"The power to promote and reward, as also to demote and punish the individual and his fate in this world, lies within his mind, its thoughts and feelings. No external agency is necessary to bring this infallible fruition. As the growth and development of a seed, an embryo, or a cell designed and preserved by its own inner makeup, here too the causal forces for what one rightly deserves lurk within one’s own invisible bosom."

The Guiding force of Narayanashrama Tapovanam & Center for Inner Resources Development

Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

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This human body has somehow been obtained without one’s own effort, even though it is rare and difficult to get. Having this body – like a well-made boat – with the Guru as boatman, and My grace as the favourable wind, if a man fails to cross over the ocean of worldliness, he is a killer of his own Self.

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Guru as Boatman And The Lord's Grace to Cross The Ocean of Worldliness

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नृदेहमाद्यं सुलभं सुदुर्लभं
प्लवं सुकल्पं गुरुकर्णधारम् ।
मयानुकूलेन नभस्वतेरितं
पुमान्भवाब्धिं न तरेत्स आत्महा ।।
- श्रीमद् भागवतम् ११.२०.१७
nṛdehamādyaṁ sulabhaṁ sudurlabhaṁ
plavaṁ sukalpaṁ gurukarṇadhāram |
mayānukūlena nabhasvateritaṁ
pumānbhavābdhiṁ na taretsa ātmahā ||
- Śrīmad bhāgavatam 11.20.17

Translation:

This human body has somehow been obtained without one’s own effort, even though it is rare and difficult to get. Having this body – like a well-made boat – with the Guru as boatman, and My grace as the favourable wind, if a man fails to cross over the ocean of worldliness, he is a killer of his own Self.

Points for Introspection:

Life in the world is compared with an ocean. As in an ocean there are continuous waves, big and small, fierce and gentle – which makes it extremely difficult for a boat to cross the ocean – so are the situations in life. Life is full of such waves appearing as incidents and circumstances, favourable and unfavourable, bringing in happiness and miseries, bringing in fear and anxiety. At times one feels scared that he will simply get drowned in the worldly ocean. He feels totally helpless, not knowing how to reach the shore.

How to go across this worldly ocean? If we look into ourselves we will find that our suffering is because we desire to possess, to hold on to, things that are in essence perishable and impermanent. We think that joy will come from those objects. But even though we get joy, it vanishes very soon. How to go beyond misery permanently?

The purpose of human life is to seek “That” which is real, eternal and imperishable; “That” which has no change, no movement; holding on to which one feels stable and steady, remaining afloat in the midst of worldly waves causing torments. And “That” is the Self or the Soul – the only real, eternal identity, attaining which one can have everlasting joy.

The aim and purpose of human life is to strive to realize the Self. Only through that realization one can transcend the worldly miseries.

We have got a human body, which we have attained by no effort of ours. Though easily obtained, the human birth is very rare. For all other living beings, the life consists of eating, sleeping, procreating and enjoying sensual pleasures alone. But, unlike other living beings, human beings are blessed with mind and intelligence that are able to think and discriminate. Using mind and intelligence human beings are able to discriminate between what is superficially good for him and what is eternally good. He understands the futility and momentary nature of life, and understands that the highest purpose of life is to strive for Self-realization.

So, although the body itself is perishable we are fortunate to have a body decked with mind and intelligence through which one can strive for Self-realization. Just as we use a boat to cross the ocean, the body with the mind and intelligence is a well-built boat to be used for crossing the worldly ocean. A boat is guided to its destination by the boatman (helmsman). But, who is the boatman in our lives?

This sloka reveals that Guru is the boatman. One who seeks Self-realization, must go to a Guru who is ever-ready to guide the seeker. He takes the oars in his hands to steer the boat through rough waves, direct it properly and guide it to the destination – the abode of fearlessness, peace and joy.

For a boat to go forward smoothly, the direction of wind should be favourable. In this sloka, Lord Krishna says that his grace always acts as the favourable wind. What is the Lord’s grace? He generates viveka (discrimination), vairagya (dispassion) and mumuksha (yearning for Self-realization) in the seeker, and reaches him at the feet of the Guru who guides the seeker.

This sloka says that having had all the opportunities – the well-built human body, the compassionate Guru and the grace of the Lord – if a seeker does not strive for Self-realization to go beyond worldly miseries, then he is committing suicide by killing his own Self. That is, he is not trying to attain his eternal and immortal identity.

Instead, he holds on to whatever is mortal and perishable and suffers miseries. Holding on to the imperishable Soul, identifying with Its changeless nature, the seeker can be afloat in the midst of worldly waves. But, he unfortunately ties down himself with the mortals and perishable and drowns himself. That is why the sloka says that he kills himself.

Chanting of this sloka fills the mind with gratitude that Lord has given us so many opportunities to pursue our goal of Self-realization. The mind gets filled with the resolve that we must seek the Immortal and Imperishable. The mind also feels absolutely restful and secure knowing that our Guru is taking care of us.

Word Meaning:

नृदेहम् (nṛdeham) = human body; आद्यम् (ādyam) = firstly; सुलभम् (sulabham) = easily attainable; सुदुर्लभम् (sudurlabham) = very difficult to attain; प्लवम् (plavam) = boat; सुकल्पम् (sukalpam) = well-built; गुरुकर्णधारम् (gurukarṇadhāram) = guru as the boatman; मया (mayā) = by me; अनुकूलेन (anukūlena) = by favourable; नभस्वतेरितम् (nabhasvateritam) = impelled by wind; पुमान् (pumān) = man; भवाब्धिं (bhavābdhiṁ) = ocean of worldliness; न (na) = not; तरेत् (taret) = go across; सः (saḥ) = he; आत्महा (ātmahā) = killer of one’s own Self;

अन्वयः

आद्यं सुदुर्लभं नृदेहं सुलभं । प्लवं सुकल्पं गुरुकर्णधारं मया अनुकूलेन नभस्वतेरितं (प्राप्य, यः) पुमान् भवाब्धिं न तरेत्, सः आत्महा ।
ādyaṁ sudurlabhaṁ nṛdehaṁ sulabhaṁ. plavaṁ sukalpaṁ gurukarṇadhāraṁ mayā anukūlena nabhasvateritaṁ (prāpya, yaḥ) pumān bhavābdhiṁ na taret saḥ ātmahā

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