Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction

Via on Apr 18, 2010


Bhagavad Gita MitchellThe response to my Gita Talk  blog was overwhelming, with over 50 enthusiastic people agreeing to join us for an online discsussion of the Bhagavad Gita.

Let’s begin by reading the introduction (thru p. 35) of Stephen Mitchell’s Bhagavad Gita–A New Translation.  I’ll give you a couple of weeks to get a hold of the book and read through page 35. 

Then I’ll put out a blog with some discussion provoking questions. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t start talking now, though.  Let’s tell each other what our experience with the Gita is going in.

–Have you read the Bhagavad Gita before or is this your first time?

–Either way, what is your impression of the Gita going in to this discussion?

A Little Background Material 

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.

My own feelings about the Bhagavad Gita are well expressed in my review last year of Mitchell’s version:

Falling Head-Over-Heals In Love with the Universe

For those of you who have always wanted to absorb the spectacular wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, but have found it difficult, I highly recommend Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation by Stephen Mitchell.  This is my fourth version and sixth reading of the Bhagavad Gita.  I have gotten a lot from all four versions, but Mitchell’s is clearly the most accessible and enjoyable, without sacrificing any of the meaning.

The Bhagavad Gita is quite literally about falling in love with the indescribable wonder of the universe, that is to say, God.  These two are synonymous in the Gita.  (Believe it or not, the text itself says that you can approach God as either an unfathomable cosmic life-force or as an intimate personal diety.  Either leads you to the same boundless love and joy.)

The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra are two of the most important ancient texts of Yoga.  They could not be more different.  The Yoga Sutra is mostly secular in nature, and mentions God only briefly and perfunctorily.  The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast, is literally “The Song of the Beloved Lord”, and most of the text is the voice of the awesome life-force of the universe itself.

The Yoga Sutra is a cookbook for achieving inner peace.  The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast, won’t settle for anything less than ecstatic union with the divine.  Put them together and you have the astounding whole of Yoga philosophy in two relatively short texts.

Try Mitchell’s version of the Bhagavad Gita.  You’ll be glad you did.

So, please get your copy of the book as soon as you can, read the Introduction (th p. 35), and share with us any other thoughts you have before we get started on the book itself. 

All questions and comments at any level are welcome at all times.

Please see
Welcome to Gita Talk  
for all Gita Talk blogs and general information. 
Jump in anytime and go at your own pace. 


About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.


88 Responses to “Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction”

  1. Yesica Pineda yeye says:

    Beautiful Bob :) Could I use my Bhagavad-Gita (Sanskrit schola Barbara Stoler Miller translation)?

    with metta :)

    • Hi, yeye. I've heard that's a great version, too, and you're of course welcome to participate either way. But discussions can be clumsy with different translations, and we will be discussing his commentary, too. So I'm hoping most people will get the Mitchell version.

  2. Mahita Devi says:

    I am very excited about this Bob. I am going to order the book. I have read two other translations but have never read this one or discussed it with a group of people. This is going to be awesome and such a wonderful opportunity to learn. My husband is going to join us too.

  3. integralhack says:

    I look forward to following along, Bob. I don't like what Mitchell did to the Tao Te Ching, but that was really a modern interpretation rather than a translation, so I'm sure I'll like his Gita better.

    • Haven't seen that. (I had a lot of trouble relating to the Tao Te Ching version I read in general, but that's another story.)

      I have read the whole spectrum of Bhagavad Gita versions, and there are a variety of translating philosophies, which, as a language guy, I find fascinating in themselves. But I never saw anything in Mitchell that was out of step with the others in meaning.

      Mitchell just insists on a rendering the intended meaning into colloquial English, which is why I prefer his to the others. Other translators give priority to more of a structural matching of the Sanskrit, which results in very clumsy sounding English, even though they could be said to be "closer" to the Sanskrit.

