Interpretation of some verses in the Gita

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    Hare Krishna Sir

    In the verses BG 2.49 and BG 2.50 (also in purport of BG 2.39), Srila Prabhupada translates buddhi yoga as devotional service. This is often criticized by some as being a distorted translation/interpretation. Can you please explain why this translation was done in this way?


    Prabhupada is a genius, and everyone else is not.

    Let’s begin with the difference between manasbuddhiahaṃkāra, and mahat. These are loosely translated as mind, intellect, ego, and morality. I will try to do a summary description, and for more, you can read Sāñkhya Sūtra. The mind is the capacity for thinking, feeling, and willing. These three capacities are also the reflections of the soul, but the mind combines them. Thinking is the reflection of the chit, which can be true or false. Feeling is the reflection of ānanda, which can be good or bad. Willing is the reflection of sat, which can be right or wrong. These three capacities are the content of the mind. Additionally, there are three instruments of judgment. Intellect is the instrument of judging true vs. false; Ego is the instrument of judging good vs. bad; Morality is the instrument of judging right and wrong.

    When the mind is completely purified, then the instruments of judgment are not needed. That is, whatever a pure mind thinks is true; whatever a pure mind feels is good; whatever a pure mind does is right. For an impure mind, there is a separation between mind, intellect, ego, and morality, but for a pure mind, these distinctions are not required because the thinking, feeling, and willing are pure.

    The process of judgment of truth involves some beliefs; we judge something to be true if it aligns with our beliefs; anything that doesn’t align with our beliefs is considered false. Therefore, the intellect is not just the instrument of judgment, but it needs to compare the thought to beliefs and evaluate if they are compatible with the beliefs before it decides if they are true. Hence, a perfect intellect must also have the perfect beliefs. Similarly, the ego is not just the instrument of judging what is good; it is also the repository of what defines good. The ego compares the good in anything to the preexisting idea of good. Generally, everyone’s idea of good is themselves. Hence, this idea of goodness is equated to the self-identity or one’s conception of the self. Finally, morality is not just the instrument of judging what is right; it is also the repository of what defines right. Morality compares the rightness in anything by comparing it to the preexisting idea of rightness.

    The concepts of truth, right, and good cannot be defined independently of each other. A greater truth is that which is also right and good. A greater good is what is also true and right. A greater right is that which is true and good. Hence, to judge the perfect truth, we must know the perfect right and good, resolve the contradictions between those things that may just be true, but not right and good, or maybe just right, but may not be true and good, or maybe just good but may not be true and right. Thus, in another way, we conclude that if the mind is purified, these things that may just be one of the three (true, right, and good) are not the highest in their respective areas. Only that which is simultaneously true, right, and good is also the perfect truth, highest right, and greatest good.

    That greatest good, highest right, and perfect truth is Kṛṣṇa. So, one may try to judge the greatest truth, but it can be false. One may try to judge the greatest good, but they may be bad. One may try to judge the highest right, but it may be wrong. Using one’s capacity for judgment is not a guarantee that one will arrive at the perfect truth, right, and good. That guarantee is only given when one is devoted to Kṛṣṇa. There is no other guarantee. There is no philosophy for guarantees.

    Hence, when we talk about karma-yoga, one can avoid sinful activities only when one is devoted to Kṛṣṇa. Everyone else may try to do karma-yoga but if they are not devoted to Kṛṣṇa then they will make many mistakes, incur adverse karma, and then suffer. Similarly, when we talk about jñāna-yoga, one can try to find the truth on their own, but there is no guarantee that they will find it; more likely than not, they will end up with falsehoods; they may teach that falsehood by which they will again incur adverse karma and both the teacher and follower will suffer. Similarly, when we talk about aśtānga-yoga, we can try very hard but there is no guarantee of success. Most of the time, the yogi falls from the path, unless he is devoted to Kṛṣṇa.

