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.
Like last week, I’ll jump into a verse from a chapter that I’ve not covered before. Today, that’s the last verse of chapter 12.
Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 12, Verse 20
ye tu dharmyamrtam idam
bhaktas te’tiva me priyah
He who follows this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engages himself with faith, making Me the supreme goal, is very, very dear to Me.
Indeed, I love those who, endowed with faith in my supremacy, are devoted to me.
Certainly, those bhaktas who engage in My exclusive bhajana with firm faith and worship this nectarean dharma that I have described, are exceedingly dear to Me.
-Narayana MaharajaIndeed, this is the immortal essence of dharma, which has been declared; those who participate in this worship fully. Who have faith, who are devoted to me, who have offered their love - they are most dearly loved by me. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
The four different translations of this verse run from Tripurari Swami’s very brief condensation to Garuda dasa’s poetically faithful, but wordy rendition.
Sometimes when trying to explain something simple that requires only a few words, the writer throws in extra words, bigger words in an attempt to trick us into thinking that he or she is smarter than us. As if an expanded vocabulary is proof of real intelligence. It’s true, there are times when many words are required for something. But there are more times when a simple explanation is far more beneficial, both to the listener and the writer.
When I first read these four translations, that thought was in my mind. How could one translation be so short and another so long? Was one superior to the next? Did one give more information with its wordiness or leave out important details with its brevity?
These are important questions. You don’t want a translation of any book that is either too full of words to really mean anything or so sparse that you are robbed of important particulars.
Let’s see if that’s what we’ve got here.
Because of the way this verse has been translated, it’s virtually impossible to take it line-by-line. Garuda dasa’s version is the closest to that and, though wordy, I feel it’s pretty faithful to my discrimination the original Sanskrit. I’ll be using his as the base here.
The first line, ye tu dharmyamrtam idam is translated by Garuda dasa as “Indeed, this is the immortal essence of dharma … those who….” The Sanskrit ye tu literally means “those who indeed,” or in this translation, “Indeed … those who.” Idam is a pronoun meaning “this,” which in this case references everything Krishna has said so far in this chapter.
Here, we’re left with dharmyamrtam. This is actually two words, dharma and amrtam. These are often translated as “religion” and “like nectar” respectively.
That is basically how Narayana Maharaja translates it in his verse (as “nectarean dharma“). Garuda dasa also uses a similar wording with “essence of dharma.” Tripurari Swami leaves out the reference to “nectar” and “dharma,” but focuses on that in his purport. Srila Prabhupada also does not mention either nectar or dharma, instead translates is as “this imperishable path of devotional service.” In his word-for-word section, he translates dhrama as “generosity” and amrtam as “understanding.”
Our next line, yathoktam paryupasate, Garuda dasa has translated as “which has been declared” and “those who participate in this worship fully.” If you reread his fully verse, you can see that even he had to move a line or two around to make it work.
The word yathoktam really just means “as said” or “as described.” Narayana Maharja is the only other translator who uses it in his verse as “that I have described.”
Paryupasate, on the other hand, has been translated by all, but one. Srila Prabhupada translates it as “completely engages.”
Narayana Maharaja, in his word-for-word, has glossed it “worship in every way.” In his verse, he translates, “engage in My exclusive bhajana,” a Sanskrit word which, according to his own glossary, basically means devotional service (bhakti) to Krishna.
Tripurari Swami has again left this out. He makes no specific translation of paryupasate.
The third line of this verse, sraddadhana mat-parama, translated by Garuda dasa as “[those] who have faith” and “[those] who have offered their love.” Again, he switches a couple of lines around for clarity, but it’s basically an exact copy of the Sanskrit.
Faith is not something that has been beaten to death by writers in the Gaudyia-Vaisnava tradition. But it’s there when needed and it is here and its importance is stressed and rewarded, as we’ll see. The word sraddadhana means “with faith.” All of our translators use it in the same way.
That way is mat-parama, “taking the Supreme Lord as everything,” (as glossed by Srila Prabhupada). Tripurari Swami similarly translates “in my supremacy.”
The fourth line bhaktas te’tiva me priyah has been rendered by Garuda dasa as “[those]who are devoted to me… they are most dearly loved by me.”
The word bhakta means devotee. Srila Prabhupada has chosen not to directly use the word “devotee,” but every word in this verse is describing what a devotee is. Narayana Maharaja mentions bhaktas in the beginning of his translation and Tripurari Swami closes his verse with “[those who] are devoted to me.”
The last phrase in this verse is the reward. Te-tiva me priyah means “they are most dearly loved by Me.”
Srila Prabhupada uses “very, very” instead of extremely. I like this as it gives quite a bit of emphasis to what follows, “dear to Me.”
Narayana Maharaja’s uses of “exceedingly dear to Me.” also gives that feel, but hints at this dearness and love increasing.
Tripurari Swami simply states in the beginning of the verse “I love those….”
I’ll admit, I like the verses that have a punchy and rewarding ending. I like it when Krishna describes a bunch of stuff and reveals what it all means. Tripurari Swami’s does the opposite, he reveals the reward and then tells the cost.
Aside from that one small placement issue, I like Tripurari Swami’s translation. It’s concise. He leaves out nearly half the verse, but still manages to express the full meaning. Less words, not less understanding. You can read his and get just as much out of it as the others.
That is, of course, not to say that the others are too wordy. With the exception of Garuda dasa, the other translators also leave out a line or two. This verse makes it easy to do so. Garuda dasa shows that a lot of it is poetic repetition. There is a lot of “those who have.” Also, what may be clearly spoken in Sanskrit may not be so clearly translated in English.
While it may seem simplistic, “I love those who, endowed with faith in my supremacy, are devoted to me.” leaves out nothing. Everything conveyed in the longer verses is there. Again, it’s not that Srila Prabhupada’s or Narayana Maharaja’s translations (or even Garuda dasa’s) translations are overly-wordy, they are also clear and simple. But Tripurari Swami’s verse is a fine example of how even less words can be just as clear.
This is an important lesson for us to learn. I know I need to take it to heart (I say as I’m now well over 1300 words in this post).
But however it is said, our faith and devotion to God is reciprocated. It is not the reason for our devotion, but it is because of our devotion that we are loved by God.