The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War

ISBN: 0231064683
ISBN 13: 9780231064682
By: Barbara Stoller Miller Barbara Stoler Miller Barry Moser

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About this book

The Bhagavad-Gita" has been an essential text of Hindu culture in India since the time of its composition in the first century A.D. One of the great classics of world literature, it has inspired such diverse thinkers as Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and T.S. Eliot; most recently, it formed the core of Peter Brook's celebrated production of the "Mahabharata.

Reader's Thoughts

Oleg Kagan

I have been meaning to dig into the Bhagavad-Gita ever since I took a fascinating East Asian philosophy class in community college several years ago (2003?) and here I have - finally, on Easter of all days - done it. This is the first translation I've read of this Indian epic and I must say that I am enamored with Barbara Stoler Miller's rendering of Sanskrit into English. The poetry is powerful and full of meaning (which is further explained by the excellent contextualizing introduction and glossary), the ideas offer plenty of wisdom even for non-Hindu folks, though I'm sure that I missed many of the text's finer points. The Bhavagad-Gita is a conversation between Krishna (the avatar of Vishnu who appears in human form as a blue boy/young man) and Arjuna. In the Bhavagad-Gita, Kirshna is a chariot-driver and Arjuna is an archer - before the battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna begins having doubts about the fight, which is between his kinfolk and the Gita consists of 18 teachings in which Krishna sets him onto the right path. Some major themes of the Gita are:1) The need to act according to one's sacred duty.2) The macro- and micro- cosmic benefits of maintaining equanimity.3) Relinquishment of anger and desire as motivations.4) The acceptance of discipline in cultivating the above.These are, of course, points that fit within a robust philosophical system that is the framework for Hinduism. In that vain, I was awed by the sublime scale of how Krishna's message is conveyed in the text. A small part of the tenth teaching (Fragments of Divine Power) that illustrates this drama:"I am the beginning, the middle,and the end of creations, Arjuna;of sciences, I am the science of the self;I am the dispute of orators.I am the vowel a of the syllabary,the pairing of words in a compound;I am indestructible time,the creator facing everywhere at once." (verses 32-33)


The Bhagavad Gita is one of India's best known scriptures. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the eve of battle who has lost heart and become uncertain as to his duty. Arjuna turns to his spiritual guide, Krishna, for answers to all the key questions of life, questions about wisdom and service and spirituality. The battle that Arjuna is about to fight is the perfect metaphor for life and the interior battle we all fight to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The Gita, in essence, is a manual for how to live.For my yoga teacher training, we were asked to read a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. On the back cover, Easwaran's version is described as "reliable" and "readable", and this is definitely true. Easwaran opens the book with an introduction to the Gita, setting the scene, and then each chapter of the Gita opens with a brief introduction that explicates the content of that chapter. This makes the story easy to follow, and really helps in understanding the context of Arjuna's and Krishna's conversation. The endmatter of the book includes a section of notes (typically, helpful insights on issues of translation), as well as a glossary of Sanskrit terms and an index. Easwaran's version really focuses on making the Gita accessible for the reader, so this version is a great place to start if you're reading the Gita for the first time.


