Bhaja Govindam - An effective Stress Management Technique

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Adi Shankaracharya’s Guidance                      
We are fortunate that this design of periodical unburdening ourselves for getting respite from strain has been provided to us by the great Acharya Adi Shankara through his immortal poem “Bhaja Govindam.” It is an users’ manual on meditation upon Govinda for attaining liberation – liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the hereafter and liberation here and now from attachment and desire which are the primary causes for a stressful life.

Significance of Bhaja Govindam in Stress Reduction  
In this poem, Shankara emphasizes the importance of devotion towards God as a means to spiritual development and to liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The prayer leaves no one in doubt that the renunciation of our egotistical vagaries and surrender to God makes for salvation which is nothing but leading a stress-free life here and now. The refrain "Bhaja Govindam" which defines the composition and gives it its name invokes the Almighty as a focal point in the aspect of Vishnu in the normal sense. From a deeper view point the term Govinda means the one who has controlled the sense organs and hence the purport of this poem is to explain the whimsical behavior of sense organs which are the gateways to stress and also the means to control them.

The composition consists of thirty one verses and at the end of each verse the refrain "Bhaja Govindam ….” is repeated. The story goes that when Shankara was walking along the streets of Kashi, he was pained to observe an elderly man trying hard to learn Sanskrit grammar.  At his advanced age, the remaining valuable little time of his life should have been utilized for worshipping the God, instead of wasting on learning a language.

This prompted Shankara to bring out this masterpiece, a sort of rebuke to our foolish and ignorant way of living. The Acharya urges the man to turn towards God and sing His glory instead of trying to learn a language. Here language does not mean mere vocabulary but all the mundane things and worldly desires and attachment. A censure is implied when the Acharya calls the man a fool (Moodhamathe).  

The tone of Bhaja Govindam is not at all soft, but somewhat striking, in spite of its exotic poetic beauty and perfection of composition.  This is no wonder, because a strong dose of medicine is required to cure a deep rooted malady. A milder approach would delay the matter.  The matter is urgent, as the Acharya explains when the hour of death approaches without any forewarning the hard-learned verses of grammar are not going to save the poor soul.  Hence the song hits the nail on its head right from the beginning.

In these simple, sweet and lucid Slokas, giving homely analogies and illustrations for our easy understanding, Shankara tells us about the fallacy and futility of our life; and sloka by sloka he removes veil after veil, dispelling our ignorance, illusions and delusions (moha) and shows us where the remedy for all our misery lies. The poem, therefore, is also called "Moha Mudgara."  

He touches all aspects of our life, how these blind and bind us, plunging us deeper and deeper into the abyss of ignorance and misery. He wants each one of us to cultivate a discerning and discriminating eye (viveka) to distinguish the permanent from the transitory, the real from the unreal, to practice dispassion (vairagya) for worldly attractions and distractions, to cultivate devotion for realizing Govinda, the abiding Absolute Truth and thus getting released from the misery and bondage of this worldly existence.

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