The Meaning of Vishada or Sorrow in Vedic Tradition

Sorrow and Sadness

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

You might not have heard this interpretation anywhere. In Sanskrit, 'vish' or 'visham' means both impurity and poison. The body is spiritually considered impure when it is filled with the darkness of tamas and rajas.

Aada means a bite as in adamsa which means tooth or the wound caused by biting. Vishadam is thus the pain and suffering arising from a poisonous bite, usually a snakebite.

Visham refers symbolically to the impurities of the mind and body, which lead to suffering and death. It also refers to materiality, sense objects (vish) and objective reality, which are chiefly responsible for our bondage and suffering. As we are caught in the attraction and aversion to sense objects and develop attachments and egoism, we become deluded and ignorant of our true nature.

In general usage, visham refers to snake poison. In ancient times snakebites constituted a common cause of death for humans as well as cattle. In the Vedas  you will find many references to snakebites. The Vedic hymns contain many invocations to gods, especially to Rudra, seeking protection from snakes and healing for snakebites.

People feared snakes, since snakebites meant suffering for the family and death for the victims. Thus, the poison of snakes (visham) symbolizes sickness, death and suffering (vishadam). The same symbolism is evident in the story of the churning of the oceans (sagara manthanam) where Lord Shiva, the divine healer, consumes all the poison which arises from the mouth of Vasuki during the churning.

Symbolically, it refers to the suffering yogis experience during their intense sadhana (churning of their minds and bodies) on the path of liberation. By consuming the impurities of the mind and body, he takes away all the suffering caused by the churning. Literally, vishadam is the state of sorrow, depression, sadness, grief, or despair which is a natural part of our lives since we are subject to aging, sickness and death. We experience suffering and sadness (vishadam) because of our desires and attachments. In a secondary sense, vishadam also means stupidity, delusion or insensibility, which arises due to lack of discretion when buddhi (intelligence) is clouded by impurities.

In a symbolic sense vishadam means the suffering, which arises when we are bitten by desires and become filled with the poison of ignorance, delusion, duality and attachment to worldly objects. Thus, vishada yogam is the state of sorrow which arises from our desires and attachment to sense-objects and our selfish and desire-ridden wordily pursuits. It is the exact opposite of the ideal state of equanimity, balance, sameness and bliss which characterize the state of a perfected yogi. When your are bitten by worldly desires you experience attraction and aversion and suffer from union and separation. They are responsible for your disturbed state of mind.

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