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Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation,… (edition 2011)

by Eknath Easwaran

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2514428,870 (3.96)4
sacredheart25's review
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is nicely produced with a quality-glued spine, high quality paper, beautiful font which is well spaced on the page, with colored all-capitals first words, and colored chapter headings. The glossy durable cover has fold over leaves for extra paperback longevity. There are old-fashioned adverts for other items to be purchased from the publisher and complete publication data is listed on the last page. Even before reading a word, I was impressed with the quality of the product.
The book is touted as a companion volume to the Bhagavad-Gita, functioning as sort of a commentary to understanding the main sacred text. The book lists Easwaran as author but the publisher notes that this work is part of a larger project by the author to further promote Hindu spiritual traditions. Here, I was thankful for the editorial clarification. For me, there are works by an author which hold ranking by category. Primary are the original works by a single or coauthor. Second, there are works, which are of lesser creativity and authority, such as dialogues and interviews. Lastly there are works which are actual notes by the author or compilations/extrapolations from students of the author. This work, to me, finds itself in the third designation.
Nevertheless, I found this a very helpful book as an introduction to Hindu thought and the Bhagavad-Gita in particular. My particular interest comes from a comparative religion standpoint and so the blurb from Huston Smith on the back cover adds credibility to the project. Reading through the book took more time than I expected. I did not want to miss any explanation or example by not taking time to reflect on the point being made. The textual terms were something which the work regularly spent time on in each chapter. This slowed me down but the etymologies were a large part of Easwaran’s teaching method. The glossary and index were helpful here.
The ‘essence’ of this work was to awaken readers that they too ought to turn inward and start the practice of meditation with the techniques used as examples. Without self-awareness life has no meaning (at least in this lifetime, says the work p. 222). To become aware that life change is possible and to make some adjustments away from finite things seems to be the simple goal for this work. I was impressed with the tone of the work. It was not denigrating toward other religions. However, it did seem to have a subtle bias toward eastern ways of life as many of the examples of mistaken choices came from obvious western insensitivities.
I am always looking for books to recommend to others. I think this book gives the western reader (of a college educated sort) a fair look at what Hindu thought has in mind about the Life that all beings share in common. I could see some of the flaws in the Hindu outlook as a systematic whole (as others must have with part or all of Christianity) but I was satisfied that I was approaching Hinduism in a way that is consistent with the people I know who actually practice it. One of the attractive traits of Hindu holy writings, for many, are their lack of systemization. The suggested reading list adds Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Apr 28, 2012 |
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book gives a very accessible introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, which I was not familiar with previously. The focus in this book is on applying the lessons of the Gita to everyday life, and as such reads less as an interpretive text than as a motivational or inspirational book, by someone whose life's work was to promote his version of enlightened living. ( )
  the_darling_copilots | Sep 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Gita is a wonderful book, full of insight. It is also dense and difficult to read.

I re-read the Gita using this book as a reference and I believe it would make for a much more pleasant experience, not to mention deeper understanding. ( )
  jshorr | Aug 29, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this book rather difficult to get into. I loved seeing Peter Brooks' staging of the Mahabharata, and thought I would like a book on the Gita, which is a small section of the Mahabharata. The Gita is a philosophical discourse beween the warrior Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna, who is actually an avatar of Vishnu. Vishnu (sustainer) is the second part of the great Hindu triad that includes Brahma (creator), and Shiva (destroyer). I guess I find the story in Hinduism as attractive, but not philosophical and ethical discourses on it. Also, Easwaran approaches science from the Continental Europe tradition, which is more deductive, than the more inductive tradition that I am comfortable with.

Easwaran is a spiritual teacher, so in some ways one must get into his vision of life. I have relatives who are impressed by Easwaran, so I do not want to be dismissive. He has a full translation of the Bhagavad Gita. I do feel after looking at his translation that I could not vouch for it without my learning Sanskirt myself and doing my own translation. My own relationship with Sanskrit is having reading a Vedic grammar some 25 years ago, and having an aha experience after finding out how much like Ancient Greek it was. But that was a linguistic joy, not a religious joy. I did come across another translation (with a commentary) of the Gita done by a guru on Long Island, and I coud see myself getting into the Gita. But Sadashiva Tirtha is of the bhakti (devotional) tradition.

I found while reading I got myself into quibbles. On Page 40, there is a discussion of "I" and "You", but I found myself wanting the authro to make reference to the great Judaeo-Christian tradition of lokking at "I" and "Thou." On Pages 41-42, the author attempts an equivalence between Einstein's formula (E=MC²) and the Sanskrit phrase, 'Tat tvam asi' (You are that). This seemed a stretch. Later on page 42, there is a quote from the Gita where Easwaran sees a reference to modern field theory and Krishna stating that he is the "Knower of the field in everyone." I did not really get the impression that the author was conversant in how modern scientists use the word "field". I would have appreciated a little more discourse. After this quibbling on my part, I had to kind of do a light read and see if I got drawn in.

