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Introduction

Vyasa, Reputed Author

Veda Vyasa and Ganesh
Vyasa, talented writer

Vyasa is central to the major Hindu traditions. His name, Vyása, means "split, differentiate, or describe". He is also called Badarayana (because the island Vyasa was born on, is said to have been covered by Badara (Indian jujube) trees), Veda Vyasa ("compiler of the Vedas") and Krishna Dvaipayana ("dark-skinned and island-born"). He is accredited as the scribe of the Vedas and supplementary texts to it, such as eighteen Puranas. Vyasa is held to be a Chiranjivin (long lived, or immortal), who remains alive somewhere, somehow, according to general Hindu belief.

Vyasa is an important character in the long Mahábhárata poem, making occasional appearances in the story as a spiritual guide to the young princes. The son of a ferrymanor fisherman's daughter and the wandering sage Parashara, he was born on an island in the river Yamuna. According to an ancient practice his mother requested Vyasa to produce children after her husband and two other sons died. The practice is called niyoga. Vyasa fathered two princes with the two widows of one of his brothers, who was a king. But there was something wrong with each of the two princes. One was blind and the other pale, so the two widows sent a maid in place of themselves for a third try. Vyasa thus became grandfather to the warring parties in the Mahabharata epic, which the Bhagavad Gita is a part of - and the healthy child Vidura.

Vyasa had another son, Shuka, born of his own wife.

Vyasa told stories and his scribe Ganesh wrote them down in Sanskrit. The Mahábhárata is structured as a narration by a professional story-teller to an assembly of sages (rishis, seers).

Vyasa fronting Uddhava Gita Introduction
Vyasa (left) while dictating to his scribe.

Vyasa is also credited with the writing of the eighteen major Puránas, if not all the Puranas. His son Shuka is the narrator of the Bhagavat-Purána. In this work the Uddhava Gita appears toward the end.

The Vedantic work Brahma Sutra is attributed to Badarayana (Vyasa) - which makes him the proponent of Vedanta, which is called the crest-jewel school of Hindu philosophy. Vyasa is also credited as the author of a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Krishna, his devoted ones, and his dynasty

Central in the long Mahabharata epos is the battle of Kurukshetra, where Krishna appears as the charioteer of the bowman Arjuna, and teaches him. It comes to the fore, both in the Mahabharata and in this work, the Srimad Bhagavata (Bhagavata Purana, Bhagavatam), that Krishna had decided to do away with the nobles and other kings by having them locked in a war. But why?

Once there was a gambling match in the court of Hastinapura, where the five Pandava brothers lost everything, including their freedom, to their half-brothers, the Kauravas. They also bet on their common wife Draupadi and lost her too. Afterwards the winner, Dushasana, brought Draupadi to the court, pulling her by her long, black hair, and tried to strip her naked in front of all the others. He started pulling her sari.

Draupadi called her husbands to save her, but they had sold themselves to be slaves during the dice-playing, and did not fee free to help her. She then called for help from all the elders sitting in the court, but they did not get up. Most of them closed their eyes. None came forward to help Draupadi. All her appeals fell on deaf ears. Then Draupadi called on the absent Krishna to save her. In a moment he lengthened her sari (dress), so that no matter how Dushasana kept pulling on the sari, he was not able to disrobe her.

Later, in a forest, Krishna visited the five brothers and was told many details. In consequence, Krishna got angry with the disrobing party, saying, "I will make this earth wet with the blood of these lust warriors. I swear to do this." And to Draupadi he said, "Listen to my oath. The heavens may fall, the seas may dry up ... but the words of krishna will never be vain, empty words. You will see all the Kauravas dead.

So when two huge armies went to war some years later, it was explained as Krishna's revenge and subtle manipulations to fulfil Righteousness - and his own oath. A mother of some of the dead warriors said to him in a flare of anger: "You could have averted this," and then she cursed him and his dynasty. Krishna pointed out that his duty was to protect Dharma (righteousness) and not to prevent the war. He smiled: "I am not sorry for the deaths of the Kauravas." As for his own dynasty, he said, "I am glad your curse has solved a problem; I would have had to kill them if you had not cursed them."

