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The Essence of Wisdom
on December 3, 2011
From a small operation in Northern California, Eknath Easwaran and the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation continue to produce books of enormous importance. This latest addition to Easwaran's legacy is one of the most insightful to date. If you enjoy Easwaran's teachings, if you're yearning for ultra deep insights into this beloved Hindu scripture, or if you simply want to read elegant prose seasoned with delightfully modern, often amusing stories and analogies, you'll love this book.
Many Gita commentaries (including Easwaran's own three-volume set) explore the text passage by passage. Through these, we quickly discern that the battle described in the Gita is not physical but internal and that this battle is won using will power rather than firepower.
Beyond the individual words and passages, however, lies much more. Deftly wielding his little but powerful lamp, Easwaran leads us on a spelunking trip deep into the heart of the Gita. Along the way, we encounter wisdom from such varied sources as Shankara, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Spinoza, Jung, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, physiologist Hudson Hoagland and others. The journey is at once simple and profound.
The book begins by introducing the split in consciousness between our lower and higher selves that causes separateness and struggle. Easwaran explores the nature of reality and personality, explaining that we are not our bodies or our minds (!) and that identification with these imposters keeps us feeling separate from everyone and everything.
Beginning with chapter six, we move from theory to practice. Easwaran explains how to heal the split using a system of living that includes meditation, living deliberately and experimenting with our likes and dislikes. The words are practical and enormously compelling.
The final three chapters describe the journey of humanity toward its ultimate goal: self-realization. We have no choice but to fight this battle, Easwaran and the Gita insist. Putting our heads in the sand or playing with the toys of life only delays the battle and prolongs our misery. Ultimately, Easwaran's Gita tells us we will not only fight but also win and that this glorious day comes much more quickly when we seize the initiative and realize our potential.
This story could only be told by a lifelong student of the Gita, someone who has lived it each day and is now so familiar with it that its words pale against the underlying meaning. Even so, in the hands of a lesser writer, no one but an enlightened being could even understand how the meaning derives from the words. But Easwaran's ideas fit together so well and are so nicely supported by the sparsely used but powerful Gita verses that, by the end, it's utterly impossible to deny both the wisdom of this interpretation and the inevitability of its effect on us.