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)
Though I’m hardly qualified to do so, I dissect each translation, sometimes interjecting my own unsolicited commentary. More on this can be found here.
This week’s verse comes from Chapter 9: Raja-Guhya-yoga, also called The Yoga of Hidden Treasure and the King of Secrets. This chapter deals with the most important knowledge.
The Bhagavad-gita is a conversation between Krishna (God) and Arjuna (His devotee). Arjuna is asking questions and Krishna in answering them. Arjuna’s last question was at the beginning of Chapter 8. Since then, Krishna has covered a lot of topics, from the importance of our last thought to explaining the entire material existence. He’s on a roll.
He just finished up teaching Arjuna the proper ways to worship Him. After He speaks this verse, He continues explaining worship and its rewards. This verse gives a small glimpse into God’s nature and position.
na me dvesyo’sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te tesu capy aham
I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.
I am impartial to all beings. I hate no one and I favor no one. However, those who worship me with devotion are in me, and I am also in them.
I am equal to all living beings and am neither inimical nor partial to anyone. But as those who serve Me with bhakti are attached to Me, so too am I bound by affection for them.
-Narayana MaharajaI am the same towards all beings; no one is either hated or dearly loved by me. Yet those who, with an offering of love, offer their love to me - they are in me and I am also in them. -Garuda dasa (Graham M. Schweig)
Translating from the Sanskrit is no easy task. Each of our esteemed authors must make tough decisions about where to place which phrases. Garuda dasa chooses to follow the Sanskrit poetical flow as closely as possible. Tripurari Swami seems to keep it as simple as he can, adding no extra content to the verses. Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja both take liberties not only in placement of phrases, but in the addition of ideas to explain the verse.
The first line, samo’ham sarva-bhutesu is similarly translated by all four: “I am equal to all.” Srila Prabhupada choses to translate the second line before the first line, but his verses often have to be taken as a whole.
Tripurari Swami translates samah as “impartial” rather than “equal.” Srila Prabhupada and Narayana Maharaja are, of course, not indicating that Krishna is equal to us, that we are the same, that we are God. The meaning is that Krishna is impartial. Garuda dasa (whose edition provides no word-for-word analysis of the original Sanskrit) seems to have translated it as “the same towards.”
Srila Prabhupada placed the second line before the first. In his edition, Krishna explains that He envies no one and that He is not partial to anyone. He then states that He is equal to all. Prabhupada actually translates samah as “equally disposed” in his word-for-word.
Tripurari Swami translates na me dvesyo ‘sti na priyaha, the second line, as “I hate no one and I favor no one.” “Hate” has been translated from dvesyah. Narayana Maharaja also translates it as “hated,” though chooses the word “inimical” in his verse. Garuda dasa also uses “hated.”
While Srila Prabhupada glosses dvesyah as “hateful,” he choses to verse it as “envy.” This is interesting that he is equating envy with hate. We usually think of envy as a strong form of coveting or even obsessive admiration. But true envy cannot exist without hatred (and often that is also hatred of oneself).
Three of our translators chose the word “dear” from priyah. In their verses, they used “partial” or in Tripurari Swami’s case, “favor.” However, Garuda dasa oddly chose “dearly loved.” His exact line is: “no one is either hated or dearly loved by me.” This seems a bit extreme. True, when something is dear to you, it is loved by you. So it’s not that his translation is incorrect. But saying that God does not love anyone seems a bit misleading.
That is, however, the nature of this verse. It is contradictory. In the first two lines, Krishna is telling us that He is impartial, that He favors nobody over another. But that all changes in the second part of the verse.
With the tiny Sanskrit word tu, Krishna throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing. Tu means “but” or “yet.” So even though all of this may be true, that Krishna is impartial and doesn’t favor one person over another… tu. There is an exception. Who is this exception?
Ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya – However, those who worship Me with devotion….
Devotees of God are the exception.
As Narayana Maharaja and Tripurari Swami translate bhajanti as the more traditional “worship,”
Srila Prabhupada translates bhajanti as “render transcendental service.” All Gaudia-Vaisnavas agree that service to God is worship, but Srila Prabhupada often drove this point home. Here is another such example. Instead of simply translating bhajanti as worship, he translates it as “devotional service.”
I usually enjoy Garuda dasa’s translation. Sometimes it may be quite different from (though never at odds with) the other translations. He truly captures the poetry contained in the Bhagavad-gita. Oddly, In this case I guess I just don’t get it. “Yet those who, with an offering of love, offer their love to me…” The purpose in his translation was to follow the Sanskrit as closely as possible. He nearly always takes it line-by-line, and though he may sometimes choose words that seem strange, he rarely, if ever, departs from the flow of the original poetry like he does here.
Maybe it’s a typo. His typical four lines are now an inexplicable five with two of the lines repeating the same idea. “With an offering of love, offer their love to me” just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe he was trying to decide between the two lines and accidentally left them both in. Though sloppy, that would at least explain it. “Yet those who offer their love to me…” makes sense, even if it has no mention of worship or devotional service. I’m honestly baffled by this one.
Moving on, mayi te tesu capy aham is a very sweet line. I find Srila Prabhupada’s to be the sweetest here: “… is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” Narayana Maharaja puts it similarly, “… are attached to Me, so too am I bound by affection for them.” In the original Sanskrit there is no mention of attachment or friendship. It is simply, as Tripuari Swami and Garuda dasa both put it, “… are in me, and I am also in them.”
We, as Gaudia-Vaisnavas, believe in a personalist philosophy. God isn’t just all around us or somewhere off in heaven. We believe that He is a person and that we have a relationship with Him (and He with us). This verse confirms that if we love God, He reciprocates. While He is fully impartial to everyone, He favors those that favor Him. Isn’t this natural?
Srila Prabhupada concludes his purport by saying, “Devotional service of the Lord is not an activity of this material world; it is part of the spiritual world where eternity, bliss and knowledge predominate.”
All three of the purports to this verse (Garuda dasa’s translation contains only the verses – without commentary) are very worth reading. Any honest student of the Bhagavad-gita would be greatly benefited by obtaining and studying at least these three books.