No one can say with certainty how old the Bhagavad Gita is. The tale, which is a story within a story — a book pulled from the epic Mahabharata — has, I learned last week when took a quick jaunt over to Eddie Stern‘s Ashtanga Yoga New York website, a birthday of sorts. And that day is today. Had I been in New York City today rather than in Lansing, Mich., I could have swung by Ashtanga Yoga New York this afternoon or evening to join in the Gita Jayanthi, which the website explained this way:
Monday, December 5th, is the ‘birthday’ of the Bhagavad Gita, and celebrates the day that Sri Krishna spoke the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. We will celebrate this day by chanting the entire Bhagavad Gita aloud, beginning at 2 pm and finishing at about 6:15 pm. Please feel free to come and sit with us as we chant – bring a copy of the Gita if you would like to read along. As with all pujas and ceremonies at the temple, it is not required to stay for the entire time, or even to arrive when we begin.
I imagine it takes chanting at a pretty good clip to get through about 700 verses in just over four hours. I first read the Bhagavad Gita in college, when I had no context for the text and no experience with a yoga practice. This summer, I reread the Gita (the version translated by Eknath Easwaran), and it was a rocking good read. I know that Pattabhi Jois would tell his students to read the Gita, and I understood why after reading it again. Love, fear, doubt, gunas, deities, despair, confusion, heartache, an impossible situation — the Gita has it all.
Richard Freeman devotes an entire chapter to the Gita in his book The Mirror of Yoga, which I recently read during my Thanksgiving travels. I won’t try to distill the chapter, but I did like Freeman’s description of the tale:
The Bhagavad Gita is so skillfully crafted that carefully reading it allows you to appreciate te fact of impermanence not only intellectually, but actually feeling it in your skin and by experiencing its meaning in your muscles and bones. Perhaps this is one reason the book has had such a long and lasting effect, because through such a visceral understanding there is an opportunity for profound insight into the nature of reality. (p. 108)
We’ll never know exactly how old the Gita is, but we’ll never really need to know either, because it’s got that truly timeless quality. Freeman calls it a “fantastic tool”:
…not to be kept on the shelf as an idol but to be read, to be wrestled with, to be reread, consumed, digested and released.
So get to it! Find a copy of the Gita. Consume, digest, release, repeat. We as humans have been doing it for ages.
(Photo credit: Stuck in Customs’ Flickr photostream. The description of this photo: “Alone in the Bhagavad I feel like I end up walking alone through the epic book of the Bhagavad Gita. These mythical places are made manifest in unexpected ways as I look around. It feels somewhat empty inside, like it needs to be shared with someone. The only devastated remnants I have are these little pictures, which seem a poor substitute.”)
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