    Therefore, if you want a guarantee of success, then you have to add bhakti-yoga to everything. Otherwise, there is no guarantee, the chances of failure are very high, and due to that failure, the chances of abandoning the path are also very high. Those who haven’t practiced these things seriously, and are just superficially talking about these things don’t know how high the chances of failure are. As Kṛṣṇa says: Out of thousands of men, hardly one endeavors toward perfection. Out of thousands endeavoring, hardly one attains perfection. And out of thousands who have attained perfection, hardly one knows Me. This is because even when they do various kinds of yoga, they think that they can succeed but all that thinking is just imagination. It is not the truth. The truth is that the chances of failure are very high, and success is guaranteed only when one has surrendered to Kṛṣṇa.

    One who has attained perfection knows how important bhakti-yoga is to everything else. Those who haven’t attained perfection, or may have made some progress, but are linearly projecting it into the future, are welcome to keep trying, failing, rising, and falling. They don’t know how powerful the material energy is, how deep the contamination is, and how each progressive step gets harder. One cannot survive this hardship without the grace of Kṛṣṇa. On the other hand, for those who have taken shelter of the Lord, the material ocean becomes as big as the puddle of water made by the footprint of a calf. An ocean becomes a puddle of water.

    The great gurus always make everything about bhakti, because they know that people cannot cross an ocean on their own. Those who understand how the truth progresses from true to truer to truest also know that unless one knows Kṛṣṇa, one may just be stuck at truth, and not progress to what is truer or truest. Someone who hasn’t purified the mind still has a conflict between true, right, and good. He cannot figure out what to prioritize and when. Finally, he doesn’t know that even to consider something true, one has to compare it to the belief of what is the truest. If one doesn’t even have an idea of what is truest, then he will never judge correctly.

    So, the question comes down to this: What is buddhi-yoga? Even a thief has some intelligence, which he uses to steal efficiently. We don’t say that a thief is always foolish. But that is not buddhi-yoga. That is just buddhi. Buddhi-yoga is only that which has the perfect belief that Kṛṣṇa is the highest truth. Once you know that Kṛṣṇa is the highest truth, then you can compare everything against the Kṛṣṇa-standard to measure how much truth is there in it. Since people don’t know the difference between buddhi and buddhi-yoga, they might have the confusion about translating it as bhakti-yoga or devotional service. But that is only because one’s belief system, and standard of measurement of truth, are not Kṛṣṇa.

    Prabhupada’s genius was to recognize that even as karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, and aśtānga-yoga are prescribed as different paths, there is no guarantee of success unless bhakti is added. His genius was also to recognize that in the perfectional state, there is only one highest true, right, and good. Everyone else is judging true, right, and good with many mistakes. Only a devotee can judge the truth, right, and good because he has the perfect picture of true, right, and good in his heart. Hence, he translates every kind of yoga as bhakti-yoga. This is a higher-level realization of those who have attained perfection, seen many people try and fail, and then come to their senses after considerable frustration. He is saving everyone from that frustration. But everyone may not appreciate that because they haven’t yet tried and failed dozens of times. This is just their first trial, and they think they will succeed. But let them try and fail a hundred times and they will come to their senses.

    Yet another point about these translations is that one who knows the speaker knows what he means when he says everything. Those who don’t know the speaker just open a dictionary and analyze the grammar to infer what the speaker is saying. You can go to a guru and ask him something very arrogantly and the guru may just nod in approval. That nod is not to be interpreted as approval. One who knows the person knows what he is thinking when he is nodding. In the same way, one who knows Kṛṣṇa knows that He is saying. If you disagree, you can go to the end of the Bhagavad-gita and find the same answer. You cannot say that the author who spoke the last words was ignorant of those words until the end. But He did not say those things until He was sure that the person listening deserves it explicitly.

