The sixth book in The Well-Read Man Project is one of the core religious texts of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita.
This review contains spoilers. But keep this in mind: it’s a religious book. Even if I don’t say anything, you already know it deals with a powerful deity and those humans who both love and hate said deity. So I’m not really spoiling anything.
Although the title is somewhat hard to pronounce, the core plot of the Bhagavad Gita is simple and straightforward. As the Hindu epic begins, Prince Arjuna prepares to lead his troops into battle. But there’s one hitch: he knows many of the opposition soldiers, and thinks it would be a shame to kill so many great men, both in his army and in the approaching forces. And for what, I ask you, for what?
Unfortunately, the only person nearby that the prince can ask for advice is his charioteer. Fortunately, this charioteer is actually Krishna, the creator and destroyer of the universe. He’s in disguise, so it’s hard to tell it’s him. But when he starts talking, his true qualities become crystal clear.
Here is Krishna’s advice: Go ahead and kill them, because (1) it’s your duty, and (2) they’re not really going to die, not if you look at it in the grand scheme of things. Arjuna isn’t sure about this guidance, so Krishna lays on the theology pretty thick. He also reveals his true nature to the prince. That does the trick. Arjuna and his trusty charioteer-god are ready to resume the battle.
The battle story is actually a thin wrapper around the core content of Krishna documenting the main tenants of Hindu belief: reincarnation; all is life and life is all; all paths lead to truth unless your desires get in the way (or if you belong to the Veds, a group that Krishna isn’t to excited about); meditation and duty are both great ways show spirituality; and the renunciation of the things of this world is what you really should be doing.
As a Christian, many of the theological details in the text were in conflict with my own beliefs. But even those in a Judeo-Christian culture can find wisdom in the pages of this text. One major point is that a constant devotion to your own desires leads to trouble. This sentiment is echoed in most major religions, and even atheists hold up this ideal as a personal goal.
Krishna can get a little long-winded, especially when he talks about himself and his own attributes. But overall, the Bhagavad Gita is a pleasant read, and a good introduction into the mindset of one of the world’s largest belief systems.
The Well-Read Man Project
For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.