In his introduction to The Bhăgvăt-Gēētā Charles Wilkins discusses the difficulties he had in translating the Sanskrit into English. Overall Wilkins's translation is very good, even astonishingly good considering that he was breaking new ground as the first English-speaking person to undertake mastery of the Sanskrit language to the level required for the translation of full works. Nevertheless, as Wilkins says, there are "imperfections" in the work and "obscurity of many passages." After more than two centuries of additional study of the Sanskrit language, and Bhagavad-gita in particular, by numerous English-speaking people, many of the obscurities and imperfections in Wilkins's translation can be addressed. While I personally have only a limited knowledge of Sanskrit, I have taken the bold step of attempting to clarify and improve some of Wilkins's wording. To do this I have referred to several sources, including Monier-Williams's Sanskrit-English Dictionary, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's Bhagavad-gita As It Is (primarily the word-for-word Sanskrit-English translations), and occasionally Sir Edwin Arnold and Barbara Stoler Miller's translations of Bhagavad-gita, as well as standard English dictionaries and thesauruses. Below I offer the first installment of this effort, my revision of Chapter 1 (Lecture I) and the first 49 verses of Chapter 2 of Charles Wilkins's Bhăgvăt-Gēētā. Your comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome.
(Numbers in parentheses refer to the numbered notes below them, also enclosed in parentheses. The notes are Wilkins's original endnotes, which I have inserted into the text for convenience of reference.)
The Grief of Ărjŏŏn.
Dhrĕĕtărāshtră said, “Tell me, O Sănjăy, what the people of my own party, and those of the Pāndŏŏs, who are assembled at the place of spiritual duty called Kŏŏrŏŏ-kshētră resolved for war, have been doing.”
Sănjăy replied, “Dŏŏryōdhăn having seen the army of the Pāndŏŏs drawn up for battle, went to his Preceptor, and addressed him in the following words”:
“Behold! O master,” said he, “the mighty army of the sons of Pāndŏŏ drawn forth by thy pupil, the experienced son of Drŏŏpăd. In it are heroes, such as Bhēēm or Ărjŏŏn: there is Yŏŏyŏŏdhānă, and Vĕĕrāt, and Drŏŏpăd, and Dhrĕĕshtăkētŏŏ, and Chēkĕĕtānă, and the valiant prince of Kāsĕĕ, and Pŏŏrŏŏjĕĕt, and Kŏŏntĕĕbhōjă, and Sīvyă a mighty chief, and Yŏŏdhāmănyŏŏ-Vĕĕkrāntă, and the daring Oŏtāmowjā; so the son of Sŏŏbhădrā, and the sons of Krĕĕshnā the daughter of Drŏŏpăd, all of them great in arms. Be acquainted also with the names of those of our party who are the most distinguished. I will mention a few of those who are amongst my generals, by way of example. There is thyself, my Preceptor, and Bhēēshmă, and Krĕĕpă the conqueror in battle, and Ăswătthāmā, and Vĕĕkărnă, and the son of Sāmă-dăttă, with others in vast numbers who for my service have forsaken the love of life. They are all of them practised in the use of arms, and experienced in every mode of fight. Our innumerable forces are commanded by Bhēēshmă, and the inconsiderable army of our foes is led by Bhēēm. Let all the generals, according to their respective divisions, stand in their posts, and one and all resolve Bhēēshmă to support.”
The ancient chief (1), and brother of the grandsire of the Kŏŏrŏŏs, then, resounding like a roaring lion, blew his shell (2) to raise the spirits of the Kŏŏrŏŏ chief;
(1 The ancient chief.—Bhēēshmă, brother of Vĕĕchĕĕtră-vĕĕryă, grandfather of the Kŏŏrŏŏs and the Pāndŏŏs.)
(2 Shell.—The conch or chank.)
and instantly innumerable shells, and other warlike instruments, were struck up on all sides, so that the clangour was excessive. At this time Krĕĕshnă (3) and Ărjŏŏn (4) were standing in a splendid chariot drawn by white horses.
(3 Krĕĕshnă.—An incarnation of the Deity.)
(4 Ărjŏŏn.—The third son of Pāndŏŏ, and the favorite of Krĕĕshnă.)
They also sounded their shells, which were of celestial form: the name of the one which was blown by Krĕĕshnă, was Pānchăjănyă, and that of Ărjŏŏn was called Dēvă-dăttă. Bhēēm, of dreadful deeds, blew his capacious shell Powndră, and Yŏŏdhĕĕshtĕĕr, the royal son of Kŏŏntēē, sounded Ănăntă-Vĕĕjăy. Năkŏŏl and Săhădēvă blew their shells also; the one called Sŏŏgōshă, the other Mănĕĕpŏŏshpăkă. The prince of Kāsĕĕ of the mighty bow, Sĕĕkhăndēē, Dhrĕĕshtădhŏŏmnă, Vĕĕrāta, Sātyăkĕĕ of invincible arm, Drŏŏpăd and the sons of his royal daughter Krĕĕshnā, with the son of Sŏŏbhădrā, and all the other chiefs and nobles, blew also their respective shells; so that their clamorous voices pierced the hearts of the Kŏŏrŏŏs, and re-echoed with a dreadful noise from heaven to earth.