    Kṛṣṇa is very shy. He is very bold in declaring the glory of His devotees, but He is very shy in declaring His glory. So, He declares His glory at the end, namely, that He is above the law of karma, dharma, yoga, etc. Similarly, the devotees of the Lord are very bold in declaring the glories of the Lord, and hence they translate everything as bhakti. But they are very shy in declaring their own glory. They don’t say how high a position they have attained by their devotion and others are nothing compared to them. In this way, the relationship between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees is very pleasing. Both are shy to declare their own glory and both are very boldly declaring the other person’s glory. Those who can understand this mood between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees will have no problem understanding. Everyone else can analyze with a million-word Sanskrit dictionary, thousands of rules of grammar, study dozens of commentaries, and then interpret it in thousand ways. That may even be true. But it will not be truer and truest. So, one needs a big heart also, not just a big brain. Those who have a big brain and a small heart cannot understand these things.


    Hare krishna,

    When I read BG for the first time, I faced many challenges of having this tendency to filter. After reading about our culture, history and listening so many classes of BG and Srimad Bhagavatam, I am able to check this tendency to some extend. But still it attacks my mind.  Especially, BG 10.22 which talks about moon being a star and Srila Prabhupad’s purport to the verse (“The sun is one, and as by the reflection of the sun the moon illuminates, so also do the stars. Since Bhagavad-gītā indicates herein that the moon is one of the stars, the twinkling stars are not suns but are similar to the moon”). Sir, could you kindly help me to understand this verse?

    Hare krishna.


    A simple correction first. The verse is 10.21 and not 10.22. The verse states: “among the stars, I am the moon”. Now coming to your question about the moon reflecting the light of the sun. Even in modern science, everyone accepts that the moon reflects the light of the sun, so that is likely not your real issue. Your primary issue seems to be calling the other stars the reflectors of the sun’s light, rather than being suns in their own right, which is a conflict with modern science and little to do with Vedic texts. So far, there is no issue either with the verse, the purport, or an internal inconsistency between the text, the purport, or the understanding of cosmology in the Vedic texts. Your confusion is about calling the stars reflectors of the sun’s light, rather than being sun in their own right. 

    The deity of the moon called Chandra married the 27 daughters of Prajapati Daksha, who are the presiding deities of the 27 Nakshatras. There is a famous story about how Chandra would spend more time in the Rohini Nakshatra (which is also the Nakshatra in which Krsna is born, so, there is something special about it). Anyway, the other 26 daughters of Daksha complained about this partiality to Daksha. So, Chandra is the husband, and the presiding deities of the 27 Naksatra are the wives of Chandra. There is nothing wrong in saying that the moon is the principal among the stars.

    Now, onto the difference between a star and the sun. First of all, neither the sun nor the stars “emit” any light. That emission of light is a modern scientific construct in which heat must be “coming” from the sun. I have explained this many times in these forums that the Vedic model of causality is based on association. If you associate with an angry person, anger will manifest in you. If you associate with a drunkard, you will develop a desire to drink. This is because anger and drinking are already within you. By association, they are manifest. In the same way, heat is already in you. By associating with the sun, that heat is manifest. However, it is possible to manifest that heat in the body even without the sun. There are breathing and other exercises by which you can make the body hot, even in a freezing climate. The yogis are keeping their bodies hot in the Himalayas through this process. Likewise, you can stop the manifestation of heat in your body even while standing in the sun. Therefore, the sun is neither necessary to cause heat (because you can manifest heat without the sun) nor sufficient to cause heat (because you can stop the manifestation of heat even in the sun’s presence). The sun is just the incidental cause of the heat, and yet, because the sun causes it, hence he is called the cause.

    This is just like you can associate with an angry person, and yet not become angry. Likewise, you can associate with a drunkard, and yet have no desire to drink. Then again, you can become angry on your own without associating with an angry person. You can start drinking even without the association of a drunkard. This is because all the things you exhibit are already within you. An association can be the external cause, or the effect can manifest on its own without an external cause. When an association is a cause, you can blame someone else: Oh, I am angry because of him, or I am drinking because of him. Likewise, we can attribute the heating to the sun, but it is the manifestation of the heat from within us, due to the sun’s presence. This is called “association” with the sun. Causality is due to that association.