Yes, he arranged for kings who were troubling the earth to assemble with their armies on opposite sides of the battlefield, and had them killed in war, no matter how great they had been called and are still called. In this way the earth was relieved of a great burden, says the Mahabharata. [Aha 166 ff, 694]

Krishna thought to himself, "Although some may say that the earth's burden is now gone, in My opinion it is not yet gone. For there still remains my own dynasty. Its strength is unbearable for the earth." [3]

Krishna further thought, "No outside force could ever bring about the defeat of this family. But I will inspire a quarrel within the dynasty, and that quarrel will act just like a fire created from the friction of bamboo in a grove." [4]

Krishna now wanted to have his own dynasty wiped out, and annihilated it was. [5-10]

Right before his dynasty was wiped out in a drinking brawl, he spoke the Uddhava Gita also. Time had come for Krishna to leave the earth plane, he too. But first he taught his friend Uddhava a whole lot. These teachings are called Uddhava Gita, also Hamsa Gita. It is in the 11th book of the Srimad Bhagavata (Bhagavata Purana), from chapter 7 onwards. Uddhava Gita gist is found on another page: [Link]

The Bhagavata Purana

The Bhagavata Purana is one of the classics of Hinduism, and very popular. The work is a story that is told by a Suta to a gathering of sages who ask to be taught. Suta then relates the Bhagavatam as he has heard it from Vyasa's son Suka.

There are twelve sections or cantos in all. The tenth has stories of Krishna's boyhood, youth, manhood and pastimes. The eleventh contains instructions to various devoted followers, and the Uddhava Gita forms part of that larger scheme.

According to Hindu tradition the Bhagavata Purana was authored by Veda Vyasa. The Bhagavata Purana is to followers of Vishnu - they constitute nine tenths of all Hindus - what the Bible is to Christians: central for the faith.

At bottom this Purana is ancient, and like other ancient works in Hinduism, is hardly marked by a narrow, sectarian spirit per se.

The Bhagavata Purana is told to someone who prepares for his impending death, and is told of what is to be the goal of life. The Uddhava Gita is similar to the Bhagavad Gita in that it is a teaching poem (narrative); that Krishna instructs a follower; and conditions are pressing.

In Puranas, Uddhava is the friend and counsellor of Krishna, and plays a significant role in being taught yoga directly by Krishna. Uddhava approaches Krishna and begs him to take him with him when Krishna is about to depart. Instead Krishna expounds the Uddhava Gita to him, in part as consolation. Uddhava Gita is a mixture of sublime devotional passages and practical advice on how to live and meditate.

Technical Information about "Blessed Dear" or -

I have drawn on and simplified the form of Srila Prabhupada's English translation throughout, without altering the main content.

The spelling is British English.

Diacritical marks have been omitted.

Ceremonial "O's" are largely dropped.

I have preferred common spelling of some words. Thus: Krishna instead of Krsna.

Appellatives have been simplified to assist the reader: "My Dear" and "O my dear" may be fine, but "Dear" is shorter and to the point.

As a result of such editorial moves, "the Supreme Personality of the Godhead", is translated into 'Lord', which covers the deep meaning, for the Sanskrit word that is translated as "the Supreme Personality of the Godhead" in many places, is Bhagavan. It stands for 'personal God', 'Blessed One', or 'Lord'. Thus, Krishna in the original Sanskrit is called Bhagavan, "the blessed or fortunate one". The Sanskrit word comes from the noun bhaga, which means "fortune, wealth". Added meanings are "owning fortune, blessed, prosperous, illustrious, divine, venerable, holy". I simply use Lord for it throughout.

"Blessed Lord" and so on are translations of Bhagavan, and so is "The Supreme Personality of the Godhead", which Prabhupada uses a lot in his translation. With 'Lord' used for Krishna here, instead of 'Lord Brahma' there is 'Brahma' too.

These combined moves, along with some others, help making the text easier to read. As for the general stand that is convenyed by this editing, compare:

Pride once entered into the heart of Arjuna, another friend of Krishna. Krishna, reading the heart of his friend, took him one day for a walk. They had not gone far when Arjuna saw a strange Brahmin eating dry grass as food, while carrying a sword.

Arjuna went up to the man and said: "Sir, you live on dry grass. Why then do you carry this sharp sword?"

The Brahmin: "It is to punish four persons if I chance to meet them."

Arjuna: "Who are they?"

The Brahmin: The first is the wretch Narada."

Arjuna: "Why, what has he done?"

The Brahmin: "Why, look at the audacity of that fellow; he is perpetually keeping my Lord awake with his songs and music. He has no consideration whatever for the comfort of the Lord. Day and night, in and out of season, he disturbs the peace of the Lord by his prayers and praises."

