By Yadavendra Das (ACBSP), Adelaide, Australia, January 2015
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, more familiarly known as “Srila Prabhupada”, is the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna consciousness (ISKCON) – originally incorporated under the religious act of the state of New York in July 1966 – and is the institutor of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), as well as the translator and commentator of Bhagavad-Gita As It Is.
“Bhagavad Gita As It Is” is a most powerful, fascinating and redemptory book, being the words of God or Krishna Himself, as well as the words of His accredited representative and current link in the chain of disciplic succession, called “parampara” in Sanskrit language.
To this effect verse 24 of chapter 13 states that:
“One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity and the interaction of the modes of nature is sure to attain liberation. He will not take birth here again, regardless of his present position.”
The popularity and attraction of this transcendental opus is evidenced by the more than 650 versions and translations in existence throughout the world. Bhagavad-Gita was also Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite book. We are however concerned with Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, not Bhagavad-Gita as some unauthorized and upstart mundaner, seeking name and fame, has interpreted. We are not interested in its foreign, indirect, empiric and speculative interpretation. We are interested in the direct meaning of Bhagavad-Gita. Bhagavad-Gita is like the sun, which does not require help from any other light.
“I wish that the American people may try to understand Bhagavad-Gita in terms of its direct meaning. Let it not be unnecessarily misunderstood by the empiric speculative method for making a show of the vanity of so called learning without any living experience. Such academic erudition has nothing to do with the living reality.
I wish to present an analytical study of Bhagavad Gita as it is. If your people can grasp the direct meaning of Bhagavad-Gita it will be possible for us all to know the basic principle of cosmic harmony. When that is done we shall know that all adjustment of our existence is not only peaceful but an eternal bliss distinguished from the ephemeral temporary sensual satisfaction. We shall then only know that here is a world where there is no struggle for existence and every living entity, never mind what it is, is fit to exist.” Srila Prabhupada letter dated at Allahabad, 14 September 1951 to Mr. Bailey of The American Reporter. (Typed version as opposed to handwritten version.)
Because these are the words of God or Krishna Himself, liberally and affectionately inviting the living entity to resolve its hopeless and complex entanglement within this material world, it is important that this communication be presented verbatim, as well as strictly according to the letter and the spirit of the authorized commentator, without any unauthorized changes, accidental or intended, as to completely fulfill the meaning of the expression AS IT IS found in its title and intently placed there by the commentator.
It is also important of course, that such eminent text be presented in proper language, be it English or non-English.
There is an ongoing confusion and discord, as to which Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, hereunder abbreviated as BGAII, is the better and more faithful presentation. Recently, while on book distribution on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, during a conversation with a lady aspiring for ISKCON initiation, I was again reminded of this fact. Thanks to her, I have come to realize the need to extend the scope of the present article. I was going to start the third previous sentence with “unfortunately” but there is absolutely nothing “unfortunate” about Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Everything is transcendentally fortunate about it, including confusions and discords. Such is the nature and power of Bhagavad-Gita!
The current version two (V2) edition of Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, also called “Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged”, replaced version one (V1), also called “Complete Edition”, in 1983. V 1 was originally introduced to the market in 1972 in New York.
By careful and informed comparative analysis of the two Gitas, the investigating reader will progressively come to a conclusion, which I may personally phrase as follows:
Bhagavad Gita As It Is version 1, also called “Complete Edition”, is not only riddled with a myriad of mistakes but also innumerable elements of information contained in the original Sanskrit text are lost in its English rendition. To put it frankly and succinctly: Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, version one is simply and truly an embarrassment to Srila Prabhupada. This state of affairs is due to the early rush-and-confusion foundational days of the Hare Krishna Movement.
Please allow me to back up my statements with relevant evidence:
Text 18.44 of BGAII V1 still reads “… cattle raising..”, whereas Srila Prabhupada, while still present with us, clearly requested some forty years ago that this asuric expression be replaced with the Vedic concept of cow protection. To say it positively, this is an indication of the competence of proponents of BGAII V1.
There are innumerable other mistakes. For illustration purposes, let me mention just a few of them as follows:
Edition 1, 4.20, word for word, gives: nirashrayah- without any center.
Clearly someone has been misled by Srila Prabhupada’s Bengali accent. In ISKCON circles it is common knowledge that “ashraya” means shelter. His Holiness Jayadvaita Swami has corrected this mistake: “without any shelter.”
Translation 4.28 of version 1 is misleading and proposes an impossible task. It gives the reader the false impression that there are only two classes of endeavoring transcendentalists, when in fact there are four classes enumerated in this verse, as nicely explained in version 2.
8.2 Purport. The first sentence in V1 is meaningless. Version 2 has corrected, “Lord of sacrifice” may refer to either Indra or Vishnu.” which is unequivocally confirmed by the following sentences of the purport.
The long list goes on. But perhaps the worst mistake of all in BGAII V1 is the rendition of 6.47, which makes the commentator look inconsequent.
He clearly writes in the purport that: “The English word “worship” cannot be used in the same sense as bhaj.”
