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Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation [Paperback]

Stephen Mitchell
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 27 2002
Stephen Mitchell is widely known for his ability to make ancient masterpieces thrillingly new, to step in where many have tried before and create versions that are definitive for our time. His celebrated version of the Tao Te Ching is the most popular edition in print, and his translations of Jesus, Rilke, Genesis, and Job have won the hearts of readers and critics alike. Stephen Mitchell now brings to the Bhagavad Gita his gift for breathing new life into sacred texts.

The Bhagavad Gita is universally acknowledged as one of the world's literary and spiritual masterpieces. It is the core text of the Hindu tradition and has been treasured by American writers from Emerson and Thoreau to T. S. Eliot, who called it the greatest philosophical poem after the Divine Comedy. There have been more than two hundred English translations of the Gita, including many competent literal versions, but not one of them is a superlative literary text in its own right.

Now all that has changed. Stephen Mitchell's Bhagavad Gita sings with the clarity, the vigor, and the intensity of the original Sanskrit. It will, as William Arrowsmith said of Mitchell's translation of The Sonnets to Orpheus, "instantly make every other rendering obsolete."

From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

On the list of the greatest spiritual books of all time, the Bhagavad Gita resides permanently in the top echelon. This poem of patently Indian genius sprouted an immense tree of devotional, artistic, and philosophical elaboration in the subcontinent. The scene is a battlefield with the prince Arjuna pitted against his own family, but no sooner does the poem begin than the action reverts inward. Krishna, Arjuna's avatar and spiritual guide, points the way to the supreme wisdom and perfect freedom that lie within everyone's reach. Worship and be faithful, meditate and know reality--these make up the secret of life and lead eventually to the realization that the self is the root of the world. In this titular translation, Stephen Mitchell's rhythms are faultless, making music of this ancient "Song of the Blessed One." Savor his rendition, but nibble around the edges of his introduction. In a bizarre mixture of praise and condescension, Mitchell disregards two millennia of Indian commentary, seeking illumination on the text from Daoism and Zen, with the Gita coming up just shy of full spiritual merit. Perhaps we should take it from Gandhi, who used the Gita as a handbook for life, that it nourishes on many levels. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Mitchell must by now be accounted one of our generation!s heroic translators, having taken on the Book of Job, the Tao te Ching, and Genesis and done so much to popularize Rilke in English. Now he applies his considerable skill and sympathy to one of the most noted sacred texts of Asia, the Bhagavad Gita, and the results are very happy. He works in free-verse quatrains of about three beats per line, and his language flows with great naturalness. Inevitably, this text will remain both ancient and foreign to many modern readers, but Mitchell!s work goes a long way to making these words...[drive] away your ignorance and delusion. Highly recommended.
- away your ignorance and delusion. Highly recommended.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Translation or interpretive rendering? Jan. 7 2002
I really like Stephen Mitchell's work, but it's important to know what you're getting.
What you're ordinarily _not_ getting is a straight-up translation of the source text; you're getting Mitchell's attempt to render the source text into a fine English poem that expresses the spiritual insights he wants it to express. (Examples: his excellent interpretive renderings of the Psalms and the Tao Te Ching. They are excellent interpretive renderings; they are _not_ translations.)
Even when the translation _is_ straightforward, he tends to chop the text to bits and just keep the parts he agrees with. (Examples: his translation of the book of Genesis, which includes the entire text but relegates the "spiritually suspect" parts to an appendix, and his rendering of the book of Job, which includes some terrific translation but omits the speech of Elihu and the poem in praise of wisdom.)
And now he's done the Bhagavad Gita. Has he translated it, or has he interpretively rendered it?
Well, the first point to make is that he _has_ included the entire text and limited himself to offering commentary on the parts he doesn't agree with. (Incidentally, I tend to disagree with the same parts and I understand that there have been Hindu scholars who have at least raised the same questions that Mitchell does.) This point alone means that Mitchell's Gita is a landmark: he hasn't chopped up the text in order to leave out the "spiritually inferior" portions.
So how good is his translation? Well, Mitchell says his own Sanskrit is "rudimentary," but that doesn't mean (as some reviewers seem to think) that he doesn't know any at all. (This is a bit different from his Tao Te Ching, in which he admits that he just doesn't read Chinese.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful treatment of the Gita Jan. 23 2003
I am mesmerized as I read this book and find within it the common thread that joins all the great holy books of the world. It is beautifully put together and written in such a fashion that it is a pleasure read. I was concerned about another reviewer's comments about this being an "interpretation" rather than a "translation" of the Gita, and so I sat down and compared several chapters of this book to the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold is a more standard treatment of this text. I found that Stephen Mitchell's version was much more readable and understandable, and yet did not take anything away from the authenticity of the actual text. For anyone wishing to take a slightly different path leading to the nearness to God, I highly recommend picking up this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise Sept. 17 2003
By A Customer
I've been reading the Bhagavad Gita for almost 30 years. I compared this translation with several I have at home and was surprise with the quality and how the translator used poetry conveying in a precise manner the meaning of the Gita.
Some people complained in other reviews that the "translation cannot be a good one since the translator is not a religious person himself" (how do they know? just because he is not a HareKrishna or other religious group member?). Another reader accused him of trying to make an easy buck with this translation (Have you ever tried to translate the Gita in a poem form? Do you have any idea of the amount of work involved?) I really don't care about it.
This book is a good translation and a good poem.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Translated Dec 18 2001
To take a representative example of one of Mitchell's translation mistakes, at BhG. 2.47 Mitchell translates the Sanskrit word adhikara as "right," as in "action is your right." While adhikara certainly means this in modern Hindi, the discourse on human rights so prevalent since the European Enlightenment was quite absent when the Gita was written in Sanskrit in the period between the 4th century BCE an the 4th century CE. We find better translations of this word in other recent translations of the Gita (e.g., Zaehner: "business," Sargeant: "jurisdiction"). Zaehner's edition also has the advantage of emphasizing the Sanskrit word te, "your," which is repeated again in the second line of the verse. The point is that for Arjuna, as a Ksatriya (warrior-caste), it is HIS job to act. And it is not simply a right, but an obligation.
As for Mitchell's introduction, which is orientalist in the worst sense of the word, I think others on Amazon have said enough. Thankfully, in 20 years Mitchell's boutique translation of the Gita will be out of print and lost in the sands of time, while the translations of more scrupulous scholars will continue to inspire young readers to learn more about India's philosophies.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Translation??? April 27 2001
One of the things that irritated me about his particular "translation" was the fact that Mitchell admits in the book that he has a knowledge of only "rudimentary Sanskrit". If this is true, then I cannot have much faith in his "tranlsation". Still, to anyone who has read any of the other recent translations, there will be little of surprise here. Although Mitchell may not know Sanskrit, he apparently has relied on someone who does in order to get this "translation of a translation". One of the things that he mentions in this book that I agree with is that the first 12 chapers of the Gita and the last 6 chapters were written by different authors. In the first two thirds of the book, we see a kind, loving Krishna accepting all who try to reach him in any way they are able . . . even the sinful are seen as having a divine spark at their heart. This seems more in keeping with the earlier, Upanishadic tradition of advaita. The latter part of the book seems to have been written by some Samkhya philosopher bent upon classifyng everything according to the doctrine of the three Gunas. The latter part of the book is boring, repetitive, and seems to be on a considerably lower level than the rest of the book. Instead of the universal Krishna, we now have the angry god casting down the "evil" men again and again into infamy and who regards certain people as inherently demonic -- a stark contrast form the beginning chapters. Also of not is Gandhi's essay of Ahimsa and his view of how the Gita does not actually condone violence, but makes use of a war in order to present its message more clearly. Gandhi is not totally convincing in this, but it does provide a good counterpoint to those who use it as an excuse for violence and oppression in the name of god. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
We used this book in our CANADIAN YOGA ALLIANCE YTT program. The students enjoyed the read and given this was a Western training, the students now have a good understanding of the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by V.Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF NOW
Stephen Mitchell has a great talent in being able to condense "wordiness" into
concise lines of poetic insight. Read more
Published 4 months ago by WALTER
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Read
I read this book for my YTT200 twice! It was great; easy to read and understand. It was clear and I enjoyed that it was written almost poetic.
Published 5 months ago by Kimberly
4.0 out of 5 stars Great translation. One of the best ...
I believe only Isherwoods to be slightly better but this is merely an opinion. One of the best. It came recommended by my teacher that has read all possible translations and picked... Read more
Published 15 months ago by G. Virdi
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent audio edition
I found the audio edition of this book with a sensitive reading by Stephen Mitchell to be an excellent companion for listening while driving. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2003 by Richard Seeley
3.0 out of 5 stars This is a Hindu Book
This is a book based on a Hindu belief and has alot of love type things in it. This is not recommended unless you are studying this culture.
Published on May 11 2003 by James
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous
What are you guys talking about? This translation is stunningly poetic. I have read three different versions of the Gita, including the overhyped Bhagvad Gita As It Is(which, by... Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, accessible and beautifully presented
First of all this is a beautiful book. The design by Barbara Sturman in which the text is presented in a handsome wine/purple font set in wide margins with the chapter titles in a... Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2001 by Dennis Littrell
2.0 out of 5 stars A great disservice to humanity
Although Mitchell has writing talent, he obviously hasn't taken the teachings of the Gita to heart. The Gita must be understood from one who understands its truths, who lives his... Read more
Published on June 21 2001 by Susanne
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