The Upanishads

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About The Book

In the ancient wisdom texts called the Upanishads, illumined sages share flashes of insight, the results of their investigation into consciousness itself.

In extraordinary visions, they experience directly a transcendent Reality which is the essence, or Self, of each created being. They teach that each of us, each Self, is eternal, deathless, one with the power that created the universe.

Easwaran's translation is reliable and readable, consistently the bestseller in its field. It includes an overview of the cultural and historical setting, with chapter introductions, notes, and a Sanskrit glossary. But it is Easwaran's understanding of the wisdom of the Upanishads, and their relevance to the modern reader, that makes this edition truly outstanding.

Each sage, each Upanishad, appeals in different ways to the reader's head and heart. In the end, Easwaran writes, "The Upanishads belong not just to Hinduism. They are India's precious legacy to humanity, and in that spirit they a e offered here."

About The Author

Eknath Easwaran was Professor of English Literature at the University of Nagpur, India, and an established writer, when he came to the United States on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959'. As Founder and Director of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and the Nilgiri Press, he taught the classics of world mysticism and the practice of meditation from 1960 till his death in 1999.

Foreword

Imagine a vast hall in Anglo-Saxon England, not long after the passing of King Arthur. It is the dead of winter and a fierce snowstorm rages outside, but a great fire fills the space within the hall with warmth and light. Now and then, a sparrow darts in for refuge from the weather. It appears as if from nowhere, flits about joyfully in the light, and then disappears again, and where it comes from and where it goes next in that stormy darkness, we do not know.

Our lives are like that, suggests an old story in Bede's medieval history of England. We spend our days in the familiar world of our five senses, but what lies beyond that, if anything, we have no idea. Those sparrows are hints of something more outside - a vast world, perhaps, waiting to be explored. But most of us are happy to stay where we are. We may even be a bit afraid to venture into the unknown. What would be the point, we wonder. Why should we leave the world we know?

Yet there are always a few who are not content to spend their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something unknown beyond their reach makes them acutely restless. They have to see what lies outside - if only, as Mallory said of Everest, "because it's there."

This is true of adventurers of every kind, but especially of those who seek to explore not mountains or jungles but consciousness itself: whose real drive, we might say, is not so much to know the unknown as to know the knower. Such men and women can be found in every age and every culture. While the rest of us stay put, they quietly slip out to see what lies beyond.

Then, so far as we can tell, they disappear. We have no idea where they have gone; we can't even imagine. But every now and then, like friends who have run off to some exotic land, they send back reports: breathless messages describing fantastic adventures, rambling letters about a world beyond ordinary experience, urgent telegrams begging us to come and see. "Look at this view! Isn't it breathtaking? Wish you could see this. Wish you were here."

The works in this set of translations - the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Dhammapada - are among the earliest and most universal of messages like these, sent to inform us that there is more to life than the everyday experience of our senses. The Upanishads are the oldest, so varied that we feel some unknown collectors must have tossed into a jumble all the photos, postcards, and letters from this world that they could find, without any regard for source or circumstance.

Introduction

"Toward the Midpoint of Life's way," as Dante says, I reached what proved a crisis. Everything I had lived for - literature, music, writing, good friends, the joys of teaching - had ceased to satisfy. Not that my enjoyment of these things was less; in fact, I had every innocent source of joy the world offered. But I found myself thirsting for something more, much more, without knowing what or why.

I was on a college campus at that time, well trained in the world of books. When I wanted to know what human beings had learned about life and death, I naturally went to the library. There I found myself systematically mining the stacks in areas I had never been interested in before: philosophy, psychology, religion, even the sciences. India was still British in those days, and the books available confirmed what my education had taken for granted: anything worth pursuing was best represented in the records of Western civilization.

A colleague in the psychology department found my name on the checkout card of a volume by William lames and grew suspicious. Everyone likes a chance to play Sherlock Holmes; he did some sleuthing and confronted me. "See here;' he said, "you're in English literature, but I find you've been taking home every Significant contribution to my field. Just what are you up to?"

How could I tell a distinguished professor that I was searching for meaning in life? I gave him a conspiratorial wink and replied simply, "Something big!" But nothing I found appeased the hunger in my heart.

About this time - I no longer remember how - I came across a copy of the Upanishads. I had known they existed, of course, but it had never even occurred to me to look into them. My field was Victorian literature; I expected no more relevance from four-thousand-year-old texts than from Alice in Wonderland.

"Take the example of a man who has everything;' I read with a start of recognition: "young, healthy, strong, good, and cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let us take this as one measure of joy:' The comparison was right from my life. "One hundred times that joy is the joy of the gandharvas; but no less joy have those who are illumined"

Gandharvas were pure mythology to me, and what illumination meant I had no idea. But the sublime confidence of this voice, the certitude of something vastly greater than the world offers, poured like sunlight into a long-dark room:

Hear, O children of immortal bliss!
You are born to be united with the Lord.
Follow the path of the illumined ones,
And be united with the Lord of Life.

I read on. Image after image arrested me: awe-inspiring images, scarcely understood but pregnant with promised meaning, which caught at my heart as a familiar voice tugs at the edge of awareness when you are struggling to wake up:

As a great fish swims between the banks of a river as it likes, so does the shining Self move between the states of dreaming and waking.

As an eagle, weary after soaring in the sky, folds its wings and flies down to rest in its nest, so does the shining Self enter the state of dreamless sleep, where one is free from all desires. The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free from fear...

Like strangers in an unfamiliar country walking every day over a buried treasure, day by day we enter that Self while in deep sleep but never know it, carried away by what is false.

Day and night cannot cross that bridge, nor old age, nor death, nor grief, nor evil or good deeds. All evils turn back there, unable to cross; evil comes not into this world of Brahman. One who crosses by this bridge, if blind, is blind no more; if hurt, ceases to be hurt; if in sorrow, ceases sorrowing. At this boundary night itself becomes day: night comes not into the world of Reality....

And, finally, simple words that exploded in my consciousness, throwing light around them like a flare: "There is no joy in the finite; there is joy only in the Infinite,"

I too had been walking every day over buried treasure and never guessed. Like the man in the Hasidic fable, I had been seeking everywhere what lay in my own home.

In this way I discovered the Upanishads, and quickly found myself committed to the practice of meditation.

Today, after more than forty years of study, these texts are written on my heart; I am familiar with every word. Yet they never fail to surprise me. With each reading I feel I am setting out on a sea so deep and vast that one can never reach its end. In the years since then I have read widely in world mysticism, and often found the ideas of the Upanishads repeated in the idioms of other religions. I found, too, more practical guides; my own, following the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi, became the Bhagavad Gita. But nowhere else have I seen such a pure, lofty, heady distillation of spiritual wisdom as in the Upanishads, which seem to come to us from the very dawn of time.

Contents

Foreword 7
Introduction 13
Isha: The Inner Ruler 15
Katha: Death as Teacher 61
Brihadaranyaka: The Forest of Wisdom 93
Chandogya: Sacred Song 119
Shvetashvatara: The Faces of God 153
Mundaka: Modes of Knowing 179
Mandukya: Consciousness & Its Phases 197
Kena: Who Moves the World? 207
Prashna: The Breath of Life 219
Taittiriya: Ascent to Joy 239
Aitareya: The Unity if Life 263
Minor Upanishads: Beads of Wisdom
Tejobindu 283
Atma 286
Amritabindu 288
Paramahamsa 291
Afterword 295
A Religion for Modern Times
Glossary 337
Notes 345
Index 377
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