Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig.

This week we have the special privilege of welcoming Graham Schweig to Gita Talk.

For those who don’t already know about Graham Schweig, he is one of the world’s leading Gita and Sanskrit scholars. His 2007 translation and commentary, Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, is considered by many to be the new standard. I always have it by my side for the next level of commentary, and I refer to it frequently for Gita Talk.

If you have been following Gita Talk, you also know Graham for this video from his website Graham Schweig’s Rapturous Vision of the Gita, produced by his associate Catherine Ghosh. There are bios and many other interesting things at The Secret Yoga.

Here are Graham’s questions for you to get the conversation rolling:

“What has been the most difficult thing for you in understanding the teachings or narrative of the Bhagavad Gita? What philosophical or theological or existential questions do any of you have regarding any aspect of the Gita?

I would truly love to hear these challenges and invite you to post them on this blog. If you do, I would offer a response to any and every question. I would like to learn from you!”

Even though we are only about a third of way through the Gita, most of the major themes have already been introduced, so now is a great time to pause, take stock of where we’ve been so far, and polish off our understanding by asking our toughest questions to Graham Schweig.

Please join me in welcoming Graham to Gita Talk.


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176 replies on “Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig.”

Here is a dialog I started with Graham at "Top 10 Reasons to Read the Bhagavad Gita" which I wanted to carry over to this blog:

Bob Weisenberg
Hi, Graham. … a question I'd like to ask is how do you personally define the word "God" and how does your definition differ from Mitchell's?

Graham M Schweig
…Your question about "God." Do you know that there is no word in Sanskrit that is equivalent to "God"? And thus, you will not find in any of my verses the employment of the word. About 82 per cent of Americans think of God as the creator of the world. And coming from the Semitic or Abrahamic traditions, this is understandable. However, creation in Indian traditions is not nearly as big a deal; it is subcontracted out by the higher notion of Ishvara, or the Supreme Being. The word Brahman means "absolute spirit" or "ultimate reality", and Bhagavan, as I've translated it means, "Beloved Lord," or more specifically, "the One who possesses all Excellences in Full". So, without knowing Mitchell's use of the word God, I can tell you that the Bhagavad Gita really doesn't employ the word! How's that for a provocative response? Happy to respond further if you like . . . just keep pushing me until you get what you need. 🙂

Bob Weisenberg
I kind of know how the Gita defines Brahman, which is what I mean when I use the word "God". Defining Brahman, it seems to me, is the primary subject of the Gita. I'm more interested in how you personally define God, or, if you prefer, how you define "Beloved Lord".

It seems to me that calling Brahman "the One" or "the Lord" is already an extreme form of metaphor, as is, then, everything the Gita has the Lord saying. The question I'm interested in is how do you personally define the reality of Brahman behind this metaphor of a someone who speaks to us just as if he or she were a person?

Graham M Schweig
I have a few minutes, so I'll take your first point. But before I do, I'll comment briefly on the "Love" aspect of the Gita. As I explain toward the end of the Textual Illuminations portion of the book, these verses are saturated with divine affection for souls. When I began my journey into translating the text, I searched for the verses in the text that tell us, the reader, how it wants us to understand its words. I sought out that one verse in which I could discover the very hermeneutic embedded in the text for illuminating every other verse in the text. This verse I reveal in Textual Illuminations.

A question from Kaoverii from the previous blog:

Wow! I'm so thrilled that you are here commenting Professor Schweig. And thanks for the offer – I'd love to ply you with questions! I was attracted to your commentary on the Gita frankly because of all the "Love" in the title and it's my current translation of choice. I use the epistemological paradigm you quote in the intro, which Krishna sets out in chapter 4 – pranipatena, pariprashnena, sevaya – as a framework for my yoga teacher training program. I think it's interesting that you translate pariprashna as "thorough inquiry" as previously I've heard it only as "asking the right questions." So I'd love it if you could write about that.

One other question, maybe even larger and broader, if you'd be willing to talk about the relevance/importance of Krishna in his Vraja vs Parthasarathi roles, I would love to read your thoughts on that.

And I have heaps more questions but I'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much!!!

Now some thoughts on Chapter 4, Verse 34. Let's use this opportunity to compare my translation with Steven Mitchell's rendition. First, here's Mitchell's:

Find a wise teacher, honor him,
ask him your questions, serve him;
someone who has seen the truth
will guide you on the path to wisdom.

While I appreciate much of what I think Mitchell is trying to do in his presentation in general, I have to say that there are problems with his rendition. First, the verse does not have the Sanskrit for "Wise teacher." Second, why is this wise teacher a “him”? There have been many instances of female teachers and masters, and there is no particular gender emphasis found in the verse (more on gender in Sanskrit later). Third, Mitchell says, “someone who has seen the truth” is basically correct, but it is not merely “someone” in the singular, but it is a “they” that is presented here very clearly. And fourth, excluded from such persons in this rendition is that they are “knowers” (jnaninas) as well as “seers” (again, note the plural form of the noun) of the truth. And yet a fifth issue: Mitchell says, "Find a teacher". Well, we dealt with the word "teacher" above, because it is not there in the verse. But neither is the word "find." The imperative verb of "to learn" or "to know" from the root /vid is what is immediately encountered as the second word of the verse, and thus should read, "Know this," or "Learn this." Here is my translation:

Learn this
by humble submission,
by thorough inquiry,
and by serving.
They will impart
this knowledge to you,
for they are knowers
and seers of the truth.

In my translation, please note that the ordering of the words here in English matches that of the sequencing of the Sanskrit in the original verse. Note that it is gender neutral, which conveys the feel of the original. It is a truly beautiful verse in the original, and why should the English reader be deprived of the way it feels when reading it in the original Sanskrit, especially if it is possible to convey some of this?

But accuracy is essential. Three things are recommended here in a relationship with teachers or masters who instruct us (upadeksha) with or impart knowledge to us as knowers and seers of the nature of reality (tattva). Here again, the inaccuracy of Mitchell’s translation shines through: he makes these three actions in relation to teachers with the active imperative voice when actually they are nouns in the instrumental case! That is to say, “by means of . . .” pranipata, pariprashna, and seva (the different endings of these Sanskrit words are the inflections of the instrumental, giving the preposition of “by means of”). Pranipata literally means “the act of falling (pata) down (ni) in front of (pra-) (such a one),” which Mitchell puts together as merely “honor.” My translation transmits more of the sense as “humble submission.” Pariprashna means literally “inquiry (prashna) that is thorough (pari, or literally “all around”). Do you see how these words, if you know Sanskrit, are loaded up with far more than what is often delivered by simplistic translations, not just in Mitchell, but in far too many editions, shorshrifting the Gita’s treasures? Seva of course means “service,” but it does so in the sense of devotedness, or a loving attendance.

All for now! More for later!

Graham <a href="” target=”_blank”>


Thanks for pointing out the inaccuracies in the Mitchell translation. Given that you have your own painstaking translation of the Gita, it is kind of you to sort through some the differences in the two texts. I think Mitchell probably should have followed suit as he did in his Tao Te Ching and acknowledge his Gita as a new "version" (as in poetically inspired) rather than a "translation."

Troubling to me is complete omission of your "thorough inquiry" in Mitchell's version of the verse above.

Still, I am grateful that Mitchell's text has provided a context for this discussion. I will have to obtain a copy of your Gita to help weed out further inaccuracies!


I would like to point out that Mitchell anticipated this criticism, to the extent that he wrote a long defense of his methods in "About the Translation", pages 31-35.

More importantly, though, Mitchell's translation decisions, as Graham points out himself, reflect the opinion and translations of other prominent Gita scholars. So any disagreements are really between Graham and other Gita scholars, not so much between Graham and Mitchell.

In further defense of Mitchell, I will say that I have been reading the two versions side-by-side for months now, and while I'm sure Graham is absolutely correct about the fine points of the Sanskrit, and while Graham's version is always more expansive, complete, and well-documented, I have, at my level of understanding, never felt the essential meaning was different between the two versions. At my level of reading they seem quite consistent with one another.

I love them both.

Bob Weisenberg

Hi Bob,

I read Mitchell's anticipated defense (and it should have been anticipated following criticisms of his Tao Te Ching). I don't begrudge Mitchell for his version of the Gita and I think it does have its merits. I am enjoying it.

I think it is fair to say, however, that some of us are happy with versions that get "the gist" (or geist) of the original and others prefer more accuracy. It probably just boils down to personal preferences.

As a reader I appropriate texts through my own personal and cultural lens. Naturally, that lens is bound to filter out some cultural details and meaning in the act of appropriation. Because of this, I appreciate texts that are more exhaustive and detailed (providing that exhaustiveness doesn't exhaust the poetry!).

After all, I can lose enough detail through my own lens; I don't need the assistance of a translator's liberties. Whether or not Mitchell's liberties seem excessive or not probably boil down to the reader's preferences and goals.

But anyway, back to the Gita itself . . .


Point of information. Mitchell never called his Tao Te Ching a translation. He accurately called it an "adaptation". And he openly filled in the blanks with his own poetry.

The Gita, in contrast, IS a translation, based mostly on other highly respected translations, but tailored somewhat for the average reader like me.

I love both the Mitchell and the Schweig versions. They are both wonderful.

Bob and Matt!

How I appreciate your discussion. One thing for you, Bob. I am unsure that we can really call Mitchell's work a "translation" in any strict sense of the term, since he is doing the cafeteria style picking and choosing from other Gita translations. When I read certain verses in his, I can just hear echoing Edgerton, or hear Zaehner, or hear Sargeant, etc., depending upon what translation he's been leaning on the most. There is not a consistent and true translation style because his renditions of the verses are not derivative of the original, nor is he philosophically consistent as well.

All this said, and despite the overly heavy male-gendered "the man who does this" sort of stuff, Mitchell does process the Gita for certain modern readers that I would say may fall into the category of "new age," and perhaps some others as well.

What is important here, is that one knows what kind of approach one takes, and Mitchell, as you say, Bob, declares this, despite the fact that the word "translation" appears on the front of his book. My very simple point is that it is really hard to translate from one language to another if you don't know the original foreign language from which one is translating!

And just to make sure that I've made this clear, each one of us, truly, needs to connect with what really does make sense to us at a particular time, at a particular phase in our development along the way. My translation may not appeal to some, and really appeal to others. Or, as Bob does, he reads them both together and finds that enriching. I've heard of many people doing this. My translation was used up in a course at Harvard (my ole stomping grounds) and it was assigned along with another translation! So there you have it! But I try to give the reader, at the very least, the security of a very solid, accurate and tightly connected translation to the original such I like to think that I have often reincarnated, not just translated, the text. I do in translation what the original does in Sanskrit, as much as possible, and my word translations, for the most part, are consistent throughout. This last point allows me to generate a 24 page index to the verses in the back of the book, which is really not possible if one does not have a consistent translation.


Let me attempt again to post my response to this first marvelous subject that you bring up: the loving relation implied in the translation of Gita as "Secret Love Song," and the loving relation implied in Chapter 4, Verse 34, that speaks about our relationship with spiritual teachers, or as the verse states, "knowers and seers of tattva (truth, reality, or literally "that-ness").

The word gita in Sanskrit most directly and simple means "song." What's interesting about having it in the title of this work is that the verses of the BG are certainly not in any lyrical song form; the verses are about 700 philosophical verses. So then we may ask, how is the BG a "song"? As I state in the book, it is indeed literally as the title states, it is a "song of Bhagavan." Then, we might ask, what constitutes Bhagavan Sri Krishna's song? He's clearly not singing to Arjuna, so where is Krishna's song? This song of Krishna is what is issuing out from the heart of the divine, secretly, and lovingly. Why is it then a "secret"? The universe is ultimately a loving manifestation, the BG expresses, embracing us all. And the divine dwells within our hearts for an eternity until we're ready to return the divine embrace. It is "secret" that the divine so loves us because there is no force, or pressure, or threat for us to love the divine; LOVE MUST COME FROM US OF ITS OWN ACCORD, AS LOVE CANNOT BE FORCED! So Krishna's love is secret because we're not ready to hear it. When we are, the BG tacitly expresses in many ways, we will be completely immersed in that divine love. This love is "the greatest secret of all," Krishna states in the concluding verses of the BG. And, from my point of view, it is so secret that it is rarely brought out in translations and interpretations of the work.

I'm going to post this now, and then write another post on BG 4.34.


Hi Professor Schweig,

I'm getting lost in all the comments here as I'm sure you have been, so I hope you can find this. Thank you for taking the time to answer here. It's truly an honor to have you on board – and thanks to you Bob for making this happen.

His love is secret, but he reveals it to Arjuna. That's what I love about the Gita, we get in on the juiciness of it all.

And I agree that love is rarely brought out in translations (which is why I was so happy to find yours) especially English translations – perhaps because our culture is somewhat averse to anything devotional – hence the ease with which we've incorporated Buddhism. But considering how God has been used to justify so much violence it's understandable that westerners don't really know what to do with it.

As for love not being forced, I agree. But I also have to say that while Krishna's love might be secret, the meaning of Krishna as "The one who attracts all" kind of lets the cat out of the bag. It's not just a matter of being in on the secret. Ultimately, Krishna is irresistible. Namami Krishnasundaram.

You know? I go by many names. At the university I'm called "Dr. Schweig," "Professor Schweig," and perhaps some students call me by other names of which I am unaware (thank goodness . . . LOL). And while I have a Sanskrit name as well, here please feel free to just call me "GRAHAM." But whatever is comfortable for you.

That said, thank you so much for sharing the above comment. Means a lot to me. Your reflections inspire me to say more! (Be careful . . . )

The idea of a divine secret. Anything is a secret not just FROM whom, but also FOR whom! We who are aspiring for spiritual elevation, who aspire to divine realms and orientations, desire, YES, DESIRE to be transferred from the state of the secret FROM to the state of the secret FOR. Krishna's secret love is waiting FOR those souls who are ready for that divine Love. Krishna waits an eternity. Krishna does not threaten us that if we don't love him that we will go to hell for all eternity. Indeed, Krishna throughout much of the Gītā urges souls to pursue various paths, if they like, that are not going to immediately bring them to the divine heart directly. But that itself is an expression of the divine compassion and selfless unconditional love that is first found in the divine that is waiting for reciprocation.

So Krishna's Love IS secret, so as to not treat it cheaply, so as to not release it too early. All relationships require an intrinsic BALANCE. Have you ever had a relationship with someone where they liked you more than you liked them? Such a relationship cannot grow; indeed, such a relationship risks deterioration. So Krishna creates the balance. He's in our hearts, but he remains aloof, withholding the passion and yearning for ours. But as soon as we're ready, as soon as we just turn even slightly in his direction, that divine yearning and affection floods our hearts to the point of overflowing even into the hearts of others!!!

