Why I read the Gita

Hope in the face of defeat

T. S. Eliot once declared—and I agree—that the greatest philosophical poem next to the Divine Comedy is the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Blessed One”), the most widely revered of the sacred texts of India. Once or twice a year I reread the Gita, relying on several fine English translations and limping through the Sanskrit with the help of interlinear editions. It never ceases to delight. Like all great reading, but with peculiar intensity, reading the Gita takes me into another world, enabling me to see our common world through other eyes. In the Gita I encounter a devotional and philosophical tradition, tested in experience and crafted in song and dialectic, that is intrinsically worth studying. If life is, as John Keats wrote, a “vale of soul-making,” then the Gita has taught me a great deal about how souls are made.


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