I have a segment on my blog where I take a Gita verse or two and post the translations from four different Gaudia Vaisnava Bhagavad-gitas. I use Srila Prabhupada’s, Tripurari Swami’s, Narayana Maharaja’s and Garuda dasa’s. While all four are accepted by different Gaudia Vaisnavas, it’s really nice to see the harmony in them. It’s also nice to learn how they differ. Maybe it’s some of that “unity in diversity” jazz.
I don’t do this to say “this Bhagavad-gita is better than that Bhagavad-gita!” And I don’t do this to stir, create, tickle or otherwise agitate controversy.
Today’s verse is Bhagavad-gita 18.55. This is a pretty well known one, so it should be fun to hear it from four different personalities. Let’s go!
Chapter 18, Text 55
One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in fully consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.
Through devotion to me he comes to know who I am in truth. Thereafter, having understood the truth about me, he enters my abode.
It is only by bhakti that he can know the tattva of My glories and svarupa. He then enters My eternal pastimes through that tattva on the strength of prema-bhakti.
-Narayana MaharajaBy offering love one recognizes me fully and who I am in truth. Once knowing me in truth, one comes to me immediately. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
Well how about that. Four very different translations of the same verse. This is what “Four Gitas, One Verse” is all about.
Let’s take the first part. Srila Prabhupada says that one can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. He is using third person, while all of the other Gitas are using first person. In Prabhupada’s word-for-word, he translates the sanskrit word “mam” as “Me,” just like the other Gitas do. But for some reason, Srila Prabhupada thought this verse was important enough to have it stand out as a direct instruction.
In the verses before and the verses after, Prabhupada translates Krishna speaking in first person. This verse alone is He speaking in third person. Interesting. The meaning is, of course, the same.
Moving on, Srila Prabhupada says that it is by “devotional service” (his translation of “bhaktya”)that we can understand the “Supreme Personality.” Tripurari Swami simply says “devotion.” Narayana Maharaja, as is often the case in his Gita, uses many sanskrit words. This, I feel, can make reading his Gita a bit daunting. Nevertheless, he translates “bhaktya” as “through bhakti.”
Gaurada prabhu’s Gita says that we can “recognize” Krishna “by offering love.”
So we have “devotional service,” “devotion,” “bhakti,” and “offering love.” I wish that Garuda prabhu’s word-for-word were available (I understand that that’s not the nature of his Gita, and that’s perfectly fine, but it would still be fun to have it). “Offering love” to me seems a bit of an over-simplification. I’m not really sure why he chose that wording.
Also an oddity is how Narayana Maharaja translates “yavan” as “how great is My opulence.” Srila Prabhupada and Tripurari Swami, on the other hand, in their word-for-word, both translate “yavan” as “as much as,” which is much different from “how great is My opulence.” However, both Srila Prabhupada and Tripurari Swami seem to leave out “as much as” from the actual verse itself (as does Garuda prabhu).
In the next part of the verse, Srila Prabhupada translates, “And when one is fully conscious of the Supreme Lord….” Tripurari Swami has it as, “…having understood the truth about me….” While Garuda prabhu writes, “Once knowing me in truth….” Narayana Maharaja, once again with a slightly different angle. In his word-for-word, he uses the words “having understood” and “truth,” like Tripurari Swami and similar to Srila Prabhupada and Garuda prabhu. However, in his actual translation of the verse, it’s difficult (at least for me) to understand where he translates, “through that tattva on the strength of prema-bhakti.”
What he is saying is most definitely true, I just don’t understand how he got that from even his own word-for-word translation.
This entire part of the verse is a bit of a mystery to me. “He then enters My eternal pastimes through that tattva on the strength of prema-bhakti.” To get “eternal pastimes” he translates “mam” in the second half of the verse as “Me (My nitya-lila).” Tripurari Swami and Srila Prabhupada both translate it as simply “Me.” Garuda prabhu clearly does as well.
I am not trying to say that Narayana Maharaja is mistaken or wrong or anything like that. I’m just showing how different his translation of this verse is.
Srila Prabhupada takes the second half of the verse as, “And when one is in fully consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” Tripurari Swami: “Thereafter, having understood the truth about me, he enters my abode.” And Garuda prabhu: “Once knowing me in truth, one comes to me immediately.”
They are all basically saying the same thing. When one fully understands Krishna he enters Krishna’s abode, he is with Krishna. However, one thing is a bit of a mystery to me. While each translation states that there is an “abode” or “kingdom of God,” none of the word-for-words state it. It’s simply not there.
Each has the sanskrit word “visate,” which each translates as “enters” or “one can enter.” But it doesn’t say what one can enter. Since all four Gitas do this, I’m assuming that I’m deficient in some way. maybe “visate” means “enters my abode.”
Srila Prabhupada’s purport addresses this. “One should not misunderstand that the word visate, “enters into Me,” supports the monist theory that one becomes homogeneous with the impersonal Brahman. No. Visate means that one can enter into the abode of the Supreme Lord in his individuality to engage in His association and render service unto Him.
In Narayana Maharaja’s purport, as his verse translation suggests, he interprets “visate” to mean that one enters into Krishna’s eternal lila. He also refutes the monist theory.
Tripurari Swami’s entire purport is basically devoted to the same idea.
Interestingly, the word “visate,” according to a footnote in Garuda prabhu’s book, can also translate to “comes back.” While none of the Gitas use this particular definition, it does seem to apply to our “Back home, back to Godhead” philosophy.
We can only understand Krishna through love, bhakti, devotional service. And when we do fully understand Krishna we can once again be with Him in His abode, in His pastimes.
The Bhagavad-gita is our manual for understanding just who Krishna is and how to return to Him. By studying this verse and the rest of the Gita, we can gain the understanding we need to be good bhaktas, good devotees.