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Hinduism The Upaniṣads
by
Laurie Patton

Introduction

The Upanishads comprise some of the foundational texts of Indian history and philosophy and provide a touchstone for late-20th- and early-21st-century Indian and Hindu identities. The early “classical” Upanishads were composed from about 900 to 300 BCE, and they depart from the primarily Vedic sacrificial perspective and incorporate a renunciant way of life. The Upanishads engage speculative ideas about the sacrifice and the power animating it. While the etymology of the term Upaniṣad has been debated, it is generally understood as upa + ni + ṣad, “to sit down near,” signifying the close relationship between student and teacher in teaching the texts. Many scholars prefer to understand the term as meaning “a secret or esoteric teaching.” The Upanishads were part of different Vedic schools and vary according to the scholarly and recitational emphasis of the school. Each Upanishad was attached to one of four Vedas: the Rig Veda, or the Veda of the sacred formulas; the Sama Veda, or the Veda of the chants; the Yajur Veda, or the Veda of the ritual formulas; and the Atharva Veda, or the Veda of the everyday formulas. Each Vedic school had a Brāhmaṇa text, a ritual philosophical work that expounded on the etiologies of the cosmos and the etiologies and procedures of the rituals that sustained the cosmos. Many Brāhmaṇas had Āraṇyakas, literally “forest books,” containing teachings to be passed down in the seclusion of the forest. The Upanishads were attached to these Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas, sometimes as their final sections and sometimes as separate texts. While early Western Indologists tended to view the Upanishads as the “beginning” of Indian philosophy, it would be a mistake to consider the Upanishads strictly philosophical texts, because they contain a great deal of references to the sacrificial rituals. The idea of Brahman—the monistic force that animates and unites the universe—is at the core of most Upanishadic teachings. The idea is that the “small self,” or atman, within each individual and this uniting force, Brahman, are identical. And the purpose of teaching and contemplation in the Upanishads is to understand this concept experientially. Much of Upanishadic discourse is passed on in highly structured teacher-student relationships. The texts focus on breath and body and the internalization of the sacrifice into the body. This identification of atman and Brahman was taught by making bandhus, or essential, almost supernatural linkages between two otherwise unconnected elements in the universe. The canonical number of Vedic Upanishads is said to be fourteen, with some earlier Upanishads reflecting the language of the Veda and the later, shorter Upanishads reflecting the language of classical Sanskrit. In medieval India the term Upaniṣad came to be designated as a kind of multipurpose moniker attached to a number of sectarian texts involving renunciant and esoteric traditions. One common motif is that there are 108 Upanishads—108 representing the most sacred number in Hinduism. During the period of the development of classical Hinduism, in the 8th and 9th centuries CE, the Hindu thinker Śaṃkara made the Vedic Upanishads the basis of his nondual (Advaita) philosophy, which focused on the role of ultimate reality. That reality was understood by Śaṃkara as Brahman, and all else was understood as maya, or cognitive illusion. Other Vedantan thinkers who engaged with Śaṃkara, such as Mādhva and Rāmānuja, also commented on the Upanishads. The later sectarian or “minor” Upanishads took up specific theological agendas, such as that of Saivism or Vaishnavism, but continued with the aphoristic genre of the earlier texts. Western thinkers, such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, also read the Upanishads and understood them as a powerful alternative to Western ideas of the separation between the self and the body. In early-21st-century India as well as in the West, the Upanishads are understood as foundational texts for the 18th- and 19th-century teachings of Indian reformers, such as Rammohun Roy and Vivekananda. And while on a global scale the Upanishads are not quite as widely known as the Bhagavad Gita, many Vedanta centers and other Hindu organizations in India and diaspora Hindu communities use them as a basis for teaching about Hinduism.

General Overviews

Because they have become such canonical texts for both Hindu thought and world philosophical thought, overviews of the Upanishads vary according to the general work in which they are situated. Olivelle 1996 has a thorough introduction according to 20th-century Indological research. Patton 2004 connects the worldview of the Upanishads with their Vedic antecedents and gives some of the cultural background of the material. Brereton 1990 is an overview of the Upanishads in their “canonical” status within Indian thought. Klostermaier 2007 treats the Upanishads in three key chapters, which are thematically arranged, according to the major themes of the Upanishads—the path of knowledge; the idea of atman Brahman; and the dynamics of mokṣa, or liberation.

