Interpretation of some verses in the Gita

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    Agrahya Das

    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?

    Ashish Dalela

    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.

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