  4. BJ Galvan says:

    Ps.. I like how you describe the Yoga Sutras as a cook book.. So many people think and teach it has a 'scripture', when it is really a Shastra…literally like a cook book or instruction manual to become absorbed in the Self.. and then, you get up and go to work, do laundry, schlep kids, or get someone else to do it.

  5. Lorraine says:

    Just purchased the book in Kindle edition. I've always meant to read the Gita and this will be a great way to do it. Looking forward to the discussion.

  6. Tobye Hillier yogi Tobye says:

    Great to have a reason to buy a new book! (like I need a reason)

  7. Love this – will be picking up my copy ASAP. Am looking forward to everyone’s insights, comments, etc. Great way to build community. Thanks Bob, as always, you are leading the way.

  8. Susan says:

    Great! I am looking forward to this. Thank you, Bob!

  9. michele says:

    Hi Bob,
    Thank you for doing this. I have read this translation and enjoyed it but what I have always needed is some discussion and conversation around it to help understand and process it more fully so I'm really excited to read what everyone is sharing!

    • Glad you're here, Michele. I don't think you'll be disappointed. The Gita really does start to come alive when certain difficult issues can be discussed and understood better.

  10. Carlos says:

    Just to share with you. I'm from Brazil, and there's an interesting (and rigorous and respected) translation of the Gita, made by Rogerio Duarte, who as a poet was one of the founders of the Brazilian musical and cultural movement "Tropicália", in the Sixties. When this translation was published (1998), the book came with a CD with musical versions of some chapters, by some of the most respected Brazilian musicians, like Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Chico Cesar. In my view, at least an interesting cross-cultural exercise.

  11. Holly says:

    Looking forward to participating. This will be my first reading of the Gita. I have been a yoga student for years so this reading is long overdue.

    • mamakohl says:

      Hi Holly, it's my first time, too! Glad to be in good company.

      • Hi, mamakohl. Welcome. If you ever get overwhelmed with all the comments and the level of the discussion, just send me a message on Facebook or Twitter and I'll help you out directly. I am concerned that the new readers might get overwhelmed by all this. Please contact me directly if that happens to you and I will answer your questions one-on-one. This goes for any of you other new readers as well.

        Bob Weisenberg

  12. Welcome, Holly. We have many first time readers. Glad you're here

  13. Candace says:

    I've read a couple translations but have never engaged in discussion. I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn from such a great group of people. Thank you!

  14. sawennatson says:

    Hello. I've been eyeballing this book from its dusty perch on the shelf since high school. I read it after "Violence & Non-violence" course. It was a lot for my teenage mind to take in. Thanks for being the push to re-examine the Gita.

  15. Lisa B. Minn says:

    I just ordered the book. I read this version before during my teacher training 6 years ago and I thought it was beautiful and thought-provoking. I'm looking forward to reading it again. Thanks for organizing this!

  16. This should prove interesting 😉 Looking forward to the discussion and insights to be shared!

  17. Greg says:

    Walked out of yoga class this morning. Said to myself, they must have a copy of Mitchell's translation even though they do not carry many books.. Asked and after some rummaging around in a storeroom they came up with the last copy! Magic.

  18. Pat says:

    Would love to join! Very timely as I just read this version of the Bhagavad Gita and was wishing I had a group to discuss it with.

    Was amused as the intro started out with quotes from Emerson and Thoreau and I was reading a copy from the Concord, MA library. Guess I'll have to buy my own copy now!!

    • Welcome, Pat. That's a great story about reading the Gita from the Concord library. This connection with Emerson, Thoreau (and also Whitman) is something I want to learn more about.

      There are so many people who have already read Mitchell and there's so much enthusiasm built up here, that I'm reluctant to wait to begin the discussion, but I'm going to hold off until March 1st to give everyone else a chance to get the book and read the introduction.

      In the meantime I'll put out a few other preliminary blogs with interesting information and questions for the group.

      Thanks for being here.