In the mean time Ărjŏŏn, perceiving that the sons of Dhrĕĕtărāshtră stood ready to begin the fight, and having taken up his bow and prepared to release his arrows, addressed Krĕĕshnă in the following words:
“I pray thee, Krĕĕshnă, cause my chariot to be driven and placed between the two armies, that I may behold who are the men that stand ready, anxious to commence the bloody fight; and with whom it is that I am to fight in this ready field; and who they are that are here assembled to support the vindictive son of Dhrĕĕtărāshtră in the battle.”
Krĕĕshnă being thus addressed by Ărjŏŏn, drove the chariot; and, having caused it to halt in the midst of the space in front of the two armies, bad Ărjŏŏn cast his eyes towards the ranks of the Kŏŏrŏŏs, and behold where stood the aged Bhēēshmă, and Drōn, with all the chief nobles of their party. He looked at both the armies, and beheld, on either side, none but grandsires, uncles, cousins, tutors, sons, and brothers, near relations, or bosom friends; and when he had gazed for a while, and beheld such friends as these prepared for the fight, he was seized with extreme pity and compunction, and uttered his sorrow in the following words:
“Having beheld, O Krĕĕshnă! my kindred thus standing anxious for the fight, my members fail me, my countenance withereth, the hair standeth an end upon my body, and all my frame trembleth with horror! Even Gāndēēv my bow escapeth from my hand, and my skin is parched and dried up.
(Gāndēēv my bow.—The gift of Vărŏŏn the God of the Ocean.)
I am not able to stand; for my understanding, as it were, turneth round, and I behold inauspicious omens on all sides. When I shall have destroyed my kindred, shall I longer look for happiness? I wish not for victory, Krĕĕshnă; I want not dominion; I want not pleasure; for what is dominion, and the enjoyments of life, or even life itself, when those, for whom dominion, pleasure, and enjoyment were to be coveted, have abandoned life and fortune, and stand here in the field ready for the battle? Tutors, sons and fathers, grandsires and grandsons, uncles and nephews, cousins, kindred, and friends! Although they would kill me, I wish not to fight them; no not even for the dominion of the three regions of the universe, much less for this earth only! Having killed the sons of Dhrĕĕtărāshtră, what pleasure, O Krĕĕshnă, can we enjoy? Should we destroy them, tyrants as they are, sin would take refuge with us. It therefore behoveth us not to kill such near relations as these. How, O Krĕĕshnă, can we be happy hereafter, when we have been the murderers of our race? What if they, whose minds are depraved by the lust of power, see no sin in the extirpation of their race, no crime in the murder of their friends, is that a reason why we should not resolve to turn away from such a crime, we who abhor the sin of extirpating the kindred of our blood? In the destruction of a family, the ancient virtue of the family is lost. Upon the loss of virtue, vice and impiety overwhelm the whole of a race. From the influence of impiety the females of a family are put at risk of immoral conduct and unintended pregnancy; and from women with unwanted pregnancies are born the spurious brood called Vărnă-sănkăr. The Sănkăr provideth Hell (5) both for those who would destroy the family and those family which survive;
(5 Hell.—In the original Nărk. The infernal regions, supposed to be situated at the bottom of the earth, where those whose virtues are less than their vices are doomed to dwell for a period proportioned to their crimes, after which they rise again to inhabit the bodies of unclean beasts.)
and their forefathers (6), being deprived of the ceremonies of cakes and water offered to their manes, sink into the infernal regions.
(6 Forefathers, &c.—The Hindoos are enjoined by the Vēds to offer a cake, which is called Pĕĕndă, to the ghosts of their ancestors, as far back as the third generation. This ceremony is performed on the day of the new moon in every month. The offering of water is in like manner commanded to be performed daily, and this ceremony is called Tărpăn, to satisfy, appease.—The souls of such men as have left children to continue their generation, are supposed to be transported, immediately upon quitting their bodies, into a certain region called the Pĕĕtrĕĕ-lōg, where they may continue in proportion to their former virtues, provided these ceremonies be not neglected; otherwise they are precipitated into Nărk, and doomed to be born again in the bodies of unclean beasts; and until, by repeated regenerations, all their sins are done away, and they attain such a degree of perfection as will entitle them to what is called Mŏŏktĕĕ, eternal salvation, by which is understood a release from future transmigration, and an absorption in the nature of the Godhead, who is called Brăhm. These ceremonies, which are called Srādh, were not unknown to the Greeks and Romans, and are still practised by the followers of Mahommed.)
