Swami Nikhilananda. "May this majestic poem find it's way into the familiar literary friendship of many readers and contribute to the sense of spiritual kinship with the most gifted people of Asia, akin to us both in blood and language." From the Foreword by Dr. Hocking
No translation of Plato is definitive; no translation of the Tao Teh King; no translation of the Bhagavad Gita. The more searching and impressive a work, the more it is impossible to convey, in any one version in another tongue, its full meaning. For that reason, the great classics of meditation require ever new translations, and each one adds a facet to the total sense. A new translation is always sufficiently formidable a task to deter anyone lacking in devotion, especially if he is familiar with the labors of his predecessors. A new translation of a great work, by a competent scholar, is therefore to be received with gratitude. It is especially to be welcomed if he has avoided, as I think Swami Nikhilananda has avoided, the warping of new translations by old: where a previous translator has hit upon a happy expression, a later translator is often constrained to avoid that expression, to seek the different solely for the sake of differing. The translation here given seems to me to be natural and direct, conveying the sense in admirably idiomatic English. At the same time, there has been no hesitation about using a few Sanskrit terms, such as dharma, yoga, maya, essentially untranslatable, whose meaning the reader readily acquires.
No one who desires to grasp the spirit of religious aspiration of India can afford to remain unacquainted with this, "The Lord's Song." It is, in a sense, the New Testament of Hinduism. It had an important message to a people whose religious ideal tended to be contemplative and mystical, who had the genius to reveal to the world that ultimate goal for thought and reverence sometimes called "The Absolute," the One without a second. Its message was the meaning of action, the justification even of warfare in the light of union with the Ultimate.
It is therefore the direct answer to those who identify the Indian spirit with that sort of mysticism which involves retreat from the world of affairs. Its position, as that one of the world's classics most intimately known by so many millions, is assurance that its temper is indicative of the inner quality of modern India.
May this majestic poem find its way into the familiar literary friendship of many readers, and contribute to the sense of spiritual kinship with the most gifted people of Asia, akin to us both in blood and in language.
The aim of this new translation of the Bhagavad Gita is to present the book to the English-speaking public of the Western world as a manual of Hindu religion and philosophy. To achieve that purpose, notes and explanations have been added to the text, and the connection of thought between the verses has been shown, wherever that seemed necessary. The explanations follow, in the main, the commentary on the Gita by Sankaracharya. Abstruse and technical portions of the commentary have been omitted as of no particular interest to most readers of the book.
There has also been included the story of the Mahabharata, which will acquaint the student of the Gita with its background and with the character of Sri Krishna. The bewilderment many students feel at the choice of a battle-field for the unfolding of a scheme of the Highest Good and liberation will, it is hoped, be removed by a perusal of the story.
In the Introduction the translator has made an attempt to explain some of the philosophical concepts of the Gita, such as the meaning of duty, its place in the moulding of the spiritual life, and the meaning of action and actionlessness from the relative and the absolute standpoint.
The diacritical table will help Occidental students in the pronunciation of unfamiliar Sanskrit words. The glossary will enable them to understand the meaning of Sanskrit expressions left in the text and notes for want of equivalents in English. It is hoped that they will simplify the problems faced by Westerners in studying the Bhagavad Gita.
There are in existence many English translations of the Bhagavad Gita. The present translator has profitably consulted two of these, one by D. S. Sarma and the other by A. Mahadeva Sastri. In addition, he has looked into Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo. The works of Margaret E. Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy have proved useful in the writing of the story of the Mahabharata. He has also received invaluable help from Mr. Denver Lindley and Mr. Joseph Campbell, who revised the manuscript. It is a real pleasure to acknowledge the translator's indebtedness to them all.
Humanity is now passing through a critical stage of transition. Many branches of physical science, psychology, sociology, and humanism are placing every day at our disposal a wealth of facts of which hitherto we have been unaware. They need collation and synthesis in order to be useful to the life of the individual and society. There is also the primal antithesis between this world and the other world, between secular duties and spiritual values. Men are confused and picture life as full of shreds and patches. But they feel a profound need of seeing life as a seamless garment. To those who sincerely seek, the Bhagavad Gita may be a means of coordinating these apparently contradictory facts.
