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)
This week, I thought I’d jump right in the middle of Krishna and Arjuna’s conversation in the Sixth Chapter, entitled Sankhya-yoga, by Srila Prabhupada and Dhyana Yoga by Narayana Maharaja. The word sankhya refers to the philosophy that differentiates between spirit and matter. Dhyana basically means “perfect contemplation.” And that’s fitting since Chapter Six is about the mind.
Arjuna has just asked Krishna what happens to someone who is following a spiritual path, but then leaves it for some reason or another. Krishna answers, basically, that he is given another chance in the next life, picking up where he left off.
Verse 40, our verse for the week, is the beginning of that answer. Here, Krishna lays the ground rules for the sincere.
sri bhagavan uvaca
partha naiveha namutra
vinasas tasya vidyate
na hi kalyana-krt kascid
durgatim tat gacchati
The Blessed Lord said: Son of Prtha, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.
The Lord of Sri said: O son of Prtha, neither here in this world nor in the next is he vanquished. Anyone who is sincere, my dear friend, walks not the road of misfortune.
Sri Bhagavan said: O Partha, such an unsuccessful yogi is not lost either in this world or the next because, My dear friend, a person who is engaged in auspicious acts never attains an unfavourable destination.
-Narayana MaharajaThe Beloved Lord said: O Partha, indeed, neither in this world nor int he next is the destruction of such a person to be found. For no one who acts in virtuous ways ever goes to an unfortunate destiny, my dear friend. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
On the surface, there seems to be quite a bit of difference between the translations. This just goes to show the need for studying the Gita in its broader light. If you merely select a verse and meditate on just that verse, neglecting the ones before it and after it, you’re going to be a bit lost.
Since this is where Krishna starts to speak, the phrase sri bhagavan uvaca is used to denote that. Both Srila Prabhupada and Garuda dasa fully translate it, while both Narayana Maharaja and Tripurari Swami use a bit of the original Sanskrit. Basically: “Krishna said.”
For the rest of the verse, I’ll be jumping around quite a bit since both Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja have re-arranged the placement of the words a bit.
The first line, partha naiveha namutra, means “not in this world, nor in the next.” The second line and first word of the third line, vinasas tasya vidyate na, means “is not lost” or “is not destroyed.” Plainly: “is not lost in this life nor the next.”
But who is not?
While Garuda dasa’s and Tripurari Swami’s translations are pretty well word-for-word, Srila Prabhupada’s and Narayana Maharaja’s seem to be at odds.
Both often add to the verse as more of an adaptation than a straight translation. Srila Prabhupada states that “a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities” is not…. While Narayana Maharaja’s translation is “such an unsuccessful yogi” is not…. There’s a world of difference between a unsuccessful yogi (mystic) and a transcendentalist. So what gives?
Narayana Maharaja is, of course, referring to what Arjuna asked: “What if one falls away from the path?” This is Narayana Maharaja’s “unsuccessful yogi.”
Srila Prabhupada, on the other hand, points out Narada Muni’s instructions in the First Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam (1.5.17). He sums it up with, “The Bhagavatam assures the unsuccessful transcendentalist that there need be no worries. Even though he may be subjected to the reaction of not perfectly executing prescribed duties, he is still not a loser, because auspicious Krishna consciousness is never forgotten, and one so engaged will continue to be so even if he is lowborn in his next life.”
The difference between Narayana Maharaja’s “unsuccessful yogi” and Srila Prabhupada’s “transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities”? Absolutely none.
Narayana Maharaja’s translation itself goes on to say that this unsuccessful yogi “is not lost either in this world or the next….” This hardly seems “unseccessful.”
The third line, “hi kalyana-krt kascid,” is translated by Srila Prabhupada as “one who does good.” Tripurari Swami has it as, “anyone who is sincere.” Narayana Maharaja: “a person who is engaged in auspicious acts.” And Garuda’s: “one who acts in virtuous ways.”
These all get the same general point across. One who is good, sincere, virtuous and who does auspicious acts….”
Which brings us to the closing line, durgatim tata gacchati. Here, like in the last verse, our authors translate and adapt the line in different ways.
Srila Prabhupada closes with, “is never overcome by evil.” This is simple and is the mirror of “one who does good,” showing that this is the classic knowledge that we all know. One who does good, is not overcome by evil. It really is that simple.
Garuda dasa’s verse ends with “[n]ever goes to an unfortunate destiny.”
But Tripurari Swami’s verse adds a bit of adaptation, much like his spiritual mater Srila Prabhupada is apt to do. “Anyone who is sincere, my dear friend, walks not the road of misfortune.”
Krishna calls Arjuna tata, which is translated by all as “My dear friend,” at the end of this verse. He explains in his purport, “The use of the word tata indicates great affection on the part of Krishna, who speaks here as fatherly guru to his son-like disciple.”
He goes on to explain: “Although Krishna’s words are relevant for yoga practitioners in general, this verse is intended for his devotees in particular.”
The devotee of God, simply by being a devotee of God, has gotten God’s blessing. Even if that devotee falls away from the path, God will make sure that this progress is retained. It will not be forgotten by the devotee or by God.