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The Commentary Has Begun

Gurudevi Explains the Guru Gita - in English!

by Priya Lori Kenney, based on an interview with Gurudevi Nirmalananda

In our last E-letter, we reported that Swamiji had finished Pronunciation Lessons for all 182 verses and for the introductory mantras of the Guru Gita. Those pronunciation lessons are only the beginning of a fountain of treasures she is making available to us, all because of her dedication to easing access to this sacred and powerful text.

During the process of recording the pronunciation lessons, there were often guests at the Ashram who joined Gurudevi for the morning Guru Gita chant. She says, “Everyone but me was reading the English translation of the verses! I was totally focused on the Sanskrit and even have a copy with no English in it so I could be focused on the Sanskrit.” There were many questions. Questions about the Guru’s feet and references to food left by the Guru and many other mysterious passages in the text. 

Gurudevi realized we needed more explanation of the meaning of the rich verses and teachings in the Guru Gita. The only book Gurudevi knew of that offered such an explanation had been out of print in India for over 40 years. No problem. Gurudevi is on it, jumping in with both of those mysteriously wonderful feet that we will soon learn much more about. There is no doubt that we are blessed with a very hard-working Swami.

How it Works:

Gurudevi has already begun the commentary, available online in our Podbean Channel.  Each verse has several recordings:

a pronunciation lesson

a chant of the single verse in Sanskrit, repeated five times

commentary on the verse's meaning.

She did two or three verses per week in the beginning, though the project is currently on hiatus. The commentary for each verse is 10-15 minutes long, even though some verses could easily be the subject of an entire thesis. Gurudevi says, “One of the reasons I can do this is that, while one verse has only four lines, it may cover ten or more principles, with very pithy Sanskrit words. But the principles cycle back around and come up again in another verse. So if I don’t address it the first time it appears, I’ll have a chance a little bit later on to bring that up again.”

This project is bigger than it may first appear to be. For her research, Gurudevi has found eight translations of the Guru Gita that she is using, which include a word-by-word translation as well as two translations from the Skanda Purana, the source text.

“The Guru Gita is a particular section found near the end of the Skanda Purana.  In the original, it has 352 verses,” Gurudevi explains. “Muktananda cut out about half of the verses to shorten the text for Westerners to chant. I am looking not only at the verses that Muktananda included, but also looking at the ones he removed.  This shows me what information is superfluous, what is not integral to the process for Westerners.  Also, what he removed helps to explain the verses he kept in.”

While many sacred texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, are posted on the internet, the Guru Gita has not been available on-line.  This is also part of Gurudevi’s commitment to make the Guru Gita more accessible.  Her versification of the first 99 verses, along with the transliteration of the whole text (182) verses is now avalable - click here.

She elaborates, “Shree Guru Gita is too ancient to copyright, so technically what has been copyrighted by others is the translation and the transliteration. Transliteration is the process of phonetically representing the Sanskrit with English letters. There are five or six different systems of transliteration.  Since prior publications have used only two of them, I have posted it with the newest, most recent version of transliteration (Velthuis).  It is a computer-friendly version that doesn’t require any special font. People who are used to chanting the Guru Gita with one set of lettering should find it easy do adapt to this new presentation.”

“I don’t promise to complete this project right away,” says Gurudevi. “It’s much easier for me to teach the Sanskrit pronunciation than it is to prepare a succinct commentary and translation of each verse.” Given her teaching schedule, she estimates this project could take a while. But lest you think this is a burden, Gurudevi says with pleasure, “Oh gee, a longer immersion in the Guru Gita!”


updated 8/9/2021


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