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Freedom through Renunciation: The story of the Bhagavad Gita

Reviewed by Patricia K. Colleran

This beautifully written, easy to understand and engaging translation of The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran brings to the Western reader one of the best introductions to Hindu thought available today. Easwaran’s introduction to his translation combines scholarship with a warm enthusiasm for the subject, giving us clear explanations of the key religious and philosophical concepts of the Gita’s teachings and making it apparent why the spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, who led India in a nonviolent campaign for independence in the 1940s, relied so much on it for inspiration and guidance.

The Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of the Lord,”) is essentially the story of a battle, where the warrior Arjuna turns in anguish to his spiritual guide, Sri Krishna, for answers to the fundamental questions of life.

Yet, as Easwaran points out, it is more than a dialogue between two mythical figures in an ancient land. It is a metaphor for the “war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage,” to discover how to live a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and happy.

The thread through Krishna’s teaching, the essence of the Gita, can be summarized by one word: renunciation. While this word often conjures up for us images of austerity in strict religious orders—far from the idea of the happiness and freedom we seek—Easwaran explains its fundamental meaning, which finds expression in the spiritual and religious movements of all time: to renounce is to free ourselves from selfish ties to material goods. It is an inner renunciation that allows us to receive and let go at the same time. Far from meaning that we do not fully live life and enjoy life, it means that we learn how to renounce the selfishness that affects our relationship to all things. It is to seek purity in thought, word and deed.

Gandhi called this nishkama karma, selfless action. In the teachings of Cafh we have a similar concept in the ideal of “working for the sake of working,” that is, offering the fruits of one’s actions free from the desire for recognition, reward or gain. The idea of renouncement as the road to liberation that we study and practice in Cafh has interesting parallels to the idea of renunciation found in Hindu thought.

Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, writes:

No one in modern times is more qualified—no, make that “as qualified” —to translate the epochal Classics of Indian Spirituality than Eknath Easwaran. And the reason is clear. It is impossible to get to the heart of those classics unless you live them, and he did live them. My admiration for the man and his works is boundless.

This newest revision of one of the works of Eknath Easwaran adds to the contribution he has made to our greater understanding of the timeless teachings of the East, helping us discover relevant insights as we too fight the great inner battle for liberation and peace.