Gita Talk #3: It’s Showtime. Please Start Talking All At Once!

Via Bob Weisenberg
on May 4, 2010
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Bhagavad Gita Mitchell

OK, sports fans, the game is on. This is our first weekly discussion of Mitchell’s Bhagavad Gita. This week we’re talking about the Introduction, which goes through p. 35 (with ten pages of very interesting notes, pages 199-210.)

Before I forget, the reading for next Monday is Chapters 1 and 2, pages 41-60.

This is a true experiment. So I’m just going to play it by ear.  The best thing that can happen is if you all jump right into the game, instead of watching from the sidelines. I know we’ll have a great discussion if you:

–Tell us what’s on your mind.
–Ask us the questions you were asking yourself as you were reading the Introduction.
And especially, read other readers comments and reply with your questions, disagreements, or comments.

I’m committed to responding to every question individually myself, but the more help I get the better.

Don’t be shy! There are no wrong questions. And the Elephant crowd is noted for its warmth and civility in handling even the most controversial issues.  We have a wide variety of experience in this group, from many first time readers to veteran devotees and everything in between.  We all have something to offer each other.

If you don’t have anything particular in mind, then think about these issues and give me your thoughts:

1) How did the Introduction make you feel about reading the Gita?
2) How did it compare to your expectations going in?
3) If you have read other versions of the Gita, how does Mitchell’s vision in his Introduction compare?
4) Are there any questions you’d like to ask?
5) Watch Yoga’s Secret Love Song, one particularly rapturous vision of the Gita (7 min. video from Graham Schweig).  What are your reactions?  How does Schweig’s vision compare to Mitchell’s vision of the Gita in his Introduction?

Helpful Hints

Elephant has a terrific discussion system. If you haven’t been here before, I think you’ll find it very intuitive. Some hints:

–When you post a comment, make sure you subscribe to “All new comments” in the pull down menu at the bottom of the comment box.  (Otherwise you’ll just receive e-mails when people reply to your comment.)
–You can post ad hoc each time, or you can register with “Intense Debate”, which will allow you to show your avatar, profile, and keep a history of all your comments.
–This system allows replies to replies and keeps good track of them in an easy-to-read and intuitive way.
Replies get hidden automatically as comment volume grows.  You need to click on “Replies” at the bottom of each comment to see them.

If a particular issue gets particularly big or hard to follow , I may open subsidiary blogs to help focus our attention.

I prefer to keep the substantive Gita discussion here on Elephant Journal. But we can also communicate on our Facebook site and on #GitaTalk on Twitter.

Again,  the reading for next Monday is Chapters 1 and 2, pages 41-60.

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

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.


165 Responses to “Gita Talk #3: It’s Showtime. Please Start Talking All At Once!”

  1. Sevapuri says:

    Lola has a good point about debating the translations or grappling withthe content , sometimes the diiferant translations can give rise to different interpretatons of the content, i think the lines may get blurry at some point in our discussions, it is the content and the message that inspitres me regardless of the translation.
    The idea of God transending the material realm or seen as a material representation is something that Greg picked up on in Mitchells commentary and i thought that was really interesting as well. There is some thought that we need a materail representation of God so that the mind can in some way grasp the concept of God (Surguna) and understanding this can lead to understanding God without a form (Nirguna) It happens in the Gita when Arjuna knows that Krishna is God but asks Krishna to show him his real form and then completely freaks out when he does.The mesage here i think is that we understand God where ever we are at any given point and as we learn, read ,study and understand we begin to see God differently. I think this is one of the important themes of the GIta- knowing God.
    The Schweig video is lovely and inspiring

  2. Thanks, Seva. Great insights.

  3. princess villabroza says:

    mommy knows best either its difficult to do.Lalo na kung mahirap ito gawin pero kailangan syang sundin dahil tama kailangan lang maging understanding na anak
    when i am a baby my mom's always take care me nung nalaman ni mommy ang natural talent ko she's very happy
    i am proud because she is my mother always caring, loving, teachingand knows the good way for us

  4. That's terrific, Sawenntson. Might have to write a blog about this series.

  5. Good point, Katharina. Many readers do interpret the "call to battle" as a metaphor for whatever challenges one faces in life. Some scholars also point out that war was a way of life for many of the elite at that time, so it would be easier to see it as an everyday challenge when written. Of course, it's still an everyday challenge for many today, as evidenced by the earlier comment from the mother of the soldier who went to Iraq.

