Book Review: Gita on the Green

by Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. on June 5, 2011

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

Book Review: Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger VanceReligion & Spirituality Books)

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Rosen, Steven J., Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger Vance, New York: Continuum, 2000.

The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Blessed One”) is part of a vast collection of Hindu scripture. The Gita is considered smirti, “that which is remembered,” sacred tradition inspired by the gods. The Bhagavad Gita is actually only eighteen chapters, of a much longer war epic called the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is the world’s longest poetic epic with some 220,000 lines and, in English, filling some thirteen volumes. The Mahabharata relates the conflicts between the two leading families of early Indian history. The families ultimately meet at the Battle of Kurukshetra (c. 850 to 650 B.C.E.). The Bhagavad Gita, consisting of chapters twenty-five through forty-two of the Mahabharata, opens when, at the outset of the battle, a young warrior named Arjuna looks across the battlefield and contemplates the violence and bloodshed that will soon ensue.

In the battle lines Arjuna sees relatives, friends, relatives of friends, and friends of relatives, and though it is his obligation, as a member of the warrior caste, to fight, he is extremely uneasy. Arjuna tells his chariot driver, Kirshna,

seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a fighting mood. I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up. In fact, my whole body is trembling, and my hair is standing on end. My bow is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning (1.28-29).

O Govinda [Krishna], of what avail to us are kingdoms, happiness, or even life itself when all those for whom we may desire them are now ready to engage in combat? O Krishna, seeing all my relatives ready to give up their lives and properties as they stand before me, why should I wish to kill them, even if I were to survive? O maintainer of all living beings, I am not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the universe, let alone this earth (1.32-35).

Arjuna is experiencing immense distress, caught up in a conflict of intention, duty, and outcome.

Arjuna enters into dialogue with his charioteer, Krishna, who in the course of the discussion will reveal himself in the fullness of God. According to many devotees of Vishnu, Krishna is one of Vishnu’s avatars or incarnations. The discussion between Arjuna and Krishna sets up a discourse, delivered by Krishna, on the paths to liberation or salvation.

Arjuna, after all, is asking his chariot driver how he can be saved, liberated or freed from his predicament. Arjuna is a member of the warrior caste and has a certain dharma or duty, but Arjuna has no zeal for killing the people he now faces. He wants to know how he can find release from his dilemma. Krishna takes this opportunity to discuss the different paths to moksha or liberation. While acknowledging the importance of proper knowledge and good works, Krishna’s greatest enthusiasm is for bhakti yoga, the path of faithful devotion to God. Live a life faithfully devoted to Krishna, and Krishna, in his mercy, out of his grace, will grant the devotee release from suffering existence.

The Legend of Bagger Vance : A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life was written by Steven Pressfield (1995), and Pressfield modeled the Bagger Vance story after the Bhagavad Gita. Bagger plays the role of Krishna, guiding R. Junnah (as in Arjuna) through a dark night of the soul, helping Junnah to find his game, his own authentic swing. Junnah, with Bagger as his caddie, plays a golf match against Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. Junnah, in finding his soul, finds his swing. The novel became a movie of the same name, The Legend of Bagger Vance, (2000), directed by Robert Redford, starring Matt Damon and Will Smith.

Gita on the Green is mostly a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Secondarily, Rosen attempts to demonstrate how the Gita is manifest in Pressfield’s The Legend of Bagger Vance : A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life. Pressfield actually wrote the foreword for Gita on the Green.

I am by no means an expert on the Gita, but I have studied and read several translations. As a commentary on the Gita, I found Rosen’s work more than satisfactory. Rosen’s commentary is written from the perspective of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), the so-called “Hare Krishna Movement,” founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) in 1966. Rosen’s commentary may be slanted in favor of ISKON, but not to a highly objectionable or unsurmountable degree.

If you are a golfer and you are highly interested in The Legend of Bagger Vance, or moderately interested in Hinduism, then I can recommend to you Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger VanceReligion & Spirituality Books). I’m awarding it two out of three balls.

I have found Indian philosophy, in its attempt to understand the world as an expression of one divine energy, intriguing. I am, however, too much of a realist to ascribe higher ultimacy to a supposed realm or dimension of reality that lies beyond my current experience. I am not denying that they may be realms or dimensions of reality that lie beyond my experience. I am just reporting that I have a hard enough time understanding and coping with the reality I do experience. I refuse to accept the premise that there is another level of reality that is somehow more real than the reality I currently experience or that the reality I currently experience is mostly a dream or an illusion. I prefer to make sense of the reality I experience without appealing to an alleged reality which I do not experience.

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

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