Arjuna said: Those devotees who, ever steadfast, worship You after this fashion, and those others who worship the Imperishable and Unmanifest-which of these have greater knowledge of yoga?
Ever steadfast-Always united with the Lord through actions performed for the Lord's sake. These devotees have the Lord alone for their support. They constantly meditate on His manifested Universal Form and work as His instruments, surrendering the results to Him.
After this fashion-Referring to the last verse of the preceding chapter (XI, 55).
Those others etc.-Referring to the sannyasis, who renounce all desires and actions in order to realize their oneness with Brahman.
Worship-The word is used here in the sense of meditation or contemplation. It is obvious that worship implying a subject and object cannot be applied to the aspirant seeking the Knowledge of Brahman.
Unmanifest-Inapprehensible by the senses, since Brahman is devoid of all upadhis, or limiting adjuncts.
Aspirants can meditate on the Godhead in two ways. The devotees of the Impersonal Brahman regard It as the incomprehensible, indefinable, formless, relationless, actionless, featureless, attributeless, and transcendental Absolute. The devotees of the Personal God regard the Godhead as the Lord of the universe, the Supreme Person, the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, the omniscient and omnipresent Lord, endowed with the Universal Form and possessed of the great powers of yoga. The Absolute never puts on any form, abstains from all action, enters into no relation with the universe, and is eternally silent and immutable; but the Personal God is our Lord and Master, the Source and Origin of all beings, immanent in all things, manifest in both nature andliving beings as their inmost Self. Both these aspects of the Godhead have been described by Krishna in the Gita, though with an emphasis on the Impersonal aspect in Chapters Two through Ten. The eleventh chapter deals with the Universal Form of the Godhead and ends with an exhortation to Arjuna to worship It as the Lord of the universe. Now Arjuna asks which of the two methods of worship is better: meditation on the Impersonal or worship of the Lord through work and love.
The Lord said: Those who have fixed their minds on Me, and who, ever steadfast and endowed with supreme faith, worship Me-them do I hold to be perfect in yoga.
Me-The Universal Form, which reveals the Godhead as the Supreme Lord of the universe.
Ever steadfast-As described in the last verse of the eleventh chapter.
Supreme faith-By which one sees God in all beings and also in the Absolute.
Worship Me-As the omniscient Lord, free from attachment, aversion, and other evil passions.
Them do I hold etc.-Because they pass their days and nights in the uninterrupted thought of the Lord.
No real contrast is meant between the worshippers of the Personal God and the Impersonal Brahman, as will be explained later on.
Are not the others, then, perfect in yoga? The Lord says that there cannot be any question of their realization of the Godhead:
And those who have completely controlled their senses and are of even mind under all conditions and thus worship the Imperishable, the Ineffable, the Unmanifest, the Omnipresent, the Incomprehensible, the Immutable, the Unchanging, the Eternal-they, devoted to the welfare of all beings, attain Me alone, and none else.
Those-Referring to the all-renouncing sannyasis.
Under all conditions-Whether they meet with agreeable or disagreeable conditions, because they see the Lord in everything.
Worship-That is to say, meditate on Brahman, in accordance with the instructions of the scriptures and the teacher, and dwell uninterruptedly in the current of that one thought. An apt illustration is the unbroken stream of oil when it is poured from one vessel to another.
Immutable-The word "Kutastha" in the text means He who dwells in maya as its Witness, Substratum, and Lord.
Attain Me alone etc.-It needs no emphasizing that the devotees of the Impersonal realize the Godhead alone. It is not necessary to reiterate that they are perfect yogis, since they are one with the Lord Himself. "The man endowed with wisdom I deem to be My very Self." (VII, 18)
But the Path of the Personal God is easier for the majority of men.
