Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Uddhava's Gita

The Uddhava Gita

The other day i received a request to review the recent publication of the Uddhava Gita, the heart of the 11th Canto Srimad Bhagavatam, where Lord Krishna personally speaks to Uddhava just as He is about to depart this planet. These are the Lord's final instructions to us, his parts, who now find ourselves the unhappy residents on this troubled earth. These instructions are a continuation of Sri Krishna's penultimate teaching to Arjuna at Kuruksetra, a Bhagavad Gita, Part II. The Uddhava Gita gets its name from one of the Lord's dearest and most confidential associates who was sent from Mathura to Vrindavan as Krishna's personal representative to the gopis.

With commentaries and purports by two of the greatest vaisnava acaryas, Srila Visvanath Cakravarti Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, this new volume of the 11th Canto by Touchstone Media is a gold mine for serious devotees. By serious, i mean those devotees who have "seen it, heard it and done it" in terms of material dealings, and who are now on the cusp of proper detachment. Those who do not seek fame, glory or profit from bhakti (as most kanistha adhikaris are apt to do, without admitting it to themselves or others), but rather, those who are tired of the endless ego games and who are thirsty for inner peace and humble service to the Lord are the rare, truly qualified readers of such transcendental literature.

I know Isvara Das, the publisher of Uddhava Gita, from Vrindavan. He has been a prolific independent producer of important vaisnava texts over the last decade. Isvara prabhu has single-handedly published a body of work that contributes much to our Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta.... filling the lacuna created by the BBT, who instead of producing new works or adding useful compendia to Srila Prabhupada's vast literary output, have been busy attacking the founder-acarya's original translations with editorial revisions bordering on (or even surpassing) the offensive.

The Uddhava Gita by Touchstone Media is unlike some of the BBT's works in this regard. It is not just dedicated to Srila Prabhupada but serves him by presenting the words of two great previous acaryas without alteration or self indulgence. It is stylistically based on Prabhupada's books, presenting the original Sanskrit verses from the Bhagavatam, Roman transliterations, English translations, and complete commentaries by Srila Cakravarti and Sarasvati Thakurs. It also contains glossaries of terms used and a general index. It is 820 pages.

Thankfully, this translation of the 11th Canto is refreshing in its conspicuous absence of arrogant purports by Hridayananda Das written and published during the great zonal acarya epoch in Iskcon. That era produced a translation that was polluted with grandiose statements about the soon-to-be-fallen zonal gurus of Iskcon. The BBT has probably removed the most egregious content from those volumes, but i still remember my discomfort in reading the commentaries and i refused to accept them as a companion to Prabhupada's Bhagavatam. It is indeed sad that even the highest things, such as this 11th Canto, considered the Crown on the Head of Sri Krishna, can be made temporary hostages of darkness. This publication remedies some of the shame and disgrace done in the name of Srila Prabhupada by offering a transparent translation of the commentaries by Visvanath Cakravarti Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.

In the first chapter, Srila Sarasvati Thakur tells us, for example, in a purport to the 32nd verse:
"Those who are averse to Krishna and who are full of anarthas are always busy lording it over material objects. They spend their days accomplishing the three objectives of life— religiosity, economic development, and sense gratification. Their only aim is to enhance their duration of life, as well as their glories and beauty. Because Avadhuta Mahasaya did not display any such behavior, King Yadu asked him the reason for his wandering about in this way. In reply, the avadhuta said: 'Rather than accepting these twenty-four entities that are observed within this visible world as the means of my enjoyment, I have accepted them as my instructing spiritual masters, giving up the conception of accepting something and rejecting something else. I do not live like an ordinary human being, who is driven by mental speculation and thus bereft of the service of a spiritual master. I travel in this world under the shelter of my fixed intelligence. With a desire to surpass all anarthas and to always render loving service to the Supreme Lord, I have taken shelter of these twenty-four spiritual masters.'”

A few verses later, in verse 44, the avadhuta tells the King:
"O King, a saintly person is naturally pure, free from all contaminations, well behaved, and a benefactor of all human beings. Just by seeing, touching, or hearing such an exalted soul, one is purified just as one is cleansed by bathing with pure water. A saintly person, like a holy place of pilgrimage, purifies all those who meet him, because he is always engaged in chanting the glories of the Lord. "

And Cakravarti Thakur comments on this verse:
"Now the lesson to be learned from water is being described. Water is by nature pure and cooling. It is considered to be affectionate toward everyone. Water is sweet. Saintly persons are also sweet by nature and they purify all living entities by instructing them about devotional service. Saintly persons should behave as the well-wishing friend of everyone, just like water. Devotees purify everyone, just as water purifies everything by its contact."

A real devotee is a well-wishing friend of everyone. Like water, he or she is affectionate, pure and cooling towards all. What matters to a devotee is what is pure, not what is popular. Where we find real affection, real humanity, real purification is where we find a real devotee.

Without the company of such devotees, no amount of mental, intellectual or quasi-spiritual assets have any true value. Without having such association, we can only feel deep sadness and separation. We can try our best to hear from such saintly persons via these books and the recordings of pure devotees. This is our only source of hope.

The spiritual ocean that is Bhagavad-gita is thus expanded in the ocean of the Uddhava-gita. True to form, the Lord always glorifies his devotees as He instructs them. Thus, we can praise the unexcelled good fortune of both Arjuna and Uddhava, the extremely confidential friends and direct disciples of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. And pray to get more and more opportunity to drop all remaining pretense so that we can receive these profoundly pure teachings and they will act on our hearts. Books such as Uddhava Gita and the original Bhagavad-gita As It Is (1972) give us this chance.

All the books, dvds and other media produced by Touchstone Media can be accessed and purchased at

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