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WESTERN IMAGES OF THE "BHAGAVADGĪTĀ", 1885-1985 Author(s): Eric J.

Sharpe Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 23, No. 2, BHAGAVADGITA: On the Bicentennial of its First Translation into English (Summer, Fall 1988), pp. 47-57 Published by: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40873965 . Accessed: 13/02/2012 03:53
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1885-19851 Eric J.5 The AryaSamaj had been in existencefora decade.WESTERN IMAGES OF THE BHAGAVADGÏTÀ.in 1883. The leader of Hindu opinionin Maharashtrawas Bal GangadharTilak. 1785-1885.Vinoba Bhave and othersinterest proclaimedtheirdevotionto the BG. who formedimages of the BG did so in director indirect responseto thatassociation.the passingof the IlbertBill fully had createdthefirst in notableexplosionofanti-western feeling India sincethewarof 185758. theWest.I also hintedat the source of comfort was to become his chiefscriptural withthe BG was of close of my 1980 paper thatthe second century the West's interplay containedbywayof the different from first: the whereaspractically century everything first in BG interpretation speaking.Afzal Khan.3 Although thisoccasion I have chosento use the word"images" and than"interpretations"-.Shivaji.Gandhi. through and inspiration.Indian nationalism was on the threshold itsemergenceto the statusof a of consciousmovement.the Orientalists were continuing theirslow and lines: working different on non-transcendental dogged workalong strictly principles.Tilak. But thenationalmovement as yetfarfrom was homogeneous. religion" onlyto reemerge theWestas partof the "alternative wave of the 1960s and 1970s.In Maharashtratherehad been in the seventeenth a military century chieftain and general. rather partly of moreor less a summary the conceived-this less deliberately paper represents frequently second half of my book.who in 1659had killeda Muslimgeneral.whichthis symposium of on coursecommemorating.A couple of yearsearlier. geographically took its point of the on a sequence of more or less adequate translations.4 versionof the first preliminary of The first century the West's acquaintance withthe BG I saw as havingbeen to broughtsymbolically an end by the publicationin 1885 of Edwin Arnold's The Song to introduced whatin lateryears whichGandhi was first thattranslation Celestial. who in the 1880s and 1890s soughtto mobilizehis Marathipeople partly appealing to theirproud by traditions.because imagesare less precisethaninterpretations. Its chiefgeographical focalpointswere two: in Maharashtrain the west. The Theosophical Societyhad takenup residencein Adyar. and in the nextfewyearswere to see theirrole as politico-religious powerbrokers expand in a remarkable way. In 1885. The Universal Gîta.and in and around Calcuttain the east. second century from positiontheBG came to the from within India itself. Sharpe At the 1980 IAHR Congressat WinnipegI presenteda paper on "Some Western "2 was of coursethe of Interpretations theBhagavad Gîta. just as my Winnipegpaper compriseda half. My pointof departure celebratedpioneer -two hundred in yearsago thisyear-ofCharlesWilkins' publication 1785 is of translation the Bhagavadgltã(hereafter BG) into English. One mightsay that whereas from1785 to 1885 the BG had document. For a time at least.mostwesterners occupyin theIndiannationalmovement.or who else in responseto thoseHindus-Aurobindo. and moreparticularly departure Betweenthe 1880sand the 1940s. to havingfailedin theirbizarreattempt make commoncause withthe AryaSamaj. Meantime. partly Tilak (so 47 . previously symbolic Hindu religious.after 1885 it became what it had not appeared to the West as a fascinating of and politicalidentity-a been. they achieved different results.and was based actuallytookplace. a scripture cultural. situation whicholder western to canonsof interpretation werecapable of answering onlyin part. the "transcendental" in waned or became overlaid.

violencewhichwas pointand establisheda connectiondown to 1914. nationalism.There werea number pointsof doctrine endeavor(nishkãmakarma) in the BG's favor. One had to do withthe BG's size. not Madame Blavatsky Much in Indian history might New York forBombayin 1879.Tilak was.There were a numberof reasons forthis.while in in of working the beingsuperior beingswadeshi. of claimed) in obedience to the teachingsof the BG. The one was almostentirely the negative. In celebrating to of course. 48 .come to restorea dharmawholly partly and in timeSri Aurobindo(havinglearned in jail to lost. It is also positive. Krishnaas an avatara.recallinghis people to the remembrance past resistance foreign powers. 1883.and havingfailedto persuade SwamiDayanand Sarasvatiof anything excepttheir eccentricity. There BankimChandra Chatterjeehad begun in the late of the 1880swhatwas at first largely a that enterprise.trueextentof theirinfluence has. In 1883. worth bearingin mindthatTheosophistsand missionaries and thatwhatever findfavorwithone groupwas absolutely guaranteedto meetwith might the disapprovalof the other.9 Time does not permitme to elaborate further these points.it was fromBengal thatmostof the impulsescame thatdetermined natureof the western response. just as Krishna could be seen (with Bankim Chandra's example in mind) as just as much an "ideal man" as was Jesus. fromthe Theosophistson the one This responsecame fromtwo major directions. on Christian)missionaries the hand. "do the sãdhana of the Gita") was to proclaim nationalismitselfas an avatara of the on Supreme. itsinsistence theneed forselfless on notably or of pursuit one's dharma. . extolling characterof Krishna. we findBlavatsky incidentally.save to say that of expressionin the writings Sri AurobindoGhosh in the years theycame to theirfullest fromactive political life in 1910. Anotherhad to do withthe increasing pressure of comingat thattime fromthe direction the Christianmissions:the BG could so easily serve as a Hindu antidote to the New Testament.one of his prototypes said to have been Renan' was publishedin 1886. also proclaimedShivaji as a devotee of the BG.exhortations thisorderdid nothing improve among and India's Britishadministrators. otheralmostentirely dislikedone anotherintensely. of portraying figure Krishna literary s was as "theIdeal Man" (curiously enough. whencomparedwiththe vastPuranas. never been fully measured. and the BG as a he a actionin the cause of the Motherland:"Did Shivajicommit sin [he gospel of determined in Krishna'steaching theBhagavad Gita is to kill AfzalKhan? .7 But he had made a and between theBG. the which nationalmovement the and amongthoseclasses-students ex-students~from especially was mainlyrecruited. Tilak was to end his lifein exile. The BG could be marketed cheaplyand sold widelywherethe Puranas could not. movedto Adyar(Madras) and verysoon began to make their they the markon the course of Indian politicsand religion. Shrimat asked] in killing even our teachersand our kinsmen.and perhapsbeyondin some to survivein one wingof Indian nationalism cases.and over the nextdecade Life of Jesus)} His Krishnacharitra first the or so thereappeared a large numberof similarworks. whiletakingtheirmaterialfromtheBG and the Bhãgavataand Visnu purãnas impartially. But by the end of the century BG had gained the upperhandin point of popularity. and fromChristian(in this case mainlyProtestant other. and had have been different. .No blame attachesto anypersonif he is doingdeeds of without being motivatedby a desire to reap the fruit his deeds. Tilak's popularity to of Needless to say."6 This was in 1897.could be interpreted politically.Shivaji. the However.10 But by that time the leading up to his withdrawal for western responsehad been in fullflight a numberof years. But more importantly.havingfailedto Colonel Olcott leftan unfriendly take rootin Bombay. In the verysame year.

and the various pandits who assisted Annie Besant to produce her in translation mostof theearly (now canonicalin Theosophicalcircles)in 1904. no sacred scripture ever means precisely (or even what it says.In bodilylimitations the 1880sthey could not failto observehowgreatinterest in India was showing the message and meaningof the BG. "forthese fought the bitterend." Krishnais "thecharioteerof the body. outer and an innermeaning. To thisextent. courage.Arjunabecame a hero. the life here. The Theosophist. Subba Row. "weare face to face withourselves. between1887 and 1895. whose influential book The Philsophy the Bhagavad by of Gita was deliveredas lecturesin 1886. containing principle thirst existence. The matteris incapable of either but for proofor disproof.W.thatbattle mustbe to well read "she. on Theosophical writing the BG was westernonly in that it was sponsoredby expatriate westerners.In so doingtheywere assisted by a numberof Hindu sympathizers."n "Esoteric" of course.clearly. History. Dhrtarastra "thatpart of is personaeof the BG represent the of for holds material life. she believedthisto be trivial comparison in with BG's inner(or esoteric.was thatherjournal. point. the perfect allegoryof the innerstruggle goingon in humannature. Besant' own ideals." Arjuna is everyman.almosta Nietzschiansuperman. Clearlyshe believed the historical dimensionto be accessible to anyone who would simplyread the text.we can see traditional Hindu and Blavatsky's modernoccultist of in interpretations the BG comingtogether two highly receptiveminds.) 