  • Brereton, Joel. “The Upanishads.” In Approaches to the Asian Classics. Edited by William Theodore De Bary and Irene Bloom, 115–135. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

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    Brereton treats the Upanishads as a set of Asian classics and, in addition to outlining their basic ideas, treats the texts as a “genre” in their own right. His clear and accessible discussion of the various properties of that genre and the Upanishads’ influence on later Indian thought, such as that of Vedanta, will help readers get a sense of why they are considered canonical.

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  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. “The Path of Knowledge: Jñānamārga.” In A Survey of Hinduism. By Klaus K. Klostermaier, 156–165. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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    Continued in the chapters “Ātman and Brahman: Self and All” and “Karma, Vidyā, Mokṣa: Liberation from Rebirth” (pp. 166–180). Klostermaier’s work on the Upanishads treats them as the beginnings of various canonical Hindu ideas, such as Brahman (the unifying force), karma (law of action and consequence), mokṣa (liberation), and jñāna-marga (the path of knowledge). In addition, Klostermaier makes a larger argument that the Upanishads introduce the idea of knowledge gained through the practice of contemplation, and he compares this with other textual traditions that may emphasize action or devotion.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. “Introduction.” In Upaniṣads. Translated by Patrick Olivelle, xxiii–lx. Oxford World’s Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    Olivelle’s work is the most thoroughgoing introduction to the Vedic Upanishads and will help the reader move from introductory to advanced scholarship on the genre. He discusses historical development, the differences between the individual texts, and the subtleties of the ideas in the texts. He also draws upon late-20th- and early-21st-century historical philological and anthropological research to make his arguments.

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  • Patton, Laurie L. “Veda and Upaniṣad.” In The Hindu World. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene R. Thursby, 37–51. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Patton’s work is part of a voluminous introduction to Hinduism that focuses on full-length articles on basic concepts in the field. The Upanishads are grouped with Veda, and as such Patton’s introduction treats the Upanishads as a genre closely connected to and yet distinct from the sacrificial texts of the Veda. Her work engages with the cultural significance of the Upanishadic worldview of renunciation as well as the literary properties of the texts.

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Early Works

While many manuscripts of the Upanishads probably existed in premodern India, the Upanishads have been increasingly important “bridge” texts across different cultures in the colonial and postcolonial periods. Antequil du Perron 1801–1802 is the first Latin translation, and Roy 1832 is an Indian translation. Böhtlingk 1891 was the first (somewhat problematic) attempt at an edition. Paul Deussen followed with a German translation of many Vedic and post-Vedic Upanishads; Deussen, et al. 1980 is an English translation of this multivolume work. Hume 1931 is an English translation that was used by many scholars and laypeople for much of the 20th century. The standard textual editions that most scholars engage are from Limaye and Vadekar 1958 (cited under Later Works), a Sanskrit work.

  • Antequil du Perron, M. Oupnek’hat, id est, Secretum Tegendum. Paris: E. Leroux, 1801–1802.

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    This Latin work is the first translation of sixty Upanishads into a Western language. Antequil du Perron was a scholar and traveler who saw the Upanishads as motivated by unicum principium spirituale (one single spiritual principle). Antequil du Perron did not translate from the Sanskrit but from a Persian translation that had been commissioned by Dārā Shikōh, the brother of Emperor Aurangzeb, in 1657.

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  • Böhtlingk, Otto von. Drei kritisch gesichtete und übersetzte Upanishad mit erklärenden Anmerkungen. Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Königlichen Sächsischen Gesellschaften zu Leipzig, philologischhistorische Classe 24. Leipzig: n.p., 1891.

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    This text is a critical edition and German translation of the texts of the Kāṭha, Aitareya, and Praśna Upaniṣads. Since this is indeed one of the earliest scholarly editions in the European world, there are some observations of historical interest that use comparative philological data. Not surprisingly, the focus is on the texts themselves, with the colonial bias against native commentary. The author takes liberties with translation and ignores manuscript tradition, so readers should treat this work as of primarily intellectual-historical value.

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  • Deussen, Paul, V. M. Bedekar, and Gajann Balkrishna Palsule, trans. Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda. 2 vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.

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    An excellent if dated introduction to the larger collection of Upanishads as well as their textual histories. These include the Upanishads of the Atharva Veda and the later Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads, among many others. Each Upanishad begins with a helpful overview of the orientation of the text. Translations from the Oupnek’hat Persian collection are also included. Originally published as Sechzig Upanishad’s des Veda (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1897).