Finally, I did get drawn in a bit, in the last chapter (12), titled "Into Battle". This is where the Gita passes back to the battle which is ensuing, and I felt I could get a hint of the reality that the Gita is trying to describe. ( )
  vpfluke | Aug 25, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I have longed admired the writings and life practices of Eknath Easwaran. I was thrilled to learn that there was a posthumous book recently released and eagerly began reading.

While there are many good points made as well as illuminating examples about how to live a more spiritual life, this book did not equal his previous books. This may be because it was put together by students of his 8-point program based on Easwaran's notes and he was not there to bring it all together in a more cohesive way as he had done so professionally with his other books. (His MEDITATION book is a favorite of mine. In fact, I've had to buy it several times over the years because any time I lend a copy, it's enjoyed so much that it doesn't come back! I also highly recommend his three-volume work, THE BHAGAVAD GITA FOR DAILY LIVING.)

One of the things I found disappointing is that someone who is new to Easwaran's work or to Indian Philosophy will be confused by the term "yoga." Yoga is explained, but the book would have been stronger if the book had explained clearly, right from the start, that this is not the yoga "exercise" that many Westerners associate with the word.

There were also errors in punctuation, grammar, and style. I came across several examples that were not attributed to the original source, such as "The Prayer of St. Francis" and a Bible passage, and at least one quote that was incomplete. Also, some examples were presented as if they were just being introduced, but were actually a repeat of earlier examples in the book. Something else that bothered me was that the book blurb included is about an earlier work of Easwaran's. The blurb on the back of the book should be about THAT book.

All this is not to say that the book is without merit. While I would not recommend it as an introduction to the BHAGAVAD GITA, it does reinforce many concepts present in Easwaran's other books, so it works fairly well as a review. Some excerpts:

"That which is infinite can be filled only with something infinite."

We "believe we are separate individuals when there is really only one Self in billions of forms."

"Nirvana" is "the blowing-out or extinction of all self-centered thought."

"...the cause of personal stress is not outside us but arises from our perception."

"Karma is essentially an opportunity to learn."

Finally, a passage from the BHAGAVAD GITA, whose passages are pure poetry:
"You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind." ( )
  DonnaMarieMerritt | May 24, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I have just started reading this book and wil update this review once I finish. Based upon what I have ready to date, I have already ordered Essence of the Upanishads by the same author and look forward to the other companion books being published. I am sure to add them to my library! ( )
  AzureMountain | Apr 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is nicely produced with a quality-glued spine, high quality paper, beautiful font which is well spaced on the page, with colored all-capitals first words, and colored chapter headings. The glossy durable cover has fold over leaves for extra paperback longevity. There are old-fashioned adverts for other items to be purchased from the publisher and complete publication data is listed on the last page. Even before reading a word, I was impressed with the quality of the product.
The book is touted as a companion volume to the Bhagavad-Gita, functioning as sort of a commentary to understanding the main sacred text. The book lists Easwaran as author but the publisher notes that this work is part of a larger project by the author to further promote Hindu spiritual traditions. Here, I was thankful for the editorial clarification. For me, there are works by an author which hold ranking by category. Primary are the original works by a single or coauthor. Second, there are works, which are of lesser creativity and authority, such as dialogues and interviews. Lastly there are works which are actual notes by the author or compilations/extrapolations from students of the author. This work, to me, finds itself in the third designation.
Nevertheless, I found this a very helpful book as an introduction to Hindu thought and the Bhagavad-Gita in particular. My particular interest comes from a comparative religion standpoint and so the blurb from Huston Smith on the back cover adds credibility to the project. Reading through the book took more time than I expected. I did not want to miss any explanation or example by not taking time to reflect on the point being made. The textual terms were something which the work regularly spent time on in each chapter. This slowed me down but the etymologies were a large part of Easwaran’s teaching method. The glossary and index were helpful here.
The ‘essence’ of this work was to awaken readers that they too ought to turn inward and start the practice of meditation with the techniques used as examples. Without self-awareness life has no meaning (at least in this lifetime, says the work p. 222). To become aware that life change is possible and to make some adjustments away from finite things seems to be the simple goal for this work. I was impressed with the tone of the work. It was not denigrating toward other religions. However, it did seem to have a subtle bias toward eastern ways of life as many of the examples of mistaken choices came from obvious western insensitivities.
I am always looking for books to recommend to others. I think this book gives the western reader (of a college educated sort) a fair look at what Hindu thought has in mind about the Life that all beings share in common. I could see some of the flaws in the Hindu outlook as a systematic whole (as others must have with part or all of Christianity) but I was satisfied that I was approaching Hinduism in a way that is consistent with the people I know who actually practice it. One of the attractive traits of Hindu holy writings, for many, are their lack of systemization. The suggested reading list adds Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a posthumous publication of Easwaran's teachings on the Gita in his later life. As a long time student of yoga, I've been exposed to bits and pieces of the Bhagavad Gita over the years. But the teachings have always felt foreign to me since I am firmly rooted in western culture.

