Preface (Advanced)

srImathE satakOpAya nama:
srImathE rAmAnujAya nama:
srImath varavaramunayE nama:

Prompted by the growing interest in the Vedānta-Philosophy of India, evinced throughout the world in this Nineteenth Century (of the Common Era), through the efforts of such distinguished scholars, as Max Muller, Paul Deussen, George Thebaut, and others; and through the instrumentality of the great movement known as the Theosophical Society, and the upheaval caused by the eloquent preachings of Svāmi Vivekānanda; and impelled by an earnest desire to promulgate through the English language, the Vedānta-doctrines as expounded by the Visishtādvaita Sage, Philosopher and Reformer of the Eleventh Century (of the Common Era, 1017) – Śri Rāmānujāchārya – I have humbly undertaken, as some beginning towards the accomplishment of such an end, the translation of his Commentaries on the memorable work known as the Bhagavad-Gītā. I have been at this task for nearly five years. When I first put my hand to it, I did so as an exercise, not entertaining the least idea of publication. But as I progressed apace, and the idea of giving out my labours for the benefit of the public flashed on me, I felt a great responsibility; and the work thus became one of strenuous effort, instead of recreation. I had thus to study and revise. This necessarily disclosed the weak points of the first translation, thus necessitating a careful restudy of the original Gita with the help of Tātparya-chandrika —the large gloss, by Vedāntāchārya (CE1268) on Rāmānuja’s Commentary, — under the great Saṃskṛit Scholar and Guru, Sri Tiruvāi-moḷi Tirunārāyanāchārya Svāmi of Melkota (alias Tirunārāyaṇapuram),— the Holy Shrine inaugurated by Rāmānuja, — situated about thirty miles to the North of Mysore. When I began to be earnest about the publication of the work, I showed the manuscripts to Col. H.S. Olcott, when he was on a visit to Mysore in March 1896. He not only encouraged me to publish it but made favorable notice of it in the Theosophist for 1895-96 (P: 225-229). I next submitted the work to Sri Yogi S. Pārthasārathi Aiyangār, B.A., B.L., of Madras. This Saint blessed it, and furnished me with ample notes and other useful material to be utilized for the work in the best manner I thought fit. So fortified, I wrote out the manuscripts for the press, which I found resulting as a third revision of the original manuscripts. When correcting the proof-sheets I could not again resist the temptation of giving the work more touches. In getting lucid explanations of some difficult passages here and there, I acknowledge my obligations to Pandit Venkata Kṛishṇamāchārya of Mysore and Pandita-Ratnam Kastūri Rangāchār of the Mysore Oriental Library. Also to Mr. A. Mahadeva Śāstri, B.A., Curator, Oriental Library, for allowing me four palm-leaf manuscripts of Rāmānuja’s Commentary with which to collate my Saṃskṛit copy.

  1. In a Prospectus, I published in 1895, sketching out the general plan of the work, I stated therein that my translation would include important Introductions and a life of Rāmānuja, and that the whole work would probably occupy about 500 Octavo Pages. But I find that the Gītā alone has encroached on more space (600 Pages) than I had allotted to it with Introductions and Life. As it is, the work is already bulky, and further, the well-wishers of the work, notably Mr. Justice C. Ramachandrier of the Mysore Chief Court, dissuaded me from making my work too voluminous, advising me in a letter dated 18th November 1897, that I might set apart all my Introductions, and Biographical notices to a separate Volume. Though unwilling at one time to adopt this advice, I have been compelled to do so in the end, making ample amends however for the absence of an Introduction, by adding copious foot-notes prepared from various sources. The Bhagavad-Gītā-student, who will peruse these, will find himself there introduced to a number of works extant in Southern India on Viśishtādvaita literature, and other works also outside that pale, for purposes of useful comparison and edification. Four Tables also have been added, one at the end of Lecture I, of the Genealogy of the Kuru race (adopted from Davies); a very important one at the end of Lecture II, of the important Vidyas, or Modes of Divine Meditation taught in the various Upanishads; one at the end of Lecture VII, of Cosmology, according to the Viśishtādvaita-philosophers; and a fourth at the end of Lecture XVIII showing at a glance, the Soteriology or Ways of Salvation formulated by the Rāmānuja-School. Moreover the public, I am advisedly told, would naturally first like to acquaint themselves with the Ancient Commentators than the opinions of the moderns. If therefore in publishing this First Volume, I, like Max Muller, decided in favour of ‘publishing of the materials rather than to the drawing of the results which those materials supply to the student of ancient language and ancient religion,’ I think I have done well. Besides, my book would have become heavy and very costly.
  2. But briefly, let me, however, as a Prelude to the 2nd Volume of Introductions I have promised myself to write, introduce the reader to the study of the Bhagavad-Gītā by telling him that it is a work, which occupies itself with an exposition of the Ways of Salvation, of which the Chief taught therein is the Way by God-love or Bhakti. It would require a big treatise to enter into the details of this subject, but let Rāmānuja speak for himself. His School is essentially that which inculcates the Way of Devotion or Love as the happiest and best means to reach God. A well merited tribute is paid by Mrs. Annie Besant to Rāmānuja, the expounder of this Path, when she says:—”Here a Great Sage has helped us—one of those Great Ancient Indian Writers who have devoted themselves to the teaching of the Higher Spiritual Truths—the SAGE RĀMĀNUJA. He has dealt with the preliminary stages by which man develops Devotion, by which he may gradually prepare himself to be a receptacle of real Love.’
  3. Sri Rāmānujāchārya, according to tradition, is none other than Ādi Śesha himself incarnated on earth as one of the Spiritual Saviors of mankind, according to the requirements of time, country and people. The tradition alluded to tells us:—