49 .which. She at least allowed thattheremight two be levels of interpretation.by his own unflinching by his own unwavering right will. But in the case of the two rivalswho contestedthe leadershipof the societyafter death in 1891." When we read the BG. Theosophical.MohiniMohun Chatterjee.13He took the methodhallowedbyBlavatsky and Subba Row--the methodof allegoricalinterpretation-and applied it to theexclusionof all else. about to begin to expound "theesoteric announcing meaningof the textof the Bhagavad Gita. Q."14 Annie Besant. it is an intriguing possibility all that." The generalsand commanders "typifies sacred streamof spiritual incarnated lined up on the fieldof battle "must a catalog of all the lower and higherfacultiesin be man. occult) message. the or In comparisonwithJudge."Intobattlehe mustplungealone.as opposed to the merepassive enjoyment the fruits of wisdom. by his strong arm.12 Behind the world's sacred writings there is one single approximately) the of message~a fairly simplemessage.In fact."15For "he"in thissentenceone might were Mrs. who publisheda newBG translation 1887.too.whether might have been it not mediated to him through thisbook by Annie Besant. The BG.in fact-concerning relationship soul and body. he is proclaimed. a on fighting battle "raging the sacred plane of our body. however. bent on achievingmastery over circumstances.the one historical an and the other was not her strong allegorical."as well as being "thehigherself1and "theinnder guide.given that Sri Aurobindolearned "thesãdhana of the Gita" injail in 1907. s (I mightadd at this point in passing that I have often wondered.and the powersavailable to the soul when set freefrom and constraints.before about 1900 verymaterially almost everything significance of publishedon the BG under Theosophical auspices was written Hindus~T. Under her hand.thekeywordfortheunderstanding all things of is."The Ganges man. was witha series of "commentaries" the BG produced on Judge'scontribution made first. All the dramatis humancharacteristics. Under a Theosophical lens.in herHintson theStudy theBhagavad Gita (first of publishedin 1906) was less one-sidedallegoricalthanwas Judge. Judgeand AnnieBesant. and theylost no timein addingit to the Kabbala and the Corpus Hermeticum partof theirrepertory universal as of wisdomliterature.she took the BG's element of conflict more seriously far and of placed farmoreemphasison action.

They objected to the Holi festival and some of whatthe Puranascontainedalmostas strongly theyobjected to the as and for more or less the same reasons.I the Concerning Christian responseto theBG in these same years. of "Bhägavatareligion. a "a -and much more adulterer. graduallyKrishna himself bhakti. Grierson.however. Where the of theHindu revivalseemed to be saying. The pointwas thatthe BG had come in the first decade of the century occupya symbolical to of role as thecomprehensive scripture one or other variant of Vivekananda's "comprehensive Vedanta. thief. the same volume of whichalso containeda What Garbe parallel article. if The matter the historicity Krishnaand the source of the variouscomponents of of thathad gone intothe making theBG were. themostinfluential thesewas RichardGarbe ofTubingen.and that of Krishnahad been the historical monotheistic founder a non-Vedic."Bhakti-Marga.who wroteGita and Gospel in 1903: Farquhar was at least competent both Sanskrit in the and Bengali." Garbe also summarized his argumentsin English.themissionary corpssought moralconsistency and complainedloudlyand oftenwhentheycould not findit. in the absence of positivehistorical remainedthe meresthypothesis." a Garbe disciple.and at least he did not vilify Krishna of the BG on a basis of whatthe Puranas contained. This was at least an alternative the nature-mythological to speculationsof the Max a Müller school."realfacts" be the might summarized therewas once called themselves a kshatriya named Krishna.authorof The Idea ofthe as of exercise.he called his god theBhagavat.impression.N.George A. must missionary be brief. this 50 . oppositionto theirown highest There were exceptions.or perhaps a evidenceof anykind.Certainly creation." and this being so." compoundof Lotharioand Jack the Giant-killer" besides-therewas little to that wouldtake kindly the message possibility mostmissionaries of the BG. That books with but titleslike India's Problem: Krishna Christ or and Gita and Gospel shouldhave been written these yearswas onlyto be expected. any. these were veryfewand farbetween.and his "religion" Bhãgavatas'.the Garbe But vegetarian-deity. respectof the former.n Now Otto had takenup the study Sanskrit a therapeutic of 1920shad enteredenergetically an intellectual into dialogue." "a murderer.involving type inter-religious In of (among otherthings)the comparisonof easternand westernforms mysticism. in his BG article in Hastings' Encyclopaediaof Religionand Ethics(1909). The best of themwas by during the Scottishmissionary J. particularly since it was being set up (by Hindus and Theosophisitsalike) in ideals. whopublishedin Germanin 1905a newtranslation and commentary theBG.giventhe situation. an Krishna) having once been characterizedas a "rollicking Bacchus. morethan"boys willbe in no for boys"(even whenthey happento be gods). Put rathercrudely. His main point was thatwhile the Jesus of the Gospels was a historical Krishnawas no more than an imaginative figure. accordingto whichKrishnahad been originally sun-god. For some westernscholarsdid actuallybelieve there to have been a "Krishna of in of history" India's remote past.his followers became became the Bhagavat.thecelebratedRudolfOtto. worthy morerespect thelevelofliterature some Hindus were led in face of thisattackto defendthe historicity Krishna. interest an entirely different of of on level. external criticism made verylittle. But that of was hardly wherethe chiefemphasislay. the moralsof the youthful Krishnaaffected credibility the matureKrishna. in which on of he argued that the BG had begun life as a treatisein glorification Krishna.16There the greatproblemwas the relationship (assumingthere to have been one) betweenthe Krishnaof the BG and the Krishnaof the Puranas.Farquhar. theory Garbe had one otherdisciple.17 by as: called-somewhatover-confidently. of on thanon thatof religion.and in the Holy. Krishna (the pauranic Khajuraho sculptures.

1933. most curious of all westernBG essays. the the there is a strong prima facie case thatit was.a passionateGerman nationalist. counsellingaction and reflection circumstances fate caughtup in an inexorablecourse of eventsfromwhichhe cannot freehimself~the of karmaalmost (wyrd) whichtheGermanicsourceshad so muchto say.Although chiefAryan deitieswereThor and Odin. and Ρ or withtheGreat Homer Syndicate. but merely the instrument events in the world-process. on the otherhand.becomes nota destroyer of men.was bipolar:introspective character. In thisperspective. Gandhi. He was.had foundedtheDeutscheGlaubensbewegung German (the Faith Movement).He was perhapsright one of his instincts: on of thatthe BG has to be read first all in its epic context. both. comes to sound like a variant wyrd: of "The warrior who mustkill. and sometimesits tone is reminiscent Annie Besant (a deof esotericized AnnieBesant).. The greatest Aryan of heroes was certainly but Siegfried.therewas published. not an eternalguiltwhich". The BG relatesto on on as demand. And wheresuchgreatmatters concerned.one of the appearance of Otto's book in German. and his first encounter withtheBG had takenplace in a Theosophical 51 .was not actually a memberof the Nazi Party. Inevitably BG lost everysemblanceof unity the process.but in the year followingthe first likewisein German. Although might argued it be thatGandhi harldly the of belongswithin rangeof a survey western imagesof theBG. of course. The Aryan Hauer claimed. W. emendations. K. Hauer's Eine indo-arishche des Metaphysik und der Tat (An Indoof Kampfes AryanMetaphysic Battle and Action. an integral as partof the Mahãbhãrata. the fieldof Kurukshetra really w a battlefield whichblood flows. so too wereIndraand AgniAryangods. of comparisonwiththe worthy biblicalJ."21 of The warrior's revulsion havingto kill is. Gita "the callingThe Original reductio absurdwnof the Garbe school. non-Semitic). Krishna. that since 1920 the forefront the of political(and religious)scene in India had been occupied by M. thatGandhi in his turnopened up a channel through whichlater westerngenerationsacquired their image of the BG. But it is the world-process on that decrees that such shouldhappen.Franklin Edgertonwas onlyone of thosewho feltthatOtto oughtto have stuckto his theology."22 Arjuna. there are two things whichneed to be borne in mind:first. Hauer.J. D.the object of whichwas to unite all German nationalists a formof in whichwouldbe thoroughly the religion Aryan(thatis. are is things allegory notenough. Krishna is a warrior. Mention of allegoryremindsus.too. cannotbe atoned at for. the and remainder. and in 1933 he publishedthe resultas of pursuit could hardly a book whichappeared in Englishin 1939as The Original Gita."19And so perhapsit was. and in the previousyear. thereis no absolute reason whywe shouldargue thatGandhi's allegorical Although methodof interpreting BG could onlyhave been acquired from Theosophists.20 At timesHauer's BG essay reminds one of some of the Hindu nationalist literature of the pre-1910 period. It is merelya part of earthlyand human and necessity. Otto had applied to theBG the methodsof what one mightbe temptedto call the "vivisection schools" of biblical criticism. might qualifyforAryanheroic status.activeand energetic the other.1934).and secondly.E. dividing quotations. saysHauer. who had been a missionary India withthe liberal Basel Missionary in Society..reallyin warrior. thatGandhi's own BG interpretation had certainfeaturesin commonwiththatof the Theosophists. But havingestablishedthat he principle(which one oughtat least to take seriously). ran amok among the non-epic and subdividing textinto treatises.he avoid the study the BG. Gandhi seldom changedhis mindon any question of real importance. ad It may have been the merest coincidence. and "metaphysical" the one hand.emerging the in as a compositedocumentassembledbya seriesof committees.a man whose devotionto the BG could not possiblybe called in question.in otherwords.interpolations. but belongs to the temporal order.

might the use made of a couple of BG themesin one of T. Bazaz in his book The Role ofBhagavad Gita in Indian by (1975). theseyearstherewereat one extreme totalpacifists..and whichhas not yetlost all its force.the West was persuadedfrom to thistimeon-thankschiefly the greatweight Gandhi'sethicalpersonality-that BG was a scripture whichstoodclosestto the Sermon the on the Mount in pointof humanuniversality. S. beingtotally ignoredbya new generation and had no sense of history whatsoever. though. Gandhi had no moreimplacableenemythanAnnieBesant.whowas quite convincedthathe was controlled the "dark powers"of the universe. . . or of any otherscripture] nottruewhichconflicts is withTruth. it be (Having made the pointabout earlyTheosophical influence. Looking back in 1931. .On and of the whole. in the middle there were the to disenchantedand scared majority who wished to build ratherthan destroy. That.to be leftin peace to pursuetheirown interests. meaning possess whichknewno language save itsown meanwhile. and at the opposite extreme. or at least would deliverpublishablelectureson BG subjects. . by is anotherstory.he recordedthathe had feltinstinctively thattime at thatthe BG ". conciliate ratherthanconfront. N. It was more or less expected of every guru that he (or she) would produce a on commentary the BG. There is dangerforthe man who has failed to findahimsa in the scriptures. thatwave of neo-transcendentalism on the West in the 1960s and 1970s. by the Transcendentalists the mid-nineteenth and textualquestions. Eliot's Four Quartets (1944).the growingtendencyon the part of the to socialistmovement blame the influence the BG (or rather. whichtaughtthatnon-violence seemed and to be the genuineHindu view of the wayto resolveconflict the world."23 . the toughhistorical it might on the spiritual level. blame the social class to of whichhad made the mostuse of theBG) forthe sorry plightof modernIndia. might as well to add thatin lateryears.There it was read in a mannersomewhat of being skimmedfor whatever century. The MaharishiMahesh Yogi was able to persuade PenguinBooks to 52 .conventicle. ifpossible. describedthe duel that perpetually and the physical went on in the hearts of mankind.it was onlyto be expected thattheBG wouldassume a positionof some importance." The struggle whichthe BG describedin termsof dharmaappeared to Gandhi in the light of a struggle Truth-thatTruthwhichin Gandhi's mind was the positivepole of the for [of negativeahirhsaand whichwas also God.intellectually speaking..But in onlyone case (thatof the of International SocietyforKrishnaConsciousness)did itassume thedimension a genuinely books on the thisdespitethefactthattheBG was one of thecommonest holyscripture~and to similar thatfollowed counter-culture bookshelf. theothertherewere the at those who soughtpower at whatevercost to human life. So most of themdid. It is not that mention we thereis nothing more to reportfrom the 1930sand 1940s~forinstance. warfare in was brought merely make the description the internal to of duel more alluring. was not a historical it but thatunderthe guise of physicalwarfare.) Militarists of aside. therewere good reasons whyGandhi's interpretation the BG and shouldhave lefta deep markon the mindof the West duringthe war-weary twenties In thirties.. But I do not have time to followthese lines on this occasion. Let me History of insteadconsiderbriefly role of the BG in the counter-culture the 1960s and after. work. the followedHindu leaders and adopted Hindu To the extentthatthe counter-culture habitsof mind(or whatit believed were Hindu habitsof mind). Thus: "Thatinterpretation theBG. a viewlater elaboratedat greatlength P. in I must move now somewhatabruptly fromGandhi to the most recent period in which burst western intellectual and spiritual to history.

Denise Levertov was rightto suspect the Hare Krishna movementof being an "alternative fundamentalism.he was also slightly the BG's apparent endorsementof war. C."25 The "truedepth.ifindeed it was used at all. the canonical versionproduced by Swami A."28 Swami Prabhupada's commentary was far different: totally confident.though have nothad theopportunity to investigate use made fully of the BG in thattradition. Otherwisehe was more impressionistic than Krishnaconsciousnessas a possible antidoteto "an affirmation our of precise. I have seen it.) producedbythe Bhaktivedanta subsequently That the swami stood at the end of one branch of the Chaitanyatradition not is I the disputed. seems clear thatto the followers Chaitanya. 1968. Interestingly enough.thistoo first appeared under a commercialimprint. doubtlessas a directresultof the eventsof the turnof the did century. thatof Collier-Macmillan. This is of course The Bhagavad GitaAs It Is.. The Bible has been exchangedforthe BG. receptivemindof the devotee thanin containedin the text. since his own was in the line of "disciplic succession. even ventured criticizeits apparentunconcern of and to with questions of social justice."27 More restrained. He has both spoken and authorizedtheBG. but otherwise movement a mustremainin abeyance.26 by Ginsberg's endorsementrhapsodized about the Hare Krishna movementas "an ancient perfectly Denise Levertov preservedpiece of streetIndia. and of of uncompromising. articulate all Trappistmonksthroughout ages). having completedhiscommentary: "A new Scripturehas been born! Millions will findGod through this book. Thomas Merton felt (like practicallyall American intellectuals the 1960s) thatwestern in culture was spiritually and bankrupt hoped thatIndia the mediumof the BG might able to supply"theinnerdepth of an authentic be through disturbedat spiritual consciousness. Perhaps. presentedin the Gita he has added the magnificently The beautyof his expressionis so fascinating thatone is temptedto glide through text the to enrapturedby its poetry withouttrying grasp its true depth. one who studiestheBhagavad Gita has no need of anyother literaturewhatever." was farmorein the untrained infinitely but however.in thislatest flood of BG publicationsone has risenhead and shoulders above all othersin accessibility.Sri praised his master'sproduct: "To the transcendental Chinmoy. BG was at it of the first muchless important thantheBhagavata Purana.butthatis bythe way.. the way. perceptionof the eternal truths beautifultouch of the poet. Millions! I know."24A discipleof the United Nationsguru. It is also interesting it first that appeared suppliedwiththree"endorsements.welcoming own individualselfas ultimateand supreme. wondered whetherthe movementmightnot already be in danger of sliding into an alternative form fundamentalism. However. Not just thousands." Krishnais God.on six publishhis commentary the first books of theBG (thoughwhathappened to the rest is anyone'sguess)." Denise Levertov(both Americanpoets) and Thomas Merton(the most by Allen Ginsberg."29This assertion hardlysquared with the vast amount of "other literature" Book Trust. Bhaktivedanta his International for SocietyforKrishna Consciousness. anything However. ParamahansaYogananda announced. The BG inspires action. Thus: ". intolerant any interpretation the BG otherthanhis own." devotee is forbidden speculate. we therefore.indeed to do anything The to the is exceptobey. perfect parallel." thoughnot being a Theosophist. have here yetanotherinstanceof theBG havingacquired a typeof authority it originally not possess.a versionwhichI believe to be something a rarity in in of these days.but the criticalfaculties 53 . Later editionshave all excludedthese of the recommendations.

generally theyfollowedeithera Shankara or a the theybrokevery up tidying and reshaping Englishtext. BG communicates kindof energy. or flatters himself herself as to is The translator alwaysa traitor theoriginal. But apart from littlenew groundin pointof interpretation. deserveshave drawnattention. to Hinduism'smostconsistent interpreter theWestthiscentury. original.theymay lack the equipmentto investigate). essaysproduced it or since 1885. being in process of transfer politicians. It fulfils symbolic. thesocio-political. to those whose active understanding rudimentary-hence frantic the is distribution The of and criticalike. French. the of fora time in connectionwiththe counter-culture the late 1960s and early reemerged and 1970s. as a book on which speaking) to take an oath as well as a book to read and on whichto (metaphorically have late thattheBG might who meditate.role.And being strictly a in the even supernatural its origins.Zaehner.role the in the mindof the West. as to deservesa study himself). pattern technically and was from Emersonand Thoreau generation. How different theBG thenbecome whenithas been putintoEnglish. is the preciseequivalentof the thata translation. and perhaps also Radhakrishnan(who.the Bhaktivedanta or outsidethe circleof devotees. Where these venturedinto commentary. thenonly some to whentheyhad some especiallyradicaltheory propound. questionthenarises of whether occupies the same. Certainlythey produced new BG translationsand we commentariesat fairlyregular intervals. No one who has