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on September 8, 2012
Eknath Easwaran's "The Upanishads" book is very elegant, beautiful, and easy to read. I like how he placed titles to every section and that he also wrote very small superscript numbers for every verse. From the front cover to the back one, it is a gorgeous book. It really invites/makes you read it all the time.

For those who are very serious, however...

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is missing the entire chapter 1 (very important chapter), it starts on chapter 2. Then on chapter 3, verses 2 through 7 (very important too) are missing... this pattern keeps going with other Upanishads.

Eknath was condensing the Upanishads to make it less repetitive (in a way I like it - abridge version) and many verses had missing parts/words/ideas/watered down (this repeats throughout the book and it is my biggest complaint). I understand "selecting portions" of some of the Upanishads, but it should be stated, and more importantly, the best parts should've been selected (per Upanishad). Here (Brihadaranyaka), the best parts were left out (a main issue), perhaps because another Upanishad touches on the same topic, but this is not mentioned or shown where. It is obvious that he was making a very westernize translation, omitting things that would turn away any western mind, as for example: being reborn in another planet (see below verse 3 of the Isha Upanishad). Our "scientific" society would laugh at this. Yet, I rather have it in the original context than to delude it. And still, Eknath managed to do a very good translation (my second favorite "most readable").

It would have been better if he gave the entire text of all the Upanishads and he did not condense (missing words or ideas) them so much, just a bit. Also, it would be much better if he gave the original Sanskrit text (for the serious student). When I bought the book, I was under the impression that not only it was beautiful (and it is), but that this one had the complete text (almost everyone else has them incomplete).

The introduction before each of the Upanishads (the one some reviewers complain about) is written by Michael Nagler, not Eknath, and I do like it.

This book also includes 4 minor Upanishads: Tejobindu, Atma, Amritabindu, and Paramahamsa.

I do like the way Eknath writes. His style is pleasant, appealing, and easy, it keeps you interested. I absolutely like his other book "Essence of the Upanishads".

Of all the translation I have read and own, the best one so far is "The Upanishads, Breath of The Eternal" by Swami Prabhavanada. This one is not as elegant/stylish looking on paper as Eknath's, but it is not missing important parts and the translation is soul touching... poetic... deep... for the most serious students.

By the way, "The Upanishads: Breath of The Eternal" also includes only selected portions of the Taittiriya, Chandogya, and Brihadaranyaka. However, they do state it as such on the table of content, and more importantly, the best parts were selected and there is no deluding of anything, they rather added (to convey better the idea) than remove.

Yes, another reviewer is right: there cannot be a literal translation of the Sanskrit text (see a Sanskrit sample below). It would not make sense at all. It has to be interpreted. But a good interpretation would not omit an idea, and in a text so deep like this, not leaving words/ideas out or "not watering them down" is critical... if we are serious about realizing these truths.

At other places, Eknath's translation was literal, for example, most translate it as "All this is Brahma, all that is Brahma", but the original in Sanskrit actually says "All this is full, all that is full" and it is how Eknath has it.


Here is a quick comparison of Eknath's Isha Upanishad translation with other translators. Pay more attention to verse 3 on Eknath's translation where you can easily notice missing words/ideas, which leads to a different interpretation. Also, see how simple, yet beautiful, and direct is the translation by "The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal":

ORIGINAL - Sanskrit transliteration:
kurvann eveha karmāṇi jijīviṣec chatāḿ samāḥ
evaḿ tvayi nānyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare

Eknath (no original in Sanskrit in his book):
Thus working may you live a hundred years. Thus alone will you work in real freedom. P. 57, verse 2

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada (in his book, he provides the original in Sanskrit):
One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on working in that way, for that sort of work will not bind him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.

Sri Aurobindo (in his book, he provides the original in Sanskrit):
Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is in thee and not otherwise than this; action cleaves not to a man.

"The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal" by Swami Prabhavanada (no Sanskrit):


asurya nama te lokā andhena tamasāvṛtāḥ
tāḿs te pretyābhigacchanti ye ke cātma-hano janāḥ

Those who denied the self are born again blind to the self, envelope in darkness, utterly devoid of love for the Lord. P. 57, verse 3

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada:
The killer of the soul, whoever he may be, must enter into the planets known as the worlds of the faithless, full of darkness and ignorance.

Sri Aurobindo":
Sunless are those worlds and enveloped in blind gloom where to all they in their passing hence resort who are slayers of their souls.

"The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal":


anejad ekaḿ manaso javiyo nainad devā āpnuvan pūrvam arṣat
tad dhāvato'nyān atyeti tiṣṭhat tasminn apo mātarisvā dadhāti

The Self is one. Ever still, the Self is swifter than thought, swifter than the senses. Though motionless, He outruns all pursuit. Without the Self, never could life exist. P. 57, verse 4

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada:
Although fixed in His abode, the Personality of Godhead is swifter than the mind and can overcome all others running. The powerful demigods cannot approach Him. Although in one place, He controls those who supply the air and rain. He surpasses all in excellence.

Sri Aurobindo:
One unmoving that is swifter than Mind, That the Gods reach not, for it progresses ever in front. That, standing, passes beyond others as they run. In That the Master of Life establishes the Waters.

