The Song of the Lord (Bhagavad-Gita) is one of the great treasures of the human race and occupies one of the highest positions in the Wisdom of the Ages. If the Gita is the study of Sages then it is logically the textbook for the human race. To recognize that the wisest beings in the human family make these dialogs between the lower and higher Self the study of lifetimes is to begin to appreciate the magnitude of this gift to all those treading the Spiritual Path. Mahatma Gandhi called the Gita his Guru and consulted it for all the multifarious activities of his life. Daily prayer meetings in the communities he visited were always concluded with the reading of the description of the Self-Governed Sage found in the second chapter. Ralph Waldo Emerson one of the greatest philosophers of the New World found confirmation for all his intuitions and mysterious inspirations in the Bhagavad-Gita. And lest we forget this dialog between Krishna (The Oversoul) and Arjuna (Man aspiring) lies at the heart of one of the worlds great religious traditions, Hinduism. It has inspired millions of Hindus for millenia to pursue the path of selfless service and the renunciation of the fruit of action. But because it uses the allegory of a great war between two factions of a noble family (Pandavas and the Kurus) to describe the struggle between the spiritual self and the material self it has been misunderstood by people like Gandhi’s assassin who believed the book advocated literal war. The tragedy and irony of this is revealed by Gandhi’s strong admonition that the Gita gave the philosophical underpinnings of Satya and Ahimsa (truth and nonviolence).
The Gita is a very brief episode in a much larger Indian story called the Mahabharata. This epic tale is thousands of pages and dozens of volumes long. Yet a mere 100 pages or so in the middle of this story has captured the attention and the heart of the human race. A great hero and archer named Arjuna (representing Mankind) has requested his charioteer, Krishna,to escort him to the middle of the battlefield to survey the impending battle. Arjuna finds uncles, cousins and relatives arrayed against him and his four brothers. These combatants represent man’s lower tendencies and the struggle that must ensue to surmount them to reach enlightenment. Understood this way the Bhagavad-Gita is a stupendous allegory about the pilgrim soul in its quest for self knowledge and self-realization. When read in the right spirit we can experience the voice of one’s own higher nature speaking to the aspiring mind of the man in the world.
Mr. Judge reminds us that at its heart the Gita teaches the concept of selflessness (non-separateness or oneness) and action for its own sake and not for reward (renunciation of the fruit of action). Like all sacred texts each student will be drawn to different passages and inspired by different ideas within the text depending upon their life circumstances and conditions. What one finds, if they keep with it long enough, is that the text seems ever fresh and ever new no matter how many times one has read it. Because like a bottomless well from which water is drawn time and again the source is boundless.
And now, without further ado, we present the Bhagavad Gita, in three featured translations, including Edwin Arnold’s masterful poetic translation, William Quan Judges recension, and Charles Johnston’s translation, each of which present the Gita in a unique way for the English speaking student. Included also are WQJ’s “Essays on the Gita” and T. Subba Row’s “Notes on the Gita”, which students of the Gita are highly encouraged to read.