Who is your wife? Who is your son? This samsara (world) is extremely mystifying. Whose are you? Who are you? Where have you come from? O brother, ponder over that Truth here.
This verse focuses on intellectual bondage. Who is your wife? Wife, in this context, is taken to mean all partners – in business, in a team sport, in a musical orchestra. In the larger context it means anybody we look to for comfort. Son or child refers to anyone who looks up to us for support.
Who are they? Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Have we ever thought about these things? We may not have the answers. However, we cannot live in ignorance all the time. Without knowing anything about ourselves and our close relationships we are bound to go wrong. When our actions boomerang on us and cause sorrow, we blame the other person or the environment or even God!
Shankara says we should maintain a dispossess attitude towards our possessions even while we have them and are enjoying them. People have misunderstood this verse and given up possessions! Attachments need to go, not objects of attachment. The problem is with our attitude, not the objects and beings around. So by giving up people and things we do not achieve anything. Distancing ourselves from things and people is easy. It is maintaining a spirit of detachment in our relationships that is difficult.
What is the difference? Detachment is the removal of selfishness, demands and expectations. It is the dropping of the sense of “my-ness”. Analyze all the things we are attached to. What is ours about the son, daughter, wife or husband? They are individuals with their own distinct personalities, life goals and aspirations. What right have we to interfere with this pattern and impose our will on them? Yet every one of us is doing precisely this. This causes strife, tension and difference of opinion. We should love them for themselves without a selfish agenda. Accept them for what they are, not for what we hope to receive from them. Then the relationship becomes pure, bereft of unreasonable expectations and the attendant disappointment and frustration.
It is the same with objects. Remove the possessiveness and keep the possessions. Only then will we enjoy the fruits of our labor. Today we put in a lot of effort to acquire these things. But our possessiveness towards them makes us agitated, bitter and irritated. As the Gita says, we cook but eat sin. We work hard, but the result is only sin or mental agitation.
Shankara emphasises the need to reflect over this truth here and now. We have to understand the urgency of the matter. There is no time to waste pursuing only material ends.