A New Look at the Bhagavad Gita

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<p>Krishnas Song</p> <p>Krishnas SongA New Look at the Bhagavad Gita</p> <p>Steven J. Rosen</p> <p>Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rosen, Steven, 1955 Krishnas Song : a new look at the Bhagavad Gita / Steven J. Rosen. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 9780313345531 (alk. paper) 1. BhagavadgitaCriticism, interpretation, etc. I. Title. BL1138.66.R68 2007 294.5 624dc22 2007027871 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. Copyright c 2007 by Steven J. Rosen All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, by any process or technique, without the express written consent of the publisher. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2007027871 ISBN: 9780313345531 First published in 2007 Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. www.praeger.com Printed in the United States of America</p> <p>The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards Organization (Z39.481984). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Cover Image: Taken from an illuminated manuscript of the seventeenth century, a rajput king is here offering obeisance to Krishna. Though not a scene from the Bhagavad Gita, the kings presence evokes Krishnas four-armed Vishnu manifestation, including the mood of awe and reverence found in the Gitas pages. Still, the presence of the cows and the gopis, or cowherd maidens, suggest the philosophical conclusions of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, which is indeed the emphasis of the current work and harkens to the real inner meaning of the text.</p> <p>To Sri Guru Parampara, without whom the Bhagavad Gita would be lost forever</p> <p>Contents</p> <p>Introduction 1. A Preamble to the Bhagavad Gita: Man Is Meant to Be Thoughtful 2. Who Are You? 3. An Overview 4. Fight or Flight: Violence in the Saga of the Pandavas 5. Krishnas Jewel Box 6. The Bhagavad Gita in Black and White 7. Guru Tattva: Transparent Medium to the Divine 8. The Demigods: Exalted Servants of Krishna 9. A Banyan Tree Grows in Brooklyn 10. Nothing Personal, Part I: The Gitas Refutation of Advaita Vedanta 11. Nothing Personal, Part II: God Is True to Form 12. Explosive Devotion: Robert Oppenheimer and the Universal Form 13. Dantes Song: Was the Famous Italian Epic Inuenced by the Bhagavad Gita? 14. Grandfather Bhishma and the Vegetarian Alternative 15. Kierkegaard and the Three Modes of Material Nature 16. Social Classication in Gandhi, Plato, and the Vaishnava Masters</p> <p>ix 1 5 11 21 39 45 49 55 61 67 73 83 89 93 99 103</p> <p>viii 17. Spirituality in the Workplace</p> <p>CONTENTS 109 115 121 127 135 139 143 149 157 161 165</p> <p>18. The Mystery of Madhusudana 19. Arjunas Yogic Preference 20. Bagger Vance: The Mystical Underpinnings of a Contemporary Golf Tale 21. Yoda and Yoga: Star Wars and the Hindu tradition 22. Krishnas Divine Appearance 23. From Ear to Eternity: The Spiritual Dimensions of Sound 24. From the Transcendentalists to Transcendental Love of God Afterword Bibliography Index</p> <p>Introduction</p> <p>Of the sacred books of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita is the most widely read and probably the most important text for the understanding of Eastern mysticism. R. C. Zaehner (University of Oxford)</p> <p>As the twenty-rst century forges ahead, Bhagavad Gita translations are many. This year alone, several new editions will seize the market, each with its own particular slant and emphasis. Recent breakthroughs in the scholarly study of Sanskrit will allow these works to offer something unique, no doubt, and our bookshelves will support yet more attractive editions of this classic work. But will our understanding of the Gita be enhanced in a commensurate way? The words of the text might be illuminated in previously unexplored fashion, and commentary and footnotes might make our foray into its ancient pages a bit more enlightening, which is certainly valuable on numerous levels. But what about our overall understanding of the Gita? What Krishnas Song: A New Look at the Bhagavad Gita seeks to doperhaps in contrast to the above-mentioned endeavorsis to make the Gita more comfortable, more approachable. Rather than merely reiterating what the Gita itself has to sayalthough this book will certainly do much of thatmy primary task, as I see it, is to culturally translate the text, to render it in a language that makes it understandable to a contemporary Western audience. I use concepts and categories with which my audience is accustomed. By engaging familiar motifsissues of modernity, pop culture icons, and wellknown philosophers in the WestI hope to bring the Gita into focus for nonspecialists, especially. To accomplish this end, I refer to the likes of Plato, Gandhi, Kierkegaard, Dante, and Jesus, along with Robert Redford, Allen Ginsberg, George Lucas, Star Wars, the Beatles, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, a contemporary</p> <p>x</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>golf novel, and