ever triedto translatea text(any text)ever howevergood. takenup bythe TheosophicalSociety.those of Hill. In thetwentieth to that influencewas very much on the wane. Ramanuja line. of how the western the We have seen during past century study (or at least contact the the transcendental. (In thisrespectit is made verylittlemeasurableimpression perhapscomparablewiththe Gideon Bible!) and Afterthese veryfewexamplesof BG versions.eitherbywesterners byHindusforwestern consumption. Bhagavad Gita As It Is to friend the in However. The Orientalists came intothe publiceye onlyat veryrare intervals. of aware of the constraints time involvedin having to work to a remainingpainfully deadline. commenorative Like the Bible and the Qur'an. well as beingin bondage to it. the BG is much more than the sum total of the as a teachingsit contains. economists.considering numberof copies thathave been distributed the West versionof the BG would seem to have over the past fifteen so years. does German. areaworkto be done on theBG is in the socio-political Wherethereremainsfresh have shownverymuchdesire nor transcendentalists orientalists intowhichneither territory to penetrateveryfar(and which. or some other. to the BG conformed one or more of threebroad patterns: with) drewon impulses The transcendental and orientalist. well as a didactic.indeed. thanit properly been givenmoreattention to thissymbolic role. I while Gîta io addressa fewrelevant in have attempted The Universal questionsof thisorder. In the nineteenth century moldersof publicopinionwith had been powerful century regardto India.and itsrelationship be of to whatin thecontext thiscongressmight appropriately describedas "Hinduidentity" (or perhapsHindutva).30 Given that the BG actuallydoes occupya symbolic positionin twentiety-century it Hindu faith. commentaries. 54 . The questionthenconcernshow it was acquired. Edgerton.to take only the English examples.and administrators. Those fewcommentators have dared to suggest albeit obliquely. is timeto attempt a summing up.mightmention.

But theirversions impressions.or or Japanese? Mightitnoteven be thecase thattheEnglishperson Americanreadingthe in western reactionsto the meanings BG in Englishmaybe setting motiona chainof purely be which observation of English words? It would.Indian English.have been to doctrine. in return. I verymuch like something Sri once said: "The West saysthatshe has something to Chinmoy special to offer the East: The New Testament. or (usually) unconsciously. But bridgesare generally the traffic.all things thoughthisis notbyanymeansto denythevery greatinfluence it has exercisedon a small numberof "seekersand scholars. as it has served twentieth-century sometimes theexclusionof all else. 55 . capable of carrying two-way flowof the teachingis able to pass in eitherdirection.theEnglishofWilkins of neither which different the translated text. foolishto pretendotherwisehermeneutics to also indicatesa vastproblemofintercultural waiting occupythe incidentally curiousand perhapsalso to swallowup theunwary.then. BGs as there And in another. as a briefcompendiumof Hindu well.almostas many as therehave been translations.on theotherhand. its since by thismeans the West mayhave acquired the image of altogether Hinduismas a system a no capable of being encapsulatedwithin scripture more than 700 versesin length.has createdmanyimagesof theBG." unawares. there is a problem as between different periods English. relatedsense. post-Kaiser.Not onlyis therea problemas between kindsof English (English Sanskritand English. impact consideredgreat. post-Hitler periods in western The direct of the BG on western consciousnesshas not been very history. And that. the BG has been a bridge betweenEast and West. was on the appearance of Charles Wilkins'BG translation 1785 that it in all "Hinduism. without risks. the by consciously centralrole the BG came to occupyin the religio-political Hindu revival."31 (and leaving aside the meaning of the New Testament to India).took its first step towardsits presentidentity. They do not~at least not in and post-Kennedy comparisonwiththe post-Napoleon. have been precipitatedfirst and foremost.AmericanEnglish) and betweenthe Englishof different and thatof Zaehner). In an important sense. conveytotally therehave been as manyBGs is thatof the originaltext. The East accepts the offer withdeepest gratitude and offers greatest her Put somewhatdifferently pride. Two hundredyears afterWilkins. it might be claimed without too much thatwhatever the mindover the past exaggeration impression BG has made on the western two centuries.we would be unwise to claim that BG images currently occupythe westernmindto anyappreciable extent. This maynot. In the twentieth these century.therefore. Wilkins and Zaehner have both (between. In the last resorttheBG is not onlywhatits textsays:it is whatcenturies readers of have believed it to say. The last twoof thosecenturies have seen theBG transplanted from one context(or series of contexts)to another." But it has servedthe West Hinduismwell. The West. But thatSwami Vivekanandawould have been delightedat thisoutcome goes more or less without saying.clearly. the Bhagavad Gita. have been identifiable groupsof readers.I think.say. an eventworth is commemorating. In this sense.

265. New Religions (Stockholm. Besant. August 1985.see Sharpe.Hintson theStudy theBhagavad Gita (Benares and London. 9. 1918). Since thispaper is so verylargely summary The Universal Gîta (London. 16. 1906). in Official British India's estimateof Tilak is expressedfairly typically Chirol. respectively.1975). 1983). or Wilkins. of interpretation scriptureis a hermeneutical of with writings Emanuel Swedenborg. 8. The Bhagvat-Geëta. 14. 6. of of and the study missionaries For a more detailed account. in 1970). things)made it possible forEuropeans in India to be triedby Indian-born Cited in McLane.)." in International . a of Part Two 1885-1985(pp. The Theosophist (August 1883).. 1910). 55-69. 155-59. pp. whatfollowsI shall merely identify sourcesof direct notes. 15-28.withNotes (London. Allegory in the method of vast age and subtlety.in themodern period. p. 56. 37-63. 3. the However.Therefore."in Biezais (ed. Dialogues of Kreeshnaand Arjoon. 2.titled Library (Pondicherry. Ontario. The PoliticalAwakening India (Englewood Cliffs. of Cf. 65-85. pp. 1973). "Avatäraand Sakti: Traditiona.NOTES 1. especially allegoryverymuchtheirown method. pp. Noteson theStudy theBhagavad Gita (Los Angeles. pp. Traditions Contactand Change(Waterloo. This was of course not just a Theosophical eccentricity. of Judge. Pal. 5. Sharpe.Symbolsin the Hindu Renaissance.therewillbe littlepointin supplying running page in the references. 1985). "Protestant Research 6/4 (October Bulletin Missionary the Bhagavad Gita. Memories myLife and Times(Calcutta. quotationsand add a veryfewexplanatory measure which(among other The Ilbert Bill of 1883 was a minoradministrative judges. Ibid.p. 15. pp.beginning various types of theosophymade The True Christian Religion(1771). 56 .). 4. of 1982).meeting Sydney. A paper deliveredat the XVth Congressof the International Associationforthe in in of Australia. 31. 12. 11. p. 13. 65-175). 1785). in Publishedin Slater and Wiebe (eds.Indian Unrest (London. two volumes of the Sri Aurobindo These writings have been collected in the first Bande Mataramand Karmayogin BirthCentenary 1972). 345. 10. in Eighteen Lectures. 7. p. History Religions.

20. Eine indo-arische Metaphsik Kampfes 1934). p. however. 10.. The BG "as it is"in 1985 is not quite the in BG "as it was" in 1968. suchequations equally "original perhapseven "pure" are now made onlyon the lunaticfringe.The factremainsthatthe Aryanmyth left some not unimportant traces on the studyof religion.Almond. 29. xv.and these might well repaycloser investigation. As far as I am aware. ClearlyI am not as usingit in thatsense here. 30." coined in the 1920s as a term was expressiveof the religiousand culturalideals of the Hindu right. Commentary theBhagavad Gita (Blauvelt. especiallyin the 1930s. Hastings(ed. 25. A on Chinmoy.Vol. 1983)."Rudolf Otto: Life and Work. 305-21.The Path (Nevada City. merely a convenient equivalentof "Hinduidentity. 2 (Edinburgh." Journal Religious 12/3(June of History. The Bhagavad Gita As It Is shouldbe examinedin the lightof changes made to its textand commentary successiveeditions. 57 . Kriyananda. 135.. 22.p. 22."Hindu-ness. Hauer. Edgerton. 1977).. 1950)." p. p. viif. Ibid. 27. in Cf.argued that languages linguistic.Hindu Dharma (Allahabad. pp.and thisis farmore thana questionof endorsements and art work. des und der Tat (Stuttgart. EncyclopaediaofReligionand Ethics. originally musthave someone to speak them. 26. 1968 edition. p. and "Aryan" were Occasionallyone mustforceoneselfto recallthat"Indo-European" and not racial terms.and thatan "original" language presupposesan "--and -racial stock. Ibid. 23.1909). 14f. 40.NY. Gandhi. Hindutva. 18. It was.CA. 28. p. 19.p. 1973). Chinmoy.). Ibid. p. 21.in Reviewof Religion(May 1940). Fortunately. 403. 31. 24.17. 448. p. 53551. Ibid.