Gita Talk #1: First Assignment–Read the Introduction

Via Bob Weisenberg
on Apr 18, 2010
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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. yeye says:

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

    with metta 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Hi, Mahita. I am excited, too. We have an great group of people at all levels here.

  6. 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.

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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".

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. yogi Tobye says:

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

  14. 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.

  15. Susan says:

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

  16. Welcome, Lorraine. Glad you're here.

  17. Thanks, Donna. Very glad you're here with us.

  18. Hi, Susan. Welcome.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Hi, Carlos. That sounds fascinating, especially to a musician like myself ( see . Do you know offhand where I can get a copy of that CD, or should I just google it? How did Duarte relate the Gita to Brazilian culture in particular?

    Thanks for bringing us this new perspective.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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!

  29. 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!

  30. Welcome, Candace.

  31. 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.

  32. Welcome, sawennatson. I think that's the case with a lot of people. I know this discussion is going to help all of us understand the Gita better.

  33. 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!

  34. Glad you're here, Lisa.

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

  36. Thanks for joining us, Jenn.

  37. 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.

  38. 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!!

  39. 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.

  40. Amy Putkonen says:

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

  41. 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?


  42. Welcome, Amy. I'm sure that with this large enthusiastic group we'll have great discussions.

  43. 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.

  44. Marilyn says:

    Looking Forward to share this experience……..

  45. […] 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 […]

  46. 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…

  47. 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

  48. Meredith P. says:

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

  49. 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!

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