Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning

Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning

Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning

Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning

Synopsis

The Bhagavad Gita is a unique literary creation but deciphering its meaning and philosophy is not easy or simple. This careful study of the Bhagavad Gita approaches the ancient text with a modern mind and offers a unifying structure which is of a universal relevance. Combining the philosophical-theoretical with the ethical-practical, Ithamar Theodor locates his study within comparative theology and identifies the various layers of meaning. The full text of the Bhagavad Gita is presented in new translation, divided into sections, and accompanied by in-depth commentary. This book makes the Bhagavad Gita accessible to a wide variety of readers, helping to make sense of this great spiritual classic which is one of the most important texts of religious Hinduism.

Excerpt

There are various possible ways of reading the Bhagavad Gītā; it can be read as a work of literature or poetry, it can be read as a work in the realm of Indology and examined from the point of view of Oriental studies, and it can otherwise be read as a work of philosophy or theology. As a work of literature or poetry, its literary and poetical aspects would naturally be highlighted; as such, the verses’ meters, the particular epithets of Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa and the corresponding emotions evoked by their application – these and similar aspects will possibly be looked into. As a work of Indology, its historical and linguistic aspects would be highlighted and, as such, questions regarding the date of its compilation, the singularity or plurality of authors, the linguistic structure of the text, and its relation to the context of the Mahābhārata would be naturally considered. As a work of philosophy or theology, its conceptual structure, its underlying assumptions and its prevailing ideas would be mainly considered and examined, and this is the thrust of the present edition. Bhagavad Gītā scholarship has become somewhat complicated and sophisticated, so much so that, at times, a gap has appeared, distancing the general readership from the scholarly analysis of this widely read text. The present work is perhaps driven by a pedagogical impulse and, as such, has not only a different mood than the analytical approach, but different aims; as far as the mood, I invite the readers to relax, to enter into a somewhat contemplative mood as befitting the reading of a great classical treatise. As far as the aims, I hope to further the reading of the Bhagavad Gītā as a work in the realm of philosophy or theology, and to help the reader gain a vision or a darśana of this great treatise. For this reason I am consciously avoiding a comprehensive bibliography and dense footnotes, as these may distract the reader from the simple but deep ideas originally conveyed.

The present work was born as a work of theology, and was sharpened and further articulated in the milieu of the Theology Faculty, University of Oxford. One of its main aims is to offer a unifying structure, open to a rational examination, a structure which will tie the text together. This structure is constructed applying the metaphor of a ‘three-storey house’ and it is mainly composed of two components; on the one hand, there are three different storeys or floors, and on the other hand, a staircase leading the house’s residents from the first floor towards the second and third floors. The three floors represent three levels of reality, whereas the staircase represents a transformational ladder of ethical and spiritual refinement. In the wider sense, I would like this work to be considered a contribution not only to the study of the Bhagavad Gītā, but to the emerging field of Comparative Theology, as once the structures of great theological works could be articulated, these could be compared, contrasted and grouped together, thereby offering a unified sense of pluralistic spirituality which may serve as an alternative to materialism. Originally . . .

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