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

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9780892134496: Vanity Karma: Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-gita, and the meaning of life

This cross-cultural exploration in self-realization and spiritual awakening brings India's most celebrated classic of wisdom into dialogue with the most radically powerful wisdom book of the Hebrew scriptures.

Jayavaita Swami writes, "As wisdom meets wisdom, as found in these two books--one biblical, the other from spiritual India--we see the daily issues of our world in a different way as we rise above them to consider what life is for, what ultimate profit we can gain from it, what meaning, what happiness, what lasting value. And as we read, we grow in wisdom ourselves."

Vanity Karma includes the full text of Ecclesiastes in a modern English rendering, with an illuminating commentary on each verse.

The plain-language commentary is followed by meticulous notes, making Vanity Karma valuable for the seeker, for the scholar, and for anyone who has ever asked, "What is the meaning of my life?"

Vanity Karma is the winner of the 2016 Benjamin Franklin gold award given by the Independent Book Publishers Association for the year's best book in the category "religion."

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About the Author:

Jayadvaita Swami--writer, editor, publisher, and teacher--is an American monk in the tradition of Krishna spirituality. As a writer, he crosses cultural boundaries to go deep into "the big questions" that speak to the essence of everyone's life. As an editor, he has edited more than forty volumes of translated Indian texts. As a publisher, he oversees the African division of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the world's largest publisher of India's classic books of spiritual wisdom. As a teacher, he travels year round, speaking on spiritual literature with clarity, joy, erudition, and wit. He has taught in more than sixty countries.


I had the great privilege of dialoguing with Jayadvaita Swami as he reflected on the message of Ecclesiastes, and the singular pleasure of reading his book in manuscript form. As a scholar of Ecclesiastes, I am deeply impressed with his grasp of the book's message. And as one who knew little about Krishna consciousness (Krishna-bhakti) I came to a deeper understanding and appreciation of its spiritual value. I enthusiastically recommend this book to all. --Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

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.

Jayadvaita Swami continues to live a life of chanting in which he delights, as well as a life of deep study of Vedic texts, which, to my mind, have become for him his Torah. That life, ironically, has much in common with the traditional scholarly rabbinic life of prayer and study guided by the blessings of a great teacher, a rebbe.

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! --Rabbi Shaya Isenberg, Emeritus Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, University of Florida

Vanity Karma comprises a remarkable set of spiritual reflections that defies literary genre categorization. This book is part spiritual autobiography with its roots in the counterculture, part exposition of Hindu devotionalism deeply grounded in classical Sanskrit sources, and part analysis of a section of the Old Testament, drawing from its associated body of text-critical academic scholarship.

With his own forty years as a monk and Swami in an orthodox Hindu devotional tradition grafted onto an earlier Jewish cultural upbringing, the author brings two equally ancient but culturally disparate voices into conversation, probing life's 'big' existential questions--those of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes and those of Krishna in the Bhagavata tradition. The result is not just a serious contribution to inter-religious dialogue, but a spiritual manual in its own right.

Vanity Karma is a unique addition to the spiritual archives of our day and age, offering profound insights relevant to Truth seekers of any tradition. --Edwin Bryant, Professor of Hindu Religion and Philosophy, Rutgers University

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