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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

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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