The Gita, a part of the much larger Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, was no doubt based on ancient oral tradition, much recent scholarship concluding that the approximate date of written composition was the first century CE. The immediate story involves an extended philosophical conversation between the Pandava general, Arjuna, and his charioteer Krishna, who is in actuality the Supreme Being Himself, immediately before a monumental battle, a battle that Arjuna is hesitant to wage because it involves fighting against friends and kin.The argument of the work proceeds in a more cyclical than linear fashion, and it revolves around issues of duty, freedom through the disciplines of action, understanding, and devotion, relinquishment of attachment to the results of action, the meaning of life, and the nature of ultimate reality. It rejects the concept of a transcendent divine reality outside of or beyond immanent reality and expresses an understanding of cosmic unity that is itself divine.The poetry of this work is itself moving, and Mitchell has done a good job of transmitting its grandeur. Another translation that I like is that by Barbara Stoler Miller, and it is in fact useful to explore this great work by reading, comparing, and enjoying a number of different translations, each highlighting different aspects and nuances of the work.It is certainly possible and valuable to read the Gita primarily intellectually to gain insights into concepts and traditions different from the more definitively theistic traditions known in the West. It is an even more profound experience to read the work by entering in as much as possible to its own worldview, reading it in a sense meditatively, in which case one’s own mind and understanding are expanded and deepened, the result being that one can never quite view the world and reality the same afterward....It's one day after I wrote the review above, and I've just completed rereading Barbara Stoler Miller's translation. Miller’s translation may be a bit more faithful to the original, as I am led to believe. Nonetheless, as I mentioned yesterday, which one a reader chooses may be a matter of personal preference. And, of course, each different translation provides a different “take” on the original. That being said, each of these two translators has provided an interesting introduction to the text, and again these differ and highlight different aspects and interpretations.


This book is a way to live life..hence will be reading it forever...


What struck me most about the Bhagavad Gita in comparison to the other religious texts with which I'm familiar, inter alia, the Bible and the Qur'an, was two-fold:Firstly that the Gita was written frankly for a more sophisticated audience (as the intricacy of the ontological explanations demonstrates).That is to say, where as the Old and New Testaments could be said to have been written fora semi-literate nomadic tribe, and the lowest-rung on the ladder of Roman society respectively, and the Qur'an, again, for a predominantly non-literate society, the arguments and explanations provided by Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the Gita are transparently aimed at a more educated aristocratic or clerical class.And secondly, that while submission of spirit, and performance of social duty, in line with traditional religious best practices, are fundamental doctrines, that the focus on the individual free thought, and the multiplicity of paths to enlightenment are, for me, absolutely fascinating in their dramatic distance from the monotheistic traditions (which, perhaps, may also be attributed, to a good degree, to the first observation.)I'll be opening up the Ramayana soon, and am looking forward to digging deeper into the history, philosophy and practice of Hinduism.

Daniel Prasetyo

This one of the best Bhagavad Gita version I ever read, the commentary by Sankaracarya was very useful, he really one of the greatest saint of India, and his commentary in this book is the proof!But for you that never read the Gita before, this book will hard for you for the first time, first, the language of Sankaracarya was not easy, second, this version doesn't have a glossary at the end of the book.But overall I think this book worth a five star rating.

S.J. Pettersson

I was gifted this this book by Hare Krishnas in London as a teen back in the late 70's. As far as religious books go I would rate it higher than most; the Torah is a real snoozer with its infinite shopping lists of do's and don'ts. The Bible is like one of those hyper violent graphic novels (with a peace, love & understanding segment during the first part of the New Testament, then the body count, hate and intolerance picks up again for the Revelations and the prophecies. The Quran is really magnificently poetic at times while the Nordiska Sagorna is the same pure blood and gore although with some wonderfully ironic twists. I am not really advocating choosing a religion based on the quality of the book (and if you are too lazy to read, there are film versions of most of those books you can watch that are even worse than the books themselves) its based on, but give us a break down here please... What is a human to do?


It's our expectations that make us unhappy. As Gandhi explained, the Gita is built around the idea that we are not entitled to the fruits of our actions. It's the expectations we form from our actions that lead us astray. It's enough to act according to your yoga. Simply act, without having expectations of what our action will get us.We have two yogas we can practice: the yoga of action or the yoga of contemplation. Once you understand what your yoga is, then you can act accordingly within your nature. Our happiness should derive from the successful practice of our yoga, not from the results we think it should bring us. That stuff about a thousand noonday suns, and being Death, Shatterer of Worlds is just crazy scary to impress the great unwashed about how serious Krishna is about this shit. Focus on your yoga, dude.