  19. Amy Putkonen says:

    Great idea, Bob! It will be interesting to see the discussions that follow!

  20. CrissyLo says:

    Hi Bob!

    This could not come at a better time for me! I am enrolled in a YTT program, and our next reading assignment is this exact translation! I have not read the Gita before, and really have no idea what to expect?! I am very excited to participate in this discussion! When do you anticipate the blog to begin?


    • About March 1st I'll be putting out a blog to start the discussion on the book itself th p. 35, the Introduction. That's just to give everyone a chance to get the book.

      However, in the meantime I'll be putting out a blog or two with interesting preliminary topics and background material, like this one. I'm anxious to tap into all this enthusiasm right now.

  21. Marilyn says:

    Looking Forward to share this experience……..

  22. […] but the discussion will refer to Mitchell’s version.  I just ordered mine. Weisenberg has “assigned” reading the introduction here. So I’ll do that and in later posts we’ll join in the discussion happening over at […]

  23. John Morrison says:

    I have read this before to no great effect – but I think I will give this another shot because I value your recommendation and I think the group discussion is a really great idea. You may have inspired me to create The Buddhist Book Club or some such thing…

    • Hi, John.

      I wandered into the wrong version of the Bhagavad Gita myself the first time I read it. I only persisted because of the very high regard it was held in by many others, including Whitman, Thoreau, and Ghandi. I think you will find Mitchell's version a revelation, although I have to say it is very un-Buddhist because of it's emphasis on the metaphor of God as the unfathomable life-force of the universe.

      I hope this experiment in online book discussion will indeed be so successful that it will lead to many other book discussions, including a lot of Buddhist works and commentary. I relish your participation both because of what you will add to this discussion and because you can then be the vanguard of taking the concept forward with Buddhist books.

      Thanks for being here.

      Bob Weisenberg
      Elephant blog

  24. Meredith P. says:

    I'd like to join, too. Thanks for leading this, Bob. I can't hear to read, listen, absorb, and participate.

  25. I'm in. This will be my first reading (other than my BG for Busy People iPhone app – lol – not kidding) as I always imagined wanting to discuss while reading. So, thanks for providing this space. Looking forward to it!

  26. […] click over to Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction on Elephant Journal.  We’d love to see you […]

  27. Rainbeau Mars rainbeau says:

    WOW. Mr popular. Its about time. I love it! Blessings on your illuminating and oh so sharing path. THANK YOU! Rainbeau

  28. Jess says:

    Just got mine and I can't wait to start! The font and layout in this edition is lovely, there's lots of room for notes in the margin :)

  29. Hi, Jess. Glad you're here.

    Yes, the Mitchell edition is beautiful. The first thing one notices is that there are no footnotes at the bottom, or notes of any kind except as part of the introduction. Mitchell's translation philosophy is to make notes unnecessary by conveying all special terms and concepts in the translation itself.

    This means one has to go to other sources for in-depth background material, but it results in an exceedingly clear and lucid read. People who want get a more scholarly view can always move on to the Sargent or Schweig editions, which are more difficult to read but extensively annotated.

    I kind of did the reverse. I read Schweig and a few others first, flipping back and forth between text and notes. I enjoyed the Gita that way, but the Mitchell edition was an absolute revelation. It showed me how powerful the text really is when fully translated into colloquial English. And in my judgment, only some detail is sacrificed, and not any of the meaning.

    Bob Weisenberg
    (My Elephant blog)

  30. Amy Champ says:

    Hi there. I'm writing my dissertation on karma yoga & I super-heart Gita.

  31. elaine says:

    I just read the intro to this. Already loving it!

  32. […] begin discussion on our first reading assignment, which runs through page 35.   (see Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction ).  Hopefully you all have your book by […]

  33. […] begin discussion on our first reading assignment, which runs through page 35.   (see Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction ).  Hopefully you all have your book by […]

  34. Tracy says:

    I just got my book on Friday and have only read a few pages. I'm a bit behind, it seems :)

  35. tiffany says:

    I am totally psyched!! I have always wanted to read this book, have it, but felt I needed the time to truly try and absorb the info. Now, thru this group I can do that!!

