Bhagavad-Gita is a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, narrated by the Bhisma-Parva of the Mahabharata. It is 18 chapters long, totaling 701 Sanskrit verses. Within these verses is found the basis for the path of spiritual enlightenment. It is highly symbolic and much is left to the interpretation of the reader.
The Bhagavad-Gita was originally written in Sanskrit as early as 200 BC. Since then, there have been many translations written in English and many other languages. Translations are subject to the translator's personal experiences and beliefs. It is difficult to determine which translation would be considered authoritative in light of these differences. Word choice in translation may effect the overall nuance or meaning of the piece. For this reason, many authors have included a commentary on their particular translation of the work. This commentary simply explains their perspective on the piece in order to give the reader a better understanding of their translation. There have been hundreds of commentaries written on the Bhavigdad Gita by many renowned authors and philosophers from many perspectives.
The Bhavagdad-Gita is a work, which reaches across many ages and cultures. It is able to do this because it has an outward story, the story of a civil war and of a master and student. But it also has a much deeper meaning hidden in the symbolism of the text. It is this symbolic meaning that makes it applicable to many persons and situations. This makes it a myth containing archetypal images much the same as the Norse Sagas and Greek Myths. The principles and concepts are many levels deep, which makes this truly a classical work.
As stated before, the Bhavagdad-Gita is 18 Chapters in length. The symbolism contained in those 18 Chapters is much too extensive for the scope of this work. Therefore only the First chapter will be considered. The translator may choose different words of similar meaning for their translation. When taken in the context of a mythological work, this could have an effect on the mythological archetypes presented. This research will involve comparing translations of five commentators of the first chapter of text. The work will be examined to learn if the translation indeed does have an effect on the overall meaning of the work.
A popular translation, first printed in 1938 by T. Subba Row, discusses the evolution of nature as being compared with the progress of a man's spiritual development.
He compared the forces in nature with the forces within in a man, those abilities, which are locked inside him. The cosmos represents the forces that are outside of his control. He mentions seven stages of development. This is source of disagreement among translations, as some report that there are eight stages of development. It would seem as if this is a matter of definition, as the other elements seem to coincide.
Geofrey Wells and Samuel Boothby discuss the absolute principles of society as found in Maharashi's commentary. Maharashi argues that the evolutionary principle is representative of an individual within a society and that the cosmos is representative of the larger society acting on the actions of an individual. The cosmos represents the larger web of society and family and that war and conflict arise from the individual acting outside the prescribed principles set forth by the larger fabric. If individuals think and act inside of natural law, there would be no war.
Both of these commentaries agree in the concept that the earth is representative of a smaller force and that the cosmos is representative of a larger, more structured force. However, Maharashi's concept contains more structure than does Row's model. Row's model views the large force as outside influences on a person's life, but does not give them as much structure as Maharashi. They are representative of a smaller force working inside a larger force. This is a good example of how two different translators and commentaries can view the same symbolism in a different manner.
Sanderson Beck offers a very symbolic representation of the concepts in the Bhavagdad -Gita, but it still has the same thread of the smaller object being represented by earthly symbolism and a larger object as being represented by the cosmos. His interpretation is more spiritual in nature. In his interpretation the earthly objects are represented by man and the cosmos as representative of God. He expands the concept to encompass the idea that man exists within the larger being of God and therefore is a part of God. He also explores the idea that man is a part of the larger fabric that makes up God. Therefore the possibilities of growth for man are endless. It embraces that concept that God is in everything and everything is in God. This demonstrates how the same symbolism can have a more spiritual meaning as contrasted to the very earthly meaning of an individual and society described in Maharashi. In addition, Sanderson divides the development of man into eight steps.
William Quan Judge produced a very unusual sounding version of the Bhavagdad-Gita. Upon first reading, his version sounds like a poorly presented version of Shakespeare. This translation gives the work a very Western sounding air, reminding one of the battles in King Henry or some other such work. The interpretation is very descriptive and contains the symbolism, but focuses on the actions of the battle itself and leaves the symbolism of the other commentaries mentioned in this work in obscurity. As the thesis being presented centered around how the experiences, beliefs and perspectives of the translator and commentator could influence the final product, this work is a fine example for comparison to other more eastern perspectives. When translating the same passage, he barely mentions the symbolism of earth and the cosmos presented by the other two three commentators mentioned, instead choosing to focus on the battle itself. This made it have a similarity in style to the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
Ramanand Prasad presents another western view of the Bhavagdad-Gita. It is less Shakespearean in nature. It was included to illustrate the effect that the translator's surrounding has on the final product. The language is more modern in nature, it makes an attempt at sounding Bible-like in language, but instead presents an analytical, scientific view of the battle. It too misses the symbolism in the earth and cosmos.
Five commentators have been presented in this research to illustrate the importance of not taking the views of one commentator as being authoritative. The first three commentators present an eastern view of the Bhavagdad-Gita. Eventhough these three commentators are of like mind, they still illustrate that there are vast individual differences in the interpretation of the symbolism of the first chapter.
The last two commentators contrasted with the first three in that they are clearly presenting a western perspective. They present two versions of Chapter 1 with the main differences being the style and time period of the writing style. They both miss the meaning of the symbolism of the earth and cosmos presented as an important major theme of the eastern commentators. They both focus on a cold representative account of the battle presented in a style consistent with contemporary writers of their time.
There are hundreds of translations and commentaries written on the Bhavagdad-Gita. Each translator brings with them their own experiences and beliefs. They then work these beliefs into their translations. One cannot write outside the realm of their own experience. Therefore, they all offer a glimpse and historical perspective into the work in relation to the time for which they were writing. Writer wishes to be read, therefore, they write specifically for their audience. They seldom put in ideas that would be controversial in their time.
Only five examples have been presented here, but it is certain that every translation and commentary would show just as vast a difference in ideals as the others. It is therefore almost impossible to take the word of anyone who claims to be an authority on the Bhavagdad-Gita. These differences in perspective and disagreements in translation further support the idea that it is an archetypal work, which is representative of human nature. The work of Judge in contrast with the work of Prasad demonstrate that the work stands through many time periods. Commentaries exist from the 6th century AD and throughout the middle ages. Each reflects the popular ideas of the time and presents the Bhavagdad-Gita in relation to the surroundings of he author.
In analyzing these perspectives, everyone will tend to choose an author who best represents his or her own ideas. With many versions available, it is certain that everyone will find something that fits. Only the first chapter was analyzed here for comparison sake. However, it would stand to reason that if these profound differences exist in a fairly straightforward battle scene, they would be even more striking when presenting ideas for which eastern and western philosophy disagree as in the case of reincarnation and the principles…