By Jack Hawley (translator)
New World Library, 192 pp. In terms of sheer pop appeal, the Bhagavad Gita has always encountered resistance from Westerners. It lacks the easy, aphoristic quality of the Tao-te Ching or Lao Tsu. Its central figure, Krishna, is often perplexing. And its primary exhortation, that one should fulfill his duty, even if it means going to war against one's relatives, strikes many as just plain wrong. Dr. Jack Hawley acknowledges all of these challenges in "The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners" and seeks to win over those who have not been well exposed to countless other translations of the sacred Hindu text. As a devotee of Sai Baba, Hawley clearly finds the Gita to be a source of profound inspiration. But as the president of a consulting group that specializes in "organization respiriting," Hawley was looking for a practical alternative to traditional translations; typically, this involves transliterating the Sanskrit verse and then offering long expanses of commentary. "That process is too lumbering for today," he writes in his introduction. "This needed to be a livelier Gita, more attuned, a Gita that could be read from cover to cover without backtracking to recall certain words.... This Gita had to stand on its own two feet, without crutches of any kind." One of his solutions is to render the poem in prose, a move that will no doubt upset purists (should there remain any), but which does in fact make for a quick and entertaining read. Additionally, Hawley fills in the narrative by adding colorful snatches of commentary. At its best, this device lends dramatic heft to passages, particularly the early ones where the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas is about to commence. At times, however, the prose takes on an adolescent tone: "The old man knew that his son Duryodhana's decision to go to war was wrong...." And the question may be raised as to how much explanation is too much--if the reader is handed everything on a plate, is there any room left for self-discovery? Nonetheless, it's clear that "A Walkthrough for Westerners" is an introductory reader, one that successfully introduces newcomers to the sonorous, penetrating truths of the Gita. Translations may come and go, but ultimately, the "Song of God" remains the same.