  36. Sandra says:

    Very very excited about this. I own this translation which is a great start. It has been gathering dust for a couple of years so this is the perfect opportunity for me.

  37. That's great, Sandra. Good to have you here.

  38. […] Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction | elephant journal Jump to Comments Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction | elephant journal […]

  39. Helen says:

    Hi, I have only just found this discussion but have ordered the book so will join in when I catch up. I am currently reading the Bhagavad Gita as It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Once I start reading the book covered in your discussion I may read them side by side. Thanks for creating this discussion Bob. I'm curious about which other 5 translations you have read.

    • Hi, Helen. Welcome. Great to have you here. No problem catching up. So far we've just discussed the introduction at Facebook Page). Just come and jump into the discussion whenever you want.

      My first Gita was the Prabhupada. I personally found it to be quite off-putting for a variety of reasons, and I gave up on the Gita for awhile after reading it. But I kept hearing how wonderful and vital the Gita was, so I read Graham Schweig's translation. This time I was hooked. The contrast with Prabhupada could not be more different. In fact, Schweig himself said that some scholars refer to Prabhupada's version as "As It Isn't"!

      Next I read Mitchell's version, then a book called "Gita Wisdom–An Introduction to India's Essential Yoga Text", also excellent, and finally Eknath Easwaran, also glorious. In the Prabhupada and the Mitchell you have the two diametric extremes of the Gita translation world. Please do me a favor and tell me what you think as you get into them.

      Please let me know if I can help you in any way. I look forward to hearing from you again.

      Bob Weisenberg

    • Hi, Helen. Welcome. Great to have you here. No problem catching up. So far we've just discussed the introduction at Facebook Page). Just come and jump into the discussion whenever you want.

      My first Gita was the Prabhupada. I personally found it to be quite off-putting for a variety of reasons, and I gave up on the Gita for awhile after reading it. But I kept hearing how wonderful and vital the Gita was, so I read Graham Schweig's translation. This time I was hooked. The contrast with Prabhupada could not be more different. In fact, Schweig himself said that some scholars refer to Prabhupada's version as "As It Isn't"!

      Next I read Mitchell's version, then a book called "Gita Wisdom–An Introduction to India's Essential Yoga Text", also excellent, and finally Eknath Easwaran, also glorious. In the Prabhupada and the Mitchell you have the two diametric extremes of the Gita translation world. Please do me a favor and tell me what you think as you get into them.

      Please let me know if I can help you in any way. I look forward to hearing from you again.

      Bob Weisenberg

  40. Sandra says:

    I'm running very late after my initial enthusiasm. Thank you Bob for running this discussion and the regular facebook updates to keep me hooked in!! I own this copy and it is the only one I have read. So I am interested in reading other translations. What struck me when I read the Gita many years ago is that this classic and important text was so short, simple and clear yet completely mind blowing. Perhaps that is what the original Sanskrit Gita is like, perhaps it is much to do with the translation? This introduction really whets the appetite. Who are Krishna and Arjuna? What are they going to say? What is going to happen in this small space in time, will it change the world? Most importantly, will it change my world?

    • Hi, Sandra. I'm so glad you took, the time to write.

      It has always been my hope that readers could start anytime and go at their own pace, and I'm committed to being here to converse with them about the Gita. It's nice to see this happen. Please continue to write as you move through the text. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

      Let me know if I can help you in any way. You can reach me on any Gita Talk or on Facebook.

      Bob Weisenberg

  41. Girish_M says:

    Hi Bob,Thanks for starting this forum. I am really late getting into the reading, not too late I hope. (I got an invite to "like" elephant journal on FaceBook a few days ago and the first thing I noticed was the Gita Talk ! ). I have never read any version of the Gita before, I am familiar with the Mahabharata( I used to be fascinated by mythology growing up ),

    I did purchase a copy of Stephen Mitchell's book.(came in today). I look forward to reading it and the discussions !


