It was probably written between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC and is considered one of the top works of world literature, but it was not released in the West until the first decades of the 19th century. The quintessential holy book of Hinduism, the Bhagavadgītā , is made up of about 700 stanzas written in Sanskrit. With great beauty, Krishna (identified with the Hindu god Visnu) addresses the dejected warrior Arjuna, who, at the gates of a great battle, refuses to fight:
“Our teachers, our parents, children and grandparents / our uncles, in-laws, grandchildren, brothers-in-law and close friends / no, I don’t want to kill them / even if they kill me, oh Madhusudana / not even to conquer / the sovereignty of the three worlds / How much less for this land! ”.
Translated as the “Canto del Señor” or “Song of God”, the first illustrated edition in Spanish of this classic of unknown authorship has just been released. It has been published by Errata Naurae in the version of the Peruvian orientalist Fernando Tola (1915-2017), a volume with dozens of images of ascetics, yogis, gods and warriors made in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This same year, the text also appeared in Penguin Classics, in a bilingual edition.
In these two centuries in which Europe, and with it Spain, has opened up to the knowledge of one of the largest and oldest religions in the world, there had not been an editorial effervescence such as that recorded in recent years. Not only in terms of the publication of original texts, but also of works of dissemination of Hinduism and other religions of India, as well as the history, philosophy and way of life of a country that Borges praised that, as well as in China, “everything has been thought of by them in the first place.”
“The Bhagavadgītā encourages us to do things well without thinking about the results, to let go of ourselves and, at the same time, get deeply involved in what we do ”, explains the philosopher and astrophysicist Juan Arnau, who signs the translation of the published editions in 2016 in Atalanta and in 2020 in Alianza. For the expert in oriental philosophy and religions, this text makes up one of “the three fundamental episodes” that backbone the last 3,000 years of Indian thought, and which are “the philosophical experience of the Upaniṣad, the rise of Buddhism and the school’s system of thought skhya and the Bhagavadgītā”.
A regular contributor to EL PAÍS, Arnau has likewise transferred from Sanskrit to Spanish the Upanisad, more than 200 sacred books that make up the vision of the Absolute embodied in Brahman. “They postulate a correspondence between the order of thought and the cosmic order. Also Buddhism. Between what happens in the head and what happens out there, in the so-called world of phenomena ”, the thinker abounds. “The mind is capable of unfolding and its habits will eventually decide the fate of the individual.” The version of the Upanisad de Arnau was published in Atalanta and Alianza (in 2019 and 2021 respectively), and Penguin Clásicos released its bilingual edition in 2021.
The main merit of translations like his, as Arnau himself indicates, lies in “that they are made from the original Sanskrit, with a critical apparatus of notes and a very careful Castilian”. This direct look at the original sources (instead of accessing the texts through intermediate languages such as English or French) is something that, as Luciano Espinosa, professor of philosophy at the University of Salamanca adds, “has occurred in the last ten years ”. For this professor, the 2006 publication of the book India inside (Terra Incognita), by Álvaro Entrerría, an introductory guide to the culture and cultures of the subcontinent, can be interpreted as one of the triggers for the growing interest in Hindustan thought.
Philosophy of India (Kairós, 2008), by Fernando Tola and Carmen Dragonetti is for Emilio García Buendía, professor of philosophy at the Complutense University, another of the fundamental degrees that have opened the doors to this culture in Spain. It is also worth highlighting the work of a reference such as Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010), a half-Catalan, half-Indian cross-cultural thinker, whose brother Salvador was also a philosopher while his nephew Agustín is a writer and editor for Kairós.
Juan Arnau, who highlights this editorial, as well as Atalanta, Trotta, Siruela and, more recently, Alliance among those that have taken care of the bibliography on India in their catalogs, comes out this November 24 with Galaxia Gutenberg Clear mind, a history of the thought of that country. “India is the cradle of at least three great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, to which Sikhism can be added,” explains Arnau. “All of them are a map of the world, with its cosmology, its ethics and its history, with its myths, rites and customs.”
Despite the effervescence of the current publishing scene, for García Buendía, although the greater demand for this type of knowledge is evident, “it is missed that more books are published”. “A significant piece of information is the interest of philosophy students,” he says. In the Complutense, where he teaches classes, the elective course of Oriental Philosophy has all the places covered. Among the great gaps in Indian knowledge that still need to be filled in Spain, the professor highlights the field of aesthetics, of which there are hardly any translations. “Even in English there is a lot of work to be done,” he says.
“India is of increasing interest, perhaps due to the weariness of certain local myths, which have ceased to inspire. The Hindu vision is rich and multifaceted. But there is a dominant idea, centered on what could be called mental culture ”, Arnau thinks about this boom on a small scale. “One ends up becoming what one thinks, so it is convenient to educate the thought, cultivate certain states of mind, not allow resentment, hatred or distraction to be carried away”
Espinosa adds: “It is clear that there is an interest in a culture that is 5,000 years old, that is rich and sophisticated and that has maintained a fundamental continuity over time. It’s a very solid content matrix, and I think [la atención que está recibiendo] it has to do with the crisis that we are experiencing in the West, not only cultural, disoriented and fragmented, but also with the need to search for powerful existential references ”.
This trend could also have to do for García Buendía with “an interest in another type of thinking beyond the West”, as well as with the rise of practices such as yoga and yoga. mindfulness, “With an increasing presence in the West.” “East and West propose different ways of approaching problems: while the Western vision is more analytical, Asian thought in general is more holistic,” develops the professor, who speaks of “not exclusive, but complementary” ways of thinking.
Understood as the “lowest common denominator” of all Indian beliefs – “at least since the nineteenth century,” as Luciano Espinosa underlines – the doctrinal core of the Bhagavadgītā (which is the sixth book of Mahabharata, the great Indian epic) brings together the three great ways of Hinduism to achieve liberation: meditation, action and devotion. Three paths that intersect at the same point: yoga.
The growth of this practice in the West – understood not as gymnastics but as the mental, spiritual and physical discipline that it is in origin – could provide another explanation for the renewed prominence of Indian culture. “In the 21st century there has been an interpretation more based on the promotion of healthy lifestyle habits, but that leaves behind the true essence of yoga”, points out Laura Tolbaños, doctor in psychology and yoga teacher, who emphasizes that, in the In the last “year and a half”, largely due to the pandemic and confinement, there has been an expansion of traditional yoga through the use of new technologies.
“The Indian Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy (AYUSH), as well as other Indian institutions, are making great efforts to promote yoga as a means for the development of consciousness and a path to growth and transformation,” Tolbaños adds. “Whereas before you had to move to India, now a lot of conferences, classes and workshops that you can access online”. This expanded scope of traditional teachings, says the professor, may have had an impact on the increased attention being paid to texts such as Bhagavadgītā, “One of the Bibles” of yoga. “One of the five niyamas [bases fundacionales] of yoga is the svādhyāya, which implies self-knowledge through the study of oneself and of traditional and sacred texts ”, he summarizes. “And every line of the Bhagavadgītā rezuma yoga”.
Edited by Fernando Tola
Nature’s Errata, 2021
224 pages, 28 euros
Penguin Classics, 2021
352 pages, 9.95 euros
Editing and translation by Juan Arnau
592 pages, 15.30 euros
Penguin Classics, 2021
272 pages, 9.95 euros
584 pages, 22.80 euros
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.