Monday, May 3, 2010

Online Bhagavad Gita Discussion Series

This weekend I learned from YogaDork that frequent blog commenter and poster Bob Weisenberg has started an online Bhagavad Gita discussion series. Excitement! I rushed out to Chapters to buy the only copy they had (the version being used is the translation by Stephen Mitchell).

If you're not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, it is one of the main texts in the yoga philosophy system. It is also widely acknowledged as one of the world's most important literary and spiritual works. Weisenberg, in his Gita Discussion #1 post, says "The Bhagavad Gita is one of the “big three” ancient Yoga texts, along with the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra gets 95% of the attention, but it is quite incomplete without the other two. The three together are nothing short of astounding."

Gita Introduction

The Gita is one part of the Indian Epic the Mahabharata. In total, the Mahabharata, which is a very long poem, is longer than the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Book Six of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, takes place on a battlefield at the beginning of an epic war. The good and virtuous clan or army is led by Arjuna, the hero of the Gita.

At the outset, Arjuna is driven on chariot to the space between the two armies where he surveys the situation. In that moment he is overwhelmed by what is about to happen - the imminent death of his friends, teachers and cousins that stand on both sides of the field - and so, he drops his weapon and refuses to fight.

At this point his chariot driver Krishna (who, as it turns out, is God incarnate) begins his teaching about "life and deathlessness, duty, nonattachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and the inconceivable depths of reality" (as Mitchell's introduction explains).

The Gita is a beautiful story that teaches the path of yoga (and specifically Karma yoga, the yoga of service). It is an epic poem that shows us the way to one essential truth - the peace and wisdom we seek already exists within us. Through Krishna's monologue we become more aware of this truth.

Online Discussion

If this sounds like something you're interested in exploring, Weisenberg's online discussion will be a great place to start. Already there is a wonderful mix of people taking part - some are brand new to the Gita while others are well versed in its teachings. Together, we'll all be creating an amazing dialogue which will help each of us in our personal Gita study.

The discussion will take place on Elephant Journal. Check out the first discussion post and reading assignment. You can also join the Facebook group to get discussion updates by email.

Getting the book in St. John's may be a challenge. I picked up the last copy at Chapters, but you can check the other bookstores. Also check The Bookery on Signal Hill as they often have hard-to-get titles. I'll do some calling around and update everyone about where to find it. (*UPDATE* there are no copies at either Coles location or at Chapters. The Bookery is closed on Monday's so I'll try them tomorrow).

Here are the online links for the title: Amazon and Chapters. An order from one of these sites won't take long to arrive and you can still follow along in the online discussion until then (the blog posts will remain online, so even if you're reading at a different pace you'll still be able to participate).

While you wait for your copy to arrive I'm happy to lend mine out overnight (the reading assignments are short) to anyone that would like to keep up. Just let me know and we can swap at the studio.

If you plan to take part, leave a comment here. While the big discussion that Weisenberg is initiating will be very beneficial, it's also nice to connect to a local community of people taking part in this type of study!



  1. Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

  2. Hi SF,

    No, I have never read that particular edition. There are lots of translations out there and I'm sure each of them has something wonderful to offer its readers. For this particular online discussion we're using Mitchell's copy. In the latest post on Elephant Journal there is some discussion of various translations if you're interested.


  3. Hi, Meaghan. Thanks for passing the word about "Gita Talk" with this informative blog.

    I just left the following response to your question about the word "heaven" in "Gita Talk #4":

    Hi, Meaghan. Thanks for reminding me.

    I would apply my "Disregard / Metaphor / Explain" scheme to this tricky word, heaven.

    Any reference that implies that my current "self" (with a small "s"), recognizable as me, Bob, will show up in some other place someday after I die, I Disregard, whether that place is heaven or another creature on earth (literal reincarnation). I don't believe in this, although I know many do.

    The heaven I do believe in is well described in the very last stanza of Chapter 2:

    This is the divine state, Arjuna.
    Absorbed in it, everywhere, always,
    even at the moment of death,
    he vanishes, into God's bliss. (BG 2.72)

    This stanza goes to the heart of the Gita's meaning, as I've tried to summarize it in "Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable" The best metaphor I've found for this is that of the wave and the ocean:

    If you were a wave in the ocean
    And someone asked you what you are
    Would you answer
    “I am a wave”
    or would you answer
    “I am the ocean”?

    (from Yoga

    The passages you quoted in your comment would both fall in the "Disregard" category for me. There are many passages in the Gita that are completely out of sync with its overall message. I personally find it better to just ignore these passages rather than try to invent some deeper meaning. Mitchell advises the same thing on p. 209 in the notes to his introduction. But in other editions you can find in-depth historical explanations or metaphorical explanations.

    Please let me know if this makes sense.

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Hey Bob - nice to see you here :) Thanks for re-posting the comment here, I'm not getting some email notifications from elephant others have already mentioned. Yes, this does make sense. I'll head over to Gita Talk and leave my thoughts.