    • Hi, Girish_M. Not too late at all. I've tried to design Gita Talk so someone can start at any time and go a their own pace. And I'll always be here for questions and conversations. I enjoy talking about the Gita any time.

      There will always be others going through at the same time, like Sandra above, for example, and many past participants will still be getting e-mail notifications of new comments, so they may join in as well.

      Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

      Bob Weisenberg

  42. Pauline says:

    Hi Bob, This is my first time reading the Gita. I have been a yogi for many years and yes, am one of those people who should have read it in my teacher training and never did! :( I have the SkyLight Illumination Gita written by Andrew Harvey so i am not sure how i can follow along with your scheduled readings. maybe i'll see if i can find a used book that you are reading from.
    I am really looking forward to reading this. thank you!

  43. Wilmer Jayo says:

    what is the best free website to start a successful blogg?

  44. […] Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction […]

  45. uwwofr says:

    Penetrant dans la salle ; au matin de brumes roses. Faconnes des l’enfance par ses parents bien avant qu’elle ait ete jouee dans des circonstances aussi favorables, elle ne vivait plus, il souffrait trop. Dut-il compromettre ma vie, perdu au milieu des eaux, et on a interet a le transporter. Furieuse et burlesque, la discussion qui s’ouvrait devant lui, a cause des emanations de radium. Rappelle-toi ce que furent les arts dans les deux metres, se succedaient les generations des oiseaux, des fleurs aux voyageurs.

    Rassure, le soupconnant ainsi que je vois encore leurs cinq cadavres… Deportation facultative de ceux qui font misericorde. Indefinies en nombre, et vraiment j’ai de nouveau stipule mon libre arbitre avait recu un coup. Age d’environ soixante personnes, elle appelait cela la pluie. Etait-il vrai que les courtisans, c’est toi le coupable, le deshabillerent. Cote a cote sur une planche en bois un peu grande, aux levres pleines, peintes d’une touche de flatterie. Invention signifie initiative, et se posaient a lui. Serieusement, la, sous le beau ciel sans nuages, le vent tomba, laissant le champ libre a ma rivale, que vous m’appeliez. Effares, muets d’etonnement, demeura quelque temps la fantaisie de passer la main a leurs lances. Menaces au dehors d’une barriere recouverte de velours rouge, egalement brodees de fleurs d’oranger de la mariee avec le vieux ; il n’osa prononcer le mot.

  46. EddieParks says:

    It was a fantastic game. You can’t diminish what Cincinnati did considering the upheaval over the coaching staff the Bearcats only had five coaches on your game and not the usual 10 and the fact it didn’t just lay down and die after falling behind 16-0 early. That being said, Duke sure did quite a bit to aid out. The Blue Devils turned the ball over four times, twice with the verge of scoring a touchdown, and so it was too much to overcome. As Nick Temple streaked toward the end zone while in the final seconds after intercepting a Sean Renfree pass. Considering what your Bearcats have been through since the end with the regular season, ending the year possessing a thrilling bowl victory to finish the season at 10-3 was superb.

  47. Sarah Morley says:

    I purchased my copy of the Bhagavad Gita A New Translation By Stephen Mitchell about 3 months ago. Had hesitancy in beginning the book as I have so many books on the TO READ list. However I am happy to have found this discussion group because I need some guidance and conversation regarding thoughts, insights, understandings! I am excited and have already begun to dive in!

  48. Hi, Rebecca. This is one of the very first issues that usually comes up in Gita discussions.

    The Gita has been used both as a justification for war and for pacifism (There is an essay by Ghandi in the Mitchell version explaining why the Ghandi considered it his bible.) I'm going to stop there for now, but, rest assured, this will come up right away in our discussion of the introduction.

