The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita

Synopsis

The Bhagavad Gita is the most famous episode from the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. The poem has inspired a wide variety of interpretations, both within India and beyond, and it is the best known and most widely read Hindu religious text in the Western world. This new translation is ideal for the non-specialist as well as for students of Indian religions. The introduction and notes provide a full historical and cultural context, as well as information on the pronunciation of Sanskrit names.

Excerpt

The Bhagavad Gita ('Song of the Lord') is a self-contained episode of seven hundred verses embedded in one book of the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. Although the Gita is probably over two thousand years old, Charles Wilkins's English version of 1785 was the first full translation into a modern European language. Since then, in a wide variety of translations and interpretations, it has come to represent Hinduism, and even Indian spirituality in general, to the non-specialist Western reader. It is also the archetype of that necessarily modern phenomenon, the classic of world spirituality. Over the same period the Gita has assumed for many Hindus a universal status, so that it is regarded not only as the quintessential Hindu religious text, but also as a charter for all kinds of frequently conflicting social and political action.

One reason for the Gita's universality is its capacity to bear almost any shade of interpretation, because of the variegated nature of its contents. It is as though the famous epigram directed by the Mahabharata at itself--'What is here may be found elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere at all'--has come to be applied as a hermeneutical principle to its offspring. While this demonstrates the fact that the Gita is and always has been a live religious text, with an apparently limitless capacity to inspire new and necessarily valid meanings, from the perspective of the tradition in which they are coined, it does not imply that all interpretations are equally convincing from the historical and philological perspectives; far from it. Nevertheless, it is often easier for scholarly exegetes and historians (themselves not always immune to bias) to reject other interpretations than to provide totally convincing replacements.

A reason for this has already been hinted at: the Gita is a religious text, not a philosophical tract. Its purpose is to engender and consolidate certain attitudes in its audience, in much the same way as the 'Lord' of the title, Krishna, attempts in a variety of ways to lead his interlocutor, Arjuna, from perplexity to understanding and correct action. Although, in the . . .

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