The task of those whose minds are set on the Unmanifest is more difficult; for the ideal of the Unmanifest is hard to attain for those who are embodied.
Unmanifest-The indefinable and incomprehensible Absolute.
Is more difficult-Those who seek the Absolute follow a more difficult discipline than the worshippers of the Personal God. The former must practice utmost self-control, renounce the world outwardly and inwardly, wipe out all human emotion and desire, and still the mind in the contemplation of the Absolute. The worshippers of the Personal God have a tangible Ideal of the Lord, to whom they can direct their emotion and love.
Those who are embodied-Those who are conscious of their bodies and attached to them.
Obviously no contrast is meant between the followers of the attributeless Absolute and the worshippers of the Personal God, since both attain the same goal. The path of the Absolute is more difficult; for it requires the complete abandonment of all attachment to the body. The followers of the other path regard their bodies as instruments of God and perform their duties dedicating the results to Him. A devotee conscious of his body and ego cannot easily fix his mind on the Absolute. The more a man realizes himself to be incorporeal Spirit, the easier it becomes for him to think of the Lord as Spirit and Consciousness.
There are two classes of spiritual seekers. Some like to retain their egos, which have been purified by the love and knowledge of God, establish a relationship with the Lord, and enjoy communion with Him through meditation, worship, and service of His devotees. They regard the world and all beings as manifestations of the Lord. They follow the path of affirmation. There are others, however, who desire completely to merge their egos in the Absolute. They follow the steep path of renunciation and denial. Their spiritual discipline culminates in their absorption in what is known as nirvikalpa samadhi, a transcendental experience in which the individual soul becomes one with Brahman. It is said in the Hindu scriptures that, in the case of an ordinary mortal, after that all-annihilating experience the body drops off like a dead leaf. But a few special souls, such as an Incarnation of God and His intimate disciples, can return to the relative plane of consciousness after the attainment of nirvikalpa samadhi and live in the world for the fulfillment of a divine mission. While dealing with the world they feel the presence of an "ego," which is, however, unlike an ordinary ego, because it has been purged of worldliness by the Knowledge of God. Through this "pure ego" they establish an intimate relationship with the Lord and enjoy the company of His devotees. But whenever they want they can merge themselves in the Absolute. They live in the borderland between the Relative and the Absolute. Looking up, they realize the featureless and attributeless Brahman, and looking down, they see the universe of name and form filled with the essence of the Lord.
Both classes of aspirants, the worshippers of the Personal God and the devotees of the Absolute, transcend the sorrow and suffering of the relative world and enjoy the bliss of communion with the Godhead.
Different kinds of liberation are described in the Hindu scriptures. One is called sajujya mukti, a state of liberation in which the individual soul becomes totally unified with the Godhead, no trace of individuality being left. This liberation is sought by the jnani, the follower of the path of knowledge. In the following kinds of liberation the individuality of the soul is retained though it is completely purged of its earthly nture. Attaining salokya mukti, the devotee dwells eternally in the highest heaven with the Lord. In samipya mukti, the devotee always enjoys the nearness of the Lord, his Beloved. Realizing sarshti mukti, the devotee attains equality with the Lord in power and all the divine attributes. The dualists seek one of these three forms of liberation. Peace, blessedness, joy, immortality, absence of worldliness, and freedom from relativity characterize all the forms of liberation.
The worshippers of the Universal Form easily attain perfection through the Lord's grace.
But those who consecrate all their actions to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme Goal, and who worship Me, meditating on Me with single-minded concentration-to them, whose minds are thus absorbed in Me, verily I become ere long, 0 Partha, the Saviour from the death-fraught ocean of the world.
Me-The Lord of the universe.
Single-minded concentration-Because to them the Lord alone is real and the world illusory.
Death-fraught-Life in the world is only another phase of death.
Ocean of the world-It is as hard to cross the world as it is to cross the ocean.
