A new, compelling translation and discussion on India’s most popular yoga text.
*Editor’s Note: This post sees the return of elephant journal to its continued commitment to fostering its readers’ relationship with the Bhagavad-Gita in a systematic and scholarly way. Begun by Bob Weisenberg and carried on by Catherine Ghosh and Braja Sorenson, elephant is fortunate to now have the experience of Vic DiCara guiding us along the path.
Before diving into the heart of the discussion between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, I asked Vic if he would be willing to give our readers a sense of his background; and what makes his approach to the Gita and this series of Plain and Simple discussions different from elephant’s previous Bhagavad-Gita series.
Below, you will find his introduction and then each week we will be bringing you the latest installments, beginning with the stage setting of the first chapter all the way up and through the culmination of Lord’s Krishna’s final instructions. So, if you’ve always wanted to read the Gita but felt overwhelmed, or if you just want to deepen your study, then please take full advantage of this amazing series.
The tale of my relationship to Bhagavad-Gita begins in a very unexpected place: the graffiti, blood and piss stained sidewalks of NYC’s Lower East Side, the Bowery, CBGB’s, 1988. One of the scariest hardcore punk bands of the time, the Cro Mags, introduced me to Bhagavad Gita.
I was not the first (and certainly not the last) metalhead thrasher to get into Eastern Philosophy. I teamed up with a few others in “Krishna-core” punk-rock bands named Shelter and, later, 108. In addition to screaming punked-out mantras and philosophy night-after-night and city-after-city, we adopted brahmacarya (celibacy, minimalism, sadhana, and ashram living).
In 1992, I started spending months at a stretch in India, in particular, Mathura-Vrindavana.
While there, I received initiation into the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra and diksha mantra from my guru, along with the name Vraja Kishor das. It was then that my guru, Sripad Dhanurdhara Swami, kindly took the trouble to carefully and personally tutor me in Bhagavad-Gita, (and other important bhakti works, like Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu).
His approach was to make sure I didn’t miss the forest for the trees.
He first took me through an overall outline of Bhagavad-Gita’s 18 chapters. Then, he grouped the verses into thematic sections and made sure I understood how the themes connected and developed from one section to the next. Finally, he instructed me in the specifics of the individual verses, going so far as to examine the meanings of the individual Sanskrit words of those verses, and then unpacking the deeper meanings hidden between those words by going through the major classical commentaries.
Through this process, I developed a working knowledge of Sanskrit and by 1995 my Guru placed me in charge of a large temple in New Jersey, and the first branch of the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education outside of India. I taught Bhagavad Gita (and other bhakti classics) under his supervision and guidance there and, later, on the west coast.
In 1997 I married my most talented, beautiful and intelligent wife and by trial and error we have gradually learned many practical implications and applications of the Gita’s philosophy. With her support, in 2007 I began to practice Vedic astrology, which has deepened my practical experience of the philosophy of karma and freewill.
My goal with this series is to present the Bhagavad-Gita “Plain and Simple,” so you can read it without excruciating effort, and simultaneously understand its deep, thorough and beautiful philosophy without having to learn Sanskrit, or pore over volumes of commentaries. When you read it in this way I am confident that you will understand its powerful, deep and consistent messages—leading to a powerful and joyful transformation of your life.
Here’s how it will work. I will translate the verses in clear and self evident English and avoid butting in to make comments except briefly where they are necessary, or I just cannot contain my enthusiasm. I will try and keep the installments to a manageable level. So, some weeks, I will do a whole chapters and other times we will break chapters up into smaller sections to achieve the “Plain and Simple” criteria.
I would like to thank you, the reader, in advance for your kind attention to my Gita-kirtana. With folded hands I invoke the blessings of Sri Krishna, Sri Arjuna and Sri Guru so that it may please them to reveal transcendental truth in the words and hearts of both the author and the reader.
Vic DiCara (Vraja Kishor das) practices Gaudiya Vaishnava sadhana in Southwestern Japan. His blogs are Bhagavatam by Braja and Bhagavad Gita Plain and Simple.
He is also a practicing astrologer, prolific writer and former guitarist and song writer in the popular underground spiritual-punk band, 108. His astrology website is available here.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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