This combination of two volumes in Rudolf Steiner’s Collected Works presents Steiner’s profound engagement with Hindu thought and, above all, the Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita as they illuminate Western Christian esotericism. In his masterly introduction, Robert McDermott, a longtime student of Rudolf Steiner, as well as Hindu spirituality, explores the complex ways in which the “Song of the Lord,” or Bhagavad Gita, has been understood in East and West. He shows how Krishna’s revelation to Arjuna -- a foundation of spirituality in India for more than two and a half millennia -- assumed a similarly critical role in the Western spiritual revival of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the West, for instance, leading up to Steiner’s engagement, he describes the different approaches manifested by Emerson, Thoreau, H.P. Blavatsky, and William James. In the East, he engages with the interpretation of historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo, relating them to Steiner’s unique perspective. At the same time, and most valuable, he illuminates the various technical terms and assumptions implicit in the worldview expressed in the Bhagavad Gita.
The main body of The Bhagavad Gita and the West consists of two lecture courses by Rudolf Steiner: “The Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of Paul” and “The Esoteric Significance of the Bhagavad Gita.” In the first course, his main purpose, as McDermott shows, is to integrate the flower of Hindu spirituality into his view of the evolution of consciousness and the pivotal role played in it by the Mystery of Golgotha -- the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Steiner views Krishna as a great spiritual teacher and the Bhagavad Gita as a preparation, though still abstract, for the coming of Christ and the Christ impulse as the living embodiment of the World, Law, and Devotion, represented by the three Hindu streams of Veda, Sankhya, and Yoga. For him, the epic poem of the Bhagavad Gita represents the “fully ripened fruit” of Hinduism, whereas Paul is related but represents “the seed of something entirely new.” In the last lecture, Steiner reveals Krishna as the sister soul of Adam, incarnated as Jesus, and claims Krisha’s Yoga teachings streamed from Christ into Paul.
In the second lecture course, given five months later, Steiner engages the text of the Bhagavad Gita on its own terms, as signaling the beginning of a new soul consciousness. To aid in the understanding of both these important cycles, this volume includes the complete text of the Bhagavad Gita in Eknath Easwaran’s luminous translation.
In our age, when East and West are growing closer together and we live increasingly in a global, intercultural, religiously pluralistic world, The Bhagavad Gita and the West is necessary reading for all concerned with a truly spiritual approach to the new reality.