I read somewhere, probably on the sleeve of a copy of one of the translations of the Bhagavad-Gita itself, how this scripture greatly influenced the work of Henry David Thoreau. Having been immersed in the Gita myself at the time, I went to find Thoreau’s “Walden” at my local library. Upon reading “Walden” I found that Thoreau had the Gita with him during his self-imposed seclusion in the woods which he documents in his book. He read from the Gita each night. His understanding of, and insights on the Gita are clear, and in fact inspired none other than Mohandas K. Gandhi in following a life of strict “ahimsa” – harmlessness.
Gandhi’s tireless efforts in South Africa and India proved that non-violent protest could indeed change the world. His ahimsa led to the Independence of India in 1947 without a full-on Civil War breaking out.
Back in the United States, in the 1950s and ’60s, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. took inspiration from Gandhi in his efforts to quell the rising tide of violence during the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights was one of the key proponents driving the social change so pivotal to the second half of the 1960s counterculture. And this counterculture, forever looking for deeper experience and meaning to said experience, began to find that the Final Frontier was not Outer Space, the great beyond, but was in fact the Great Within. The Great Spiritual movement for the 1960s counterculture was the Hare Krishna movement and other forms of Eastern spirituality. It was then that the “hippie” generation rediscovered what Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other “Transcendentalists” of the mid-19th century had discovered. The Bhagavad-Gita.
The secrets they found contained within the Gita colored the social change that followed, into the ’70s with the Women’s Liberation movement, and into the ’80s when we saw the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S.
The Gita has circled the globe many times, and in doing so it has helped people in all places and in all times “be the change [they] wish to see in the world” as the famous quote by Gandhi goes.