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  • Hume, Robert Ernest, trans. The Thirteen Principal Upanishads. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931.

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    This translation was what the English-speaking world used for much of the 20th century. Its introduction reflects much of the perspective of the time—that the Upanishads were the origin of “philosophical thinking” in India and should be placed in the larger history of world philosophy. Hume’s bibliography is a good snapshot of the scholarly thinking of the period. Originally published in 1921.

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  • Müller, F. Max, trans. The Upanishads. Sacred Books of the East 1. New York: Christian Literature Co., 1879.

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    While many translations have superseded this one (even in its day it was criticized), this edition is remarkable in that it is the first volume of a high-profile series that did a great deal of work introducing the major classics of India to the Western world. Müller wanted to restore the Upanishads to the high esteem in which they were held in India.

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  • Roy, Rammohun. “Translation of Several Principal Books, Passages, and Texts of the Vedas and of Some Controversial Works in Brahmunical Theology.” 2d ed. London: Parbury Allen, 1832.

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    This book contains a rendering of the translations of the Muṇḍaka, Kena, Kāṭha and Īśā Upaniṣads. They were the first translation of collected Upanishads to be published in England. The Indian reformer Rammohun Roy was intent on showing the unitary nature of Upanishadic doctrine as compared with the supposedly degenerate Hinduism criticized by the British. Available online.

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Later Works

While Robert Ernest Hume’s 1921 translation (see Hume 1931 cited under Early Works) lasted for a good part of the 20th century, Olivelle 1996 is understood to be the standard translation of the thirteen earliest Vedic Upanishads. Renou 1943–1976 is a good scholarly resource, and Radhakrishnan 1953 is a good representative of mid-20th-century Indian approaches. Roebuck 2000 is a shorter, more introductory version of these Upanishads. Baümer 1997, a German translation, is a good combination of scholarly and spiritual approaches. Radhakrishnan 1953 is geared toward the author’s universalist, Vedanta philosophy, while Padurangi 1999– is oriented directly from the Mādhva dualist school of thought and includes Mādhva’s commentary. Also from the Hindu perspective, Joshi, et al. 2004 echoes the more expansive translation of Paul Deussen’s Sechzig Upanishad’s des Veda (see Deussen, et al. 1980, cited under Early Works) with an inclusive, wide-sweeping presentation of the Upanishadic tradition. Hock 2007 is excellent for beginning students of Sanskrit.

  • Baümer, Bettina, trans. Upanishaden: Die heiligen Schriften Indiens Meditieren. Munich: Kösel, 1997.

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    Baümer gives an anthology of the Upanishads in German translation with a fresh focus on the aesthetic and wisdom elements of the Upanishads in addition to their universalist philosophical ideas and their status as a resource for the work of Indian philology.

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  • Hock, Hans Henrich. An Early Upaniṣadic Reader: With Notes, Glossary, and an Appendix of Related Vedic Texts. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2007.

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    Hock’s work is an excellent reader for the beginning student of Sanskrit and Indology. In addition he provides an up-to-date, focused assessment of dating and historical issues at stake in the interpretation of the older Upanishads.

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  • Joshi, K. L., O. N. Bimali, and Bindia Trivedi, eds. and trans. 112 Upaniṣads: Sanskrit Text and English Translation with an Exhaustive Introduction and Index of Verses. Delhi: Parimal, 2004.

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    This edition is a less concise but still important larger collection of the early and late Upanishads. Readers will be able to glean the larger scope and nature of what the Indian thinkers call “the Upanishadic tradition.”

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  • Limaye, V. P., and R. D. Vadekar, eds. Eighteen Principal Upaniṣads: Upaniṣadic Text with Parallels from Extant Vedic Literature, Exegetical and Grammatical Notes. Poona, India: Vaidika Samshodana Mandala, 1958.

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    This work is the major Sanskrit edition of Upanishadic texts to be published by Vaidika Samshodana Mandala, a major center for Vedic learning in India. It is the edition that many scholars check their work against if they are working with a variant text or are producing a translation.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick, trans. Upaniṣads. Oxford World’s Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    This work is the new “classical” translation in that it includes a fairly exhaustive introduction and bibliography and extremely helpful critical notes. Beginners will find it useful for its informative explanation of the basics and its easy verbal style. Scholars have also consistently referred to it in their works.