    So, the sun is not something that is emitting light. A light-emitting star has a finite lifetime. In modern science, they say that the sun will die in 5 billion years. But in Vedic cosmology, we say that the sun will live for the next 155 trillion years because the sun is not emitting any heat. Thereby, the first thing you need to understand is that the sun is not a star because a different model of causation is used in which heat is manifest from our body by associating with the sun, not due to transmission. Thereby, there is no such thing as light transmission or speed of light. I have discussed these things in my books at length. You can read “Mystic Universe” and “Time and Consciousness” for this.

    Once you understand these topics, then comes the issue of what a star (i.e., moon and nakshatra) is. They are also associating with the sun, and by that association, heat and light are manifest from them. But because that heat and light were already in them, hence, it is also their heat and light, and the sun is an incidental cause of that heat and light. Thus, we can make two seemingly contradictory statements: (a) it is the heat and light of the star and moon, and (b) heat and light are triggered by the association with the sun, so it can be called a “reflection” of the light of the sun. It is not a reflection of an emitted particle like a photon as in modern science. It is an association, manifestation by association, and therefore, it can be attributed both to the star and the sun. This is just like if you drink due to a friend’s association, that drinking can be blamed both on the friend and on you.

    The difference is simply that in this case, we are blaming the effect more on the sun, than on the star. Again, to understand this, we have to study Vedic cosmology where the sun moves through the zodiac once in 24 hours, and by its movement, the opposite stars become visible. Likewise, the sun “drags” the moon, and all the other planets, which means this motion of all the planets is the result of the sun manifesting a change in the planets, which then triggers a change in their position.

    You can imagine a situation in which you face the sun, the body becomes hot, and then you stand in a shower to cool the body. This is a crude example of a change in position. Like that, the sun triggers an effect in the planets, and to mitigate that effect, the planets move to another position, just like one goes into a shower after standing in the sun. So, the sun is the prime mover, and every other luminary is moved due to the sun’s effect. Due to this prime mover status of the sun, Lord Krsna states in this verse that among all the luminaries I am the sun. The fact is that all other luminaries are like stars, which means they are moved by the sun and “reflect” its light, but they may not be always called a “star” because that term is reserved for the 27 Nakshatra and their husband Chandra.

    To summarize, there is no such thing as a “star” in the modern scientific sense of the word that emits light, is born at one point in time, and dies after some time. All these luminaries exist as long as the universe exists, which is about 311 trillion years. However, there are periods of devastation in which the life in the lower three planetary systems (bhu, bhuvar, and svarga) is destroyed while the upper four planetary systems (jana, tapa, mahar, and satya) continue to exist. The status of the lower seven planetary systems (tala, vitala, atala, talatala, mahatala, rasatala, and patala) is not discussed in the Purana (as far as I know). They could also be destroyed but I’m not definitive about that. Due to that partial annihilation of the universe, we could say that these stars and planets are born and die, or the solar system is born and dies. But it is revived shortly after its death. Death and rebirth are the periods of transition for demigods as their lives end and a new generation of demigods takes over. 

    All the scientific concepts about traveling photons, speed of light, emission and absorption of light, and heat being created exclusively due to the sun are false ideas. The reality is simply that the sun associates with other planets and stars and it causes the emission of light which is their own light but triggered by association with the sun. Likewise, their movements are also caused by the sun.

    Therefore, the Vedic definition of a star is that which “reflects” and the sun is not a star. All the issues about the nature of light are discussed in my books at length, but it requires a lot of discussion about quantum mechanics and general relativity to understand why light is not moving, and yet it appears to be moving. It also requires a broader understanding of Vedic cosmology, covered in my books.

    Then there is the question of how the “association” is created. The answer to that is the “airs” called Maruts. To understand this, we have to understand how our consciousness is moving. If you look at an apple, then your consciousness moves into the apple. If you then look at an orange, again the consciousness moves. This movement of consciousness is called prana. In the same way, the sun has a consciousness that moves. As he “looks” at different stars and planets, different effects are created in them. Likewise, the sun “looks” at each person when they stand in the sunlight. Due to this looking, it is said that the sun is the eye of the Lord. The consciousness of the sun is moving, just like our consciousness moves when we look at ordinary objects. And by that movement, different effects are created.