I could go on and on about this special love coming from the center of the divine. But I want to be careful not to overwhelm this blog!!!


Hi, Graham. I will never be able to thank you enough for all the energy, enthusiasm, knowledge and sensitivity you have brought to this discussion. Thank you.

If you still have interest in a little more, I'd like to ask you to go back up and comment further on our very first exchange at the top of the page, the one in which I ask you about the true nature of God or "Brahman". You started to answer but ran out of time.

what riches to be found here in these comments and questions! how fortunate we are to be able to share in this way – pranams to everyone.

This divine compassion and selfless unconditional love you speak of seems to form the very river these teachings flow upon… without ego, without grasping… so beautiful. It is the river that sings… I can see why parallels are drawn between our own teachers or gurus and Krishna himself.

I guess from the perspective of the bhakti, it's hard to see that my own individual actions have too much to do with my devotion. To me, it feels very personally like a tsunami of love swirls around me and my only choice is to let go and swirl in it. So that's why I say Krishna is irresistible. There's no use fighting it, the force is overwhelmingly blissful. But I do appreciate your point about being ready for it.

From your translation:

This is not to be spoken
by you at any time
to one who is
without discipline,
nor to one who
does not offer one's love,

Nor to one who hears
yet has no desire to follow,
nor to one who is
envious of me.

I totally get why the Hare Krishna's were dancing around airports in the 70s. They couldn't control themselves. But without that self-control we risk abusing or obliterating that which is most sacred in our hearts. Because everyone else walked past them like WTF? Must be crazy brainwashed cult followers. In India you can get away with it, not so much here.

Other meanings of Krishna I love are "Black" – as in the color that absorbs everything, which throws on it's head the western metaphor of black as something sinister or evil. And also "The one upon who's existence my is contingent." I only exist because He does.

BTW, I'm not a Vaishnavite officially – but I do get pretty swoon-y when it comes to Krishna. I think the Sanskrit I heard once is Hari Pari Mandala Ghosti. The circle of devotees dancing blissfully around Krishna, the cosmic nucleus. Okay, I gotta go sing!!!

The PS ("plain and simple") response to the issue of Krishna as Vraja Krishna (Krishna in the paradisal pastoral realm of Vraja) and Parthasarathi (or Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna known as Partha or "the son of Pritha") would have to do with a matter of relationship. You see, there are five types of relationships possible with the divine, according to medieval Indian philosophers (and this I discuss at length in my book published by Princeton University Press, DANCE OF DIVINE LOVE: INDIA'S CLASSIC SACRED LOVE STORY: THE RASA LILA OF KRISHNA (2005).

Trying to discipline myself here (and I can go into this in more depth with an LC response later), I'll just say the primary difference is this: Krishna in Vraja facilitates intimate Bhakti relationships of mutuality in companionship or friendship, or even more intimate as the nurturing and caring relationship that parents have with children, or even most intimate as the passionate love that lovers have for a beloved. Krishna in relation to Arjuna is of the first, intimate companionship. Vraja is famous for the relationship between Krishna and his most beloved Radha and the beautiful cowherd maidens of Vraja.

All for now. More for later!

Yes thanks for this and I'll check out your book. That makes sense that the difference has to do with relationships. Are the five relationships: mother, father, sibling, lover and child? The ones in the popular tvameva mata chapita tvameva… shloka?

The five relationships are the following:

1) Śānta Bhāva: passive awe and reverence as a subject with an emperor;
2) Dāsya Bhāva: active submissive serving as a servant to a master;
3) Sākhya Bhāva: mutual affection of companionship as a friend to a friend;
4) Vātsalya Bhāva: the nurturing and caring affection that a parent has for a child;
5) Śṛṇgāra Bhāva: the passionate and total love that a lover has for the beloved.

I'm currently completing my book for Columbia University Press, entitled, THE BHAKTI SUTRA: NĀRADA'S CONCISE TEACHINGS ON DIVINE LOVE. Therein one can find eleven types of "perfect love."


Thank you for your beautiful replies! This forum has led me to some really beautiful meditations lately so I can't express enough my gratitude.

So these five are from the Bhakti Sutra as opposed to the Gita? I'm looking forward to your book!

How do we in the post-modern world deal with "subject to emperor" and "servant to master" (I have no personal experience with an emperor, except maybe Dick Cheney and I'm not feeling terribly inclined to apply Śānta Bhāva to him)? I think I get the passive awe and reverence part. It's just a little jarring to read antiquated, loaded words like "master" and "emporer". Perhaps that's why Americans recoil so much around guru-student relationships.

(Graham has been having some technical problems posting, so I'm post his reply for him:)

Dear Friends! (Response to Svan’s question)

Thanks for your question. Now, I will always have two ways for responding here in this blog: the first more common way is the "PS" (plain and simple), and the second way is "LC" (longer and complex) when more detail is required or requested. Let's try the PS response here.

I will first suggest that we eliminate from the discussion the bodhi-chitta of Buddhism, since it is really operating in a very different system than that of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra. So if we simply look at the notion of Bhakti Yoga and what I would call Pranidhana Yoga, we have a fascinating juxtaposition of ideas that are essentially the same animal but expressed differently or describing the animal from different angles.

Bhakti is that greatest state of existence, that ultimate intimacy and oneness that the eternal self can attain within the heart (Bhagavan) of the very core (Purusha) of the ALL, the Everything (Brahman), the divine.

Ishvara Pranidhana is that process of moving (pra-) deeply (-ni-) within the core of one’s being (-dhana) (typically translated simplistically as “dedication”) in order to discover Ishvara, the innermost and outermost dimensions of the divine (typically translated simplistically as “God”).

Okay. Above we’ve got a somewhat protracted PS. Below, let’s do some LC:

The essential dynamic process within Yoga involves moving from the “outer world of conflict and suffering” into the “inner world of the eternal self and transcendence” and then finally into the “innermost world of the heart” where one discovers the intimate presence of the divine, the essence of ultimate reality. Very mystical. And moving ever inward through the eight limbs of Yoga (Patanjali) and then back out into the world spiritually transformed is examplified by Arjuna as Krishna guides him to find that ultimate union in Bhakti (Bhagavad Gita). In short, Ishvara Pranidhana moves ever more deeply into Bhakti Yoga.

The word Bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root /bhaj with two essential verbal meanings that are significant for our purposes here: "to divide" and "to share." Bhakti is that process by which the true self is ontologically distinguishable from the divine (as in "division") and yet is totally one with the divine (as in intimate "sharing"). It is to become close to the divine, to the highest essence of the the ALL, the everything. It is to hear the voice of divinity speaking out from the center of everything. It is the voice of Krishna, from whom, it is said in the Gita, all manifestations of the divine come, manifestations that embrace all of reality from the inside and from the outside. Bhakti, as I translate it in my presentation of the Bhagavad Gita is, "the offering of all one's heart to the Divine Beloved." Bhakti is that nexus of relationships that consist of the constituent parts of Bhagavat, "the Beloved Divinity," the Bhakta, "the one who offers all one's love," and the Bhajana, "the love that is offered." So what we mean by Bhakti is a certain ultimate arrangement of relationships between souls with the supreme soul.

Hope all this is not too much!


Graham, it is wonderful to have you here and many thanks to you for your time and to Bob for making it possible.

And thank you so much for your very generous and thoughtful multi-layered reply. You have given me much to contemplate… but not *too* much!

I know you have other questions here to answer first, but I would love to hear more about your process with the text itself. Maybe you could use one verse to talk us through your approach to meditating on it and how you worked with the Sanskrit? Please forgive me if I'm asking too much — my thanks again! -s


Thanks to you, for your wonderful inquiries. And it is not too much for me, be assured. Your interest in my process of translation and issues arising in this task will and have already been woven in and through my responses to almost every question responded to here in this blog. So while I will withhold and restrain myself from the temptation to get into this marvelous focus, I can, in the meantime, refer you to my five pages or so in the back of my HarperOne translation of the BG entitled, "On This Translation" (pages 326-333). Also, there is an Integral Yoga Magazine interview article I did once that talks about my approach and challenges in translation. Perhaps I can post it here? Bob?

Graham <a href="” target=”_blank”>

Thank you Graham & Bob for the link to the article – I'll be ordering a copy of your BG as well.

Ceci, thanks for your comment on Bodhicitta. My original question sprang from a nagging sense that the practices of Bhakti, Bodhicitta and Ishvarapranidhana may differ, but that they all point to the same experience… love without an object… or perhaps more accurately, love without separation… I want to explore the difference and commonality among them but I'm totally out of my depth, which is why this discussion is so helpful. Carry on, wise ones!


I so admire your quest here: what is the nature of LOVE in these different traditions, and how do we appreciate what's going on in these visions? But I just lost a whole post for you, and now I'm going to try to reconstruct it. There are endless thoughts on the subject. But let me just get right to the essential points:

1) It is difficult to say "they all point to the same experience." I think these traditions DO point to an ultimate LOVE, but they do so in uniquely wonderful ways that are probably worth "sharing" rather than merely "comparing."

2) Love without an object: is it possible? There is the lover, the beloved, and the love between them–this is the structure and constituent components of any or all love. In one sense, yes, there is no object, because every beloved is the subject who loves a beloved! Love is the highest value, but the nature of that love is often determined by the person to whom that love is offered. We know that the love for a child is different than that offered to a beloved spouse. Love has many shades, many ways. It also can be conditional, unconditional, and passive. This is a very big subject! In the BG, Krishna is "the object" of love, which determines the kind of love and the heights to which love can be taken. Purity of love is one thing; intensity of love is quite another. More on all this later, as the BG reveals so much about the nature of love in Krishna's example of loving souls unconditionally and most passionately and compassionately!

3) There is love and beauty in this world, according to the BG. In Buddhism, it is often the case that the vision of this world is very acutely one of suffering . . . so much to say on this, but no time. But in the BG, we have the following verse:

Whatever form of existence
possesses abounding power,
contains the beautiful,
or is well-endowed
with excellence—–
Understand that
every such form
has become fully manifest
from but a part of my splendor.

(BG 10.41, my translation)

Enough now. More later.


Such grace-filled explanations! Am very much looking forward to having a copy of your translation and commentary the Gita. It surprises me that, in your answer above, you suggest eliminating the part of "svan"'s question that asks you to speak about "bodhicitta" in Buddhism, because your description of the state of "bhakti" sounds to me identical to "ultimate bodhicitta" as described by my Buddhist teachers, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. "Relative bodhicitta" as I understand it, pertains more closely to feeling direct compassion for those who suffer and wishing to free them from their suffering, whereas "ultimate bodhicitta" is that state of Oneness with All which is naturally expressed as an all-inclusive compassion. 🙂

Some reflections on the comparison of the Buddhist vision with the Gītā's vision of Yoga

Thank you for the appreciations and for your comment on Buddhist bodhicitta. My doctorate from Harvard is in the field of "Comparative Religion." And for years I've been teaching comparative religion in the university setting, and one of the many things I've learned is that traditions have their own special axes around which a unique and "incomparable" vision and doctrine revolves. We can engage in the delights of apparent similarities or even suppose identical experiences, but it is my experience that one cannot ultimately "compare," but as deeply probing humans must attempt to "share." We, as humans, within and outside of traditions, must share our deepest visions.

The Buddhist vision and the Bodhisattva vow is one of the most beautiful moments in this history of religion. The nature of compassion there is something most wonderful to explore and to share. However, to conflate it with the divine love in the Gita and its concept of oneness and the nature of the All is intrinsically different.

In the Vedas we have the most beautiful and I insist the oldest dictum of a true and universal ecumenism:

ekaṁ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti

This phrase is typically mistranslated as "Truth are one; sages call it by many names," or "Truth is one; paths are many." The Sanskrit has no word for "names" or "paths." Furthermore, the word for "truth" in Sanskrit is not present in the sentence. Here is my translation that attempts to translate this most profound statement:


The experience of absolute reality is something about which we must "share" and ultimately not "compare." So, for me, your raising the issue of Buddhist vision in comparison to the yogic vision in the Gītā, I believe that it is important to respect this ancient statement.

These are just some thoughts in response to your suggestion regarding the Buddhist vision.

Graham <a href="” target=”_blank”>

Graham, I love the video (you created) that Bob posted at the beginning of the study. Very nicely done.

The question regarding God is perhaps too loaded with emotions and confusions so I will slip past it for the time being and ask a question about an "intermediate" step.

In the Gita, over and over, there are references to reincarnation, previous lives, and separation from the flesh vehicle. This is repeated so often that it seems clear the author is pointing out a key aspect of our awareness, enlightenment, understanding that figures into our interpretation. As you say, there is a hermeneutic here to help us decipher the context of the work.

And yet, this repeatedly discussed aspect of the study is frequently dismissed as being metaphorical or of no consequence.

In your opinion, what does such knowledge bring to understanding the Gita? And what role has it played in your translation and discussion of the Gita? Thanks.


Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful question, as it seems is the habit of members of this blog! The idea of reincarnation . . . what would be the Sanskrit equivalent of this? There is no very close equivalent. Perhaps the closest is the conception of samsara, literally "that which flows around completely," or more connotatively "the repeating cycle of birth and rebirth." There are two salient components to this idea: one is the idea of endless turnings (which reverberates with the idea of reincarnation) and the idea of eternality. The latter component tacitly understands that the soul is eternal, an discrete entity that exists prior to and following physical embodiment, and get get caught up in this "indefinitely," as in "endless cycle." But this is NOT the kind of eternality for which we all long, according to the Gita, because it is filled with painful things and suffering, even for those of us who are privileged enough to be on this blog! So as you know, the goal is to experience what is eternal BEYOND this cycle. What's interesting is how the BG posits this idea of eternality as foundational . . . it's just a question of what context.

You ask, Greg, what role does my understanding of all this play in my translation and interpretation of the Gita? It is indeed marvelous to think about!!! The very ultimate center of the divine sings out an eternal love call, calling all souls back to the divine (this is so beautifully represented symbolically in the flute music that Krishna plays, not in the Gita but in Vraja Lila, discussed in my other book). Samsara is a place that exists precisely BECAUSE the divine possesses such an unbounded love for us souls, and the divine knows that love cannot be forced. Thus as eternal beings, we have a choice: we can spend our eternity within the turnings of birth and rebirth, or the turnings of pure consciousness as in "chitta-vritti" within the realm of pure spirit, which constitutes mukti or moksha. It is natural for us to experience "turnings," as in a mandala, but is it the cosmic mandala of this creation which is completely in flux eternally (and thus Tibetan monks love putting together these gorgeous sand mandalas and then completely destroying them after several days to demonstrate the lure and temporality of this universe) OR the divine mandala of the divine realm in which spirit is found to be unlimitedly dimensional and colorful and eternal in its beauty, its playfulness, and its divine affection. This, Greg, is what I understand Krishna "secret love song" to be all about. Love is never forced or coerced in the tradition of the BG, as one can find in portions of the semitic traditions. Rather, love is an act of free will without an external threat of consequence. Even in this world, things always go so much better with an open heart and lots of love. And so it is a matter of where we place our hearts, and this is the essence of what the BG is getting at.