The disciplines of the followers of the Absolute consist in discrimination and renunciation, and also in learning the Truth from the teacher and the scriptures, and reasoning, and contemplation. The devotees of the Universal Form worship the Lord with love, dedicate all actions to Him, and meditate on Him with unswerving devotion. These latter, through the Lord's grace, very soon attain liberation from the suffering and death of mortal life,
Fix your mind on Me alone, rest your thought on Me alone, and in Me alone you will live hereafter. Of this there is no doubt.
Mind-The internal organ of knowledge that thinks about the pros and cons of a matter.
Me-The Lord in His Universal Form.
Thought-The word in the text is "buddhi," which means the determinative faculty, by which doubt created by the mind is destroyed and a decision arrived at.
Hereafter-After the death of the body. If a devotee, while alive, thinks of the Lord alone with all his heart and soul, he attains Him after death.
The Lord suggests a simple discipline for those who cannot follow the hard path:
If you are unable to fix your mind steadily on Me, 0 Dhananjaya, then seek to reach Me by the yoga of constant practice.
The yoga of constant practice-Practice consists in withdrawing the thought from all objects and fixing it, again and again, on one ideal. The "yoga of constant practice" means the steadfastness of mind acquired by such practice.
If a devotee finds it impossible to fix his mind on the Universal Form, he is asked to worship a tangible symbol, such as an image of God, and meditate on it in his heart, and thus through repeated practice acquire a steadiness of thought that can be directed to the Lord.
If you are incapable of constant practice, then devote yourself to My service. For even by rendering service to Me you will attain perfection.
My service-Such external forms of worship as repeating the name and the glories of the Lord, listening to His glories sung by others, observing fasts and other austerities, showing reverence to His images, and offering the Lord flowers, food, perfume, and so on; or the service of the Lord may mean any action that is done for His sake only. Through such service purity of mind is attained, which is followed by steadiness, knowledge of the Lord, and realization of Him.
If you are unable to do even this, then be self-controlled, surrender the fruit of all action, and take refuge in Me.
Be self-controlled-Control the lower self, or the ego, which craves the fruit of action.
Surrender the fruit etc.-If the devotee does not seek the fruit of action, his mind remains free to remember the Lord.
The practice of indifference to the fruit of action and its surrender to the Lord set the devotee on the spiritual path.
The yoga of desireless action is extolled:
Knowledge is better than practice, and meditation is better than knowledge. Renunciation of the fruit of action is better than meditation; peace immediately follows such renunciation.
Knowledge-Of the truth behind things.
Practice-The act of listening to the teachings of the scriptures with a view to obtaining knowledge; or the word may mean the practice of meditation with a firm resolve. Knowledge is better than mere practice that is not accompanied with discrimination.
Meditation is better etc.-Meditation based on knowledge is superior to mere knowledge.
Renunciation of the fruit etc.-When a devotee, practicing self-control and seeking refuge in the Lord, renounces the fruit of action, he immediately attains inner calm and peace. For one tranquil in heart the cessation of ignorance comes without delay.
The abandonment of the fruit of action, taught as a means to Divine Bliss, applies to an ignorant person who, unable to follow the paths rcommended before, engages in work. This abandonment is extolled in the text because the path of action is intended to be taught here. The renunciation of desires brings peace immediately to the ignorant person engaged in work, and also to the enlightened aspirant who is steadily devoted to meditation. Therefore the renunciation of desires is a common factor in the attainment of peace both for the ignorant and for the enlightened, and hence is extolled by Sri Krishna.
Two methods of worship have been discussed: the worship of the Universal Form and the worship of the immutable Absolute. The former, meant for the beginner, emphasizes action for the Lord's sake and presupposes a distinction between the Lord and the individual soul. The Lord is the deliverer of these worshippers. The other method of worship is meant for the jnanis who do not see any distinction between the Lord and the individual soul. They do not depend on any external being for their liberation, since they realize that the whole universe lies in the Self. These two paths of worship are different, though in the long run they bring the same result of liberation to their respective followers. Behind the immutable Absolute and the Universal Form lies the same Godhead. The following verses describe the attributes of the worshippers of the Absolute through which they directly attain immortality. Only the allrenouncing sannyasis can practice these virtues in full.
