Vanity Karma: Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-gita, and the meaning of life

 

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Why am I here? What is my life for? What—if anything—does it mean?

Ecclesiastes, “the strangest book in the Bible,” begins with the argument that our life on earth is pointless, that we spend it working hard for “vanity,” for nothing better than vapor—and then die and disappear into oblivion.

In the 1960s the themes of Ecclesiastes profoundly moved a young Jewish American boy, starting him on a quest for meaning that led him to the Bhagavad-gita, India’s preeminent book of wisdom. Today, after following the teachings of the Gita for more than forty-five years, that young boy, now old and wiser, looks deep into Ecclesiastes again.

His thoughts and reflections, along with his modern English rendering of the full text of Ecclesiastes, make Vanity Karma valuable for the seeker, for the scholar, and for anyone serious about “the big questions” in life.

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Jayadvaita Swami was raised in an American Jewish family and received a Reform childhood training in his younger years. He tells of two greatly transformative moments. The first was discovering an important Biblical book from the same skeptical Biblical wisdom tradition that produced the Book of Job. Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) aroused in him existential despair and angst and essentially blew him out of both contemporary Judaism and the materialistic American culture. And then he encountered Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his teacher, the founder of the Krishna Consciousness movement. Over time, he became Swami Prabhupada’s chief editor.

In this interestingly ecumenical translation and commentary, the author brings important comparisons from Vedic and Buddhist texts, as well as from other traditions and from modern scholarly research, to illuminate Qohelet’s presentation of all the obstacles to trust, faith and hope in the Divine Stewardship of reality.

As in Jayadvaita Swami’s spiritual quest, so in this volume: The wrenching questions about the sense of meaninglessness that mortality generates, as expressed in the Jewish Biblical skeptical wisdom tradition, as well as in wisdom traditions worldwide, are resolved by the far more transcendental reality map of the Vedic tradition, particularly as transmitted through his teacher. Scholars, seekers and others who find little satisfaction in current cultural reality maps should find good reading in this study of Qohelet!

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Weight 0.7 kg
Dimensions 15 x 23 x 2.40 cm
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