Gita Talk #15: Nearing the Conclusion of Gita Talk / How are We Doing?

Via Bob Weisenberg
on Jul 25, 2010
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For Stephen Mitchell, Chapter 12 is effectively the end of the Bhagavad Gita.

He considers the final third of the Gita, Chapters 13-18 to be a poorly fitted appendage–inferior poetically and spiritually, and contradictory in content.  (You can read his view in his Notes to the Introduction, p. 200-202.)

Many people do not agree with Mitchell.  Our special guest from Gita Talk #8,  Graham Schweig, for example, has a very different point of view.

But even in his own extensive commentary on the Gita, Graham almost completely ignores the last third of the text, except for the very end of Chapter 18.   In his commentary, he quotes 34 passages from Chapters 1-12, but none at all from Chapters 13-18, except for the closing stanzas of Chapter 18.

Personally I felt the same as Mitchell does even before I had read Mitchell’s book.   So I don’t intend to hold Gita Talks on Chapters 13-18.  But you should read them yourself and make up your own mind.

I hope some of you who have a different point of view will tell us about it in your comments here.  Perhaps someone would even like to do a guest Gita Talk in rebuttal, which I would welcome.

Now let’s reflect back on what I wrote as we were just getting started in Gita Talk #5:


The Bhagavad Gita is Sublimely Simple, Profound, and Livable

What is the blindingly simple message of the Gita?




As they say about the Golden Rule, all the rest is commentary.

Here are the three cosmic truths underlying the Gita’s message:

Each of us is already infinitely wondrous—
miraculous, awe-inspiring, unfathomable
(divine if you prefer)

Our wondrous nature is the same as
the infinite wonder of the universe

We experience this infinite wonder
by waking up to reality

I hope you find this surprising and thought provoking.

I hope it helps give you a vision of where we’re going, so that you can better negotiate the challenges of the text.

If you are overwhelmed by the Gita, I hope you find it encouraging.

I suggest you come back to it often when you’re feeling confused.

And if you think I’m full of beans, I look forward to your critique.


How are we doing on this?

How has reading the Gita affected your life?

Is there anything else you’d like us to cover
in the last few Gita Talks?

I have loved doing Gita Talk.  The only additional wish I have is to hear directly from a lot more of you readers! Please write and tell me what’s on your mind.

Next week we’ll talk again about the battlefield setting of the Gita in Gandhi’s Bible or a Call to War?” We covered this in the early Gita Talk discussions, but I want to add it as it’s own blog because it’s such an important topic.  For next week, read Gandhi’s essay The Message of the Gita, which is an appendix to the Mitchell Gita, p.211-221.  (Here’s an online copy of Gandhi’s essay for those of you who don’t have Mitchell’s Gita.)

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.


65 Responses to “Gita Talk #15: Nearing the Conclusion of Gita Talk / How are We Doing?”

  1. Not negative at all, Jelefant, and exceptionally useful. Thank you for taking the time to write. I thrive on this kind of feedback. As I wrote above, my only additional wish is that I would hear like this from a great many more readers. And that also means I'd like to see many more readers involved in the discussions, which would in itself help to broaden the discussion in the way you'd like to see. I wish I could figure out how to draw more people in. Any suggestions are welcome.

    I hope you won't hesitate to tell me if I've been one of those who has not encouraged broad conversation. I have a very strong personal relationship with the Gita, which is very visceral and directly concept to life, just as I portray in my summary above. I've tried to bring guest commentators and commenters to cover other aspects of the Gita that are beyond my particular preference and experience, like Graham Schweig and Amy Champ. But sometimes I feel it would have been better for me to ask more leading questions and be less of a participant in the debate.

    As for the next series, what would you like to see?

    Thanks again for your enthusiastic participation and insightful feedback.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Which version do you like best? I've read many and they all have pluses and minuses.

    (See? I'm exercising my new approach–asking you a good question instead of writing a treatise on all the versions I've read!)

    Bob Weisenberg

  3. Jelefant says:

    Well done! Satchidananda or Ravi Ravindra (which I just discovered and have been very pleased with). I would love to read your treatise, though…

  4. Brooks Hall says:

    We are such a materialist culture that I think that words like ‘infinite wonder of the universe’ might definitely keep some people on the outside. Where is the ‘infinite wonder’ in my bank account? (for example) Where is the ‘infinite wonder’ in my bill payment options? And so on…

    The way of yoga for me includes exploring limitations. I am a hatha yogi so I suppose this makes sense. Even though philosophically we might think we understand the concept of limitlessness, in our bodies there are limits, and as we explore this there is potential to understand beyond our limitations. Somehow I do believe that studying the limitedness of the way our bodies and minds work is a way to move deeper with yoga. It’s definitely more grounded to consider ones self (including limitations) in the grand scheme of yoga, otherwise these expansive words like ‘infinitely wonderous’ can have a really out-of-body (or fantasy) sensibity. I want to participate, and bring my full self to this process: body and mind. And it might be too big of a leap to the land of ‘infinite wonder’ when I have to do my laundry.

    For where I am in life, I resonate with the Gita’s thoughts on work, right action, and choosing the right path. I prefer an emphasis on the present moment rather than ecstatic states.

    This poem by Korean poet Ko Un (found in the book, Yoga for a World out of Balance, by Michael Stone) says it for me right now:

    Some say they can recall a thousand years
    Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
    On a windy day
    I am waiting for a bus

    Thanks, Bob! I appreciate the spirit of your Gita Talks, and hope that many more people will join the conversation. 

    P.S. I find myself wanting to join the two worlds by saying: infinity is the background for our specificity.

  5. Hi, Brooks.

    Ah, but that's the beauty of the Gita isn't it! It understands that people are different, and embraces everyone from the wild-eyed ecstasist (I love making up words) to people who prefer a more practical mentality, and doesn't see any contradiction between the two at all, just a difference in focus.

    In my own life I actually do what the Gita recommends–I think about both of these aspects of life simultaneously all the time, the practical "LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH LOVE AND PURPOSE" part and the starry-eyed "EXPERIENCE THE INFINITE WONDER OF THE UNIVERSE" part, and I see them as two sides of the same coin, not contradictory in the least. Yoga and the Gita, in particular, has helped me learn to do this.

    Ok, now I'm going to get way too sappy for some, but as long as we're baring our inner souls (we're baring our inner souls, right?) I personally do see infinite wonder in a bank account. I see infinite wonder in the very fact that my brain cells can even perceive the concept of a "bank account". I see infinite wonder in both the elegant simplicity and mind-boggling complexity of money and economics. I see infinite wonder in each atom that makes up the paper on one of my checks. I see infinite wonder in the paper clip on my bank statement (see in which I explain the startling similarities between a galaxy and a paper clip).

    See what I mean? See what Yoga has done to me? Do you think I need help? An intervention, perhaps? Do you think there's any hope?

    Bob Weisenberg

  6. paramsangat says:

    Wow, I'm loving this and very greatful to have jumped on it!! Being part of this group/discussion has given me alot more depth to the reading. I would not have gotten that reading it on my own. Its also a really enjoyable version so it was easy to catch up and follow along.
    It was great to have the guests, giving other points of views creating even more depth to it.
    Great to feel I now wouldn't mind that much reading another version :))) Just found there is a Tantric view on the BG by Douglas Brooks, that would be very interesting since Tantra (DB teaches Rajanaka Tantra) says yes to (life-affirming) desires.

    If feels inspireing to you Bob, could we do this with other yogic books, like The Yoga Sutras or if theres an easy version of any of the Uphanishads …?

  7. Hi, paramsangat. Thank you for your warm appreciation.

    It is amazing how, once one has a good feel for the underlying philosophy of the Gita, all the other versions that previously seemed inaccessible are now really interesting. I've experienced that, too. Not familiar with the Brooks translation.

    Thanks for your suggestion on a new forum. The Yoga Sutra has been suggested. I love the Upanishads in the mind-blowing Eknath Easwaran version. To me, this book is as powerful and immediate as Mitchell's Gita. There are many other great Yoga books we could consider. Or we could have a more general open discussion forum about Yoga philosophy.

    I would love to hear everyone else's preferences.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Thanks for all your fine and helpful thoughts, Amy. And thanks again for your wonderful Gita Talk #14.

    I'm going to listen to everyone's suggestions, but to me the Yoga Sutra is already way overexposed relative to the other texts in the "big three"–the Gita and the Upanishads. It's partly to help overcome this that I started Gita Talk! I'm an evangelist for the Gita and the Upanishads.

    Thanks again for all your thoughts above. Lots to think about there.

    Bob Weisenberg

  9. Amy Champ says:

    Good Bob ~ great for sticking to that. There's so many great Upanishads…

  10. Hi, Amy.

    I really meant it that I would listen to everyone's suggestions. If there is over whelming demand for the Sutra, we could do that. We don't have to do an ancient text either. It could be a modern book, or no book at all, just a Yoga discussion group with topics chosen by the participants. Right now I'm wide open and hungry for all new ideas.

    I like your thinking about the desirability of having a core group who are all committed to participating every week. It might be the best of both worlds to have that committed group, but with all the discussions still public and open to all. You've got me thinking creatively, and I appreciate that very much.

    Independently of that, I would love to know your favorite Upanishads versions and why you like them. I fell upon the Easwaran version very early and haven't explored too many others yet.


    Bob Weisenberg

  11. That Ko Un quote's soooooo gonna end up on my blog…

  12. Thanks for writing, tobye. Glad you ended up liking it. Did I ask you before, which other versions have you read, and how do they compare?

    Bob Weisenberg

  13. Sorry YfC. That'll have to be your gig–Kama Talk, I guess.

  14. There'd be a lot more than *talk* involved in that one, Bob…

  15. Thanks for writing, YogiOne. Yes, our interchanges have been some of the more interesting recently, because we both have strong ideas we won't back off of, but we also respect each other in all our discussions. It's been great.

    Cope is my favorite. He's a little too psychoanalytical for some. But he really is a good mix. I admire the whole Kripalu modern approach to traditional Yoga. They've got it right, as least for me.

    You may already be aware that Deepak Chopra is profoundly and authentically Yogic in his background and influences. He's the one doing the most today to try to marry the philosophy of the Upanishads with modern science. This is not as obvious as it might be otherwise because he often doesn't use a Yoga wrapper.

    But his thinking is almost pure ancient Yoga, informed by the latest science. He's not nearly scientific enough for most scientists, or for me, for that matter, but he's certainly out there engaging them in a fascinating way. Let me know if you want links. He's got lots of books, but you might just want to start with his videos on YouTube, the last of which was on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

    Bob Weisenberg

  16. YogiOne says:

    I am aware of Deepak Chopra. Must say I have mixed feelings about him. He uses science only so far as it is in accord with his own preconceived notions, which as you note, are almost purely classical yoga. That violates basic scientific principles and essentially uses science to put lipstick on a pig. That confuses the general public about what science is and debases the supernatural foundations of his own beliefs. On the other hand, he seems like a nice guy. 🙂

  17. I have to confess I pretty much agree with you. I just read his book on reincarnation, and it was very disappointing for all the reasons you mention. I keep reading him because there is so much good there, too. Also, compared to most other traditional Yoga writers, he is at least trying to come to terms with science. Many of the others don't even consider it interesting or relevant.

    I just wish he could accept the common definition of science and work within that. There is plenty to be excited about in the interactions between Yoga and science without distorting the definition of either one, as I agree he tries to do. In a room full of scientists, he tries to instruct them on what science is, which is pretty silly when you think about it. But I find equally disturbing scientists (rare actually, I think) who don't find any sense of wonder in the vast amount of things that science cannot even begin to fathom. In this debate I disliked both sides:

    Bob Weisenberg

  18. Oh, YfC, you're such a cad.

  19. YogiOne says:

    I think that most of those scientists would not use the term "cannot even begin to fathom." They often say things like "cannot measure using current scientific methods." The assumption is that given enough time and resources, anything that is theoretically measureable could eventually be adequately explained via scientific methods. The problem is that when we look at how questions seem to increase exponentially in relationship to answers, it seems impossible that we could achieve understanding on such a grand scale. What scientists may be missing in this calculation is that since the invention of computers, our ability to store and analyze data has also increased exponentially. With the increasing complexity of artificial intelligence, our ability to create understanding from the data will also increase exponentially. It will be an interesting race to the end of the universe if we don't kill ourselves off first.

  20. tobye says:

    Hey Bob, Sri Purohit swami's translation was my real introduction as it was on the reading list for my yoga teacher qualification. He also translated the Upanishads with W.B. Yeats I recall.

  21. tobye says:

    In comparison, like I said… Mitchell gets to the point, plus I feel the Swamis translation was literal and didn't find the essence the way Mitchell did.

  22. Ok, YogiOne. Let's say you are right and science eventually figures absolutely everything out.

    That makes the universe less wondrous because…?

    Bob Weisenberg

  23. YogiOne says:

    I didn't say it was less wondrous. I was just quibbling with the term unfathomable. Just because something is not yet understood doesn't make it impossible to understand.

  24. How about "unfathomed"?

    I think you might agree that as soon as science says unprovable and unscientific things like "We believe might be able to figure everything out eventually", then it becomes a faith, not science anymore. This is the kind of thinking Matt means when he uses the term "scientism", which is an excessive, unwarranted, and even unscientific faith in science.

    But it doesn't matter to me–"unfathomable", "unfathomed", or even "completely fathomed", it's still all the same infinitely wondrous universe.

    Does that make sense to you? The "unfathomable" part is theoretically dispensable, I agree.

    Bob Weisenberg

  25. YogiOne says:


    There is a difference between saying something is possible versus saying it is likely. Being able to understand the universe in its entirety is theoretically possible no matter how remote the probability. If someone said that we will definitely eventually understand the entire universe, that would be evidence of "scientism." Simply noting that the universe is potentially understandable in a comprehensive fashion is not.

    Unfathomed works. Now, as to how "infinite" works in a finite universe… 🙂

  26. Now, now, YogiOne. We've been through this before and you've forgotten. I never said the universe is infinite. I said it is infinitely wondrous. BIG difference! You don't think science can define the limits of my amazement, do you?

    Now, if I were a logician, I would point out to you that if my wonder is part of the universe, and my wonder is infinite, then the universe is also infinite, even if physically finite.

    You do agree the universe can still be wondrous even if science figures absolutely everything out, right? So what does it matter anyway? I'm guessing it will be even more wondrous when we figure it out, not less.

    Bob Weisenberg

  27. Yes, for me it is. But I've also come to realize, as the Gita itself so determinedly does, that different people approach Yoga in different ways, and perhaps at different times of their lives. See:

    Has Yoga Driven Bob Bonkers?.

    Bob Weisenberg

  28. Jelefant says:

    Bob, what do you mean when you sayt that the Yoga Sutras are overexposed relative to the other two texts?

  29. Jelefant says:

    YogiOne, if I may ask, what did you learn in those polemical debates that caused you to revise your thinking?

  30. Thanks for the question, Jelefant.

    I consider all three texts to be equally important to Yoga philosophy. But in practice the Yoga Sutra receives 95% or more of the attention. Most modern Yoga writers emphasize the Yoga Sutra above all else.

    The Yoga Sutra is a wonderful concise summary of Yoga technique, and I learn something new every time I read it. It fully deserves its exalted place in Yoga, but only along with the other two. It is very limiting to study the Yoga Sutra to the exclusion of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.

    Perhaps the Yoga Sutra is more widely read because it is a comparatively secular text which barely mentions the more spiritual sounding subjects like God and oneness with the universe. I’m guessing the only reason the Yoga Sutra could be so concise is that the author probably assumed familiarity with, if not expertise in, the Gita and Upanishads (some of the Upanishads came later.)

    The Yoga Sutra is considered by some to be “easier” than the Gita and the Upanishads. But once one gets used to the rich metaphorical language of the Gita and the Upanishads, they can, surprisingly, be much more direct and instantly understandable than the often cryptic Yoga Sutra.

    What do you and others think?

    Bob Weisenberg

  31. YogiOne says:


    I'd have to say quite a lot. I learned about the limits and boundaries of my own knowledge. I learned much about how the Gita could be interpreted from many different points of view. I learned about how some of those interpretations fit with each other and how some did not. I very much appreciated the agruments in support of a consciousness that exists outside of normal time and space (even though I don't believe in it, I found it fascinating). I enjoyed the discussion of scientific thinking and values and how evolved thinking now requires us to reject literal translations of much of the Gita. This raised the question of how much can we discard and still give any weight or credence to the original text. That question remains unanswered and I look forward to discussing it more deeply in the future. On the other hand, I also enjoyed finding many aspects of the Gita that survived to this day as valuable guides to understanding our experience here on Earth. I could go on, but most of this happened in the discussions that were fueled by polemics. Look back over the discussion. "Oh I agree with that" tends to end conversations.

  32. Jelefant says:

    Yes, I have no quibble whatsoever with disagreement. What I mean by polemics is that the Gita merely serves as a stage for an argument about other topics, in which people hold fast to one pole or another of a polarizing view. People arrive with a view, argue about it, and then depart with the same view.

    In such a discussion, the Gita may have inspired the argument, but that's not the same as letting the Gita teach us. What interests me is listening to what this ancient text has to say, not so much listening to other 21st Century Americans lecture on or debate 21st Century ideas of science or religion. Those debates may be interesting in their own way, but they're also available everywhere.

  33. Jelefant says:

    I understand better now. I grew up knowing of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, but I didn't discover the Yoga Sutra until I was deeply involved in a yoga practice, so in my experience it seems much more obscure. But I see now that you mean within the yoga community. And yes, the concision would make for a different kind of discussion.

  34. integralhack says:

    In attempting to answer this question for my daughter, my investigation has found that there is no real scientific consensus on whether or not the universe is infinite or not (and if it is finite–it is probably "boundless" like the surface of an expanding balloon).

    Even if the universe is finite, it may be one of many universes in a megaverse or multiverse.

    Of course, relative to human existence–which is the only basis for this inquiry–even a finite universe seems unfathomable. Even if we can measure it, it is still so 'effin big and growing that the word "finite" seems to lose its traditional connotation.

    For some folks–not you, YogiOne–it almost seems they need a tidy, finite, uni-verse like others need a mono-theistic god.

  35. Jelefant says:

    At no point have I ever suggested accepting claims without question. By using the open/ fill metaphor, I'm talking about fostering an exploratory rather than exclusionary approach to the text. And the text is not made up exclusively of claims.

    On what basis do you say that I accept the text without question? What's your credible basis for that claim?

  36. YogiOne says:

    Boundless perhaps, but what does it mean to have a vast expance of nothing beyond where anything actually exists? Room to expand yes, but only so far as the uniuverse has energy to expand its boundaries. This energy is not limitless and will eventually run out. At that point, the limits of the universe will be finite. At that point, all matter will be equally distributed throughout the universe, all energy expended. That raises the question of what will be left at that point if anything. Will there be any basic particle left if there is no energy? Don't know, but finite in terms of energy and space? Yes, the universe is finite.

  37. YogiOne says:

    The question of multiple universes or a multiverse where many overlap in the same space is a very interesting one and one that has much instinctive liking to its credit. Not any evidence for it though or even a plausible theory. The most plausible theory in this area used to be the collapsing universe which would in turn explode in another big bang. The latest measurements of the amount of mass in the universe pretty much rule that out even if we could figure out what is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

    Like you say, I'd be happy to know that there is hope that life could continue after life and after the end of this universe. I just don't see any evidence for either of those, so I accept that what is simply is. It is impermanent – all of it. Se La Vie.

  38. YogiOne says:


    You just answered your own question. If you exclude from the discussion "excusionary" approaches – questionning and rejecting aspects of the text because they don't meet our standards, then the only option is to accept the text as written. I'm not doing that and neither is anyone else here.

  39. Jelefant says:

    Exclusionary doesn't mean questioning and rejecting. Something that has been questioned and rejected has not been excluded. And exploratory doesn't mean accepting.

    Can you think of any ways of approaching a text that are acceptable to you other than questioning and rejecting aspects of it?

  40. YogiOne says:

    That being said, I would like to see some more discussion about aspects of the Gita that we can come to some consensual agreement about. For instance, the fact that human ego frequently gets in the way of personal development and interpersonal relationships is fairly well established in both eastern and western philosophy. If we had more discussion about what the Gita says about ego and how to deal with it, that would be great. I imagine there are other topics that would fit in that classification as well.

  41. Jelefant says:

    How shall we come to some consensual agreement? By evaluating evidence?

  42. Ah, but that's the whole point of Yoga, don't you think, YogiOne, to choose (and we most certainly can choose this) to identify with the universe instead of the very limiting concept of "life"? As I once suggested as a Yoga bumper sticker or t-shirt:

    If you can't beat the universe, join it.

    You can't really argue that this is wrong or untrue. You can't really argue that we are not, in fact, an integral part of the entire universe, the way a wave is an integral part of the entire ocean.

    That part is a fact, even a scientific fact. The choice to see ourselves as a wave or as the ocean or both is entirely a matter of personal decision, not a matter of true or false. Don't you agree?

    That's why, to me, there are absolutely no discrepancies between any conceivable science and Yoga. To me Yoga is a choice of outlook, not a question of fact or faith.

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

    Bob Weisenberg

  43. The way I see it, the "big three" ancient texts match up with the three big ideas of the Gita in my blog above:

    The Gita is about everything, but especially about:


    The Yoga Sutra is almost entirely about:


    The Upanishads is mostly about:


    Bob Weisenberg

  44. YogiOne says:

    How about we just throw some shit on the wall and see what sticks? ( In other words, toss out a topic you want to discuss more deeply and see where it goes.)

  45. YogiOne says:

    How about questioning and accepting parts of it (we ahve done that too)?

  46. integralhack says:

    But still plenty of awesome elbow room (in terms of both space and time) in that finite universe, yes?

    Naturally, I can't help but wonder at what is "beyond" that finitude as well. I also wonder if our current physics and measurement won't one day be seen as being as primitive as the old pre-spherical world sailing maps demarcating the "world's end."

  47. YogiOne says:

    Agreed on both points. In the case of the former, there is plenty right here on Earth to inspire awe, devotion and reverence. I wish more people felt that way about the only home we will ever know. Regarding the latter, I'll greet it with open arms if (big if) it comes and accept it as it stands until then.

  48. There comes a point where there's not much difference between "awesomely huge" and "infinite", although I would agree with YogiOne that it is of theoretical interest.

    But it's so easy to prove the universe is infinite by pure logic. YogiOne, can you tell me the finite limit of even the simplest of concepts in science–a string of whole numbers, 1,2,3,…?

    Bob Weisenberg

  49. YogiOne says:

    There is an interesting point of view that proposes we are all protogods. The question is will we become all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. before the end of the universe, (and thus able to save ourselves) or will the universe become to inhospitable for life before we get to that point. Those who propose this seriously think we need to work toward controlling and accelerating our own evolution. While using different terms and methods, isn't this also what Yoga proposes?