In his introduction, Davis provides a brief overview of the historical and literary background of the Bhagavad Gita. He explains how the Gita is part of the larger epic poem, the Mahabharata, and how it has been interpreted and appropriated by different religious and cultural traditions. Davis also outlines his approach to studying the Gita, which emphasizes its ethical and philosophical dimensions rather than its religious or mythological aspects.
The heart of the book consists of seven chapters that analyze the key themes of the Bhagavad Gita. Davis begins with a discussion of the concept of dharma, which is the central concern of the Mahabharata and the Gita. He shows how the Gita presents different conceptions of dharma, including social duty, spiritual discipline, and devotion to God. Davis also explores the idea of karma, which is the law of cause and effect that governs the universe according to Hinduism. He explains how the Gita emphasizes the importance of action, detachment, and renunciation in order to transcend the cycle of birth and death.
Davis then turns to the theme of yoga, which means union or connection. He explains how the Gita presents different forms of yoga, including knowledge, action, and devotion, and how they are all aimed at achieving liberation from ignorance and suffering. Davis also discusses the concept of the self, or atman, which is the individual soul that is identical with the ultimate reality, or Brahman. He shows how the Gita uses the metaphor of the chariot to illustrate the relationship between the self, the body, the senses, and the mind.
In addition to analyzing the themes of the Bhagavad Gita, Davis also provides a rich contextualization of the text. He discusses the historical, social, and cultural background of the Mahabharata and the Gita, including the caste system, the Vedic religion, and the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. Davis also examines the literary style and structure of the Gita, and how it employs dialogue, imagery, and symbolism to convey its message.
Finally, Davis concludes his book by exploring the legacy of the Bhagavad Gita. He shows how the Gita has been interpreted and appropriated by different philosophical and religious traditions, including Vedanta, Bhakti, and Yoga. Davis also discusses the impact of the Gita on Indian politics and nationalism, as well as its influence on Western thinkers and writers, such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Huxley. He argues that the Gita’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to speak to the universal human quest for meaning, purpose, and transcendence.
Overall, “The Bhagavad Gita” by Richard H. Davis is an excellent introduction to a complex and fascinating text. Davis’s clear and engaging prose, combined with his deep knowledge and insight, make this book accessible to both scholars and general readers. The book provides a comprehensive and nuance analysis of the Gita’s themes, context, and legacy, and it will be a valuable resource for anyone interest in Hinduism, Indian philosophy, or world literature.