Here is a translated verse from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa in my book DANCE OF DIVINE LOVE (Princeton University Press, page 26), in which Krishna sends out his love call to the beautiful cowherd maidens of Vraja (as we spoke of above in another posting):

Seeing lotus flowers bloom
and the perfect circle of the moon
Beaming like the face of Ramā,
reddish as fresh kuṅkuma;
Seeing the forest colored
by the moon's gentle rays,
He began to make sweet music,
melting the hearts of
fair maidens with beautiful eyes.

Upon hearing that sweet music,
their passion for him swelling,
The young women of Vraja whose
minds were captured by Krishna,
Unaware of one another,
ran off toward the place
Where their beloved was waiting,
with their earrings swinging wildly.

Here we have a much more intimate and passionate Krishna than that of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gītā. But Krishna's love call, nonetheless, instead of the flute, is in his passionate yearnings for souls to come to him. Krishna is that special form of the divine whose voice is understood as coming from the most intimate center of Brahman.


Graham, wonderful analysis. Captures so many of the critical variables. Too often discussion of reincarnation gets hung up on the limitations of samsaric thinking and crashes.

While I have a love for the Buddhist tradition, and a growing love of the Hindu or Vedic or Yogic tradition, which I am learning more about, the description you provide also appears in the Christian tradition. Of the apostles you will find John (in the Gospel of John, and his letters) focuses most on these variables. For example, "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." (1 Jn 14:16)

Perhaps the Buddhist tradition offers the most insight for the practice when it comes to the challenges of reincarnation, which are more precisely expressed as karmic imprints. In essence, in our attachment to form (any form, doesn't have to be human body per se) we resist mass/energy coming at us and we resist mass/energy going away. Our pushing away (revulsion) or pulling toward us (clinging) creates imprints that become our karmic mind.

This karmic mind or storehouse mind or monkey mind then becomes the cage in which we are trapped. The metaphorical bars of that cage (karmic imprints, which include the blackness of unconsciousness) then block the path of return to the divine through love.

Oddly enough, love becomes that which can dissipate the karmic imprints as well as a description of the state of communion or union with the divine.

The challenge when it comes to the karmic mind, which is built up over the long, long, cycle of birth and death, is that the mind is made up of those things we did not and do not love.

In essence when we love something, in the divine sense, its coarser or denser manifestation becomes less dense or vanishes.

Thus, when we love that which we previously hated (or hated losing) we dissipate the cage of karmic imprints. It is only for this reason that the talk of reincarnation becomes important for it acknowledges the huge accumulation of karma we must dissipate before our path to divine union is entirely cleared away.

Anyway, that's the short version. I enjoyed your response and particularly admire the practical wisdom of "Even in this world, things always go so much better with an open heart and lots of love." In the video I sensed your (and Catherine's) true understanding of this premise. That understanding provides the "vibration" that makes the Gita sing in your hands. Nicely done!


Thanks so much for your comment here, and sharing your discoveries of the possible resonances between traditions. What I caution, of course, in making these comparisons, as already discussed a bit in a couple of other posts here, is the subtle tendency toward reductionism and a devaluing a particular spiritual phenomenon of a particular tradition that is in so many ways INcomparable. This is why I insist on "sharing" more than "comparing," though the latter is fine, and I've made a whole professional career of doing such comparisons at universities and places like the Smithsonian Institution, etc.

But I see the dialogue going on inside of you, Greg, and while it is thrilling for me to read in your generous comments, I also feel an urge to caution you in this specific way. What do you think?


Oh! By the way Greg, thanks for your appreciations for the video that Bob posted. But let me just say that I was NOT the one who created it, but it was my partner Catherine (both life-partner and founder-partner in The Secret Yoga Seminars) who did so, and she's done some really beautiful videos that can be viewed on Of course, you will see ideas employed in my books in these videos, and that was partly the idea; but Catherine has her own very beautiful style of wording things poetically and philosophically in these multimedia presentations that I've used effectively in my university teaching, at my seminars that I present at the Yoga Journal Conferences, and in my lectures delivered regularly at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Please keep in mind that some of the earlier videos were posted on YouTube in haste and you'll find a few typos here and there. But you'll get the idea. I am hoping that Catherine will join us here at some point, too.


Hi, Graham. I wanted to mention that I did credit Catherine with the video in my blog above, after neglecting to do so in my original post of the video.

Thanks to Catherine. Very aesthetic way of presenting the material. One can feel the message of which you write, the message of being drawn by and through love to the divine. When one feels that tug, or becomes caught up in its whirlpool, the magic begins.

Thanks, Bob. Yes, I noticed your acknowledgment. Because I really would not know how to put together such beautiful presentations as does Catherine. And that said, we work so closely together on the vision, but she makes these presentations on her own.

Thanks, Greg. Yes, these presentations are meant to elevate audiences into the mood and feeling of the vision. The visual, the auditory, and literary, poetic, and philosophical are all engaged in Catherine's work.


The most challenging thing for me has been the references to reincarnation. It is difficult because it is a completely foreign concept for me. Most of the the other ideas in the Gita I can relate to either similar teachings in other spiritual traditions or my own personal experience. This one eludes me.

It is a challenging concept, particularly in this age. Most, if not all, spiritual traditions, however, hinge on this concept for it is the nature of spirit to be other than body. In other words, one does not have spiritual without spirit and spirit is not the same as body. Does that make sense?

Perhaps we become confused when it comes to reincarnation when we miss the important aspect of the concept — it is not the past lives that matter so much but rather the idea that we are not body but rather spirit that has certain abilities and a certain relationship to the physical realm. In other words, all reincarnation really says is that we can become attached to various physical "vehicles" and those forms are never who we really are but rather are temporary attachments.

In Buddhism, as in the Gita, the critical idea is that when we become attached to form to the point where we think that is all we are we open ourselves to suffering. Hope that takes a little of the challenge off the concept.

Thank you, Greg, for your words here! Let me say outrightly here that of course traditions of Buddhism and the tradition of the BG have very different conceptions of saṁsāra precisely because they have different conception of the self: in Buddhism, there is no soul, as in anātman, and in the BG there is the eternal self or soul, ātman. I'm curious, though, what specifically is troublesome for Nichinindy with regard to the idea of saṁsāra, as explained in my posting above. Then I might be able to be more helpful in my response, if I have not already done so, a little!


Thanks to both Greg and Graham for your replies. It does help me to put the emphasis on the Self being spirit, not body and the spirit being eternal while the body is temporal. I guess in reply to Graham about what specifically troubles me it's the idea of cycling from one "life" to another. It just sounds like endless torture to me and that isn't consistent with my current understanding of "God." If "God" is essentially love, torture is not part of program. I just don't like the idea of having to repeat a body existence over and over again. I'd much prefer to just be as spirit eternally.

I'm not sure I'm doing a good job of expressing this well…The passages dealing with reincarnation sound a little threatening to me. They seem to say that if I'm not "good" enough (whatever good is), if I'm not enlightened enough (whatever enlightened is) that I'm going to have to keep repeating the task of living a physical existence. Like Sisyphus rolling his bolder up the hill.

I know that I am probably not really understanding what the passages are saying, or the idea or reincarnation for that matter. It is just the knee jerk reaction I have to what I don't understand.

Hi, nichinindy. I second your questions, which are exactly what's on my mind, too. Literal reincarnation is one of those things I just turn into a metaphor–what we do has an impact on future generations.

"Literal reincarnation" to me means that some recognizable Bob or significant traits of Bob will show up in the future in some other being, human or otherwise. I personally don't believe this for a second (except for the obvious exception of procreation–I have two grandkids and two on the way).

And you're right that portions of the Gita are quite specific and quite harsh about reincarnation being a reward or punishment for behavior in this life. These passages I personally read as a metaphor for doing the right thing today for the benefit of future generations, and nothing more.

There are bound to be many things in a 2500 year old text that were widely believed then that are not widely believed today. Actually, what surprises me is that so many people today do still believe in literal reincarnation. I respect their beliefs, but I could never be one of them, any more than I could go back to my ultra-traditional Catholic upbringing and believe in literal heaven and hell.

Bob Weisenberg

Perhaps an easier way of looking at it is that you, as a conscious being, exist independent of any form. You do not have a true gross substantial existence. (Yikes! That is the scary part.)

And you take up a form as an attachment. It provides an identity, an energy-mass-location. And you are not punished for anything you do with that form but rather as you resist energy-mass you build up subtle energy imprints and those imprints become the mind that later guides your thoughts and actions in later attachments (lives).

You have no use for that imprint mind. It is a trap. But you cling. Therefore, you have an on board karma generator. The point of the practice is to identify the content and vanish the darn thing. Freedom. Yippee.

I'll be anxious to hear Graham's take on this, but to me what you wrote above is an inappropriate forcing of extreme Buddhist "everything is an illusion" theory into the Gita, where it simply isn't there.

The Gita makes it abundantly and specifically clear that the physical universe is simply another manifestation of the wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe, or Brahman, and not an illusion at all. It does not claim nothingness. Rather is extols "everything-ness".

Graham, Greg and I have been arguing about this from the beginning of Gita Talk, complete with dualing quotations! I don't expect you to resolve the issue or convince either one of us. But I am looking forward to hearing your point of view.

Bob Weisenberg

Thanks for clarifying where it seems not to make sense. The Gita is clear in terms of the idea I am putting forth — will need to find other ways of explaining it.

The Buddhist view is not that everything is an illusion but rather that all manifestations are fabrications of Mind. This is the same as in the Gita. The difficulty is not so much between the Gita and Buddhist texts but between Idealism and Materialism. This is the tough desert to cross…

Perhaps you could lay out the ontology you believe best explains the universe and we could walk from there toward the other view…

I would argue that any desert that is so difficult to cross is not all that useful to the average spiritual seeker like myself.

As for the universe, we can't even begin to explain it. We only know that it is infinitely wondrous and unfathomable, that there is some infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force behind it, and that we are a part of that wonder, as is everything else in the universe.

The way my own spiritual world works, all other more specific explanations of the universe are either metaphor or speculation. But isn't that way more than enough just the way it is?

Bob Weisenberg

Greg and Bob!

Here we meet once again! I have appreciated your discussion. It pushes us to the question of language and its advantages and its limitations when speaking about or conveying the nature of the INFINITE. I won't drag either of you or anyone else here into all of the theological discussions and debates surrounding this issue, both in Western thought as well as Indian Mimamsa-Vedic thought, through the Upanishads and Vedanta, what to speak of later thinkers!

But here we are focusing, of course, on the Bhagavad Gītā. In my textual illuminations, I examine the various types of speech that are engaged by the different voices in the text, precisely because we are working with and through language, as I am presently doing right here!

An additional thought is what I've also brought up with Greg in a post I just made a few minutes ago, above, and what Bob raises here in this thread. The dangers in comparison is precisely there BECAUSE no matter how much WE may feel some resonances in ourselves that may exist between two traditions in our attempts to link them, these different traditions express themselves in different languages with various types of discourse for various types of subjects. Gets complex, right?

The complexities of comparative studies is my professional work now for years and years. And I'm all too aware of the pitfalls. Nonetheless, it is natural that we do this comparing, as it is part of our epistemological apparatus. All the same, we must be just as aware of how we cannot compare at all! If this makes sense. It is paradoxical. If when comparing, we ironically end up respecting the uniquenesses and differences, then it is likely that it is a healthy endeavor.

On the other hand, to not compare, with no movement toward a place where we share, then this would not be in my estimation a good sign. But respecting the absolutely unique expression and flavor of the discourse in which we find divine expression, then this is very good.

Here, Greg, Bob is feeling that you may be conflating the two traditions in certain ways, and what I like about the discussion between the two of you, is the sharing and the enlightening aspect of such dialogue. There is a verse in the BG that I will bring out later today related to this dialogue, and how we can become enlightened FROM dialogue.


Very nicely stated, Graham. It is important, as you note, to respect each and every tradition within its own context and its own language. When one compares, even out of enthusiasm, there is a constant risk of giving offense and that is to be avoided.

With this in mind, I find myself admiring and being lifted up by the different traditions we are discussing in their own context — and a few we have not mentioned.

As you note, there is additional value in seeking common ground through comparison in the search for harmony or unity or common understanding. Never a matter of which works better but rather finding the joy of discovering synchronicity.

Also there is value in seeing something from various angles. Looking from point A may help us see better from point B. We may add depth and perspective and texture that we otherwise miss.

There exists as well a less well-known view or approach that comes from seeing from a different time frame. In the Gita and in the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism the narrators provide temporal references regarding the scope of the teachings. These huge time frames — periods of time greater than scientists imagine the life of the universe (they are wrong, btw) — tell us the subject exists beyond the common frameworks of the Veda, Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism, etc. In other words, the history of those endeavors is small when compared to the overall and continuous nature of the teachings.

If one were to view from this last perspective one perhaps sees common roots that have branched out into many trees. It provides a perspective that allows one to explore fundamentals. The risk, of course, is that in discussing those fundamentals one offends the sensibility of a particular tree.

When Bob and I discuss these issues we constantly skirt the open pit that arises from any attempt to establish right and wrong, or degrees of validity. We both see that trap serves no one's interest. So we seek to establish areas of common ground, areas of difference, and then perhaps we wander closer to the pit in trying to understand why and how it is we differ… but the magic of love that you so eloquently celebrate is always there as an elixir to pull us back from the brink.

So good to have you join the conversation.

A matter of personal taste. Some will be motivated to go the distance while others will see that pursuit as having little or no value. And, there are also times when one person desires to seek full understanding and other times when being still in the present condition is all that is needed.

Good to note the personal differences and honor them.

Maybe scan my response to Graham, above, as it covers some of the things you have asked. There is no punishment in karma/reincarnation. It is simply a matter of building up a karmic mind from experience that then interferes with your ability to be, think, act. It is built up from those actions one has taken that leave this mental residue. The point of most spiritual practice is to vanish that residue with the solvent of love. Make sense?

I'm not sure.

I get and agree with your last point about most spiritual practices seeking to free us from the negative repercussions of our false beliefs through the reality or love, the ultimate truth, God, the wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe (that's for you Bob :-)) or however you want to express it. What I'm not sure I understand is the relationship between karma and reincarnation and the concept of a "karmic mind" as you put it.