  6. integralhack says:

    Yes, I think you and I have spoken of Atman/atman/anatman before on my blog (and perhaps on Elephant).

    Yes, some biographers and pundits refer to Wittgenstein's life as a tragedy, but Wittgenstein himself said on his deathbed that he had a "wonderful life." He died of prostate cancer, but led a very full life full of invention, creativity and accomplishment. Once one of the richest men in Europe (a reluctant heir to his father's Viennese fortune), he was also a major benefactor to artists like Rilke and Trakl.

    While there was a good deal of angst in Wittgenstein's life (he fought in WWI and was a prisoner of war), I can't equate some existential torment as "tragedy" since anyone who thinks beyond the mundane is bound to suffer. We will have to take his final appraisal of his life at his word.

    There is a great biography of Wittgenstein by Ray Monk, if you're interested.

  7. integralhack says:

    Yes, the Buddha made the point that the self was not the aggregates (skandhas). Some read this as denying the self, but this is not the case, he just pointed out what was not the self.

    But I'm getting off track here a bit. I think we're in general agreement regarding these matters, so let's return to the Gita. Not that we can't return to some of these concepts, of course, to elucidate (hopefully) some related ideas in the Gita.

  8. It takes an analytical to know one.

    One of the several startling things that drew me to Yoga is discovering that here I am reading one of three central ancient texts of Yoga, and there's a category just for me! Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Understanding, every bit as legitimate as the Yoga of Meditation, the Yoga of Devotion, and the Yoga of Giving.

    See Strokes for Different Folks

  9. It takes an analytical to know one.

    One of the several startling things that drew me to Yoga is discovering that here I am reading one of three central ancient texts of Yoga, and there's a category just for me! Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Understanding, every bit as legitimate as the Yoga of Meditation, the Yoga of Devotion, and the Yoga of Giving.

    See Strokes for Different Folks

  10. Margann wrote on another blog:

    I’ve read the Gita before, and am disappointed in my own reaction. To me it feels like a “guy book” based on a belief in the caste system and reincarnation. As a 72 year old female, I find I have to dig for the inspiration. But I do love the concept of work without thought of reward. I will work hard on this reading, because I know millions have been inspired by it.

  11. I wouldn't call it an nitpicky ontological debate. I'd call it an attempt to define "God" for everyone else.
    Then, as a fan of Stephen Batchelor and other non-theistic Buddhists and yogis, I already know what Greg thinks of my viewpoint.

  12. Rhonnie says:


    THANK YOU for this statement. "To me it felt like perhaps it was about doing whatever it is that you are called to do without being attached to a fear of death or a fear of life."

    I have interpreted as Bob mentions the "call to battle" as a metaphor for whatever "challenges" one faces in life. This is limiting, it excludes and doesn't acknowledge what others may be called to do in their lives.
    With Gratitude.

  13. Rhonnie says:


    Thank you for this statement, "The notes on page 201 regarding the possibility that "the later chapters were written ….out of compassion for less mature readers" reminded me that we are all where we are – and that I must respect wherever others are in their spiritual evolution, (which is often hard to do)!" I was initially taken back because I was reading comments that I don't understand at this point. At the same time I feel excited to have the opportunity to read and receive others ideas and knowledge.

    I love your words, "The last part of the introduction where he says "……ultimately it has nothing to teach" is very liberating to me. I'm going to approach this reading and version as an exercise of listening with my heart."
    This is my seat as I begin.

  14. anneke says:

    I just read that Christopher Isherwood also worked on a translation of the Gita. He helped swami Prabhavanada of the Vedanta Society who translated and Isherwood refined the writing. (BTW I have this information from 'The Subtle Body' a yet-to-be published book about the history of yoga in the West (sorry Bob) written by Stefanie Syman.) Isherwood had been concerned that his pacifism was incompatible with the Gita, since Krishna urges Arjuna to fight. Then he learned that "the Gita doesn't sanction war… any more than it sanctions pacifism. It cannot, from its absolute standpoint, do either. It leaves each individual to discover what his or her dharma is."

    After WWII Marcel Rodd put out an edtition with a preface by Aldous Huxley. Sales soon neared a quarter million copies.

    I have been looking at Paramahansa Yogananda's commentary on the Gita (don't have Mitchell's) in which the pantheistic doctrine of the Gita is: God is everything. The Gita's verses celebrate the discovery of the Absolute, Spirit beyond creation, as being also the hidden essence of all manifestation.

    The main theme of the Gita, Yogananda says, is that one should be an adherent of sannyasa, renouncer of egoity ingrained through avidya within the physical self of man. By renunciation of all desires springing from the ego and its environments, which cause separateness between ego and spirit; and by reunion with the Creator through ecstatic yoga meditation, samadhi, man detaches himself from and ulitmately dissolves the compellent forces of Nature that perpetuate the delusive dichotomy of the Self and Spirit.

    I love the way Yogananda speaks of the historical origins of the Gita. "The authorship of the Mahabharata, including the Gita portion, is traditionally assigned to the illumined sage Vyasa, whose date is not definitively known. It is said that the Vedic rishis manifested their immortality by appearing before mankind in different ages to play some role for man's spiritual upliftment. Thus they appeared and reappeared at various times throughout the extensive period of time encompassed by the revelation of the scriptures of India, a phenomenon confounding to any scholar who relies on facts rather than faith in an unenlightened age in which man has learned to use hardly ten percent of his brain capacity, and that quite awkwardly for the most part."

    He explains: "My guru, Sri Yukteswar, never permitted me to read with mere theoretical interest any stanza of the Bhagavad Gita (or the aphorisms of Patanjali). Master made me meditate on the scriptural truths until I became one with them; then he would discuss them with me."

    Maybe this is why, whenever I open this book and read a passage and commentary, I am absolutely enthralled.

  15. Lorraine says:

    Ok, I'm finally getting around to posting my thoughts. I've got to say, though, that the mere size of this group is somewhat intimidating. Indeed, it's great that so many people are interested. I haven't had a chance to read through all of the replies but will do so tonight as I will have the time.

    The introduction was easy reading. Some of the things that Krishna says is very similar to the words of Christ. One statement that is similar to Christ but not completely is, "Krishna says, that he is all that is. But all that is, is in him, though he is not in it." Christ states, "I am in him and he is in me." I'm curious as what Krishna means, that he is not in it.

    I appreciated the reference to Isaiah 45:7 referring to God as elemental undifferentiated energy and of God making peace and creating evil. Something to think about….

    Looking forward to reading further (actually I've read the first two chapters, but will be going through them again to make notes.) I'm curious to read more about Krishna's encouragement that Arjuna do his duty as warrior. Seems contradictory to me but maybe further reading will clear that up for me.

  16. Rhonnie says:


    This also spoke to me! "When you approach it as a sacred text, you can't help standing, at first, in the place where Arjuna stands, confused and eager for illumination"
    As I read the introduction without any prior knowledge of reference I was in awe as I read that what I am reading mirrors much of my process to connect and learn.
    I am re-reading the introduction as this weeks discussion develops. Observing and taking in more as my perspective has already blossomed. The comments are vast and beautiful to read. I see the beauty even if at times I am not completely understanding what someone has written.
    Happy to read your entry!

  17. Artemis Kalliste says:

    I love all the discussion so far. Thank you, Bob for starting this! I like this version so far, but have only read one other to compare it to (Prabhupada). I may not have much to add, but here are my 2 points to offer:

    On Women: I am surprised at the women who are affronted by the caste relegation of women. It was a different time and place, and if you follow the principles of reincarnation, you may have been a higher or lower caste during that time, so why take offense now? There is still enough discrimination present in this day and age that it really isn't that surprising, is it?

    On Reincarnation: I work in a field that deals quite intimately with death on a regular basis, and I also was struck by some of the comments on reincarnation providing an "easy-out" when it comes to war. I can offer that it also is a very satisfying answer when the death comes as a natural end to an all too short life. I really do not believe that I could get up and go to work everyday if I did not have a strong belief in reincarnation.

    Thanks, again, Bob, it was time to re-read this!

  18. Sevapuri says:


  19. JimH - NYC says:

    I have read the Gita before and my yoga instructor has encourage me to read again to enjoy. And I have. I have mixed emotions regarding the intro and not quite as enamoured at others. He quotes all over the Gita where I feel he should have discussed the background, how the feud began and what comes from the tur…moil and what he hopes that the reader will come away from from the book. It seems to me he was forgot to entice the reader and move them on to get them excited about the read and give the reader a taste of what they can take away from the Gita.

  20. Callah says:

    I am approaching the Gita as a first time reader and relative newcomer to yogic philosophy.
    The comment by JimH regarding the lack of discussion of how the fued began is spot on. Since I am such a newcomer, I have no knowledge of the context of the situation. hile Mitchell briefly touched on it (basically just mentioning there is a war going on), but didn't offer any in-depth detail that might help me have a better grasp of the setting for when the actual reading begins. I also think he jumps around too much. It's too "essay-like" to me, what with the numerous quotations and all. While some of the points are very valid (such as the male point-of-view and how females can approach the reading), I felt like it was a bit all over the place, and not quite personal enough from the author.

  21. I decided to spice up the title of the next Gita Talk. Now it's:

    "Why Does the Gita Piss Us Off So Much At First'

    What do you think?

  22. kimmerj says:

    I think I must be responsible for many views of this discussion. I keep coming back to see the comments and replies hoping to find a way to add to the discussion. Frankly I am a bit intimidated by the quality of the posts.

    When I opened the book I was pleased to see the dedication to Shri Ramana Maharshi. I love the way that Mitchell referred to him in the introduction. As a result I became curious about this man Mitchell. What I read made me much more comfortable with the translation issue as he is most certainly very experienced author of spiritual texts.

    From his Biography on Amazon “educated at Amherst, the Sorbonne, and Yale, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, Meetings with the Archangel, Gilgamesh…”

    I am looking forward to the next topic of this discussion!

  23. Hi, everyone. I'd like see if I can generate a conversation simply by asking a question in this comment and asking people to respond to it.

    This will tell me a lot about how many people are signed into e-mail notification and are paying attention to all comments. Plus, I'm really interested in your responses. Here's my question:

    Many of you have read other versions of the Gita. Please tell us which versions have read them and what you like or dislike about them.


  24. Hi, everyone. I just wrote this comment on Ramesh's blog "Why do American yogis believe Brahmacarya means celibacy?".

    Great post and discussion, Ramesh. I was just reading these supporting passages from the Bhagavad Gita in preparation for the next “Gita Talk” blog tomorrow:

    God is the offering, God
    is the offered, poured out by God;
    God is attained by all those
    who see God in every action (BG 4.24)

    (For those not familiar with the Gita, the term "God" in this case is defined simply and expansively as "the infinite, unknowable, wondrous life-force of the universe", i.e. the universe itself, which encompasses all other concepts of God in its universal sweep.)

    Bob Weisenberg

  25. paramsangat says:

    Hi Bob, I really enjoyed the intro… I could easily understand it (compared with the other heavy version GItas..)and it was a pleasure to read. I loved how he gave an overview of it all before starting, giving it some background and also examples from the poem.
    I'll go for the Questionnaire since I have a lil baby waiting for me to finish.. :)

    (se next..)

  26. paramsangat says:

    (continued from previous)

    If you don’t have anything particular in mind, then think about these issues and give me your thoughts:
    1) How did the Introduction make you feel about reading the Gita?
    I love this Intro, it made me wanting to start right a way..
    2) How did it compare to your expectations going in?
    I am very pleased I liked this one, I had some doubts about it.
    3) If you have read other versions of the Gita, how does Mitchell’s vision in his Introduction compare?
    I like the way he makes it an easy read and comparing with Dao De ching etc, things you might be able to relate to outside the Hindu/Yoga/Gita-World.
    (continues in next)

  27. paramsangat says:

    (continued from prev.)

    4) Are there any questions you’d like to ask? questions at this time… jsut wanting to continue to read.. :)
    5) Watch Yoga’s Secret Love Song, one particularly rapturous vision of the Gita (7 min. video from Graham Schweig). What are your reactions? How does Schweig’s vision compare to Mitchell’s vision of the Gita in his Introduction?
    When I saw it it was alot about Love. Like Mitchell said in his intro the "best" way is though Bakthi/devotion…. but at the same time he says ..any path is a good one..
    ..Now I'll go back to reading the 1st two chapters.. yay :)

  28. tiffany says:

    I joined this group before it began and am just now daring to step my toe into the book. I have never read the gita as I have always been told it is intimidating. SO far the intro made me feel that I will not only understand, maybe have an aha moment , but definetly get something out of it. Being one of the "less gifted" I am eager for this chance of illumination!

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