‘Anantaḥ prathamam rūpam, lakshmaṇaś cha

tataḥ param,

Balabhadras tṛitiyas tu kalau kaśchit bhavishyati.’

I.e., He (Ananta or Śesha, the Symbol of Eternity) who became Lakshmaṇa (the brother of Sri Rama in the Treata-age), who became Balabhadra (the brother of Sri Krishna in the Dvāpara-age), became Śri Rāmānuja in the Kali-age. (The Vaishnavas of Bengal and the followers of Chaitanya, will especially welcome this work of Ramanuja now translated into English for the first time.)

  1. To return. Every lecture in the Bhagavad-Gītā is called a yoga. This term literally means ‘union’ or that which unites man to God. Vishṇu-Purāṇa (VI-7-31) defines the term thus:—

‘Ātma-prayatna-sāpekshā-viśishtā yā mano-gatiḥ

Tasyā Brahmaṇi saṃyogo Yoga ity abhidhiyate.’

meaning: ‘That is called ‘Yoga,’ which makes the mind to unite itself with God—that mind, the workings of which consist (solely) of the endeavours to reaching such a Spiritual Goal.’ So that the object of the Bhagavad-Gītā is to teach how the mind is to be disciplined and controlled so as to render it fit to contemplate on God, and finally reach Him. The best training is that by Bhakti or Devotional Love, as taught in the Gītā. The reader is referred to the important Soteriological Table appended at the end of the Book, showing at one glance the formulation, by the Viśishtādvaita Saints, of the several Ways to Salvation. The Several Ways as there shown are Five: viz: (1) Karma (action) (2) Jñāna (Intellect or Knowledge) (3) Bhakti (Devotion or Love) (4) Prapatti (Resignation or God’s Grace) and (5) Āchāry-ābhimāna (Savior’s Grace). Bhagavad-Gītā however chiefly treats of the former Three and hints at the latter Two. According to the Analysis of the Gītā made by Śri Yāmunāchārya (CE916; the Preceptor of Śri Rāmānuja) Karma-yoga (action) is defined as:—

  1. ‘Karma-yogas tapas-tirtha-dāna-yajñādi-sevanam;’ or The Way to Salvation by Action is to  perform such acts (of righteousness) as Austerities (or mortification of the flesh by diet, fast etc.), Pilgrimages to Holy Rivers (Shrines etc.), doing Charities, conducting large Sacrifices (at much sacrifice of wealth, time and energy) etc. (Vide; Table: Pp: 573-574).
  2. ‘Jñāna-yogo jita-svāntaiḥ pariśuddhātmani stḥitih:’ or the Way to Salvation by Knowledge is to conquer the mind and the senses, and rendering it capable of being concentratedly fixed in the contemplation of the Pure Spirit. (Vide; Table: Pp: 573-574).
  3. ‘Bhakti-yogaḥ paraikāntya-prityā dhyānādishu sthitiḥ,’ or: the Way to Salvation by Devotion (or God-love) is the establishment of oneself in Divine Worship and Service such as meditating on Him (worshipping Him with flowers etc., hymning His praises, prostrating before Him etc., (vide, Gita IX-14: ‘Satatam kirtayanto etc.,’ and the rest of the Chapter), all which, a result of the ardent Love (or Devotion) for Parabrahm (God) felt in the innermost recesses of the heart, and exclusively and unflaggingly rendered to Him.

Śri Yāmunāchārya winds up his Analysis by declaring:—

‘Aikānt-ātyanta-dāsyaika-ratis tat-padam āpnuyāt,

Tat-pradhānam idam Śāstram iti Gītārtha-Sangrahaḥ.,’

Or: the Cardinal Doctrine of the Gītā-Science is God-love, one-pointed, intense, and asking nothing but the honour and delight of serving Him. He who acts thus reaches the Estate of God.

