Ancient wisdom simplified for modern minds


Most books on the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata, are either word-for-word translations from Sanskrit, lengthy purports and commentaries on each verse or a devotional homage.

An Atheist Gets The Gita, written by National Institute of Education research fellow Galyna Kogut and her husband Rahul Singh, a bank employee and community builder, and launched on Dec 14 (Gita Jayanti) last year is vastly different: It explains the Gita logically in the form of scientific laws and management frameworks.

"The book is aimed at people educated in the modern Western education system who are very unlikely to pick up ancient Indian wisdom," said Dr Kogut, an Ukrainian-Singaporean who did her PhD in pedagogy from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). "It sets the ground for someone to pick up the Gita and read it.

"The book gradually builds on to the concepts of jiva, Ishvara, kala, prakriti and karma in a lucid manner. After one has gone through the 240 pages and understood that the Gita is nothing but an explanation of how jiva (soul) interacts with prakriti (material nature) in kala (time) governed by the laws of karma designed by Ishvara (supreme controller), the person is finally equipped to pick up the scripture and make sense of it."

An Atheist Gets The Gita is positioned as a dialogue between two Indian Institute of Management graduates, much as the Gita (set in the 1st millennium BCE) itself is a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna, the supreme personality of Godhead.

But the setting is modern. Charan Saket, who is 25 years older than Anveshak Jigyanshu, presents rigorous and logical arguments on limitations and expanse of science, definition of proof, dilemma of ethics and what everlasting happiness means.

In the course of the discussion, he covers the essentials of dharma (which sustains creation), atma (soul), karma and yoga with a crystal-like clarity on the etymological and epistemological meaning of these terms and their application in the modern world.

Anveshak, a self-proclaimed atheist, is mesmerised by the compelling arguments put forth by Charan as they both explore the world of science and its limitations, what proof means, the dilemma of ethics and what real and everlasting happiness is.

In a way, Charan explains the essence of the Gita. Slowly, Anveshak turns from disbeliever to one who accepts logic and discovers the key to happiness.

"This is a very timely book as in the current Covid times we are all looking for a sense of purpose in our lives," said Dr Kogut, who hails from Vinnytsya city in Ukraine.

"It is an excellent read for anyone looking for direction in life and career, especially the youth."

Dr Kogut was always fascinated by Eastern philosophies and especially the Gita as it answered her queries on life.

"So I began listening to lectures on the Gita by gurus, swamis and mahatmas," she said. "A lot of them spoke only Hindi. Being a linguist who spoke Ukrainian, English, Russian, German and Polish, I decided to pick up Hindi. I can speak Hindi fluently now.

"But it was not easy for me to get hold of a copy of the Gita because anything connected to religion was banned in the USSR. My first Gita was a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a typewritten Russian translation which was circulating underground."

Over the years, the Gita taught Dr Kogut how to manage her life, how to better interact with others and how to deal with the vagaries of life.

"The beauty of Bhagavad Gita is that, even if you take the divinity out of it, it is still a very practical book - one that can potentially transform you," she said.

Interestingly, when Dr Kogut met Mr Singh, who was studying electrical engineering, at the NTU campus in 2008, she was a believer and vegetarian and he an atheist and meat eater.

"I am more of a bhakti yogi (devotion towards personal deity) seeking the paramatma (supreme self) in my heart, while Rahul is more of a gyana yogi (union with the divine through wisdom) trying to understand who Brahman (the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena in the Hindu scriptures) is and how the world operates," she said.

But they hit it off and got married in 2012 in India and Singapore.

Mr Singh, an India-born Singaporean who has co-authored two books previously, conceptualised the plot for An Atheist Gets The Gita, while Dr Kogut provided the scriptural backing by quoting sources from upanishads, puranas and itihasas.

The 242-page book, published by Rupa Publications, is available globally. It can be purchased for $36.73 at


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