Invitation to World Literature
The Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita – Expert’s View
Experts' View: The Meaning of Discipline
An excerpt from The Bhagavad Gita
Krishna’s advice on action
“Death is certain for anyone born,
and birth is certain for the dead;
since the cycle is inevitable,
you have no cause to grieve!
…Look to your own duty,
do not tremble before it:
nothing is better for a warrior
than a battle of sacred duty.
…If you are killed, you win heaven;
if you triumph, you enjoy the earth;
therefore, Arjuna, stand up
and resolve to fight the battle.
Impartial to joy and suffering,
gain and loss, victory and defeat,
arm yourself for the battle,
lest you fall into evil.
…Be intent on action,
not on the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits
and attachment to inaction!
Perform actions, firm in discipline,
be impartial to failure and success–
this equanimity is called discipline.”
“Essentially what Krishna does is walk Arjuna through the nature of life and how to live it.”
“Arjuna has the challenge of trying to figure out how he should ready himself for whatever is coming, how he should become disciplined. There’s the discipline of knowledge, there’s the discipline of action, karma, and there’s the discipline of love, bhakti.”
“The way I crystallize that is, do your best, forget about the rest. Empty yourself and just focus on the action itself, and by doing this, you will create that sense of being in tune with who you are and what you need to be doing. Get up and fight. That’s it. And don’t think about winning or losing.”
“Krishna says, ‘Action—you can’t escape it. Even if you sit down and do nothing for 1,000 years. That very doing of nothing is its own form of action.’ What you can do is to detach yourself from your desires and what you think you can get by acting. That’s what you have to learn to go beyond.”
David Damrosch Sums It Up
Literature’s heroes and heroines are often faced with impossible tasks: Hercules has seven impossible labors to accomplish, Cinderella must spin straw into gold, Frodo Baggins has to smuggle the Ring into the very center of the armed camp of Mordor and destroy it. These impossible tasks variously test the strength of Hercules, Cinderella’s kindness and resourcefulness, and Frodo’s moral fiber. Here, the impossibility of Arjuna’s task is not an issue of strength (there’s no question that he’ll be successful if he goes into battle), and the goodness of his heart is more an obstacle than a help to him: he can’t bear the thought of killing his own relatives and his childhood teacher, and bringing about the end of the whole world in which he was raised. This is a test of moral fiber of an unusual sort, since he must commit acts that could well be considered immoral. The Gitainternalizes within Arjuna a conflict comparable to the one that Wu Ch’êng-ên divides into the sparring between the contemplative monk Tripitaka and the violent Monkey in his great novel Monkey (Journey to the West). Those characters are in fact journeying west to India in search of Buddhist scriptures that can help people work through just the paradox of action and inaction that Arjuna recognizes.
Unit 1 The Epic of Gilgamesh
The first known human story is that of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Images of artifacts from ancient Iraq mix with beautiful illustrations, dance, and costume to tell of the relations between gods and mortals, the search for friendship, love, and immortality. Featured cast members include Assyriologist Ben Foster, comic book illustrator Jim Starlin, and poet and playwright Yusef Komunyakaa.
Unit 2 My Name Is Red
Both an historical novel and a graphic murder mystery set among the miniaturists of the Ottoman court. With its focus on Istambul, a major crossroads of the world, it tells of the artistic/cultural contest between Europe and the East. Cast members include the book's Nobel-prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk, and its English translator, Erdağ Göknar.
Unit 3 The Odyssey
Odysseus must travel the known and unknown world before he can return home to his beloved island kingdom of Ithaca. What does this ancient story say to readers today? In this program, Odysseus's story is given ancient and modern historical and philosophical context, and illustrated with centuries of art. Featured are theater director Mary Zimmerman, actor-director Tim Blake-Nelson, and psychologist/author Jonathan Shay.
Unit 4 The Bacchae
The city of Thebes is torn apart by the conflicting demands of reason and religion, as the disguised god Dionysus returns to his home town demanding to be worshipped. Opposing him is the young king Pentheus, who is doomed to suffer the ultimate punishment for his disbelief. Featured speakers include world-renowned playwright/author Wole Soyinka, actor Alan Cumming, and Daniel Mendelsohn of Bard College.
Unit 5 The Bhagavad Gita
This epic tale of the warrior-prince Arjuna confronting a life-or-death dilemma during civil war presents a unique and powerful philosophy of duty, discipline, and serving a higher purpose. Beautiful illustrations connect the story with its rich history and culture. Featured speakers include Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit Studies and acclaimed composer Philip Glass.
Unit 6 The Tale of Genji
This portrait of court life in medieval Japan follows the life and exploits of the great Genji. Written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Japanese court, it provides an insider's view of Japanese court life, the official and behind the screen. Art, clothing, music from the time of the novel illustrate the obserations of authors Jane Smiley and Chiori Miyagawa, among others.
Unit 7 Journey to the West
The powerful and mischievous Stone Monkey King brings chaos to heaven and earth. Freed from a mountain prison in order to guard a Chinese monk on his journey to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures from India, Monkey seeks his own spiritual transformation. Modern performance, contemporary art, and Buddhist philosophers provide a rich context to the ancient tale. Featured cast members include playwright David Henry Huang, storyteller Diane Wolkstein, and translator Professor Anthony Yu.
Unit 8 Popol Vuh
The Mayan book of creation, the dawn of life, and the glories of gods and kings. This magnificent epic was saved from destruction at the hands of the Spanish by Quiché chroniclers. Once repressed, the story is now interwoven with the history of today's Mayan people. Featured speakers include archaeologist Richard Hanson, humorist Mo Rocca, and Guatemalan artist Shuni Giron.
Unit 9 Candide
A satirical novel following the travails of Candide, a hopeless optimist whose faith in his tutor's mantra that his is "the best of all possible worlds" is tested beyond all limits. Voltaire's challenge to the aristocracy of his day proves refreshingly amusing and biting today. Original illustrations, songs, and comic book figures plumb the depths of this satire. Featured speakers include director Harold Ramis, actress Kristin Chenoweth, and cartoonist Chris Ware.
Unit 10 Things Fall Apart
In this foundational modern African novel, Chinua Achebe's story follows the lives of people trying to understand which belief systems deserve their loyalty. The protagonist, Okonkwo is a tribal leader who battles neighboring villages, the English, and his own demons in early colonial Nigeria. The perspectives of readers from around the world reveal the novel's universal themes. Cast members include playwright and professor Tess Onwueme and theater director Chuck Mike.
Unit 11 One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez's multigenerational saga of the Buendía family in the isolated town of Macondo inaugurated the boom in Latin American literature in the 1970s and marked the beginning of magical realism. Writer Sandra Cisneros and scholar of Latin American literature, Ilan Stavans lend their thoughts and voices to the discussion of this epic novel.
Unit 12 The God of Small Things
Fraternal twins Rahel and Estha struggle to reclaim their lives after their childhood is destroyed by tragic circumstances. As past and present merge in this narrative of Indian society and politics, the many layers of the caste system are mirrored in the poetic and inventive language of the author. Featured speakers include Simon Gikandi of Princeton University, author Evelyn Ch'ien.
Unit 13 The Thousand and One Nights
Shahrazad must hold the interest of her despotic husband the sultan with nightly tales, lest she lose her life in the morning. This wellspring of storytelling, circulating from medieval Persia to Egypt to Iraq, like its wily raconteur lives on in many modern adaptations. Art, performance, and film images are employed to show the collection's broad span of influence. Featured speakers include Marin Alsop, musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Aly Jetha and Shabnam Rezai, co-producers of the 1001 Nights animated series.