2001-11-22: Bhagavad Gita (Mitchell)

Bhagavad Gita

A New translation (2000)

by Stephen Mitchell (1943-)

Mitchell has translated many works with spiritual themes. This one is made as interesting as it possible (for me). In part the interest lies in his notes at the end, and in the appendix, The Message of the Gita, by Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Mitchell’s achievement is poetical. He doesn’t read Sanskrit, and so relied on others to provide the sense of the words. He used his poetical and spiritual sense to form the verses.

The Gita itself is in 18 “chapters”. He points out what is obvious on a first reading: chapters 13 through 18 are very different in tone and message from the first two thirds of the poem. This may be due to the combination of the work of two poets, or the belief by the poet that certain readers require a more structured approach.

Mitchell provides an introduction, and notes for it. Throughout his notes, Mitchell refers to certain passages of the Gita, and compares or contrasts them with passages from others such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Lao Tzu. He also refers to the eyes of Ramana Maharshi, shown on the cover of his book The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi, and (smaller) in Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, which has a better selection.

The Gita has a definite cultural context, and Westerners probably find it difficult to appreciate. It is superficially the advice by Krishna to the warrior Arjuna on performing his duty (which will involve the greatest slaughter in the worlds greatest battle). More generally, it is the advice to “Do your work, then step back.” (from Lao Tzu). In other words, we must act as long as we live, but we need not be attached to the results of our actions.


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