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 the month of March and for this Gaura Purnima time of year, I’ve decided to tackle the chatur shloki. The chatur shloki are the four verses that pretty well sum up the contents of the Bhagavad-gita. If you’re only going to read four verses from Bhagavad-gita, these are the four to read.
Last week, Krishna revealed to Arjuna that He is the source of everything. The wise realize this and adore Him, feeling great joy in their hearts.
This week, Krishna continues…
Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 10, Verse 9
kathayantas ca mam nityam
tusyanti ca ramanti ca
The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.
Those whose minds are fixed on me and whose live are absorbed in me derive satisfaction and delight from enlightening one another and always speaking of me.
Those whose minds are absorbed in Me and whose lives are wholeheartedly devoted to My service, derive great satisfaction and bliss from constantly enlightening one another about My tattva and performing kirtana of My nama, rupa, guna and lila.
-Narayana Maharaja"With their thought on me, with their life-breath offered to me, enlightening one another And conversing about me continuously, they are satiated and they feel rapturous love. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
The first line describes two traits of “the wise” (or “enlightened”) from last week’s verse. First, mat-cittah, means “those whose minds are fixed on Me [the speaker, in this case, Krishna]. All four of our translators basically agree on this.
Srila Prabhupada substitutes “pure devotees” for budhah, which is generally translated (even by Prabhupada in the previous verse) as “the wise.” He glosses the phrase as “minds fully engaged in Me” in his word-for-word section, but translates it as “The thoughts of My pure devotes dwell in Me…” in his verse.
It does have a bit of a different connotation than the rest. Tripurari Swami uses the phrase “minds are fixed on me,” while Narayana Maharaja uses, “minds are absorbed in Me.” Garuda dasa uses simply “thought on me…”
Secondly, mad-gata-prana, means “those whose lives (or ‘life-breath’) are devoted to me [the speaker, again, Krishna].”
Rather than “absorbed” (as Tripurari Swami puts it), both Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja focus upon devotional service.
In Srila Prabhupada’s word-for-word, as in Narayana Maharaja’s verse, devotional service is mentioned. Prabhupada puts it, “their lives are surrendered to Me,” and Narayana Maharaja puts it, “whose lives are wholeheartedly devoted to My service…”
Garuda dasa seems to translate gata as “offered.” He writes, “with their life-breath offered to me…”
The second line, bodhayantah parasparam, is basically, as Garuada dasa translates: “enlightening one another.” All translators completely agree, all using the word “enlightening.”
All (except for Garuda dasa) also translate the third line before the second. This line (most of it), “kathayantas ca mam” is a very basic and easy to translate line: “conversing about me.” That line, however, is pushed to the end of the verse to make way for a bit of exposition.
The fourth line, nityam tusyanti ca ramanti ca, (which also incorporates the last word of the third line) is “they always” (nityam) “derive (or experience) satisfaction” (tusyanti), “and also rejoice/take delight” (ca ramanti ca).
Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja both put it, “they derive great satisfaction and bliss.” Tripurari Swami also says the same, substituting “delight” for “bliss.” Garuda dasa changes it up a bit and says, “they are satiated and they feel rapturous love.”
“Rapturous love” seems a bit intense when compared to “delight.” But Srila Prabhupada glosses ramanti as “enjoy transcendental bliss.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in his translation/commentary of Bhagavad-gita says, “In this way, by sravanam [hearing] and kirtanam [chanting, talking] they attain the happiness of bhakti [love of God].” And what is more rapturous than love of God?
Going back to the third line, kathayantas ca mam nityam, always speaking of me [Krishna], the translators end their respective verses.
Garuda dasa, whose translation tries to follow the actual flow of the Sanskrit poetry, keeps the lines in order. The way he puts it makes sense, which is odd when translating poetry. That the other three translators didn’t put the lines in this order is interesting. All four, however, make perfect sense. When reading one after another, they all seem to agree and you hardly notice that some lines are rearranged.
Narayana Maharaja, however, tacks a bit of commentary onto his verse. Instead of ending it with “always speaking of me” or “conversing about Me” (as he himself glosses in his own word-for-word), he writes: “constantly enlivening one another about My tattva and performing kirtana of my nama, rupa, guna and lila.”
If you do not know what these six Sanskrit words mean, reading his purport doesn’t help. These words are not mentioned in the original Sanskrit, nor are the defined in the purport. The use of the words, to me, seems incredibly unnecessary.
Often times both Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja will add bits to their translations. Srila Prabhupada did this in the first line when he switched out “the wise” with “pure devotees.” Whenever they do this it raises a flag. Why are they doing this? Is there an agenda? Are they hiding something?
While you can often read the word-for-word and figure it out what they were saying pretty easily, I simply cannot understand Narayana Maharaja’s use of six Sanskrit words that weren’t in the original text. Why not simply include that description in the purport?
Tattva basically means “the real being of something, “performing kirtana” here means chanting. Nama means “name,” rupa means “form,” guna means “tenancies” or “methods” and “lila” means “pastimes.”
What he’s saying is true, but it’s not part of the verse. It’s true that devotees derive great satisfaction and bliss from constantly enlightening each other about God and by talking about His name and form, about what He is like and His pastimes. But going on to describe that in the purport seems more appropriate.
This verse is a fine example of how all four Gaudia Vaisnava translators are in concert. Yet, it’s also a fine example of how some translations are a bit more than translations and sometimes move into the realm of adaptation. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with that. Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s translation/commentary of the Bhagavad-gita was just that. It was written like a translation would be written (meaning when Krishna was speaking, Thakura would write “I”), but it was also a commentary, expanding on the teachings of the Gita.
However, Bhaktivinoda Thakura didn’t call his book “Bhagavad-gita.” It was called “Rasika-ranjana,” and I’m still looking for a copy of it (hint-hint!).
By talking about God, we are satiated. Not only that, we also feel blissful, ecstatic love of God when talking with like-minded folks about God. This is community. It’s not just love of God that we feel, it’s love of each other that enlightens us when our thoughts, our conversation and our lives dwell in the spiritual.