The Mahābhārata

Entering The Jungle of 100 Texts

 

   

The Mahābhārata has been called an epic,  perhaps a "library" would more accurately portray the vast array of poetry, stories, incantations, metaphysics, philosophy, violence, love, purity, impurity, the divine, the devas, the Snakes, the battles, the Pāndavas, and perhaps much of human experience itself for many people throughout time. A vast work, that I approach for the first time like a jungle, having only read portions before in the form of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Anugita, and the Sanatsugitaya. The preface, introduction, translation and editing was performed by J.A.B. van Buitenen.

   The work is so vast that the opening chapters of the work itself, are the contents as listed or sung by the Bard. The Bard is the narrator supreme of the work though many lengthy portions are related under various other narrators who relate diverse information. The first five texts in The Book of the Beginning, provide the outline for the beginning of the work. Though, this is not the entire Mahābhārata,  of over 100 texts as indicated by the summary given by the Bard.

   Following the text of the summaries and contents of The Book of the Beginning is the initial narration of the Bard's arrival.  His hosts and the other guests are ready to hear this  work, held at a twelve year session. The listeners are then informed of the events leading to the great Snake Sacrifice.  Over the course of the next several texts virtually every possible perspective of the story of the sacrifice is examined in full with each character's part addressed.  Though the perspectives do not reach the final junction until once the sacrifice is underway and finds its conclusion. An excellent read, once adjustments are made for this kind of work and thus far very enjoyable.

Review of "The Middle Length Discourse of The Buddha"

A Translation by Bhikku Nanamoli and Bhikku Bohdi

       

The last post focused on a small collection of thematic material as selected, translated and annotated by Bhikku Bodhi. This week's article focuses on a much larger work of the Nikayas themselves. The Majjhima Nikaya, translated by Bhikku Bohdi and Bhikku Nanamoli as The Middle Length Discourses represents a large portion of the Tripitaka, or "Three Baskets", of teachings as presented by Buddhist practitioners through the Pali language (a precursor to Hindi). These works represent the teachings of Gautama Buddha as best remembered by his followers and constitute the earliest recordings of these teachings.

    The importance of the teaching cycle can here by remarked on as influencing the overall structure of what Gautama delivered to his followers. The teachings presented in Buddhism are presented in cycles in order to assist philosophers in understanding the insight being shared. The Sutta is the chosen method throughout the volume and reveals dialogues, stories, events, locations, and other material that makes it possible to enter the conversations of the past that continues to influence the way people around the world go about their daily lives.

 

    Bhikku Bohdi's translation is among the best translations currently available of this text.  The introduction provides the reader with the essentials to begin their study, notes to help clear away confusion, and a comprehensive index for cross-referencing and exploration of key concepts. In addition, Bhikku Bohdi is well aware that many western readers find repetition to be verbose, and that the mnemonic aid of repetition does not necessarily need to form a part of every section in the translation. This editing alone prevents the book from swelling any further beyond its 1,420 pages.

 

     The overall impression is monumental. The story, dialogues and philosophy expand over two further volumes, thus completing the Tripitaka and the Pali Canon of Buddhist Texts.  Thousands of books have been published and many more will be published that explore parts and sections of these philosophical and dialogue epics. For those wanting to discover the source and drink of the waters for themselves this is the book for you. 

A Review of "In The Buddha's Words"

An Exploration Review

 

 

   

    In The Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon was compiled, edited and arranged by the Bhikkhu Bodhi.  His division of the work compiles ten thematic sections that range throughout the words and ideas of Gautama Buddha recorded in the ancient Hindi dialect of Pali. It is important to note that Gautama Buddha wrote none of these works, and that his words, stories, and instructions were memorized and transmitted orally from one generation to the next eventually over the course of time they were written down.

     The selections themselves are from a group of texts called The Nikayas that are a vast work of compositions written down and approved by various scholar monks. Over the years, three particular meetings of leading Buddhists compiled, edited and approved the Pali canon as the leading source of Buddhist philosophy. The original handwritten texts and manuscripts are for the most part lost now and the materials currently available are usually representative copies of those originals.

 

       The thematic arrangement of material in this book makes it very easy to quickly approach the teachings from a "beginner's" perspective and gain access to the philosophy of Gautama. The notes and introductions are incredibly helpful in explaining the choice of selections and how they incorporate into the overall message.  The majority of the selections are not incredibly lengthy or usually difficult to digest.  Expressions that appear strange or unusual are explained concisely through the introduction, notes and glossary; and represent their own introduction to one of the more ancient formats of the Hindi language.

 

       The material includes stories, discussions, poetry and narration.  The philosophy that waits at the heart of the book itself is very similar and may be said to stem from Brahmin philosophy, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and various Gitas.  The material from these selections also appears to influence some of the Gitas that the reviewer has read.  The ideas, on the whole, seem to organically influence a portion of Hindi culture as well as cultures around the world in general. In summation, In The Buddha's Words is one more way to gain access to some of the foundations for the Hindi and Buddhist lifestyles. 

The "Anugita"

An Exploration Review

        

The Anugita together with the Sanatsugatiya and  Bhagavad-Gita form three of the songs that were at once distinct compositions and also formed a portion that would be assimilated into the vast Maharabharata.  The Anugita is the final installment in the this particular volume translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telang. It is longer than the Sanatsugatiya though not as long as the Bhagavad-Gita.

      This Gita opens much as the other Gitas do with one of the characters asking for an exposition and answers to various questions that they have in mind.  Seeming somewhat reluctant, the Brahmin and others begin the expositions.  What is distinct about the Anugita is the much more prevalent use of simile, metaphor, and allegory.  Stories and traditions are given a much higher place as well, and remain encapsulated within the dialogue. The poetic and prose images conveyed by the speakers are the strongest here in this particular Gita.

      The western reader may find some issue with some of the material discussed by the Brahmin.  For example, there is a lengthy and recurring discourse concerning the senses and how they are distinct.  This is unfortunately, not the case as shown by synaesthesia (Greek "syn"=together, "aesthesia"=sensation), where the senses come together.  Synaesthetes (those who have this particular neurological condition) often report interesting sensations mixing between the senses.  Historically, Sir Isaac Newton was such a person and for his particular situation, he would see a color and at the same time hear a musical note.  So, in his case, for example, he would see the color "red" (in a painting, on a wall, or a barn, etc.) and hear the musical note "C#".   Newton could walk through the world of color and hear also the world of music at the same time.  However, pointing this issue out is in no way intended to detract from the overall message given by the Brahmin.   

      The Anugita also makes use of the very interesting image of "the chariot" (the divine chariot).  Upon reading of this image, immediately the image of Ezekiel's Chariot of the divine (the Ma'aseh mercabah) also entered into the reviewer's mind.  This image is considered by many scholars, (including Maimonides, please see Guide For The Perplexed Part III for his lengthy and knowledgeable discussion), to be among the most profound, prophetic revelations given to mankind.  It was very interesting to see and note the parallels of thought between these two great traditions of human thought and experience.

Sanatsugatiya, The "Sequel" to the Bhagavad-Gita

A Different Perspective

                        The Sanatsugatiya constitutes a portion of the Mahabharata as well as its own separate work.  This work is certainly not as well known or as popular as the Bhagavad-Gita.  It is a literary follow-up however to the Bhagavad-Gita, and picks up the thread of the narrative in this national Hindi Epic in a grand fashion.  It is a very short work, amounting to only a few chapters and perhaps some hundred pages. Dialogue is one of the favorite motifs, or vehicles, for the writers of the Mahabharata.  In this way, the works are somewhat similar to the works we find in Plato, and other philosophical writings that use a dialogue or story format in order to convey the essence of their message.  This particular dialogue follows that schematic for conversation with questions and answers issued with great authority.

          Perhaps it is the translation I was reading, a translation by Kashinath Trimbak Telang, in which there was some sort of error or misconstruing of the philosophical and religious thought of the work.  The author could be to blame, the translator could be to blame, or this article's author was under a misperception--in any case, it would appear that the arguments and dialogue of the first part of the work fall into direct contradiction later in the dialogue.  Now, perhaps it was that the author was referring to different practices within their tradition of religious practice.  Or, on the other hand, it would appear that the persons of the dialogue changed their stance or point of view.

          This apparent contradiction in terms as presented between two chapters, creates a sense that all of the earlier statements in the work are invalid.  If that is the case, the first two chapters are the chapters that appear to coincide with the practices and spirit of living found in the Bhagavad-Gita.  The later two chapters seem to contradict the stances taken in the Bhagavad-Gita and the initial two chapters of the Sanatsugatiya.  If this is the situation, then it is this author's stance that the text has in some way been corrupted so as to yield such a reading.

          Overall, the first two chapters are an excellent follow-up to the dialogue, ideas and story of the Bhagavad-Gita.  The value of the remaining chapters cannot be seen by these western eyes or perception of the reviewer and so seem superfluous and contradictory to the spirit found in the initial chapters. As a philosopher, I respect the initial chapters but almost entirely disregard the later chapters as either interpolations, mistranslations, or as quite worthless additions to the work. In time, perhaps with further study, comments or education that view will change.

Bhagvad-gita, A Book Review

Coming From A Different Perspective

 

Sacred Books of the East

There are numerous translations of the Bhagvad-gita and one of those particular translations came into my hands just a few days ago.  "The Sacred Books of The East" series edited by F. Max Müller and first published by Clarendon Press, in 1882.  It is actually one of the oldest and largest translations series of the past. It includes the Bhagvad-gita and other sacred texts translated ino the English language and additionally it is presented by some very distinguished scholars of the past.   

The Bhagvad-gita forms a part of the Bishma Parvan, a portion of the Mahabharata, one of the two better-known national epics of India and Hindi culture.  It is considered by many to be "the divine song" so keeping in mind that it occupies a spiritual veneration for some and a philosophy to others, and how people view and interpret the world is very important especially when viewing this text.  The translator, notes this and then sets forth an introduction that both explores various questions related to the text and his personal views on the matter.

 The translator also dives into various other circumstances and evidences surrounding the text in question providing various perspectives of the time on various parts of the text.  This is uniquely helpful for those wishing to track the history of how people look at a text and interpret it according to their own view of the past and the ideas being transmitted from there. What follows the introduction is the text itself translated with notes.  The translation is fairly easy to read and understand but it is written with an audience in mind that exists in our past.  I would have to say, "To each his own," as far as readability on this one; although the author does provide excellent notes to help limping readers along in the text.

In my own estimation, this is one of the finest pieces of literature I have read up to this point in which action, dialogue, imagery, and philosophy reach a peak of incomparable music.  That is without ascribing, out of necessity or at all, to the philosophy involved either.   It makes for a very interesting read no matter what your perspective might be and certainly serves to help illuminate another aspect of an ancient culture. 

My First Book of Hindi Words

When it comes to language, they say immersion is best. Having one adult at home speak it at all times can really help speed the learning process along, as well as make it more natural for the child to grasp. Of course, keeping it simple and conversational also helps; you aren’t going to read El Juego de Angel when you first begin reading Spanish, of course!

When it comes to learning Hindi, My First Book of Hindi Words is a perfect introduction to Hindi for non-native speakers—both children and adults. My daughter and I are both fans of the “My First Book of…” series, and we have a copy of the Spanish version at home. What’s so wonderful about these books is that they all feature practical, real-life photos rather than caricatures or illustrations, and everything is organized by a two-page layout rather than a boring dictionary format.

For example, in the kitchen section of the book, there is a two-page photo spread of a kitchen, including all of the things one might encounter there—from the refrigerator to plates, knives, spoons, and forks. Many of the words children (as well as adults!) might need to know are included in a very simple yet engaging fashion. You could even take the book with you when you enter the scenes included, as we do, and name the items as you hold them in your hands. (For older children, you may wish to label items with their Hindi words to help them visualize the language as well.)

Some types of words you will find in the picture book include:

  • Common foods, including milk, bread, and fruits
  • The family and the pronunciations for various family members, including sister, brother, baby, aunt, uncle, cousin, and more
  • The body, including hair, ears, mouth, toes, and other body parts
  • Clothing, from traditional boys’ and girls’ items as well as shoes, hats, and adult clothing items
  • Children’s favorite topic, toys!
  • The bedroom and common items within it, such as the window or bed
  • The bathroom and its common items
  • And many more!

Colors, classroom elements, and a few traveling terms are also included. Kids will enjoy looking at the pictures and recalling vocabulary words as they learn Hindi, leafing from page to page to test their own knowledge and have fun speaking Hindi words. Learning a second language is almost like learning a secret code for kids, and they revel in knowing a few “secret” words that their friends may not know. Sometimes it’s even fun to pretend we don’t know the words with them—in many cases, parents don’t know the words, if their children are learning in a setting outside the home!—just to watch them giggle and know something Mom or Dad doesn’t know. We also learn from our kids every day, so having them teach us new words can also be fun. Kids tend to pick up new languages much more quickly than adults do—and why wouldn’t they? They’re natural born learners!—so sometimes they can be our best resource when learning to speak a second language.

The Great Oom in American didn't come from anywhere in the Middle East

It came from Iowa.

When most people think of yoga—even yoga in America—they think of it as something Eastern, transported to this country on the backs of Hindu yogis with sitars in their packs.  Think again.  Robert Love’s The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America tells the story of Perry Baker, a small-town Iowan, who unexpectedly studied the ancient practice with an Indian yoga instructor named Sylvais Hamati living in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1890.  The rest is oom history. Baker changed his name to Pierre Bernard, created yoga studios in San Francisco, Seattle and New York and involved himself with the seedier uses of backbends and leg lifts. Needless to say he started a revolution, but a revolution with fewer Hindu influences than most American yogis probably would expect. 

The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners

Nicholas J. Brown (Author)

Amazon is offering The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners for only $11.63 with FREE shipping if you spend over $25.

"Whether you're learning alone or attending classes, you'll find this complete Russian language course for beginners both accessible and indispensable. Designed to provide the student with an excellent command of basic Russian (the equivalent of A level standard) this book features thirty lessons punctuated by revision exercises to ensure you have fully understood what you have learned. The emphasis is on acquiring vocabulary, experiencing conversational language and learning useful grammar. This book also includes a vocabulary of 1,500 words and a glossary of grammatical terms."

Bhagavad-Gita As It Is [Hardcover]

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Amazon is offerin Bhagavad-Gita As It Is [Hardcover] by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada for only $10.17 with FREE shipping if you spend over $25 or have Amazon Prime.

Bhagavad-gita As It Is is the largest-selling, most widely used edition of the Gita in the world.

Special Features

* Original Sanskrit text
* English equivalents for each Sanskrit word
* Elaborate commentary
* Complete glossary
* Complete verse index
* Complete subject index
* High readability
* Profuse full-color illustrations

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