Book Review: The Bhagavad Gita

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.

Review

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,

Madame Writer

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bhagavad Gita

  1. Hi.
    As Krishna has mentioned… The goal of the human life is to seek answers to the questions of life….And we must attain liberation from this cycle of birth and death and reach back to Godhead. This is can be achieved by simply surrendering to Him as He mentioned in 18.65… and note perfection does take time… It depends on how much effort you put to achieve it
    Regarding the complexity… Honestly, the Bhagavad Gita is the summary of all scriptures that are present right from the Vedic times. So reading and trying to understand the Bhagavad Gita is equivalent to reading all the scriptures.
    Keep reading and understanding. All the best😊

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    1. Thank you! Yes, the Gita does read like something of a summary of all scripture, which is probably why I was so overwhelmed. But it was certainly interesting to read. Thank you for explaining my confusion!

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  2. I appreciate your willingness to understand other religions! I’ve never read the Bhagavad Gita bit was I was close friends with a number of Hindus in college. I’m so grateful to the time I had learning from them. Great post!

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  3. I read it years ago and the idea behind reincarnation, as far as I understood it, was that one’s striving for perfection life after life ratchets up one’s spiritual evolution until that level of transcendence is reached that is the ultimate perfection. It is a repetitive and slow read, but then, the Wheel of Karma is repetitive and slow turning!
    I’m glad I read it, but like you, I rejected its world view in the end. Not because I was a Christian (I wasn’t one at the time), but because its ideal of self-annihilation struck me as a form of insanity. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be free of joy. I still can’t. Free of fear and envy, sure; but freedom from joy? That’s crazy talk.
    I read a couple of the Vedas too. Equally interesting reads.

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    1. Interesting, and I agree! The self-annihilation struck me as particularly strange as well. Though it definitely didn’t make me want to convert, it was fascinating to read. I’ll have to check out the Vedas as well.

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  4. It sounds really perplexing… Speaking of the point of being reborn again and again until “the end”, I make a wild guess that perhaps it’s because it takes so long to achieve perfection. It’s an extremly tough path to the ultimate “destination”. You can’t surpass what you have, you desire as a human by just living several times. Every slightly improvement in a lifetime helps a soul get close to perfection, to surpass what a human being is. And I wonder if reincarnation is the ancient people’s wish and imagination of life.
    I know nothing about it. Take my words with a grain of salt… 😅

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