by Franklin Edgerton translator
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While the Bhagavad Gita is not a part of the Hindu Vedas, it is still the most popular holy book for the Hindu and is often referred to as “India’s favorite Bible.” Clearly, then, it is the best starting place for the Christian seeking to understand Hinduism, after he “finds his feet” by reading the excellent summary in Dean Halverson’s Compact Guide to World Religions.
This particular translation by Franklin Edgerton is widely respected, and fortunately contains an extended “interpretation” by Edgerton as well. The Western mind, which still expects the law of non-contradiction to hold true in spite of relativistic rhetoric, has difficulty comprehending a religion so internally inconsistent. Edgerton’s explanations help.
Having said that, don’t be intimidated. Although the Bhagavad Gita will sound very foreign to the student, he or she should still recognize some basic philosophical positions. For example, this “holy book” makes it clear that the physical world is merely an illusion and the spiritual world is the only world that truly exists. Early on we are told that “To whom pain and pleasure are alike, the wise,/He is fit for immortality,” because the wise man knows that impermanence equals non-existence: “No coming not to be occurs of what is.”
Yes, that last statement is convoluted. But the text goes on to explain: “These bodies come to an end,/It is declared, of the eternal embodied (soul),/Which is indestructible and unfathomable. . . . Who believes him a slayer,/And who thinks him slain,/Both these understand not:/He slays not, is not slain.” How can you be killed in battle and not be killed? Simple. Your body dies, but your body is an illusion—the thing that doesn’t die, the real part of you, is your soul.
The Hindu may embrace the spiritual realm, but they must ignore any physical good. The Christian, on the other hand, knows that God made the world and in spite of the fall allows us to enjoy many good physical things: hamburgers, orange juice, a gentle breeze and a sunset. Those things are real—and they are good gifts from the good and perfect God.
by Jeff Baldwin