The Bhagavad-gita is universally renowned as the jewel of India's spiritual wisdom. Spoken by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead to His intimate disciple Arjuna, the Gita's seven hundred concise verses provide a definitive guide to the science of self realization. No other philosophical or religious work reveals, in such a lucid and profound way, the nature of consciousness, the self, the universe and the Supreme. His Divine Grace A. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is uniquely qualified to present this English translation and commentary on Bhagavad-gita. He is the world's foremost Vedic scholar and teacher, and he is also the current representative of an unbroken chain of fully self-realized spiritual masters begining with Lord Krishna Himself.
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The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth book of the Mahabharata, one of India's most famous epic poems. Had you attended any one of the performances of Doctor Atomic , a John Adams opera about the detonation of the first nuclear bomb near Los Alamos, New Mexico, you would have heard those words and perhaps been terrified by the image they painted of the Hindu god Vishnu.
But the verse is not original to Adams's work; it was respectfully pilfered from the Bhagavad Gita in this case the translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.
Adams is hardly alone among Americans to have found inspiration in this work. Rather, he's operating in a long tradition of borrowing and appropriation. If you know where to look, you can find the Gita in some of the most famous and revered works of American literature and philosophy, from Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "Brahma" to T. Eliot's Four Quartets , not to mention British pop songs that topped the American charts. As it turns out, the Bhagavad Gita has appealed to Westerners in general and Americans in particular almost since the moment they got their hands on an English translation in the middle decades of the 19th century.
The Gita is the sixth book of the Mahabharata, one of India's most famous epic poems. It's unclear exactly when the Gita was composed—estimates vary widely, but a number of scholars suggest it was completed around CE and then inserted into the larger work; many see it as the first fully realized yogic scripture.
Curious though it may seem that such an ancient text from a foreign culture has been so enthusiastically received by Westerners, the Gita, like all truly great works of literature, can be read on many levels: metaphysical, moral, spiritual, and practical; hence its appeal. Read Bhagavad-Gita. For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading it, the Gita recounts a dialogue between Arjuna, one of five Pandava princes, and the Hindu deity Krishna, who in this epic serves as Arjuna's charioteer.
Arjuna and his brothers have been exiled from the kingdom of Kurukshetra for 13 years and cut off from their rightful heritage by another faction of the family; the Gita takes up their struggle to reclaim the throne, which requires that Arjuna wage war against his own kinsmen, bringing his considerable military skills to bear. The story begins on the dusty plains of Kurukshetra, where Arjuna, a famed archer, is poised to fight.
But he hesitates. He sees arrayed against him friends, teachers, and kin, and believes that to fight—and likely kill—these men would be to commit a grievous sin and could bring nothing good even if he were to win the kingdom back.
Krishna chides him for his cow ardice—Arjuna is from the warrior caste after all, and warriors are meant to fight—but then goes on to present a spiritual rationale for battling his enemies, one that encompasses a discussion of the karma , jnana and bhakti yogas, as well as the nature of divinity, humankind's ultimate destiny, and the purpose of mortal life.
See also Need a Good Read? Start with These Yoga Books. A work of luminous and startling intensity, the Gita offers what Henry David Thoreau described as a "stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy Take Ralph Waldo Emerson. In November of , Emerson made one of the most dramatic declarations of affection for the Gita imaginable: He contributed a poem titled "Brahma" to the inaugural issue of The Atlantic Monthly. The first stanza reads:. The poem owes a great debt to the Gita as well as the Katha Upanishad.
The first verse in particular seems to have been lifted almost verbatim from chapter 2 of the Gita, when Krishna is trying to persuade Arjuna to fight: "The man who believeth that it is the soul which killeth, and he who thinketh that the soul may be destroyed, are both alike deceived; for it neither killeth, nor is it killed. Emerson's journals confirm the Gita's impact on him.
In the s, not long after he got hold of Charles Wilkins's translation the first English rendering of it , Emerson wrote what became the opening lines of "Brahma. What's striking about this poem, which may be somewhat lost on modern readers, is how radically different this conception of divinity was from the mainstream view of God and even from the more forgiving Unitarian God of the religious liberals who held sway in Concord and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during Emerson's life.
