What is the Best Bhagavad Gita Translation for Yoga?

The Bhagavad Gita is a treasured text in the east. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the main scientists involved in the Manhattan project learned Sanskrit to be able to read the Gita in it’s original language. He quoted the Gita routinely as protests against how the US government was handling their power after WW2.

REST OF BLOG POST BELOW!

 

Aldous Huxley said the Gita is

“the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind.”, He also felt, Gita is “one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity.”

Henry David Thoreau’s morning routine was

“In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this of the Gita

“”I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent,the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

 

Male Only Gita

Most popular Gita translations in 2017 are exclusively written by men and the few women who translate don’t break out of the regimented boxes created by men.

Women now dominate yoga, and the tides have turned against the male dominated caste system yoga grew out of. In the intellectual realm, women are gaining traction in the academic and creative work surrounding yoga. India is becoming more modern, and the proliferation of eastern philosophy/religion programs in universities are to thank for that.

What if a woman came along and not just surpassed all men in their translations, but changed the holiest eastern text to use gender neutral pronouns? (s/he)

Would the quackademics freak out, and realize their annoying, line by line translations were going to be forgotten? Or would they hail this poet and scholar with fame and fortune? Both of those have not happened since.

We were blessed with Mani Rao’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita in 2010. Academics and religious figures resorted to the “just don’t say anything or mention it” approach to keep their authoritarian regiments from being infiltrated by this translation.
With an eccentric background, Mani Rao crafted a translation that surpasses all others. Rao is not a scholar in some ivory tower who is

1. Not Indian
2. A privileged academic

The Virtual Reality Bhagavad-Gita Translation

Rao worked for over a decade in the media business in India. The Gita as a religious staple helped shape the media, technology, and culture of modern India which Rao was immersed in. I will offer two translations to compare to Rao’s to show why Rao has the best Bhagavad Gita for Yoga. For the first comparison, I have chosen the Second Teaching section sixteen.

1.
“Nothing of nonbeing comes to be,
Nor does being cease to exist;
The boundary between these two
Is seen by men who see reality.”

2.
“In the unreal there is no duration and in the real there is no cessation;
Indeed the conclusion between both the two has been analyzed by knowers of the truth”

3. (Mani Rao Translation. Spaces are kept true to the book)

“If it isn’t               it isn’t
true                real

what you call reality
is really virtual
reality

your reality’s materiality

(material=changeable=mortal=untrue=immaterial)

it seems as if     but                                                                                                    there’s no                                                                                                                            truth in fiction

what is what    is                                                                                                                   clear to a seer”

There is no comparison. The first two are dull, academic translations that are scared to go out of Gita’s original box. Most Gita authors wonder if their tenure or status in religion will be altered if they added some flair. Rao comments on this in the book’s introduction

“Studying previous translations, I could not help but feel that the Gita’s status as a holy text has held back the translator’s hand, making it hesitant to delete even a rhetorical space-filler such as “indeed,” or to shift the order of lines within a stanza. Word-for-word and line-for-line translations create obscurities and retard the pace of communication in English.”

The Gita is supposed to be read out loud, as a story as a chant, not to put us to sleep.

The reader is reminded that this is not a standard text with the use of gender neutral pronouns throughout the text. (s/he)

 

Poet of the New Age Yogis

Mani Rao got the idea to translate the Gita while in the MFA program at UNLV. Savvy Zen is based out of Las Vegas, and the author attends the UNLV English program now too. Mani Rao entered the program as a poet and had to take a translation class.

Her teacher, Donald Revell, is one of Americas greatest translators and has a fantastic book on the topic called The Art Of Attention: The Poets Eye

Mani Rao brings to the table not just a high level of Sanskrit and good teachers, but a body of beautiful original poetry also. The spacing, punctuation, line breaks, and meter of this work of translation is one of the best I have ever seen. The way this book reads is comparable to Caesar Vallejo or Lorca. Beauty shines out of every page in just the auditory flow that Rao creates. An immense amount of time must have been spent contemplating the arrangement of lines.

If you want to see some original poetry from Rao check out two of her poems below.

CLASSIC by Mani Rao

If everything is impermanent why do you want it

I don’t want anything for ever

You will disappoint everyone
Then you will be free

 

PEACE TREATY by Mani Rao

What if Helen died

Cuckold crows
Husband recalls
Body  face  rites

Once broad Trojan devils
Now cower in the shadows of walls
Fearing skywitnesses
Quaking at birdshit

Our boy came back
From overseas with a
Souvenir egg that ticked

A runaway wife’s a rotten prize
Unwanted alive
And dead

Those beautiful poems speak to the level of Rao’s yogic consciousness.

Poets have no boundaries and have transcended political parties, popular opinions, and societal norms to write about their feelings. Rao obliterates the standards around translation, Hinduism, and poetry in this translation.

 

The Literature Ban in Yoga

On this website, I routinely mention that there is no imaginative literature in yoga right now. The community shuns those who seek knowledge because of the logocentric adherence to gurus. Mani Rao has ended the drought and has started the revolution in creative writing for yoga.

Pattabhi Jois told American students not to read the Yoga Sutras because it would just confuse them.

Almost all Indian and Eastern teachers have given the western world watered down teachings so they could dilute it with their opinions. Their mythology with tales of levitation and yogic feats are our version of Christianity. If I were a Christian, I wouldn’t tell a new convert to read Faust, Paradise Lost, or the Divine Comedy. Those seem like a good way to confuse someone out of being a Christian.

However, if you’re taking the road of a karmic yogi (lightworker) instead of an ashtanga yogi (dark worker) then you should never hold knowledge back. The Yoga Sutras did confuse me when I read them, but in a circular, hermeneutic fashion, I have come back to an acceptance of the possibility of the bolder claims.

 

Is the Gita Exclusive to only Indians?

With an explorer mindset over the last decade, I immersed myself in mantra, asana, pranayama, meditation, long bouts in nature, and experimented with psychoactive mushrooms. Yes, I was not raised in seclusion in India where I learned the culture, teachings, and base level fundamentals to understand the Gita or other texts. However, I found a different path just as Mani Rao did to understanding the deeper teachings.

Without working in India, risking a good career to write poetry in America, and opposing the academic world with her translation, we would never have the best Bhagavad Gita translation for Yoga.

Buy this book and see for yourself.

To conclude I will include some of my favorite parts below as a preview of sorts.

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!

7:06-7:11

” Everyone! get that

I AM

the orgin                                                                                                                              the end   of                                                                                                                    the entire universe

there’s no thing higher

it’s all strung on me                                                                                                              pearls on a string

water’s flavor         light in moon    sun             om in all vegas

sound in etheric space

the nice fragrance on earth

sun’s brilliance

life in all living

penance in ascetics

know me                                                                  ancient       timeless seed

intelligence of the intelligent

radiance of the radiant

strength of the strong                                                                                                                   who are desire and passion free                                                                                              the love in beings                                                                                                                           that isn’t inappropriate”

 

6:18-6:21

“when she’s

mind controlled                                                                                                                     innerself absorbed                                                                                                                 desireless to all desire

s/he’s said to be yoked disciplined

there’s a simili

for a mindctonrolled yogi

focused on yoga;

a lamp unflickering

a windless place

when the mind stops roaming

checked by yoga

and when you see yourself thus

ohhappy!

that infinite joy

that’s understood by intelligence

that’s beyond the senses

s/he knows

and on that basis

proceeds.”