Book review

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners

by Jack Hawley

I very much enjoyed this version of the Bhagavad Gita, I have to say. It was, above all, readable, written as it is in modern English, This meant that (in contrast with some other translations of classics of world literature) I wanted to come back each time and read more. So bonus points to Jack Hawley, PhD, for accessibility.

The Bhagavad Gita is framed as a conversation between Arjuna, a warrior prince, and his charioteer, Krishna, who is the divine made into human form. It is described as

a universal love song sung by God to His friend, man. It can’t be confined by any creed. It is a statement of the truths at the core of what we all already believe

. I’m a secular person, with some experience of Buddhism, plus the benefits of an English school education on the bible, and I could clearly see the parallels with Buddhism, although those with Christianity as it’s usually currently interpreted were less clear. Perhaps with Bishop Berkeley and his more pan-psychism moments. I could take or leave the more Divine moments myself, but it’s entirely possible to read this as about the larger Self, rather than requiring an external divinity. It has a lot to say about how life should be lived, regardless of your beliefts. Clearly, for example, it’s a foundation text for Hinduism, and one can see how it inspired M.K.Gandhi throughout his life.

Although I’ve of course never read the original, Mr Hawley was clearly trying very hard to convey the nuances of the different meanings of the words of the original. He did this in prose which was always clear, and at times also quite beautiful. At a text that’s at least 2,000 years old, perhaps much older, it’s also astonishingly relevant to our modern world. Consider the following:

The downward spiral to one’s ruin consists of the following process: Brooding on worldly attractions develops attachments to them. From attachments to sense objects come selfish desires. Thwarted desires cause anger to erupt. From anger arises delusion. This causes confusion of the mind and makes one forget the lessons of experience.

. That’s more or less stock advice from many self-help books today.

I enjoyed reading this, I’ve highlighted lots of sections, and I’ll dip into it again. A good four stars.

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