Classic book interpreted by a guru from the old tradition of swamis in India. I did enjoy the book at the time, although my current world view interprets this book quite differently than when I first read it many years ago. Still, it's a great story about courage and commitment. It does have lots of superstitious and metaphysical aspects to it. I would not necessarily recommend this particular version of the book though. If you wanted to read classic version, do a search and it's easy to find. Read this book without commentaries and it will read like a proper classic story. Interpretations in this version tend to bias the narrative and are strongly religious in nature.

Cassandra Kay Silva

All this book made me want to do was read the whole Mahabharata. For what is one set of texts in a whole story of interesting characters and events? I get it. It is a religious work. I have no problem with religious works of any kind. In fact I treasure them. But the bible without the disciples or prophets? Boring! This work felt so incomplete, and that of course is because it is incomplete and frankly there is no written formal English translation of the Mahabharata in its entirety anyway so it leads one to the feeling that to fully appreciate the work there is only one thing to do. Learn Sanskrit. Brilliant! Lets put it on the to do list. I read the translation by Juan Mascaro and I understand that he was trying to go for a more poetic feel, but he misses the mark with his poetics and frankly if you are that poor with words and poetry I would prefer a literal translation thank you very much. For anyone reading in this genre there is a beautiful translation of the Ramayana by William Buck. A much better undertaking.

Max Maxwell

I wanted to give this a higher star rating, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. In several respects, this book is an absolute classic, not least of which that in which it is, first and foremost, the flagship book of the Hindu religion. (I had tried to tackle a religious edition ( Bhagavad Gita: As It Is , that with commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, which my younger brother gave me, it having in turn been given to him by the bass player of the hardcore band Glassjaw) but found it inpenetrable, and checked this more secular (or more Western) edition from the library.) In another respect, it's been a huge influence on the American literary tradition, having been translated into English a little too late to effect the comparable British tradition in any major way. Thoreau and Emerson paid it major lip service, and J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted it when he witnessed an atomic explosion for the first time: "I am become death, destroyer of worlds." In other ways, however, the book is a total letdown. But the universe just kept therowing it at me, time and again. As I said, my brother gave me a copy; one of my groomsmen, Shawn, was reading it on my wedding night. And so on.Mitchell's translations are usually fantastic, and this is no exception to prove the rule. It's just that the source material isn't very strong. Chapters 1-12 are riverting and filled with things to "mull around the ol' noggin'," sotospeak, and then chapter 13 comes in and ruins everything with a dry sermon on the three gunas or modes of material nature. Mitchell concedes as much in the endnotes to the book.In short, this is worth reading, but it's not necessary to finish the book, short though it is, unless you actually intend on becoming a Hindu. It does, however, contain moments of infallible wisdom, as here:Death is certain for the born;for the dead, rebirth is certain.Since both cannot be avoided,you have no reason for your sorrow.Before birth, beings are unmanifest;between birth and death, manifest;at death, unmanifest again.What cause for grief in all this?Or, as my friend Shawn put it, "There was never a time when you never were, and there will never be a time when won't be. So just relax." When you think about it, this is true with or without a belief in reincarnation; science teaches that we all return to what we were eventually: atoms, stardust, carbon, new life-forms. Atoms in you now were once in others. It's a cycle.One might take Richard Dawkins's saying, that we're going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones, as another way of looking at this passage. But I'll gladly give the last word to Mark Twain.I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.


If you did happen to read this sacred text, that has been around for centuries longer than some acknowledge as even a possible thing, then may I suggest the Rig Vedas. The Rig Veda Awesome reading. Such perfection. Also, many people are familiar with Autobiography of a Yogi But the book by Paramanhansa Yogananda that I always found inspiring, both awe and heart wise was:Where There is Light: Insight and Inspiration for Meeting Life's Challenges. Along with the The Tao of Physics by Fritjov Capra, I was truly helped to see the possibilitiy of that microscopic infinite universe just out of sight of our ingrained perception. Truly eye-opening. And no small thing for a cynical skeptic.

