28 July 2010

The Bhagavad Gita: A Beloved Book of the Avatar’s Guidance

A version of this article appeared in 2001 in the Love Street LampPost. I have edited it slightly and added a list of quotes.

You don’t have to be a Hindu to love the Bhagavad Gita, the “Song of God”—a sacred scripture that was born in ancient India but belongs to the whole world and to all times. Every Indian knows the Gita, and devout Hindus read or recite it daily, yet spiritual aspirants of other traditions also appreciate its universal message.

Krishna himself assures us in the Gita that whoever reads it with faith—and teaches it to other devotees of the Lord—will be blessed. It was therefore with a few tears of happiness that I received the opportunity to share my own appreciation of the Gita with others. An editor friend asked me if I wanted to contribute a book to a new series he had developed for SkyLight Paths Publishing in Vermont. The series, called SkyLight Illuminations, consists of classics of the world’s spiritual traditions, with facing pages of commentary designed for first-time readers of the texts. Which text would I like to do? Without hesitation I chose the Bhagavad Gita, which I had been reading periodically over the past thirty years. I still had a treasured, well-thumbed copy of a prose translation by Shri Purohit Swami that I had bought in 1970. How lucky I was to take this opportunity.

Although I am not a scholar, a student of Sanskrit, or an authority on Hinduism, I was confident that my love of the subject matter, my wide reading, my skills as a professional book editor with a specialty in religion—and especially my appreciation of the text as a Baba-lover—would enable me to compile simple yet significant annotations to the Gita. Besides, the primary appeal of the Gita is to the ordinary person rather than the monk or the scholar. I hoped that my annotations would help demonstrates how anyone can approach this ancient wisdom as a matter of practical spirituality.

I happily set about ordering up a storm on the Internet—everything from the detailed multivolume commentaries of Sri Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Eknath Easwaran to the 32-page Indian comic-book retelling of the Gita. My plan was to compile simple annotations to the Purohit prose translation with which I was so familiar. I also drew on numerous other translations by both gurus and secular scholars, as well as the writings of spiritual luminaries including Shankara, Ramanuja, Jnaneshwar (the young Perfect Master of 13th-century Maharashtra whose “retelling” of the Gita Meher Baba had read out on a special occasion by his disciple known as Kalemama), Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Srila Prabhupada (founder of the Hare Krishna movement), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and of course Meher Baba. I sought to point out some of the notable philosophical ideas, the symbolism, and interpretations of prominent commentators, as well as highlight passages of inspirational and practical significance.

I hope that people who read my book, Bhagavad Gita: Annotated & Explained, will be moved to further study and contemplation of this great treasure of world spiritual literature. And I especially hope that Baba-lovers will feel, as I did, the familiar presence of our Beloved in the teachings of Lord Krishna. They will be pleased to see numerous quotes from Meher Baba in the annotations.

The series editor is Andrew Harvey, who contributed a very nice introduction.

Below are some quotable sayings of Lord Krishna.

Sayings of Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita

Spirituality is the real art of living. [2.50]

The Spirit kills not, nor is It killed. It was not born; It will never die: nor once having been, can It ever cease to be: Unborn, Eternal, Ever-enduring, yet Most Ancient, the Spirit dies not when the body is dead. [2.19-20]

As the ignorant act because of their fondness for action, so should the wise act without such attachment, fixing their eyes only on the welfare of the world. [3.25]

It is better to do one’s own duty, however defective it may be, than to follow the duty of another, however well one may perform it. He who does his duty, as his own nature reveals it, never sins. [18.47]

Renunciation of action and the path of right action both lead to the highest; of the two, right action is the better. [5.2]

Let your acts be done without attachment, as sacrifice only. [3.9]

Neither in this world nor elsewhere is there any happiness in store for him who always doubts. [4.40]

Constant yearning for the knowledge of Self, and pondering over the lessons of the great Truth--this is Wisdom, all else ignorance [13.11]

He who can see the Supreme Lord in all beings, the Imperishable amidst the perishable, he it is who really sees. [13.27]

That Highest God, in Whom all beings abide, and Who pervades the entire universe, is reached only by whole-hearted devotion. [8.22]

Fools disregard Me, seeing Me clad in human form. They know not that in My higher nature I am the Lord God of all. [9.11]

I am the Father of the universe and its Mother. [9.17]

Whenever spirituality decays and materialism is rampant, then I reincarnate Myself. To protect the righteous, to destroy the wicked, and to establish the kingdom of God, I am reborn from age to age. [4.7-8]

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you sacrifice and give, whatever austerities you practice, do all as an offering to Me. [9.27]

Verily those who love the spiritual wisdom as I have taught, whose faith never fails, and who concentrate their whole nature on Me, they indeed are My most beloved. [12.20]

Dedicate yourself to Me, worship Me, sacrifice all for Me, prostrate yourself before Me, and to Me you shall surely come. Truly do I pledge to you: you are My own beloved. [18.65]

Whosoever at the time of death thinks only of Me, and thinking thus leaves the body and goes forth, assuredly he will know Me. [8.5]

I am the source of all; from Me everything flows. Therefore the wise worship Me with unchanging devotion. [10.8]


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?


Kendra Crossen said...

Thanks for that link.

Shashi Kumaar Aansoo said...

Great to come to know such a auspicious Person... I visited the Baba's Trust in Ahmednagar Thats beautiful..

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.