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Advaita for the 21st Century

Recommended Reading
Bhagavad Gita

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There are many different translations and commentaries on this classic work, where 'many' = tens if not hundreds. Some merely translate the Sanskrit, with varying degrees of accuracy and artistic licence. Others provide several pages of commentary on each verse. I have only 9 different versions so it is perfectly possible that many of those I have not seen are excellent.

   
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The most authoritative versions are those which include all of Shankara's commentaries - this one is translated by Alladi Mahadeva Sastry. Unfortunately, though undoubtedly authoritative, they are not the most readable. (Buy US or UK)

   

This one also contains Shankara's commentary, with the translation by Swami Gambhirananda. I'm bound to say that I prefer this version because each verse is translated phrase by phrase and I find that particularly useful. The paper and printing quality is also better. For the serious student, this is probably the one I would most recommend. (Buy US or UK).

   
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Swami Dayananda has written 'The teaching of the Bhagavad Gita'. This is really using the Gita to present an overview of Advaita and it gives verses as illustrations rather than covering the entire book, verse by verse. It is, nevertheless, a very good book and I can thoroughly recommend it. (Indeed, anything by Swami Dayananda can be recommended.) He also provides a study course on the Gita, using extensive notes, which are excellent (available from this site).
(Buy US or UK)

   
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Winthrop Sargeant has a version without Commentary, which has both original and Romanised Sanskrit, together with the meaning and grammar for each word. A number of pages may be read at Amazon.com. (Buy US or UK)

   
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Swami Chinmayananda has a voluminous edition published by Chinmaya Publications. Unfortunately, I have not yet read this so cannot make any positive statements. It looks likely to be very good, albeit possibly a little verbose. It does suffer from a slight drawback in not having the original Sanskrit presentation of each verse. This is also available for free download - see Free Books.

   

A supremely readable commentary for the modern reader is “The Living Gita” by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Strictly speaking, this is Yoga rather than Advaita but that really does not matter - it is full of clearly expressed wisdom. If you want to discover the essential message of the Gita and its relevance to modern life (and enjoy the reading experience too) this is definitely the book you should get. (Buy US or UK)

   
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For a modern treatment, I can recommend this version from Alan Jacobs. It is not a straight translation - the title is 'The Bhagavad Gita: A Poetic Transcreation' - and the verses themselves are updated into a modern, yet evocative free-verse form. Much more than this, however, Alan has biased the wording towards a clearer Advaitic expression. And he has provided a commentary which draws upon his extensive experience of Advaita and incorporates valuable quotations and observations from others, such as Ramana Maharshi and Ramesh Balsekar. Extremely readable, too!
(Buy US or UK)

Read an excerpt here on the subject of reincarnation.

   
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If I had to choose just one version, I would probably pick the version with commentary by Swami Chidbhavananda. Each verse is given in Devanagari, followed by Romanised Sanskrit and then a word for word translation. A full commentary is then given, often using excellent metaphors. Frequently, relevant quotations from Sri Ramakrishna are then presented. This was reprinted in 2008 and is available from Amazon UK but not, apparently US. It is also available from Exotic India.

   

Live Happily: The Gita Way by V. Krishnamurthy

There are very many commentaries on and interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita - I myself already had 11 versions and this is barely scratching the surface. So why, you may ask, is there any need for another one? Well, I can definitely say that I haven't previously encountered one quite like this. Its title declares its intention and the content admirably realizes it.

This is not a verse by verse commentary either. It is divided into 13 (+1) chapters, with each addressing a different aspect of the teaching. Yet, within each topic, Professor Krishnamurthy seamlessly embeds verses from throughout the Gita as naturally as if he had written them himself. Only someone with intimate knowledge of the entire text and a deep understanding of the meaning could possibly do this and it is achieved effortlessly. The verses themselves are given in footnotes (in Romanized Sanskrit), where they have been used so that there is no distraction from the flow of the main text. Other quotations from various Upanishads and other scriptures are also included where appropriate to add emphasis to the points.

Above all, this is a practical approach and an excellent introduction to Vedanta. But there is no attempt to 'dumb down' any of the more difficult aspects either, with correct Sanskrit terms being introduced and explained when it is natural to do so. At one point there is even an extended footnote that explains who many of the famous names in Vedanta are. This is a very useful reference that I have not seen anywhere else.

Key points are summarized in diagrammatic form. This is also a unique departure, as far as I am aware. I am not convinced that it works very well as far as showing meaningful links between concepts is concerned but it is certainly useful as an aide memoir.

As a very significant bonus, the final chapter presents a dialog between a teacher and disciple, which explains the entire philosophy of advaita in easily assimilable form.

Overall, a very readable and informative presentation of the invaluable message of the Gita, highly recommended for newcomers and experienced students alike.

This is not yet available for purchase from Amazon but can be bought at abebooks in the US or direct from Manohar Publishers in India.

   
Om Vedanta Spiritual Library

Bhagvad-Gita: Treatise of Self-Help, Verses in Contemporary Idiom Sans Interpolations by B S Murthy is available from the Vedanta Spiritual Library. This beautiful rendition seeks to restore to the Gita its original character by ridding it of 110 interpolations, which tend to keep the skeptics away, and yet ironically these muddle the understanding as well. In the theatre of man, nothing surpasses the drama of war, and so the stage for unveiling the Gita's unrivalled philosophy was set on the battleground of Kurukshetra at the threshold of the battle of Mahabharata.

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Page last updated: 09-Jul-2012