Many American college and university students first encountered this translation as a required text assigned for comparative religion and philosophy courses. This usage can arguably be attributed to the very purpose of this translation: to bring the message of the Gita to those in the West who may know little or nothing about Vedanta philosophy, while still communicating the full spiritual scope and teachings of the scripture in a form written for English speakers by a collaboration between a master of Vedanta and one of the great English language authors of the 20th century. For many spiritual seekers in the s, 60s and 70s including me , this book was a major influence that changed the direction of our lives. I first ran across it when I was 19 and living in Berkeley in I read it and was struck by the simple teachings that just rang out as Truth.
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Many American college and university students first encountered this translation as a required text assigned for comparative religion and philosophy courses. This usage can arguably be attributed to the very purpose of this translation: to bring the message of the Gita to those in the West who may know little or nothing about Vedanta philosophy, while still communicating the full spiritual scope and teachings of the scripture in a form written for English speakers by a collaboration between a master of Vedanta and one of the great English language authors of the 20th century.
For many spiritual seekers in the s, 60s and 70s including me , this book was a major influence that changed the direction of our lives. I first ran across it when I was 19 and living in Berkeley in I read it and was struck by the simple teachings that just rang out as Truth. The book methodically expressed a deep philosophy about the purpose of life and a way of living, which fully resonated with the simple, but incomplete personal philosophy I had developed, through my life experiences.
In high school I was attracted to the writing of Aldous Huxley, and was intrigued that he wrote the introduction to the Gita, where he further clarified and described a philosophy that seemed more practical and fruitful than anything else I had explored.
Through friends I met Swami Prabhavananda, became a member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and received personal instructions for my spiritual life. To translate the Gita, Swami reached out to his disciple Christopher Isherwood, an acclaimed English prose author, to assist on the translation. Together they created what Time Magazine called: …a distinguished literary work. The translators have presented a version of the great dialogue that makes it easily understandable to the common reader.
On the historical significance of the Gita itself, Swami P wrote in his Spiritual Heritage of India also used as a college textbook : …in the course of its long history, reaching far back into an unrecorded past, Indian religion has had its share of sects and doctrines, of reformations, and revivals, it has nevertheless preserved at its core, unchanged, four fundamental ideas.
These may be very simply expressed: God is; to realize God is the supreme goal of human existence; and God can be realized in many ways.
By the time of the Epics many schools of thought, with varied ideas of God and the Godhead, as well as varied paths, called yogas, had come into existence. And what is the goal? It is only once again — to realize God. In , he published the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. It proved to be a major influence on Romantic literature and the European perception of Vedanta philosophy.
The Gita and other Hindu texts have influenced historic American thinkers, including Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who had copies of the Gita and Upanishads in their libraries. Note that Jefferson, Adams, Vivekananda, and Prabhavananda all left the body on the 4th of July — Jefferson and Adams in the very same year, within hours of each other.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leader of the Transcendentalist movement of the midth century received a copy of the Wilkins English translation. In his essay titled Immortality, he paraphrases the Gita: The soul is not born, it does not die; it was not produced from anyone; unborn, eternal, it is not slain, though the body is slain. Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, and also a member of the Transcendentalist movement.
He is best known for his book Walden, which is about living simply in nature. He wrote, In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous… philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, in comparison with which, our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial. I had a Gita translation with me. When I read the twelfth chapter, I felt that the meaning had not been brought out; I saw deeper meaning in it.
So I started to translate, and then Chris [Isherwood] helped me. I translated and Chris edited. When Peggy Kiskadden came, she read what we had done and could not understand it.
Then we went to Aldous [Huxley]. Chris read aloud, and Aldous listened. Aldous said, No, that is not right yet. Forget that Krishna is speaking to the Hindus in Sanskrit.
Forget that this is a translation. Think that Krishna is speaking to an American audience in English. He produced the book in a week. He was inspired. Both had a powerful and loving influence on the spiritual growth of the young Prabhavananda.
Turiyananda advised him to take one verse at a time, meditate on its meaning, and live the verse for a week before going on to the next verse. In that way he was to study the entire Gita. In our monasteries, both in India and in the West, the Bhagavad Gita is, of course, a principal text for pedagogy and study.
Your minds are not yet influenced by any particular philosophy and they are, so to speak, still fresh. It is enough to understand the meaning as it reveals itself to you spontaneously. Swami P explains that they consulted the writings of three of the greatest commentators, but wishing to avoid bulky and distracting footnotes that interrupt the flow of the story, they incorporated any required explanations within the text itself.
Its essential message is timeless. In words that 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. 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. It must be emphasized that while Isherwood was an accomplished author, he was neither a Sanskrit scholar nor a spiritual adept. My share of the collaboration was therefore secondary. Prabhavananda told me the meaning of a phrase; we then considered how its meaning could best be conveyed in English. He also described the pains-taking rigors of the work as: …the slow, thorough-going process of translating a text — considering all the significance of each word and often spending a day on three or four verses.
Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning.
This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known. Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. 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.
Essays Included in the Book The Gita and the Mahabharata In the section titled The Gita and the Mahabharata, Swami P introduces us to what is considered to be the longest poem in the world — the epic story of the ancient kings of India, including the lives of the five Pandava brothers. Swami summarizes the history of the Pandavas; their trials, heroic victories, and spiritual growth to give a full and proper setting for who the main characters are, and the events leading up to the coming war.
After all, the Gita is only Chapters 25 through 42 of the 6th book of the Mahabharata, out of a total of 18 books. The Gita recounts a single episode in the lives of the brothers; the battlefield dialog between Sri Krishna and one of the brothers: Arjuna, the warrior. Ironically, both Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood were Conscientious Objectors, and yet they contributed to a book where God, in the form of Sri Krishna, urges a warrior to do battle.
Isherwood explains that the Gita is neither pro- nor anti-war, and explains that a person should perform what their personal duty is; their Dharma. In the case of Arjuna, the righteous act was to do battle in a righteous war. For someone else, whose duty was not to fight, or if the war not righteous, to fight would have been spiritually damaging. On a spiritual level, the Gita is about the war going on within each of us.
Making the right choices, doing your duty, without attachment to the results. Despite there being numerous English translations of the Gita available, this one gained prominence in intellectual circles, academia, and religious institutions as an accessible explanation of the Vedanta philosophy. The New York Times reported: Mr. The little book is a self-contained one. A complete stranger to the Hindu gospel can pick it up and in one or two evenings follow the great poem from its terrific beginning to its sublime end.
Finally, I found the right translation for me. This version of the Gita has just the right amount of technical terms and just the right amount of general English verbiage. I have read other translations that do not even use Atman and Tamas, instead they make single-word English translations e.
Understanding the full meaning of words like Prakriti and Sattwa and others are important to understanding the Gita. On the other hand, this version does not go too far the other way either. Enough is translated into plain English that I could understand the meaning of the fundamental terms. If you have never read the Bhagavad Gita, this is the translation for you.
I am not here to tell you what the Gita will mean to you. That is for you to figure out. I am here to tell you that this is the best English translation I have found to understand the Gita, and figure out what it means to you.
To end with, here is a short recording of Christopher Isherwood reading from the Gita: Dharmadas Jon Monday has been a member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California for nearly 50 years. Since the early s he has been recording audio and video of Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order. Email him at jon mondaymedia.
Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God (Prabhavananda)