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Shivabalayogi & Yoga Vasistha

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Purchase a print copy of the complete, 1891 translation of Yoga Vasistha Maharamayana, revised in modern English.

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Shivabalayogi and English Translations
of Yoga Vasistha

Encouraged by Shivabalayogi’s praise for the book, devotees in the United States tried to find copies.

MitraThe only complete English translation of the Sanskrit work was a two-volume set by Vihari Lal Mitra printed in 1891, long out of print and existing copies scarce.  A new abridged translation by Swami Venkatesananda, The Concise Yoga Vasistha, had recently been published in 1984.  We asked Swamiji about it and he complained that it was not as good as the original because in shortening and adapting the original, Venkatesananda had made too many alterations.  We read the abridgment anyway, and even in that form the book was mind-altering.Concise

Venkatesananda wrote more expanded abridgments, Vasistha’s Yoga published in 1993, and The Supreme Yoga, 2007.  Like the earlier The Concise Yoga Vasistha, these works are extremely well written, intelligent and inspiring.  His modern English is excellent.  Swami Venkatesananda and Swami Jyotirmayananda, who produced the abridged Yoga Vasistha are direct disciples of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh.  Swami Jyotirmayananda gives occasional podcasts on Yoga Vasistha and he has written a six-volume summary of its essence.

How Shivabalayogi knew anything about Venkatesananda’s The Concise Yoga Vasistha is anyone’s guess.  It’s not like he read it.  But comparing Venkatesananda’s more complete Vasistha’s Yoga with Mitra’s 1891 translation, chapter by chapter, it’s obvious how much has been omitted.  The Concise abridgment is about a twenty-five percent condensation.

Mitra knew Sanskrit and read the commentaries.  He was also an excellent scholar in Western spiritual poetry and literature.  Those who do not read Sanskrit can only give second hand evaluations, but his translation may reflect the poetical qualities in which the Sanskrit of the Yoga Vasistha was written.  Indian scriptures were first meant to be heard and only in later ages to be read.  Obviously a lot of meaning since the ancient times of the Treta Yuga has been lost.

Some criticize Mitra for taking liberties and augmenting the text.  Currently there is a collaborative, volunteer project to prepare a completely new English translation of the original Sanskrit (Google Group Yoga Vasishtha).  They recognize that Mitra’s 1891 translation “is not a satisfactory translation.  The English is very poor.  It often uses the word ‘God’ to translate ‘Paramatma’, etc.  But worst of all, it constantly paraphrases and amplifies the text it ought to be translating.  But it is all we have for a complete translation.”

Archaic English in the Mitra translation apparently motivated Ravi Prakash Arya to prepare an edit.  The result is Yoga Vasistha of Valmiki published in India four volumes in 1999.  Arya notes that Mitra’s Bengali background affected his Sanskrit spelling, he used archaic English, and some of his rendering was simply misleading.  For example, Arya writes, Mitra misleadingly translates samadhi as hypnosis or trance.

There are other English translations, abridgments and commentaries available in India.  Vidvan Bulusu Venkateswarulu translated the complete six books of Yoga Vasistha, but not the supplemental second part of the sixth book on Nirvana.  His complete translation was published over twenty years ago in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, but is also out of print.

Swamiji told us in the United States that he would have a new English translation prepared by a devotee in India working with the edition Swamiji himself had read, twice.  This edition contains parallel Sanskrit and Telugu text.  The Telugu translation was done by Swami Purnananda and Swami Vidyaprakasanandagiri of Vyasa Ashram, Erpedu, Chittoor District, in Andhra Pradesh, India.  The devotee was Prof. P. N. Murthy, an engineering professor educated in Telugu and English who knew Sanskrit.

In a draft introduction to the Book on Nirvana, Prof. Murthy wrote how Shivabalayogi encouraged him to prepare a new translation.  “The magnitude of the task was staggering,” Murthy wrote, then added, “There is another angle to it.  Devotees all believe that Swamiji was Vasistha and what is preserved in the Yoga Vasistha is what he said thousands of years ago.  We hope that through this translation, he is again speaking to the world.”

Prof. Murthy’s English translation of the Book of Nirvana was published in India in two volumes.  The translation suggests that the Sanskrit verses are terse with little in the way of flow connecting or developing concepts.  Perhaps this is driven by the slokas (couplets) in which the Sanskrit text is composed.  This staccato flow of the text is also apparent in Mitra, but somewhat less because he added and amplified.  Or it may be that Prof. Murthy’s translation condenses too many verses.  He also omits some of the detailed descriptions, so in some ways, it is incomplete.  On the other hand, he included one reference to vidyadhara (demigod) love making which the Victorian prude Mitra omitted.

Project Gutenberg makes out-of-print books whose copyright has expired available to the public as e-books without charge.  It is currently working on completing Mitra’s 1891 translation and a preliminary version is already available online.  However, we still have no readily available complete translation in print outside of India.

Jay Mazo downloaded the Project Gutenberg copy and spent a year revising it to delete the archaic second person (“thee” and “thou”) that Mitra had used.  Jay is making his edit available on his Inner Guide website.  He has made a study of Yoga Vasistha and its various English translations, going verse by verse comparing them.  I am grateful to Jay for much of the information about English translations in this web page.

I began reading Jay’s edit on my computer, then the original Mitra translation from Project Gutenberg.  To my taste, Jay had not gone far enough.  Mitra’s English, even his punctuation, is frustratingly opaque and obscures the subject matter.  I found myself editing the text on my computer just to be able to understand what Mitra was writing.  It was the only way I could read the translation.  This quickly evolved into the idea that I would print my own copy of the complete Yoga Vasistha.  With today’s book publishing technology, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to print a single copy of a book.  In a little over a year, I went through two rounds of edits.

For those interested, this complete, unabridged, but revised Mitra translation is available at Yoga Vasistha Maharamayana.

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