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Paramahansa Yogananda's Translation of the Bhagavad Gita

Eastern & Western religious philosophy is one of my areas of interest about which I write essays exploring the nature of reality and being.

Paramahansa Yogananda


There have been many translations of the spiritual poem, the Bhagavad Gita, but Paramahansa Yogananda offers a thorough explication, revealing the details of its exact meaning. The full title of this momentous work is God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — Royal Science of God-Realization.

Sir Edwin Arnold explains in his preface to his own translation of the Gita, titled The Song Celestial:

This famous and marvelous Sanskrit poem occurs as an episode of the Mahabharata, in the sixth or Bisma Parva of the great Hindu epic. It enjoys immense popularity and authority in India, where it is reckoned as one the Five Jewels . . . of literature.

Sir Arnold further clarifies that the Gita is a philosophical system which remains to this day the prevailing Brahmanic belief. In other words, the Bhagavad Gita is to Hinduism what the Holy Bible in to the Judeo-Christian faith and the Koran to Islam.

Interpretation and Explication

Because the poem is a holy scripture, it holds vast hordes of knowledge that require a thorough interpretation, if its significance is to be understood. Paramahansa Yogananda has given that required interpretation in his two-volume edition, God Talks With Arjuna — Royal Science of God-Realization.

Also, because of the poetic nature of the Bhagavad Gita, interpretation requires explication, and the great spiritual leader and poet Paramahansa Yogananda offers a profound explication of this complex ancient work.

Battle of Good and Evil

It is commonly known that the Bhagavad Gita depicts a battle between two warring factions, the Pandus and Kurus. But the battle's importance lies in its symbolism. The battle is a metaphor for the battle of life, and the characters who participate in the metaphoric battle represent the good and bad qualities of each human being. For example, the Pandus represent spiritual qualities, and the Kurus represent evil qualities. Within each human being, the good and evil qualities battle for ascendance.

The purpose of holy scripture is to offer the human being a method for learning to enhance the good and eliminate the bad, in order to regain the paradise of the soul. The subtitle of Yogananda's explication is Royal Science of God-Realization. It is God- realization that we all crave, and the Bhagavad Gita is the instruction manual for achieving that realization.

Science or Poetry?

The unique function of holy scripture places it within the purview of both science and poetry. Because ineffable things cannot be spoken of except through poetry's metaphor and symbolism, scriptural works must utilize poetry in order to communicate its experience. But because scripture also communicates ultimate truths about the nature of things, it also employs the truths of science.

A God-realized soul, such as Paramahansa Yogananda, grasps the great truths of holy scripture. The unrealized soul can accept and try to live by the commandments that govern living, and in so doing improve his/her own life and the lives of others.

But to understand completely the reasons that following rules and commandments work, one needs to get to the very foundation of those scriptures, and the God-realized spiritual leader serves this function for the individual.

Sir Edwin Arnold's Gita

Sir Edwin Arnold's The Song Celestial offers the marvelous poetic version of the Bhagavad Gita, while God Talks With Arjuna offers a thorough explication, including the poetry and science.

According to Paramahansa Yogananda, Sir Edwin Arnold's translation from the Sanskrit is the most poetic translation of the Gita. And Paramahansa Yogananda's groundbreaking work offers no less than the meaning of life itself.

A reading from Bhagavad Gita: God Talks with Arjuna

A spiritual classic

A spiritual classic

Life Sketch of Paramahansa Yogananda

The great guru/poet Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. His name at birth was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Always a spiritually advanced child, at age 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, under whose guidance he flourished and became the spiritual giant and sacred engine that leads souls back to their eternal abode in the arms of the Divine Creator.

Paramahansa Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 to speak in Boston at the International Congress of Religious Liberals. His speech was so well received that he quickly gathered a following. By 1925, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), was well established with the purpose of disseminating and maintaining the purity of his teachings of yoga. He has come to be known as the “Father of Yoga in the West.”

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Paramahansa Yogananda’s biography on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site:

In the hundred years since the birth of Paramahansa Yogananda, this beloved world teacher has come to be recognized as one of the greatest emissaries to the West of India’s ancient wisdom. His life and teachings continue to be a source of light and inspiration to people of all races, cultures and creeds.

Publications of Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda's in-depth work, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic worldwide. Many devotees have been drawn to the teachings of this yogi through that autobiography, and many of their stories about how they came to find that work include some of the most inspiring "miracles" of modern American culture.

