In the ancient wisdom texts called the Upanishads, illumined sages
share flashes of insight, the results of their investigation into
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
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."
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.
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
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.
"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
"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
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
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.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend