I have absolutely zero knowledge of the Hindu religion outside the fact that it believes in reincarnation. This is strange considering how much research I have done it many Asian religions (like Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.). I came across this book among several lists of most important ancient books.
It is a 700-verse scripture text (which is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which I have heard referred to as The Illiad of India), telling of a conversation between the warrior prince Arjuna and Krishna, a god in Hinduism. In essence, it is Krishna explaining the beliefs of Hinduism to Arjuna, similar to The Sayings of Confucius, which I read a couple years ago. Although the author of The Bhagavad Gita is uncertain, many historians attribute it to Vyasa. The book is dated anywhere from 500 BC to 200 BC.
I would also like to make a quite disclaimer about my review. I am no expert on the Hindu religion. I am merely someone curious to learn about different religions and belief systems. Thus, I’m coming from a completely uneducated perspective. So don’t expect a deep understanding of the ideology spoken about in this book.
This is an interesting book to read, but also incredibly repetitive and slow. Often, Arjuna will ask Krishna a question, and the god will answer it in verse. There are many concepts common to Hinduism which I had to look up, including dharma, the four paths of spirituality, etc. It is difficult to read this book with no prior knowledge of Hinduism, and I believe it lessened my enjoyment of reading it because I constantly had to look up terms or names. Saying that, it’s a fascinating book to read and, while I didn’t know it was part of an epic, I really want to read the entire Mahabharata now.
Also, similarly with several books I read recently, I wasn’t a fan of the translation. I read the new translation by Stephen Mitchell (who also translated the Tao Te Ching, another book I loved), and I found the language lacked much beauty. Whether the original was simply written or not, I cannot say, because I don’t speak or read Sanskrit, which is the ancient language of India and the language this book is originally written in.
It is difficult to review such a book, because it’s not a concise narrative and instead a collection of beliefs and philosophies. Saying that, there were several I found both interesting and confusing.
For example, reincarnation is a concept brought up multiple times throughout the text. Being a Christian, I don’t believe in reincarnation, making me even more curious to understand the exact teachings and beliefs behind this concept. But, honestly, I left the book feelings confused. On one hand, Krishna talks about how you must live a good life in order that, in your next life, you will start off holier or better. But what is the point if you’re just going to be reborn again and again? Why should you strive for goodness if it won’t matter that much? You’ll just to reborn again. Yes, maybe you’re be a slightly better person in your next life, but that’s all. Also, Krishna states that, when you achieve perfection, you “no longer are reborn in this fleeting world of sorrow and pain” (verse 8.15). So, there is an end, a Hindu version of Heaven, I suppose? This concept just confused me.
Saying that, there are so many concepts I agree with. For example Krishna talks of how a person should live their life trying to achieve perfection. He “who is free of all joy, fear, envy– / that man is the one I love best. He who is pure, impartial, skilled / unworried, calm, selfless in all undertakings…” (verses 12:15-16).
Even though I didn’t agree with some of the things covered in this book, I did enjoy reading it. If you are interesting in reading about Hinduism, I wouldn’t recommend this book at first. I would read a couple books talking about the basic concepts before reading this, because you might have more of a vocabulary of terms.
Have you heard of this book? What your favorite ‘holy scripture’ type of book? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,