Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama receives 'Bhagavad Gita : As It Is'

Obama receives 'Bhagavad Gita : As It Is'

March 4, 2009

Falgun Shuddha Asthami


New York: As he attempts to steer the United States through the challenges posed by economic crisis and an inherited war, President Barack Obama may very well turn to the Bhagavad-Gita for leadership advice.

The 44th president was recently gifted his own copy by an old friend whose sister is a devout Krishna devotee and hoped that Obama ‘known for his embrace of multiculturalism’ might find the Hindu sacred text inspirational.

The Gita has provided wisdom and guidance for great leaders in the past, and I hope that it will do the same for President Obama, said devotee Krishnalaulya Dasi, who passed along the gift through her younger brother. Krishnalaulya is a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), whose Bhagavad-Gita As It Is is believed to be the largest-selling edition of the Gita in the Western world.

Growing up in Hawaii in the early 1970s, Krishnalaulya attended Punahou School at the same time as Obama. Although she was three grades above him, her younger brother attended the same class as the young Barack Obama and the two were good friends. When she learned that her brother had been invited to Obama’s inauguration on January 20, Krishnalaulya gave him a gift to pass on to the new president.

The one-of-a-kind copy of Bhagavad Gita was encased in a specially handcrafted, Japanese-style cover made with silk and exquisite beadwork by Krishnalaulya’s daughter, Mandakini. A formal gift-exchange luncheon, during which dignitaries and others presented gifts to Barack and his wife Michelle, followed the inauguration. But Krishnalaulya’s brother held back his gift, preferring instead to present it at a light, informal meeting held the next day at the Oval Office.

My sister wanted me to give this to you, he said, handing Obama the Gita. A personal note from Krishnalaulya, tucked into the book, read: In modern times, Bhagavad-Gita provided guidance, wisdom and solace for Mahatma Gandhi, who regularly turned to it. Even the great American transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson found great wisdom in the Gita and often quoted from it.

My hope is that you will also find the same support in this classical Vedic text. Please let it speak for itself.President Obama is known for his open-mindedness and for embracing and appreciating many faiths. We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness, he said at his Inaugural Address on January 20.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus. We think it is wonderful that President Obama has been given this meaningful and thoughtful gift, said ISKCON spokesperson Vineet Chander, And at the same time, we want to emphasize that this was a personal exchange of gifts between old friends, not an official communication from our organization or a planned photo opportunity.

We respect both the president’s chosen faith and his privacy, and hope that others will do the same. Interestingly, this is not the first time the president has come across a Bhagavad-Gita. In his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama writes:

In my mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education.

In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad-Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.

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