Easwaran draws upon his understanding and knowledge of western culture to make the teachings of the Gita more accessible to the western mind. He uses examples from Teresa of Avila, St. Paul, Spinoza, and others whom those of us educated in the west can relate.

The first nine chapters deal with issues relating to unity within in the person and the person's unity with the world. Chapters 10 & 11 deal more with the Hindu understanding of the after life and spiritual evolution which I had difficulty relating to. The book closes with a charge to submit to the practice of meditation and a "garland of verses" taken from the Gita, much as one might have a collection of Psalms.

I found this book very helpful in giving context for some of the teachings in yoga and making the meaning more accessible to me. ( )
1 vote tangledthread | Apr 16, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Eknath Easwaran, founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, is the author of many books on spiritual topics such as meditation, Gandhi, the Dhammapada and the Upanishads. He has written other books on the Bhagavad Gita, notably The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living in which he interprets each verse and illustrates how its message can be applied to our daily lives.

This recent book, published posthumously (the author died in 1999), was compiled by his students according to Easwaran’s instructions from the transcripts of his many talks on the subject of the Bhagavad Gita and its continued relevance to living a spiritual life in modern times.

The modern spiritual seeker’s dilemma is no less challenging than seekers of an earlier age. In the past gaining spiritual knowledge took persistence, passion and a long quest in search of hard-to-find wisdom. Today, the modern seeker has easy access to a confusing array of spiritual ideas, but the question is how do we see the trees for the forest? And once we choose a particular path, how do we transform the learning of the head into the wisdom of the heart? How do we use this information practically to make wise decisions and live a more spiritually attuned life? As the author of this book points out, the Gita is not a set of commandments or rules telling us what to do, we have to learn through experience how to make the right choices in life in order to reach the enlightenment we seek.

The author is well equipped to help us learn and gain this experience. Easwaran studied the Gita all his life and actively looked for ways to apply the truths revealed therein to his own life. Thus he has a wealth of experience to share with us. To begin, he says, requires three preliminary steps: hearing (or reading), reflection and meditation. In this book he shares with us what he learned in his own attempts to live out the truth he found in the passages of the Gita. He deciphers the message of each passage and shows us why it matters using examples from his own life.

The main message of the Gita, as is well known, is the battle between the personality and the Soul and the duality of life. So the author begins by discussing those opposing forces felt within ourselves and the split in our consciousness between the higher Self and lower self and their opposing goals. This leads to a discussion of the nature of reality, the limitation of our five senses, and the need to meditate in order to withdraw from the distractions these senses impose in order to discover a higher reality.

Other chapters discuss themes such as the various sub-personalities and their opposing desires, the illusion of separateness and gaining wisdom through meditation. The chapters on yoga as a skill in daily living and healing the unconscious are particularly rich with insights and practical techniques.

Then Easwaran takes the long view with chapters on death, reincarnation, the journey of evolution. In his final chapter he encourages us to go into battle mode armed with the wisdom gained from applying the truths and techniques of the Gita to our lives. We begin to see that nothing external can satisfy us for long, and the intense desire to know who we really are fuels us through this long battle with the lower self. The Gita, Easwaran says, when applied to our daily lives becomes practical, compassionate psychology.

