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. Adopting a comprehensive and holistic approach not attempted hitherto, he intersperses his purports with illustrative stories and real-life examples to make the teachings easy to comprehend and implement in everyday living. He masterly quotes from all the Vedic scriptures and many other sacred texts, opening up a panoramic view to help us see through the window of the Bhagavad Gita, the whole Absolute Truth.
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Its simple, vivid message is a daily inspiration in the lives of millions throughout the world and has been so for countless generations. Reviews The best from a literary point of view. The Gita does not easily lend itself to such treatment.
The Sanskrit in which it is written differs radically from modem English. It is compressed and telegraphic. It abounds in exact philosophical and religious terms. Its frame of reference is a system of cosmology unfamiliar to western thought. And indeed, it would be hard to evolve any uniform English style, modem or ancient, in which the Gita could be satisfactorily rendered. For the Gita, regarded simply as a piece of literature, is not a unity.
It has several aspects, several distinct tones of voice. Let us consider each of them in tum. First, the Gita may be regarded as part of n epic poem.
It is all in verse. The first chapter is pure epic, continuing in the mood of the Mahabharata itself. The shouting of warriors, the neighing of horses and the outlandish names of chieftains are still sounding in our ears as the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna begins.
To translate this epic prologue as though it belonged to the philosophical discourse which follows would be to cut the Gita right out of its historical setting and deprive it of its vivid local colour. Then, again, the Gita is an exposition of Vedanta philosophy, based upon a very definite picture of the universe.
It is no use trying to disregard this fact for fear of alienating the western reader. We have tried to explain the cosmology of the Gita, as briefly as possible, in an appendix. Certain basic and much-used words, such as Brahman, Atman, Prakriti and the gunas , have been kept in Sanskrit, for the same reason. Precise English equivalents are lacking; and every book on philosophy or science must have a defined terminology. These and other Sanskrit terms are rendered in Roman script.
They were previously rendered in the 25 main languages of India! The Gita is also prophetic. These are poetry, and demand poetic expression. The diction must try to correspond to the inspiration. Ordinary prose will render them flat and boring.
Finally, the Gita is a gospel. Its essential message is timeless. In words which belong to no one language, race or epoch, incarnate God speaks to man, His friend. Here, the translator must forget all about Vedanta philosophy and Sanskrit terms; all about India and the West, Krishna and Arjuna, past and future. He must aim at the utmost simplicity. That is why we have translated the Gita in a variety of styles, partly prose, partly verse.
There is, of course, no justification for this experiment in the text itself. The transitions from one style to another are quite arbitrary. They can be judged from one standpoint only: have we made the book more readable? Extremely literal translations of the Gita already exist. We have aimed, rather, at an interpretation. Here is one of the greatest religious documents of the world: let us not approach it too pedantically, as an archaic text which must be jealously preserved by university professors.
It has something to say, urgently, to every one of us. We have to extract that message from the terseness of the original Sanskrit, and here the great classical commentators can help us. In making this translation, three of them have been consulted throughout-Shankara, Sridhara Swami and Madhusudana Saraswati.
Wishing to avoid bulky footnotes, we have incorporated their explanations in our English version. Except in a very few difficult passages, it faithfully follows the original. We have allowed ourselves one small liberty. The Gita is sprinkled with epithets. Later, they are mostly omitted, unless they seem effective for purely literary reasons. Their repetition is apt to grow very tiresome.
The final draft of our translation owes them much, perhaps its very existence. Mohammed uses an even homelier barnyard metaphor. For him the philosopher who has not realised his metaphysics is just an ass bearing a load of books. In Vedanta and Hebrew prophecy, in the Tao Teh King and the Platonic dialogues, in the Gospel according to St John and Mahayana theology, in Plotinus and the Areopagite, among the Persian Sufis and the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance-the Perennial Philosophy has spoken almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of every one of the higher religions.
But under all this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state. This final purity can never, of course, be expressed by any verbal statement of the philosophy, however undogmatic that statement may be, however deliberately syncretistic. The very fact that it is set down at a certain time by a certain writer, using this or that language, automatically imposes a certain sociological and personal bias on the doctrines so formulated.
It is only in the act of contemplation, when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Facts.
The original scriptures of most religions are poetical and unsystematic. Theology, which generally takes the form of a reasoned commentary on the parables and aphorisms of the scriptures, tends to make its appearance at a later stage of religious history.