Emerson was not merely trading one trinity for another. He was celebrating an idea of a God that animated everything both slayer and slain and dissolved all opposites "Shadow and sunlight are the same". Emerson's audience was less offended than bewildered by his insertion of this bit of the Gita into the Atlantic. They found his poem impenetrable and comically nonsensical. Parodies were published widely in newspapers across the country.
And yet, if taken seriously, this version of divinity might be either a tremendous relief if Brahman is behind everything, humans have far less agency than we tend to believe or incredibly disturbing what happens to morality when "shadow and sunlight" or good and evil are the same?
Try Hand Carved Altar Table. In the Gita, the most powerful articulation of this idea comes not in the second chapter, echoed in Emerson's poem, but in the 11th, when Krishna shows his true nature to Arjuna.
To do this, he must temporarily give Arjuna the gift of mystic insight, for it is impossible to see Krishna in his glory with the naked eye. What Arjuna sees is a multiform image that can barely be described.
It's boundless, containing all the worlds and gods, and stupefyingly beautiful, with garlands and jewels and "celestial ornaments," and it burns with the radiance of a thousand suns. At the same time, this being is terrifying, for it has "countless arms, bellies, mouths, and eyes" and brandishes divine weapons. Even more horrifying was this: As Arjuna watched, thousands rushed through the being's fangs and were crushed between his teeth, Arjuna's foes on the battlefield among them.
Arjuna sees the being "lick at the worlds That is, he sees endless holocausts and violence, untempered by any force known to humankind. Arjuna nearly faints.
It was this very visage, at once glorious and ghastly, that J. Robert Oppenheimer invoked on one of history's most fateful days, July 16, Oppenheimer headed the team of scientists that detonated the first nuclear bomb.
Upon witnessing the fireball blazing over the New Mexico desert, Oppenheimer quoted Krishna in the moment that he displays his true nature as Vishnu: "I am become death, the shatterer of worlds. The quote has been memorialized in many articles, books, and films. And so it was that Oppenheimer seared a piece of this yogic scripture into the minds of another generation of Americans. In fact, he had long been a student of the Gita, reading it in translation as an undergraduate at Harvard and later in Sanskrit with Arthur W.
Ryder when Oppenheimer taught physics at the University of California at Berkeley. The experience was exhilarating, he said, and he found reading the Sanskrit "very easy and quite marvelous.
But what of seeing this divinity for oneself? Krishna gave Arjuna the gift of a divine eye. There's hope for the rest of us, of course, and that's in yoga. The Gita can be read as a user's guide to various types of yoga , all of which will lead to illumination and liberation.
Thoreau found this possibility so compelling that he tried to practice yoga based solely on his reading of the Gita and other Indic texts in translation. By the time he wrote Walden during the late s and early s , Thoreau had fairly precise ideas about yoga, which he inserted into the essay's conclusion as if recounting a hoary Hindu parable. There the American essayist tells the story of the artist of Kouroo who possessed a rare and complete single-pointed concentration and set out to carve a perfect wooden staff.
Eons had passed by the time he finished, but the artist had, by his devotion to this simple task, made "the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff. Ram Dass treated reading and teaching! More recently, people like Ram Dass as well as contemporary yoga teachers have conveyed, in supremely accessible vernacular, this more practical element of the Gita.
In the summer of , Ram Dass, who had been a professor of psychology at Harvard until , taught a course called the Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita.
The setting was historic—a summer session of the newly created Naropa Institute today a university in Boulder, Colorado, founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist. He also assigned exercises based on the Gita that could "evolve into a complete sadhana ," or program for spiritual practices.
These included keeping a journal, meditating, kirtan chanting , and even "going to Church or Temple. Over the course, Ram Dass peeled back the layers of the Gita, one by one, but he summed it up thusly: "It's about the game of awakening, about the coming into Spirit.
