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How ‘The Bhagvad Gita’ changed the life of famous people all over the world

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The Bhagvad Gita is one of the most widely respected Hindu scriptures in existence and has been a source of inspiration for many people. Written in Sanskrit, its 700 verses are often quoted by many great personalities who believe that the Gita has been a guiding force in their lives. It’s no surprise that the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita has inspired countless people throughout history; after all, it has been the most popular story in India for countless generations.

The scripture, which is often referred to as a way of life, is way more than just a religious text. It has been translated in more than 80 different languages, with its influence spanning across boundaries and countries and has become a staple in philosophical discussions and the like. What’s really interesting is seeing the people it touches because sometimes it can affect others in ways you never even thought possible. There are many famous personalities from all around the world who have said that this book entirely transformed their life!

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist, who developed the “theory of relativity”, one of the two pillars of modern physics His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect  a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory.

He was also quite impressed by the teachings of Lord Krishna and has quoted that, “When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.” We cannot even imagine up to which level this book has inspired him to work harder. These were a few of many personalities who found answers to their questions while going through this book. We recommend you to read it and witness the changes it unleashes upon your life.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience” (originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government”), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. Thoreau’s books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism.

The American poet was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and spiritual thought. In his noted book titled Walden, he referenced the Bhagvad Gita in many instances. In the very first chapter of the book he writes:  “How much more admirable is the Bhagvad Gita than all the ruins of the East.”

  1. Robert Oppenheimer

The American theoretical physicist, Oppenheimer is known as the father of the atomic bomb and was involved in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, during the second World War. He had read the Bhagvad Gita in Sanskrit and remarked that while witnessing the first atomic bombing, he was reminded of the words from the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna persuades Arjuna to do his duty. He said:

 “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Citing it later as one of the most influential books to shape his philosophy of life. Oppenheimer later recalled that, while witnessing the explosion of the Trinity nuclear test, he thought of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. Years later he would explain that another verse had also entered his head at that time:

“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

After a successful experiment, he quoted the following shloka:

कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो
लोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्त:
ऋतेऽपि त्वां न भविष्यन्ति सर्वे
येऽवस्थिता: प्रत्यनीकेषु योधा:

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton  was an American  monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. On May 26, 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name “Father Louis”. Merton wrote more than 50 books in a period of 27 years, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews. Among Merton’s most enduring works is his bestselling autobiography ‘The Seven Story Mountain’ . His account of his spiritual journey inspired scores of World War II veterans, students, and teenagers to explore offerings of monasteries across the US.

 Merton became a keen proponent of interfaith understanding, exploring Eastern religions through his study of mystic practice. He is particularly known for having pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama Japanese writer D. T. Suzuki; Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa, and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He traveled extensively in the course of meeting with them and attending international conferences on religion.

He wrote about Gita- The word Gita means “song.” Just as in the Bible the Song of Solomon has traditionally been known as “The Song of Songs” because it was interpreted to symbolize the ultimate union of Israel with God (in terms of human married love), so the Bhagavad-Gita is, for Hinduism, the great and unsurpassed song that finds the secret of human life in the unquestioning surrender to and awareness of Krishna. The Bhagavad-Gita can be seen as the great treatise on the “active life.” But it is really something more, for it tends to fuse worship, action and contemplation in a fulfillment of daily duty that transcends all three by virtue of a higher consciousness: a consciousness of acting passively, of being an obedient instrument of a transcendent will.

 

Sunita Williams

Sunita Lyn was an American astronaut and United States Navy officer who formerly held the records for most spacewalks by a woman and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.

The American astronaut, with Indian roots, holds the record for longest spacewalk time for a woman. When she was heading out on her expedition as a member of the International Space Station (ISS), she carried a Ganesha idol and a copy of the Bhagvad Gita with her in the space. In her words:

“Those are spiritual things to reflect upon yourself, life, the world around you and see things the other way. I thought it was quite appropriate.” She also added that book also enlightened her about the thing she was doing and the reason for doing it and helped her clear thoughts about the purpose of her life. Further, she said that the book has helped her to keep grounded.

  1. S Eliot

Indian philosophy had a huge influence on this American poet, who had studied Indian philosophy and Sanskrit during his days in Harvard, from 1911 to 1914. In his poem titled ‘The Dry Salvages’, Eliot mentions the conversation between Krishna-Arjuna, from the Bhagvad Gita, to depict a connection between the past and the future, and to emphasize that one needs to follow divine will, rather than seek personal gains. As the famous lines from his poem reads:

“You who came to port, and you whose bodies Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea, Or whatever event, this is your real destination.So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna On the field of battle. Not fare well, But fare forward, voyagers.”

Rudolph Steiner

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner describes ‘The Bhagavad Gita’. “In order to approach a creation as sublime as the Bhagavad-Gita with full understanding, it is necessary to attune our soul to it.” It tells how in the midst of a fratricidal battle the lofty Krishna appears in spiritual form to the soldier Arjuna revealing the mysteries of universal ego hood and the path of yoga. “The highest to which the individual man can soar by training himself and working on himself with wisdom – that is Krishna. In all of earthly evolution there is no Being who could give give the individual human soul so much as Krishna,” remarks Steiner.

Steiner also Describes out of his spiritual research how Krishna’s one-sided inspiration of the ninner path of the individual was balanced and countered by what Christ brought from outside for all humanity. In impressive pictures Steiner paints the secrets of Krishna’s evolutionary sacrifice, his role in the life and work of Jesus and Christ, and the relevance of his teaching for our time.