Such world-renowned figures as Dennis Weaver, Steve Jobs, George Harrison, and Elvis Presley were influenced by the Autobiography of a Yogi and the teachings of the great guru. Weaver even became a lay minister and spoke often at many of the SRF temples in California.

In addition to the autobiography, the great guru has published many collections of his talks, in both written and oral forms. His audio collector's series of ten of his informal talks includes the following titles:

1. Beholding the One in All

2. Awake in the Cosmic Dream

3. Be a Smile Millionaire

4. The Great Light of God

5. To Make Heaven on Earth

6. One Life Versus Reincarnation

7. Removing All Sorrow and Suffering

8. In the Glory of the Spirit

9. Follow the Path of Christ, Krishna, and the Masters

10. Self-Realization: The Inner and the Outer Path

These inspirational talks reveal much information about the great guru that appeals to his devoted followers. Just listening to a God-realized voice offers an uplifting spiritual experience.

The Poetry of Paramahansa Yogananda

For my commentaries on the poems of the great guru, I rely on his marvelous collection titled, Songs of the Soul, the version published in 1983 with its most current printing 2014. Two additional collections of his poems are extant, Whispers From Eternity and Metaphysical Meditations.

Because the "poems" of this great guru function on levels that ordinary poems do not, they are often used in devotional services held by groups of devotees of the SRF teachings throughout the world in the Readings Services as well as their Special Commemorative Services.

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems are more akin to prayers than to the poetry of ordinary poets, whose subject matter often dramatizes only human emotion in its relationship with creation and other human beings, instead of with the Creator; the great guru's poems always invoke the Creator's presence whether directly or indirectly.

Other Publications

The great guru's organization, SRF, also continues to publish collections of his works. Many of his talks have appeared in the series of essays that include Man's Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, and Journey to Self-realization.

Corrective Translations

The guru has also bestowed on the literary world three important translations of extant perennial works that have been grossly misunderstood in some cases for centuries. His new translations along with his explanatory commentaries are correcting that misunderstanding.

In Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — A Spiritual Interpretation, he shows how that poet's God-realized effusions put on display a man in love with his Creator and not the wine sopped Epicurean that has been misapplied to the work.

In the guru's in-depth translation and commentaries on the ancient Bhagavad Gita, titled God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — A New Translation and Commentary, the great spiritual leader offers not only the poetic translation of the work but also the relevance for humankind of the psychological and spiritual instruction offered in the ancient poem.

Most importantly for Western culture, Paramahansa Yogananda has offered a full explanation of the phenomenon known as the "Second Coming." Titled The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You — A revelatory commentary on the original teachings of Jesus, the work explains the true meaning of many of Jesus' words long misunderstood and mischaracterized, such as "The Kingdom of God is within you" and "I and my Father are one."

The Lessons

Of all the publications offered by SRF and the great guru, it is the Lessons that remain most vital. One could dispense with all of the other books, audio tapes, poetry, and other commentaries if one possesses those lessons.

The Lessons begin by offering physical exercises that prepare the physical encasement to sit quietly and still while performing the more advanced exercises that lead to Kriya Yoga practice.

The Lessons contains six steps that can be completed in three years, but each student is free to progress at his/her own pace. The Lessons include instruction in the following techniques: 1. Energization Exercises. 2. Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration, and 3. Aum Technique of Meditation.

After completing the first two steps, the devotee may apply for the Kriya Yoga technique.

Kriya Yoga Initiations

The Kriya Yoga technique features four initiations for a total of twenty lessons. The First Initiation, featuring lessons K1-9, includes the technique of Kriya proper, on which all of the other initiations are based. The Second Initiation contains four lessons, K10-14, and the Third and Fourth include the remaining lessons K15-20.

All of the Lessons, including the Kriya Yoga Initiations, include many explanations based of science, as well as on the life experience of Paramahansa Yogananda. These marvelous works are presented in such way to hold the student-devotees' interest with little stories, poems, affirmations, and prayers that enhance the purpose of each lesson.

Complete Works

In addition to all of the works mentioned above, Paramahansa Yogananda has published many others, including his Cosmic Chants, which offers musical notations as well as the lyric for each chant.

An annotated list of the works of the great guru is offered on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site under the title, "The Complete Works of Paramahansa Yogananda."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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