The Upanishads

Eknath Easwaran; Nilgiri Press

The Upanishads “form a kind of ecstatic slide show—snapshots of towering peaks of consciousness taken at various times by different observers and dispatched with just the barest kind of explanation,” writes Easwaran in the foreword of this book.

Reading this book, this particular translation and perspective of the Upanishads, there are several thoughts that leap into my mind. The author was a skilled writer with a mastery of the English language. After all, he was a professor of Victorian English literature who was also comfortable with Sanskrit. Easwaran was at ease with both the East and the West and learned in both. And all this is present in his writing.

Eleven major and four minor Upanishads unfold in fluid, eloquent lyrics that run like “pouring oil into oil.” There is no Sanskrit script, no transliteration, just the flow of uninterrupted prose. It draws the reader in and wraps itself around the reader. Like a riveting novel, it is hard to put down. Easy to read, not overwhelmed by Sanskrit terms, this book can be appealing to a whole spectrum of readers. The reader does not have to be into yoga, meditation, philosophy, or religion.

In the introduction, Easwaran explains that “the sages of the Upanishads learned to make a science and art and craft of insight—something that could be mastered and then taught to others, as a painting master in the Renaissance might take a gifted student as part of his family and absorb his art.”

The critical analysis goes on to expound the message of the Katha Upanishad “to dare like a teenager: to reach for the highest you can conceive with everything you have, and never count the cost.”

Eventually, though, we derive what we must from the words from the Upanishads themselves:

You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
—Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5

This is a book to be revisited over and over again. Whether the reader has an interest in yoga, meditation, spirituality, or simply reading beautifully composed writing on the philosophy of life, the Upanishads are worth the time. At the very least, we see how so much meaning can be conveyed in the fewest possible lyrical words, enriching our lives with meaning.

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