Included in the book are selection from the Bhagavad Gita, suggestions for further reading and a glossary of Sanskrit terms. In addition to this current volume, Essence of the Upanishads has just been published, and Essence of the Dhammapada and Essence of Yoga are forthcoming. ( )
  JolleyG | Apr 9, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a wonderful tribute to the late Eknath Easwaran and represents a down-to-earth and conversational vision of the Bhagavad Gita filtered through a lifetime of study and living the same questions asked by Arjuna to his teacher Krishna. While it may be best to read Easwaran's translation of the Bhagavad Gita before this commentary, both are essential for any truly eclectic literary and mythographic collection. Not to mention the high production value in this handsome paperback printing. Highly recommended! ( )
  MoonBeamShadow | Apr 2, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Frankly, this was much better than I expected. As a non-Hindu, I have never been greatly impressed by the Gita. However, Easwaran writes as a thoroughly sophisticated man thoroughly at home with modern culture and at the same time a man with a genuine faith in the Hindu tradition as learned from his grandmother. Much of the earlier part of the book is very intelligent and insightful analysis of the follies of human desires and the means of overcoming them. I recognized many of my follies which I have not overcome. This material I think is psychologically useful to people of any faith or none. The later portions do focus more on specifically Hindu interpretations of reincarnation, meditation, and the like, but they are laid out in a very clear way with makes the specifically indian terminology and Hindu attitudes understandable. The book concludes with a selection of passages of the Gita which I must admit I approached with a new respect, though I had read them before in other versions. How much of the author's wisdom is innate in the Gita (or its commentators such as Shankara) and how much is the author's own, may be debatable, but whatever its source the wisdom itself is there. ( )
2 vote antiquary | Mar 19, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Wow. This was a really, really good read. It took me a while to get through this book, which I was surprised by, but I would say that this is because it was such a rich text. Each chapter was like a lesson for the reader, and it couldn't be read too quickly. I have read "The Bhagavad Gita" before, but this text illuminated the original document incredibly well. The insights and theories offered by Easwaran were very well articulated and sound, and I appreciated the author's use of simple language and metaphor to convey meaning. This book was a real treat, and I hope to read more by this author, including his translation of "The Bhagavad Gita", of which an excerpt was included. A great Early Reviewer experience! ( )
1 vote orangewords | Mar 18, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book through the Early Reviewer's program and wasn't sure what to expect. From the description provided I had mistakenly thought this to be more of an introduction to Indian philsophy and the practice of mediatation, rather than an explanatory guide to the Bhagavad Gita. Having never read that text and having very little familiarity with Indian philosophy, I probably did not benefit from this book as much as many other readers would. I was very interested in Easwaran's background on the Upanishads which reminded me of the western idealist philosophers, but his references to Descartes, Jung, and others sent mixed messages. Without having the Gita to reference, it was difficult to attain the bigger picture.

Overall though, Easwaran's elaborations did provide a lot of material for reflection, particularly his explanation on the illusion of separatness. I hope to revisit this text at a later date when I can more fully appreciate its message.
1 vote lucy_snowe | Mar 18, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A note about these newly posted non-link reviews.

This is another book that came my way via the LibraryThing.com “Early Reviewers” program. I'm not sure what I was specifically expecting this to be (in the LTER program, there's a big list of books that are being offered by publishers, with a brief description of each, and a button to “request” a book, and then it's up to the “almighty algorithm” to match up the requests to what seems to be the best match of reviewer … you can request as many as you like, but you'll only get one “win”, and that's not a sure thing). Anyway, I've had a long familiarity with the Bhagavad Gita, going back to the mid-70's when the Hare Krishna movement was wide-spread, and I actually had a subscription to their Back to Godhead magazine. One of the features of this was an on-going translation of the Gita by ISKCON founder Prabhupada, where there was the Sanskrit text, a transliteration of that into the Western alphabet, a linear translation, and an interpretive translation of the meaning of the passage … I found these fascinating, as it was a window into Sanskrit that I didn't have otherwise. So, it wasn't much of a surprise when I “won” Eknath Easwaran's Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation, and Indian Philosophy, but I was thinking that this would simply be another translation of the Indian classic. Actually, Easwaran (who is the late founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation) has a translation of the Gita, and this book is intended as a “companion” to that, outlining the “essence” of that text.

So, instead of having just another translation to wade through, this is a rather remarkable “explanation” of the book, which depends more on the author's personal relationship with the material than with the details of the material.

Because we are not separate from [the] supreme reality, it follows that each of us is incomplete so long as we consider ourselves separate: that is, until we make this discovery ourselves. Whatever else we may achieve in life … there will be a vacuum in our hearts that can be filled only by direct, experiential knowledge of reality. This is the message of the Gita in a nutshell: life has only one purpose, and that is to know the divine ground of existence and become united with it here and now.

This certainly is a different tone than the chanting and dancing of the mid-70's Krishna kids … although I'm sure they'd have agreed with this passage in principle.