By the crimes of those who murder their own relations, sore cause of contamination and birth of Vărnă-sănkărs, the family virtue, and the virtue of a whole tribe is for ever done away; and we have been told, O Krĕĕshnă, that the habitation of those mortals whose generation hath lost its virtue, shall be in Hell. Woe is me! what a great crime are we prepared to commit! Alas! that for the lust of the enjoyments of dominion we stand here ready to murder the kindred of our own blood! I would rather patiently suffer that the sons of Dhrĕĕtărāshtră, with their weapons in their hands, should come upon me, and, unopposed, kill me unguarded in the field.”
When Ărjŏŏn had ceased to speak, he sat down in the chariot between the two armies; and having put away his bow and arrows, his heart was overwhelmed with affliction.
Of the Nature of the Soul, and Speculative Doctrines.
Krĕĕshnă beholding him thus influenced by compunction, his eyes overflowing with a flood of tears, and his heart oppressed with deep affliction, addressed him in the following words:
“Whence, O Ărjŏŏn, cometh unto thee, thus standng in the field of battle, this impurity and weakness? It is unbefitting, contrary to duty (7), and the foundation of dishonour.
(7 Contrary to duty.—Contrary to the duty of a soldier.)
Yield not thus to unmanliness, for it ill becometh one like thee. Abandon this unworthy weakness of thy heart, and stand up.”
“How, O Krĕĕshnă, shall I resolve to fight with my arrows in the field against such as Bhēēshmă and Drōn, who, of all men, are most worthy of my respect? I would rather beg my bread about the world, than be the murderer of my preceptors, to whom such awful reverence is due. Should I destroy such friends as these, I should partake of possessions, wealth, and pleasures, polluted with their blood. We know not whether it would be better that we should defeat them, or they us; for those, whom having killed, I should not wish to live, are even the sons and people of Dhrĕĕtărāshtră who are here drawn up before us. My compassionate nature is overcome by the dread of sin.
Tell me truly what may be best for me to do. I am thy disciple, wherefore instruct me in my duty, who am under thy tuition; for my understanding is confounded by the dictates of my duty (8),
(8 By the dictates of my duty.—The duty of a soldier, in opposition to the dictates of the general moral duties.)
and I see nothing that may assuage the grief which drieth up my faculties, although I were to obtain a kingdom without a rival upon earth, or dominion over the hosts of heaven.”
Ărjŏŏn having thus spoken to Krĕĕshnă, and declared that he would not fight, was silent. Krĕĕshnă smiling, addressed the afflicted prince, standing in the midst of the two armies, in the following words:
“Thou grievest for those who are unworthy to be lamented, whilst thy sentiments are those of the wise men (9).
(9 The wise men.—Păndĕĕts, or expounders of the law; or in a more general sense, such as by meditation have attained that degree of perfection which is called Gnān, or inspired wisdom.)
The wise neither grieve for the dead nor for the living. I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. As the soul in this mortal frame findeth infancy, youth, and old age; so, in some future frame, will it find the like. One who is confirmed in this belief, is not disturbed by any thing that may come to pass. The sensibility of the faculties giveth heat and cold, pleasure and pain; which come and go, and are transient and inconstant. Bear them with patience, O son of Bhărăt; for the wise man, whom these disturb not, and to whom pain and pleasure are the same, is formed for immortality. A thing that is not real hath no existence, whilst that which is true is a stranger to non-entity. By those who look into the principles of things, the design of each is seen. Learn that he by whom all things were formed is incorruptible, and that no one is able to effect the destruction of this thing which is inexhaustible. These bodies, which envelope the souls which inhabit them, which are eternal, incorruptible, and surpassing all conception, are declared to be finite beings; wherefore, O Ărjŏŏn, resolve to fight. The man who believeth that it is the soul which killeth, and he who thinketh that the soul may be destroyed, are both alike deceived; for it neither killeth, nor is it killed. It is not a thing of which a man may say, it hath been in the past but is not any longer, it is about to be now but has not been before, or it hath not yet been but is to be hereafter; for it is a thing without birth; it is ancient, constant, and eternal, and is not to be destroyed in this its mortal frame. How can the man, who believeth that this thing is incorruptible, eternal, inexhaustible, and without birth, think that he can either kill or cause it to be killed? As a man throweth away old garments, and putteth on new, even so the soul, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new. The weapon divideth it not, the fire burneth it not, the water corrupteth it not, the wind drieth it not away; for it is indivisible, inconsumable, incorruptible, and is not to be dried away: it is eternal, universal, permanent, immoveable; it is invisible, inconceivable, and unalterable; therefore, believing it to be thus, thou shouldst not grieve. But whether thou believest it of eternal duration and eternally reborn, or that it dieth with the body, still thou hast no cause to lament it. Death is certain to all things which are subject to birth, and regeneration to all things which are mortal; wherefore it doth not behove thee to grieve about