He who never hates any being and is friendly and compassionate to all, who is free from the feelings of "I" and "mine" and even-minded in pain and pleasure, who is forbearing, ever content, and steady in contemplation, who is self-controlled and possessed of firm conviction, and who has consecrated his mind and understanding to Me-dear to Me is the one who is thus devoted to Me.
Never hates any being-Even those who cause him pain; for he regards all creatures as himself.
Friendly and compassionate to all-He, a sannyasi, has given assurance of fearlessness to all. In his heart a universal love dwells, and from it a universal compassion flows.
Even-minded etc.-Pain and pleasure do not cause in him hatred and attachment.
Ever content-He is satisfied, whether he obtains the means of bodily sustenance or not.
Firm conviction-Regarding the essential nature of the Self.
He is a soul of Peace with whom all are at Peace.
He by whom the world is not afflicted and whom the world cannot afflict, he who is free from joy and anger, fear and anxiety-he is dear to Me.
Who is free etc.-Because he is detached from his constantly agitated lower nature, he is free from its waves of joy, fear, anxiety, anger, and desire, and is the embodiment of calm.
He who is free from dependence, who is pure and prompt, unconcerned and untroubled, and who has renounced all undertakings-dear to Me is the man who is thus devoted to Me.
Dependence-Upon the body, the senses, objects, and their mutual connections.
Pure-Both outwardly and inwardly. Outward purity is obtained through washing, and inward purity through self-control. Patanjali states that an aspirant desirous of attaining inner purity should show friendship toward the happy, mercy toward the unhappy, gladness toward the good, and indifference toward the evil.
Prompt-Able to decide rightly and instantly about matters demanding immediate action. The word may also mean vigilant.
Unconcerned-Impartial even in the affairs of a friend.
All undertakings Calculated to secure objects of desire, whether of this world or the next; all egotistic and personal initiative. A devotee lets the divine will flow through him undeflected by his own desires and preferences; and yet for that very reason he is swift and skilful in all actions. The divine will and intelligence working through him enable him to accomplish all actions rightly and promptly.
He who rejoices not and hates not, who grieves not and desires not, who has renounced both good and evil and is full of devotion-he is dear to Me.
Rejoices not-On attaining what is desirable.
Hates not-The undesirable.
Grieves not-On parting with a beloved object.
Desires not-The unattained.
Renounced both good and evil-Because a devotee regards all things coming from God as good.
The Lord stresses sameness, desirelessness, and freedom from the claims of the lower egotistic nature as the foundation of spiritual life:
He who is alike to foe and friend, unaltered in honour and dishonour; who is the same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain; who is free from attachment, who is unchanged by praise and blame; who is silent, content with whatever he has, homeless, firm of mind, and full of devotion-that man is dear to Me.
Alike to foe and friend etc.-It is a man's attachment to worldly things that fosters the idea of enmity, friendship, etc.
The same in cold and heat etc.-These pairs affect worldly persons alone.
Content with whatever he has-Content with the bare means of sustenance.
The enumeration of the virtues of a sannyasi is concluded:
Exceedingly dear to Me are they who regard Me as the Supreme Goal and, endowed with faith and devotion, follow this Immortal Dharma.
This Immortal Dharma-The law of life that confers upon its follower the boon of Immortality, and that has been described above, beginning with XII, 13.
Since he who practices the virtues described in XII, 13, and the following verses is exceedingly dear to the Lord, they should be cherished by all seekers of liberation and all those who desire to enjoy the supreme Blessedness.
Thus in the Bhagavad Gita, the Essence of the Upanishads, the Science of Brahman, the Scripture of Yoga, the Dialogue between Sri Krishna and ,Arjuna, ends the Twelfth Chapter, entitled:
The Way of Divine Love