Karma yoga was, in Ram Dass's formulation, an injunction: "Do your work Personally, Ram Dass relied most on bhakti, or devotional, yoga, specifically Guru Kripa, in which the practitioner focuses on the guru and relies on the guru's grace. That summer he offered his students some ideas about how to cultivate a devotional attitude; he told them how to set up a puja table similar to an altar and how to know when they'd found their guru.
But the point for Ram Dass was that all methods, or types of yoga , had their pitfalls and "traps"; it was the practitioner's job to use even the "traps" themselves as tools of awakening. Many contemporary yoga teachers, including Mas Vidal, the spiritual director of Dancing Shiva Yoga and Ayurveda in Los Angeles, turn to the Bhagavad Gita to balance the overemphasis on the asana practice in the West. Like Ram Dass, Vidal sees the Gita as a practical guide for "raising consciousness.
He is also quick to emphasize the coherence of its approach. He presents the "four main branches of yoga" to his students as a single system: "It was never intended to be practiced as a fragmented system," Vidal insists.
The branches are bhakti love , jnana study , karma service , and raja meditation. Above all, Vidal teaches the Gita as a metaphor for spiritual struggle in which the practitioner learns to use the mind and body as tools for awakening—tools that don't have much value in themselves. There is still another element of the Gita: Krishna's insistence on the value of acting in this world rather than shirking its demands, a value that has long appealed to Westerners.
This concept underlies karma yoga and Krishna's insistence that Arjuna fight his kinsmen, dreadful as that seems. True, Arjuna must renounce the fruits of his actions, but he also must give up the idea that it is ever possible not to act.
As Krishna explains in chapter 3 from Barbara Stoler Miller's translation :. Historian James A. Hijiya argues that this teaching of the Gita solves the riddle of Robert Oppenheimer's career: that he created the bomb and advocated its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only to become a leading critic of nuclear weapons and war.
Just as Krishna insisted that renouncing action was far worse than taking disciplined action and was ultimately not possible in any case , so Oppenheimer rejected the ivory tower, and its illusion of remove, for the Manhattan Project. According to Hijiya, Oppenheimer believed scientists should "act selflessly but effectively in the world" and once said, "If you are a scientist you believe It was, he believed, for humankind, not him, to deal with the awesome power he helped unleash, "according to its lights and values.
That American thinkers, poets, and yoga teachers have drawn so much inspiration from the Gita over more than a century is a testament to this scripture's power. That they have pulled out different strands and woven them into their lives and our culture is even more remarkable considering how apologetically that first English translator presented this work.
Wilkins, for all his efforts, felt he hadn't fully lifted the veil of the Gita's mystery. Undeterred by such difficulties, Americans have long sung this celestial song, harmonizing it with the peculiar temperament of each era.
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The BHAGAVAD-GITA in English
Buy an English copy online-India. Read the Bhagavad Gita online with profound and easy-to-understand commentary by Swami Mukundananda. Unravel the philosophy of life and the spiritual essence of the Bhagavad Gita in the most practical and systematic way. In this authoritative commentary, Swami Mukundananda reveals the original meanings of the verses with crystal clear explanations and perfect logic.
Bhagavad-gita Online version(s)
The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth book of the Mahabharata, one of India's most famous epic poems. Had you attended any one of the performances of Doctor Atomic , a John Adams opera about the detonation of the first nuclear bomb near Los Alamos, New Mexico, you would have heard those words and perhaps been terrified by the image they painted of the Hindu god Vishnu. But the verse is not original to Adams's work; it was respectfully pilfered from the Bhagavad Gita in this case the translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. Adams is hardly alone among Americans to have found inspiration in this work. Rather, he's operating in a long tradition of borrowing and appropriation.
The First Book of Yoga: The Enduring Influence of the Bhagavad Gita
Verse for Today Namaste! Welcome to the Bhagavad- Gita online. We are happy you have arrived and it will be our pleasure to serve you. Here you will be presented transcendental knowledge of the most profound spiritual nature as revealed in the Bhagavad- Gita. It is the divine discourse spoken by the Supreme Lord Krishna Himself and is the most popular and well known of all the sacred scriptures from ancient India.
Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God