Back to the Gita

10Apr08

After forays into the worlds of the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, Analects of Confucius, and the Qur’an, I have decided to read the Bhagavad Gita again. It was a part of the curriculum for my Sacred Texts class last quarter, but to be entirely honest, I didn’t read it then because I have already read it several times. This means the last time I read it was when I was in Japan back in October, so I think I could do with a refresher-read. Plus, back then I was reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation, which was written to be more a poetic English rendition than Eknath Easwaran’s Classics of Indian Spirituality translation (which is what I’ll be reading this time).

I suppose before I go back to the Gita, I could write here about some of my impressions from the other texts I’ve read recently:

The Major Upanishads: I loved them. We started the class by reading the history of the Vedas, then actually reading a large portion of the Rig Veda, and to be honest, I find much of the Vedas (or at least the Rig) rather unappealing. So much emphasis is placed on rituals, sacrifice, laws, sins, ritual purity, et cetera; I can’t say I’m a very big fan of the legalistic side of religion. That’s where the Upanishads come in. They were written by mystics unsatisfied by the rigidity of Vedic legalism, who withdrew from society to seek personal religious experience for themselves. The essence of Vedanta (philosophy based on the Upanishads) is self-realization, both in the sense of realizing the true nature of the self and the universe, as well as learning and knowing and experiencing spirituality for oneself. The Upanishads place immeasurable worth in all humanity, do not condemn, and are wholly encouraging and uplifting.

The Dhammapada: Again, I loved it. The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings, parables, and teachings, mostly on ethics, attributed to the Buddha and arranged based on topic. Though it is mostly free of any mind-blowing spiritual revelations, it is also free of any convolution. Its core message is simple: “Do good and good will be the result. Do bad and bad will be the result. Selfish desire leads to suffering.” Last night I considered the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism as a whole is a sweeping epic, full of magic, intrigue, and earth-shattering revelations. Buddhism on the other hand is like the clear ringing of a bell through the morning fog.

The Tao Te Ching: Here I would like to make the distinction between enjoying a text, and enjoying reading a text. I like the Tao Te Ching. I hated reading it. It is hopelessly convoluted and esoteric, but the underlying message of unity and the natural way of things is a good one.

Analects of Confucius: I did not enjoy the Analects. Basically, the Analects are to Confucius what the Dhammapada is to the Buddha. Throw in ritualism for the sake of ritualism, tradition for the sake of tradition, and heaps of esotericism, and you’ve got the Analects. The prime focus of the Analects, as with Confucianism in general, is propriety. That is, acting always in accordance with social norms, and upholding the social order. This was by far my least favorite of the texts I have read recently.

The Qur’an: This wasn’t part of my Sacred Texts curriculum, but I’ve wanted to read the Qur’an for a long time. I’ve only read Surahs 1 and 2, and I’m a bit more than halfway through Surah 3. When I started reading, I was in the mindset of desperately wanting to discover that the Qur’an is simply misunderstood in Western society, and that it actually contains relevant and revolutionary spiritual insights. Unfortunately that hasn’t really happened as much as I would like. True, in regards to non-Muslims, I haven’t found any verses calling for anything but tolerance and peace. The only exception is self-defense; Muslims are called to never be the aggressors, but self-defense is fine. However, in regards to relevant, revolutionary, original spiritual insights, revelations, and what have you, I am left wanting. The Qur’an really does feel like a sequel to the New Testament, much in the same way most people view the Matrix sequels (not me, though; I like them): there are new and familiar characters, and all of the same concepts are there, re-stated and reinforced, except in a few cases when things get reimagined and retconned. Basically, it’s more of the same, but a bit dryer. But like I said, I’ve really only just started reading it, so who knows, maybe Surah 34 will totally blow my mind.

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Now I’m going to log off and finish reading the introduction to Easwaran’s translation of the Gita. I’m considering making this the first in a series of posts discussing the Gita, either chapter by chapter, or in blocks of 3 or 4 chapters each. We’ll see what happens. If anyone reading this has a suggestion, feel free to speak up, even if only to tell me to stitch up and GTFO ur intarwebz.

नमस्ते,
Reynvaan

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