Let's say that I was abused as a child. Because of this abuse I developed the false idea that I am unlovable and pretty much worthless as a human being. This false belief about myself influences the way I interact with others and who I choose to interact with. I choose partners who are physically or verbally abusive because I believe that's what I deserve. I can never really believe that anyone truly loves or values me, so I keep people at a distance, etc. The only way to change the cycle of behavior is to expose the falsehood of the underlying assumption that I am worthless. I can only break the cycle if I no longer believe the untruth.

Are you saying that the concept of reincarnation asserts that if we don't expose the untruths during our life that their negative effects stay with our spirit after we die and are carried into the consciousness of other beings that we may become?

According to the Gita, the only thing we do not bring with us into the next life is the physical body as its five knowledge-acquiring senses. But all that data stored in our minds, all those registered pleasures and hurts, wishes and fears, talents and struggles, etc., are brought with you. Mozart was composing symphonic pieces of music at six years of age. Do you think he learned all that in orchestration at four? What about that Japanese two year old child that could do calculus?

We import all kinds of stuff when we transmigrate. That said, the Buddhist conception is different because of a different philosophy of self and different metaphysics of interdependent origination. I won't get into that here as we are focusing primarily on the Bhagavad Gītā, of course. But if someone really wants me to do so, and if I have the energy, I can! But then I have so much to say about so many other traditions in comparison to the Hindu/Vedic/Yogic.

Just a week or so ago, I came back from Washington, DC where I gave a day long sequence of lectures at the Smithsonian Institution on the Mall, on the subject of Life After Death. I covered the Ancient Middle East, the Semitic Traditions, Indic Traditions, and the Religions of the Far East. It was wild! Lots of fun going through so many traditions on the theme of death and the afterlife, and here was the delicate task of "comparing" religious visions.

I think I've said enough here. Perhaps more on this as we move along.


Just a quick question…

So, then according to the Gita, the data stored in our minds is part of the Self; that which is eternal. Is that correct?

Quick response. The data of experience changes all the time, even within one life. What that data is doing at the time of death, that state of the mind's storage is transferred to the next birth. So it is NOT eternal; it is always changing within lives and transferring between lives, but is always in flux. It is the pure self that is unattached to any identification with the body, physical or subtle, that is eternal.

The nature of that true self, that pure self, is pure consciousness and its dynamics. The life of the eternal is said to be much more interesting than the limited dimensions of conditioned life in this world.

The word "self" in my translation translates the Sanskrit word ātman, which can refer to the whole person, including the body, the mind, the heart, the soul, etc., OR it can refer to the pure self proper, which is eternal, without any of the temporal attributes of the person. As for so many words in philosophical Sanskrit, context is crucial for knowing which meaning of the world is intended.

Bob, below, raises an interesting tacit question in what he states a couple of posts below in this thread. If one accepts the transmigration of the self, in what ways does that affect the quality of living this life? And if one does not accept transmigration, in what ways does that affect the quality of life? The worldview of the Gītā certainly consistently speaks of the circuity of existence at many levels: birth and rebirth; the seasons; day and night; cycles of time, yugas and kalpas; cosmic creation and dissolution, etc., and ultimate the shape of the universe is circular, and the turnings of the planets, too, and as it turns out, the dynamics of consciousness has the character of turning, as in chitta-vŗtti (Yoga Sutra).

Hope some of this helps.


I personally don't accept something as true just because it says so in an ancient text. I don't personally accept as true reincarnation or transmigration of souls. Greg has already informed me in the past that if I don't believe in reincarnation I might as well throw out the entire Gita, because it's meaningless without it. Do you agree?

Even if I did want to believe in the literal truth of everything in the Gita, it wouldn't be possible, because most ancient texts are self-contradictory, and this certainly seems to me to be true of the Gita, in the the way that Mitchell describes in his "Notes to the Introduction" p. 200-202.

Is it too big a question to ask how you reconcile these contradictions in the text?

One of the things I liked about Mitchell is that he faced these serious logical contradictions in the text head-on and came up with a reasonable, if controversial, way of dealing with them. Based on your analysis, I would guess you don't see any contradictions in the text, since I don't recall you writing about them. Am I reading that correctly?

(You said you wanted all questions, and I'm taking you at your word! Plus, late at night I get intellectually much more aggressive for some reason, which often gets me into trouble.)

Bob Weisenberg

No, no, no, Bob. ( lol ) I did not say if you do not believe in reincarnation, you must toss the Gita. It was more subtle. I said that if you insist on belief that there is NO reincarnation, then you must toss the work because you have built a barrier to progress.

If you do not believe. That is fine. You continue the work and diligently observe what you observe. You keep wiping mud off the windshield and see what you see. No one tells you what to see, they just advise you to keep wiping the mud off.

On the other hand, insisting in a belief that there can be no reincarnation. Saying I will not and cannot see that is equivalent to piling some mud on the windshield. Where you place that fixed idea, you will not have vision. And because that vision is part of the Gita, you will block yourself from true appreciation.

I do not think Graham or I are asking for blind faith. That is inconsistent with what we are saying. But we may be saying do not take the negative as a matter of blind faith either. Does that make sense? In other words, see what you see, and honor it, but do not make the a priori decision that you will not see a particular aspect of the practice.

In simple terms it is a matter of my saying, I saw that. And you can either say, I'll keep my eye peeled to see if I see that also, or you can say, I refuse to see that under any circumstances. The Gita is doing the same thing. Krishna is saying, I saw this, watch for it.

Correction to my last comment. I just read you post on the Self verses the self…

I am wondering if what you are saying is that according to the Gita the data stored in our minds is part of what is eternal in us? It remains, even after the body dies.

Let me just speak up for the many of us who simply don't believe in reincarnation. The historical analysis of reincarnation in comparative religions is still certainly of great anthropological interest to us, but it has no bearing at all on our current spiritual life, except as a powerful metaphor for how our actions affect future generations.

Gotta say, Bob, I'm a non-believer in anything but the most metaphorical conceptions of reincarnation–for me, not so much resonances remaining after my death as the Zen idea of constantly dying and being reborn within one's (only) lifetime (as well as Thich Nhat Hanh or Walt Whitman's understanding of simply becoming the dirt out of which things grow). And I also agree with traditions that say that it shouldn't matter, since our "current spiritual life," as you put it, is what really counts. However, I have a lot of trouble reading the Gita's discussions of reincarnation in those terms, i.e. if it's meant as a metaphor for something other than actual transmigration of souls, it's not a very good one, since it seems so loaded with stuff pointing in the opposite direction. Then, that's my problem with a lot of the Gita–much as I agree with you that everything *can* be taken metaphorically, and, ideally, that's how I'd like to take it, I find myself really straining to do so with material that seems a lot more like straight-ahead religious dogma than open-ended poetry.

I agree, Jay. That's why I always hold the "Disregard" button at the ready. It's a stretch for me to make reincarnation into a metaphor, too, but I was trying to be broad-minded out of respect for those who believe in it. One either has to be a true believer in the literal meaning of the text, or one has to just disregard the anachronisms to enjoy the timeless truths.

You and I are in complete sync, except that I find the core "wonder of the universe" and "act with purpose but remove your ego from the results" philosophy of the Gita, after taking out the disregards, to be irresistibly inspiring, meaningful, and sustaining in my everyday life.

Please keep writing. I need some support in this viewpoint here sometimes!

Bob Weisenberg

Bob I don't really believe in reincarnation as I understand it. I was just exploring the concept with those that do to see if I was missing something that might change my perception.

I too am having a hard time interpreting it metaphorically, especially in the passages that talk very explicitly about the birth, death, rebirth cycle. I was just searching for a way to understand them that resonates with me. I'm not there yet.

Hey, with three of us–that's enough to form our own group. Let's call it "Reincarnation Skeptics Not So Anonymous." I personally don't believe the most important messages of the Gita depend in any way on reincarnation, so I urge you to simply disregard it like I do.

And I would further urge you not to think of yourself as "not there yet". There are plenty of highly advanced spiritual people and Yoga people who don't believe in reincarnation either, and put it in the same general category as heaven and hell.

Bob Weisenberg

Hoping I can clarify….

Yes, the idea is that we carry with us (as conscious beings) the residue or mental imprints of our various lifetimes. One might consider this collection of energy impressions to be a subtle or mental body.

This subtle or mental body or soul body is not who we really are as Self. Just like the flesh body one can separate from the soul/mental/subtle body. But unlike the flesh body, we tend to cling to the mental body of karmic imprints.

In Buddhism as well as in yoga, the idea is to meditate and observe the attachments to the mental karmic body and in observing them as they are we dissipate the attachment. We vanish this karmic accumulation.

When we vanish the karmic imprints that make up the mental body, we gain clarity of vision. The karmic imprints act as filters and obfuscations, mud on the windshield, that keeps us from viewing. When we wipe the windshield clean, we see more clearly.

Thus, theoretically and practically, we do not need to believe in reincarnation. All we have to do is be very diligent in our meditation and continue to wipe the windshield clear of its mud. In the wiping away we come to see things that we may place in different times and spaces and then, cool, we may say, ah, that was from a past life. No big deal.

One of the things I appreciate about you, Greg, is your willingness to delve into some of the more difficult concepts of Eastern philosophies. If we could just fix your politics, you would be just about perfect. 😉

This is a great point: we do not need to believe in reincarnation. This is point I've made before on my blog. I also feel, as I think you do, that dismissing reincarnation outright can cripple your reading and understanding of the text. After all, if you were to remove all references to reincarnation/rebirth in the Gita you would be left with a very goofy and nonsensical book!

The karmic imprints (samskaras) you mention are themselves hard to discern. We can't always detect the cause and effect at work in our lives, because as you point out, there are multiple levels of being.

The individual atman is easily identified as what it is not (anatman). Our titles, career, family and cultural identifications and personal preferences are all examples of these heaps of what we are not. We need to be careful about assuming what atman is just as we need to avoid being presumptive about reincarnation.

After all, putting all our faith regarding such ultimate matters in our own intellect isn't bhakti, it is egoism.

Because mere conceptual understanding won't help us in finding Atman and escaping rebirth, you are correct: the Gita (and Buddhism) points to meditation as the way out.


Respecting your point of view, Matt, my own views are very different:

–For me the main message of the Gita is no more dependent on reincarnation than it is on the caste system or ancient Vedic beliefs.
–I don't want to be careful and walk on intellectual and spiritual eggshells for the rest my life. I don't have enough time left for that.
–I want to bask in the glory of Brahman, and the Brahman in me, as the Gita suggests over and over again that we do, making everything else effortless ("vanish into his bliss")
–I want to experience, not think, and most certainly not worry about whether I've got all the little spiritual details right–right brain, not left brain.
–Meditation is only one of several paths to realizing Brahman.


Responding point-by-point:

-For me the main message of the Gita is no more dependent on reincarnation than it is on the caste system or ancient Vedic beliefs.

I think your view is appreciated in my statement (mirroring Greg's): "we do not need to *believe* in reincarnation." But that doesn't negate the fact that reincarnation is a major theme in the Gita.

–I don't want to be careful and walk on intellectual and spiritual eggshells for the rest my life. I don't have enough time left for that.

Ok. I think I was suggesting just the opposite.

–I want to bask in the glory of Brahman, and the Brahman in me, as the Gita suggests over and over again that we do, making everything else effortless ("vanish into his bliss")

Ok. Sounds good.

–I want to experience, not think, and most certainly not worry about whether I've got all the little spiritual details right–right brain, not left brain.

This is what I was suggesting in my expressing concern about "conceptual understanding."

–Meditation is only one of several paths to realizing Brahman.

Fair enough, but there are also several types of meditation, including the various types of yoga.

That does clarify Greg. And it is something that I feel comfortable with. I particularly like your image of wiping the mud from the windshield.

I have grown and changed so much spiritually in the last few years that I can no longer cling to the idea that I can "see" anything. I can only see a little more clearly than I did yesterday.

That is why I say "I'm not there yet." I don't know that I'll ever completely be "there" because the universe is wondrous and unfathomable, as Bob says. On the other hand, I am already "there" because I am a part of that universe. Like a fish trying to "see" the ocean.

Ok. I'm going to stop now because I am sounding crazy even to myself…

Thanks for the dialog. Great discussion. I understand a lot more about the concept of reincarnation than I did before.

No, no, nichinindy. In my humble opinion, you have it exactly right. Not crazy in the least. This is the essence of the Gita. Let yourself go there. Free yourself from worry about it not being quite right. See my reply to Matt above. It's right there in front of you. Embrace it. Yoga Demystified.


I appreciate very much how you champion persons' sense of things. I like your statement, "don't worry about it not being quite right." Wonderful. I mean, who has it ALL right? IT may be ALL right, but how can any of us be? Again, it is in the sharing that we get closer to the ALL. And yes, there is a place where the secret of yoga becomes more and more demystified, and yet the mysteries of yoga still keep coming! A kind of dialectical tension that keeps consciousness turning and turning around the mysteries of the heart, and yet, as you have so often emphasized here, there is something so simple, so sublime, so wondrous, indeed!


For some of us including me, the whole topic of reincarnation is one that is comforting and simply wonderful when reading the Bhagavad Gita. Despite being raised Catholic with a very devote father, I was one of those odd toddlers (1950s) who as soon as I could speak told everyone tales of 'when I was here before' with details I should not have known. Only vague feelings remained past early childhood and there was absolutely no interest in exploring it any further as an adult. To me reincarnation was one of the treasures in reading the Bhagavad Gita for the first time and one of the things that makes me want to delve into it further. It is comforting to that little part of me that 'remembers'. Still, even I remain skeptical.

That I and others find different things to be inspired by when reading the Bhagavad Gita, just to me speaks to the magnificence it holds. Graham, thank you very much, your input has been very much appreciated. I do not currently have a copy or your translation but I will soon.

Thanks for writing, Pat. I'm very aware that some people do believe in reincarnation, and I respect their point of view, even though I do not myself. I agree that the Gita can be read from many different perspectives and that's part of what makes it so enduring and fascinating.

Bob Weisenberg

Hi Graham, thanks for joining 🙂

1, What has been the most difficult thing for you in understanding the teachings or narrative of the Bhagavad Gita?
As I commented on last Blog, I've been confused with the "you should not have desires" as I see the desires (if sane, with somekind of detachment) are part of our drive forward and beauty of life. I can see that desires, if not sane, can be a source of suffering. But the repeating of Not to have desires in the text is confusing me.
Bob's answer was really good for me, made sense…and I tried to read further with "those eyes" (he wrote that it was for the Self and not for the self).. but reading again and further it still seems like the intructions are for the self. (Self= soul, self= the individual)

Hellow, Paramsangat.

