Help Find Puranas in Translation

Edward Beach nb6 at
Mon May 8 16:58:11 UTC 1995

Dear Members of the Indology List:

I'm not a regular member of this list and feel very much out of my depth
in this distinguished group, but have joined temporarily in the hope that
perhaps one or two of you might be able to give me a bit of much-needed
advice.  The matter at issue concerns finding an appropriate sample of
Hindu literature in translation suitable for use in a required freshman
World Cultures class at our small midwestern college (the University of
Evansville, in southern Indiana).  My colleagues have asked me to look
into this matter because of my modest familiarity with Hindu religious

Currently we are using the _Bhagavad Gita_, but although this is a
wonderful text of central importance for understanding Hinduism, some of
us find it rough going to get our rather provincial students to take the
Gita seriously.  In particular, we find that they are put off by (1) the
apparent advocacy of war in the name of duty against one's own kin; (2)
the stolid endorsement of the caste system; (3) dry metaphysical passages
dealing with the gunas and so on; and (4) an unappealing (to them)
insistance on the importance of transcending pleasures and desires.  Of
course we do our best to combat these objections, by pointing out (1) that
the advocacy of "war" is best understood on an allegorical level;  (2)
that the now illegal caste system parallels continuing racism in the
United States; (3) that the doctrine of the gunas has indeed a certain
aptness; and (4) that even Western thinkers, such as Luther and Kant,
worried about the validity of pursuing virtue for the sake of personal
benefit.  Nevertheless, although we do point all these things out to our
students, we often find that we are knocking our heads against the wall 
with a very unreceptive audience.

In light of these difficulties, I have suggested to my colleagues that
perhaps it would be feasible to use a different text as a optional
supplement or alternate.  Classical Hinduism, after all, has such a rich
literature, with many important and popular myths and legends, that one
should in principle be able to find other appropriate readings for the
World Cultures class.  The stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana spring
immediately to mind, but the trouble there is that the original texts are
so very long, while our mandate is to use original text rather than
"retellings" at second or third hand.  The Upanishads, on the other hand,
are generally too esoteric and philosophical.  A third alternative might 
be to use a collection of excerpts from religious myths in the puranas,
especially those illustrating such important motifs as the meaning of
maya, karma and rebirth, the transpersonal identity of the Brahman-Atman,
the transcendence of desires, the meaning of moksha, etc., etc. 

One set of myths that I personally love are those recounted in the first
fifty-odd pages of Heinrich Zimmer's _Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and
Civilization_, especially those involving the rishi Narada when, at the
behest of Vishnu, he assumed the form of Princess Sushila in order to
learn the secret of maya; or concerning Markandeya, wandering through the
cosmic body of the sleeping Vishnu.  Zimmer's notes cite the Matsya Purana
as his source for both these myths, but I haven't been able to locate a
manageably brief translation of excerpts from this work.  Could it be that
these marvellous stories have been collected somewhere under a different
title?  Is it even possible (hoping beyond hope) that such an edition
would still be in print? 

Any suggestions or advice about locating an appropriate text would be much
appreciated.  Thanks in advance for your kind assistance.

			Edward Beach
			Department of Philosophy and Religion
			The University of Evansville
			Evansville, Indiana


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