*edit – quick note. I had some pretty bad typos and other gaffs in the first version of this post. They were pointed out to me and I changed them as much as I could. If there are others, please forgive my typographic ways and point them out to me. Thanks!
This post is one, mostly, for devotees (Hare Krishnas). If you’re interested in different translations and different perceptions of things from within a very specific spiritual belief system, you might find this interesting too. Everyone else, well, feel free to read it anyway. If you’re not careful, you might just learn something.
I recently picked up Garuda dasa’s new translation of the Bhagavad-gita. I’m impressed with it. He keeps it poetic without making it sound hokey all rhymey like so many other versions. His version has no commentary, but really, the whole point of it is the translation and how it’s laid out.
For awhile now, I’ve been interested in different translations of the gita. I’m not really concerned about those done by scholars, so much as those done by devotees (who are also scholars). So I’ve selected four from my collection and I’m going to do a bit of comparison.
The four are: Bhagavad-gita: As It Is by Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita: It’s Feeling and Philosophy by Tripurari Swami, Srimad Bhagavad-gita by Narayana Maharaja and lastly Bhagavad-gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song (which, in my humble opinion, is a really bad title – but really, the only drawback that it has).
First, I’d like to comment about something many devotees have complained about. Many are upset that Srila Prabhupada’s disciples (and even godbrothers) have released their own translations and versions of Bhagavad-gita, even though Srila Prabhupada’s is definitive. It’s a good argument, I agree. It’s one that I personally gave when I heard that Tripurari Swami was writing his own version of the Gita. However, even though Srila Prabhupada’s is definitive does that mean that nobody should ever even give a class on the Bhagavad-gita? Afterall, why not simply read from Prabhupada’s Gita and be done with it?
Of course, that’s a silly argument. Bhagavad-gita commentaries have a rich history in our tradition. You’d be hard pressed to find an acarya in our lineage who hasn’t produced his own Gita.
So anyway, here, for whatever reason, is a comparison between four Gitas. I’ll be using five different commonly known verses, copying them exactly as they are presented in their books.
Chapter 2, Verse 13
As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.
Just as the embodied soul experiences changes of body, such as childhood, adulthood, and old age, so similarly it will acquire another body after death. Wise persons are not deluded about this.
Just as the embodied atma passes from boyhood to youth to old age, similarly, after death, he passes into another body. An intelligent person is not bewildered by the birth and death of the body.
-Narayana MaharajaJust as the embodied
while in this body
passes through childhood,
youth, and old age,
So also the embodied
attains another body -
the wise person
is not bewildered by this.
Chapter 4, Verse 7
Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.
Whenever, O descendant of Bharata, dharma is diminished and unrighteousness is on the rise, at that time I myself manifest.
O Bharata! Whenever there is a decline of dharma and an increase in adharma, at that time I manifest My eternally perfect form in this mundane world.
-Narayana MaharajaIndeed, whenever there is
a decline of dharma,
And an emerging
of what opposed dharma -
at that time I send forth my Self.
Chapter 5, verse 18
The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].
The wise see equally a brahmana endowed with learning and culture, a cow, an elephant, and even a dog or a dog-eater.
The wise look with equal vision upon a gentle and learned brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a candala.
-Narayana MaharajaIn a Brahmin endowed with
learning and gentle conduct,
in a cow, in an elephant,
Even in a dog and
in one who cooks dog -
wise ones see the same [Supreme].
Chapter 8, verse 5
And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remember Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.
At the time of death, a person who relinquishes his body, remembering me alone, attains my nature. Of this there is no doubt.
Whoever, at the time of death, leaves his body while remembering Me alone surely attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.
And at the time of one's end,
remembering me alone
while giving up the body -
One who thus goes forth,
goes to my state of being;
about this there is no doubt.
Chapter 9, Verse 34
Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.
Fix your mind on me. Be my devotee! Sacrifice for me. Offer obeisance unto me. Absorbed thus in me alone, you shall come to me.
Always absorb your mind in Me, become My bhakta, worship Me and offer obeisances unto Me. In this way, with mind and body fully surrendered in My service, you will certainly achieve Me.
- Narayana MaharajaBe mindful of me
with love offered to me;
sacrificing for me,
act out of reverence for me.
Surely you shall
come to me,
thus having absorbed
your self in yoga with
me as the supreme goal.
Chapter 18, Verse 66
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.
Forgoing all religious injunctions, take exclusive refuge in me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
Completely abandoning all bodily and mental dharma, such as varna and asrama, fully surrender to Me alone. I shall liberate you from all reactions to your sins. Do no grieve.
-Narayana MaharajaCompletely relinquishing
all forms of dharma,
come to me
as your only shelter.
I shall grant you
all misfortune -
do not despair!
Well there you go. Four Gitas, four authors, four versions. All of them written by practitioners of Gaudia Vaisnavism.
Now, personally, I prefer Srila Prabhupada’s edition (incidentally, I used his original translation from 1972, not the “revised and expanded” version). I really appreciate Tripurari Swami’s purports. Narayana Maharaja’s has some wonderful aspects to it as well. Garuda dasa’s interpretation is fascinating to me. It tries to preserve, as best as possible, the poetic (meaning the meter and the formatting) nature of the Gita. The other versions translate it as if it were prose. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. The Gita is often translated for the masses. The masses generally don’t do poetry, so it’s a wise move on the parts of Prabhupada, Tripurari Swami and Narayana Maharaja to use prose. But it really is wonderful to see it worded and arranged poetically.
Of course, it must be said that none of these versions would even exist if it weren’t for the work of Srila Prabhupada. He translated his Bhagavad-gita long before the others. The other versions are offerings to Srila Prabhupada, all mentioning him by name.