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Vanity Karma: Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-gita, and the meaning of life Paperback – September 28, 2015
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I had the great privilege of dialoguing with Jayadvaita Swami as he reflected on the message of Ecclesiastes, and the singular pleasure of reading his book in manuscript form. As a scholar of Ecclesiastes, I am deeply impressed with his grasp of the book's message. And as one who knew little about Krishna consciousness (Krishna-bhakti) I came to a deeper understanding and appreciation of its spiritual value. I enthusiastically recommend this book to all. --Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College
Jayadvaita Swami was raised in an American Jewish family and received a Reform childhood training in his younger years. He tells of two greatly transformative moments. The first was discovering an important Biblical book from the same skeptical Biblical wisdom tradition that produced the Book of Job. Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) aroused in him existential despair and angst and essentially blew him out of both contemporary Judaism and the materialistic American culture. And then he encountered Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his teacher, the founder of the Krishna Consciousness movement. Over time, he became Swami Prabhupada's chief editor.
Jayadvaita Swami continues to live a life of chanting in which he delights, as well as a life of deep study of Vedic texts, which, to my mind, have become for him his Torah. That life, ironically, has much in common with the traditional scholarly rabbinic life of prayer and study guided by the blessings of a great teacher, a rebbe.
In this interestingly ecumenical translation and commentary, the author brings important comparisons from Vedic and Buddhist texts, as well as from other traditions and from modern scholarly research, to illuminate Qohelet's presentation of all the obstacles to trust, faith and hope in the Divine Stewardship of reality.
As in Jayadvaita Swami's spiritual quest, so in this volume: The wrenching questions about the sense of meaninglessness that mortality generates, as expressed in the Jewish Biblical skeptical wisdom tradition, as well as in wisdom traditions worldwide, are resolved by the far more transcendental reality map of the Vedic tradition, particularly as transmitted through his teacher. Scholars, seekers and others who find little satisfaction in current cultural reality maps should find good reading in this study of Qohelet! --Rabbi Shaya Isenberg, Emeritus Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, University of Florida
Vanity Karma comprises a remarkable set of spiritual reflections that defies literary genre categorization. This book is part spiritual autobiography with its roots in the counterculture, part exposition of Hindu devotionalism deeply grounded in classical Sanskrit sources, and part analysis of a section of the Old Testament, drawing from its associated body of text-critical academic scholarship.
With his own forty years as a monk and Swami in an orthodox Hindu devotional tradition grafted onto an earlier Jewish cultural upbringing, the author brings two equally ancient but culturally disparate voices into conversation, probing life's 'big' existential questions--those of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes and those of Krishna in the Bhagavata tradition. The result is not just a serious contribution to inter-religious dialogue, but a spiritual manual in its own right.
Vanity Karma is a unique addition to the spiritual archives of our day and age, offering profound insights relevant to Truth seekers of any tradition. --Edwin Bryant, Professor of Hindu Religion and Philosophy, Rutgers University
About the Author
Jayadvaita Swami--writer, editor, publisher, and teacher--is an American monk in the tradition of Krishna spirituality. As a writer, he crosses cultural boundaries to go deep into "the big questions" that speak to the essence of everyone's life. As an editor, he has edited more than forty volumes of translated Indian texts. As a publisher, he oversees the African division of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the world's largest publisher of India's classic books of spiritual wisdom. As a teacher, he travels year round, speaking on spiritual literature with clarity, joy, erudition, and wit. He has taught in more than sixty countries.
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It is a genuinely well-written, interesting book that grips the reader's interest throughout. The way it is broken into short, crisp sections and the Swami's lucid writing make for a very rewarding read. The content is deep and at the same time very readable.
It is an exploration of the Book of Ecclesiastes inter-woven with deep insights from the Krishna Bhakti tradition. It is spiced with the author's personal reflections and stories. It is gripping in a way that I did not expect a book that explores the meaning of life to be. I read every word with anticipation and was disappointed when it ended.
I found Vanity Karma refreshingly non-preachy and approachable. It's made me want to explore the Krishna Bhakti tradition within Hinduism more deeply, starting with the writings of the author's own spiritual teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
* For those curious about how I came to buy it, I saw it at the home of a friend who knows the author personally. In browsing through it, I was intrigued and decided to make the small outlay needed to buy it for myself.
What I like about this book first of all, is that it is objective but not preachy. Secondly, it is written in an easy to understand way for average people like me. He uses many different scholarly references in such a way that it feels like he is talking directly to me.
There are so many reasons that I like this book. However, the third reason may just have changed my life. And that is the "Hare Krishna" mantra chant. I have been doing it every day since I read about it in Jayadvaita Swami's magnificent study. It is a book worth recommending to anyone who has ever questioned the meaning of life before. You will be in awe of what you may gain from reading this book.
Thank you to Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Titles and NetGalley for giving me an acr copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review.
Using the Ecclesiastes from the Hebrew bible as the subject this is reflected upon by the Bhagavad-Gita a Hindu scripture. The title suggests vanity is the meaning of life, where we foolishly follow the materialistic society in vain. The saying “too much of good thing” comes to mind, as we work, eat, drink, sleep and have love as an endless circle. Why do we do this and is it something worth seeking? This question is dissected using both ancient texts with the author’s beliefs.
A frame of mind and openness by the reader will allow you to contemplate and reflect on your path in life. The beginning chapters are very bleak and feel like a midlife crisis. There is a strong sense of frustration with life and the world. Despite the ages our general life path has remained the same and we continue in this circle regardless of modern innovation. Our seeking of happiness continues to be momentary rather than permanent are the conclusions drawn from reading.
There is a sense of loss and hopeless in maintaining life in the Ecclesiastes. Which takes a slight reluctant stance in requesting we simply enjoy the pleasures that we can in life despite its vanity. I believe sensing this issue the author utilises the Bhagavad-Gita’s more optimistic outlook and focus on serving a Supreme Being.
Considering this is religious text the lack of faith is quite interesting even though the Ecclesiastes refers to being mindful of a fearful God. However the author brings the text round from such bleakness to again refer to serving a Supreme Being. Therefore one could conclude that we should seek God or a Supreme Being to be fully satisfied in life. This may seem a rather obvious conclusion from a religious stance and is often the goal of most religions. A non-religious background may merely require being good and enjoying ones pleasures.
Whether you serve God or your own self this appears to be an endless circle of life that the Ecclesiastes refers to in its text. The context we place on this can be a sense of vanity or not. An important word I have left to the end is karma, which is a form of judgement that we have no saying on. However it is clear from both of the ancient texts will play a part outside of this life. Making our actions in this life taking on a greater meaning. This book is extremely deep and forms many internal discussion for reflection on your own life. This achieves its overall goal and it is very much up to the reader to draw conclusions on the meaning of life.