    That movement of consciousness is supported by prana called Maruts, which are also mentioned in this verse. Finally, the three things, namely, the sun, the stars, and the prana, are controlled and supervised by Lord Visnu, which means the sun is not randomly looking here and there as per his whims. He has been instructed to look in a specific way by Lord Visnu, and he is following His orders. Even though he can look here and there in a random way, he is obedient and duty-bound to look in a certain way. Accordingly, everything is moving in an orderly fashion, not due to some “law of gravitation” but because demigods are working in a duty-bound manner.

    For example, if trains run on time, then you can make a mathematical law that says: Trains arrive every 5 minutes, so there is a mathematical law of arrival. But the trains are not working because of that mathematical law. Trains are arriving on time because the drivers are duty-bound. In the same way, the demigods are duty-bound and order is created because of duty performance not due to mathematical laws. But you can do a mathematical calculation for sake of prediction. These calculations were being done in India due to the use of astronomy in temple construction, but everyone knew that mathematics is not the cause of the movement. Then, these calculation methods traveled to Europe through masons who were building temples in India, and were called to construct big structures in other places. Thus, mathematics traveled to Europe through masons. After the Protestant Reformation, the masons become freemasons, and Europeans started reading their books. Newton found the method of predicting planetary movements in freemasonry texts and embellished it with an impersonal fiction called gravitational theory. Everyone learned that theory and forgot about duty and demigods when Europeans spread their falsehoods all over the world. Now we have to explain everything all over again because we all unlearned the truth and learned the falsehood. 

    Finally, as you have said that your mind revolts while reading, therefore, try to tame the mind and associate with Prabhupada. You can ask questions if you like, and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability. Once there is a basic understanding of alternative science, then many of these questions will automatically disappear. Everything is working according to will and duty. The will is the spontaneous thing, and duty is the regulation of that will that creates order. Modern science has replaced will and duty with mathematical determinism of equations. Many of these equations also came out of India but they have been embellished in the West to create falsehoods. If you remain patient and study the books as I have mentioned, all this ignorance will be slowly destroyed.


    Hare krishna,

    Thank you very much for such an elaborate explanations. I am interested to know further. Could you suggest me the order in which I should read your books ?


    You can look at this page. All questions on “order” assume that there are many separate things, to be understood separately. This assumption about separate things is materialism. If you want to understand Bhedābheda philosophy, then the first thing to be understood is that there are many distinct things, but they are not separate from each other. You cannot “divide and conquer” Vedic philosophy, because everything is a part of God, and God cannot be divided and conquered.

    Something may be a hand, but it cannot be known fully without knowing the leg. But you can try to know the hand before the leg. You will not know it fully. But you will know something. With that knowledge, you can study the leg. Again, you will not know it fully, but you will know something. Then you can come back to the hand, and you will know it better than before. To understand anything, we have to understand everything. By the whole, we know the parts, and by the parts, we know the whole. This process never ends. There is never a state, even after millions of years, that you know everything. But you know more than before and you are more excited to know more.

    So, read in whatever order you want to. It doesn’t matter what order you choose, because it is not possible to understand everything in one go, and you have to iterate to understand more and more. Most people don’t have this patience. They read something, and say: “I did not understand this sentence”. To explain that sentence, we have to give them another book, but they don’t have the patience. They want the full answer immediately, and they will never get the full answer.

    If you are having trouble grasping this idea, then you can think of knowledge in terms of Wikipedia where every page has hundreds of hyperlinks to other pages, and those pages have hyperlinks to hundreds of other pages. Your understanding of one topic changes your understanding of other topics, ad infinitum. This is the situation even after modernity has drastically separated all subjects. If those subjects were not separated, then this interconnected nature of knowledge would be infinitely more complex. So, keep this in your mind, and start reading. Everything will not be understood in a day. It takes a long time, and the tortoise that walks one step every day wins the race, and the hare that runs fast initially but stops after that loses the race. Most people will lose this race. So be the tortoise.

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