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  • Pandurangi, K. T., trans. The Principal Upaniṣads: With English Translation and Notes according to Śrī Madhvāchārya’s Bhāṣya. Bangalore, India: Dvaita Vedanta Studies and Research Foundation, 1999–.

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    This work is a good gateway into a traditional thinker’s approach to the Upanishads. Mādhva is a Vedantan thinker of the dualist variety, which, contrary to Śaṃkara, was committed to the reality of the phenomenal world and the separation of that world and Brahman. Padurangi is one of the most penetrating Indian interpreters of the 20th and 21st centuries, and he provides clear exposition of the commentarial tradition.

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  • Radhakrishnan, S., trans. The Principal Upaniṣads. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1953.

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    The English language of this translation is a little more labored than others. The introduction, in keeping with the influential comparative philosophical orientation of Radhakrishnan, focuses on the universalism inherent in the Upanishadic worldview.

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  • Renou, Louis, ed. Les Upanishad: Texte et traduction sous la direction de Louis Renou. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1943–1976.

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    This set of editions of the classical individual Upanishads is in many ways the European standard against which many works about individual Upanishads are still measured. Overseen by Louis Renou and executed by both students and colleagues, it is the fulcrum from which much of this leading Indologist’s thinking about early India emerged.

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  • Roebuck, Valerie J., trans. The Upaniṣads. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000.

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    This is a helpful book oriented toward the general reader. The clear introduction, notes, and glossary show that the translator is grounded in the material. Roebuck also focuses on the relationship between Upanishadic teachings and Buddhism more than other introductory works.

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Concordances and Bibliographies

Much of the early interest in the Upanishads had to do with the relationship to classical texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Pali canon of early Buddhism. Jacob 1963 (originally published in 1891) is the earliest attempt to create a dictionary of terms. Jha 2004–2007 (published a century later) moves among the classical Upanishads to develop a common vocabulary. Scholarly work on the Upanishads is so voluminous that a bibliography of translations was necessary (Renard 1995), as well as one of secondary sources (Lighthiser 2002).

  • Jacob, George Adolphus. A Concordance to the Principal Upanishads and Bhagavadgītā. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963.

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    Working about the same time as Hermann Oldenberg and Otto von Böhtlingk, Jacob conducted one of the first attempts to create a reference work that looks at common terminology across early Indian texts. Many of the later Upanishads share a great deal of terminology with the theistic approach of the well-known text from the epic Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad Gita. Originally published in 1891. Available online.

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  • Jha, Vashishtha Narayan, ed. Concordance of Conceptual Upaniṣadic Terms. Pune, India: Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Pune, 2004–2007.

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    Jha has given a place for the student of early Indian thought interested in tracing word usages to turn. Those who wish to conduct a comparative study of terminologies for major ideas, such as the self, the sacrifice, and so on, will find this an excellent resource.

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  • Lighthiser, Timothy P. “Upaniṣads: A Contribution towards Bibliography of Secondary Literature and Reviews.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 30.1 (2002): 83–99.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1014513826346Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lighthiser’s bibliography is comprehensive and engages a number of different topics, among them philosophy, spirituality, history, and philology.

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  • Renard, Philip. “Historical Bibliography of Upaniṣads in Translation.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 23 (1995): 223–246.

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    Renard’s bibliography gives an excellent scope of the translations completed since 1995. In addition, it can form the basis of an understanding of the West’s encounter with the Upanishadic tradition and the “mental maps” made by scholars in other cultures to understand their nature and scope.

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Synthetic Works

The Upanishads have been interpreted by Indian thinkers as a group of texts for millennia. However, only in the 19th and 20th centuries did attempts to synthesize their cultural and historical significance as a genre emerge on the scholarly scene. Keith 1925 is an encyclopedic assessment of the Upanishadic texts in light of their contributions to Vedic thought more generally. Witzel 1987 gives an invaluable “mapping” of where the Vedic schools, and hence the Upanishads, might have been located in North India. Kaelber 1989 traces the study of tapas, or the discipline of asceticism, and shows how its significance in the Upanishads differs from that of the Veda. Olivelle 1993 continues the interest in asceticism by studying the idea of renunciation and arguing that, contrary to the usual stereotypes, renunciation was not systematized in the Upanishads and only later became a life ideology. Witz 1998 gives a larger overview of the content of the Upanishads, their commentarial traditions, and their encounter with the West. Muralidharan 2003 continues the social-historical focus of Olivelle 1993 and shows the ways Upanishadic discourses maintain power relations. Grinshpon 2003 argues that the Upanishads should not be understood as “philosophy” but rather as a form of narrative experience. Black 2007 deepens both the social-historical focus and the experiential focus by looking at the construction of the Upanishadic person through the dialogical genre.