I love questions like this. I love the ones that seem at times almost inscrutable, incomprehensible. These are the fun ones! But you're basically correct. Desires or wishes are the opposite side of fears and dreads, and like all dualities of this world, the Bhagavad Gītā wants to steer us away from being bounced between these polarities. However, as you've tacitly expressed in your perplexity, one's true heart's desire IS essential. What we most deeply desire at the very core of our beings—that is, the very longings of our souls, yes, this is pure desire. Now, that said, this is NOT to be confused with Buddhist philosophy that does want to eradicate all desire whatsoever, because there is no permanent self or soul that can have the deepest and purest desire capable of the spiritual heart. Buddhism goes elsewhere, and is in contract to the Gita and Yoga Sutra:

hṛdaye citta-saṃvit

"From deep within the heart, pure consciousness is full realized."

(my translation of an aphorism in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali)

Here we're talking about a very deep level of the workings of the heart, such that they become the yearnings of our very soul. This type of deepest desire, deepest longing and yearning, is that of the soul for the supreme Beloved. This is the Bhakti in the Bhagavad Gītā.

I could go on and on about this! But let's see if this is basically helpful. Push me further if you like!


That interpretation of Buddhism is not really accurate though you no doubt picked it up from Buddhists. It is an area of confusion.

The Buddha did not teach nihilism. Very much like the Gita he distinguished between self and Self or to be more precise between an aggregate self (that is a false self or "not self" made up of fabrications) and the true Self (or Buddhahood) that can best be captured by the concept of pure being without form, i.e. pure consciousness.

There are those in Buddhism, particularly in the West, that alter this in the direction of nihilism. They alter "not self" into "no self."

In Buddhism there is no problem with using fabrications — the objects of the physical world. The problem addressed is that of attachment to such fabrications, especially the kind of attachment in which one says, "I am that" and identifies with a form, such as saying "I am the body."

The slight difference with the Hindu traditions has to do with a very sharp parsing of ultimate understanding. The Buddha was essentially saying was that we should not identify with fabricated substance. So the extent to which we are not atman (the anatta doctrine) has to do with not equating that Ultimate Self with an energy phenomenon. In other words, our true Self is not a patch of energy/space, not a material manifestation.

The reason for this distinction was that many yogis, when they would become very, very advanced would encounter a prime state in a "white light universe." This appeared to be the "ground state" or "beginning" of this universe.

In this state there was a perfect co-being of Self's and a perfect duplication by Beings of the space and created white light. It appeared to be "end state" or beginning state. And one would tend to identify with that energy-space of white light. And we would say that was who we really were — an all one energy.

The Buddha merely said that, no, that was not the end or beginning state but was itself a fabrication. That particular energy and space were also the products of Buddha mind (God consciousness, etc.).

The more basic state was absent such space and energy. In this sense, when he rejected atman it was only in the very limited sense of saying do not identify with a space-energy but rather go further. Realize that that is Not Self.

This does not affect most students but those more advanced in their practice will begin to hit upon echoes of that original white light universe (there have been a number of "bounces" or multiverses along the way, as well as "fake" starts) and the student will get stuck at times.

The Buddha brings to this situation the idea of keep on going, go beyond identification with space and energy that appears as white light. (In the practice of Dzogchen there is mention of achieving a clear light stage, which is related.)

Anyway, it is easy to pick up some altered Buddhism today and an antagonism toward Hinduism/Yoga but it is mainly driven by an attachment to atheism and not anything that appears in Buddhism itself.

Hi, Greg.

Let me be the first to confess that I can't make heads nor tails of what you are talking about here. And the parts I do understand are so abstract as to be beyond my ability to apply them in any meaningful way to my own life.

Perhaps this explains why I could never be a Buddhist. (But then again, you have already stated in your first paragraph that many Buddhists don't get it either.)

But I do still appreciate your attempts to educate us all. I'll keep trying.

Missed the target apparently. Was really speaking quite literally not abstractly but I see how it can come through as abstract.

Guess the first question would be have you ever experienced being separate from the body? Either in an OBE, NDE, as a result of practice, etc. ? In other words, separating consciousness from the body/brain? Actually viewing from point A and looking at the body at point B.

An earlier step would simply be knowing your consciousness is other than the body, knowing it at a profound and certain level, even though your perceptions are limited. That would be, should be, a very common state in yoga.

If not, then you are right. It will make absolutely no sense at all. Once you have that experience and gain dead bang certainty of being detached from the body (which some do not experience until body death) then it all starts falling into place.

The practice of yoga was designed to get you to that place. Not sure if anyone has ever pointed that out?

I don't buy it, Greg. Yoga is about union of mind, body, and spirit, not separation.

I have not experienced being separate from my body, but I routinely experience feeling one with the universe. My body is part of that oneness, not separate from it.

Bob Weisenberg


We meet again! And thanks for sharing. When we speak of Yoga, and the Yoga of the Gītā, we're speaking of the experience of being absorbed in the yoga of all yogas (yoga-yukta), as Krishna expresses it. What is that yoga of all yogas?

There is a paradox in the yogic process that is fascinating. We first must become self-realized, self-fulfilled, and then and only then can we become self-less, ecstatically self-forgetful, utterly absorbed in the object of meditation . . . this is Samādhi. If we still have things to take care of inside ourselves, it is not possible to give of ourselves fully and selflessly yet. When we've earned the absolutely wealth of self realization, only then can we experience the state of selflessness. That is not to say that we cannot experience either self-realization and self-lessness in part. We can! In fact, such experiences urge us on and we become more and more eager for those things because of experiences in them both. But it is a process of purification and practice.

I suspect that out-of-body experience for yoga is the exstasis, or standing outside oneself experience. That blissful selfless state of samādhi. For yoga, that is the out-of-body experience that is sought, which translates ultimately into a state of losing oneself blissfully in the Beloved, and utter giving of oneself to all beings in this world in the state of Dharma Megha Samādhi (Yoga Sutra 4th Pada). In the BG, it is about a total devotedness to the welfare and well-being of all in the world, while merged into a state of blissful self-transcendence at the same time.

These are just some thoughts.


with upper case "s" and with lower case "s": What's the difference?

First let me state that in Sanskrit, there are no "big" and "small" letters as we have in English. We utilize this in English to supplement a translation of the word for "self" in order to be more precise on the word's referent.

Second, let me tell you how I do utilize the upper and lower case initial S's in the HarperOne translation:

S as in Self = the supreme Self, or a manifestation of the divine that is at the heart of all (living) beings, and of all (cosmic) being. Another word for this is Purusha, or the "supreme Person."

s as in self = the eternal essence of person that continues on after the physical embodiment. Please note, however, that the BIG "S" dwells within the small "s" in the philosophy of the Gītā. It is the personal divine presence within our hearts. In effect, it is the heart of hearts, or the very Soul of our soul.

Are we humans, we souls, the self with the BIG "s"? No. In this scheme, no. That Big "S" is the supreme, and while we are NOT the supreme, the ALL, the Everything, we participate in it in the liberated state as pure small S's without the bondage of the physical frame.

Let us now look at how this can get a little subtle! Here's Mitchell's translation of two key verses along with my own:

He should lift up the self by the Self
and not sink into the selfish;
for the self is the only friend
of the Self, and its only foe.

Here Mitchell deprives the English reader of what is actually in the Sanskrit: SEVEN times utilizing the same word ātman or "self." He represents only four of these instances, dropping three, and engages even these four, in my view, in questionable ways. Additionally, Mitchell seems to be indicating by his use of the "s's" that we are to manipulate ourselves with the Self, but what is that Self for him? If it is the divine, we don't have the power to puppet the divine like that! If it is the higher self that is our very self, then that would be more the idea and consonant with the rest of the teaching, but we're left with this ambiguity and possible misconception, both. And then, again, the true force of the verse cannot come through without engaging all the Sanskrit words that are there in the verse. Here's my translation:

One should raise
the self by the self;
one should not
degrade the self.
Indeed, the self alone
is the self’s friend;
the self alone
is the self’s enemy. (BG 6.5)

You can count ALL seven instances in which the word "self" actually appears in the verse. These verses are very deep meditations, but if they are diluted or incompletely transmitted, or inaccurately translated, they cannot function as meditations. Without going into a full exegetical explanation as to the meaning of this verse, let me just point out that every instance of "self" is with an initial lower case. But remember, within each initial small "s" resides the Self with the big "s". This has powerful and very deep implications. What is important here, though, is how the words are really speaking about our relationship with ourselves. The Gītā is really talking about a higher self that is part of the self and a lower self that is part of our self, almost resonating with Freud's "superego," "ego," and "id," respectively, as evident in the following verse:

For one whose self is conquered,
who is peaceful—–
that one is fully absorbed
in the higher self
While in cold and heat,
happiness and suffering,
likewise, honor and dishonor. (BG 6.7)

We talking here about the struggle WITHIN the self that ultimate is in relation to the supreme Self, and it is easy to be engaging the Big "S" in careless ways or romantic ways or perhaps ways that conflate our higher selves WITH the supreme self, which dangerously moves into an over-identification of the self with the Self.

The self is the friend
of that self
by whose self
the very self is conquered.
But for one who is not
truly one’s self—–
in enmity, that very self
would remain like an enemy. (BG 6.6)

Here it is clear that we're talking about a struggle within the self to become elevated, to be lifted up into the highest part of ourselves, to prepare us for the leap from transcendent being into the deepest regions of the heart.

Just thought I'd throw these thoughts out to all of you!


Hi Graham and thanks for being here, the dialogues have been fantastic. A point that when it gets raised and seems to spark some response in people is the idea of Arjuna as disciple and Krishna as master, their relationship in the Gita has been used as the perfect example of the the guru-disciple relationship.I would love to hear your thoughts on this aspect of the Gita and what you think is or is not the role of the Guru/teacher on the spritual path. I recently read that the Gurus are nesseary to the journey but not to be dependant upon them, we need to reach understanding on our own but without them its impossible.THanks again

Thank you for your thoughts here. In my book, I have discussed the complex relationship between Arjuna and Krishna. The guru-śiṣya relationship is just one of four relationships between them:

1) First, Arjuna is a warrior and Krishna a charioteer (first half of first chapter);
2) Then Arjuna is troubled friend to Krishna who acts as a confidant (second half of first chapter);
3) Arjuna declares himself a student and Krishna his teacher (beginning of second chapter);
4) Finally Krishna reveals himself more and more throughout the text as the very center of all divine manifestations and Arjuna the yogi who learns how to see these manifestations and appreciate how standing right before him is the very voice of the divine.

So you can see, that Arjuna's relationship with Krishna is more than just student to teacher, but no doubt, it is there. As a model? Arjuna states in chapter 11 that Krishna is the greatest and truest of all teachers; the implication here is that teachers in our lives can come and go, and we can even have spiritual teachers or masters that may have tremendous or less than tremendous impact in our lives . . .

But here's the main point: There ARE NO TEACHERS without the original teacher, and the true teacher is one through whom the ultimate teacher moves. We know when we meet such a person. It is a person who is due very naturally on our parts those three actions described above when we spoke of BG 4.34: paripata, pariprashna, and seva. Very powerful! A teacher is someone in whom we can place our full trust in that we can know that whatever we bring before that teacher, there will be very wise, sensitive, deep, and informed guidance and knowledge.

In my book, I also look at the relationship between Sanjaya, the narrator of the BG dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, and Dhritarashtra, the blind evil king. This can be found in my introduction of only 12 pages.


I am thrilled and honored that these discussions are happening. Thank you Graham and Thank You Bob. This is truly a gift. I am spending a block of time each day catching up and reading all the posts. There is so much to think about! What I enjoy most about these discussions are the doors they open. Things just keep expanding! I am thinking about Love-really looking at it–the wonderful video opened my heart. Blessings to all.

Dear Mahita Devi!

Thanks so much for your appreciations. Yes, I too am finding this blog very "enlightening", or as you say, "a gift," "door opening," "continually expanding," and words filled with "affection."

Okay, you've got me off and running! Here's the verse from the Bhagavad Gītā that you're inspiring me to post here that brings out all of these observations that you've made (BG 10.9), one of my favorite verses:

With their thought on me,
with their life-breath
offered to me,
enlightening one another
And conversing about me
they are satiated and
they feel rapturous love, indeed!

This verse, among the four known as the Chatur Shloki (the four special verses, BG 10.-8-11), can be analyzed as having three progressive parts, explaining what it means to connect so deeply with other humans by means of the spiritual:

The Inner Teaching of the Verse:

1) What we must first offer to the divine:
(a) Our thoughts
(b) Our life-breath

2) What we then offer to one another
and to ourselves about the divine:
(a) Uninterrupted interactions that enlighten
(b) Unending exchange of words in conversation

3) What fulfillment we finally experience
through one another from the divine:
(a) Satiation/contentment
(b) Felt rapturous love

I think that this is what you've experiencing here as with others, whether silently observing and participating, or actively contributing, this kind of "enlightening one another" is going on.

Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful, very rich and deeply instructive and revealing verse. As with any verse from this text, it can be a meditation that takes us all the way.

With best wishes,

"Enlightening one another" This is beautiful! These posts are helping me connect to community and to the Divine. I copied and pasted these verses into my journal.
I am taking a class-it has been on going for over two years. Currently I am focusing on the heart chakra. My understanding of love is deepening through this work.
This too is helping me to go further—to open a little wider and to relax into my studies and practices. What is happening here is very powerful and positive. As I continue to read and drink in everyone’s thoughtful questions and responses I am nourished.
Graham, I am deeply appreciative of your posts, thoughts and insights.
Bob, I thank you too.


Hi, everyone. I have been loving this discussion, and I will never be able to thank Graham enough for creating this wonderful dialog with his warm, sensitive, and inspired replies.

But I do have one concern, and that is that the level of the discussion has been so high that we may have left some our newer Gita readers behind. Some of these conversations have been challenging for me, and I've read the Gita about ten times in six different versions. I know that if I had encountered an advanced discussion like this when I was just getting started, I might have just gone on to other things.

So, if you're out there and a little overwhelmed by all this, please bring us back down to earth by asking the important questions YOU have about the Gita. Graham is interested in helping Gita readers at all levels of experience. We welcome your involvement, too. After all, that was one of the main reasons Elephant created Gita Talk.


Bob Weisenberg


Please know that I enjoy tremendously the "beginning readers'" questions, perplexities, curiosities, whatever! In many ways, the "beginning" questions are the most important! There is no end to the pondering of such important, foundational questions and issues.

Please feel free to ask me anything . . . really.

With best wishes,

there is a lot of interesting discussion on reincarnation and I'd like to ask about deathlessness… these verses jumped out at me in particular (2.16-17)

Nonbeing can never be;
being can never not be.
Both these statements are obvious
to those who have seen the truth.