If you are unfamiliar with the Bhagavad Gita, it's one section of the sprawling historical epic poem, the Mahabharata, which describes events in India in the 8-9th centuries BCE. The core elements of this deal with a war between various elements of a dynasty, with relatives, teachers, and close friends arrayed on both sides. One key figure is the prince Arjuna, who is preparing for battle, and at the start of the Gita, is reviewing the assembled lines, with his chariot driver, Krishna. Arjuna, a great warrior, is having qualms about this battle, foreseeing the deaths of so many people he cares about, and expresses this to Krishna … who then reveals himself as the Godhead and goes through a whole exposition about “life, the universe, and everything”, including how Arjuna must follow his dharma as a warrior and participate in the battle. Easwaran points out that the actual war is within, and the battle is with the illusion of separateness, or Maya.

Again, I was surprised at how little Essence of the Bhagavad Gita actually dwells on the story, or even wording of the Gita. Rather, the author takes the Gita as a starting point to discuss the underlying concepts involved, and the tone is very much discursive, as though one was sitting at tea with Easwaran and listening to him expound on this. Indeed, there is a good deal of autobiographical material in this, discussing how he came to his faith, and became a teacher, etc., using elements from his own life to illustrate the ideas he's presenting.

Of course, when it's to the point, he will dip into the text of the Gita, such as in this passage where Krisha is instructing Arjuna on the illusion of death:

Death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead. Since they are unavoidable, you should not sorrow. Every creature is unmanifested at first and then attains manifestation. When its end has come, it again becomes unmanifested. What is there to lament in this? (2:27-28)

Frankly, if one looked through the chapter titles here, one would not suspect that this was a book about, or even based on the Bhagavad Gita … as the chapters deal with reality, personality, yoga, meditation, the unconscious, reincarnation, and other more “philosophical” subjects whose natures are brought to light for Easwaran in the pages of the Gita. This is probably the most appealing part of the book for me, as, rather than “beating one over the head” with the insistence of entering a Krsihna practice (like the Hare Krishnas back in the day), he is taking the teachings of Krishna from the Gita and presenting these as a template for an approach that is quite in line with modern western psyches.

I very much enjoyed Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, and would generally recommend it to “all and sundry”, with the one concern that it might not have the impact that it did for me if one was not as familiar with the source material. Obviously, one could pick up Easwaran's translation of the Gita (which would likely provide a seamless transition into this), but it is also available free on-line, from the basic text translated into English (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/gita/), to Prabhupada's idiosyncratic presentation (http://www.asitis.com/), and other detailed looks at this classic book (such as at http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/). That said, I do think this would be a useful read for anybody. Being that it's new, you have a pretty good shot of finding it at your local bookstore that stocks “eastern religion” titles, and the on-line guys have it from a quarter to a third off of (a very reasonable) cover price.

A link to my "real" review:
BTRIPP's review of Eknath Easwaran's "Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation, and Indian Philosophy" (1045 words)
2 vote BTRIPP | Mar 9, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
- I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing Early Reviews in exchange for an honest review -

The Bhagavad Gita is one of my favorite texts, and surely it is one that needs no introduction, yet it is one that many often find difficult to understand, making this book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation, and Indian Philosophy an indispensable resource for anyone attempting to achieve a deeper understanding of just what The Gita has to reveal.

Written in a way that is not laborious to read (I always find Easwaran's style pleasing and enjoyable to read), the author is able to reveal to us the meaning of various words and themes found within the Gita and Hindu Philosophy. Showing the idea of war as allegory for the constant battle within our own selves to achieve a higher state of consciousness (which reminds me, vaguely, of the Cherokee legend/myth of the two wolves inside each of us, though such an idea is much less complex than the one revealed in this book), and touching on what the Gita reveals as the nature of reality, the meaning of yoga, the point of meditation and effort in spiritual growth and Self-realization, etc, etc, this book makes this philosophy comprehensive.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has read The Gita, or is interested in Hinduism and Indian Philosophy, or anyone who considers themselves to be a spiritual seeker, so to speak, as the themes within these pages are not the kind to be bound to one specific way of thought or religion - as the author tells us (on page 136), "Meditation is a skill, not a ritual; it belongs to no religion and has nothing to do with doctrines or metaphysics or theology," it is open to everyone. In keeping with that line of thought, an inclusive kind of syncretism common to Indian Philosophy, the author also mentions Sufi poetry, St. Francis, Jesus, the Buddha, and other teachers and spiritual ideas found outside of Hinduism itself throughout this book, which I really enjoyed, as it shows just how these ideas can be incorporated into any faith,how the themes found within the pages of the Gita, and Indian Philosophy itself, have been and can be reflected by those of any religious persuasion, if one is open to them. As someone with a deep appreciation and affection for The Gita already, I know I am (open to the themes, I mean), and if you are I highly recommend going out and finding a copy of both The Gita and this companion. ( )
  xianuni7286 | Feb 22, 2012 |
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