  • Black, Brian. The Character of the Self in Ancient India: Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upaniṣads. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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    This work is a thoroughgoing analysis of the ways the self (atman) is conceived and developed through the dialogical genre. The book covers lessons between Brahman teacher and student, Brahman teachers and their peers, Brahmans and kings, and Brahmans and women. Black gives an excellent early-21st-century frame with which to begin thinking about the conversational genre of the texts.

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  • Grinshpon, Yohanan. Crisis and Knowledge: The Upanishadic Experience and Storytelling. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Grinshpon aims to wrest the Upanishads from their (in his view) overly philosophical moorings in the West and to argue instead for the centrality of narrative experience in Upanishadic teaching. Grinshpon further maintains that the texts’ narrative structure lends them to experiential, not exclusively intellectual, understanding. His examples are compelling and make a good book for use in the advanced undergraduate and the graduate classrooms.

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  • Kaelber, Walter O. Tapta Mārga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    Kaelber focuses on the development of tapas, or ascetic practice, in the early Vedic literature. His chapter “Tapas and Knowledge in the Principal Upaniṣads” (pp. 83–92) gives a compelling overview of ascetic practices less focused on saṃnyāsa than Olivelle and more on references to the actual practice. The chapter is helpful to read against his discussion of tapas practices in the earlier texts.

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  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Harvard Oriental Series 31–32. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.

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    Keith’s voluminous work is a larger overview of basic themes of early India from the early 20th century. Keith reads the Upanishads in light of earlier Vedic mythology and understands the two as part of a larger continuum. The writing reflects the Orientalist and philological worldviews of the time. Its arrangement and rhetoric is encyclopedic in tone, and it remains a sourcebook for many.

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  • Muralidharan, M. The Discursive Geography of Upanishads. Kottayam, India: D. C. Books, 2003.

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    Muralidharan takes a social-historical approach to provide an analysis of the student-teacher discourses in the major Upanishads. He is particularly interested in the ideological implications of authority and how it is both maintained and transferred in ancient Indian rhetorical moves. Muralidharan deconstructs the standard oppositions of the Orientalist treatment of Upanishadic discourse: materialism versus idealism, subjectivity versus objectivity, and transcendence versus immanence.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. The Āśrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    In this work Olivelle treats the Hindu idea of the āśrama system, or four stages of life (student, householder, forest dweller, and renunciant). He argues that the theological construct should be separated from the actual institutions present in ancient India, and that the authors of the Upanishads participated in the gradual idealization of renunciation in ancient Indian thought.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. “Unfaithful Transmitters: Philological Criticism and Critical Editions of the Upanisads.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 26.2 (1998): 173–187.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1004322726953Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Here Olivelle takes on the critique of a number of Western Indologists and assesses the larger question of the idea that a “critical edition” can in fact be closer to the original text. This problem was particularly acute with Otto von Böhtlingk’s edition of the Upanishads, where conjectures and ignorance of the manuscript tradition were compounded by Indological prejudice.

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  • Witz, Klaus G. The Supreme Wisdom of the Upaniṣads. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

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    Witz gives a comprehensive, synthetic treatment of the major themes of the Upanishads, emphasizing the idea of wisdom. He focuses on ideas of atman Brahman, particular teachings about the five parts of the self (atman) and the quarters of Brahman, the view of vidyā, or knowledge, and key dialogues. The work also contains chapters on the Upanishads and the West.

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  • Witzel, Michael. “On the Localisation of Vedic Texts and Schools.” In India and the Ancient World: History, Trade, and Culture before A.D. 650. Edited by Gilbert Pollet, 173–213. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 25. Louvain, Belgium: Department Orientalistiek, 1987.

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    Witzel provides a crucially important map of the Upanishadic schools in so far as they are part of the Vedic schools. He locates the Bṛhdāraṇyaka in the eastern area of Kosala Videha and the Chāndogya in the western region of the Kuru Pañcala country. The later Upanishads, when they can be located at all, are spread throughout these regions and also in the eastern Punjab.