Warren Hastings

The first Governor of Bengal in British rule and the first Governor-General of India strongly supported Charles Wilkins, the English typographer and orientalist who translated the Bhagvad Gita in English. It is said that Warren Hastings handed over a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, translated by Wilkins, to the chairman of the East India Company, and said that:

“A performance of great originality, of a sublimity of conception, reasoning and diction almost unequalled, and single exception among all the known religions of mankind.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature”. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. considered to be America’s “intellectual Declaration of Independence.” He was introduced to Indian philosophy while reading the works of French philosopher Victor Cousin. His words about the scripture are: “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

Friedrich von Humboldt 

Friedrich von Humboldt was a Prussian philosopher, linguist,  diplomat and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language, ethno linguistics and to the theory and practice of education. He made a major contribution to the development of liberalism by envisioning education as a means of realizing individual possibility rather than a way of drilling traditional ideas into youth to suit them for an already established occupation or social role. He regarded Bhagavad-Gita as “Perhaps the most beautiful work of the literature of the world.”

Humboldt  began to learn Sanskrit in 1821 and was greatly moved by Schlegel’s edition of the Bhagavad Gita, on which he published an extensive study. The Bhagavad Gita made a great impression on Humboldt, who said that ” this episode of the Mahabharata was: “The most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue perhaps the deepest and loftiest thing the world has to show.” He devoted to it a long treatise in the Proceedings of the Academy of Berlin.

After looking into the Gita, he wrote to his friend, statesman Frederick von Gentz -“I read the Indian poem for the first time when I was in my country estate in Silesia and, while doing so, I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude to God for having let me live to be acquainted with this work. It must be the most profound and sublime thing to be found in the world. “He thanked God for having permitted him to live long enough to become acquainted with the Gita.

On June 30 1825, Humboldt lectured to the Berlin Academy of Sciences on the Gita, placing it firmly in the mainstream of the scholarship of the period. He found in the Bhagavad Gita his own “spiritual ancestors”. What appealed to him was its originality and its simplicity. Krishna’s doctrine, he wrote,” develops in such a peculiarly individual way, (and) it is, so far as I can judge, so much less burdened with sophistry and mysticism, that it deserves our special attention, standing as it does as an independent work of art…”

 Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley was an English writer and philosopher. He wrote nearly fifty books- both novels and non-fiction works- as well as wide-ranging essays, narratives, and poems. Huxley was a pacifist. He grew interested in philosophical mysticism and universalism addressing these subjects with works such as The Perennial Philosophy which illustrates commonalities between  ‘Western and  Eastern mysticism’ and  ‘The Doors of Perception’ , which interprets his own psychedelic experience with mescaline. In his most famous novel ‘Brave New World’ and his final novel ‘Island’,he presented his vision of dystopia and utopia, respectively.

The English writer found Bhagvad Gita as, “The most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind.”, He also felt, Bhagvad-Gita is “One of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity.”

Hugh Jackman
Hollywood uperstar Hugh Jackman may have been ‘Wolverine’ for the world, but for his own self, he is deeply soaked in Hinduism. In many interviews, he has accepted that mysticism attracts him. He dedicatedly follows the Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita, scriptures that are fundamental to Hinduism. In an interview he said, “The scriptures that we follow are a mixture between the West and the East  and would be from Socrates to the Upanishads, to the Bhagavad Gita, to a number of different texts. The star, who was born a Christian, also has a Sanskrit inscription engraved wedding ring which read “Om paramar mainamar” that means, “We pledge our union to a higher source.”

Philip Glass

Philip Glass  is an American composer and pianist. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. Glass’s work has been associated with minimalism being built up from repetitive phrases and shifting layers. Glass describes himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”, which he has helped evolve stylistically.

Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards. He has written numerous operas and musical theatre works, twelve symphonies, eleven concertos, eight string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores have been nominated for Academy Awards.

The American composer who’s often referred to as one of the most influential musicians of the late 20th century cited the Bhagvad Gita in one of his works. He composed an Opera, titled ‘Satyagrah’, which is loosely based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi and contains text from the Bhagvad Gita that is sung in Sanskrit during the performance. It’s an unconventional opera in which singers don’t converse with each other, but sing passages from the Bhagavad Gita. There is no linear narrative and the audience can only see quotes from the Gita being projected onto a concave screen behind the stage, instead of a word for word translation.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant  was a British socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer, orator, educationist, and philanthropist. Regarded as a champion of human freedom, she was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. She was a prolific author with over three hundred books and pamphlets to her credit. As an educationist, her contributions included being one of the founders of the Banaras Hindu University. She was also interested in reading about Indian philosophy. Her translated work of the Bhagavad Gita is titled ‘The Lord’s Song’.

The text from her book reads:”That the spiritual man need not be a recluse, that union with the divine life may be achieved and maintained in the midst of worldly affairs, that the obstacles to that union lie not outside us but within us such is the central lesson of the Bhagvad Gita.”

Bulent Ecevit

Bulent Ecevit was a Turkish politician, poet, writer, scholar, and journalist, who served as the Prime Minister of Turkey four times between 1974 and 2002. Bulent Ecevit was not only a politician but also a poet and a writer. He translated works by Rabindranath Tagore, T. S. Eliot, and Omer Tarin into Turkish.

In a 1974, in a British television interview, Bulent Ecevit, the then Turkish Prime Minister, was asked what had given him the courage to send Turkish troops to Cyprus . His answer was  that he was fortified by the Bhagavad Gita which taught that if one were morally right, one need not hesitate to fight injustice.  The Gita had also guided Ecevit when he decided to contest the chairmanship of the Republican People’s Party in 1972 against the venerable Ismet Inonu, Kemal Ataturk’s successor. Inonu played a vital role in Turkey’s transition from one party rule to multiparty democracy. But Ecevit opposed the 1971 ultimatum issued by the military which led to the resignation of the prime minister.

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