"The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal":


Bottom line: 1. Missing important parts, 2. ideas are missing or have been diluted too much, or 3. changed.

I returned the book, unfortunately.

For a complete translation/interpretation (no Sanskrit or transliteration) of the main Upanishads get the F. Max Muller version & Swami Paramananda which can be freely obtained in PDF from "forgottenbooks" dot org. You might have to create a free account. I find their interpretations very accurate, and suited for advanced studies. Combine them with "Breath of the Eternal" and it is almost as reading the original in Sanskrit.

UPDATE 2015-01-13: Forgotten Books has changed its membership. Now, most if not all books come with adds and missing a page after every eight page count (the free account), and if you want them with no adds and no missing pages then you must upgrade to the monthly fee membership.
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on March 7, 2000
I discovered this book quite by accident and it has changed my life. I have it by my bedside and read it every night, and hope to someday read every book by Easwaran and incorporate the teachings from this one into my life. I no longer jump off the wall every time things go wrong and can smile at things that made me NUTS before this! Now, I know better. I recommend this to anybody who has made it this far in their search. If there is one book on Hinduism you read, make this the one. I have grown up reading the Bhagwad Gita and I think this by far supercedes that in giving direction and answers in a way that we can still manage in year 2000.
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on January 5, 1998
Simply the best read of the Upanishads in bookstores today. Easwaran uses his background as teacher/communicator to build a highly accessible bridge from our Western way of thinking to some of the deepest insights from the East. I highly recommend this book - and its companions (The Bhagavad Gita and The Dhammapada) to any serious seeker of life's deeper meaning.
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on August 30, 2004
It is amazing that with all the technology modern man has invented, he is unable to answer some deep questions every human being comes across - what is life, why should there be death, etc. He has to go back about four-five thousand years to find out the answers. The answers are in the Upanishads - ancient religion-independent literature, that are recordings of experiential knowledge those wise sages knew. Unlike the Vedas, which are about religious rites and practices, the Upanishads discuss only fundamental questions. Questions such as - 'What is that if one knows, that he/she knows everything'. Amazingly, man found out the answer and had the vision and genorosity to share such findings in the Upanishads. Upanishads are such a fundamental required reading that in ancient India, children would dedicate a significant amount of their early life - 10-12 years - before they set up to establish themselves in the world. In essence, without knowing one's Self, you would be wading dark waters all the time as the Upanishads themselves say.

Eknath Eswaran's transalation makes the Upanishads simple to read. That alone is a great achievement given the voluminous nature of the texts and the language of expression - Sanskrit. We should remember that the text is thousands of years old and has a strong inclination towards flowery, verbose and at times redundant expresssions. But if repetition gets the message across, so does reading such texts! Throughout the translation, Eknath Eswaran's experience with spiritualism, his dedication to such a life, his knowledge and wisdom about English literature and world religions come across making the reading valuable.

As he states of professor William James, the great American psychologist, 'The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgement, character and will. An education which should include this faculty would be education par excellence'. I wouldn't agree more with the author - reading the Upanishads is such education, essential for every one.
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on December 12, 2000
After reading the Dhammapada translation from the same author, it was not a surprise to find a similar high-quality translation of the Upanishads - the philosophical part in the Vedas of Hinduist religion. Some points to highlight in Easwaran's work: Poetic but precise wording, great introduction and commentaries, easy-to-read without creating a scholar-only work, impeccable introduction to the Historical context of the work and it's importance in Hinduism.
Mr Easwaran's work convinced me to buy all Three books that form a Trilogy: The Dhammapada, The Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita. Without a doubt, especially considering the price, this Trilogy is a steal.
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on January 20, 2003
Words fail me in my attempt to describe the book, perhaps it is best I describe the emotions I experienced, as I read this book.
The book captured my breath and concentration and I was unable to think of anything else till I finished the book. I took quite some time over a few days to finish it, simply because each page makes you think. There are books that hit you hard with the force of their ideas, and then there is this book... which gently caresses your mind as a wave would caress the shore, as our eyelashes caress our cheek when we blink. The book and its delivery is so gentle and calm, that my mind was immediately transported into the vivid imagery that EE creates, of a guru in a remote hut and his simple lifestyle and his disciples. EE strikes a chord when he points out the massive gamble that these disciples take, in deciding to pursue nothing but the Truth and sacrifice all else in its path. His writing gentle and kind, and one feels like a young boy in front of an affectionate father, the father doesnt seem to teach, but just seems to speak calmly, and one feels like listening.
EE brings out the Upanishads for what they really are, an incredible advancement into the inquiry of Truth, using the principles of concentration and meditation, and the medium of story telling to pass down the wisdom of the ancients. I could not resist my tears as I read with joy of the tales of Yajnavalka, nor could I feel but astonished at the clarity of thought and the level of the discussion between Yama and Nachiketa.
I could go on, but there is little to say except that one should read this book. For those in search of additional readings, there is a book called "The Vedas", which is an english collection of the discourses of the Head of the Kancheepuram Shankaracharya school. It's a tough read, to be read with pencil and paper, and perhaps committing to memory some of the terms... but it is the Definitive primer into the Vedas and India's true heritage.
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on May 20, 2005
When it comes to translation, there are two kinds of accurate - one is to focus on the ideas, the other on the feeling of the text. This text - as all fo Easwaran's - focuses on the feeling side, and thus opens the beauty of the Upanishads to new readers, while re-inspiring those who have encountered the more intellectual translations. It is the best place to begin a study of the Upanishads, and no good library of Hinduism should be without it.