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Studies of Atman Brahman

While the terms atman and Brahman have been at the center of debate about the Upanishads since their first translations, the debate intensified with specific studies of these terms in the mid-20th century. Renou and Silburn 1949 begins the 20th-century conversation by describing the idea of Brahman’s development from ritual formulas to cosmological principle. Gonda 1950 argues for the use of indigenous commentaries to understand the term Brahman. Thieme 1952 follows with a longer response that argues for a more “common denominator” approach that crystallized much of the author’s earlier thinking on the matter. Van Buitenen 1964 argues for a less vague translation of Brahman, suggesting the “large” atman rather than the “great” atman. Gren-Eklund 1978 continues this move toward an analysis of Upanishadic identification of atman and Brahman by conducting a linguistic study of the nominal sentences in the older texts, many of which contain these kinds of connecting bandhus, or equivalences. Brereton 1986 gives a linguistic study of the atman-Brahman relationship that focuses less on absolute identity and more on analogical comparison. Brereton 1991 argues for the coherence of a particularly confusing passage in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka by showing the relationship between body (microcosm) and universe (macrocosm).

  • Brereton, Joel P. “‘Tat Tvam Asi’ in Context.” Zeitschrift Der Morgenlandische Geselleschaft 136 (1986): 98–109.

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    Brereton’s work is much cited and is on its way to becoming a classic article in the field. It argues through a close analysis of the pronominal references in the famous phrase tat tvam asi that the translation is best rendered as “you are like that” or “that’s how you are,” rather than the standard “you are that.” This difference in translation has major implications for the way we think about Upanishadic cosmology and the correlations between the self and the universe.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “Cosmographic Images in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.” Indo-Iranian Journal 34 (1991): 1–17.

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    This article examines a seemingly disparate section of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 2.2, and argues for its unity. Brereton does so on the grounds that it has formal unity—that is, repetition of words, phrases, and pronouns that signal to the reader that each unit is to be understood in context with the others. More importantly, each section is a connection of a body part with an image of the cosmos.

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  • Gonda, Jan. Notes on Brahman. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Beyers, 1950.

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    Here Gonda takes on the larger discussion of the meaning of Brahman and argues that the earliest meaning of the term has to do with the power of words and sacred formulas. He disagrees with Thieme by stating that Indian “nonscientific” etymologies associating the term with the root bṛh (to hold firm, expand) give us an excellent understand of the term in later contexts, such as the Upanishads.

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  • Gren-Eklund, Gunilla. A Study of the Nominal Sentences in the Oldest Upaniṣads. Studia Indoeuropaea Upsaliensia 3. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.

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    Gren-Eklund examines the nominal sentences in the older Upanishads with a view toward the question of equivalences, or bandhus. The author explores the use of nominal forms, demonstrative pronouns, copulas, and other grammatical elements in these sentences. He suggests that the equivalences denote a shared first cause, representing a condition, a pertinent state of being shared by both entities.

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  • Renou, Louis, and Liliane Silburn. “Sur la notion de ‘bráhman.’” Journal Asiatique 237 (1949): 7–46.

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    Here Renou argues with other mid-century thinkers on this topic—that the idea of the word Brahman begins with the power of the ritualistic formula and develops into the idea of the mysterious, generative word, that force which is Brahman. For Renou, this is a form of cryptic thought that creates explanatory identification, which the earliest texts, the Brāhmaṇas, refer to as nidāna (contributory cause) or bandhu (equivalence) and eventually as Upanishad. Reprinted in Charles Malamoud and Louis Renou’s L‘Inde fondamentale: Études d’indianisme réunies et présentées (Paris: Hermann, 1978), pp. 83–116.

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  • Thieme, Paul. “Brahman.” Zeitschrift fur Deutsche Morgenlandische Geselleschaft 102 (1952): 91–129.

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    Thieme embarks on a linguistic study of the term Brahman in its Vedic and Upanishadic usages. He takes the view that while the Indian exegetes argue that Brahman is probably derived from the Sanskrit root bṛh (to hold firm, expand), this indigenous etymology may not be as important as we might think. Instead, Thieme advocates analyzing the common semantic features of all usages of the term. Reprinted in Thieme’s Kleine Schriften II (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1995), pp. 100–138.

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  • van Buitenen, J. A. B. “The Large Ātman.” History of Religions 4 (1964): 103–114.

