This week’s Gita Comparisons verse comes from Chapter Four. Verses in this chapter mean a lot to me. When I was having some trouble getting my head wrapped around Krishna consciousness, I picked up Srila Prabhupada’s book Vraja-vidya: The King of Knowledge. Many of the verses covered in that book come from Chapter Four.
One of the fun things about doing these comparisons is that, upon first read, the verses all appear pretty similar and pretty basic. But once you start jumping into the nitty gritty, things take off and it gets really exciting.
I’m not sure how many actually read on after a quick glance at the verses, but if you do, I hope some of this excitement comes through. This really can be a bunch of fun!
One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.
A person who has removed desire and motivation from his undertakings, and consumed his karmic reactions in the fire of knowledge is called a sage by the wise.
He whose every action is free from hankering for pleasure, having burnt all fruitive desires in the fire of pure knowledge, is called a pandita by the wise.
-Narayana MaharajaOne whose every endeavor is without the intention of selfish desire, Whose actions have been consumed by the fire of knowledge - those of discernment call the person learned. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
This verse is a good example of a few different ways to layout a verse from sanskrit. It’s also a good example of a few different ways to say the same thing.
Srila Prabhupada once again demonstrates that his translation is not simply a translation – it’s also an explanation. He provides exposition in his verses. This would explain why one can read just his verses and derive a deeper meaning out of that than to simply read any ol’ translation. It must bug scholars of Sanskrit something ferocious.
Though Garuda dasa’s selection of words to use is, at times, bewildering, his translation and structure is nearly identical to that of the Sanskrit. It’s nice to have two polar opposites in our tradition and at our disposal.
Garuda dasa translates “One whose every endeavor is without the intention of selfish desire…” This is following very closely to the Sanskrit. Narayana Maharaja also follows closely: “He whose every action is free from hankering for pleasure…” Tripurari Swami’s rendition is a bit broader, “A person who has removed desire and motivation from his undertakings…”
Srila Prabhupada actually dips into the end of the verse right in the beginning. However, he also covers the end of the verse at the end. He writes: “One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification.” The phrase “is understood to be in full knowledge” does not appear in the Sanskrit. Perhaps Prabhupada wanted to make sure the reader understood the intent of the verse right away.
“Every endeavor,” “every action,” “undertakings,” and “every act” are all very similar. Only Garuda dasa’s “every endeavor” denotes desire, since “endeavor” indicates attempt at action, rather than just action. In his word-for-word section, Srila Prabhupada glosses the Sanskrit word samarambhah as “in all attempts,” giving weight to Garuda’s choice of words. In fact, Narayana Maharaja defines it exactly as “endeavor.”
The second line, kama-sankalpa-varjitah, is to betaken as one thought. Garuda dasa translates it as “without the intention of selfish desire.” Again, Narayana Maharaja, following close to the original Sanskrit structure, is similar: “free from hankering for pleasure.” Tripurari Swami, who has changed the tense a bit, translates, “removed desire and motivation.” Srila Prabhupada has it as, “devoid of desire for sense gratification.”
Tripurari Swami’s relation of this is a bit strange at first. While the other writers, more or less, relate that this person’s actions are free from desire, Tripurari Swami writes that this person has removed that desire from the actions. Though it may not be strictly in the Sanskrit, it’s fitting. He, in his own word-for-word, defines varjitah as “devoid” (meaning devoid of desire). Though in his translation, he uses “removed,” indicating that this is a process. The desire was once there, but it has been removed, seemingly be this person.
I say “seemingly” because the word sankalpa. It has been defined as “determination” and “motivation,” but according to Tripurari Swami’s purport (which references Madhusudana Saraswati), sankalpa “indicates a sense of agentship, thinking oneself the doer.” So, while this person has removed this desire, the actual remover (the actual doer) is the Lord.
In comparing the translations of the second part of the verse, we’ll have to jump around with word tense a bit. Srila Prabhupada uses present tense, while the rest use past.
The third line of the verse, jnanagni-dagdha-karmanam, is “backwards” when looked up by our English-centric minds. Srila Prabhupada translates it that fruitive action (karmanam) is burned up (dagdha) by the fire of perfect knowledge (jnanagni).
All agree in “the fire of knowledge.” However, while Srila Prabhupada translates karmanam as “fruitive action” and Tripurari Swami writes it as the similar “karmic reactions,” Narayana Maharaja expands it to mean “fruitive desires,” to indicate that it’s not just our actions that give us reaction, but our desires as well (a point well worth noting). Garuda dasa simply uses “action.”
Srila Prabhupada takes some liberties in his presentation. His verse must be taken as a whole rather than line by line. His last line is mostly from the verse’s third line. He, however, clears it up in his purport. “Only a person in full knowledge can understand the activities of a person in Krishna consciousness.”
Tripuari Swami and Narayana Maharaja more closely follow the Sanskrit. Tripurari Swami writes that this person “is called a sage by the wise.” Narayana Maharaja uses the Sanskrit pandita instead of “sage.” Incidentally, pandita is where we get the English word “pundit.” Both have very similar meanings.
Garuda dasa translates that “those of discernment call that person learned.” “Discernment” is a very interesting choice of words. It not only denotes wisdom, but discrimination. When one can discriminate based upon the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance), then the true nature of a person can be seen. As we know, the modes of nature can entangle us, but they can also give liberation. We must discern between pure devotional service and mixed devotional service.
This verse describes a person in pure devotional service. This person has removed the desire for sense enjoyment and has burned his actions in the fire of knowledge. We must become budhah, wise to see this (or to see if we do not see this). This is especially important when choosing a teacher or guru to follow. We must learn to discrimination in order to see whether or not this devotee is pure. If we can’t see that this person is free from the desire for sense gratification, we will never know if he or she is truly qualified.
From such a simple Gita verse we can learn many things.