Bhaja Govindam at the Kumbh
(Vinod Anand)

At the Purnakumbh at Prayag, with its millions of pilgrims, Adi Shankara’s Bhaja .Govindam verse 17 suddenly comes to mind: “One may go to the Ganga Sagar on pilgrimage or undertake severe fasts or perform charity (However) all schools of thought hold that, without wisdom, such a person will not find liberation in a hundred births.” What is the jnana which Shankara deems essential for liberation? It is the discrimination that eventually leads one to the direct knowledge of Self without identification with body It is the growing awareness that one may really not be the body or mind, that one might be the spirit, an - integral part of the universe, the atma in param-atma. Without this seed of awareness all pilgrimages are merely religious tourism, all charity just a balm for TI the heart. Often by strengthening the ego, these have an effect that is just the reverse of what is intended. What should be a matter of piety becomes a matter of pride. What then is the value of pilgrimages and charity? Pilgrimages have their value. Not every pilgrim wants to go on a pilgrimage in order to become liberated. Not every charitable person does charity because he wants to become enlightened. These things soothe the mind and engender goodwill. Often, they bring one closer to one’s ishta devata, one’s chosen diety by making the mind focus on one’s faith in a special way Pilgrimages have another advantage. The accumulated faith of hundreds of thousands of people in one place creates a milieu that is unique in its ability to transport the mind, at least for the duration of the pilgrimage, to a different plane. Like snow all around affects light in a very special way, mass faith affects the atmosphere in a special way making it more conducive to bliss. Often this lambent feeling itself makes the pilgrimage worthwhile. To an enlightened person, the very wisdom makes it unnecessary to embark on any pilgrimage as he sees everything and everyone as his own self. There is no distinction between the subject and object. Everything becomes holy and the pilgrimage destination is wherever the enlightened person is. If this is indeed so, why did Shankara bother to write this verse? Who was he addressing? At the Purnakumbh, at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna, I feel the presence of Saraswati, too. She smiles, as she must have smiled on Shankara when he was inspired to write this beautiful poem, and tells me: This verse is not for every pilgrim or every. “One giving alms, Shankara wrote this for those misguided people who think that their pilgrimages and charity will advance them on the spiritual path. But without the quality of wisdom, humility and without true understanding of the meaning of pilgrimage and charity, even a hundred births will not move them closer to enlightenment. So, go on pilgrimages if you want to. Give charity if you are so moved. Just do not think that these will help you climb the spiritual ladder. To do so, wisdom is essential and this will not come through pilgrimages or charity if you want to climb this ladder, your pilgrimage should be inward; perhaps helped by the grace of your guru or the imperatives of your own prarabdha. And, if you succeed in your pilgrimage, everything you do for anyone will be charity of the highest order but you will not think you are doing anything charitable.

Author's Bio: 

VINOD K.ANAND: A BRIEF PROFILE

Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.