    DOI: 10.1086/462497Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article argues that the idea of “the great atman,” the usual translation of mahatātman, in the Upanishads does not give the technical pre-Sāṃkhya sense of the term. Rather, mahatātman implies a larger entity than the person, a cosmological force that is larger than any given person and animates that person and all other entities. Thus van Buitenen argues for the term “large” rather than “great,” which denotes a kind of vague praise.

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Studies of Other Upanishadic Concepts

Other studies of ideas in the Upanishads shed light on the transitional phase from the ritual texts of the Brāhmaṇas to the Upanishads, the nature of the cycle of karma and rebirth and its origins, and the role of the terms for truth and falsehood. Renou 1953 discusses this idea more broadly and shows that most Upanishadic dialogues are contained in the Brāhmaṇas but are expanded with a different theme in the Upanishads themselves. Individual word studies also emerged during the late 20th century. Van Buitenen 1968 argues for a moral force to the term satyam as compared with other terms for truth. Van Buitenen 1979 makes a similar argument for the term ānanda and its connotations as positive fulfillment rather than negation of desire. Geib 1976 shows that the imagery of food is part of the establishment of cyclical patterns of life and death in the early Upanishadic texts. Brereton 1982 conducts a word study of the comparative particle iva, using many Upanishadic sources to show that the force of the particle is more indefinite and negative than positive, and that it denotes absolute identification. Bodewitz 1986 shows the ways different words for breath, such as prāṇa and aprāṇa, are connected with ideas about Brahman. Olivelle 1981 understands saṃnyāsa and related words to be, in their earliest usages, about renouncing ritual activity, thus giving us a new idea about how the Upanishads may not have expressly engaged this concept. Olivelle 1999 compares the story of Śvetaketu, which occurs in three Upanishads, to show the different theological motivations of each. Shete 2000 undertakes the more thematic study of boon giving in Upanishadic narratives, not a usual topic for those who view the Upanishads more philosophically.

  • Bodewitz, H. W. “Prāṇa, Aprāṇa, and Other Prāṇas in Vedic Literature.” Adyar Library Bulletin 50 (1986): 326–348.

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    This is now a somewhat classic article that clarifies the various scholarly misunderstandings of the word prāṇa (breath), which is found frequently in the Upanishads. Bodewitz creates a persuasive typology of the different kinds of breath based on Upanishadic and other usages and also shows that many of these meanings changed over time.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “The Particle Iva in Vedic Prose.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 102 (1982): 443–450.

    DOI: 10.2307/602296Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brereton provides a useful discussion of the ways the particle iva (“like” or “as”) has an indefinite comparative force—as true in a manner that is undefined, with possible adversative or distributive force when repeated and strong negative force when used with the particle na. Brereton includes a careful discussion of the use of iva in cosmological comparisons in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chāndogya Upaniṣads.

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  • Geib, R. “Food and Eater in Natural Philosophy of Early India.” Journal of the Oriental Institute 25 (1976): 223–235.

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    Geib writes an interpretation of a central metaphor in the Upanishads, which is that of the eater and food, or more broadly, the consumer and the consumed. Geib analyzes central passages, such as those narrative texts involving characters begging for alms food from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, chapter 3.4, as well as central metaphoric ideas of the circulation of food in the cosmos in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 15.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. “Contributions to the Semantic History of Saṃnyāsa.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1981): 265–274.

    DOI: 10.2307/602589Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using many Upanishadic sources, Olivelle argues that saṃnyāsa was not used in Jain or Buddhist literature. Probably in its earliest usages, including in the Upanishads, the term was a reference to renunciation of ritual activity, not a generic term. It came to mean the rite of renunciation, and only after The Laws of Manu, in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, did it come to mean renunciation more generally.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. “Young Śvetaketu: A Literary Study of an Upaniṣadic Story.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 119.1 (1999): 46–70.

    DOI: 10.2307/605540Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Olivelle examines the story of Śvetaketu in the three Upanishads in which the story occurs: Chāndogya, Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and Kauṣītaki. He suggests that the different versions found in each Upanishad are motivated by theological and philosophical concerns of each school that produced these Upanishads. This is an excellent introduction to thinking through the differences among Upanishads.

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  • Renou, Louis. “Le passage des Brāhmaṇa aux Upaniṣad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 73 (1953): 138–144.

    DOI: 10.2307/595203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an excellent detailed discussion of the relationships between the Brāhmaṇas, or earlier ritual-philosophical texts of each Vedic school, and the Upanishads from that same school. Renou argues that the kinds of ritual dialogues found in each Brāhmaṇa are continued in the Upanishads but with the primary focus on the subject of Brahman in the later texts.

