Shankara on human frailties

Shankara on human frailties

Bhavani Ashtakam is a small, eight-stanza composition of Adi Shankaracharya, which speaks about the common human frailties and how, in the end, man realises that his only support is the Lord. 

Written in first person and addressed to Goddess Bhavani, this work lucidly drives home timeless truths that, whatever the name, divinity is only one and man, irrespective of all other considerations, is essentially a being who tends to commit mistakes but still, there is a way out of his self-made misery by resorting to the call of the divine. When he says ‘I’, Shankaracharya talks on behalf of mankind as a whole.

Shankara commences with a declaration, which shows that he has realised the drawbacks in his personality and that surrender at the feet of the goddess is the only hope for redemption. 

He says that when the time of reckoning draws near, when man has to embark on his journey out of this world, all that stood as support for him on earth, such as father, mother, relations, friends, son, daughter, servants, wealth, husband, wife, power and position are of no avail. It is only the protecting hand of the goddess that will be of help at this time. 

Every stanza ends with the refrain, emphatically repeated that Goddess Bhavani is the only refuge. Now, Shankara goes on to list out, as it were, all the typical human personality traits.

His own words are an eloquent commentary on this. “I am full of greed and desire, lust and sin. I am a coward, incapable of facing life’s troubles. Mine is an aimless life and I am caught in this endless cycle of birth and death. I am neither charitable nor do I know how to give. I do not know how to worship or to meditate. Rituals and yoga are unknown to me.

I do not adhere to the path of righteousness. I do not visit sacred places nor do I practice austerities. I know I commit sinful actions, that I harbour bad and sinful thoughts. I keep bad company, my eyes see with bad intentions, I write and speak prohibited words. My mind does not engage in uplifting thoughts. I have never thought about the Lord and his acts of wonder. I have not cared to enquire how this universe works, how day and night come and go.

But of one thing I am sure. Whether I am in sorrow, in far-off places, in anger, in heated arguments, in great danger, surrounded by enemies, I know that I can take refuge at your feet. I may be orphaned, in penury, wracked by disease, stricken by old age, beset with grave problems. Whatever may be it, I can turn my mind towards you and take solace in the confidence that you will safeguard me.”

“Desist from sinful actions, turn towards the Lord and correct yourself,” is the message of Adi Shankaracharya in the Bhavani Ashtakam.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox