Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig.

Via on Jun 8, 2010

This week we have the special privilege of welcoming Graham Schweig to Gita Talk.

For those who don’t already know about Graham Schweig, he is one of the world’s leading Gita and Sanskrit scholars. His 2007 translation and commentary, Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, is considered by many to be the new standard. I always have it by my side for the next level of commentary, and I refer to it frequently for Gita Talk.

If you have been following Gita Talk, you also know Graham for this video from his website Graham Schweig’s Rapturous Vision of the Gita, produced by his associate Catherine Ghosh. There are bios and many other interesting things at The Secret Yoga.

Here are Graham’s questions for you to get the conversation rolling:

“What has been the most difficult thing for you in understanding the teachings or narrative of the Bhagavad Gita? What philosophical or theological or existential questions do any of you have regarding any aspect of the Gita?

I would truly love to hear these challenges and invite you to post them on this blog. If you do, I would offer a response to any and every question. I would like to learn from you!”

Even though we are only about a third of way through the Gita, most of the major themes have already been introduced, so now is a great time to pause, take stock of where we’ve been so far, and polish off our understanding by asking our toughest questions to Graham Schweig.

Please join me in welcoming Graham to Gita Talk.

~

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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.

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Comments

177 Responses to “Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig.”

  1. Here is a dialog I started with Graham at "Top 10 Reasons to Read the Bhagavad Gita" which I wanted to carry over to this blog:

    Bob Weisenberg
    Hi, Graham. … a question I'd like to ask is how do you personally define the word "God" and how does your definition differ from Mitchell's?

    Graham M Schweig
    …Your question about "God." Do you know that there is no word in Sanskrit that is equivalent to "God"? And thus, you will not find in any of my verses the employment of the word. About 82 per cent of Americans think of God as the creator of the world. And coming from the Semitic or Abrahamic traditions, this is understandable. However, creation in Indian traditions is not nearly as big a deal; it is subcontracted out by the higher notion of Ishvara, or the Supreme Being. The word Brahman means "absolute spirit" or "ultimate reality", and Bhagavan, as I've translated it means, "Beloved Lord," or more specifically, "the One who possesses all Excellences in Full". So, without knowing Mitchell's use of the word God, I can tell you that the Bhagavad Gita really doesn't employ the word! How's that for a provocative response? Happy to respond further if you like . . . just keep pushing me until you get what you need. :-)

    Bob Weisenberg
    I kind of know how the Gita defines Brahman, which is what I mean when I use the word "God". Defining Brahman, it seems to me, is the primary subject of the Gita. I'm more interested in how you personally define God, or, if you prefer, how you define "Beloved Lord".

    It seems to me that calling Brahman "the One" or "the Lord" is already an extreme form of metaphor, as is, then, everything the Gita has the Lord saying. The question I'm interested in is how do you personally define the reality of Brahman behind this metaphor of a someone who speaks to us just as if he or she were a person?

    Graham M Schweig
    I have a few minutes, so I'll take your first point. But before I do, I'll comment briefly on the "Love" aspect of the Gita. As I explain toward the end of the Textual Illuminations portion of the book, these verses are saturated with divine affection for souls. When I began my journey into translating the text, I searched for the verses in the text that tell us, the reader, how it wants us to understand its words. I sought out that one verse in which I could discover the very hermeneutic embedded in the text for illuminating every other verse in the text. This verse I reveal in Textual Illuminations.

  2. A question from Kaoverii from the previous blog:

    Kaoverii
    Wow! I'm so thrilled that you are here commenting Professor Schweig. And thanks for the offer – I'd love to ply you with questions! I was attracted to your commentary on the Gita frankly because of all the "Love" in the title and it's my current translation of choice. I use the epistemological paradigm you quote in the intro, which Krishna sets out in chapter 4 – pranipatena, pariprashnena, sevaya – as a framework for my yoga teacher training program. I think it's interesting that you translate pariprashna as "thorough inquiry" as previously I've heard it only as "asking the right questions." So I'd love it if you could write about that.

    One other question, maybe even larger and broader, if you'd be willing to talk about the relevance/importance of Krishna in his Vraja vs Parthasarathi roles, I would love to read your thoughts on that.

    And I have heaps more questions but I'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much!!!

  3. And an interesting question from svan:

    svan
    I wondering how you would compare Bhakti Yoga in the Gita with Bodhicitta in Buddhism or Ishvarapranidhana in the Yoga Sutras?

  4. Greg says:

    Graham, I love the video (you created) that Bob posted at the beginning of the study. Very nicely done.

    The question regarding God is perhaps too loaded with emotions and confusions so I will slip past it for the time being and ask a question about an "intermediate" step.

    In the Gita, over and over, there are references to reincarnation, previous lives, and separation from the flesh vehicle. This is repeated so often that it seems clear the author is pointing out a key aspect of our awareness, enlightenment, understanding that figures into our interpretation. As you say, there is a hermeneutic here to help us decipher the context of the work.

    And yet, this repeatedly discussed aspect of the study is frequently dismissed as being metaphorical or of no consequence.

    In your opinion, what does such knowledge bring to understanding the Gita? And what role has it played in your translation and discussion of the Gita? Thanks.

  5. nichinindy says:

    The most challenging thing for me has been the references to reincarnation. It is difficult because it is a completely foreign concept for me. Most of the the other ideas in the Gita I can relate to either similar teachings in other spiritual traditions or my own personal experience. This one eludes me.

  6. paramsangat says:

    Hi Graham, thanks for joining :)

    1, What has been the most difficult thing for you in understanding the teachings or narrative of the Bhagavad Gita?
    As I commented on last Blog, I've been confused with the "you should not have desires" as I see the desires (if sane, with somekind of detachment) are part of our drive forward and beauty of life. I can see that desires, if not sane, can be a source of suffering. But the repeating of Not to have desires in the text is confusing me.
    Bob's answer was really good for me, made sense…and I tried to read further with "those eyes" (he wrote that it was for the Self and not for the self).. but reading again and further it still seems like the intructions are for the self. (Self= soul, self= the individual)

  7. Sevapuri says:

    Hi Graham and thanks for being here, the dialogues have been fantastic. A point that when it gets raised and seems to spark some response in people is the idea of Arjuna as disciple and Krishna as master, their relationship in the Gita has been used as the perfect example of the the guru-disciple relationship.I would love to hear your thoughts on this aspect of the Gita and what you think is or is not the role of the Guru/teacher on the spritual path. I recently read that the Gurus are nesseary to the journey but not to be dependant upon them, we need to reach understanding on our own but without them its impossible.THanks again

  8. Mahita Devi says:

    I am thrilled and honored that these discussions are happening. Thank you Graham and Thank You Bob. This is truly a gift. I am spending a block of time each day catching up and reading all the posts. There is so much to think about! What I enjoy most about these discussions are the doors they open. Things just keep expanding! I am thinking about Love-really looking at it–the wonderful video opened my heart. Blessings to all.

  9. Dear Mahita Devi!

    Thanks so much for your appreciations. Yes, I too am finding this blog very "enlightening", or as you say, "a gift," "door opening," "continually expanding," and words filled with "affection."

    Okay, you've got me off and running! Here's the verse from the Bhagavad Gītā that you're inspiring me to post here that brings out all of these observations that you've made (BG 10.9), one of my favorite verses:

    With their thought on me,
    with their life-breath
    offered to me,
    enlightening one another
    And conversing about me
    continuously,
    they are satiated and
    they feel rapturous love, indeed!

    This verse, among the four known as the Chatur Shloki (the four special verses, BG 10.-8-11), can be analyzed as having three progressive parts, explaining what it means to connect so deeply with other humans by means of the spiritual:

    The Inner Teaching of the Verse:

    1) What we must first offer to the divine:
    (a) Our thoughts
    (b) Our life-breath

    2) What we then offer to one another
    and to ourselves about the divine:
    (a) Uninterrupted interactions that enlighten
    (b) Unending exchange of words in conversation

    3) What fulfillment we finally experience
    through one another from the divine:
    (a) Satiation/contentment
    (b) Felt rapturous love

    I think that this is what you've experiencing here as with others, whether silently observing and participating, or actively contributing, this kind of "enlightening one another" is going on.

    Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful, very rich and deeply instructive and revealing verse. As with any verse from this text, it can be a meditation that takes us all the way.

    With best wishes,
    Graham http://www.secretyoga.com

  10. A MESSAGE FOR NEW GITA READERS:

    Hi, everyone. I have been loving this discussion, and I will never be able to thank Graham enough for creating this wonderful dialog with his warm, sensitive, and inspired replies.

    But I do have one concern, and that is that the level of the discussion has been so high that we may have left some our newer Gita readers behind. Some of these conversations have been challenging for me, and I've read the Gita about ten times in six different versions. I know that if I had encountered an advanced discussion like this when I was just getting started, I might have just gone on to other things.

    So, if you're out there and a little overwhelmed by all this, please bring us back down to earth by asking the important questions YOU have about the Gita. Graham is interested in helping Gita readers at all levels of experience. We welcome your involvement, too. After all, that was one of the main reasons Elephant created Gita Talk.

    Thanks,

    Bob Weisenberg

  11. svan says:

    there is a lot of interesting discussion on reincarnation and I'd like to ask about deathlessness… these verses jumped out at me in particular (2.16-17)

    Nonbeing can never be;
    being can never not be.
    Both these statements are obvious
    to those who have seen the truth.

    The presence that pervades the universe
    is imperishable, unchanging,
    beyond both is and is not:
    how could it ever vanish?

    Does deathlessness imply immortality and is it connected to reincarnation somehow — or are these completely distinct ideas? (apologies if I'm being redundant)

  12. Jay and Bob! Thank you for your comments, which inspire so many thoughts. Rather than go into any in great depth, I would rather briefly offer more quantity of my responses, and then perhaps later go into specifics.

    1) Our personal approach to reading sacred texts. If I write a letter to you, Bob, my hope is that you'll understand what I intended to have you understand. Now, you can react to what I wrote prematurely and with prejudgments before you've really understood what I am saying. Or, you may think you understand something I am saying because what I've said is not clearly articulated. Interpreting texts is a very meticulous task, a very delicate task that I feel most of the time we take all too easily for granted. The tremendous subtleties involved in reading and interpretation and translation is complex, and I've spent a lifetime being trained in a field called "philosophical hermeneutics," which focuses precisely on the challenges of the interpretation of meaning.

    2) It is natural for any mind to selectively focus upon those things that are familiar, those things that feel right, and reject those things with which we cannot relate or things with which we may disagree. But a sacred text, if taken seriously, and not just as a hobby, is something like releasing oneself into a movie. Bob, when you see a movie, are you saying throughout the movie "I don't accept this, and I might accept this," etc.? If you do, it is not the right movie for you! Seeing a movie means releasing yourself completely into the world of the movie, taking it in as a whole. With understanding a sacred text as a whole, however, it is not as easy as seeing a movie. It requires much preparation and a certain kind of life. But we can judge a film from the reviews, the movie summaries, or the movie itself but from a different set of movie preferences, yes.

    3) We may speak of reincarnation as a concept that we think we understand, and we may speak about it as if that is precisely what the Gītā is presenting. One vision of so-called reincarnation can be so very different from another. We are too easily prone to a reification of ideas and concepts, and what we're often really rejecting is OUR idea of the concept rather than the text's actual vision of the idea. This is where accurate translation and philological and philosophical accuracy is critical.

    4) Then we should also not assume that our own ideas that we hold so close to our own minds and hearts never change and evolve. So not only does our understanding and awareness of sacred texts change and grow over time and with greater life experience, but so also our own understandings mature and deepen. So what we may feel now may not be what we feel later. It's a little like seeing a drama for the first time, and feeling one way; then when seeing it for the fourth time, having a much deeper understanding of what it is doing. With a profoundly beautiful work of art, it may not register at first, but later, more and more, it becomes more and more revealed to us.

    —-continued in the following post!

  13. —-continued from my previous post!

    5) It is very important to be honest to ourselves concerning the different ways we feel about anything at any given time, including the ideas we come across when encountering sacred writings. At the same time, it is also important to be honest with ourselves about how much do I really know about what it is I think I know! So while I may and should have a passion for what I feel, I should also possess a kind of humility before such great literature that has moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people over time and in various cultures.

    6) The specific topic of reincarnation has been given attention by many in the west, apart from that particular vision of the BG, and despite the fact that most traditions in the world have some conception of how the soul continues on after this life. Compelling modern accounts of a young boy born in France, who never heard any other languages from anyone else, suddenly started speaking flawless Arabic or some such language. There are other truly astonishing accounts that could not possibly be explained by genetics or by mimetics. But the ancient world did not have such evidence that as such we moderns may require, and even in the face of such evidence we still may not be convinced, nor should we be convinced, if it rubs against our sense of what we at this time ultimately value about life itself.

    7) There are basically three conceptions of the self in world religions: A) the soul begins with the body and ends with the body, as in many Jewish traditions; B) the soul begins with the body and goes on beyond the body to a heaven or hell, as in many Christian and Muslim traditions; and C) the soul existed before the body, continues on in the body, and continues on beyond the body, existing eternally, as in Indic traditions; this third scenario then, as with the other two, has various permutations, such that Buddhist conceptions would different from Hindu conceptions within this third category.

    I leave you with this verse from the Bhagavad Gītā:

    Never, truly,
    have I ever not existed—–
    nor you, nor these kings
    who protect the people,
    And never
    shall any of us
    ever cease to be,
    now or forevermore.

    This is the first thing that Krishna reassures Arjuna in the second chapter (verse 12). So perhaps these are some of the pertinent questions:

    But exactly what is Krishna saying here?
    How do you know if you are thinking that what you are saying this text is saying is what Krishna is intending to say here?
    And when is it time for you to say what it means definitively?
    Can we responsibly say whether or not this text is true?
    Is it possible to suspend judgment for such a time when we are truly ready to assess what is being said?
    What can we imagine that might be gained by plunging the depths of this text with the guidance of a realized teacher?

    I leave you all with these thoughts! Sorry for the protracted response here if it gets too tedious. I hope it may serve you in some way. Looking forward to our continued sharing!

    Graham http://www.secretyoga.com

  14. My good friend, Graham. Thank you for your very comprehensive response. I respect and admire your vast learning and your incredibly deep practice of Yoga. On the surface, it would seem that it would make sense to simply yield to your wisdom.

    Luckily, however, you have crossed the line into an area where I am the world's greatest authority, not you–my own spirituality.

    I will never buy into your vision of spirituality, and how one should approach it, because it is almost identical, point-by-point to what I was told when I first started to question Roman Catholic theology as a very serious young high school student in the mid-sixties. I will never go back to that type of religious thinking, which emphasizes blind faith and someone else's authority over my own deeply felt spiritual intuition and common sense.

    (I have been through many twists and turns in my spiritual life, including being raised ultra-traditional Catholic. I then married into a Jewish family and raised three Jewish kids, during which I deeply studied and practiced Judaism. Today I practice no organized religion, but am more deeply spiritual than ever before.)

    Apart from that, I'm attracted to the parts of Yoga philosophy that are sublimely simple and profound, not the aspects of Yoga that are complex and require many years of research and study and practice to grasp. Even though I clearly enjoy the complexity to some extent, that's not primarily what Yoga is about for me.

    If reading the Gita multiple times in multiple versions with all the best commentary available doesn't qualify me to make my own judgments about what the text means for me, then it's not the right spirituality for me. However, I don't think that's the case, because the more I read the Gita, the simpler and simpler it seems, not more and more complex.

    I don't for a minute question all the subtlety and complexity of which you know and speak. And I will continue to enjoy learning about it from you. But that's different than putting aside my own deeply held spiritual approach in favor of yours.

    Thanks again for your learned and comprehensive advice. But my spiritual life has taken me in a very different direction than yours, and I know it's the one that's right for me.

    Bob Weisenberg

  15. Graham M Schweig says:

    Friends!

    These words are the last words Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gītā. I am personally very moved by them because Krishna is asking Arjuna if he has heard his teachings in a particular way. And this is what I asked myself when I translated the work!

    Has this [teaching] been
    heard by you, O Pårtha,
    with thought focused upon
    the single highest point?
    Has this profound
    bewilderment coming
    from the absence of knowledge
    been perfectly destroyed in you,
    O Conqueror of Wealth?

    (BG 18.72)

    Please note that the teachings of the Gītā is likened unto a mountain. Krishna asks Arjuna if he has grasped the whole mountain of teachings BUT from the point of view or perspective of the very highest single (eka) point (agra). That single highest point, I have determined, is his greatest secret of all. Here, in my opinion, we have a clue as to how Krishna would like us to understand what he teaches. In this way, this verse was a thrill for me to discover, even though I had read it countless times over the years, passing over it without realizing this dimension. Ahhhhhh! Svādhyāya Yoga, i.e., the Yoga of mystical study.

    Now Bob! I'm not trying to tell ANYone here how to study the Gītā! :-) I am taking this discovery for myself and offering it to you and all others who MIGHT benefit. And I am also sharing that even though I have been reading this text countless times for over forty years!!!!! I only realized something deeper about this verse a few years ago when putting together my translation, attempting to harvest the cumulative years of study and yoga practice.

    With all best wishes,
    Graham http://www.secretyoga.com

  16. Greg says:

    Graham, I want to take this time to thank you for visiting and sharing your wisdom. When I first saw the video that you and Catherine produced, I felt the understanding and love. Learning of the breadth and depth of your wisdom in your posts has been a pleasure. I know it is hard work responding at length to so many posts, so I greatly appreciate the gift you have presented to this discussion group. We have all been blessed by your presence. Namaste.

    And thanks goes to Bob for being a humble moderator with the courage to bring in the "big guns" to enhance the discussion. Wonderful.

    I am not signing off… but merely thought this would be a good time to acknowledge the graciousness that has blessed the discussion.

  17. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this forum. As a new Gita reader, I am enjoying the discussion, but finding it hard to jump in. I, too, have a difficult time with the mystical aspects of yogic philosophy. I am finding it hard to pick and choose the aspects I can relate to. At times I feel, once again, like a cafeteria-style Catholic, which I’m not comfortable with. My challenge, along with simply understanding the text, has been how to come to terms with that. How can I accept all the information when I strongly disagree with the mystical presented? I do know that I want to make member number 4 in the Rational Group of Not-So Anonymous mentioned above!

    Thank you for providing this great forum to encourage thought and community.

  18. Michelle says:

    Thank you again, Bob, for teaching me once again! I love this meaning of mystical from Einstein. How wrapped up we can get in our past religious indoctrination! For this reason, I have stopped reading the Eswaran translation of the Gita to resume with one that didn't set off my knee jerk reactions to words like "sin". The Frawley (?) translation was suggested as a better fit and I am awaiting its receipt. I am reading Yoga Demystified and it speaks well to me and my belief system. Thank you for this. I look forward to more engaging discussion with this vibrant and spirited community you've created!

  19. Graham M Schweig says:

    Bob and Michelle!

    Thank you Michelle for your comments above, and Bob for your work here with Einstein's sagacious words. I appreciate your presentation of how his statements can sound like they're echoing the Upanishads. I would agree, and would also agree that he carries a yogic vision as you say.

    I was also interested to read your appreciative P.S. of me, and I would like to comment briefly on it. First, I don't feel a million times more knowledgeable than YOU! I admire what you're doing here, and while yes, I am a specialist as a scholar and a serious practitioner of yoga for over forty years, I don't really feel that this places me beyond anyone. I am truly humbled by what comes from everyone and indeed, I always feel how much I have yet to learn! But within your very warm appreciations and your spirit of dialogue and sharing which has been just wonderful, I certainly to absorb your words here with gratitude.

    Now it is interesting how you characterize me as someone who takes ancient texts as "the direct word of God," "where every word has divine meaning." This feels to me very close to my position and yet also very far away. The phrase "the word of God" sounds terribly Abrahamic, and thus foreign and when I hear you saying it, I don't feel like that is I. We just may be talking about semantic differences, but those too are important. I much prefer to use the word divine or divinity rather than God. What's the difference?

    Right off, the word God has for so many in the West incorporated the idea of "supreme Creator," which, as you know, for the Indic traditions is NOT that big a deal. In fact, the cosmic acts of creation and dissolution are "subcontracted out" (say, to Brahmā and Śiva respectively) because "God" is not that interested in those activities. The meanings that I include in the definition of "the divine" is something different than many lexical definitions as well: the divine is the whole of existence, the outermost world, that which contains everything, AND the divine is that which is in the heart of all living beings, AND the divine is that innermost world, the very center of all existences. It's more to me like cosmic geometry than anything else, and I feel that the Upanishads speak to these levels of divinity. It has, as you know, an entirely different feeling and ethos than that of which we know in the Abrahamic traditions, though even they can at more rare instances, sound a bit like this.

    My relationship with the Gītā intrigues me, too, by the way. A year ago I gave four sequenced lectures at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC on "Scriptures of the World Religions: From Taoism to Christianity." I feel, just as with art, something very powerful is delivered in those writings that have moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people of huge spans of time, and that not everything in scripture is to be accepted blindly, no. I strongly feel that what scripture must do, if it is to do its job, and after we have done our job in truly understanding what is actually expressed there symbolically (meaning at a literal, suggestive, and metaphorical level, perhaps even an allegorical level, ALL working together in some fashion at the same time), we must resonate with what's being said, and scripture must resonate with what is intuitively within the deepest core of our beings.

    So I do not subscribe to a fundamentalist vision at all, not in the least. It is a process of deeply and genuinely connecting, going deeper into the vision of what is being said, and going more deeply within ourselves, and making the connection . . . I have found that SUCH TREASURES ARE TO BE FOUND!!!! It is about establishing a very deep relationship of dialogue and sharing with a text! It is about hearing what these ancient voices have to say and how they can move our hearts, even now! It's about making some very select portions of these special writings our best friends!

    Hope this clarifies a bit . . .

    Best wishes always,
    Graham http://www.secretyoga.com

  20. integralhack says:

    Bob, I like your rationalist response here.

    Concepts like "God" or "reincarnation" may simply not be what we tend to think they are. As you've pointed out, the terms "mystical" and "religious" had different connotations for Einstein (as it probably does for you and me as well).

    The one thing I would suggest to Michelle is to approach the Gita not as a text to "pick and choose" the aspects to relate to as one would go shopping in a market, but let the text be. Rather than wrestle with mystic concepts that appear, or attempt to contort them to our modern understanding, just put these concepts aside and see if the gestalt–the whole–begins to resonate. I'm suggesting you approach the text like a good literary critic and suspend judgment until you've experienced it in its entirety. Naturally, this doesn't mean you shouldn't discuss it like we're doing here!

    I had similar issues with my approach to Buddhist texts originally, but the reading became easier and more comprehensive when I quit arguing with the text during my reading. This doesn't mean I accept any notion or concept that the text presents, but–as much as possible–I give the opportunity for the author(s) to present the narrative or philosophy as it was intended and not encumbered by my modern understanding or cultural grid.

    Anyway, that is my humble suggestion . . .

    -Matt

  21. […] Elephant as part of Gita Talk: – Graham Schweig’s Rapturous Vision of the Gita, and –Gita Talk #8: Special Guest Graham Schweig, which remains one of the five most commented blogs ever on Elephant […]

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  24. […] Sorensen. Our journey into the Gita will engage translations from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and Graham M. Schweig. Buckle your seat belts for an exciting ride! We are thrilled to have you […]

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  26. […] “Knowing these two paths, the yogi is not bewildered in any way. Therefore, at all times, be absorbed in yoga, O Arjuna.” (Graham M.Schweig translation 8.27) […]

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