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Gita: Beware false interpretations || Acharya Prashant, with NIT-Calicut (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Questioner (Q): Good afternoon, Sir. I have a doubt. In the market, there are a number of Bhagavad Gitas available. Somebody told me that there are eighty varieties of the Gita. Even though the slokas are the same, from what I have seen, the explanation was not making sense. In two, or three Gitas that I’ve seen, the explanation is not matching. Since Gita was explained by Sri Krishna some thousands of years before, so how can I ensure that whatever is available is pure only, and it is not impure? It is not changed by somebody for their own benefit.

Also, I’ve seen that in some Gita, the Karma Yog is the best yoga explained, and in some other Gita, the Bhakti Yog is the best yoga they have explained. And in the Gita, it is believed that it is saying about re-birth or previous birth. But in Ashtanga Yog , it is written that previous birth and re-birth do not exist. There are many things that do not match if we compare the Gita to other scriptures.

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, first of all, avoid the commentary part. It is in the commentary part that the maximum kind of adulteration takes place. That’s where the various commentators push their agenda. Try limiting yourself to just the translation of the verses. And go for translations where you know for sure that each word has been individually and correctly translated into your preferred language. The preferred language could be Hindi, Tamil, English, or whatever. Right? There is no need to read detailed commentaries. That’s the first thing, that’s where the maximum mischief takes place and that must be avoided. Secondly, remember that Gita has to agree with the Upanishads. The Gita cannot have anything that goes against the basic tenets of Vedanta. Right? So, if the verses of the Gita are being interpreted to mean something that is not at all in sync with the Vedantic philosophy, then that particular interpretation has to be immediately rejected.

What has happened is that because of the popularity of the Gita, all kinds of distorted ideologies have exploited the Gita to validate their own philosophy. That’s why there are so many commentaries on the Gita. You can have a philosophy that is not at all in tune with Vedanta but to gain credibility among the masses, you pick up a Vedantic scripture, and you interpret it to show that the Gita is saying the same thing as your Guru did. Now, your Guru was an ignorant chap. What he has said is not at all Vedanta. But then you have picked up the Gita just to further your own agenda. And that has happened a lot. And that is the case with some of the most publicized versions of the Gita. If you read them carefully, you will clearly see that the interpreters are so full of disrespect towards Krishna that they have deliberately distorted the meanings of the verses. In fact, even where Krishna says “Buddhi”(wisdom)—that’s there in the shloka, the shloka contains the word “Buddhi”—the translator has written “Bhakti”(devotion). Now, this is culpable disobedience. You are not following what Krishna is saying, you are trying to make Krishna follow your ideology.

This ought to be punished actually. But instead of being punished, it has become propagated. That’s the power of publicity. Anything can become popular. You just have to distribute millions of Gita copies of your own persuasion, ideology, and interpretation. And people will think—people are gullible, people are lazy, they don’t bother to read the original, and they hardly know Sanskrit—that what you have given them is the right text and the right meaning. It is not. Few other texts have been subjected to such gross distortions as the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita.

So, you have to be very careful. You have to be careful, especially of the interpretations that have arisen in the recent past. And if you still have doubts, then you need to go to the Upanishads and know their basic philosophy, and then ask, “This particular shloka of the Gita, how do I interpret it in line with the basic Vedantic philosophy?” Even if you do not know the entire philosophy, you can depend on the four Mahavakyas (The Great Sayings). Or the most important ten or twelve or fifteen Vedantic verses. And take them as cardinal. You see, these are axiomatic, and everything else has to be in line with them. Therefore, if I come across an interpretation that contradicts these Vedantic verses then that interpretation is false. That verse has to be interpreted in some other way. Are you getting it?

A lot of superstition and a lot of useless beliefs have been drawing their sustenance from false interpretations of the Gita. The Gita, in some sense, has suffered because of its popularity. If you follow some rotten belief, then you have to display that your belief is sanctioned by the Gita. So, you pick up some verse of the Gita and slaughter it to show that it suits your belief. Right? So, be very careful.

When it comes to Vedanta, which the Gita is an integral part of, Acharya Shankar is the leading authority. It makes sense to begin with his bhāṣhya (commentary). In modern times, ‘Ramakrishna Mission’ has done a good job. The text by ‘Gita press’ is also passable. ‘Chinmaya mission’ also brings out pretty accurate translations. The others must be rigorously avoided. And if you are speaking to me, then your foundation has humbly brought out a couple of volumes on the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. And currently, I am running a verse-by-verse course on the Gita, and books on it, chapter-wise, will be published very soon. So, that too as a resource is available to you. I have humbly tried, with all my limitations, to be as true to the spirit of Shri Krishna and Vedanta as possible. So, see if it helps you.

Q: Sir my next question is: does next birth or previous birth exist?

AP: I have answered that in detail many times. So, I advise you to go through those articles or videos. They are freely available on punar-janm , reincarnation, karma-phal . So, I have spoken dozens of times. Please go through them, and if you still aren’t clear, then I’ll be there to answer.

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