Dennis Littrell

Nikhilananda, Swami. Bhagavad Gita, The: Translated from the Sanskrit, with Notes, Comments, and Introduction by Swami Nikhilananda (1944; 6th printing 1979) *****Fine translation with valuable commentaryThis is an especially good translation for those with some knowledge of yoga or Hinduism or Vedanta. Rather than employ artificialities like "discipline" or "duty" or "the Supreme God," Nikhilananda retains in his translation many Sanskrit words like yoga, dharma, Brahman, etc. that have no real one-to-one English equivalent. One of the virtues of not attempting to translate every term is a more natural expression that preserves some of the immediacy of the original. This is a boon for those who have some experience with the terms, and a detriment to those who do not. In doing so of course he violates one of the prime dicta of translation, namely that a translation should stand on its own without recourse to augmentation by other works.Nonetheless the book itself does stand on its own because Nikhilananda has provided along with the text a commentary taken primarily from Sankaracharya's famous and instructive gloss from the ninth century. (In some cases, it is true, the reader might wish that a commentary on Sankara's commentary be included!)A point well made in the Foreword by William Ernest Hocking is that too many of the newer translations (and this applies today as it did in 1944) tend to avoid "a happy seek the different solely for the sake of differing." Nikhilananda is not afraid to use the tried and true and readily employs the "happy expression" that has worked so well in previous translations. His is a modest translation. One can see that his purpose is not so much to be the poet himself as it is to make the work accessible to English speakers. In his introduction, Nikhilananda interprets the Gita from the standpoint of Vedanta philosophy, which is to be distinguished from yogic philosophy and to some extent from the Hare Krishna movement. The Gita, as Nikhilananda expresses it in his Introduction, along with the earlier Upanishads and the Brahma sutras, "form the bed-rock of Vedanta philosophy." He follows his Introduction with a chapter entitled, "The Story of the Mahabharata," the grand Indian epic in which the Gita is nestled. Then there is Sankara's brief Introduction followed by a traditional "Meditation." After the text there is a Glossary of Sanskrit words and an Index.This book, originally published by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York in 1944, is in keeping with the high quality of Swami Nikhilananda's engaging translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and the books on yoga by Swami Vivekananda also published by the Center. I would recommend that the serious English-speaking student of the Gita have this book, now in its Sixth Printing, alongside a more recent translation of the Gita--perhaps Stephen Mitchell's poetic Gita of 2000 or Kees Boole's Gita of 1979, which includes on left-facing pages a verse by verse transliteration of the Sanskrit--as an aid to study.I have only one small complaint with Nikhilananda's book: the chapter and verse numbers should be placed at the top of each page for easy reference by the reader! --a review by Dennis Littrell


