Bhagavad-gita: Whenever and Wherever… (4.7)
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.
I seem to keep coming back to Chapter Four – Jnana Yoga; Transcendental Knowledge. There’s quite a bit of good here. Krishna does a lot of explaining and it’s definitely a good place to start. In the Padma Purana, Lord Vishnua glorifies the fourth chapter specifically. Must be important.
This verse, 4.7, is one of the more popular. It’s often pulled out for Sunday Feast classes on appearance days. I first heard it in 1994 or ’95 in Philly for Nrsimhadeva’s Appearance Day.
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
tadatmanam srjamy aham
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, O Bharata, And an emerging of what opposed dharma - at that time I send forth my Self. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
From the translation of the first line, yada yada hi dharmasya, we immediately find a difference between the translations. I’ve said before that Srila Prabhupada’s Gita is more of an interpretation than a direct translation. This certainly isn’t a bad thing. A neophyte, for example, could read only the verses of all four of our translations and come away from the experience having learned more for Srila Prabhupada’s edition. He provides exposition and explanation within the verses, whereas the other translators give a pretty straight-forward translation.
Some folks will see this as a fault. Thankfully, there are alternatives for them. But for our purposes, it’s a blessing to have a variety to work with.
Srila Prabhupada translates yada yada as “whenever and wherever.” The others simply translate it as “whenever.” Even in his word-for-word, he glosses the first yada as “whenever” and the second as “wherever.” The word yada means whenever, but he is taking a liberty to further explain that it is also whenever.
The next word, hi, seems to have been left out of all of the translations. It means “assuredly” or “certainly.” Nothing like that appears in any of the verses. This is a mystery since I don’t really know Sanskrit. My best guess would be that Krishna is assuring Arjuna that what He is saying is true.
The line ends with dharmasya. The second line begins with glanir. This is actually one thought, split by the poetry of Bhagavad-gita. Dharmasya glanir, according to Srila Prabhupada, means “a decline of religious practice.” Tripurari Swami puts it to mean that “dharma is diminished.” Narayana Maharaja and Garuda dasa both translate it as “a decline in dharma.”
Dharma is a word often used, but rarely understood. On the surface, it means religious practices. But deeper than that, it means “spiritual duty.” Many Hindus will use it like “my dharma is to be a doctor” or some such silliness. Dharma does not equal job, dharma equals spiritual duty, or at the very least, religious practices.
The first two lines set up the verse. “Whenever there is a decline in the practice of spiritual duty….” The second line ends with bharata. Here, that is a name that Krishna calls Arjuna meaning “son of King Bharata.” King Bharata was the ruler and sort of founder of Vedic India. The term bharata was placed in different locations of the first part of the translated verse, depending on the style of the author. Both Srila Prabhupada and Garuda dasa keep it at the end of the second line. Narayana Maharaja and Tripurari Swami place it at or near the beginning.
Not only does there have to be a decline in religious practice, but there must be abhuyutthanam adharmasya, a rise of “irreligion,” as Srila Prabhupada coined. Tripurari Swami simply translates, “unrighteousness is on the rise.” Narayana Maharaja keeps with the Sanskrit terminology of adharma, the opposite of dharma.
Garuda dasa has an interesting angle on it. He translates the third line with “And an emerging of what opposes dharma.” What the other translators cover as a rise of unrighteousness or irreligion, he throws in a nearly personal touch. Something is in opposition to how it should be. It’s not just that things aren’t right, there is something knowingly making these things not right.
Krishna delivers in the fourth line, tadatmanam srjamy aham, “at that time, I [Krishna] manifest myself.” The word atmanam means “self” (or in this case, Self). Srjami is glossed by all as “manifest,” though Srila Prabhupada uses “descend” in his verse. Garuda puts it as “send forth” rather than “manifest” or “descend.” I feel it’s an odd choice. “Manifest” is probably most proper, though “descend” is a bit more specific.
Within his purport, Srila Prabhupada again hits upon his use of the word “wherever” in the first line. He knew that while much of what he was bringing could be seen as strictly Indian that God, Krishna, was not an Indian God.
“It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can advent Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about religion as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same – to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion. Sometimes He descends personally, and sometimes He sends His bona fide representative in the form of His son, or servant, or Himself in some disguised form.”