The presence that pervades the universe
is imperishable, unchanging,
beyond both is and is not:
how could it ever vanish?

Does deathlessness imply immortality and is it connected to reincarnation somehow — or are these completely distinct ideas? (apologies if I'm being redundant)

Yes, these verses would jump out at me as well in relation to the specific discussion on the eternality of the self found in the BG. And I would say yes, in the Gītā deathlessness and immortality are intertwined ideas, practically synonyms. And there are many verses in the BG that express how the self continues on beyond and has been existing prior to the body.

Again, there are readers here on the Gītā for whom the idea of the eternal self is not meaningful, or may not be so on the level of reality. But again, I would urge readers of the Gītā to take the vision projected by the text as a whole, suspending one's own beliefs or commitments or "rational" conclusions, much the way one takes in a Shakespeare play . . . we don't pick and choose what scenes to accept; we take in the whole drama.

Reading the BG is a long journey, containing verses that reveal more and more, the more we dive into them and contemplate them.


Jay and Bob! Thank you for your comments, which inspire so many thoughts. Rather than go into any in great depth, I would rather briefly offer more quantity of my responses, and then perhaps later go into specifics.

1) Our personal approach to reading sacred texts. If I write a letter to you, Bob, my hope is that you'll understand what I intended to have you understand. Now, you can react to what I wrote prematurely and with prejudgments before you've really understood what I am saying. Or, you may think you understand something I am saying because what I've said is not clearly articulated. Interpreting texts is a very meticulous task, a very delicate task that I feel most of the time we take all too easily for granted. The tremendous subtleties involved in reading and interpretation and translation is complex, and I've spent a lifetime being trained in a field called "philosophical hermeneutics," which focuses precisely on the challenges of the interpretation of meaning.

2) It is natural for any mind to selectively focus upon those things that are familiar, those things that feel right, and reject those things with which we cannot relate or things with which we may disagree. But a sacred text, if taken seriously, and not just as a hobby, is something like releasing oneself into a movie. Bob, when you see a movie, are you saying throughout the movie "I don't accept this, and I might accept this," etc.? If you do, it is not the right movie for you! Seeing a movie means releasing yourself completely into the world of the movie, taking it in as a whole. With understanding a sacred text as a whole, however, it is not as easy as seeing a movie. It requires much preparation and a certain kind of life. But we can judge a film from the reviews, the movie summaries, or the movie itself but from a different set of movie preferences, yes.

3) We may speak of reincarnation as a concept that we think we understand, and we may speak about it as if that is precisely what the Gītā is presenting. One vision of so-called reincarnation can be so very different from another. We are too easily prone to a reification of ideas and concepts, and what we're often really rejecting is OUR idea of the concept rather than the text's actual vision of the idea. This is where accurate translation and philological and philosophical accuracy is critical.

4) Then we should also not assume that our own ideas that we hold so close to our own minds and hearts never change and evolve. So not only does our understanding and awareness of sacred texts change and grow over time and with greater life experience, but so also our own understandings mature and deepen. So what we may feel now may not be what we feel later. It's a little like seeing a drama for the first time, and feeling one way; then when seeing it for the fourth time, having a much deeper understanding of what it is doing. With a profoundly beautiful work of art, it may not register at first, but later, more and more, it becomes more and more revealed to us.

—-continued in the following post!

—-continued from my previous post!

5) It is very important to be honest to ourselves concerning the different ways we feel about anything at any given time, including the ideas we come across when encountering sacred writings. At the same time, it is also important to be honest with ourselves about how much do I really know about what it is I think I know! So while I may and should have a passion for what I feel, I should also possess a kind of humility before such great literature that has moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people over time and in various cultures.

6) The specific topic of reincarnation has been given attention by many in the west, apart from that particular vision of the BG, and despite the fact that most traditions in the world have some conception of how the soul continues on after this life. Compelling modern accounts of a young boy born in France, who never heard any other languages from anyone else, suddenly started speaking flawless Arabic or some such language. There are other truly astonishing accounts that could not possibly be explained by genetics or by mimetics. But the ancient world did not have such evidence that as such we moderns may require, and even in the face of such evidence we still may not be convinced, nor should we be convinced, if it rubs against our sense of what we at this time ultimately value about life itself.

7) There are basically three conceptions of the self in world religions: A) the soul begins with the body and ends with the body, as in many Jewish traditions; B) the soul begins with the body and goes on beyond the body to a heaven or hell, as in many Christian and Muslim traditions; and C) the soul existed before the body, continues on in the body, and continues on beyond the body, existing eternally, as in Indic traditions; this third scenario then, as with the other two, has various permutations, such that Buddhist conceptions would different from Hindu conceptions within this third category.

I leave you with this verse from the Bhagavad Gītā:

Never, truly,
have I ever not existed—–
nor you, nor these kings
who protect the people,
And never
shall any of us
ever cease to be,
now or forevermore.

This is the first thing that Krishna reassures Arjuna in the second chapter (verse 12). So perhaps these are some of the pertinent questions:

But exactly what is Krishna saying here?
How do you know if you are thinking that what you are saying this text is saying is what Krishna is intending to say here?
And when is it time for you to say what it means definitively?
Can we responsibly say whether or not this text is true?
Is it possible to suspend judgment for such a time when we are truly ready to assess what is being said?
What can we imagine that might be gained by plunging the depths of this text with the guidance of a realized teacher?

I leave you all with these thoughts! Sorry for the protracted response here if it gets too tedious. I hope it may serve you in some way. Looking forward to our continued sharing!


Love your response, Graham. The passage you quote is one I quoted in an earlier discussion thread. It sets the stage, the context, for an understanding of the nature of the topic. With its prominent position of a set-up for what will be discussed, I believe one must give it consideration.

I like your analysis of the possible responses to the idea. I'll offer a few thoughts to expand upon the theme…

1) The most important aspect of the teaching is that you – the student – have a nature which is not limited by the temporal and bounded condition of the physical or fabricated universe. All Things in the universe are limited, temporal. They have a beginning and an end. The text here distinguishes the nature of the student, the nature of pure consciousness, as other than temporal: "Never, truly, have I ever not existed…" Timeless. Almost all other parts of the text are there to support this understanding. All practice is there to support this understanding.

2) Understanding #1 above bears directly on Graham's # 7 — how we see the nature of the soul. As one minor addition, I note that even in Christianity there are those who see the soul as not tied to existence of the body. Origen, one of the early Church fathers, addresses this variable and believed in reincarnation. The Buddhist concepts are not that different from the Hindu concepts, but there are schools that attempt to modify the teaching of the Buddha. In those cases, the word "eternal" comes into play and causes confusion. If one substitutes the word "timeless" one dissolves those minor differences. (In other words, eternal may be seen as "existing in all time" while timeless may connote the idea that one exists independent of the temporal continuum. Subtle difference. Graham may want to track the Sanskrit to see what comes up.)

3) In terms of our need for proof – we must be cautious or the proof will place us in a box that is self-defeating. If we turn to that which it temporal for proof of that which is timeless, we will hit a wall. This does not mean we cannot verify for consistency of observation. For example, I ran tests to verify my recall of past lives in order to calibrate or check my perceptual accuracy. But once that was done, we do not need to hammer at it forever. In addition, we can work with others who have similar ability to recall and we will find consistency in the recall of events as well. (Perhaps a reason to study with a Master.) But this can be a tricky proposition in the long run as we are then always checking other views in order to have our view.

In the Gita and in the writings of the Buddha we find views that are contingent upon having a larger recall of time. Given "Never, truly, have I not existed" one can have a view that encompasses all temporal events. Thus, in both cases, in Hindu and Buddhist texts, one has an account of ontology based on observation. In other words, they present the results of direct observation, not speculation or metaphor. As individual students, we can then follow the practice and verify if we observe the same thing the Buddha or other yogis observed. My experience has been that everything the Buddha taught, including issues related to ontology, was dead bang on the money. This would include, "Never, truly, have I ever not existed."

Thank you, Greg, for your sagacious words. You are underscoring points I've made, and you contribute your own realizations and experiences. Just a word of caution: it's very hard to say Buddhist and Hindu, because within each of these there are so many variations, sometimes very subtle. Above, in your No. 2, even you point out that there are Christian traditions that accept more than the creationist conceptions of the self, and thus, you may note my language when I say in my above post, "as in MANY Christian and Muslim traditions," NOT ALL. Indeed, there are no across the board agreements in any one major religious tradition. Pure Land Buddhism will have a very different view of Sri Lankan or Burmese Theravadin schools, and Tibetan forms will differ much from Zen schools, etc. It is not different in Western traditions. So it is helpful, as you do above, to point out specific thinkers, like Origen, etc.

Again, thanks for shedding further light on these worthy topics!



Thank you for your thoughtful, if rather condescending, response. In my comment I was trying to differentiate between two views on reincarnation–mine and what appears to that of the Bhagavad Gita–and acknowledging that they are very different. That’s not to say I don’t seriously consider what the Gita says on the subject, only that I don’t find it convincing on that point, as clearly you don’t find the texts you’ve read that argue against the notion convincing. It’s also not to say that my view on the subject won’t change–it has in the past. Then, of course, yours might change as well. Perhaps a decade from now you and I will be in a discussion just like this one, with me arguing for the truth of reincarnation and you arguing against it. I doubt it, and suspect you do, too, but you never know.

As for “a kind of humility before such great literature that has moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people over time and in various cultures,” I’m going to be blunt and say that every time I read the news I see more evidence that we live in a world in which there is far too much humility toward ancient texts (though, generally, far more for what they say about gender roles and justifications for war, slavery, and doing what we want with our environment than what they say about love). If I’m going to accept what the Gita says about reincarnation because it’s ancient and revered, should I also stone my younger brother to death for being a homosexual because that’s what other equally ancient and revered texts say? (Or, for that matter, are you going to stone me to death for leaving this blasphemous comment? Not that I think you would, but more than one great spiritual text that has moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people over time and in various cultures says you should…). Of course, there’s also excessive humility towards the “latest thing”–as we embrace whatever new technology science and industry come up with–and thus end up with the threat of nuclear war and millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

Ultimately, in practical terms, there is no higher authority for any of us than ourselves, because we all have to decide what we believe. Sure, there are revered teachers and revered texts out there–lots and lots of them, and they have a vast variety of views on every imaginable subject, including reincarnation (or samsara). Sure, most religious traditions–though not all–contain ideas about life after death. People are afraid of death. Why wouldn’t the religions they create give them a way out of that fear? You’ve followed your own authority to decide which revered authorities to believe in, as have I.


I was late getting to this because I was on vacation. I want to take a minute to thank everyone (especially Dr. Schweig) for this fascinating commentary.

I especially like this post and look forward to revisiting the material (and other translations) with the addtional insight provided by these discussions.

My good friend, Graham. Thank you for your very comprehensive response. I respect and admire your vast learning and your incredibly deep practice of Yoga. On the surface, it would seem that it would make sense to simply yield to your wisdom.

Luckily, however, you have crossed the line into an area where I am the world's greatest authority, not you–my own spirituality.

I will never buy into your vision of spirituality, and how one should approach it, because it is almost identical, point-by-point to what I was told when I first started to question Roman Catholic theology as a very serious young high school student in the mid-sixties. I will never go back to that type of religious thinking, which emphasizes blind faith and someone else's authority over my own deeply felt spiritual intuition and common sense.

(I have been through many twists and turns in my spiritual life, including being raised ultra-traditional Catholic. I then married into a Jewish family and raised three Jewish kids, during which I deeply studied and practiced Judaism. Today I practice no organized religion, but am more deeply spiritual than ever before.)

Apart from that, I'm attracted to the parts of Yoga philosophy that are sublimely simple and profound, not the aspects of Yoga that are complex and require many years of research and study and practice to grasp. Even though I clearly enjoy the complexity to some extent, that's not primarily what Yoga is about for me.

If reading the Gita multiple times in multiple versions with all the best commentary available doesn't qualify me to make my own judgments about what the text means for me, then it's not the right spirituality for me. However, I don't think that's the case, because the more I read the Gita, the simpler and simpler it seems, not more and more complex.

I don't for a minute question all the subtlety and complexity of which you know and speak. And I will continue to enjoy learning about it from you. But that's different than putting aside my own deeply held spiritual approach in favor of yours.

Thanks again for your learned and comprehensive advice. But my spiritual life has taken me in a very different direction than yours, and I know it's the one that's right for me.

Bob Weisenberg

I love the deep aspects of Yoga—for me it has never been simple—it mirrors life—and all its complexities. I don’t see it as something to figure out or grasp. It can’t be studied with just the mind—well I guess technically it can, but it helps to engage the heart—the feel of it.

Each time I read it-the meaning shifts—or deepens and then another door opens and then another. And each time I close the book I am changed in some way—my understanding has shifted—which creates shifts in how I see and interact with my world. It’s not that it gets more complicated—for me its more like peering into a small pool of water and then all of a sudden I realize its not a small pool but a vast endless bottomless ocean with so much more to explore and consider.

During this realization I can get overwhelmed—but then the water settles, calms again, and I am able to see my reflection and take in something else. This process repeats itself for me over and over—and I am learning to just keep reading—even if its one line—and I allow that line to become alive within me.

And sometimes what is called for is for me to just free fall into the flow with out trying to dissect it all or figure it out. I think it takes lifetimes to truly grasp.

Hi, Mahita. Great to hear from you.

Thank you for this very elegant and personal account of how your inner spirituality works. Isn't it wonderful that we can all experience such different approaches to what looks like the same thing on the surface?

I appreciate your experience. I appreciate Graham's. And I appreciate mine. Now Greg, I'm not so sure about Greg… (Sorry, Greg. Just kidding. I appreciate yours, too.)

Bob Weisenberg

Mahita Devi,

Indeed! Yoga is not merely about acquiring knowledge, as in jnāna yoga, but it is about dhyāna and samādhi, deep meditation. it's about practice. It's about going deep within and connecting to the outermost limits of reality. Yes! Thank you for your comment here. Your careful reading practices is what the mysticism of deep study, Svadhyāya Yoga is all about!!! Keep going, and thank you for sharing.

Best wishes,

Bob! Thank you very much for your reactions to my post above. It seems that I may have hit a nerve? I very much respect your authority on you, and I couldn't agree with you more! I never intended to even tacitly say or imply that you should abandon your own true sense of what you feel, and know, and love. Absolutely not. I can see you have had enough of that in your life, and enough of the dogmatic impositions and oppressive doctrinalized visions of the spiritual. And much of our spirituality is conducted by the profoundly hurtful and painful experiences we have had in relation to the spiritual along with the profoundly positive experiences and realizations.