Arjuna: "Who is the second person?"

The Brahmin: "The impudent Draupadi."

Arjuna: "What is her fault?"

The Brahmin: "Look at the inconsiderate audacity of the woman. She was so rash as to call my beloved Lord just at the moment he was going to dine. He had to give up his dinner and go to the Kamyaka Vana to save the Pandavas from the curse of Durvasa. And her presumption went so far that she even caused my beloved Lord to eat the impure remnant of her own food."

Arjuna: "Who is the third?"

The Brahmin: "It is the heartless Prahlada. He was so cruel that he did not hesitate for a moment to ask my Lord to enter the boiling cauldron of oil, to be trodden under the heavy feet of the elephants and to break through an adamantine pillar."

Arjuna: "Who is the fourth?"

The Brahmin: "The wretch Arjuna."

Arjuna: "Why, what fault has he committed?"

The Brahmin: "Look at his felony. He made my beloved Lord take the mean office of a charioteer of his car in the great war of Kurukshetra."

Arjuna was amazed at the depth of the Brahmin's devotion and love, and he gave up thinking that he was the best devotee of all. [Ramakrishna tale: Tas, tale 77, retold]

Thus, try "Dear" over "My Dear" throughout.

A representative of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust said that this translation differs so much from theirs that there was no need for their permission to publish it. Regardless of that, there are no great changes of basic content. And for those who would like to see how the Sanskrit runs, get a purport for any verse, or access the verses without formal simplifications - such material is online.

Near the bottom of this and on the next few pages are abstracts of Bhagavata chapters. They prepare for the Uddhava Gita itself, giving the teaching poem a somewhat wider setting. The Uddhava Gita proper starts with the seventh chapter.

Uddhava Gita is a Part of an Influential Book of Vishnuism

The Uddhava Gita is a part of an old Purana. Puranas is a class of Hindu literature that have been developed by generations of storytellers. The Bhagavata itself, and Hindu tradition, gives ancient origins for the story, with authorship credited to Veda Vyasa. Most modern scholars date the extant version to the 800s or 900s CE.

The Srimad Bhagavatam is the most well known and influential of the Puranas. There are over eighteen such collections of books. The primary focus of the present text (also called Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavata) is on bhakti (devotion) to the incarnations of Vishnu, particularly Krishna.

The book presents a fairly developed teaching on bhakti, devotion. Meditating on the lila, play, of Krishna; hearing and singing about Vishnu/Krishna; remembering, serving, and worshipping him are among nine activities of Bhakti Yoga taught in the Bhagavata. The Bhagavata also teaches that bhakti is more important than caste, and rejects the idea that a brahmin (member of the fourth caste) is superior to others merely by birth. Famous devotees of Krishna include those from lower castes, and among them are uneducated wives of herdsman, and milkmaids. The text is also critical of getting, protecting, and enjoying wealth. The work emphasises attaining moksha, which is a word for spirit freedom, through cultivating a personal and devoted relationship with Vishnu in the form of Krishna.

The philosophy and teachings of the Bhagavata include several traditions. Although Bhakti Yoga is the prominent teaching, various passages also include syntheses of Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, and Advaita Vedanta.

Samkhya is a dominant philosophy in the text, with a marked, added stress on devotion.

The book often discusses the merging of the individual soul with the Absolute Brahman, or "the return of Brahman into His own true nature", which is an advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy. The concept of Bhagavan (Bhagvan, Personal God) is added, and the resulting over-all outlook is described as "Advaitic Theism".

The Bhagavata also contains many well-known stories from the life of Krishna, and its eleventh book includes the last discourse of Krishna, Uddhava Gita, which is also referred to as Hamsa Gita.

Srila Prabhupada and Gaudiya Vishnuism

The present translation took off from a translation by Srila Prabhupada (1896-1977), a Gaudiya Vaishnava acharya (teacher). That is, he was in the Vishnuism tradition of Chaitanya. The focus of Gaudiya Vishnuism is devotional worship (bhakti) of Radha and Krishna, and their many divine incarnations as the supreme forms of God. A Gaudiya Vishnuism attitude soaks Prabhupada's translation and this one - by the choice of words and phrases, so I had better say a few things about these translation biases. As for me, I just render the translation of Prabhupada, at times including phrases from some other translations.

