‘Bhaja’ goes beyond mere worship. It means to love God so intensely that you no longer see ‘Vi-bhaja’ or separation from Him. You exist in oneness with God. ‘Govinda’ is commonly understood as ‘the controller of cows’, which refers to the divine cowherd, Lord Krishna. The real meaning of ‘Go’ is cow. Thus, ‘Govinda’ is the one who controls our animal qualities and base nature, making us realize that we are divine. That is why Swami says that we should begin our spiritual journey by asserting, “I am not an animal. I am a human.”
‘Go’ also stands for the Vedas, the ultimate repository of supreme knowledge. In that sense, ‘Govinda’ confers this ultimate knowledge or wisdom. ‘Go’ also means earth and heaven. So, ‘Govinda’ translates into one who gives us happiness in this world and the next.
‘Moodhamathi’ means a fool or an ignorant one. Anyone who does not have knowledge of the Atma is considered a fool or ignorant. One may have many academic qualifications, but they are helpful only to earn a livelihood. That is why Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “Vidyanam Adhyatma Vidya” (Of all forms of knowledge, I am the Spiritual Knowledge). In the Mundaka Upanishad, the teacher says there are two kinds of knowledge–Para Vidya (Knowledge of Atman) and Apara Vidya (secular knowledge of material sciences, etc.). The former leads to liberation, while the latter leads to bondage. Keeping this in view, Swami integrates spiritual and secular education in His educational institutions. He calls them the two wings of the bird–both are necessary for flying. He says that the purpose of human life is not about getting worldly degrees but achieving the highest ‘degree’ of being the ‘Amrutasya Putra’ (child of immortality).
We see great saints like Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Adbhutananda, and Avatars like Shirdi Baba and Sathya Sai Baba, who are sources of all wisdom and enlightenment despite not having formal education by attending colleges! They possess the highest wisdom. That is the knowledge one should aspire to have. Till we achieve that, we are all ‘Moodhamathis.’
The second part of the verse emphasizes the important message that death is always drawing near, and worldly knowledge will not protect one from it. Swami says that for a spiritual aspirant, it is essential to always remember death because it fosters love for God, fear of sin, and morality in society. Though man thinks he will live for a hundred years, one can die anytime–in childhood, youth, middle age, or old age. Death does not give a warning. Swami says that when a photographer wants to take a photograph, he alerts us to ‘be ready’ before clicking. However, the Lord of Death will not give a warning, and death can come to us at any time. The duty of a sincere spiritual seeker is always to be alert and ready. For that, we need to think of God constantly. Lord Krishna promises that thinking of Him always and at the time of death ensures that we become one with Him.
In spirituality, the rules of grammar or scholarship will be of no avail. It is wonderful to know and quote the scriptures. But it is most important to live by the scriptures. That is why Lord Jesus came to teach the spirit of the scriptures when the Pharisees and Jews were following it only in word! So, too, Lord Buddha incarnated when people were caught up in Vedic rituals without understanding the spirit behind them. In the present age, our Lord Sai has come to teach human values that transcend and unite all religious traditions. His teachings are relevant for people of all faiths, cultures, ages, and nationalities to sanctify and redeem lives.
Climbing the Ladder of Liberation
One of the important verses that we shall elaborate is:
The stepwise process to liberation is given here. Swami says that ‘Sat’ is the truth. Though, generally, ‘Satsang’ is translated as holy company, it really means to be in the company of truth. Truth is God. Whenever we are associated with God, it becomes Satsang. One could be in the company of devotees who love God and do His work, or one could be in the company of holy saints, or one may be in the company of the holy scriptures, or, the best, one can be in the company of the Avatar. All these give us a distaste or aversion for the world. As we move toward the North Pole, we move away from the South Pole. Similarly, as we move towards God and the godly, we move away from the world and the worldly.
