Bhagavad-gita: a wise, sober, self-realized person is not bewildered (2.13)
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.
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna the warrior has just surrendered to Krishna, God. He is requesting Krishna to teach him everything he needs to know.
This verse, 2.13, is a basic verse. It’s one of the most referenced and quoted. But it’s also one of the most difficult to realize. The second chapter as a whole is full of stuff like this. It’s the building blocks of spirituality, but even the great gurus and masters struggle with these realizations.
Two verses prior, Krishna explains to Arjuna that a wise person does not lament either for the living or the dead. In this verse, He explains further.
dihino ‘smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
dhiras tatra na muhyati
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. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
Krishna is setting up an analogy. It is understood that we are not the body, that we are spirit souls. We are the soul, we have a body. And just as we experience our bodies changing from a baby all the way to an old fellow, we will also experience a new body after this one dies. This is reincarnation, one of the core beliefs in many spiritual philosophies.
The first line dehino ‘smin yatha dehe is one of the few lines of Sanskrit that I have memorized. I have a lot of trouble with learning a language and very little sticks. This, however, has stuck (well, the first line of it).
All four translations match up here. “(Just) as the embodied soul…” Narayana Maharaja uses the Sanskrit term atma, which means soul. Garuda dasa, however, continues “Just as the embodied while in this body.” It seems a little awkward, but the Sanskrit and the other translations, except Narayana Maharaja’s supports that, though less awkwardly.
It does seem redundant to restate that an embodied soul is in a body. That is why both Srila Prabhupada and Tripurari Swami slide that restatement into the next line, kaumaram yauvanam jara.
These three words are simply “from boyhood to youth to old age.” Only Tripurari Swami translates yauvanam to adulthood. While other Sanskrit sources and dictionaries translate this as “youth,” it does get the point across. We don’t go straight from youth to old age, though in the eyes of the elderly, I’m sure it seems like we do. Time flies….
The second half of the verse is the target of the analogy. As Garuda dasa has put it: “So also the embodied attains another body.” The term praptih, which ends this third line, is glossed as “achievement” by both Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja, though neither of them use it in their verses. Instead, they both use the word “passes,” as in “passes into another body.” Tripurari Swami glosses praptih as “acquiring.” Garuda dasa uses “attains.”
The slight variations in meaning between “achieve,” “pass,” “acquire,” and “attain” are too minuscule to break a sweat over.
Garuda dasa, whose version of the Gita attempts to follow the Sanskrit as much as possible, is the only translator to not mention death. The original Sanskrit verse does not mention death at all. But our other three translators clarify that it is “at death” or “after death” when the soul acquires another body. Though we may not like to hear this, we are going to die. But when we die, we will receive another body.
With the analogy complete, Krishna adds: dhiras tatra na muhyati. As Tripurari Swami puts it, “Wise persons are not deluded about this.”
Dhirah is a commonly used term describing a person. Sober, thoughtful and wise were used by our authors. Srila Prabhupada chose “sober” for his word-for-word rendering, but went with “self-realized” in his verse.
The Sanskrit doesn’t mention self-realization here. It only notes that a wise or sober person is not bewildered by this idea of changing bodies. Srila Prabhupada takes it a step farther, as he often does, interpreting the verse rather than providing a straight translation. In his purport, he again translates dhirah as sober.
A self-realized person is wise and sober, though not all wise or sober people are self-realized. But either way, they are all na nuhyati: not bewildered by this change.
All of the translations, except Tripurari Swami’s use “not bewildered.” He uses “not deluded,” just as his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada used in his word-for-word (though wound up using “not bewildered” in his verse). Narayana Maharaja uses “not confused” in his word-for-word, though chose “not bewildered” in his verse translation, as does Garuda dasa.
The commentary of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, as provided by Narayana Maharaja, sums up this verse very well:
The following point may be raised: Since the atma is associated with the body, the body will also be an object of our love. Furthermore, those who are related to the body, such as sons, brothers, relatives, grandsons and so on, will also be the objects of our love, so when they die we will certainly feel grief.
Sri Bhagavan [Krishna] speaks this sloka [verse] beginning with dehinah, in answer to this. “The jiva [soul] in the body attains boyhood; at the end of boyhood he attains youth, and at the end of youth he attains old age. Similarly, at the loss of the body he attains another body. Just as one does not grieve at the end of boyhood and youth, which are objects of love due to their relationship with the atma, similarly one should not grieve for the body itself, which is also an object of love due to its relationship with the atma, when it is lost.
If a person grieves when he attains old age at the loss of youth, then he also feels happy when he attains youth at the loss of boyhood. Therefore, you should feel happy because when Bhisma and Drona [Arjuna's relatives] lose their old bodies they will attain new ones.