other easily identiable people and phenomena from modern times. Although I begin with a few introductory articles that might seem like ordinary summariesjust to give the reader some background, some preliminary information on the textI quickly adopt this strategy of explaining the Gita in a user-friendly way. To further accomplish this end of accessibility, the present book is a compilation of informal talks, short essays, and elaborate analyses Ive written over the years. They are stand-alone pieces of prose, and while this makes for easy reading, it might also at times lead to redundancy: brief synopses of the Gita, its main characters and its essential philosophy, will be repeated in a number of these articles. Still, with nuances of difference, the repetition itself starts to act as an aid, affording readers increased familiarity with the facts and personalities that make up the Gita. Some of the articles are necessarily scholarly and in-depth, giving background on the text and exploring philosophical and historical details that one might not nd in the average Gita translation. The other essays are short, layman oriented, and easily accessible. Overall, the book seeks to explain key concepts of the Gita such as karma (action and reaction), reincarnation, violence and religion, social stratication, psychological empowerment, and the nature of Godalmost inadvertently, by engaging aspects of everyday life. The net result should be a broad understanding of the text and its context, as well as its practical relevance for people today. WHAT IS THE BHAGAVAD GITA? The words Bhagavad Gita mean The Song of the Beloved Lord. As a philosophical poem, the Gita is indeed a songit is Krishnas song. And it is sung rst for the benet of Arjuna, the archer-warrior who is Krishnas devotee on the ancient battleeld of Kurukshetra, and then for all living beings who might follow in Arjunas footsteps. There are more such people than one might think. After all, in a sense, Arjuna is not unlike you or I, for the archers dilemmain one way or anotherhaunts us all. We must be spiritual warriors on the battleeld of life. Arjuna faces his demons on an actual battleeld, where he must choose between giving in to temptation and doing the right thing, between running away and doing his duty. In a larger sense, we must all make such decisions. We must choose between selshness and generosity, dishonesty and integrity. Like Arjuna, our outer conict is necessarily accompanied by inner conict. The Gita is thus replete with depth psychology and advice on ideal social behavior, with strategies involving conict resolution and the agenda of transformation. In short, the Gita shows us how Arjuna resolves his problem by employing certain methods of practice, which lead him to inner peace. We, too, can nd such peace, and that by engaging these same techniques, for, again, Arjunas problems are very much like our own.</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>xi</p> <p>As KrishnaGod Incarnate, who is acting as Arjunas charioteerpulls the mighty bowmans two-wheeled vehicle in between both armies, ready for battle, they are witness to legions of generals, statesmen, armed battalions, and the paraphernalia of war. And there, Arjuna sees it: Teachers, friends, and even relatives are among the opposing troops. He is overcome with grief, his body giving way to despair. What is he to do? He is committed to two kinds of duties, or dharma. He is a Kshatriya, or a warrior, sworn to protect the innocent. So he must uphold Kshatriya-dharma. But he is also a principled man of his day, and so Kula-dharma, or duty to family, is also held in high esteem. Here, it seems, is his dilemma: He must choose between one or the other. With family in the rival armies, ready to take his life, he is put in an impossible situation. He is in the ultimate bind. In this state of confusion, he asks Krishna what he should do. The Gita, of course, is Krishnas answer to this question. In the pages that follow, we learn the details of this answer, as well as Krishnas identity as God Incarnate. In the process, we discover who we really are and how to navigate lifes mysterious journey. SOME BACKGROUND ON THE GITA Although widely published and read as a separate text, the Bhagavad Gita originally appears as an episode in the Sixth Book of the Mahabharata (Bhishmaparva, chapters 2340), one of Indias great epics and the longest poem in world literature, consisting, as it does, of 110,000 Sanskrit couplets. The Gita itself consists of 700 verses in eighteen chapters and is often referred to as the Gitopanishad, in that it follows the style and philosophical conclusions of the Upanishads. The connection to the Upanishads is not insignicant. Traditionally, the Gita is identied with smriti (that which is remembered), a category of sacred texts that is considered secondary to the Vedas, which are known as shruti (that which is heard). However, the Upanishads are part of the Vedic canon, and so the Gita is often considered shruti as well, giving it Vedic status. The Gitas traditional colophons, too, afrm