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Re: REQUEST : Bhagavad Gita commentary

Posted By Shrisha Rao (shrao@nyx.net)
Sat, 11 Jan 1997 15:44:42 GMT

In article <ghenE3toxn.3pw@netcom.com>,
Randy Leighton <leighton@hsc.usc.edu> wrote:
>"Rajan P. Parrikar" <parrikar@spot.Colorado.EDU> wrote:
>>mpt0002@jove.acs.unt.edu (Michael Tandy) writes:
>>>In article <ghenE3LwHz.F3v@netcom.com>, kenrickm@worldnet.att.net says...
>>>>Can anyone tell me if there are any Bhagavad gita English commentaries
>>>>other than by Swami Prabhupada ?
>>> Frankly, I have found that, almost without exception, other Gita
>>> commentaries introduce ideas that are dubiously supported by or even
>>> explicitly rejected by the text of Gita itself. It's therefore hard
>>> for me to recommend these commentaries as authoritative or
>>> authentic. I just thought I'd mention it.
>>I also just thought I'd mention that this sounds very similar
>>to the standard ISKCON blather I've often encountered. Over 3 years I
>>heard the same in their Boulder ashram and whenever I'd confront them
>>with "Which other version have YOU read," the response would be "Uhhh,
>>ahemmmmm, ohhhhh, Prabhu have some more halva please."
>>The halva was always top-notch, a solid A effort, although I could see
>>that a more modest use of ghee would significantly improve the health
>>Hari bol,
>I'd read several translations of the Gita (Edgerton, LaFolet (or
>something like that), Hanumanprasad Podar and Sridhar Swami, just to
>name a few. None of them are logically consistent from start to
>finish, and none of them presents the Gita literally. They all try to
>'improve' upon the Bhagavad Gita, altering meanings, so that it
>corresponds to their own understanding of reality. This is not the
>case with A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and commentaries.

As a matter of fact, I am not aware of any translation of the 'Gita
into English that is fully satisfactory. Part of the reason is that
English is not equipolent to Sanskrit when it comes to expressing
sophisticated metaphysical and epistemological ideas. However, it
seems no existing translation has even come close to exhausting the
expressive power of English. Two translations that I have examined at
some length are those by Chinmayananda ("The Holy Geeta") and
Prabhupada ("Bhagavadgita as it is"). The former is, in my humble
opinion, the lesser of the two, mainly because of its many unwarranted
digressions, and its failure to show any coherence of approach that
might assist the reader. Also, both these suffer from what I view as
the serious shortcoming of differing from (and trying to improve upon)
their respective claimed sampradaaya Gurus, Shankara and Madhva
respectively. For instance, Prabhupada's claim that Krishna is in some
sense a superior form of the Paramatman than other forms, is not
upheld by Madhva (who is, however, misleadingly listed in Prabhupada's
guru-parampara in the earlier pages of "Bhagavadgita as it is"). As
another example, Prabhupada translates verse I-10 --

aparyAptaM tadasmAkaM balaM bhIshhmAbhiraxitam.h |
paryaptaM tvidaM eteshhAM balaM bhImAbhiraxitam.h ||

-- as saying that the speaker of this verse (Duryodhana) is saying that
his army, defended by Bhiishma, is of complete strength, but the other
army defended by Bhiima is of incomplete strength.

This translation is directly opposite to what Duryodhana actually
said, if one is to believe Madhva (as he states in his
'Gita-bhaashya). It is also incorrect from consideration of grammar,
or word meanings; "aparyaaptam" means incomplete, and "paryaaptam"
means complete -- even a Hindi speaker with no knowledge of Sanskrit
can see this. And if Duryodhana were indeed saying what Prabhupada
claims, why would he then, in the very next verse, implore all his
warriors to defend Bhiishma only (from the aggression of a weaker
opponent)? Vyaasa also says that in the war, Bhiima accounted for all
100 Kaurava brothers and 7 of their 11 Akshauhinis; his counterpart
was nowhere near as good, and even at the start of the war, Duryodhana
must have known this.

Translating the same verse, Chinmayananda says that each army had a
senior warrior who functioned as its "defender," whatever that may be,
and that Bhiishma and Bhiima were respectively the "defenders" of the
Kaurava and Pandava armies.

This bit of concoction is entirely due to Chinmayananda; Vyaasa does
not mention any such "defenders." What he does say is that Bhiishma
and Drishtadyumna (not Bhiima) were the chiefs of their respective
armies (the former until he fell on the 10th day of the war; later
chiefs were Drona for 5 days, Karna for 2 days, and Shalya for 1
day). Shankara does not speak of any such "defenders," either.

I understand that all this is not really very helpful as re finding a
good translation. My best and most sincere advice to you would be to
make a comparative study of several, and take most of what you read
with a pinch of salt. As your own perception of Sanskrit meaning
grows, you will get better and better at separating the wheat from the
chaff, and you eventually may even be able to do away with all the
translations and proceed independently.


If the above looks familiar, it probably is, and you've a very good memory. I wrote that in a posting on alt.hindu more than two years ago.

>Understand, if we liked the truth, we'd know it. The reason we're in >this materially conditioned state is that we don't like everything >about the truth. Srila Prabhupada presents the Gita truthfully, >without changing or adding to it's meaning. One may not like what >Srila Prabhupada says, but it is the truth.

I disagree with "if we liked the truth, we'd know it." First of all, that has the flavor of stating a patent impossibility -- how can one like an unknown, a precondition for knowing it? Far more reasonable (whether correct or not) to say, if we knew the truth, we'd like it. After all, it must be said that the truth is ultimately likeable, and only partial or incorrect representations of it are otherwise; if this is not so, then there would be the fear that the sole end of one's spiritual inquiry would be a profound disgust. However, no one accepts this to be possible, and such a fear would hamper one's inquiry no end.

One point where I disagree with claims that every translator but Prabhupada distorts, is in noting that he frequently brings up things like "Krishna consciousness" or "the science of Krishna consciousness" in his purports, and these things simply aren't there in the text. What Sanskrit phrase in the 'Gita is the equivalent of "the science of Krishna consciousness"? As such, the difference between Prabhupada and others is a matter of orientation and degree, but not an absolute.

>The first edition I read was Frank Edgerton's version, which strives >to maintain the Gita's poetic genre. That was in 1967. I first read >Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad Gita As It Is in 1970. I have read Gita >more times than I can count since then. Srila Prabhupada's is, hands >down, the best.

Wrong-O. Vyaasa's is, hands down, the best. No translation will ever compare.


Shrisha Rao



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