The Commentary Has Begun

Swamiji Explains the Guru Gita - in English!

by Priya Lori Kenney, based on an interview with Swami 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 Swamiji 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. Swamiji realized we needed more explanation of the meaning of the rich verses and teachings in the Guru Gita. The only book Swamiji knew of that offered such an explanation had been out of print in India for over 39 years. No problem. Swamiji 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:

Swamiji has already begun the commentary, with the Introductory Verses posted online. She will be doing two or three verses per week. The commentary for each verse will be 10-15 minutes long, even though some verses could easily be the subject of an entire thesis. Swamiji says, “One of the reasons I can do this is that one verse might be very rich with four lines and 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.”

The first group of Commentaries on the Verses is now available. As these groups are posted, they will include the pronunciation of the Sanskrit for each verse, Chanting of each verse and Swami's commentary about each verse.

This project is bigger than it may first appear to be. For her research, Swamiji 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 that has 352 verses,” Swamiji 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 in the chant, but also looking at the ones he removed to see what information is superfluous, what is not integral to the process for Westerners as well as where I can find things he removed that helps to explain the verses he kept in.”

Seva Team

A seva team that includes Kelly Goss, Ruth Brooke and Lilavati Costello is assisting Swamiji by extracting translations on each verse from four sources. Swamiji is personally working with two sources.

While many sacred texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, are posted on the internet, the Sanskrit version of the Guru Gita is not available on-line. Doing this additional step is part of Swamiji’s commitment to make the Guru Gita more accessible. “One member of the sevite team is putting together the Sanskrit transliteration so we’ll be able to chant it and I’m going to post that on the internet.”

Swamiji wants to make sure she does not violate the copyright that the SYDA Foundation holds. She elaborates, “Shree Guru Gita is too ancient of a text to copyright, so technically what they have copyrighted is the transliteration. Transliteration is the process of phonetically representing the Sanskrit with English letters. There are five or six different systems of transliteration and SYDA Foundation has only used two of them. I will be posting the newest, most recent version of transliteration which 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 are going to find some slight variations with this new version.”

One Year? Or Two?

“I don’t promise to complete this in a year,” says Swamiji. “It’s much easier for me to teach the Sanskrit than it is to prepare a succinct commentary and translation of each verse.” Given her teaching schedule for 2012 is probably three times greater than it was last year, she estimates this project could take two years. But lest you think this is a burden, Swamiji says with pleasure, “Oh gee, two more years of immersion in the Guru Gita!”