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First I want to say a few things about the translation and then I will get to why I was so impressed with Brodbeck's introduction.
Mascaro writes that "The aim of this translation is to give, without notes or commentary, the spiritual message of the Bhagavad Gita in pure English." (p. lxiii) Consequently Mascaro's is not a strictly literal translation. The strength of the translation I believe is in the "pure English"--that is, in the direct clarity of expression which Mascaro does so well.
He writes that he has "in a few cases" avoided "the accepted translation of a word," noting that "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." As an example is the word "Dharma," which Mascaro renders as "Truth." Thus we have Dhrita-Rashtra begin the Gita with the words, "On the field of Truth, on the battlefield of life..."
Of course "Dharma" is usually considered not quite translatable into English with just a single word or two and so is usually left as is. I think Mascaro's careful and considered decision is okay and maybe even superior in that the word "Truth" in English especially when capitalized, really grabs our attention and summons up our critical faculties.
Another example is Mascaro's use of the word "God" instead of either "Brahman" or "Atman." Here I think it would be better to keep the Hindu usage since the idea of God in the West which comes mainly from the Abrahamic religions is quite different. I would even say that Mascaro equates God with a non-personal Infinity and vice-versa.
Now to Brodbeck's introduction.
One of the important ideas from the Gita that Brodbeck, who teaches at Cardiff University, addresses is maya, which Krishna calls "the cloud of appearance" that surrounds us. Brodbeck makes a distinction between why an event occurs and the reasons we give to ourselves to explain the event. (The reason I didn't get the job is because the interviewer was biased against me, one might say. But maybe I was unqualified or something else.) Brodbeck writes, "In light of this distinction we can see that...all reasons identified by words or thought are partial, biased, and largely imaginary. They do not refer to the external world, only to our internal world."
The surprising thing is this is true even about events that seem entirely concrete, for example, hitting a home run in baseball. If a batter attempts to explain how and why he hit the homerun it doesn't work because swinging at a 90 mph fastball is largely an act removed from our immediate consciousness, not to mention the connection with the pitcher. Brodbeck adds, "Identified antecedents do not properly represent the pure, rational flux within which any event is embedded, which fills all space and time." (p. xviii)
This is akin to what Einstein meant when he said, "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us `Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness." (Quoted at ThinkExist.com.)
One of the things that Krishna is at pains to tell us in the Gita is that we do not act. The universe (God, or the Atman, if you like) acts through us. Put another way there is not a whole lot we can do about the consequences or "fruits" of our actions, and therefore, as Krishna advises, let us not identify with winning and losing but do our duty with grace and a sincere effort.
Brodbeck even goes so far as to say that the "'I' is no more than a sign amongst others; it denotes no metaphysical entity." (p. xx) He adds that the yogi who has followed Krishna knows "that all actual activities are absolutely necessary, and that no `I' owns any of them." (p. xxii)
Clearly what Brodbeck is saying (and this is also my interpretation of the Gita) is that there is no such thing as free will as understood in the common parlance. This of course is unacceptable socially and politically since society must have individual accountability.
Near the end of his introduction Brodbeck sets the Gita in the context of the Mahabharata suggesting that Krishna had an "anti-imperialistic" "political agenda" that made him desire the victory of Arjuna's tribe, the Pandavas, over the Kauravas. Brodbeck says that these considerations are not evident unless one knows the Mahabharata. Most of us have not and will not ever read the very long Mahabharata and so we'll have to take Brodbeck at his word. This raises the scholarly question of to what extent is the Bhagavad Gita an intrinsic part of that larger work and to what extent has the Gita been inserted into the Mahabharata?
I have read and reviewed seven other books which include a translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Those reviews can be found in the bibliography of my book, "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)."
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is."
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One of the great books of Vedanta philosophy, Mahatma Gandhi referred to is as "the book par excellence for the seeker of Truth" in his autobiography.
This translation by Sir Edwin Arnold from the Sanskrit into traditional English-type prose is considered by many to be the best translation available, and I agree. I have read numerous translations, and none have the beauty, fullness, and informative extolling of virtue for living expressed more artistically.
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