its Upanishadic identity. Moreover, in India, even today, certain classes of society are often barred from hearing sections of the Mahabharata, including the Gita, a phenomenon that is peculiar to Vedic studies.1 All of this serves to underline the Gitas high standing among Indias sacred literature. But the smriti component is important as well. Though most Sanskritists would say that smriti refers to truths remembered by the sages and then passed down to modern students, the seers themselves understood the word in yet another way: The sounds and mantras found in smriti literature touch something deep in the soulthey awaken memory, igniting realizations that are already encoded in the very fabric of our being. They spark distant recollections of our original life in the spiritual realm. Whether or not one chooses to believe this, the study of the Gita seems to have just such an effect on many souls who read it. They recite its versesas countless people have done for millenniaand feel deep inspiration, as though they are being reminded of something they have long forgotten.</p> <p>xii</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>That being said, there are numerous questions concerning the texts authorship, date, and provenance. To cite the tradition: the divinely inspired bard Veda Vyasa wrote it as part of the Mahabharata some 5,000 years ago while in his hermitage in the Himalayas. But it is a bit more complicated than that, especially for modern scholars. First, they question whether Vyasa was one person or numerous authors, editors, and redactors. Second, they wonder whether it started as a smaller text in the pre-Christian Era and was added to over time, beginning, say, in 300 bce and nishing in 300 ce. One can nd any number of variations on these dates. Third, scholars tend to question whether the Gita was originally part of the Mahabharata at all, or was simply inserted at a later date. While such concerns occupy the minds of specialists in Hindu studies and Indology, they are more or less nonquestions for believers, who have their own internal evidences for the traditional view, as cited above. However one chooses to answer these questions, the Gitas depth of wisdom is indisputable and it has inspired numerous commentaries throughout the centuries; the book is said to be the most commented upon scripture in the religious history of man. In India, practically every major teacher, dating back to antiquity, has contributed his or her own commentary on it. And the Mahabharata has its own built-in explanation of the text as well, since Book Fourteen includes a summarization of the Gitas contents (called the Anugita). Long-established Vaishnava texts, such as the Varaha Purana and the Padma Purana, include Gitamahatmyas (verses glorifying the Gita), which are used by all schools of Indian thought. Vaishnavism is a monotheistic religionoften considered a branch of Hinduismthat focuses on Vishnu, or Krishna, as Supreme Lord, and it bases its teachings on the Bhagavad Gita. In the seventh and eighth centuries ce, teachers of the non-Vaishnava impersonalist school, too, contributed to the storehouse of Gita exposition. Stalwarts such as Bhaskara and Shankara, for example, wrote what are now considered classic Gita commentaries, though such works lack the personalistic insights of the Vaishnavas. Most important, in this respect, are the many highly theistic commentaries that followed, particularly that of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (18961977), the founder and spiritual preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, whose English edition was rst released just over forty years ago. And while were on the subject of English translations, the Gitas journey to Western shores is covered in this book with some detail. In fact, after the Gita was translated into English for the rst timeby Charles Wilkins in 1785its popularity began to soar outside India. Intellectuals among the Germans (Schlegel, Deussen, and Schopenhauer), Americans (Emerson and Thoreau), Englishmen (Max Mueller, who was English by adoption, and Aldous Huxley), Frenchmen (Romain Rolland), and Russians (Tolstoy) were greatly intrigued by the Gitas message. This message continues to be expounded upon even today, in many ways due to Prabhupadas efforts.</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>xiii</p> <p>But there are other notable English renditions of the Gita, too, and as 2007 moves into 2008, three of them stand out as particularly signicant: I speak of the work of Laurie Patton (Penguin), Graham Schweig (Harper), and Steven Tsoukalas (Edwin Mellon Press). Patton looks for Vedic resonances in her beautifully owing poetic translation; Schweig digs deeply into the original Sanskrit to reveal hitherto unknown truths of the Gitas inner message; and Tsoukalass multivolume version draws on traditional commentators as well as more popular contemporary editions. The book of essays you now hold in your hands will go well with each of these translations, a...</p>

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