  1. Bhagavad-Gita is thus a Revelation, whose Purpose is to show mankind the Way to Salvation. As Lord Kṛishṇa has shown Himself, by necessary figures and symbols, to be a God of Love (Bhakti), He has thus shown that Love is the safest, happiest and easiest means of reaching Him. From this Scheme of Love none is excluded, whatever be his nation, his country, color or grade.
  2. As in the past, so in the present, mankind will hail with satisfaction a Work in which they will find that to the cold abstraction of a Śaṇkara’s God, a Rāmānuja lends a Glowing Living Presence; to the intellectually sublime of a Śaṇkara’s ideal, a Rāmānuja lends an emotionally rapturous expression. If a Śaṇkara offers ‘the stone of an abstract idea,’ a Rāmānuja gives us ‘the bread of a Concrete Presence.’ I may also further notice that in the very first Poem of Rāmānuja, the reader will find taught the Aspect of God as the Gracious Divine Motherhood,’ coupled with the sublime concepts of His Fatherhood, as Immanent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent (=Vāsudeva). I shall now pass on to other points to be noticed in this Preface.
  3. I had also at first intended to print the original Ślokas of the Gītā, along with the Translations. But opinions were divided among my friends, some saying that it would be useful; others an encumbrance and unnecessarily raising the price of the Book. I have adopted the middle course, however, of giving the beginning of each verse, for ready reference.
  4. Saṃskṛit terms, like those of Ātmā, Dharma, Karma, Jñāna, Bhakti, Samsāra, Satvam, Rajas, Tamas, etc., cannot be accurately rendered into English. Even where exact equivalents are available, experience teaches that without the Saṃskṛit original itself, the sense of a passage as intended by the author, is often not understood. Another difficulty in dealing with Saṃskṛit is that the same term is often used in many senses, thus necessitating often the stretching of one’s powers of divination to get at the exact import of a passage. I have therefore endeavoured to retain such original terms as far as possible and giving their sense at the same time by the nearest English equivalent. The retention of the Saṃskṛit terms will be especially useful to Indian Students, as their mere presence will serve to elucidate a whole passage. The term ātmā, for example, is etymologically renderable as ‘self,’ but to a Western Theologian, ‘soul’ or ‘individual soul’—as Rāmānuja mostly understands by the term— would more readily convey the sense than if ātmā were rendered as ‘self;’ whereas the absence of the term ātmā,’ and the presence of its rendering ‘self’ to an Indian Theologian, is apt to be understood as either meaning, ‘soul’ (jiv-ātmā) or ‘God’ (Param-ātmā). The best translation accompanies the term as far as possible, and it is gradually omitted where the reader will have become accustomed to understand the Saṃskṛit term itself, and where the translation, particularly when compound words such as ātmā-knowledge, ātmā-vision etc., occur, would be found cumbersome. Footnotes are also added at such junctures as aids to the reader to accurately understand the passages.
  5. One word is necessary about the formation of compound words. In no other language is the practice of compound word-forming carried to such an extent as in Saṃskṛit. By its means, the case-endings of a host of terms are omitted, and brevity and terseness in expression are thereby secured. Translators have been obliged to deal with such terms by resorting to the manufacture of hybrid adjectives such for example as Śastraic, Vedic, Karmic etc; but to me this seemed awkward, nor is it necessary. For there seems no chance of understanding less by the retention of a compound form in the translation, than by that form broken up into hybrid adjectives and substantives. By a compound word like, say, ‘Śāstra-injunction,’ it is not likely that the sense will be misunderstood as it would be understood if the word were split up into ‘Śāstraic injunctions,’ or were paraphrased into ‘the injunctions of Śāstra.’ If the former is mongrel, the latter (paraphrase) has the fault of verbosity. I have therefore avoided all the English ‘ick’ ings of Saṃskṛit substantives; and the reader must be prepared to meet with such compound expressions as Ātma-cognition—meaning the cognition of ātmā—, Veda-injunctions—meaning the injunctions of Veda,—Moksha-aspirant—meaning the aspirant for Moksha, etc. The sooner the Western public gets accustomed to such Saṃskṛit formations, the better will it get an insight into the spirit of that language and the sooner will it be initiated into the speedier comprehension of the spirit of Saṃskṛit when even a slight ability is acquired to read the Original Saṃskṛit itself.
  6. The Scheme of Transliteration adopted is mostly that adopted by Monier Williams. I have found this scheme the best. It is printed on a separate page (x) for reference, as also a list of Abbreviations (ix).
  7. My bringing out a Second Volume of Introductions will depend upon the success that this Volume will meet, and the appreciation which it may receive at the hands of all lovers of Indian Thought.
  8. The Printing alone of the work, by the Vaijayanti Press, Madras, by its Manager, Mr. P. Śrīnivāsā Chārlu, B.A., has taken a year. It could not possibly be done under that period, considering the difficulties of getting all the diacritical types required in several founts, that the critical publication of any important Saṃskṛit Treatise necessarily warrants. The matter of the work being mine, the manner of the work is entirely due to the patient and earnest attention bestowed by Mr. P.Śrīnivāsā Chārlu, of the above-mentioned Press. He had undertaken, for the first time, a work of this class; and now that he has had experience in this direction, I believe that no other press in Madras can undertake to edit works of this nature in the thorough and workman-like manner that he has done.


Mysore, 10th December 1898.

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