THERE are many translations of the Bhagavadgita and among them a number stand out in excellence, admirable for some particular quality of the original which they manage to convey. In this respect for instance, Sir Edwin Arnold’s free translation into English blank verse * The Song Celestial ’, is not likely to be surpassed for its lyrical rendering of a profound religious classic, which also ranks as one of the greatest pdems in Indian literature. Yet in conveying the beauty and flow of language of the poetry, it inevitably loses something in clarity. There are, on the other hand, a large number of more or less literal translations, and the past few years have seen at least three new versions, including one by Swami Prabhavananda with Introduction and notes by Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, and the excellent scholarly translation of Professor Radhakrishnan, with its full and learned commentary.
In spite of this spate of translation which bears testimony to the growing interest of the West in this great spiritual classic, one cannot remember any other which conveys the meaning of the Gita so simply and yet so clearly to the uninformed Westerner, as Professor Shastri’s free version,
‘ Teachings from the Bhagavadgita ’, the second edition of which has just been published.
This version reaps all the advantages of not being a word- for-word translation, for it must be admitted that the Westerner needs a good deal more than that to enable him to understand a work in which, however universal the inner meaning, much of the idiom is unfamiliar. Professor Shastri has crystallised into this little book the essential teachings of the Gita, and while it keeps extremely closely to the original throughout (as a comparison with one of the literal translations will show), the ideas and images from which the text is woven are continually enlightened and made immediately intelligible by the addition of just a few words or sentences here and there. This is done with admirable economy and never develops into that lengthy type of commentary in which the unsuspecting reader finds himself suddenly borne away into the backwaters of erudite opinion, feeling as a rule rather out of his depth ! In contrast, the extreme simplicity of Professor Shastri’s version gives the work an almost magical charm of its own ; the teachings are seen clearly to possess that almost childlike profundity which one finds in the Gospels. And how astounding is the range and profundity of these teachings ! In what other spiritual classic is concentrated so succinctly the cream of the Vedanta teachings and a complete guide to the practice of the spiritual life in all its departments— devotion, meditation, benevolent action and knowledge ?
The Gita is, in fact, the supreme textbook of Yoga. No one who has not studied it can claim to have really understood the purpose and principles of Yoga practice. It is to be hoped that this book will help to dissipate many of the false conceptions which are widely held on the subject in this part of the world, and that it will further the dissemination in the West of the purest spiritual teachings of what the publishers rightly describe as “ one of the most important mystical classics of the world.”
The book is most attractively produced, at a modest price, both printing and binding being of a high quality.