As a child one is attached to play, as a youth one is attached to a young lady, the elderly one is attached to worry. Nobody is attached to supreme Brahman.
This verse of the Bhaja Govindam addresses our emotional attachments. We spend our childhood attached to toys, our youth dreaming of moonlit romances, and our old age in worrying about the littlest of things. We spend our entire lives getting attached to things that only bind us to the world. And in the end, we ignore the one thing that we really need to pursue, Atman, the Divinity within.
Love is an enriching, fulfilling and ennobling emotion. However attachment, or self-love, imprisons the mind. It can no longer soar into subtler realms and is not available for the pursuit of the higher.
Here, Shankara gives us a panoramic view of our lives. From birth to death, we are attached to something or other and have no time or inclination for Atman. We always feel we can put off spiritual pursuits until our next goal is met. But it never happens. By the time we free ourselves from one attachment we get immersed in another.
A child is totally attached to toys. He clings to his favorite toy even as he falls asleep and reaches out for it the moment he wakes up. He is completely caught up with the toy. As the child grows into a youth he is consumed by passion. He pursues the world with energy, optimism, enthusiasm and vigor . This attachment is far more enthralling and more difficult to overcome. The youth grows into old age and now is attached to worry! He imagines all kinds of problems and worries over them.
Shankara rues the fact that we do not feel the need to attach ourselves to Atman – the only thing one is born to achieve. This verse is a clarion call for all of us to invest some time and energy in catering to our spiritual needs.