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Clear, natural translation with an insightful preface
on August 6, 2001
This an especially natural and graceful translation somewhere between poetry and prose by a man who really understands the message of the Gita. This can be seen from reading Eknath Easwaran's wise and penetrating Preface written especially for this, the Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition, edited by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne for Vintage Books.
Easwaran shows that the differing paths to self-realization and liberation that the Gita presents are a comprehensive whole. "The thread through Krishna's teaching, the essence of the Gita, can be given in one word: renunciation. This is the common factor in the four yogas" (p. xxxviii). Easwaran goes on to explain that what is being renounced is not material, although on first blush it seems that way. What is renounced are the fruits of action. Renunciation is not only the essence of karma yoga, but the essence of the bhakti, jnana and raja yogas that Krishna presents as well. The key is an amazing spiritual and psychological insight into human nature: we are miserable when we are concerned with the results of what we do, but we are freed when we devote the fruits of our work to God. What is renounced is also the delusion of a material self that acts, the famous slayer and the slain. Unlike some other, rather foolish, translations that try to find some artificial substitute for the word "yoga," an endeavor entirely alien to the Gita, Easwaran embraces the understanding. He writes, "the Gita is Brahmavidyayam yogashastra, a textbook on the supreme science of yoga" (p. xxxvi)
It is also clear from what Easwaran writes in the Preface that he understands meditation and the path of moksha gained when one is beyond the pair of opposites that dominate our material existence. Easwaran knows because he himself is a long time practitioner of meditation, which is one of the ways of liberation (raja yoga). So many writers on spirituality and on the practice of yoga really do not know meditation, but Easwaran clearly does. Easwaran also understands that the insights of the Gita can be found in other mystical traditions, including those of Meister Eckhart, St. Catherine of Genoa, Ruysbroeck, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and others.
Easwaran also makes the important point that the Gita is not the sole property of any one point of view. "The Gita does not present a system of philosophy. It offers something to every seeker after God, of whatever temperament, by whatever path" (p. xxxv).
Easwaran writes, "to understand the Gita, it is important to look beneath the surface of its injunctions and see the mental state involved. Philanthropic activity can benefit others and still carry a large measure of ego involvement. Such work is good, but it is not yoga. It may benefit others, but it will not necessarily benefit the doer" (p. xxxix). This represents a profound insight into the nature of karma yoga, an understanding that comes only after years of study and practice.
Finally Easwaran knows something others don't know (even though this is central to Krishna's teaching), that the Gita, through the practice of yoga, frees one from the fear of death. When one "realizes that he is not a physical creature but the Atman, the Self, and thus not separate from God...he knows that, although his body will die, he will not die...To such a person, the Gita says, death is no more traumatic than taking off an old coat." (pp. xxiv-xxv).
There are ten pages of notes that follow the translation in which the shades of meaning of various concepts like dharma, karma, yoga, sannyasa, etc., and some other ideas are discussed. There is a guide to pronunciation and a glossary of Sanskrit words. This quality paperback is handsomely designed from cover to font, and the translation is one of my favorites.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"