When we speak of company, it is not only people but objects as well. When one is in the company of a rosary or surrounded by pictures of God, one gets divine thoughts. If one has a gun or a sword in his hand, he will be tempted to use it for violence. Another important aspect is the association with places. Each place has its own unique subtle energy and vibrations. That is why, when we go to a place of pilgrimage, we find it easier to be attuned to God, though God is omnipresent. Even at home, setting aside a specific space for daily worship fills that place with holy vibrations.
Similarly, places with bad vibrations of sensory indulgences constitute bad company. Swami gives the example of Lakshmana, the exemplary brother of Lord Sri Rama, who left the family, and gave up royal comforts, and even sleep to serve the Lord. At one point, he becomes critical of Lord Rama and bemoans his fate for following Him. The all-knowing Lord says that Lakshmana’s unusual behavior at that time was due to the influence of the place they were passing through, which had been inhabited by demons. So also, the thoughts in our mind are formed by the company we keep. That is why Swami recommends continuous Namasmarana (repetition of the holy name) to keep God as our constant companion.
It is worthwhile even to pay money to get good company, and avoid bad company because of their influence. Swami says, “Tell me your company; I shall tell you who you are.” Swami explains this with an example–dust in the company of water sinks, but in the company of wind, it goes up! When jasmine flowers are wrapped in paper, the paper also acquires the fragrance. If the same paper is used to wrap a fish, the stench is transferred to the paper. The paper has no smell by itself, but the smell comes from what it associates with.
The dispassion and detachment from worldly objects that arise from fundamental discrimination (Viveka) come from good company. In the early stages of spiritual practice, good company is critical. It is like the fence around a tender growing plant that protects it from grazing animals. But once the sapling grows into a big tree, it gives even shade and refuge to the same grazing animals! Till we are strong in our spiritual growth and can identify with our divine nature, we must be careful of the company we keep.
Good company strengthens our spiritual journey. The flame of a matchstick can be extinguished by the wind. But the same wind increases it to the size of a conflagration! That is the power of Satsang. Until we become blazing fires of spirituality, we must keep good company. Avatars are like these blazing fires that can transform even sinners into saints.
On one occasion, I asked Swami, “When in Your presence, we feel in tune with You and enjoy divine bliss. But when we return to our homes, the intensity lessens, and we get caught up in worldly things. Why?”
Swami responded with a beautiful example that He also explained during the Summer Course on May 24, 1973.
We fill a mud pot with water up to its brim. We keep this mud pot very carefully in a place to which even an ant cannot have access. The next day, we find that the surface level of water has been reduced by an inch or two. The reason is that the external environment around this pot is heating it to some extent, and a small quantity of water oozes out. If the same pot is filled to the brim and kept in a place where it is surrounded by water, we will find that the surface level of water is not reduced at all. While you are staying here, you will be filling your heart to the brim with the essence of spiritual learning. When you go back to your places, because the external environment is not the same as what exists here, there is a possibility of the level of spiritual learning in the vessel of your heart becoming lower and lower by oozing out slowly. So you must make an attempt to join satsang when you go back, and you must see that the external environment is as good as the internal feeling. Then, the good in your heart does not ooze out.
Once we develop detachment, we can get freedom from delusion and infatuation. The entire delusion arises from wrong identification with the body-mind complex. We overcome delusion once we develop intense dispassion due to fundamental discrimination by practicing the Lord’s teachings. Then we will know our real nature, Atma. That is why Swami says, “Moksha (liberation) is Moha (delusion) Kshaya (destruction of).”
The greatest Moha arises from Ahamkara (ego) and Mamakara (attachment). Once we get rid of Moha, we become equal-minded. That is why Lord Krishna says, “Samatvam Yogam Uchyate (True union with God is to be equanimous.)” Maintaining this steadiness wherein we are the same in the pairs of opposites, viz., praise and blame, profit and loss, joy and sorrow, honor and dishonor–that is the state of Brahman. This state of Nischalatatwa is the state of Jeevanmukti (liberation when alive).
In this journey from Moodhamathi to Mukthimathi, ignorance to wisdom, there are several other aspects that we shall dwell on in future issues.
Jai Sai Ram.