The Bhagavad Gita occupies an intermediate position between scripture and theology; for it combines the poetical qualities of the first with the clear-cut methodicalness of the second.
The book may be described, writes Ananda K. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit. In Hinduism the first of these four doctrines is stated in the most categorical terms.
The Divine Ground is set down at a certain time by a certain writer, using this or that language, automatically imposes a certain sociological and personal bias on the doctrines so formulated. The Bhagavad-Gita occupies an intermediate position between scripture and theology; for it combines the poetical qualities of the first with the clear-cut methodicalness of the second.
Brahman, whose creative, sustaining and transforming aspects are manifested in the Hindu trinity. A hierarchy of manifestations connects inanimate matter with man, gods, High Gods and the undifferentiated Godhead beyond. Similar conceptions are perfectly compatible with Christianity and have in fact been entertained , explicitly or implicitly, by many Catholic and Protestant mystics, when formulating a philosophy to fit facts observed by super-rational intuition.
Suso has even left a diagrammatic picture of the relations subsisting between Godhead, triune God and creatures. These last, as the drawing validly shows, may make one of two choices. Or else they can identify themselves with the inner man, in which case it becomes possible for them, as Suso shows, to ascend again, through intuitive knowledge, to the Trinity and even, beyond the Trinity, to the ultimate Unity of the Divine Ground. The second doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy-that it is possible to know the Divine Ground by a direct intuition higher than discursive reasoning-is to be found in all the great religions of the world.
Christian, Hindu and Taoist teachers wrote no less emphatically about the absurd pretensions of mere learning and analytical reasoning. The third doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy, that which affirms the double nature of man, is fundamental in all the higher religions.
The intuitive knowledge of the Divine Ground has, as its necessary condition, self abnegation and charity. Only by means of self-abnegation and charity can we clear away the evil, folly and ignorance which constitute the thing we call our personality and prevent us from becoming aware of the spark of divinity illuminating the inner man.
But the spark within is akin to the Divine Ground. These empirical facts of the spiritual life have been variously rationalised in terms of the theologies of the various religions. The Hindus categorically affirm that thou art That-that the indwelling Atman is the same as Brahman.
For orthodox Christianity there is not an identity between the spark and God. Islamic theology seems to make a similar distinction. For our present purposes, however, the significant fact is that these words are actually used by Christians and Mohammedans to describe the empirical facts of metaphysical realisation by means of direct, super rational intuition. The purpose of human life is the discovery of Truth, the intuitive knowledge of the Godhead.
The degree to which this intuitive knowledge is achieved here on earth determines the degree to which it will be enjoyed in the posthumous state. Contemplation of truth is the end, action the means. In India, in China, in ancient Greece, in Christian Europe, this was regarded as the most obvious and axiomatic piece of orthodoxy.
The invention of the steam engine produced a revolution, not merely in industrial techniques, but also and much more significantly in philosophy. Because machines could be made progressively more and more efficient, Western man came to believe that men and societies would automatically register a corresponding moral and spiritual improvement. Attention and allegiance came to be paid, not to Eternity, but to the Utopian future. External circumstances came to be regarded as more important than states of mind about external circumstances, and the end of human life was held to be action, with contemplation as a means to t?
These false and, historically, aberrant and heretical doctrines are now systematically taught in our schools and repeated, day in, day out, by those anonymous writers of advertising copy who, more than any other teachers, provide European and American adults with their current philosophy of life.
These four doctrines constitute the Perennial Philosophy in its minimal and basic form. A man who can practise what the Indians call Jnana yoga the metaphysical discipline of discrimination between the real and the apparent asks for nothing more.
This simple working hypothesis is enough for his purposes. But such discrimination is exceedingly difficult and can hardly be practised, at any rate m the preliminary stages of the spiritual life, except by reasons endowed with a particular kind of mental constitution. But whereas in Hinduism and Buddhism more than one Incarnation of the Godhead is possible and is regarded as having in fact taken place , for Christians there has been and can be only one.
An Incarnation of the Godhead and, to a lesser degree, any theocentric saint, sage or prophet is a human being who knows Who he is and can therefore effectively remind other human beings of what they have allowed themselves to forget: namely, that if they choose to become what potentially they already are, they too can be eternally united with the Divine Ground.
The Song of God
Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God
Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God (Prabhavananda)
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