Each week I select a verse from the Bhagavad-gita and compare/contrast four different translations. These translators all subscribe to the Gaudia-Vaisnava philosophy. This examination isn’t to prove one more superior to another, but to highlight the similarities and learn from the differences in ideologies.
The four Gitas are:
-Bhagavad-gita: As It Is by Srila Prabhupada (1972 edition)
-Bhagavad-gita: It’s Feeling and Philosophy by Tripurari Swami
-Srimad Bhagavad-gita by Narayana Maharaja
-Bhagavad-gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song by Garuda dasa (Graham Schweig)
Though I’m hardly qualified to do so, I dissect each translation, sometimes interjecting my own unsolicited commentary. More on this can be found here.
For this week’s verse, we’re dipping back into Chapter 4, generally titled “Jnana Yoga” (“Yoga of Knowledge), but titled “Transcendental Knowledge” by Srila Prabhupada.
At the beginning of this chapter, Arjuna asks Krishna how he (Krishna) taught Vivasvan, even though Krishna was born much, much after Vivasvan was born. Krishna explains that we’ve all had many lives and while we can’t remember them, Krishna can. He manifests Himself for specific reasons when He comes to the material world. He explains a few verse prior that He comes to protect the saintly. He explains that those who understand this do not have to take birth again – they are liberated if they take refuge in Him.
tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
manusyah partha sarvasah
All of them – as they surrender unto Me – I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O Son of Prtha.
In whatever way people take refuge in me, I reciprocate with them accordingly. Everyone in all circumstances, O son of Prtha, follows my path.
O Partha! As all surrender to Me and perform My bhajana, I reciprocate accordingly. Every follows My path in all respects.
-Narayana MaharajaIn the way they offer themselves to me, in just that way I offer my love to them reciprocally. Human beings follow my path universallly, O Partha. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
To understand what Krishna meant as “they” and “all of them,” we have to look to the previous verse. “They” refers to those who have been purified by the light of knowledge and have attained love of God.
The first line, ye yatha mam prapadyante, is nicely translated by all four of our authors. It is interesting that both Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja gloss the word yatha as “as” while Tripurari Swami takes it to mean “in whatever way.” Garuda dasa seems to have it as “In the way.” In this context, they all mean about the same thing.
There are many different paths to God. Here, Krishna is saying “however you worship, if you surrender to Me (God)…” and then continues to the next line.
Tams tathaiva bhajamy aham. I like how Garuda dasa puts this: “in just that way I offer my love to them reciprocally.” The other translators keep it simple with “I reciprocate (or “reward” according to Srila Prabhupada) accordingly.” The Sanskrit word bhajami was translated by Narayana Maharaja and Garuda as “love and reciprocate.” Those who have love of God, receive love of God.
In last week’s verse, I (and others) claimed that there seemed to be a contradiction between the first half and second half of the verse. Of course, that’s not actually so, but it appears to be. This verse in similar in that respect.
The first half is speaking about those who have (and thus receive) love of God. The second half, deals with everyone else.
Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja both translate it exactly as “Everyone follows My path in all respects…” Tripurari Swami replaces “respects” with “circumstances.” Garuda dasa translates it as “universally.” We all follow God’s path.
But that’s clearly not the case. Some of us are Hare Krishnas, some are Christians or Jewish or Muslims. Some follow Buddhism, which is atheistic. Some are just atheists.
Of the theists and even folks like the Buddhists, it isn’t too difficult to understand that we are all following some path that eventually leads to God. As Srila Prabhupada says in his purport, “all kinds of spiritual processes are but different degrees of success on the same path.” There are many religions that don’t believe that, that believe their way is the only way, but I disagree and so, it seems, does the Bhagavad-gita.
According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura (as related by Narayana Maharaja in his purport), Krishna reciprocates “with whatever intention or faith they have in relation to Krishna. Everyone can certainly attain Me, because I am the ultimate objective of all paths.”