that which is inevitable. The former state of beings is unknown; the middle state is evident, and their future state is not to be discovered. Why then shouldst thou trouble thyself about such things as these? Some regard the soul as a wonder, whilst some speak, and others hear of it with astonishment; but still others knoweth it not, although they may have heard it described. This spirit being never to be destroyed in the mortal frame which it inhabiteth, it is unworthy for thee to be troubled for all these mortals. Cast but thy eyes towards the duties of thy particular tribe, and it will ill become thee to tremble. A soldier of the Kshătrĕĕ tribe hath no duty superior to fighting with the purpose of upholding morality without self interest. Just to thy wish the door of heaven is found open before thee. Such soldiers only as are the favorites of Heaven obtain such a glorious fight as this. But, if thou wilt not perform the duty of thy calling, and fight out the field, thou wilt abandon thy duty and thy honor, and be guilty of a crime. Mankind speak of thy renown as infinite and inexhaustible. For one who hath been respected in the world, ill fame is worse to bear than death. The generals of the armies will think that thy retirement from the field arose from fear, and thou wilt become despicable, even amongst those by whom thou wert wont to be respected. Thy enemies will speak of thee in words which are unworthy to be spoken, and depreciate thy courage and abilities: what can be more dreadful than this! If thou art slain thou wilt obtain heaven; if thou art victorious thou wilt enjoy a world for thy reward; wherefore, son of Kŏŏntēē, arise and be determined for the battle. Make pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, the same, and then prepare for battle; or if thou dost not, thou wilt be criminal in a high degree. Let thy reason be thus applied in the field of battle.
This thy judgment is formed upon the speculative doctrines of the Sānkhyă sāstră; hear what it is in the practical doctrines of Kărmă-yōg, with which being endued thou shalt forsake the bonds of action (10).
(10 The bonds of action.—The Hindoos believe that every action of the body, whether good or evil, confineth the soul to mortal birth; and that an eternal release, which they call Mŏŏktĕĕ, is only to be attained by a total neglect of all sublunary things, or, which is the same thing according to the doctrine of Krĕĕshnă, the abandonment of all hopes of the reward of our actions; for such reward, they say, can only be a short enjoyment of a place in heaven which they call Swărg; because no man can, merely by his actions, attain perfection owing to the mixture of good and evil which is implanted in his constitution.)
A very small portion of this duty delivereth a man from great fear. In performing this duty a man hath but one judgment or aim, which is of a definite nature, whilst the judgments of those of indefinite principles are infinite and of many branches.
Men of confined notions, delighting in the controversies of the Vēds, tainted with worldly lusts, and preferring a transient enjoyment of heaven to eternal union with the Supreme, whilst they declare there is no other reward, pronounce, for the attainment of worldly riches and enjoyments, flowery sentences, ordaining innumerable and manifold ceremonies, and promising rewards for the actions of this life. Those who are attached to riches and enjoyment, and whose reason is led astray by this doctrine, do not have a determined judgment formed upon mature consideration and meditation on the Supreme. The Vēds teach of the threefold qualities of nature (11).
(11 [This note does not apply to the revised translation, so I am not including it here. If you are interested in reading it, it is available in the unrevised translation that follows this post.])
Be thou free from the threefold qualities; be free from the duplicities, and stand firm in the path of truth; be free from care and trouble, and turn thy mind to things which are spiritual. The knowing divine findeth as many uses in the whole Vēds collectively, as in a reservoir full flowing with water.
Let the motive be in the deed, in the act of performing duty, and not in the event. Be not one whose motive for action is the hope of reward. Let not thy life be spent in inaction. Depend upon application, perform thy duty, abandon all thought of the consequence, and make the event equal, whether it terminate in good or evil; for such an equality is called Yōg (12).
(12 Yōg.—There is no word in the Sănskrĕĕt language that will bear so many interpretations as this. Its first signification is junction or union. It is also used for bodily or mental application; but in this work it is generally used as a theological term, to express the application of the mind in spiritual things, and the performance of religious ceremonies. The word Yōgēē, a devout man, is one of its derivatives. If the word devotion be confined to the performance of religious duties, and a contemplation of the Deity, it will generally serve to express the sense of the original; as will devout and devoted for its derivatives.)
Action in the hope of reward stands at a distance inferior to action in the application of wisdom, or knowledge of the Divine Nature. Seek an asylum then in wisdom (13) alone; for the miserable and unhappy are so on account of the event of things.
(13 Wisdom.—Wherever the word wisdom is used in this Translation, is to be understood inspired wisdom, or a knowledge of the Divine Nature. The original word is Gnān, or as it is written Jnān.)
Revision to be continued.