I am not interested, nor have I ever been interested, in anyone "buying into my vision of spirituality" or "my approach to it." I merely offer above some considerations ONLY if they are helpful and supportive of what can help us go deeper. And going deeper means not clinging onto what we know and have out of fear and insecurity, but it means to also be vulnerable, to take some risk, and to trust in how our essences can flow toward something that will catch us, embrace us, and engulf us in the most sublime ways. I am ONLY suggesting some alternative ways . . .

Now, you say that what I have said is what you've heard in Catholic school? I trust you when you say that what I have said feels like what you heard back in the day. However, knowing much about the Catholic doctrine, I doubt seriously that what I have said is actually what they DO. While I am very respectful and admiring of the Catholic mystics, as many of them were extraordinary, Catholicism as an institution is a different story . . .

In any case I hope you can place what I have offered above in a bit of a different perspective. I like what you've said . . . as you move along in your journey, you've noticed that things have gotten simpler and simpler. I also find that too . . . but, that said, there is such a richness. A scenery of beautiful mountains from a great distance are extraordinarily simple to look at during sundown. But when climbing the mountains themselves one can appreciate all the beautiful details, such as all the flora and fauna. So yes, Bob, it is so simple, indeed! And yet so rich and so deep with all kinds of deeper revelations of playfulness, beauty, and love.

Here on this blog, as I understand it, we are looking at how to understand one of the greatest sacred texts of all time. My motive here, just to clarify, is simply to help shed some light on this process.

More on this later, if you would like. I so much appreciate your honest and very sharing mood. Thank you very much.


Hi, Graham. Yes, no problem. We are in sync. I was aware when I wrote that that I might be overreacting a bit. But it's a measure of just how comfortable I've become with this group and you that I just let it pour out anyway, knowing it would settle out in the ensuing conversation. Thanks for your instant understanding.

Thank you Bob and Graham for sensitively overcoming disagreements in outlook. I always find it somewhat ironic that different vocabularies and personal preferences are the very things that lead us into these "quips" and disagreements. The irony is that there is still the "elephant" in the room–the very thing that escapes our vocabularies and conceptual understanding–that the Gita points to. Some of us know it as the "infinitely wondrous universe" and others may know it as Atman, Brahman or God.

Getting past our own histories and preferences is perhaps our biggest obstacle to our reading, as Graham has already pointed out.



For some reason my earlier post to you did not appear or rather it disappeared. All I wanted to say then and still now is thank you for your appreciations here. But you know? From my perspective I did not perceive or feel any "disagreement," though I believe Bob very well may have.

I like how Bob asserted himself when he said that there is no greater authority in this world on his own spirituality than himself. I would put it in a slightly different way, if I may. There is not any authority in this world, or even in the heavens or Brahman itself, that can tell Bob what he FEELS. Feelings are absolute, in that they belong to us uniquely. Facts belong to so many persons and cultures and often have themselves relative lifespans. But feelings are ours and ONLY ours, and not even a god can control them or conduct them or know them.

As for teachers, there are teachers out there in all fields that know more than we do as students. That is natural. BUT . . . a truly good teacher will never box a student in and expect him or her to "buy into the teacher's spirituality." But a good educator will be true to the word: educate comes from the Latin, which means to "bring out" or "draw out," something to that effect. Doesn't a fine educator do just that? He or she does not impose upon but brings out of the student what is there and what is to be engaged.

This is one of the most poignant aspects of the BG: The teaching relationship of Krishna with Arjuna, a theme brought up earlier in this blog. Krishna does not make Arjuna buy into his vision, but offers so much to him, as any good teacher. It is up to the student how much he or she takes up. A great teacher, and we've all experienced this, can advance us along any path manyfold. And of course, there are different kinds of teachers as well as different types of relationships with teachers.

On and on! I can go!



Sorry, it was not my intention to mischaracterize differences in viewpoints. Perhaps "disagreement" is heavy handed and I should have said "differences" since seeing different aspects (or perspectives) of a thing is truly different than a disagreement.

I love what you're saying about the teacher/student relationship and I think you're practicing good teaching yourself!



Hey! Thanks for this. Not even concerned with mischaracterization, as you put it. Just using your reaction to clarify that for ME (and maybe not for others, and thus there could easily be persons who DO disagree!) I find no disagreement in what I have read. You see how delicate communications are! I enjoy it, because it means deeper and deeper connecting with others.

And yes, I like what you've said about differences. I tend to enjoy differences more than similarities. Differences can bring out insecurity and anxiousness, but they don't have to. For me they bring out greater longing to know and to understand, and a more intensive search for that which contains us both while yet the differences may remain!

With best wishes,


These words are the last words Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gītā. I am personally very moved by them because Krishna is asking Arjuna if he has heard his teachings in a particular way. And this is what I asked myself when I translated the work!

Has this [teaching] been
heard by you, O Pårtha,
with thought focused upon
the single highest point?
Has this profound
bewilderment coming
from the absence of knowledge
been perfectly destroyed in you,
O Conqueror of Wealth?

(BG 18.72)

Please note that the teachings of the Gītā is likened unto a mountain. Krishna asks Arjuna if he has grasped the whole mountain of teachings BUT from the point of view or perspective of the very highest single (eka) point (agra). That single highest point, I have determined, is his greatest secret of all. Here, in my opinion, we have a clue as to how Krishna would like us to understand what he teaches. In this way, this verse was a thrill for me to discover, even though I had read it countless times over the years, passing over it without realizing this dimension. Ahhhhhh! Svādhyāya Yoga, i.e., the Yoga of mystical study.

Now Bob! I'm not trying to tell ANYone here how to study the Gītā! 🙂 I am taking this discovery for myself and offering it to you and all others who MIGHT benefit. And I am also sharing that even though I have been reading this text countless times for over forty years!!!!! I only realized something deeper about this verse a few years ago when putting together my translation, attempting to harvest the cumulative years of study and yoga practice.

With all best wishes,

Graham, I want to take this time to thank you for visiting and sharing your wisdom. When I first saw the video that you and Catherine produced, I felt the understanding and love. Learning of the breadth and depth of your wisdom in your posts has been a pleasure. I know it is hard work responding at length to so many posts, so I greatly appreciate the gift you have presented to this discussion group. We have all been blessed by your presence. Namaste.

And thanks goes to Bob for being a humble moderator with the courage to bring in the "big guns" to enhance the discussion. Wonderful.

I am not signing off… but merely thought this would be a good time to acknowledge the graciousness that has blessed the discussion.

Thank you, Bob! Yes, you more than anyone here would have a pulse on the group as a whole. But I certainly welcome differing feelings that persons here may have . . . maybe some have been very perplexed and not very inspired? I would love to hear from such persons too! If you're out there. As you mentioned in one post, Bob, you want to make sure that very new readers of the Gītā so not get neglected! And I seconded that. I'm HAPPY to respond, NOT NECESSARILY AT ALL TO ANSWER, but to RESPOND to every question or topic brought to me and to the rest of us. If I've missed anything, please bring it to my attention. I'm here to serve your minds and hearts.


Dear Greg!

Your appreciations of my little offering here in this blog that Bob so graciously and affectionately hosts, and my small efforts and Catherine's film is most certainly appreciated by me (and Catherine, by the way, who hears and reads what's happening here from time to time). I have to say, though, that I have so much appreciated your philosophically reflective contributions and your energy and exuberance evident in your postings. It is also wonderful for me to get a feel for this whole group and I have learned so much from those who have shared, for each person I encounter is my teacher, is my Guru! I can feel and perceive so much coming through each and every participant here.

In gratitude to you and to Bob and the others, I offer a sequence of three verse from the Bhagavad Gītā that I'm sure most of you have read, but bears repeating, at least for me, here in this context:

One who sees me everywhere
and sees all things in me,
To such a person I am never lost
nor is such a person ever lost to me.

One who,
abiding in oneness,
offers love to me
as the One who abides
in all beings,
In whatever way one
appears to be living—–
that one is a yogi
who lives in me.

One who sees,
by comparison to one’s self,
the same in all [beings],
O Arjuna,
Whether it be happiness
or suffering—–
that yogi is considered
to be the highest.

(BG 6.30-32)

The first verse quoted above, as I believe I've mentioned a few days back, is for me an expression of the ultimate reality as possessing a loving and caring energy that engulfs us, embraces us, and yearns for us. I feel that coming through your life and the persons and beings I encounter, but especially here in this blog group where hearts come together to grasp the ungraspable that is amazingly more graspable in and through such sensitive and reflective hearts such as the one I find here.

The second verse above speaks about how on the outside we can be engaged in ordinary activities, such as I as a professor, others in various professions, jobs, tasks, in the world or in the home, etc. But this abiding in a oneness that connects each of us to all others is a way to come alive like nothing else . . . and the voice of the divine here tells us that this very abiding constitutes living within the divine. So it is not necessarily all out there, but right here, between hearts.

The third verse above reveals the spiritual "internet," and the kind of humanity we can develop that constitutes a very elevated state (the "highest," Krishna states) of the yogin or yoginī: a human-divine empathic faculty that is activated by deep contemplation, training, practice, and great striving.

I am more of an aspirant toward these things now than I was before meeting you all right here in this little group of sharing. Thank you!!!


Great passage you have quoted. Gets to the heart of the matter straight away and with eloquence. Love it. Will copy and paste this message and keep it. A very large kernel of wisdom. Thanks once again. Seems like every time I open this thread I find another gift! Blessings.

Thank you, Greg!

Once one unlocks the treasures embedded in the text of the Bhagavad Gītā, one can't stop them from flowing. It is truly endless. I've spent over forty years finding this flow increasing, not decreasing at all! I am happy to send what few drops I can your way that might quench a little bit of your thirst for this. Please let me know if I can be of further service.

With all best wishes,

Thank you for this forum. As a new Gita reader, I am enjoying the discussion, but finding it hard to jump in. I, too, have a difficult time with the mystical aspects of yogic philosophy. I am finding it hard to pick and choose the aspects I can relate to. At times I feel, once again, like a cafeteria-style Catholic, which I’m not comfortable with. My challenge, along with simply understanding the text, has been how to come to terms with that. How can I accept all the information when I strongly disagree with the mystical presented? I do know that I want to make member number 4 in the Rational Group of Not-So Anonymous mentioned above!

Thank you for providing this great forum to encourage thought and community.

Thank you again, Bob, for teaching me once again! I love this meaning of mystical from Einstein. How wrapped up we can get in our past religious indoctrination! For this reason, I have stopped reading the Eswaran translation of the Gita to resume with one that didn't set off my knee jerk reactions to words like "sin". The Frawley (?) translation was suggested as a better fit and I am awaiting its receipt. I am reading Yoga Demystified and it speaks well to me and my belief system. Thank you for this. I look forward to more engaging discussion with this vibrant and spirited community you've created!


There is no word in Sanskrit that really is tantamount to the word "sin" in English. You'll notice that every time the Sanskrit word "pāpa" comes up in my translation of the Bhagavad Gītā, I never give the word "sin" as a translation, nor do I use the word "evil." Much can be understood about the meaning of the word "pāpa" by understanding its antonym "punya," which means, "meritorious," or "auspicious," etc. The word "pāpa" means not just something that you or I may do that is "wrong," or "bad," or "immoral," etc., but it ALSO refers to those unfortunate things or inauspicious things that may happen TO us. Sin is more the former, and never the latter of these two meanings. So the word does NOT fit and thus you will not find it in my book. Also the word "evil" is too strong, though it could include something of that at one end its meanings. Here's a verse, considered by Rāmānuja of the 11th Century, to be the ultimate verse of the whole work, that contains the word pāpa in it:

Completely relinquishing
all forms of dharma,
come to me
as your only shelter.
I shall grant you
freedom from
all misfortune—–
do not despair!

(BG 18.66)

Note that the word "misfortune" above is used to translate "pāpa," and since the latter is in the plural, I say "all misfortune", which also doubles up to translation the word for "all" as it is prefixed to the word, sarva-pāpa. This to me is a far more accurate translation that the Western ideas of "sin" and "evil." It is a much broader term than either, though it could include both of these in some sense.

Hope this helps a little bit!

With best wishes,

I can verify, as a reader, how important using the word "misfortune" and others instead of "sin" is in Graham's translation of the Gita. It completely transforms the meaning of a number of troubling passages from the first version I read (Prabhupada).

Yes, Bob.

Many translations use the word "sin" or "evil" which I feel is carried over from the colonialist approach that swept India in the 18th through mid-20th centuries. Prabhupada was schooled at a very Christian college, in the context of British rule. So how would his English NOT translate the pāpa as "sin"? English for Indians WAS Christian, period! Many Indians translating the Gita will resort to this word not really appreciating its very specific Christian denotations as well as connotations, . . . way too much baggage for the Sanskrit word.

One of the few contributions I hoped to make with my translation was precisely to DE-Christianize the presentation of the Gita, which you find in Edgerton, Zaehner, and so many others, sometime less obviously. I even feel that Mitchell succumbs to this Christian or general Abraham ethos in more subtle ways at times, interestingly.

Ah! Perhaps I do too, and don't notice it! After all, I AM someone of European descent whose family has been in the US for several generations. But I don't come from a very religious background at all. My mother has been an artist and teacher all her life, and my father a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and professor of medicine, and I was raised in a more humanistic, cultural setting, in Washington, DC. I'm certainly open to my own criticisms!!!



I commented above about suspending cultural (and one might add "personal") judgments and beliefs when reading texts like the Gita. I'm pleased that you note the Christian or general Abrahamic ethos that may come into play not only in the cultural lens of some readers, but the translators as well.

I would add that there may be another ethos that comes into play in both reading and translation and that is the ethos of scientism: the largely Western belief that only scientific method can deliver valid answers about consciousness and ultimate questions about "God" and our place in the universe. A better phrase to describe this stance might be "scientific materialism," but this phrase has been unfortunately appropriated–ironically enough–by Christian creationists and Christian spins on "intelligent design."

While scientific method is a great tool for humanity, we tend to capitulate to it as the only means to verify existence and experience. Yogis, as many here know, have been independently verifying aspects of reality for thousands of years.

As Bob pointed out above, one of our greatest Western scientific minds, Einstein, understood that "the most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical." Yet this profound experience is yet indemonstrable by scientific method.

Naturally, many scientists recognize this, but there are also many people and movements that would deny the existence of such experiences merely because such experiences exist outside of the narrow boundaries of their understanding of science. Applications of science aren't always rational.

So, it may be necessary for some to not only de-Christianize their perspectives when reading the Gita but also to de-scientize their approach to the text as well!


As I wrote in my reply to your other comment, science is generally in awe of what we don't know and embraces vast areas of knowledge that we know is there, but can't verify.

