Is Gita 18.55’s impersonal message (vishate tad anantaram) overridden by Prabhupada’s translation?
From Mrigank Sharad
Edited by: Rhythm Saidha
Question from Ram Shankar prabhu: Does the Gita 18.55 talk about impersonalism which Srila Prabhupad overrides by referring to “vishate tadanantaram” as entering into the kingdom of God?
Answer: That particular section of the Gita, starting from 18.49 to 18.55, is talking about a progression from jnana towards transcendence. So prior to that 18.40-48 is talking about practice of varnashram and within the spiritualization of varnashram –sva karmana tam abhyarcha siddham vindhati manava– it talks about the duties of the four varnas and from there it talks about worshipping that transcendental Lord –yata pravartate bhutanam yena sarvam idam tatam – that Absolute Truth who is the source of everything, who pervades everything,worship of that Person is talked about.
After that the Gita moves forward and says that after one has practiced karma yoga, then one can renounce karma and start practicing jnana.The verses 49-53 describes jnana sadhana; verse 54 describes that when one comes to the level of equanimity –brahma–bhutaḥ prasannatmana socati na kankṣatisamaḥ sarveṣu bhuteṣumad-bhaktiḿ labhate param– one gets transcendental devotion.
And after that in verse 18.55 Krsna says that –bhaktya mam abhijanajiyavan yas casmi tattvataḥ– with bhakti one can understand Me in truth– tato maḿ tattvato jnatvavisate tad–anantaram.
So tadanantaram is a non-descript word. Non-descript means it isnon-specific. Now the word vishate refers to enter, that is clear enough,tadanantaram -that infinite.And what is that infinite? Krsna is not telling that very clearly over here and the reason for that is that the seeker who is on the path of jnana has a choice.
When the seeker on the path of jnana comes to know about the Absolute Truth, then by the practice of bhakti, Krsna clearly talks that one has to practice bhakti, there is no doubt about it. So if it were just talking about an impersonal conclusion, there would be no need for a jnani to come to the platform of bhakti.If we look at 49-53, that’s clearly talking about the path of jnana –vairagyam samupasritah-many verses and many parts of it talk about jnana. Then it comes to 54 where it says that when one acquires bhakti and then by bhakti one comes to know the Absolute Truth.
Now after knowing the Absolute Truth one can either choose to love that Absolute Truth or to loose oneself by merging in that Absolute Truth- so both options are there.So Krsna says that if one practices bhakti one will know Him, but Krsna is not talking here that bhakti as a sadhana is necessarily motivated by Bhagavan as a sadhya. There are yogis/transcendentalists who practice bhakti as a means to mukti. So in one of my Gita-daily articles I have explained how the Bhagavad Gita teaches Krsna is not just the object of meditation but He is also the objective of meditation. The object of meditation means something which we meditate on. The jnanis, they meditate on Krsna so that they will eventually merge into brahman because their idea is that nirguna brahman is difficult to contemplate on therefore we will contemplate sagun brahman and then we will go beyond that to the nirgun brahman.
So for some people Krsna can be the object of meditation also, and for those whom Krsna is the object of meditation, they will not attain Krsna because their objective is not Krsna, their objective is Brahman and the Bhagavad Gita accepts that possibility when it gives a non-specific conclusion – vishate tadanantaram – that they will enter into that Absolute Truth, into that infinite basically.
Now ifyou look further after this what happens, Krsna says there is an alternative way – sarva karmani upasyata kurvanu madhyapashraya– Instead of going through this whole process of practicing karma yoga, then jnana yoga then coming to bhakti yoga –sarva karmani upasyata– whatever karma one is practicing, one can start –madhyapashraya – take shelter of Me, practice bhakti.And then Krsna says that by that one can rapidly make spiritual advancement and then what is the result? He says –mam evaisyasi – from there if we look at the flow of the thought, I have given a series of bhakti sastri classes, if you go on you tube and search for chapter 18 then you can see the flow of the chapter is going on very systematically.But essentially from that point onwards Krsna talks about bhakti, and then in 18.65 He says if you practice bhakti you will come to Me. There if you see 18.65 or 18.66, there is no reference to tadanantaram or anything like that. By practicing bhakti whole heartedly one will attain Krsna as the supreme destination.
The Bhagavad Gita doesn’t deny or reject the impersonal conception. It acknowledges the impersonal conception as a part of the Absolute Truth –brahmano hi pratisthaham – the BG says in 14.27, and it also acknowledges that certain seekers can attain that brahman. There are brahmavadis who will attain brahma sayujya, i.e. they will merge in brahman.
But that is not considered the highest aspect of the Absolute Truth. Krsna says in 7.7–mattaḥ parataraḿ nānyatkincid asti dhananjaya. Then in 10.8 He says – aham sarvasya prabhavo – I am the source of everything. In 15.19 He says that who is the knower of everything? yo mam evam asammuḍhojanati puruṣottamamsa sarva–vid bhajati maḿsarva–bhavena bharata– One who knows Me as Purushottama is the knower of everything. Such a person worships Me wholeheartedly.
So the BG includes,accommodates, leaves room for impersonal conception but it doesn’t enthrone that as the highest Absolute Truth.
Now Srila Prabhupada, I have given other answers about Srila Prabhupada’s translation strategy. Srila Prabhupada is giving, in one sense, the conclusion of the Gita throughout the Gita and that is because he is speaking to audiences who are very radically disconnected from the Gita culture and who are living in a fast paced world where often they don’t have the time or the capacity or the inclination to go through its intricate flow.
So Srila Prabhupada gives the conclusion almost everywhere in his translations and his purports, but if his intention was to override Krsna’s words, then he could very easily have avoided giving the Sanskrit, he could have avoided giving the word-to-word translation and he could have just given the translation and the purport and we would never have known. But Srila Prabhupada gives Krsna’s words and then he gives the conclusion of Krsna’s word to us.He lets us see what he is doing and he forces us to think why he is doing what he is doing.Thereby he helps us to understand the progressive flow of the thought in the Gita and the conclusive message that he gives throughout the Gita.
So in this way we can understand the essential import of 18.55 and that it is acknowledging impersonal liberation.But it is only one of the possibilities in spiritual perfection and that is not the highest possibility and Prabhupada gives us the conclusion throughout and that’s why he uses the word ‘the Kingdom of God’ for visate tadanantaram.
Thank you. Hare Krsna.