A Radiantly Poetic New Translation of the Bhagavad Gita
Interview with “Gita” Translator Isaac Bentwich
“Gita: A Timeless Guide for Our Time” is hailed as the first English version of the Bhagavad Gita that captures both the intent and the melodiousness of the ancient Sanskrit scripture. Dr. Isaac Bentwich offers readers the results of a 12-year journey to craft a translation that carries the timeless message to today’s spiritual seekers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Parvati Magazine: What does the Bhagavad Gita mean to you, and what inspired you to prepare this new translation?
Isaac Bentwich: Other than my wife, the Bhagavad Gita has become the love of my life. The directness of the text is something that really caught my heart. I started the translation simply as my Sadhana—my daily personal spiritual practice. It didn’t begin as a massive undertaking. I started by writing down verses that spoke to me and tried to put them in my own words. I enjoyed peeling away the layers of terminology and mythology and trying to capture the essence of it. As my life evolved, I realized the power of the combination of meditation and this special scripture, and I became passionate about sharing it with other people in my life. The messages of the Gita are spellbinding. It’s a really unique, magical text. Peeling these layers of the onion, so that one can appreciate the text in its pure simplicity, is something that I feel I was born to deal with, at least as far as my passion lies.
Parvati Magazine: Can you tell us more about your first introduction to the Gita?
Isaac Bentwich: I say that I first met the Gita some 34 years ago at a yoga teachers’ training course. It was a month-long intensive course where I was very much into my asanas. I knew that some philosophy and meditation would be covered, and I was okay with that. One thing that I hated, however, was the Gita. At first I couldn’t relate at all to the translation. It didn’t really click. Later, as I read and studied it further, I could see that beneath the mythology, technical terminology, and philosophy is a very direct message that really spoke to me.
Parvati Magazine: How would you describe the Gita to the uninitiated?
Isaac Bentwich: The Bhagavad Gita is a scripture for living life wisely. It’s not about going into a cave, doing your meditation, and reaching enlightenment or not. It’s about how to wake up tomorrow, pay your mortgage, walk your kids to school, navigate office politics, identify and pursue your calling. Ultimately you can transform your life from mundane to holy, from egotistical to doing good in the world, and doing good in your own mind and soul in the process of that. The Gita is a dialogue between a master and a disciple. The disciple is an Indian prince named Arjuna, and the master is Krishna, no less than God incarnate. The story is a metaphor of you talking to the inner voice of your soul, as your true teacher is the voice within your heart.
Parvati Magazine: What do you most wish others to know about the Gita?
Isaac Bentwich: The text is written for the heart and not for the brain. Its true, deep wisdom is non-intellectual, and we learn and understand it through meditation and silence. Bhagavad means “divine” and Gita means “song.” It is not the lecture of the divine; it is the song of the divine. If you are seeking more out of life than just the external life as it is right now, or want to proceed on a journey inward to your own self and look at life as an opportunity for inner growth, the Gita is the ultimate guide for your journey. The Gita is great in that it teaches us how to use the school of life. It does not teach about renouncing the world, but how to live, learn, and act wisely within daily life.
Isaac Bentwich, M.D., is a longtime practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation. Trained as a physician in Western and Ayurvedic medicine, he founded three life-science technology companies, leading revolutions in medicine, genomics, and environmental conservation. Bentwich lives in Israel. For more information, visit NewGita.com or Harmonia.com.