My Vedic Reading List
Jai Guru Deva. I’m Thom Knoles. This is my podcast, The Vedic Worldview.
[00:52] The Vedic WorldView Podcast
Today I’d like to spend a few minutes giving you a few ideas about things that you can read that are related to our practice of Vedic Meditation and books that are available to you. First of all, let me, even though my podcast is commercial free, I’m going to create a little commercial for my own podcast by saying if you haven’t yet had a chance to listen exhaustively to all the episodes of my podcast, please do so.
There are certain parts of the podcast which really warrant you listening to them more than one time, so that you can really pick up the information because the information is very condensed and very dense, and sometimes you can listen to it one time, and not pick up all the detail from it, depending on what consciousness state you might have been in at that time.
As a starting point, I would like to mention a few books that were written by my Guru, my Master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
[02:00] The Science of Being and Art of Living – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi also was the author of several books. One of these books is entitled The Science of Being and Art of Living. The Science of Being and Art of Living was first published in 1962, and it was transcribed from hundreds of hours of tape recordings. Transcribed by my two old friends, Debbie Jarvis and her husband Jerry.
Who, in the early 1960s would sit for hundreds of hours, writing and typing, from magnetic tapes of recordings of Maharishi recording his thoughts, for the purpose of this book being written. And thus, when you read The Science of Being and Art of Living, it rather reads more like the spoken word than like the highly considered written word.
But I find that particular aspect of it quite delicious. In the book The Science of Being and Art of Living, Maharishi refers to meditation as Transcendental Meditation. And I have to say that, at this point it’s a requirement for me to say that, Transcendental Meditation is a trademarked name that’s owned by a particular worldwide corporation, a multinational group.
And the word has, since the writing of that book, become trademarked, the words Transcendental Meditation. I’m not the owner of the trademark, and I’m not a licensee of the trademark, Transcendental Meditation. But suffice to say that the meditation that I teach and call Vedic Meditation came to me directly from Maharishi and is the methodology that Maharishi trained me in, and brought to the world.
And so let’s not be confused about that when we read the book, The Science of Being and Art of Living.
[04:09 The Bhagavad Gita – Vyasa
Likewise, another book which came out shortly after that entitled the Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad is spelled B-H-A-G-A-V-A-D, Bhagavad, B-H-A-G-A-V-A-D, Bhagavad. Second word, Gita, G-I-T-A, Bhagavad Gita. It means the Song of Divine Consciousness.
Bhagavad means divine consciousness. Gita means a song. And it comprises the central chapters of a large epic, to which epic I’m going to speak in just a few moments, known as the Mahabharata. We’ll get into the Mahabharata in a few moments.
And the Bhagavad Gita is a fascinating tale because it represents all of the thoughts of a great Guru by the name of Krishna, who was speaking to his cousin Arjuna, sitting on a chariot, a war chariot, 5,000 years ago on a battlefield in a no-man’s land in between two opposing armies who were about to go into battle.
Each of these two armies led by groups of related people, cousins. They were first cousins, not second cousins, not once removed either, first cousins. Arjuna on his chariot with, some people reckon it was at least 2 million, in his army, on his side of the battlefield, looking across at the other side a mile away, a one mile wide, no-man’s land.
The other side had something on the order of 3 million combatants at the ready. A few stray arrows already had flown over the no-mans’ land. Conches, shells that are blown as trumpets, already had been blown. Kettle drums were beating, and each side of these two mighty forces were shouting and jeering at the other side.
And in this tumult, sitting on a war chariot, with Krishna the Guru, as his charioteer, Arjuna poses some dramatic questions. One of which is, “I know that if I don’t fight to kill right now and have my whole army engage, that the entire Vedic culture of India will be debauched, and all the knowledge of that culture will be lost in less than one generation.
[07:23] Krishna’s Enjoinment to Battle
“And yet the people I have to fight, who are on the other side, those who would debauch the entire Vedic culture, happen to be my cousins. And right now I’m deeply, deeply conflicted about what to do and how to do it. And consequently, I’ve decided I’m going to throw my bow onto the ground.” He was the world’s greatest archer at the time, an absolutely stupendously talented archer.
