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“Exploring the Bhagavad-gita” Wins Prestigious Choice Award

Monday, 23 January 2012 / Published in News / 3,158 views

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News

Earlier this month “Exploring the Bhagavad gita: Philosophy, Structure and Meaning,” a new book written by ISKCON Academy of Arts and Sciences member Dr. Ithamar Theodor, and released by leading academic publisher Ashgate, was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011.

Every year in their January issue, Choice (http://www.cro2.org/ ), a magazine representing the 35,000 libraries who are part of the American Academic Libraries association, publishes a list of Outstanding Academic Titles that they reviewed during the previous year.

The list is selected by Choice editors through several criteria: There’s overall excellence in presentation and scholarship; importance relative to other literature in the field; and distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form.

The books are also judged according to originality or uniqueness of treatment; value to undergraduate students; and importance in building undergraduate library collections.

Comprising less than three percent of the more than 25,000 titles submitted to Choice in 2011, Outstanding Academic Titles are the “the best of the best,” representing only a select group of publishers and authors.

“Theodor writes with a fine mind and a great heart, both of which are essential for delving into this ancient work’s profound teachings,” Choice magazine commented in its review. “A fine glossary, bibliography, and index enhance the book’s value.”

Meanwhile Ashgate Publishing expounded, “The Bhagavad Gita is a unique literary creation but deciphering its meaning and philosophy is not easy or simple.

This careful study of the Bhagavad Gita approaches the ancient text with a modern mind and offers a unifying structure which is of a universal relevance.

Combining the philosophical-theoretical with the ethical-practical, Ithamar Theodor locates his study within comparative theology and identifies the various layers of meaning.”

Theodor’s book presents the full text of the Bhagavad Gita in a new translation, divided into sections, and accompanied by in-depth commentary. It aims to make the ancient spiritual classic accessible and understandable to a wide variety of modern readers.

Dr. Theodor, an Israeli scholar of Hinduism who shares his time between the University of Haifa, Israel, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, first encountered the Bhagavad gita As It Is when visiting the ISKCON center in Tel Aviv some thirty years ago.

“I very much liked the book more or less from the first moment, and have been studying it since then,” he says.

After years of deep interest in the spiritual aspects of the Bhagavad-gita, Theodor began to see its potential for articulating contemporary social-political philosophy.

“I started to think of philosophizing this classical text—writing a commentary which would highlight its unique features which to my mind could greatly contribute to contemporary philosophy,” he explains.

Theodor set to work, completing the book in 2008 during a year spent as a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall and the Divinity Faculty, University of Cambridge. This, he feels, was the most meaningful period of his time spent writing Exploring the Bhagavad-gita.

“The entire writing process, however, was a very pleasurable experience,” he says. “It was an experience of deep meditation on each and every verse translated, and each and every section and chapter commented about. In a sense, that was the best part. All the rest, such as actually getting published, was secondary.”
When Dr. Theodor did try to find a publisher for his book, it was no easy task. It was hard to make the case for yet another edition of the Bhagavad-gita. But finally Ashgate, a leading UK-based publisher, took notice of Thedor’s fresh point of view—exploring the Gita’s structure—and published the book in July 2010.

“The main contribution of my book is the articulation of the Bhagavad gita’s structure,” says Theodor. “Most scholarly works consider the Bhagavad-gita to contain many deep and wonderful ideas in the realm of ‘wisdom,’ but to lack a coherent structure, which would turn it into a philosophy with universal claims. In articulating the structure, I have applied some traditional ideas with some innovations of my own. And taking into consideration the hierarchical nature of some Indian philosophical traditions, I have tied all this together and pointed at the structure of the book.”

Exploring the Bhagavad-gita has been well-received so far, with Theodor pleased to receive many warm responses from readers who felt touched by the book in various ways.

Then, of course, there’s the Choice award. Feeling happy, honored, and humbled to receive it, Thedor explains why he thinks the Bhagavad-gita belongs not only to the past but to the future as well.

“To my mind, for various global, geo-political and philosophical reasons, global philosophy is moving eastwards, so to speak,” he says. “I can see a possibility of Indian and Chinese philosophy gradually playing a more central role in world philosophy, in mature and ongoing dialogue with western philosophy and theology.”

“The Gita is situated at the heart of it,” he continues, “Not only geographically, being situated between China and the West, but also ideologically. In other words, it adheres to core western theological ideas such as monotheism, but is also compatible with Chinese social (Confucian) and mystical (Daoist) thought too.”

“As such,” Thedor concludes, “It has a potential to occupy a more central role in world philosophy and theology for a long time to come.”

Exploring the Bhagavad-gita is available from Ashgate Publishing here: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754666585

5 comments

  1. 0
    Nama Prabhu das says:

    I am a little bit confused here. I didn’t see Lord Sri Krishna or Srila Prabhupada mentioned once in this article. What is the actual point of his book with his own translations and commentary? Perhaps you could give a sample from the book that shows how he has stayed faithful to Srila Prabhupada while attempting to make the Bhagavad-gita “more accessible and understandable to a wide variety of modern readers.” Thank you. Hare Krishna.

  2. 0
    Bhagavan08 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    From the summary listed in the link, he does seem to follow our conclusion, I guess you have to read it to fully know:

    Contents: Preface; General introduction; Setting the scene; The soul, Dharma and liberation; The path of enlightened action – part I; The supreme person’s descent; The path of enlightened action – part II; The path of classical Yoga; The vision of the supreme – part I; Quitting one’s body, the ephemeral and eternal worlds; The vsion of the supreme – part II; Arjuna’s change of heart and the divine manifestations; The cosmic revelation; Stages of devotion; The vision of the supreme in the heart; The 3 gunas; The journey from bondage to liberation; The divine and the demonic; The manifestation of the 3 gunas in human life; Summary and conclusion: taking refuge in Krishna alone; Glossary; Bibliography; Index.

  3. 0
    Arya-siddhanta dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Devotees,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    With all respect to previous posters and Kavicandra Maharaja, I greatly disagree with the conclusion that this book has merit and strongly disagree with it being promoted on ISKCON’s news site or Dandavats.com (reference: http://news.iskcon.com/node/4154/2012-01-20/exploring_the_bhagavad_gita_wins_prestigious_choice_award)

    I’ve taken the time to read the introduction of the book: Exploring the Bhagavad gita: Philosophy, Structure and Meaning. The term “exploring” really sums up the problems that I will now enumerate.

    1) First of all this person is not intiated and does not describe himself as a devotee of Krsna. Here’s a brief bio with his credentials: http://east-asia.haifa.ac.il/staff/itheodor.htm and http://asia.haifa.ac.il/staff/itheodor/itheodor-The-Mahatma-Gandhi.htm

    2) Please tell me dear devotees if these concepts are in line with your understanding of Bhagavad-gita AS IT IS? I’ll let you come to some of your own conclusions based on the evidence, but I also have some commentary for these quotes. (Keep in mind only the introduction is available for free online, so that is all I’ve quoted).

    – pg 1 . The Bhagavad Gita is a literary and theological treatise and a foremost world classic; it has occupied both an authoritative and popular position within Hinduism for the last 1,000 years or so. Due to its major influence, it is sometimes called ‘The Hindu Bible’ or even ‘The Indian Bible’

    – pg 1. It is likely that the Bhagavad Gita was composed around the fourth to the second centuries BCE, and as such belongs roughly to the same period as that of the great Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle.

    – pg 2. Along with the character-building one undergoes, he studies the spiritual traditions and develops
    awareness of the highest truth named Brahman.

    – pg 5. in order to understand the Bhagavad Gita’s structure and main theme, I offer the metaphor of a three-storey house. This house not only has three floors, storeys or tiers, but has a staircase or ladder,
    leading the residents from the first floor to the second, and from the second to the third. The lower floor represents human life in this world, the second floor is an intermediate floor, whereby one relinquishes worldly life and seeks the state of liberation, and the third floor represents full absorption in the liberated state

  4. 0
    Arya-siddhanta dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    - pg 6. In this way, the Bhagavad Gita adheres to both ideals; it supports social responsibility, morality and dharma, and at the same time, it endorses the Upanisadic path of self-realization, which leads one from the depth of material existence all the way up to liberation.

    – pg 7. This point of view is what we may call a ‘second storey’ one; from this point of view one sees his own body and mind as external to himself, considers his deep entanglement with matter to be circumstantial, non-essential and an obstacle on the path of liberation, and in this state he tries not only to severe his deep relations with matter and mind, but to gain hold of the spiritual reality of Brahman, in either its personal or impersonal form.

    – pg 9. Let it be known that dissolution of the deep union with misery is called yoga,

    – pg. 10 The guna of passion is characterized by desire and attachment, and with adherence to duty for the sake of its fruits or for some ulterior gain; when mixed with a larger amount of goodness it represents the ruling class, and when mixed with a somewhat lesser amount of goodness, it represents the mercantile and
    farming class.

    – pg 12-13. The structure of the Bhagavad Gita is composed not only of three tiers of reality, rather its other major component is a transformational ladder; the training process offered by the guru aspires to further a moral and spiritual transformation, and a gradual elevation along this ladder of values.

    – pg. 14 – As opposed to the general masculine voice dominating the Bhagavad Gita, when it comes to devotion, the text specifically refers to female devotees, in a declaration which could be taken as roundbreaking for its time: ‘Those who take refuge in me, be they of lowly origin, women, merchants and
    even servants; even they may attain the highest destination.’

    – Please note the Index also does not reference Prabhupada’s book and this is an ISKCON affiliated person, who’s article is being posted on dandavats.com and iskcon.org (ISKCON news). Yet, Bhurijana Prabhus book, surrender unto me is listed.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=rH615KbcEdcC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

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