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The Upanishads, Vol. I-IV (4 Volume Set) Hardcover – June, 1987
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|Hardcover, June, 1987||
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Will add incomparable riches to any mind which contemplates it. -- Thomas Sugrue, New York Times Book Review
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Swami Nikhilananda's well-known 4-Volume Set of translations of eleven Upanishads, with detailed verse-by-verse commentaries, remains in print at the time of writing and is available as separate reasonably priced volumes from both ramakrishna.org and vedanta.com
I might add that these are hardback volumes (mine are bound in cloth), stitched in the traditional way so that they actually open flat as books should, and well-printed on quality paper; in other words, unlike so much of the stuff being foisted off on us today by unscrupulous publishers, they are real books that are a pleasure to handle and will last.
For alternative editions see my Listmania list on the Upanishads.
Adi Sankara selected 11 Upanishads and wrote commentary on them and called them 'the Major Upanishads'. This four volume set contains all the major Upanishads with notes based on Sankara's commentary. Swami Nikhilananda's translation is superb. Rather than literally translate Sankara's commentary, he has chosen to place 'notes' based on Sankara's commentary and this makes the text very readable. He has added explanations to Sankara's commentary, which I feel are essential for modern readers.
Another feature of this 4 volume set is Nikhilananda's extensive introductions on the concept of Brahman as portrayed in Vedic scriptures and also on other aspects of Veda Dharma (i.e., the religion based on the Vedas). The central message of the Upanishads is that Brahman (God) is the only Reality.
As you read through these 4 volumes, you will enjoy among other things: Nachiketa's conversations with Yama on the Supreme Secrets of life and death in Katha Upanishad, profound discussions of the transcendental turiya state in Mandukya Upanishad, beautiful conversations of King Janaka with Sage Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and discussions of the five sheaths that 'conceal' the Supreme Reality in Taittiriya Upanishad.
The Section on the short but extremely important Upanishad, Mandukya, also contains Gaudapada's Karika or commentary. (Gaudapada is Sankara's Guru's Guru).
To conclude, this 4 volume edition is the most comprehensive as well as best available English translation of the Major Upanishads with notes based on Sankara's commentary.
So if your purpose is to try to understand this volume just by itself, there are chances you'll get struck by the depth of its meaning. So please first get into some other medium to advanced books in Hinduism and Buddhism before trying to absorb this volume, because the other previous three volumes are not enough to get across this one...but the essence is there, Gotama relied on the content of this volume for his Teachings, no doubt.
When you'll be done with the four volumes, you'll understand where the Buddhist Teachings come from...these Upanishads constitute the essence of the Hindu and Buddhist philosophies.
Unfortunately, they are probably the most cryptic texts that deal with the Ultimate, the style is so crude that one should not read them nor teach them to people that have not spent many years at studying the basics of the Indo-aryan philosophy (be it Hinduism, Buddhism,...) and are not prepared to approach the Absolute. Find a qualified teacher before reading them, unless you could be mislead and loose more time than if you had learned the basics before. So unless you know what you'll find in there, don't read them. If you feel prepared to it, get into it. If the Vedanta considered them as the secret teachings, it's not for the sake of hiding them, but rather because their use should be restricted to the most advanced scholars. There is no discrimination in this, only a will to prevent misunderstanding and misinterpreting of this difficult topic, nothing else. If you don't trust me, get into it and you'll understand very soon what i'm talking about. It's useless to begin learning a subject with the most advanced textbooks, except making you disgusted of it, so please don't try to catch the Ultimate directly with the Upanishads.
This volume is less abstract than the previous two volumes so people that prefer metaphors and more practical stories will be more at ease with this volume.