I took off one star because some of the subtler meanings are not presented nor even suggested - though the language is so good, really only a half-star deduction is merited
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VINE VOICEon December 22, 2005
On Upanishads:

Excellent read, puts you new lines, way beyond your day to day thoughts. Katha upanishad was the most interesting and captivating as I found the narration very good.

On the translation:

Translating a centuries old document into English is a challenging task. A word by word translation would be disastarous. Search in the web for Upanishads and compare it with the translation by the author - Eknath. Eknath Eswaran has done a wonderful job

On the commentary:

Some of upanishads do not need any comments are they are very self-explanatory (thx to the excellent translation).

But some of the upanishads are very difficult to relate to, and probably needed more commentary.
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(Note: My book, "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)" is now available at Amazon.)

In the Upanishads there are two selves. They are symbolized by two birds sitting on a tree branch. The one bird, the self with a small "s" eats. The other bird, the Self with a capital "S" observes. The first self is the self that is part of this world. The second Self is merely an observer that doesn't take part and is in fact beyond the pairs of opposites such as pleasure and pain that dominate our existence. This Self is formally called the Atman. In an important analogy, it is said that the Atman is the drop of water that glides off of the lotus leaf into the ocean of Brahman, with Brahman being the entirety of all that there is, in other words, God, the God beyond all attribution.

This presentation of the Upanishads--necessarily a selection, of course--by Eknath Easwaran is the best single volume that I have come across for the following reasons:

First, the translation by Easwaran is readable, edifying and congenial to the Sanskrit in so far as that is possible. The poetry in the original language and the word play are lost in translation as is always the case with poetry and highly symbolic language, and especially language that is meant to be taken on more than one level. However Easwaran's notes after each Upanishad help to give us an idea what the original is like and give the reader a feel for the some of the nuances.
Second, the chapter introductions and the concluding essay by Michael N. Nagler lend insight and clarity to the reader's understanding.
Third, the selections themselves and what is included in the selections are efficacious. By that I mean the ideas and the "feel" of the expression, the psychology, and the philosophy of the Upanishads and the larger Vedic tradition are made manifest. Some voluminous translations give us much more of the repetition and ritual than we need, while some volumes give us perhaps not enough.

In this regard I want to call the reader's attention to the slim volume The Ten Principal Upanishads (1937) by the poet W.B. Yeats, and Shree Purohit Swami. Easwaran's book contains more of the Upanishads and offers a more extensive commentary, but Yeats and Purohit are more poetic. I recommend that the reader read both books. Alas Yeats's book is out of print and so you'll have to find it at, probably, a college library.

Here is how Easwaran translates the invocation to the famous Isha Upanishad:

All this is full. All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains.
Om shanti shanti, shanti

Now here is how Yeats and Purohit have it:

This is perfect. That is perfect.
Perfect comes from perfect.
Take perfect from perfect; the remainder is perfect.
May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.

I think the former is perhaps truer to the spirit of the philosophy of the Upanishad, but I think the latter is more poetic.

The Upanishads, usually acknowledged to be the culmination of the wisdom of the Vedas, form the basis for Hinduism as well as serving as a wellspring for Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga. Many ideas central to these ways of life are found in the Upanishads. In particular the Bhagavad Gita finds its inspiration and even some of its expression and even a bit of its form in the most famous and most often read Upanishad, the Katha. Nachiketas of the Katha becomes Arjuna of the Gita, while Death becomes Krishna of the Gita.

In his essay, Nagler writes, "Taken as a whole, the Upanishads contain the raw material of a profound philosophy."

In the tradition of India, philosophy and religion are not separate as they usually are in the West. In truth all religions contain not only religious ideas, but philosophical ones as well; but more than anything, religions are psychologies--guides on how to live life, and how to die. In the Upanishads we do not die. Death happens only to the bird that eats. Our real essence, the Atman is eternal, and therefore death is an illusion, a compelling illusion to be sure, but one that can be tossed off through an understanding that "thou art that" ("tat tvam asi") meaning that you and the universe (or Brahman) are one. Nagler writes, "Indian religious systems hold as a core belief that the individual is not that which dies but is instead the forces which brought the body and personality into existence and will continue shaping its destiny after what we call death..." (p. 287).

Easwaran is the author of many books on religion. I was particularly impressed with his book on The Bhagavad Gita (1985; 2000). See my review at Amazon.
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on March 12, 2006
This book, along with its companion translations of the Dhammapada and Bhagavad Gita, also by Eknath Easwaran, should be required for any serious student of Eastern Wisdom. If you can't afford Swami Nikhilanandas multi-volume set of complete translations of every Upanishad, and even if you can, you should also have this volume on your shelf.
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