Influence of the Bhagavad-Gita

The influence of the Bhagavad-Gita has not been limited to a single period in history or a single place in the world; it has not been bound to a single school of philosophy or a single sect of people. It transcends all boundaries and distinctions. Here is a collection of ten quotations about the Gita:

“I hesitate not to pronounce the Geeta a performance of great originality, of a sublimity of conception, reasoning, and diction almost unequalled; and a single exception, amongst all the known religions of mankind.”1
Warren Hastings (1754-1826)
First Governor-General of British India

“I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavat Geeta. It was the first of books; 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.”2
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
American transcendentalist philosopher

“…probably the most beautiful book which has ever come from the hand of man.”3
Émile-Louis Burnouf (1821-1907)
French orientalist

“Among the priceless teachings that may be found in the great Hindu poem of the Mahabharata, there is none so rare and priceless as this, ‘The Lord’s Song’.”4
Annie Besant (1847-1933)
Irish theosophist

“In order to approach a creation as sublime as the Bhagavad-Gita with full understanding, it is necessary to attune our soul to it.”5
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Austrian philosopher

“…a magnificent flower of Hindu mysticism.”6
Count Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)
Belgian poet

“...the Bhagavad-Gita, perhaps the most beautiful work of the literature of the world.”7
Count Hermann Keyserling (1880-1946)
German philosopher

“The Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution. It 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.”8
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
English writer

“The greatness of the Bhagavad Gita is the greatness of the universe, but even as the wonder of the stars in heaven only reveals itself in the silence of the night, the wonder of this poem only reveals itself in the silence of the soul.”9
Prof. Juan Mascaró (1897-1987)
Spanish writer

“The Gita can be seen as the main literary support for the great religious civilization of India, the oldest surviving culture in the world. It brings to the West a salutary reminder that our highly activistic and one-sided culture is faced with a crisis that may end in self-destruction because it lacks the inner depth of an authentic metaphysical consciousness.”10
Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
American social critic

1 Keay, John. India Discovered.
2 Galav, T. C. Philosophy of Hinduism - An Introduction.
3 Revel, Louis. The Fragrance of India.
4 Besant, Annie. The Bhagavad Gītā: The Lord’s Song. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1895
5 Mookerji, Radha Kumud. Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1990
6 Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Great Secret.
7 Durant, Will. The Case for India. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930
8 Prabhavananda, Swami & Isherwood, Christopher. The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita. New York: Mentor Books, 1951
9 Mascaró, Juan. The Bhagavad Gita. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1962
10 Merton, Thomas. Thoughts on the East.


  1. J Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad-Gita:

    If we delve deep into the Mahabharata, it is only a story of a war between two families. It remained a story for several centuries. During the Hindu kingdoms of Gupta, Vijayanagar and Mahratta the story aspect of the Mahabharata alone was etched in the minds of the prople. There were no philosophical discourses in temples. Devotees worshiped the idols of gods and goddesses. All Hindu scriptures remained mnemonic and there were no manuscripts, for it was considered sacreligious to produce manuscripts or to print books of the sacred scriptures. A prayer like the Gayatri mantra could be recited only by Brahmins. If a non-Brahmin had accidentally heard the recital by a Brahmin, molten led would be poured into his ears. The Asiatic Society was founded in 1784 by William Jones. While still on board of the frigate Crococlile carrying him from England to India, he prepared a memorandum detailing his plan of study. This included “the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; the history of the ancient world; proofs and illustrations of scripture; traditions concerning the deluge; modern politics and geography of Hindusthan; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians.” So even before landing in India, Jones was bent upon establishing the fact that ancient Indians were well versed in philosophy, mathematicas, science and medicine. But there were no manuscripts of Hindu scriptures and no original sources about Indian knowledge of science and medicine. The preferred method of Jones and other British scholars was to sit in the company of Sankrit-knowing Brahmins's and other Hindus, and to ask them to recite from memory Hindu scriptures. Scientists say that memory loss begins at the age of 40. How could the old Brahmins recite by heart century-old Scriptures? Recital by Brahmins contained many contemporary ideas. William Jones and other Orientalists syncretised Sanskrit with Classical and Biblical narratives, to establish transcultural correspondences by means of often crude conjectural etymologies. There were Brahmins such as Pundit Ramlochan, Balachandra Siromani, Rajendralala Misra, Bala Sastri of Benares, Radhakanta Sarman who were allowed to produce their own versions of Hindu scriptures. Brahmin scholars could get easy access to Christian scriptures and western literature from Fort William College and Sanskrit College in Calcutta established by the British. Another scholar, Francis Wilford, claimed that he had discovered the relationship among Hindu traditions, the Bible and the ancient British antiquities. Jones and other scholars, in collaboration with Brahmins, produced Sanskrit manuscripts with these fake claims. Krishna’s narration of creation in the Bhagavad Gita and the creation account in the Manu smriti produced by Jones are modified reproduction of the creation account in the Bible. Krishna’s instructions in the Gita are patterned on the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. As the modern translation of the Bhagavad Gita indicates, the work is in poetic form and in many places it is metrically exact parallel to Biblical literature. Sir Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita into English in 1785, and he had used the Sanskrit manuscript produced by Asiatic Society scholars with so many interpolations and deletions. It was the English translation that gave worldwide publicity for the Bhagavad Gita. Deception and forgeries can be detected in the manuscripts produced by them. In 1788, Wilford, claimed to have found innumerable references to ancient Egypt, its Kings and holy places in Puranas by publishing a long text of baroque complexity in Asiatic Researches. However, Wilford was forced to admit with a humiliating note in the same journal that he had been systematically duped by his head Brahmin Pandit between 1793 and 1805. Probably the modernized version of the Bhagavad Gita was interpolated during this period.

  3. @Yeshuratnam:
    Whatever we know about history is only an estimate, whether or not it is backed by data. No one can be certain about what exactly happened. This is a reality that we all have to acknowledge.
    Having said this, we have to examine any text at face value and see what wisdom it has to offer. If we are able to imbibe that wisdom along with our own personal experiences and worldview, then that wisdom becomes usable and helps transform our life and the lives of people around us.
    To me, it is not so important as to who wrote a particular text or when it was written. What matters is what I can learn from it to make my life better and to improve the conditions of my circle of influence.
    Best wishes,

  4. Anonymous1/15/2013

    I have heard many theories on origin of BG; but Mr. Yeshuratnam's tops it all in its absurdity!....Koti Sreekrishna

  5. @Anonymous When true facts are presented, you should not call the presentation 'absurdity.' There is no doubt that interpolation alone made BG philosophical.I am giving an incident to prove how fake Sanskrit manuscripts were produced and forgeries were made to give exaggerated antiquity and false claims. Wilford wanted to wade through the historical, geographical and mythological literature in Sanskrit and relate the material culled from these to the known history of the west. To help him in this pursuit, he employed a pundit of Banaras and provided him with accommodation and an establishment of assistants and writers. … The pundit not only embezzled the entire account given by Wilford but also forged the ancient texts to provide a co-relation between the history and mythology of India and the west. First, altered one or two keywords in the original Sanskrit manuscripts, substituting them with words like Swetam or Asweta-dwipa, so that there seemed to be a direct reference to the western world in ancient Sanskrit literature. Secondly, he changed an entire legend to make it correspond to Christian legends; thirdly, he inserted into the abstracts the prepared legends which he remembered having seen in some form or the other in the Puranas. At times he even tremoved leaves from ancient manuscripts replacing them with leaves that he himself had prepared.( O.P.Kejariwal, The Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1784 – 1838, p.102. It will be quite evident from this incident to understand how interpolations to the Bhagavad Gita were made on different occasions by different authors to glorify violence and bloodshed in the epic.

  6. @Yeshuratnam:
    Slander is easy; seeking the truth is hard. To me, history is not important; wisdom is. We are seeking to find the truth and to improve our lives. Our book aims at providing a simple translation of the Bhagavad-Gita to readers around the world. We are interested in the message and how to practice the message. The rest are details.
    Best wishes,

  7. Anonymous1/19/2013

    @Yeshuratnam, can you stick with Bhagavad-Gita? Go back and read the text of Bhagavad-Gita used by Shankaracharya or Rmanujacharya or Madhvacharya or Vallanhacharya. They did not wait for colonial masters to define BG text for them! Nor for your facts! But they all used the same text (and that is what we have today as well). That is what impressed Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau of USA. They had no reason to make Hindus look good. You may have some vengence as your ancestors were probably treated worse than shit. That is unfortunate part of Hindu heritage. But that does not make BG fake and charity of Christians or Western scholars. Why would they do that? Aftre all BG makes most other Abrahamic lore scriptures idiotic. Do you think Western people wanted that? Your statements are factual to the extent that you made them, so don't carried away with your facts........Koti Sreekrishna.

  8. Anonymous1/19/2013

    While I agree with Hari that wisdom is more important than History, that does not mean we can say anything we want about History and say that it is absolute fact!-----Koti Sreekrishna

  9. Anonymous5/04/2013

    Mr Yeshuratnam, your simply to be dismissed as a Gungadin.

  10. @anonymous.
    The acharyas mentioned by you -- Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya etc., did not have original manuscripts. There were no printed books of BG and , no manusripts at that time.. This is applicable to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. So the Acharyas were glorifying gods and their acts in their own words -- devotional songs or prayers. What we have to understand is the original Hindu scriptures -- the Rig Veda, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata -- belong to war literature genre. In the Rig Veda we learn about the fight between the invading Aryans and the natives who were called Dasa or Mlechas; the Ramayana is a war between the Arya chief Raman and Ravan, the southern ruler; and the Mahabharata is a war among Aryan chieftains. It is against this background we have to trace the sacred values in these religious books. Sacred values are not inherent in these works, but by interpretation, comments and explanatory notes religious values were added to these works. Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya , Madhavacharya, Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan and others produced their own commentaries and interpretations and gave the war literature spiritual and moral outlook. Thoreau and other Western writers were influenced by these commentaries and interpretations of modern thinkers. Shankaracharya was born 600 years after the birth of Jesus. He knew about Jesus' philosophy because there were Christians in Kerala in 1st century AD . Kaladi where Sahnkaracharya was born had Christian settlements.Ramanujacharya and Madhavacharya knew about other religions, especially Islam. So their interpretations of the war literature contained modern ideas. Christian ideals of love, peace, sacrifice, prayer, fasting and meditation were injected into this ancient literature to make it appealing to the current situation.

  11. @Mr. Yeshuratnam: What you are saying has absolutely no basis in either tradition or scholarship. India had an oral tradition for thousands of years and all the acharyas had access to the same texts. I would recommend an excellent treatise known as "Hindu Dharma" written by the Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati of Kanchi Matt if you are a sincere student of India's culture and heritage.

    And as for Christian ideals, just a few verses from the Old Testament are sufficient to debunk your claim. Moreover, this is not the place to discuss the Bible or its shortcomings.

    Slander is easy but doing something positive is difficult, so I would advise you to stick with the latter.

