Bhagavad-gita: Not by reasoning, but devotion (10.11)
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)
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.
This is the conclusion of the chatur shloki.
Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 10, Verse 11
aham ajnana-jam tamah
Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.
Out of compassion for them, I dwelling within their soul destroy the darkness born of ignorance with the effulgent lamp of knowledge.
Only out of compassion for these ananya-bhaktas do I, dwelling within the core of their hearts, destroy the darkness of samsara, born of ignorance, with the blazing lamp of transcendental knowledge.
-Narayana MaharajaFor them especially, out of compassion, dwelling as the Self within their hearts, I dispel the darkness that arises from the absence of knowledge with the radiant lamp of knowledge. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
It’s amazing how closely each of the verses follows the next. Obviously one was influenced by the ones before it, but that is part of the tradition. Build what you can on the foundations of what you’ve learned.
Our first line (and first word of the second), tesam evanukampartham aham has to be flipped around to make much sense in English. Srila Prabhupada and Tripurari Swami both translate: “Out of compassion for them, I…” but discard the Sanskrit word eva, meaning “certainly” or “only” (depending on who is doing the translating).
The word tesam means “for them.” The “them” is a reference to “the wise.” from the first two verses (Bg 10.08 & 10.09).
However, while Narayana Maharaja includes eva (here, translating it as “only”), he seems to redefine “the wise”: Only out of compassion for these ananya bhaktas do I,…” He has made no prior reference to ananya bhaktas in his translations of the chatur shloki.
What he is referencing is the commentary by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Ananya bhaktas are devotees of God that have no other desire than to serve God. Narayana Maharaja seems to be tying together his translation with the commentary of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura.
Garuda dasa’s poetic translations keeps as close to the original Sanskrit as possible: “For them especially, out of compassion….” He broadens the word eva, before translated as “only,” to mean “especially.” It’s a bit of a difference, but keeps with his trend of widening the Bhagavad-gita.
The second line aham ajnana-jam tamah and the third line nasayamy atma-bhavastho must be inverted and inter-mingled (even by Garuda dasa) to make much sense in English.
All of our translators choose to use the phrase atma-bhavasto, meaning, as Srila Prabhupada [and Garuada dasa] put it: “dwelling [as the Self] in their hearts.” Narayana Maharaja is a bit more specific with “core of their hearts.” Tripurari Swami exchanges the word “heart” for “soul.”
“Destroy” is how three of our authors translate nasayami in their verses. Srila Prabhupada glosses it as “dispel” in his word-for-word and that is the translation that Garuda dasa chose to use in his edition. “Dispel,” has a much more refined connotation than “destroy” does. You dispel doubts while you destroy enemies.
But what is it that Krishna is destroying and dispelling? Ajnana-jam tamaha, “the darkness born of ignorance,” as Srila Prabhupada, Tripurari Swami and Narayana Maharaja put it.
As often is the case, we find Narayana Maharaja adding Sanskrit words that were not in the original Sanskrit. He seems to be doing this to provide commentary not just in his purports, but in the verse as well. This is a common thing, Srila Prabhupada has done it (along with many other gurus in our line).
Here, Krishna is destroying not just the darkness, but the darkness of samsara, the cycle of repeated birth and death. When he does this, he is often taking after a previous commentator of the Bhagavad-gita. But here, he merely seems to be clarifying.
In Garuda dasa’s translation, Krishna is dispelling “the darkness that arises from the absence of knowledge.”
Srila Prabhupada moved the fourth line, jnana-dipena bhasvata, literally “the glowing lamp of knowledge,” to where the third line would be. His translation is slightly confusing at first, feeling muddled up. We first learn Krishna will destroy something and that his “weapon” is “the shining lamp of knowledge.” Only then do we learn about the “darkness born of ignorance.”
While Srila Prabhupada used “glowing” in his word-for-word, he used “shining” in his verse. Tripurari Swami chose “effulgent” and Narayana Maharaja used “blazing.” Garuda dasa picked “radiant.” It seems that all definitions and connotations here fully describe and add to the description of Krishna’s lamp of knowledge.
Narayana Maharaja clarifies further with defining this as the lamp of “transcendental knowledge.”
This is one of those verses that needs to be read a couple of times so your mind can put everything in a logical order. Srila Prabhupada’s verse is written in a much older, flowery style. While I usually prefer that, here it can become messy to our modern minds. Narayana Maharaja’s is very nice as well, but his additions, I feel, hurt his translation. Garuda dasa’s Gita can hardly be held in comparison since its purpose is mostly to be poetic rather than simply philosophical.
Tripurari Swami’s Gita once again seems to be clearest to me. Still, the verse seems cloudy. This is, no doubt, a great example of the trouble from translating from Sanskrit to English. Sometimes it works out pretty perfectly, but other times, such as in this case, it’s nearly impossible to make clear what is being said.
Nevertheless, with a little perseverance, it becomes clear that out of compassion for those that are fully devoted to God, He dwells within their hearts. By His presence, He destroys the darkness that is ignorance with His lamp of knowledge.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his commentary (speaking “as” Krishna): “The basic idea is that the insignificant jiva (soul) can never attain real tattva-jnana (conclusive knowledge of the truth) merely on the strength of his own intelligence. No matter how much he deliberates, he can never achieve even a particle of pur jnana (intelligence). But if I bless him, then even an insignificant jiva can easily acquire complete and thorough transcendental knowledge by the influence of My acintya-sakti (inconceivable potency).”
He concludes (as do I) that it is our right to acquire the perfect knowledge of God, not by reasoning, but by devotion to God.