But V1 gives: “worshiping Me in transcendental loving service.” This rendition is NOT Srila Prabhupada’s, Who is eminently consequent. It makes Him look like an ordinary, careless word juggler under the influence of the three modes of material nature, instead of the transcendental personality that He really is, situated above the four defects of the conditioned souls and planning and implementing the salvation of humankind. One may argue that “worship” is qualified as “worship in transcendental loving service.” That is true. But the best policy is to remove the word “worship” altogether, as HH Jayadvatia Swami has so wisely done.
Besides that V1 omits “ antah-atmana” or “thinks of Me within himself”, as well as “matah” or “is considered”. It is therefore incomplete as well. Similar omissions are found throughout the whole of version one. If this particular example is not sufficient to convince that version two is the better version, then I do not know what will convince.
Version 1 protagonist’s claim that V1 is the original, Prabhupada-faithful version has no real foundation and can therefore not be taken seriously. The time has come to archive version 1 of Bhagavad-Gita As It Is and replace it with version 2!
As far as we understand, His Holiness Jayadvaita Maharaja is the main force behind the revision. Let us remember that Srila Prabhupada Himself gave him a strong editor’s endorsement in a letter dated September 7th 1976: “Concerning the editing of Jayadvaita Prabhu, whatever he does is approved by me. I have confidence in him. Your changes which I have seen of the Sanskrit synonyms are also approved by me.” 760907let.Radhaballabha
We clearly owe a debt of gratitude to His Holiness for the excellent improvement he has contributed to the formulation of Bhagavad-Gita As It Is version 2. All glories to his service!
There are still, however, quite a number of unresolved questions that one may have about the current presentation of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As It Is V2.
On innumerable occasions, the author of this article has tried to engage in a dialogue with relevant ISKCON and Bhaktivedanta Book Trust authorities but on most occasions it ended with silence and / or status quo and these matters remain unresolved to this date. This is not a healthy state of affairs.
Srila Prabhupada writes in Purport to Text 1 of “Nectar of Instruction” “Silence may appear helpful for some time, but ultimately it proves a failure.” He also writes in Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.18, purport: “The Vedic system of acquiring knowledge is the deductive process. The Vedic knowledge is received perfectly by disciplic succession from authorities. Such knowledge is never dogmatic, as ill conceived by less intelligent persons. The mother is the authority to verify the identity of the father. She is the authority for such confidential knowledge. Therefore, authority is not dogmatic.”
I do not wish to burden my exalted readers with too many technicalities and shall restrict myself to a few prominent points only as follows:
We may for example ask: Did Sri Krishna 5000 years ago, on the battlefield of Kurushetra, say dharmyamritam or did He say dharmamritam (12.20). Gita Press version says Dharmyamritam. BGAII V1 says the same. BGAII V2 says dharmamritam. Which is correct and how does it affect the meaning? To a Sanskrit scholar this question may seem elementary and the answer self-evident. But for a layperson such as this humble self, it is legitimate. HH Jayadvaita Swami answered this question by saying: It doesn’t really matter. It makes no difference. The counter question will then be: “Why then change it in the first place?”
We may ask: Why does V2 title chapter six “Dhyana Yoga”, when there is ample evidence that Srila Prabhupada, the commentator, wanted this particular chapter to be called “Sankhya Yoga”?
CAPITALIZATION. As far as the spelling of Bhagavad-Gita goes both “Bhagavad-Gita” and “Bhagavad-gita” seem to be accepted, even though my MacBook Pro computer demands Bhagavad-Gita with capital letter for “Gita”. Srila Prabhupada Himself writes “Bhagwat-Gita” with a capital “G” a dozen times or so in letter dated June 22nd 1951 to Sri R .Prakash, as well as seven times in 510914let.Bailey, which leaves no doubt about the desired spelling. There are other issues regarding restrictive use of capital letters and it would appear that the editor has misinterpreted Srila Prabhupada’s directive in this realm. Why should “who” in the expression “the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who….” be lower case? To show due respect, it should be capital letter! The current presentation of BGAII 8.22 illustrates this contradictory use of capital letters very well. “Him”, “His” and “He” are capitalised, but “who” is lower case. In such instances, Srila Prabhupada Himself or His secretaries would use capital letter for “Who”. Please see 670314let.Brahmananda for example. The same will apply to pronouns and possessives referring to the Spiritual Master, as “the Spiritual Master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord” (Gurvastaka, stanza 7.) And if, as the editor has stated, the preferred editorial policy is “down style”, then why do we find “Grandfather” in BGAII 1.8; 1.10 & 1.11, why do we find “Sankhya” in BGAII 5.4, all with capital letters?
7.18 states “My own self”.
The possessive article “My” is capital but the possessor “self” to whom the article refers, is lower case. This will be a contradiction to any person with some common sense. We don’t find such contradiction in BGAII 9.5 though, which contains the expression “My Self” as well.
