Beyond Race: The Bhagavad-Gita in Black & White by Byrd

Charles Michael Byrd. Beyond Race: The Bhagavad-gita in Black and White. Princeton, N.J.: Xlibris Corporation, 2002. Hardcover, 150 pages.

The Bhagavad-Gîtâ, as we know it today, was composed c. 500 B.C. Yet, its spiritual message has remained relevant through the ages, as is demonstrated by the seemingly endless flood of new translations and paraphrases.

Race likewise has been a prominent issue through the centuries. Byrd’s book utilizes the Gîtâ’s timeless wisdom to make sense of race in our time and, as the title suggests, to explore ways in which we can transcend race and race consciousness. The writer, who biologically is black, white, and red and operates, speaks out against racial typing, ethnic groupings, and separatist ideology. He champions, among other things, the introduction of a multiracial category by which those falling between the racial stereotypes can have their own independent identity. But, ultimately, this makes little sense in terms of his avowed spirituality, which sees the same One as the essence of all individuals. That One transcends all categories ( tattva), including—surely—the “mixed race” category.

On another level, Byrd rejects the bland concept of an impersonal Absolute. He comes from the Krishna Consciousness camp, which favors a personal God (Krishna/Vishnu). That Supreme Being is the foundation of all living beings with whom we must live in solidarity.

Byrd’s commentary shows no acquaintance with the prolific Sanskrit commentarial literature on the Gîtâ and its immense theological sophistication. He does, however, demonstrate a keen awareness of race issues, especially in regard to mixed races. Surprisingly, he does not comment on the curious linguistic fact that Krishna can also mean “dark” and Arjuna “white.” Nor does he enter into a discussion of India’s caste system, which the Gîtâ is often seen as endorsing.

We can appreciate Byrd’s work as a valiant effort to extend the discourse on race considerably by including the spiritual wisdom of India in the form of the qualified nondualism of the Gîtâ. As such it is a book of sanity and hope.

Originally reviewed © Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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