Top positive review
A Partial Revelation of the Christian Gospels
Reviewed in the United States on July 1, 2019
I first heard of the Bhagavad Gita as kid in the quote attributed to Robert Oppenheimer, when he witnessed the first atomic explosion. Educated in the Christian tradition, I later formed an idea of the Bhagavad Gita as a Hindu work of high reputation that a Christian in the West should not be very interested in, something Steve Jobs might have dabbled in as part of his quest to overcome all doctrines selectively (that is, all doctrines except the ones he picked up from India, which in his mind somehow favored minimalist designs despite the profusion of decoration in Hindu and Buddhist art). Picking up this work by accident one Sunday after Mass, in a coffee shop in Old San Juan, left me astonished. The beauty, wisdom and revelation contained in the Bhagavad Gita should make it widely read, especially but not only by Christians.
In the Christian tradition, theologians have recommended for centuries, and even required, the reading of “pagan” (i.e. not Christian, Jewish or Muslim) authors like Plato and Aristotle, whom they regarded as recipients from God of a partial revelation of philosophical truth that anticipated many aspects of Christianity. The Bhavagad Gita is in many ways more of a partial revelation of the Christian faith than anything Greek pagans wrote.
For example, in stanzas 4.7-11 Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that “whenever righteousness falters” Krishna takes on a human body to manifest himself on earth, adding: “Whoever knows, profoundly/My divine presence on earth/is not reborn when he leaves the body/but comes to me.” The Jewish prophets did not come closer to describing a reason for the incarnation of God than that passage. And there is also this: “However men try to reach me,/I return their love with my love;/whatever path they may travel,/it leads to me in the end.” Elsewhere, the Gita advises detachment from desire as the root of evil, speaks of communal meals as a religious exercise, and wisely describes the need for balance between contemplation and action. Its belief in polytheistic and reincarnation errors (yes, errors; truth is not a matter of opinion) do not obscure the fact that the Gita sometimes expresses some core Christian beliefs more beautifully than many theologians do.
This translation is a joy to read. It is clear and accessible, spare, elegant and therefore simple.
So I ordered this book as a gift for one of my sons as a college graduation present, to complement an earlier gift of Marcus Aurelius and his 12 years of primary and secondary Catholic education. I am happier with his reading this than Plato’s Republic (after all, if Socrates were correct that might is not right, how would the Jews have conquered the promised land, how would Christians have taken over the Roman state after the Milvian Bridge, and how would Mecca have converted to Islam?). The Gita is a wonderful portal to the riches of India.