PREFACEI was born a Christian, raised a Christian, and I'll die a Christian. Nevertheless, I enjoy learning about many different religions, and one of my favorite courses in college was “World Religions.” I read portions of many sacred texts, and have since wanted to read them more extensively - starting with the Bhagavad Gita.I am not Hindu. I have never been to a Hindu place of worship, and I have had very few conversations with practicing Hindus about their religion. Hence my understanding of the Gita may be very flawed, and very inadequate. But I read it, and this is what I thought. If there are gross misunderstandings on my part, please don’t take offense. My intent is to learn, and to help others understand a small portion of a religion I am attempting to understand.What is the Bhagavad Gita?It is a portion of the Hindu scripture called the Mahabharata. As I understand, it is the most well known and widely read and quoted portion of the scripture. It takes place in the middle of a war. Arjuna is the commander of his army, and feels a moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins. Lord Krishna explains to him his duties, and then expounds the meaning of life, the cycles of reincarnation, and how one can finally escape this life and become one with God. He does this through the Vedantic philosophies, the different Yogis, the Gunas, and other examples and analogies on life.The main lesson is to go through life doing good, but to avoid attachment. We should work hard, serve others, do our best, but never care about the outcome. Whether we are rewarded are punished, should not matter. The goal is to be one with God. We should act and feel the same toward our friends and foes, saints and sinners, family and strangers. We should be moderate in all things, disciplined in all actions. The level to which we do this determines the state of our reincarnation. Hopefully we will eventually attain perfect union with God, forsake all attachment, and escape the reincarnation cycle.Quotes, and some of my thoughts about them.“There was never a time when either I, or you, or these rulers of men did not exist. Nor will there ever be a future when all of us will cease to exist.”The soul of man is eternal. Nothing can change that.“The foolish do not respect me in this human form, failing to know My supremely excellent form, that of the highest Lord of all creation.”It seems this is true of all prophets or Gods in all religions. I can compare it easily to Christ, who was scorned and hated by those of his own religion in his time, and was eventually killed by his own people. They would not recognize him for who he was.“Even those who become devotees of other deities and, with faith, perform sacrifices to them, they too sacrifice to Me…though not in the manner prescribed.”Lord Krishna appreciates all worship of all religions, saying that there is only one God (him), and all are worshiping him, though some in the wrong way. I believe the same thing, there is only one God, some are worshiping him the way he desires, but all who worship a supreme being are worshiping him.“But you cannot view Me with these eyes of yours. I am bestowing supernatural sight upon you – behold My divine Yoga.”“Were the radiance of a thousand suns to blaze forth at one go in the sky, it might approximate the magnificence of this exalted being.”“I am the intelligence of the intelligent.”These descriptions of the glory, brightness, and intelligence of the Supreme being ring very true, and the same descriptions are found in other sacred texts.“Man is composed of his faith – as his faith is, so is he”We are what we believe we are, or at least we become so.“I shall consider whoever studies this conversation on dharma between us as having worshiped Me by performing a Sacrifice of Knowledge.”Lord Krishna says that he will accept the reading of this scripture as worship of him. I appreciate the fact that even an attempt to understand is counted for good.“Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others which are new, likewise the embodied soul, casting off old bodies, is united with other, new ones.”“There is nothing in this world as purifying as knowledge.”“Both renunciation of action and its selfless performance lead to salvation, but of the two, the selfless performance of action is superior to its renunciation.”“Since wisdom is veiled by ignorance, all creatures are confused.”“A man should not raise himself, and should not demean himself.”“For the mind, O Krsna, is unsteady, turbulent, powerful and obstinate. Controlling it, I think, is as difficult as enveloping the wind.”“Out of thousands of men, hardly one attempts to reach perfection.”“A man who contemplates the objects of sense develops an attachment to them; attachment gives rise to desire, and desire results in anger. Anger gives rise to confusion, confusion to loss of memory. Loss of memory destroys intelligence and, once a man’s intelligence is destroyed, he perishes.”MUCH MOREWhen I read the text, I highlighted about 160 passages. When I typed up those that interested me the most, I typed up 62. I have included here 16. If anyone would like to see the rest of the passages that I typed up, just ask me and I’ll post them.

Brad Byers

I love the Bhagavad Gita. It offers something for everyone, no matter what your religous/spritual persuasion might be. However, I had mixed feelings about this version which made me debate between three and four stars for this book.This is Prabhupada's translation. He is best known as the Founder and/or person who brought the Hare Krishna form of Vasinavism to the United States. The only issue I take with it is that at times he can be rather controversial in his interpretive purports of the verses naturally injecting his personal opinions that may or may not be accurate to the meaning of the verse. However, whether in agreeance with him or not, Prabhupada is still a person who deserves respect and the translations of the Gita passages themselves are some of the more personal and clear. This is a review of the hardbound edition, which makes a lovely showpiece. All in all worth reading for the great translation, and worth owning for the durable beautiful hardbound edition which also has color photo/art inserts. Prabhupada's purports and interpretations are interesting to look at as well... so long as you don't take his interpretation as law and you form your own opinions. Overall, a translation worth having.

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