It even acknowledges, embraces, and studies subjective experience. It just objects to anyone confusing it with objective fact. It may be or it may not be, but it should not be treated as fact when it may well be fiction.

Science and Yoga
Are soulmates.
Both find
Infinite wonder
Awesome mystery
And unanswerable questions
Even in the simplest things
We see all around us.

How do the
Molecules and atoms
Protons, electrons, and quarks
Of a rock
Know how to be
A rock?

Science and Yoga
Both inflame our awareness
As much by marveling
At what we don’t know
As what we do.

(from Yoga Demystified)

I agree completely, Bob, but what I'm getting at is that there are certain outlooks or ideologies that tend to color–or even obfuscate–our views and readings that we may be unaware of. Even if I'm not Christian, Christian ideology can affect my perspective. The same is true of scientism, but not necessarily of science, as you explain above.


Yes, you're absolutely right. Some scientists think Einstein was a little weird for all his mystical talk. But turning off a whole part of you brain and being closed to experience is not very, well, not very scientific, is it? The true scientist wants to see and experience everything non-judgmentally, just like the true Yogi. It's totally illogical to think that current scientific knowledge comes even close to describing all reality. That's what some "scientism" does, in effect.

I used to fight this all the time in business, where there is a strong tendency be biased towards those things that can be measured, that have numbers attached to them. But since much of the reality of a business can not be measured, a leader has to make intuitive judgments about many things that can't be measured, and, indeed, often has to avoid being biased toward those things that do happen to have numbers attached to them.

Bob Weisenberg

Hi, Matt. I have to apologize. I see that you said "scientism" all along in your first comment above, a fact I missed the first time around. Very different that "science". That would have modified my response somewhat. Sorry.

Bob and Michelle!

Thank you Michelle for your comments above, and Bob for your work here with Einstein's sagacious words. I appreciate your presentation of how his statements can sound like they're echoing the Upanishads. I would agree, and would also agree that he carries a yogic vision as you say.

I was also interested to read your appreciative P.S. of me, and I would like to comment briefly on it. First, I don't feel a million times more knowledgeable than YOU! I admire what you're doing here, and while yes, I am a specialist as a scholar and a serious practitioner of yoga for over forty years, I don't really feel that this places me beyond anyone. I am truly humbled by what comes from everyone and indeed, I always feel how much I have yet to learn! But within your very warm appreciations and your spirit of dialogue and sharing which has been just wonderful, I certainly to absorb your words here with gratitude.

Now it is interesting how you characterize me as someone who takes ancient texts as "the direct word of God," "where every word has divine meaning." This feels to me very close to my position and yet also very far away. The phrase "the word of God" sounds terribly Abrahamic, and thus foreign and when I hear you saying it, I don't feel like that is I. We just may be talking about semantic differences, but those too are important. I much prefer to use the word divine or divinity rather than God. What's the difference?

Right off, the word God has for so many in the West incorporated the idea of "supreme Creator," which, as you know, for the Indic traditions is NOT that big a deal. In fact, the cosmic acts of creation and dissolution are "subcontracted out" (say, to Brahmā and Śiva respectively) because "God" is not that interested in those activities. The meanings that I include in the definition of "the divine" is something different than many lexical definitions as well: the divine is the whole of existence, the outermost world, that which contains everything, AND the divine is that which is in the heart of all living beings, AND the divine is that innermost world, the very center of all existences. It's more to me like cosmic geometry than anything else, and I feel that the Upanishads speak to these levels of divinity. It has, as you know, an entirely different feeling and ethos than that of which we know in the Abrahamic traditions, though even they can at more rare instances, sound a bit like this.

My relationship with the Gītā intrigues me, too, by the way. A year ago I gave four sequenced lectures at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC on "Scriptures of the World Religions: From Taoism to Christianity." I feel, just as with art, something very powerful is delivered in those writings that have moved the minds and hearts of countless millions of people of huge spans of time, and that not everything in scripture is to be accepted blindly, no. I strongly feel that what scripture must do, if it is to do its job, and after we have done our job in truly understanding what is actually expressed there symbolically (meaning at a literal, suggestive, and metaphorical level, perhaps even an allegorical level, ALL working together in some fashion at the same time), we must resonate with what's being said, and scripture must resonate with what is intuitively within the deepest core of our beings.

So I do not subscribe to a fundamentalist vision at all, not in the least. It is a process of deeply and genuinely connecting, going deeper into the vision of what is being said, and going more deeply within ourselves, and making the connection . . . I have found that SUCH TREASURES ARE TO BE FOUND!!!! It is about establishing a very deep relationship of dialogue and sharing with a text! It is about hearing what these ancient voices have to say and how they can move our hearts, even now! It's about making some very select portions of these special writings our best friends!

Hope this clarifies a bit . . .

Best wishes always,

A truly wonderful clarification, indeed, Graham. Thank you.

It never occurred to me that you were a fundamentalist. You are far too broadminded and receptive to all ideas for that. I don't think believing in the direct word of a divinity even begins to make one into a fundamentalist, only that combined with intolerance for all other points of view. And I think I already understood how different your conception of "the divinity" is from traditional views, made even clearer by your excellent clarification above.

Another startlingly informative and nuanced reply from you. We're very grateful for you presence here.


But I love these discussion! I only offer such responses to such marvelously honest, heartfelt and very informative messages that come to me here on your superbly hosted site.

Just quickly, a fundamentalist does not HAVE to carry the connotation of religious intolerance. But it often does, as you take the term in your words above. A fundamentalist often takes everything very literally as the direct word of God! And the religious intolerance comes in as such a person may apply it. That to me would turn such a person into a fundamentalist radical exclusivist!


Good point, Graham. Now that you mention it, the truest Christian fundamentalist would not be intolerant in the least, because they would love their neighbors as themselves.

I find that the more one gets to the very simple heart of religious teachings , the more similar they often become. At the same time the nuns, in face-squeezing habits and broad white collars,were telling us we were all hopeless sinners at birth and it was because of us little kids that that man up there in the front of the room was nailed to the cross, they were also teaching us that "God is Love" and "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself", just as it says in the Gita.

By the same token, however, Chapter 16 of the Gita, where all virtues and sins of man are enumerated along with their corresponding rewards and punishments in one's next incarnation, sounds very much like the negative side of the nuns. Except I would give much higher marks to the nuns in this comparison, because the nuns made it clear that it was our own free will to be good or bad, whereas in Chapter 16 of the Gita this appears to be a matter of birth and not the free will of the individual ("Do not worry–you are wellborn with divine attributes, O Son of Pandu [Arjuna]").

Bob Weisenberg


Very good! Your assumption here is that fundamentalists can actually practice what they preach! When we truly practice, there is no need to preach, ironically.

I'm fascinated with your phrase, "the simple heart of religion," Bob. But as I keep saying, it IS indeed simple for those who have a relationship with one's own heart in relation to that particular "heart" that is found ex-pressed from a specific tradition. In a similar way, I cannot get myself to say that my love and relationship for my mother is the same as your love and your relationship with your mother–this of course is an analogy with limitations, but I think a point may be made. True, there are many things in common: mothers, males who love their mothers, et. But each relationship is unique. Here I draw from the profound knowledge of the Upanishads:

raso vai saḩ

"Relationality is truly the essence of reality."

Taittirīya Upanishad

Here is the critical place for interfaith dialogue. But interfaith dialogue is only as good as and can go only as deep as INTRA-faith dialogue, the depth of our own realization. And to assimilate the heart with which we may be connected to that of another person can get dangerously close to being reductive.

Over the years, having taught hundreds and hundreds of students, lecturing continuously in other non-university forums, I have found that there is a longing of the human heart to find that religions are basically saying the same thing. My question is, why do we long for that? And is it that for which we truly long? My response is no. My response is that what it is for which we truly long is a linking with others' hearts NOT because they see and think the way we do, but because the love and are lovable in all the ways that we can potentially see them.

It is Love . . . yes, as you quote Bob, God is love. But what that means to a Taoist or how it translates to him or her is quite another thing, of course. And even what that means in the Gita, again, is similar, as you say . . . but the subtle differences, for me, is where the sharing is! Where the opportunity for connecting is. Just as one day I can tell you how I love my mother and you can tell me how you do, without either of us supposing that we know, thereby getting such a fresh and joyful extension of our particular experiences of the heart.

Such sharing to me is the grace that is built in to things ultimately. Amidst the fear, the treachery, the suffering, the disasters, all the horrible things that occur all the time in this world, to find the beauty in the hearts of living beings, to know lovingness embedded in all of life, is the built in grace.

Chapter 16 is an extension—and we can certainly get into this later—of one of the ways the Gītā hopes to educate its reader, in BUDDHI YOGA, the Yoga of Discernment. To make choices according to the divine nature that we all have or the ungodly nature, as it were. The text can easily appear to be very deterministic in outlook, within its philosophy, but coupled with the narrative, it is clear that the writing is one of not only showing the power of "nature" and OUR inborn "nature," as in Dharma, but also how powerful human volition is. So much more to say on all these things, Bob. You certainly bring it out in me!

Overflowing with thoughts,

Thanks, Graham. I agree that the Gita as a whole is not deterministic (meaning one's qualities and station in life are mostly predetermined at birth, based on past lives.) But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Chapter 16 (by your own translation of course) is not.

It's so out of character that it's easy to see how some scholars would speculate that Chapter 16 and others must have been written by someone else and shoe-horned into the very different spirituality of Chapters 1-12–perhaps an effort to fit the more conventional wisdom of the time into an otherwise revolutionary text.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves! We're only through Chapter 7.

Bob Weisenberg

Thank YOU, Bob.

Of COURSE we're getting ahead of ourselves, and also we're not, because the text should at times be taken as a whole, just as Krishna requests us in the last verse he speaks. It's a beautiful verse give the hermeneutics of deep study. I made a post regarding this subject on this blog.

So Chapter 16 is so interesting. It is a very good question I hear in your words: What function does Chapter 16 have in the whole of the text of the Gītā? How does it connect to the rest?

You let me know when it's time, and I'm there!

Inspired the challenge,

Bob, I like your rationalist response here.

Concepts like "God" or "reincarnation" may simply not be what we tend to think they are. As you've pointed out, the terms "mystical" and "religious" had different connotations for Einstein (as it probably does for you and me as well).

The one thing I would suggest to Michelle is to approach the Gita not as a text to "pick and choose" the aspects to relate to as one would go shopping in a market, but let the text be. Rather than wrestle with mystic concepts that appear, or attempt to contort them to our modern understanding, just put these concepts aside and see if the gestalt–the whole–begins to resonate. I'm suggesting you approach the text like a good literary critic and suspend judgment until you've experienced it in its entirety. Naturally, this doesn't mean you shouldn't discuss it like we're doing here!

I had similar issues with my approach to Buddhist texts originally, but the reading became easier and more comprehensive when I quit arguing with the text during my reading. This doesn't mean I accept any notion or concept that the text presents, but–as much as possible–I give the opportunity for the author(s) to present the narrative or philosophy as it was intended and not encumbered by my modern understanding or cultural grid.

Anyway, that is my humble suggestion . . .


Hi, Matt. That's really great advice. Thanks for writing.

I wish I could come up with a perfect word to describe rationalist/scientific spirituality. I hesitate to use rationalist or scientific, because to most people these terms mean that something has to be proven to be acknowledged. In fact the opposite is true, as the Einstein quotes above make clear.

"Scientific spirituality", which includes much of Yoga in my opinion, embraces and wonders at what we don't know, and even, as in Einstein's case and mine, feels comfortable calling that "God".

But it avoids elaborate belief structures about things that are very highly unlikely (from its point of view) and not even remotely provable, like virgin births, reincarnation, papal infallibility, and divine lineage.

Can you wordsmiths out there come up with the perfect term? Perhaps it is right there and I just haven't encountered it yet.

Thanks again for being here, Matt I really do like your advice above.

Bob Weisenberg

I struggled with that for a long time. I finally decided that Naturalist was the most Universal and Encompassing philosophical standpoint. It is based in rationality, but allows for understanding all natural phenomena, including spiritual practice. It would also be the base philosophy of Einstein. As I've noted elsewhere, once you understand that Naturalism is a non-dual philosophy, the differences between Naturalism and other non-dual philosophies are not so great. I'd guess that one reason you don't use Naturalism or Naturalist is because of the strong connotation of atheism and strong rejection of supernaturalism associated with the philosophy. It does make it difficult to be seen as a spiritual person when you are a naturalist, but it doesn't stop you from actually being one. Leslie Kaminoff is one such example and I'd guess you and I are too.

Thanks for writing, Scott. That's very interesting. I agree with you. But I think Naturalist also doesn't work because it's already well established as a different meaning, that is, one who studies nature. So it might cause more confusion than it's worth, except in a circle of philosophers.

Actually I've become pretty comfortable with "Yoga spirituality". It has a positive ring it, and most people will then say, what do you mean by that? At which point I can refer to the Upanishads, Gita, and Yoga Sutra which, with a few big exceptions like reincarnation and paranormal powers (e.g. levitation) are pretty close for me, at least in my modern interpretation of them.

Bob Weisenberg


I don't see any problem with the term Yoga Spirituality. If that works for you, its fine. You did ask for alternatives though. I myself belong to the Yoga Love Party when asked about my politics.

As for your point about naturaist meaning the study of nature, I think that as natural beings, when we study ourselves, we are studying nature. When we study other aspects of nature, we are still studying ourselves because we are not separate from our environment. In addition, careful observation of how we study nature is also self-study. I see all of this as equivalent to Svadhyaya, though I'll admit if may broaden the definiotion of Svadyaya for some. This is one of the many parallels between Yoga and Science (science being formly within the philosophy of naturalism). I see naturalism as completely compatible with yoga as I practice it.

Yoga: A natural, evolving process designed to optimise and unite body, mind and spirit.


Hi, Scott. Yes, I agree naturalist makes sense logically. I was just thinking of the practical obstacle of using a word that makes most people think of men and women trudging through the forest in khakis with binoculars studying plants and animals and collecting insect samples. Ideally a word creates the right meaning in the mind of the listener instantly. Short of that, next best is to have neutral term that you can build your own meaning into.

As for the parallels between Yoga and Science, yes, absolutely! From my eBook:

Science and Yoga
Are soulmates.
Both find
Infinite wonder
Awesome mystery
And unanswerable questions
Even in the simplest things
We see all around us.

How do the
Molecules and atoms
Protons, electrons, and quarks
Of a rock
Know how to be
A rock?

Science and Yoga
Both inflame our awareness
As much by marveling
At what we don’t know
As what we do.


And of course there's Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage, which I think I already referenced in this conversation somewhere.

Thanks again for sharing your very interesting thoughts with us, Scott.

Bob Weisenberg

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