Throughout our lives we sometimes find ourselves in search of the meaning of life and where we go after our time on earth reaches its conclusion. Religion has played a central role in the question, giving millions a sense of calm and relief that upon death, there is an afterlife awaiting us where we continue to live for an eternity. There are those among us who do not believe in any God or Deity, but feel that it is up to humans to create heaven on earth. Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are the world’s dominant religion with each having millions of followers. There are thousands of other deities worshipped throughout the world and dozens of separate faiths. Hinduism reigns as one of the world’s oldest religions predating Christianity by thousands of years. Its ancient scriptures are prized and studied for guidance through life by Hindus and others seeking spiritual enlightenment. Among these cherished scriptures is The Bhavagad Gita, the classic of Indian spirituality that earned the love of readers world-wide. It is rare for me to pick up any book on religion but I decided to give this a read following the completion of a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. (1904-1967) Having finished the text I can see why it is loved by many.
Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), the founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri in Northern California, translated the ancient text in an attempt to manifest its contents to a large world audience. He died on October 26, 1999 but his work and life of commitment to the teachings of the Indian spiritual classics established his legacy. Here he has translated one of the most popular classics, the book which was a personal favorite of Oppenheimer’s. In fact, upon completion of the first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer quoted the Gita when he famously said “I am become death”. The words by Oppenheimer, haunting in many aspects, sparked my interest in the text that touches deep on all of our spiritual beliefs.
Purists may not be fond of this version which contains extensive explanations by Easwaran. But the explanations are necessary for those unfamiliar with Indian spiritualism and others reading the Gita for the first time. In fact, on more than one occasion, Easwaran explains that it is almost important to completely translate some things. Regardless he does an outstanding job of making the book clear enough so that anyone can pick up the book and begin to learn instantly. But what exactly is The Gita? The story begins as we join Sanjaya who tells the story of a discussion between Arjuna, who’s preparing for battle and Krishna, the God who rides with him but does not take part in the fight. Arjuna has reservations about the war for he must confront and engage his relatives. He is conflicted and questions his own existence. Krishna, seeks to provide him with the answers he has and explain to him the truth path to wisdom. Step by step Arjuna is given a course on the most important concepts that will shape his mind and guide his spirit. As outsiders looking in, we follow along and explore the concepts of Atman, Brahman, Yoga, sannyasa, sattva, rajas and tamas among dozens of others critical to understanding the deeply spiritual purpose behind the Gita.
The beauty in the book is that it is not simply a book of rule and regulations. In fact, there are no standard rituals at all. Krishna presents each concept and thorough explains the what it shapes our lives. This in itself is what makes the book such a pleasure to read. Krishna is clearly the all-knowing and all-powerful God but he never goes as far as to demand subjugation from Arjuna. He explains things with profound wisdom and love and never loses patience with Arjuna or avoids discussion even the most complicated topics. For the readers, Krishna is also talking to us so that we too may find help in our own lives as we travel the path to spiritual salvation. And whether you believe in Allah, Christ or Vishnu, the words in this book are insightful and deeply moving. The Gita is not just a manual or a discussion, but an important scripture about the love of life and one’s purpose in it.