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The Bhagavad Gita As a Living Experience

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Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
June 2015
Fred's Rating: 
Total Pages: 
Lantern Books

Wilfried Huchzermeyer is an Indologist with extensive knowledge of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. Jutta Zimmermann is an artist and yoga teacher who provided 21 full-page drawings and wrote 3 chapters of this book, which was a gift book.

The Amazon website for this paperback book is

There is a brief summary you can read by clicking on ‘Read more’ on the home page. But the back cover has a different summary, with a different second paragraph that I give here: “A brief yet delightfully thorough study of an essential text. No Sanskrit work, perhaps, but the authors offer fresh insight with this new work. Retained here is a keen sense not only of the spiritual message of the text, but also its setting in the greater narrative in the Mahabharata, its historical context, its poetry, and even the personalities of the two principal characters. The book also includes a transliteration of the Sanskrit text, a mini-introduction of Western responses to it, and an account of its introduction to the West. Highly recommended.” This is a quote from the Library Journal.

I recommend using Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down from the front cover to the Table of Contents. I read all except the last 6 pages which contain “Chanting the Bhagavad Gita: the Original Sanskrit Text” and I didn’t try reading the short poetic Sanskrit verses when they appeared in the text because they were followed by an English translation. I recommend you then read the short Preface online.

When you look over the Table of Contents, note the order of the chapters. The authors first give the Preface, Introduction, and the story in the Mahabharata. Next they give a chapter for each of the two principal characters, Arjuna and Krishna. Then they give in the next three chapters two ways – as poetry and as a living experience – to understand the Bhagavad Gita, to gain equanimity and composure – these are the ‘fruit’ you can gain from it.

The next four chapters describe four paths or ways of approaching yoga. Karma yoga (or action yoga) is best explained by quoting from the book: “At first the meaning appears self-evident: ‘karma’ means ‘action‘, and action means activity, and non-action means passivity. What, we may ask, is so mysterious about it or even worth further deliberation? But we are in yoga here, and in yoga things are quite different from what we either initially thought or are generally in the habit of thinking.” That’s all I have to say about karma here.

The second way, in the next chapter, is Jnana Yoga: “Jnana Yoga is the path of realization and knowledge. Jnana Yoga comprises the secular as well as the sacred fields of knowledge, referring to the simple adoption of knowledge from others as well as the great art of obtaining your own knowledge and experience. The aim of this yoga path is moksha, the higher realization of a life based on the ultimate Truth.” That’s all I have to say about jnana here.

The third way, in the next chapter, is Bhakti Yoga: A Path of Devotion and Surrender, as this chapter’s title says. “Our heart always seeks an opportunity to meet with love, and for some attention connected with worship and affection. This attention, this power of devotion, becomes a bhakti path at the moment when we become aware of its basic aspect. Then adoration and devotion no longer take place in a haphazard way, but with a consciousness that has a larger perception of the overall scheme of things. It is not blind devotion, but devotion and knowledge combined on the bhakti path.” That’s all I have to say about bhakti here.

The fourth way, in the next chapter, is Dhyana Yoga: Meditation, as this chapter’s title says. Meditation takes place in the story of the Bhagavad Gita, which is an example that this chapter begins with. But, in general: “It is well known that great spiritual personalities at times have withdrawn into solitude in order to find and reaffirm their own highest Truth remote from the tumult of the world. Today, we talk of relaxing and forgetting about everything – something becoming more and more important in these times of media saturation. There are places especially suited for this purpose, places with a good atmosphere for supporting meditation and concentration.”

The remaining chapters’ titles are self-descriptive. But I’ve focused in this review on the four ways or paths that the Hindu religion believes are adequate. When I had read somewhere, some decades ago, that each Hindu tends to follow the one path that best fits with his or her disposition, I didn’t question their staying on only one path. At that time, and without very much thinking, I placed myself on the Jnana path because of my lifelong eagerness to learn more and obtain more knowledge about the world – both the physical world and the spiritual world – and how they are related. But today, with my experiences that have so strongly affected and transformed my spirituality, I question the single path idea, for I can easily find benefits in all four paths. I think it may well be that our circumstances at various stages of our lives may provide us with greater enlightenment. So I can envision myself as following simultaneously the jnana, bhakti, and dhyana paths. I just can’t envision myself sticking to any single path and I'm glad to know now that it isn't necessary to do so.

I found that this short book greatly exceeded my expectations. I read it the day I was given it, and reread it the next day and the following day. I give it five stars, but I add “Think six stars!” Keep it close at hand, for it is worth rereading more than once.

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