He threw his bow on the ground and he said, “There, I want them to see that I’ve done that. I’ll simply surrender and they can come and kill me, and that’ll satisfy things.”
Krishna answers, “Yes, they will come and kill you, and your own side are just right now experiencing demoralization. They’ve seen you throw your bow down too. You have a few seconds to pick that up and make it look like it was an accident before either side dives into this battle.
“You’re just about to guarantee that the debauchers of the kingdom will win the battle in a matter of hours. And if they do come and kill you, it’s not gonna stop them debauching the whole civilization of India. They’re going to do that anyway and kill you as well. And so you have to stand up and fight, and you have to win.”
And you can imagine now I’ve built the scene. This is the scene of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna begins asking quite a number of critical questions in response to Krishna’s assertion and his enjoinment to battle, that challenge the idea of fighting.
And right there on the battlefield, Krishna decides to teach our meditation technique to Arjuna, right in the middle of a battlefield. It’s a fascinating story, and it is filled with knowledge. My Master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi translated it and commented on it exhaustively, and his translation commentary is a beautiful blueprint for getting an understanding of how to interpret Vedic texts, texts that come from the rich ancient Indian written tradition.
[09:55] The Mahabharata – Vyasa
So now having talked about the Bhagavad Gita, let me talk about the larger book from which it comes. If we think of the Bhagavad Gita as being six chapters of an epic, and the epic is made up of hundreds of chapters. In fact, the book out of which the Bhagavad Gita comes is a 13 volume, each volume at least three to 400 pages. Some of the volumes of it being 600 pages, but I don’t expect you to read all of that.
This is called the Mahabharata. Maha means great, bharata, B-H-A-R-A-T-A, bharata. Mahabharata, all one word, very often pronounced, and mispronounced, even by academics in the West, as the Mahar Bharata, the Mahar Bharata. And that’s okay if you need to say it that way in order to get the book, you can say Mahar Bharata, but its proper pronunciation is Mahabharata.
Mahabharata and what does it mean? Maha is great. Bharata is the word for the subcontinent of India. India in those times, to which this is referring, extended on the west, and included all the way over to all that land that we think of as Pakistan, and then even further west to Afghanistan. And the boundaries of India in those days were firmly on the borders of modern day Iran, Persia, as it was called in those times.
To the north, the boundaries of India extended all the way to China, beyond Tibet. And then the boundary between the modern dayTibetan autonomous region and into China itself. On the east, the boundaries of India extended all the way to, and included, Burma and Cambodia. Modern day Cambodia was at that time the farthest east wing of the subcontinent of India and to the south, of course the Indian Ocean.
So that India, in those days, was a vast land, and Mahabharata is the story of the royal family of India and all of the events, all the comings and goings that led up to the war that I’ve alluded to, that’s mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, the previous book I recommended.
The very best translation into English of the Mahabharata is done very well in two volumes. Each volume is on the order of five to 600 pages, by an author whose name is Ramesh Menon. Ramesh, R-A-M-E-S-H, Ramesh, first name. Menon, M-E-N-O-N, Menon. First name Ramesh, R-A-M-E-S-H.
Ramesh Menon is a contemporary of mine and one of the most extraordinary translators, both qualitatively and quantitatively. He must have spent his entire adult life translating Vedic texts into English. His method of translation is to follow very carefully on from the original text with great care, and to get across from that original text, all of the richness, all of the allusions, and all of the talents of the original writer whose name was Vyasa.
[14:14] Vyasa – A Great Sage
Vyasa, of enlightened vision, was a great sage, my own namesake in India, I’m known as Vyasananda. That means the bliss of Vyasa, and Vyasa was the name of a great master who lived in that time, 5,000 years ago, and who wrote down all of this detailed knowledge called the Mahabharata.
Now, in case this sounds like a huge onerous task to read such a document, it is certainly not. You’re going to find, I guarantee, and I give my personal guarantee that by the time you’ve read up to page three, it will turn into what we refer to as “a page turner.”
