Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation & Indian Philosophy

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The Bhagavad Gita is India’s best-known scripture. Easwaran places the Gita’s teachings in a modern context and explains its key message, which is how to resolve our conflicts and live in harmony with the deep unity of life, through the practice of meditation and spiritual disciplines.

On the way, he explores the nature of reality, the illusion of separateness, the search for identity, the meaning of yoga, and how to heal the unconscious. Ultimately, as Easwaran writes, the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna is “a searching of the soul – the heart’s appeal for wisdom, answered, as it only can be, from within.” 

The Gita is couched as a dialogue between a warrior-prince named Arjuna and his charioteer and spiritual guide, Sri Krishna. It opens with a crisis — Prince Arjuna despairs on the battlefield, unsure if he should fight his kinsmen in a dreadful war. For Easwaran, the Gita’s epic battle represents the war in our own hearts and Arjuna’s anguish reflects the human condition: torn between opposing forces, confused about how to live. Sri Krishna’s timeless guidance, Easwaran argues, can shed light on our dilemmas today. 

Like Mahatma Gandhi, Easwaran sees the Gita as “a sure guide to human affairs – one that could throw light on the problems I faced in my own times of crisis.” A foremost translator of the Gita, he taught classes on it for over forty years. 

Publisher’s Note

This book is Easwaran’s distillation of the Gita’s teachings from the end of his life, based on talks given to his close students and published here for the first time.

In his last editorial planning meeting, in 1998, Easwaran gave instructions about the books in progress that he wanted completed from his unpublished transcripts, outlines, and notes. Essence of the Bhagavad Gita was the first of those posthumous projects to be published, Easwaran’s final distillation of the Gita’s teachings. It is something rare and precious: the legacy of a gifted teacher sharing a lifetime’s immersion in a sacred text, conveyed in his talks and informal sessions with some of his closest students. 

This latest addition to Easwaran's legacy is one of the most insightful to date. If you enjoy Easwaran's teachings, if you're yearning for ultra deep insights into this beloved Hindu scripture, or if you simply want to read elegant prose seasoned with delightfully modern, often amusing stories and analogies, you'll love this book.

Many Gita commentaries (including Easwaran's own three-volume set) explore the text passage by passage. Through these, we quickly discern that the battle described in the Gita is not physical but internal and that this battle is won using will power rather than firepower.

Beyond the individual words and passages, however, lies much more. Deftly wielding his little but powerful lamp, Easwaran leads us on a spelunking trip deep into the heart of the Gita. Along the way, we encounter wisdom from such varied sources as Shankara, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Spinoza, Jung, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, physiologist Hudson Hoagland and others. The journey is at once simple and profound.

The book begins by introducing the split in consciousness between our lower and higher selves that causes separateness and struggle. Easwaran explores the nature of reality and personality, explaining that we are not our bodies or our minds (!) and that identification with these imposters keeps us feeling separate from everyone and everything.

Beginning with chapter six, we move from theory to practice. Easwaran explains how to heal the split using a system of living that includes meditation, living deliberately and experimenting with our likes and dislikes. The words are practical and enormously compelling.

The final three chapters describe the journey of humanity toward its ultimate goal: self-realization. We have no choice but to fight this battle, Easwaran and the Gita insist. Putting our heads in the sand or playing with the toys of life only delays the battle and prolongs our misery. Ultimately, Easwaran's Gita tells us we will not only fight but also win and that this glorious day comes much more quickly when we seize the initiative and realize our potential.

This story could only be told by a lifelong student of the Gita, someone who has lived it each day and is now so familiar with it that its words pale against the underlying meaning. Even so, in the hands of a lesser writer, no one but an enlightened being could even understand how the meaning derives from the words. But Easwaran's ideas fit together so well and are so nicely supported by the sparsely used but powerful Gita verses that, by the end, it's utterly impossible to deny both the wisdom of this interpretation and the inevitability of its effect on us.

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