I never mentioned it in a post, I didn’t list it in my sidebar as a book I was reading, and for a couple of weeks I even forgot I was reading it until I picked up the book that was sitting on top of it. And now, having finished it, I look at it’s pages bristling with page points and suddenly know where they have all gone to. The Bhagavad-Gita is a really interesting little book. I’ve always wanted to read it and finally picked it up because of Emerson. And what an obvious influence it had on him too. But I won’t get you yawning with comparing and contrasting. I’ll just leave Emerson out of the picture and talk about the Gita
I picked up my edition for a few dollars in the Barnes and Noble bargain section years ago. It is translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood and has an introduction by Aldous Huxley. The translation itself seems fine. What I don’t like is that they chose to translate parts of it in verse and other parts in prose. It gives the effect of the prose being a summary, even though it isn’t. The Huxley introduction is good. The book also has two appendices. One is on the cosmology of the Gita and the other is on war and the Gita.
The title, Bhagavad-Gita, translates as “Song of God.” The book takes place just before a big battle. Both sides wanted Krishna to be on their side. Krishna said he could only be on one side and that they would have to choose between him and calling in allies. Duryodhana, the bad greedy king in the story, chose the allies. Arjuna, brave, strong warrior, chose Krishna. Arjuna recognizes many people that he knows in the army of Duryodhana and wavers in his resolve to fight because he does not want to kill people who are friends. But Krishna, who is serving as Arjuna’s charioteer, tells Arjuna he’s full of it and that he needs to fight. The Gita then turns into a lesson in which Krishna teaches Arjuna about Brahman.
Through Arjuna’s questions and Krishna’s answers, Krishna teaches about different kinds of yoga (yoga means both union with God and a prescribed spiritual path) which include knowledge, karma, renunciation, meditation, mysticism, and devotion. There are also the three gunas, ways of being that combine in various ways in everyone, but in each there is generally one that predominates. They are sort of like the old western idea of humors. We also learn about the cycles of birth and death as well as the many faces of God.
It is a beautiful book, rich and deep. I don’t know what else to say about it other than I plan on reading it again sometime. I’ll leave you with two short quotes that I really liked that also reminded me of Emerson:
The faith of each individual corresponds to his temperament. A man consists of the faith that is in him. Whatever his faith is, he is.
A man’s own natural duty, even if it seems imperfectly done, is better than work not naturally his own, even if this is well performed. When a man acts according to the law of his nature, he cannot be sinning. Therefore, no one should give up his natural work, even though he does it imperfectly. For all action is involved in imperfection, like fire and smoke.
Not bad for having been written sometime between the fifth and second century B.C.E.