Living beings: According to Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, consciousness is not a product of matter, and is instead a symptom of the soul. This is consistent with the concept of samsara found throughout Hindu belief. However, in Gaudiya Vaishnavism pure love of God is held to be the ultimate aim rather than liberation.

Supreme Being: Many Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe that God has many forms and names, but that the name Krishna is the 'fullest' description. Names of God from other religious traditions such as Allah and Jehovah are also accepted. And Krishna is worshipped specifically as the source of all incarnations of God. Krishna is described elsewhere as the "seed-giving father of all living beings" - being the "sustaining energy of the universe."

Inconceivable oneness and difference: Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy uses the concept of Achintya Bhedabheda, which translates to such as "inconceivable oneness and difference." It is one of the foms of Vedanta philosophy. The relation between the jiva (individual spirit) and the unlimited Supreme Being is called inconceivable to the human mind, but can be experienced. This philosophy serves as a meeting of two opposing schools of Hindu philosophy, namely pure monism (God and the soul as one entity) and pure dualism (God and the soul as absolutely separate). But in practice Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy has much more in common with the dualistic schools, where Krishna is worshipped as a Supreme person.

Bhakti Yoga. The Hare Krishna mantra is chanted and sung by practitioners on a daily basis, sometimes for many hours each day.

Diet and lifestyle. Gaudiya Vaishnavas follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, abstaining from all types of animal flesh, including fish and eggs. Onions and garlic are also avoided. Many abstain from intoxicating drinks such as alcoholic beverages. Food is first offered to a deity of Krishna, and then the remnants are eaten. Orthodox Vishnu followers will avoid taking any recreational drugs or intoxicants and engage in sexual relations only within marriage, often for the sole purpose of having children.

History since Chaitanya. The Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition has evolved since Chaitanya into its present form in India. Chaitanya asked a select few among his followers - the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan - to present his theology of bhakti. They and their disciples were instrumental in spreading the theology of Gaudiya Vishnuism across Bengal and Orissa.

Core beliefs. Gaudiya Vaishnavism shares a common set of core beliefs with other Vaishnava schools, but there are also differences. Within Gaudiya Vishnuism Krishna is seen as the original form of God, that is, the source of Vishnu and not his avatar. As Krishna's consort, Radha is similarly viewed as the source of all other shaktis (goddesses), including Lakshmi and Sita. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is worshipped as the most recent avatar of Krishna to descend in the current age.

The Bhagavata itself is much older than Gaudiya Vishnuism and that sect's particular outlooks. I have sought to give the source of some basic translation nuances by showing the basics of Srila Prabhupada's orientations at work. Other fundamental biases would give other translation choices in very many places. An example is furnished above, about the use of "the Supreme Personality of the Godhead" for Bhagavan. In Buddhism, 'Bhagavan' is translated as "the Blessed One".

Also, there are other translations to compare with. I have in my possession N. Raghunathan's Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2 [Sh]; Anand Prabhu's Srimad Bhagavatam [Sba]. Moreover, a book I think could serve a Westerner well at first, is Srimad Bhagavatam: The Wisdom of God, translated by Swami Prabhavananda. The swami writes in his preface: "The teachings of Sri Krishna to his disciple Uddhava (Book XI), has been rendered without omission and with approximate literalness [Sbw vii]." I have culled essential parts from that book on a separate page. [Link]. I have been into some other translations too [Tug; Ug]. Book references are at bottom of the page.

- Tormod Kinnes

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Uddhava Gita, LITERATURE  

Sba: Prabhu, Anand A., tr. Srimad Bhagavatam. Filognostic Association of The Order of Time. [bhagavata.org], 2005.

Sbw: Prabhavananda, Swami, tr. The Wisdom of God (Srimad Bhagavatam). New York: Capricorn/Putnam, 1968.

Sh: Raghunathan, N., tr. Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2. Madras: Vighneswara, 1976.

Tas: Ramakrishna. Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. 5th ed. Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1974.

Tug: Ambikananda Saraswati. Swami, ed. The Uddhava Gita. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2000.

Ug: Brown, Vasu K. Uddhava Gita: The Final Teachings of Krishna and the Lesser Known Companion to Bhagavad-Gita.. Holliston, MA: Sri Lakshmi Services, 2007.

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Uddhava Gita USER'S GUIDE to abbreviations, the site's bibliography, letter codes, dictionaries, site design and navigation, tips for searching the site and page referrals. [LINK]
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