Book Review: The Upanishads

The Upanishads

The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Upanishads are one of the oldest Vedic scriptures of Hinduism / Sanatana dharma. The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta as they are taught in the end while imparting Vedic knowledge. Originally these are written in Sanskrit and are very difficult to grasp or understand as it requires high proficiency of Sanskrit. This book comes with simple translation of the shlokas in English which is easy to comprehend and understand.

The book covers 10 + 1 principle Upanishads rekindled by Shankara and also has briefs on 4 of the more recent Upanishads. The format is as follows: Each Upanishad is introduced in some detail by the author highlighting some of the key aspects and shlokas of the Upanishad as well as some elaboration on it. In the second part, the shlokas are presented, translated in English. This give the reader an opportunity to think and interpret the shlokas from their own perspective. Some Upanishads are short and succinct whereas others are comparatively longer and more descriptive. Some are conversational (Katha, Prashana) while others seem more poetic (Chandogya, Shvetashvatara, Aitareya).

Content wise, it is a treasure! The Upanishads are very crisp with respect to the message they want to convey to the reader. The word Upanishad means “to sit down near a teacher”. Thus, mostly its content is in the form of a dialog between a seeker and a Guru. The seeker / student asks some of the pressing questions which are answered in detail by the Guru. This type of dialog format makes it interesting and easy to grasp the message. Also the questions asked are some of the questions we might sometimes think of, for example, What happens to a person when he dies?, What is our true Self?, How can the Self be realized?, Can one be immortal?, What is the cause of the universe?, What is the true power of our body? etc. Thus, the Upanishads are the perfect scriptures for the curious, the learners, the explorers and the seekers!

Each Upanishad has a key message to convey. Collectively the Upanishads’ main idea is the importance of Self-Realisation and how it can be achieved. This core message is conveyed across all the conversations in the Upanishads. Also I like the way in which it’s so scientific and logical and inspires the seeker to try out the techniques in order to obtain the expected results. It gives the autonomy to the seeker to choose their path and also foretells that they will get the results accordingly. It is not a scripture which says “thou should do this!”

Some of the shlokas are truly polished gems:

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
[ Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5 ]

“What is here is also there; what is there,
Also here. Who sees multiplicity
But not the one indivisible Self
Must wander on and on from death to death.”
[ Katha II.2.10 ]

“As a tethered bird flies this way and that,
and comes to rest at last on its own perch,
so the mind, tired of wandering about…
settles down in the Self”
[ Chandogya VI.8.2 ]

“Knowledge is two-fold, higher and lower.
The study of the Vedas, linguistics,
rituals, astronomy, and all the arts,
Can be called lower knowledge.
The higher is that which leads to Self-realization.”
[ Mundaka I.1.4 ]

“Meditation, control of the senses
And passions, and selfless service of all
Are the body, the scriptures are the limbs,
And truth is the heart of this wisdom.”
[ Kena IV.4.8 ]

This book is definitely to be read multiple times. It will give new meaning and insight, every time it is read. It has also inspired me to read some of the advanced commentaries on the Upanishads to understand it in more depth. More importantly, it shows how useless our actions and efforts are in achieving happiness and joy using the sense organs to interact with the external world, when true, everlasting peace and joy lies within our own Self!

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