“A page turner” is the colloquial name given to books, which, when you read them, you just can’t put them down. The story is so fascinating that you’re going to regret having opened the book in a sense, because it’s a big book. You can, by the way, get the electronic version of it onto your Kindle. It’s a lot of reading, but it’s one of those things where you’ll miss your favorite TV series, you’ll have to apologize to people in your family for not having seen them as much as you normally would, because there’s this book that you just can’t wait to see what happens next.
Ramesh Menon has also done the great service to all of his readers of putting, at the end of the book, a comprehensive glossary of Sanskrit terms that are used in the book, so that anytime you hit a Sanskrit term, and if you don’t know what it means, you simply flip through to the appendix of the book, and there’ll be a detailed description of the meaning of that word in the context in which it was used.
And so then, I recommend Science of Being and Art of Living as a first primer. I recommend Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita as a second and a first swipe at Vedic literature. And then having read that, you have a blueprint for understanding all of the deeper meanings that are evident in the Mahabharata.
[16:39] The Ramayana – Valmiki
And you know, when six months or a year has gone by and you’ve read the two volumes of the Mahabharata, then I recommend one more translation of an ancient Indian text. This one is known as the Ramayana, R-A-M-A-Y-A-N-A. One of my professors in Sanskrit said, “If you want to learn Sanskrit, it’s just a consonant followed by an A and another consonant followed by an A.” That’s certainly true in this word Ramayana, R-A-M-A-Y-A-N-A, Ramayana.
And to satisfy book sellers in the West, all of whom mispronounce it, you’re going to hear people saying, Rama yana, the Rama yana. Rama yana always makes me laugh, but it’s pronounced properly, Ramai yana, Ramai yana.
Anyway, Ramayana is depicting an era in India that is supposed to be 5,000 years prior to the Mahabharata.
So the Mahabharata story is a sequel to the Ramayana. The Ramayana involves, it gives the baseline story, it’s the prequel to the Mahabharata and the Ramayana is also about the royal family of India, as it was five millennia prior to the Mahabharata. The Ramayana’s original author was another great Rishi by the name of Valmiki, V-A-L-M-I-K-I, Valmiki.
And I recommend, though there are literally dozens of translations of Ramayana into English. I strongly recommend you sticking with Ramesh Menon. Ramesh really is a master of translation and brings with, in his translation, the purity of the message, but not in a dry-as-dust way. He’s able to transport the reader in the same way that the author Valmiki does in his original.
Ramayana is not quite as daunting a read. I’m looking at it over there on my bookshelf and I reckon it is probably something on the order of 300 pages. Don’t quote me on that, but on the order of, and I think those three would be very good.
[19:24] Love and God – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
In addition, there is another book written by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi entitled Love and God. Love and God is a book that’s divided into two sections. One is a prose description of the mechanisms and reality of that emotion that we refer to as love, and it’s contained in about 15 pages. And then there’s about another 15 or 20 pages, which is Maharishi poetically expressing his personal experience of being in God Consciousness, what is his personal experience of being in God Consciousness.
It’s the only treatise that I know of in any format. There’s no recording of Maharishi describing his own personal experience of being in God Consciousness, and the only writing that we have that describes his own personal experience is the second half of the book Love and God in the poem that is entitled God. And I also strongly recommend that.
At the beginning of that book, there is a beautiful description of our guiding light. Our guiding light is the title of a chapter that describes the life of Guru Dev. Guru Dev is the name that we give to Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Maharishi’s own teacher. The King of the Yogis of India from 1938 to 1953.
The time during which Maharishi studied under him and served him and inherited from Guru Dev, the role of being the Master of our Tradition.
So those are good starter books. And at a later date, we can dive into some other books that I recommend that are outside the Vedic tradition. Perhaps books that you can read that are written by scientists, whose conclusions you’re able to easily see parallels with the knowledge that you’re receiving in my podcasts and in our readings.
Jai Guru Deva.