  12. You are contradicting your own statement. First, you say that ‘India had an oral tradition for thousands of years,’ and you contradict by saying ‘ all the acharyas had access to the same texts.’ All Hindu scriptures – the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas etc., remained mnemonic for centuries till the British came because it was considered sacrilegious to produce manuscripts or printed texts. Charles Wilkins produced for the first time a printed text of the BG in 1785. But this text was produced on the basis of Sanskrit manuscripts written by Brahmin priests of Calcutta and they were aided and abetted by William Jones and Colebrook with so many interpolations and deliberate additions and deletions. Wilkins Bahagavad Gita written in Elizabethan English attracted the West and it contained moral ideals like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Hastings, Thoraeu, Emerson and other western thinkers speak about this English work of Wik\lkins and not the original Sanskrit manuscript who nobody had ever seen. No wonder India’s foremost historian, Romila Thapar, calls this formation of Hinduism in the second half of 17th century as ‘constructed Hinduism.’ Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva didn’t possess any original Mahabharata but only oral knowledge. Ramanuja who opposed Shankara’s oneness of Being believed in the concept that God and the world were related like body and soul, inseparable, but distinct. This concept is not to be seen in the Ramayana or the Mahabharata . Instead of idolatry, Ramanuja believed in the personal devotion to Vishnu – a deviation from the mainstream Hinduism and showing signs of influence of new ideas. He was born about 1000 years after the birth of Jesus. Madhva also opposed Shankara’s monism and believed that God was eternally distinct from the natural world. He was born 1200 years after the birth of Jesus and he was greatly influenced by Christian teachings.
    When true facts are given for a free and frank discussion, please don’t call it “slander.”

  13. First of all, nobody can be so precise about history -- there are no facts in history, only theories. And theories can never be proved -- only disproved. And you're talking as if you watched the birth of Jesus Christ in a live TV program. There are several versions of the story. You should watch the documentary Zeitgeist (2007) and read the Skeptic's Annotated Bible for alternative views.

    Anyway, for the sake of argument, let's consider that your "true facts" are indeed true. It makes no difference to me. What I am interested as a student of philosophy is how to improve my life using the wisdom and insights that I can gather. The wisdom and insights from the great works of the past only make sense in the light of my life's experiences.

    Whether it is Christianity or God or Religion -- all these are after all human-made and what really matters to me is the wisdom. But since you are more interested in the chaff than the grain, you might not be able to appreciate my point of view.

    I don't wish to further discuss this matter.

    Thank you,

  14. @Hari HRK
    Yeshuratnam has elaborately discussed all the issues raised by you. You should look back and assess what type of Hinduism existed during the Gupta, Maurya and Mughal periods. Was there any philosophical discussion? It was only temple worship with lot of noise, drum beating, sacrifice and caste segregation without allowing lower castes to come anywhere near the temples. There was widespread persecution of Buddhists and Buddhism that flourished in a grand manner was wiped out by Hindu fanatics. But in the 18th century, after the British established schools and cokkeges, violent Hinduism based on sati, female infanticide and barbaric oppression of lower castes, that hinduism was modernized and Christianized by Vivekananda and others to make it appealing to the West.

  15. @Rajan Rajiv: Just let the past be. It is of no consequence to me. Does the text of the Bhagavad-Gita make sense to me? Can I see value in it in the light of my experiences here and now? Yes, it makes sense to me and I see value in it, so I find it worthy to read it.

    History is such a tricky thing that no one can really be sure about it. There are many theories from many perspectives. They are mere hypotheses. But if we take the text of Bhagavad-Gita or Upanishads at face value and examine it for what it's worth, we may get some benefit from it.

    People like Yesurathnam are many in India -- they prefer slander and acrimony to appreciation and respect. They have neither scholarship nor substance and I don't think there is a need to elaborate on this further.


  16. @HRK
    In all probability Bhagvad Gita as it appears today was written only in the 18th century after the establishment of AsiaWhat is the proof? You know there was no Indian history text before the British compiled it by doing elaborate research in fixing chronology of unheard of kings and dynasties. Even ashoka was known after Prinsep deciphered scripts in pillars and monuments. British scholars discovered invasions of Sakhas, Bacterians, Huns and Yeu-Chi tribes. In the Mahabharata there are references to invasions of Sakhas, Huns and Greeks (yavanas). So it is clear BG was produced in the 18th century with so many interpolations, deletions and additions incorporating Western and Christian ideals to make it modern and appeling to the West.

  17. @Rajan Rajiv: You must have some basis to say that something is more probable or less. At any rate, it is immaterial when the Bhagavad-Gita was written. When we read the text, does it make sense to us? If so, then how can we practice it in daily life. If it doesn't make sense to you, then it is best to ignore rather than create or support useless theories.