    I actually the Gita very useful in handling your own "battlefields", whatever they happen to be.

  49. By the way, I was impressed by the reviews on Amazon, particularly the negative ones.
    If people who use "poetry" as an insult and "religion" as a compliment complain about it, it may just be my kinda interpretation…

  50. I'll have to get over and look at those Amazon comments. One of the things that makes the Gita so fascinating is the wide variety of interpretations. As I said in a previous comment–everything from a justification for war to Ghandi's bible. The one thing I haven't heard much of is "Ho-Hum".

  51. Hi, BJ. I would say that Mitchell would wholeheartedly agree with you. I hope you will bring up this same issue as we move through the text.

  52. Hi, Elize. That was the first version I read, too, and I almost gave up on the Gita because of that. I'm sure there will be other opinions on this, and I welcome them. But for me the Prahupada version was hard to read and oriented entirely to supporting the Krishna Consciousness movement, which is way to narrow for my taste.

    Again, I welcome other opinions. That's just mine. I do think it's important to say this, though, because I know other people who have been turned off to the Gita by starting with this version, and I want to encourage them to try another version with a new mind.

  53. Scott says:

    You can read it online here.

  54. Do try to get the Mitchell version if you can. It does make a lot of difference. There are other great translations, of course, but it's easier to get involved in the discussion if we're all on the same page, so to speak.

  55. Elize says:

    I’m searching out the Mitchell version as we speak (er, type…) There’s probably some insight into the fact that I read Prahupada’s Gita once, and haven’t really returned. I recall really enjoying other people’s translations & the discussion it generated… can’t wait to see what Mitchell’s translation offers up. And just the comments on this Intro Assignment are intriguing- Duarte’s version with music? Fascinating!

  56. Thanks, Carlos. I still might try to hunt around for it on the Internet. I once found a rare long out-of-print book about Schubert that way. Whoever owns it should consider putting it online at a site like bandcamp. Great way to make out-of-print music available for sale or free download.

  57. Hi, Lisa. I do think having a group like this will be very helpful, especially for a first time reader. The Gita is very powerful, but it takes a little time and understanding to get over the initial unfamiliarity of the metaphors and language. This will be made much smoother by reading the right version, Mitchell's, and by having a place to go with initial questions.

  58. Hi, Scott. I'm so glad you decided to join us here, and thanks for your very interesting and insightful comments above.

    I hope you will continue to write often as you move through Gita Talk. I'm also intensely interested in how Gita Talk works for someone going through it at their own pace like this. I've tried to design it so it works that way, too, but any feedback you can give me about how it actually works in practice would be most appreciated.

    I enjoyed all your comments above, particularly your notes about the Third Order of St. Francis. One of my favorite Gita themes is the universality of the ancient Yoga texts. Your example is another case in point. As you go through Gita Talk you will find frequent in-depth discussions about this issue, the most recent being Gita Talk #12.

    Please continue to write as you move through the text and through Gita Talk. I'll look forward to our convesations.

    Bob Weisenberg

  59. Hi, Krishna. Glad you're here and thanks for writing.

    The more I study the roots of ancient Yoga the more I realize how intertwined these two ideas were back then–"sacrifice" and "worship". This is the kind of thing that makes it difficult to translate a work like the Gita.

    Right now I'm in the middle of The Yoga Tradition. One of the main points Feuerstein makes is that Yoga takes the physical sacrifice of the Vedic rituals and transformed them into the sacrifice of the ego and ego-driven results in favor of feeling one with the universe.

    I hope you will continue to write as you work through Gita Talk. I'm anxious to get feedback from people who are going through it as a self-paced seminar.

    Please do me a favor. If you ever leave a comment and don't get a reply within a few days, please let me know with a message on my Facebook page or website (links below). Sometimes I'm not getting the e-mail notifications I should be getting from Elephant.


    Bob Weisenberg

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