A Beautiful World: How an ancient transcript can help today

Isaac Bentwitch spent 12 years transcribing the text of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita may be 2,500 years old, but it contains wisdom that comes in useful at the grocery store. Isaac Bentwitch spent 12 years transcribing the text.
Courtesy of Dr. Isaac Bentwich

Isaac Bentwitch is a medical doctor by training. He lives in Israel and currently works as head of innovation at the Technion, Israel's leading university of technology. He's also a profoundly philosophical man, inspired by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, or "Gita: A Timeless Guide for Our Time," as he titled his new translation of the ancient Sanskrit text.

"The Gita is an ancient manuscript considered by many to be one of the most renowned guides for a meditation in a development and happiness," he said. "It was written in 500 B.C. and it's said the three aspects of the book illuminate the art of living, opening the heart, and the wisdom understanding who we are."

"Your sorrow is in vain," says the Gita, "for the truly wise never mourn neither the living nor the slain.... there was never a time we were not me, or you, or these enemy kings, nor can there be any future in which we ever cease being."

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Bentwich spent 12 years transcribing the text, which is a conversation between an Indian prince named Arjuna and his master, otherwise assumed to be God. And the two of them are not speaking on some green hilltop, or in a calm classroom; they're urgently talking to each other just before the prince is forced into a bloody battle he does not wish to fight. And isn't that life for all of us?

"The urgency of the battle is what draws us so powerfully to this dialogue, because you know we're all facing our little battles, as it were, in life, career, parenting, a spiritual search," Bentwich said. "Life is fraught with challenges and difficulties, and so the setting of this dialogue, which invites us to actually listen to the inner voice of our soul, is a powerful invitation."

Like the Bible and other significant scriptures, he said, "Nobody really knows who wrote the Gita. ... This is a tiny scripture in comparison. It's basically a poem of wisdom, a form of 700 verses. It is a dialogue between a disciple and master."

The Gita says only the person who knows one's own inner self knows true happiness.

"The goal of the Gita is to encourage its readers to go beyond thoughts and intellect and memories," Bentwich said. "We may tend to live inside our mind, inside our thoughts ... and even when we deal with these deeper questions we tend to deal with them as though it was a riddle. Gita invites us to go beyond the thoughts and emotions and discover our inner selves."

Bentwich said the starting point is the "path of action ... .How do we act in the world? How do we go tomorrow and buy groceries? How do we deal with our next day a domestic or work problem? That's the path of action, which asks: How do we live life in such a way that every day does not end with us feeling more worn out but more elevated?"

Bentwich said the path of action is followed by the path of devotion: How to open the heart, the intuition, and the devotion in our heart? This allows us to go beyond intellect, because intellect can only get you so far.

Devotion or intuition allows us to appreciate the oneness and the sublime aspect of nature around us, Bentwich said. We see a unity when the mind is calm, and for all of us at some times the mind is calm. We see it during sunset, or the chirping of a bird. All of a sudden the world seems more than just the noise. We feel a blessed unity. If we're careful enough in looking and finally opening the way to realize that we are part of that unity, in fact we are life itself. We are the divine itself.

One of the striking things about the Gita is its timeless ability to translate to modern-day questions. Ssome of the world's most significant luminaries, scientists, quantum physicists, spiritual teachers, poets and musicians have been inspired by it.

"Quantum theory will not look ridiculous to those who have read the teachings of the Gita," suggested Werner Karl Heisenberg, the German theoretical physicist. His fellow scientist Erwin Schrodinger agreed: "Multiplicity is only apparent. The unity and continuity of wave mechanics is entirely consistent with the Vedanta concept of all in one."

"The Gita deals with the very structure of the universe and consciousness and who we really are," Bentwich said. "Understanding that as quantum physics helps us realize — it seems as though I am separate than you. But in reality, you know it's a soup of atoms and subatomic particles and there is a unity underlying it. This is the unity that the Gita and Vedanta philosophy describe."

The unity that unites us all, is everywhere around us. In our connection, in our cellular structures, and in our internal beauty.

"Beauty in the world is always around us. It is we that are sometimes open to see it and experience it ecstatically, and oftentimes, regretfully, we're blind to it," Bentwich said. "We feel this, these ebbs and tides of the degree of cleanliness of the windows of the soul and the mind, throughout the day. And so beauty is when we are in those blessed times, when we are reminded and can melt into that which we are part of always. That's where the true beauty is. And it's always there."