In the first sentence of purport 13.3, clearly “knower” should be plural, if only from a grammatical point of view. There are two knowers: the soul and the Supersoul. The soul and the Supersoul are never one in all respects. Advaita philosophy falsely claims that the soul and the Supersoul are one. This conclusion is firmly rejected by the Vaishnava school. The Vaishnava school espouses the spiritual dialectism of simultaneous oneness and difference of the soul and Supersoul, one in quality and vastly distinct in quantity. The editor often seems to have difficulty to differentiate between the individual soul and the Supersoul. We often find such confused tinge of monism in version 2.
And why not use plural for “knowers” in the translation as well? “…to understand this body and its knower(s) is called knowledge…” However the opposition may argue, there is something wrong here.
7.2 V1 reads: “I shall now declare unto you in full this knowledge, both phenomenal and noumenal…”
7.2 V2 reads:” I shall now declare unto you in full this knowledge, both phenomenal and numinous…”
Which is correct and why? We know that generally “phenomenal” and “noumenal” are associated in philosophical (con) texts but “phenomenal” along with “numinous” together is a new creation indeed.
9.34, 11.55 and probably other verses as well: why does the English text not follow the Sanskrit order of enumeration?
10.34 Purport. Here we seem to have a deliberate departure from Srila Pabhupada intentions and spirit, a kind of a betrayal.
BGAII V1: One need not read many books on different subject matters; the ability to remember a few and quote them when necessary is also another opulence.
BGAII V2: And the ability not only to read many books on different subject matters, but to understand them and apply them when necessary is intelligence (medha), another opulence.
“In this way, if we can simply understand one book, or one sloka, the perfection is there. Lord Caitanya warned about reading too many books, although I see in America this is very popular to get volumes and volumes of books and not understand one.” 680217let.Pradyumna
Just read Srimad-Bhagavatam, our three volumes, regularly and repeatedly. It is no use reading many books, it is better to assimilate one book and that is sufficient. 680610let.Harivilasa
16.7 How are we to be believe that in the word for word, “pravrittim” and “nivrittim” have a similar meaning (two negations equal a positive affirmation), whereas the meaning is rightly opposite in the translation? (These two words are properly translated as opposites in both word for word and translation in 18.30)
We may ask why in verse 18.66 the Sanskrit word ekam has no equivalent in either English version? Not only is the emphasis in the Sanskrit text existent and self-evident, but Srila Prabhupada also gives the following translation in 741228let.MyDearSons:
” Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, chapter 18; sarva-dharman parityajya, mam ekam saranam vraja, aham tvam sarva-papebhyo, moksayisyami ma sucah [Bg. 18.66]. So why you want to worship someone else? Krsna, Himself, recommends mam ekam, he alone.“
We may therefore infer that he following English rendition will be most appropriate and most pleasing to the Supreme Personality of Godhead as suggested by His representative, Srila Prabhupada:
” Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me alone. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
Finally we have practical experience that the General Index of V 2 needs substantial improvement and so does Vedabase to some extend.
As far as the great Caitanya Caritamrta by Krishna Das Kaviraja Goswami is concerned, translated and commented upon by Srila Prabhupada, it would appear that the cautious and wisest approach would be to stick with version one. (V1)
CCM 15.106, purport, original version says:
“…The name Krishna is the personification of sound perfectly transcendental and eternally liberated from material contamination…”
This is a passage of perfect eloquence!
Unfortunately it has been changed it to:
“That name is Krishna personified in sound and is therefore perfectly transcendental and eternally liberated from material contamination.”
According to the logic of the rice cooking where one need only examine one grain of rice to test the cooking’s advancement, we may conclude that the better version will be version one.
In conclusion and for the sake of a united next wave of assault on the forces of Maya Devi in this material world, I appeal herewith to the good sense and faithfulness of all followers of Srila Prabhupada in all countries of the world, who are still unduly and overly attached to BGAII V1, to archive BGAII V1 and progressively switch now to BGAII V2. By the Lord’s inconceivable arrangement BGAII is a work in progress and BGAII V 2 is undoubtedly the best rendition we have at this point of time.
“The yogi who is progressive is therefore on the true path of eternal good fortune. One who sticks to a particular point and does not make further progress is called by that particular name: karma-yogi, jnana-yogi or dhyana-yogi, raja-yogi, hatha-yogi, etc. If one is fortunate enough to come to the point of bhakti-yoga, it is to be understood that he has surpassed all other yogas. Therefore, to become Krishna conscious is the highest stage of yoga, just as, when we speak of Himalayan, we refer to the world’s highest mountains, of which the highest peak, Mount Everest, is considered to be the culmination.” BGAII 6.47, purport.
“Prabhupadanugas of all countries, please unite under the one banner of Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, Second Edition Revised and Enlarged!”
(My own appeal)
“In this present day, people are very much eager to have one scripture, one God, one religion, and one occupation. Therefore, ekam shastram devaki-putra-gitam: let there be one scripture only, one common scripture for the whole world-Bhagavad-Gita. Eko devo devaki-putra eva: let there be one God for the whole world – Sri Krishna. Eko mantras tasya namani: and one hymn, one mantra, one prayer—the chanting of His name:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Karmapy ekam tasya devasya seva: and let there be one work only—the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
(Final words of introduction, BGAII.)
All glories to Lord Caitanya’s Sankirtana Movement! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!