Robert Jacoby's Reviews > The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita by Anonymous
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Nov 24, 2011

it was amazing

Title: Exceptional introduction to Hindu scripture and belief

(Background: Over a couple of decades' time I planned to read the scriptures of the world's great religions/philosophies. I started with my own, reading the Bible in two different translations--first the Hebrew-Greek Word Study Bible by Spiros Zodhiates, and then the KJV--to gain a better grasp on my spirituality and to think critically about why and what I believed. I also wanted to get a better understanding of the world's major religions so that I could be more in tune with people, their language and their culture, and current events. Next I turned to Islam and Al-Quaran. After that The Bhagavad Gita and the Analects of Confucius. Every reading is helping me go a bit deeper and wider into man's search for God and, through that, meaning in this life. More books and reviews to come.)

The Bhagavad Gita (the Gita) is likely the best known (to Western minds) of Hindu scriptures. What's not likely known is that it is but a tiny portion of a larger Sanskrit epic poem, Mahabharata; which, at ~1.8 million words, is the longest known epic poem (for comparison, the Mahabharata is 10 times the length of The Illiad and The Odyssey combined). Its been compared in breadth and depth to the whole of Greek literature or Shakespeare. The Bhagavad Gita is 700 verses of that larger work. Before buying a copy of the Gita I did a little research. I wanted a translation that was well respected among the community of scholars but also easily accessible, true to its roots, and with plenty of explanatory material. I found that in this volume.

Eknath Easwaran is widely recognized for his work as a teacher, writer, and translator. I think this volume has everything you'd want for your introduction to the Gita and its relationship to Hinduism:
--in-depth author introductions for the entire book and for each chapter
--end notes that provide deeper explorations and explanations of the text
--excellent glossary of terms
--index

The Bhagavad Gita is "The Song of the Lord." Who is the Lord? Krishna. From the glossary: ""black"; or from krish 'to draw, to attract to oneself'....'The Dark One' or 'He who draws us to Himself,'.... He is the inner Lord, who personifies spiritual love and lives in the hearts of all beings." He comes to visit Prince Arjuna on the brink of a war he does not want to fight. He's struggling. From the back cover: "The Bhagavad Gita opens .... on a battlefield, as the warrior Arjuna turns in anguish to his spiritual guide, Sri Krisha, for answers to the fundamental questions of life." So, "the Gita's subject is the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage' to live a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and worthwhile."

But what is "meaningful, fulfilling, and worthwhile"?

As a Christian, I know what sustains me. As a writer and student of life, I'm interested in understanding others and learning how others live life, what sustains them, what gives them purpose, why they think we're here. In sum: why is there something instead of nothing? (If you're an atheist the answer, of course, is "just because"; a foolish response, to me, which logically leads to nihilism.) Reading this copy of the Gita provided me with a great introduction to Hinduism, its beliefs, and its traditions. Easwaran has a unique mastery of language, teaching, and practice; he explains this Hindu spiritual text and Hindu spirituality in a very practical way. His very lengthy introduction places the Gita in its historical context and what it means among the classics of Indian spirituality.

I recommend getting the paper copy: it has front and back cover flaps handy to use as bookmarks. I jotted many notes in the back, as I typically do with these sorts of books. Some include that Krishna is "the attractive one" and at the same time "the dark one" (p. 113) and also "the beginning and the end" (p. 175); that no soul can be eternally lost (p. 214); and that "evil is transient and therefore is not ultimately real" (p. 245). And "[Knowledge of goodness] sees the one indestructible Being in all beings, the unity underlying the multiplicity of creation" (p. 258).

During my reading and note taking I found the differences between Christianity and Hinduism to be deep and striking; I caution other Christians to read this book with real deliberation. "Don't let anyone lead you astray..." (Col. 2:8).

(As an aside, reading the Gita influenced a line in one of my [many] unpublished poems, titled "Tears wet the sea colour sky." I was reading the Gita on vacation in Belize and, based on all my previous readings of the world's religious scriptures--and also after touring the temples in the jungle--got inspired. A portion of the poem is:

...
This sensual fronded heat, residue of creations
How the universe first loved.

The destroyer of worlds speaks with one thousand mouths.
...

That last line is a nod to Krishna, and my ex-wife.)

5 stars. I think it's an exceptional introduction to this Hindu scripture in particular and Hinduism's beliefs and practices in general.
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