In July of 1846, Henry David Thoreau took a break from his two-year experiment of living in the woods to return to town, where he bumped into a tax collector who promptly had him arrested. For six years, Thoreau had refused to pay his poll tax, believing that the money was being used to perpetuate a pair of unjust acts: the institution of slavery and the Mexican-American War, an imperialist venture that threatened to spread slavery to new territory. Thoreau had been an abolitionist all his life, yet slavery persisted, and he believed it was time to do more than just vote. His experience in jail, and the speech he later gave about the experience, became one of the most influential political tracts ever written, with thinkers and activists from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. citing it as central to their own efforts to combat injustice.
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“Adding the Sun” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
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Written over the span of 800 years from ca. 400 B.C. to ca. 400 A.D, the Mahabharata tells a riveting tale of disputed kingship and warring families. But just as the action-packed narrative reaches its climax, the story pauses to convey a dialogue between the reluctant warrior Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, who dramatically reveals himself as the incarnation of God. This passage, known as the Bhagavad Gita, has proved inspirational to hundreds of millions of religious seekers and was regarded by philosophers from Henry David Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi as perhaps the greatest distillation of philosophy and religion ever written.
How does this philosophical treatise fit into this fast-paced story? What lessons does it have for us? And how did a two-thousand-year-old argument that a warrior should fulfill his duty on the battlefield end up inspiring some of the most famous advocates of non-violence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
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The Bhagavad Gita (tr. Easwaran)
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation (tr. Mitchell)
The Norton Anthology of World Literature (Third Edition) (Vol. Package 1: Vols. A, B, C)
“Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).
“Sweeter Vermouth” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0