Recap: It’s one of the most ancient and revered religious texts, and yet I had never heard of it until I started my 500-hour yoga teacher training course. Some of the other trainees were familiar with it from college classes, etc. But somehow it had been overlooked in my literary education, and it’s a shame because Gita is a GEM.
The book is really a long poem, detailing a journey a la The Iliad or The Odyssey. It tells the story of a man, Arjuna, about to lead his men in battle. Right before it all goes down, however, Arjuna has a moment of internal crisis. Is fighting and winning this battle everything he stands for it or does it stand for everything he’s against? Are violence, death, destruction and power really the most important things to him? With these questions, he turns to the man driving his chariot, Krishna. But Krishna isn’t just some lowly chariot driver. He’s actually God — the universe/the almighty force/whatever synonym you want to use — reincarnate.
The rest of the tale is Krishna explaining to Arjuna the meaning of life and the best ways to live that life. These are the questions — and answers — all humans have and seek. These are the crises of mankind, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years. So what does Arjuna do in the end? Does he fight? Does he back down in an effort to emulate a life of nonviolence? The beauty of Gita is that’s almost not even the point.
Analysis: There are many interpretations, translations and iterations of Bhagavad Gita that have been written over the years. (Just how many years, no one really knows. It’s estimated the story was originally written as early as the fifth century B.C.E. or as late as the first century C.E.) I just so happened to pick up a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I’m glad I did. Mitchell also translated Tao Te Chang: A New English Version so he clearly has an affinity for this type of thing.
The beauty of this version is his introduction that lays out the story. It’s incredibly helpful so have this classic poem explained in layman’s terms so you’re not flying blind as you read. Otherwise, I could see it being very possible to overlook the God-ness of Krishna and the deeper interpretations of what he’s saying. This translation also includes an Appendix written by Ghandi!
Please take my use of “God” and “religious text” with a grain of salt. This is not the Bible. It is not forcing religion upon anyone. It’s explaining human thinking. You can replace “God” with other words like “the universe,” “a powerful force,” “destiny,” “the divine,” or even just “ME.” Because part of the point of the text is that unlike what many Judeo-Christian religions preach about there being an almighty God to whom we should pray and “be good” for, Gita emphasizes a more Western philosophy that God exists in all of us. There is no big man in the sky that we need to proclaim our love to. We need to recognize there is a godliness within each being on the planet, ourselves included, and proclaim our love to everyone – even ourselves. Take this section said by Krishna to Arjuna, for example:
I am the beginning and the end,
origin and dissolution,
refuge, home, true lover,
womb and imperishable seed.
I am the heat of the sun,
I hold back the rain and release it;
I am death and the deathless,
and all that is or is not.
The moment you replace each “I” with “you,” you recognize the universality of the writing. We are all everything. That’s the thing to understand about the Gita. It’s not just about a man’s dilemma on the battlefield. It’s about all people’s internal dilemma in the world. Eye-opening, mind-blowing and highly recommended.