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  • Shete, Vaijayanti D. A Role of Boon (Varadāna) in Some Upaniṣadic Stories. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2000.

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    Shete’s work is an analysis of the ways boons (varadānas) operate in Upanishadic narratives, including well-known ones, such as that of Death and Naciketas, and lesser known stories in the minor Upanishads. The author is particularly concerned with maintaining a multifaceted approach to these stories, including narrative, historical, and philosophical analyses. Readers not familiar with Indian English should be prepared for different stylistic conventions.

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  • van Buitenen, J. A. B. “Speculations on the Name ‘Satyam’ in the Upaniṣads.” Studies in Indian Linguistics, M. B. Emeneau Volume. Edited by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, 54–61. Poona, India: Linguistic Society of India, 1968.

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    Here van Buitenen discusses the ways the later Vedic hymns and the Upanishads use the term satyam to designate something more than simply “true” and “false,” more of a holistic reality. In contrast to other earlier terms designating truth and falsehood, the term satyam has a moral dimension and an ethical force. Reprinted in Studies in Indian Literature and Philosophy: Collected Articles of J. A. B. van Buitenen, edited by Ludo Rocher (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988), pp. 263–272.

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  • van Buitenen, J. A. B. “Ānanda, or All Desires Fulfilled.” History of Religions 19 (1979): 27–36.

    DOI: 10.1086/462834Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Here van Buitenen explores the idea of ānanda, or bliss, in its earlier Vedic and later Upanishadic concepts of satisfaction in sexuality, in drinking soma, and in wishes fulfilled. He compares particularly the Taittirīya and Maitrāyaṇī Upaniṣads and suggests that bliss of Brahman is not simply the absence of suffering in the scheme of transmigration but rather something more positive, as its earlier resonances suggest: a bliss that transcended the need for worldly pleasures, not a void but a fullness. Reprinted in Studies in Indian Literature and Philosophy: Collected Articles of J. A. B. van Buitenen, edited by Ludo Rocher (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988), pp. 323–332.

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Upanishads and Buddhism

Discussion about the relationship between Buddhist texts and the Upanishads continues. Questions revolve around how much of a shared worldview the Upanishadic and Buddhist authors have and how much influence we can speak about, if any. Much of the debate took place in German sources that were not translated until later, if at all, in the English-speaking world. Oldenberg 1991 (originally published in French in 1915) discusses this topic in a history of early Indian ideas and suggests that some influence might have existed but that geographical distance between the two cultures might make such influence minimal. Frauwallner 1953 also provides a lengthy engagement of this 20th-century debate and is particularly in favor of the Upanishads’ strong influence on Buddhism. Late-20th- and early-21st-century scholarship, however, has underscored the racialized program of some of Erich Frauwallner’s ideas about Aryan identity. Horsch 1968 argues for two distinct streams of thought with a shared worldview, given the larger culture of the Gangetic plain. Chandra 1971 also shares this idea and demonstrates that Buddhist depictions of Brahmans show them as ritualists, not as competing philosophers. Noble 1977 returns to questions of strong influence to say that certain terms in Buddhaghoṣa and the Upanishads are virtually synonymous. But Bhattacharya 1998 suggests even more thoroughly and comprehensively than Chandra 1971 that the Buddhist rebellion was more against the Vedic ritual system and not the philosophical one as such.

  • Bhattacharya, Kamaleswar. Some Thoughts on Early Buddhism: With Special Reference to Its Relations to the Upaniṣads. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1998.

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    Bhattacharya made his mark in early Indian scholarship on the postulation of certain early Buddhist terms being synonymous with Upanishadic ones. In conversation with Erich Frauwallner, Bhattacharya’s argument was that early Buddhist writings were better understood as a movement against the Vedic ritual system, not a metaphysical rebellion as such. This work is a development of and sequel to his French work on the topic, particularly the terminology of atman Brahman in early India.

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  • Chandra, Pratap. “Was Early Buddhism Influenced by the Upaniṣads?” Philosophy East and West 21.3 (July 1971): 317–324.

    DOI: 10.2307/1398359Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chandra agrees with P. Horsch but argues his ideas from a philosophical point of view. Arguing with larger studies of Indian philosophy that claim an “indebtedness” of Buddhism to the Upanishads, he shows that the Buddhist depiction of Brahmans show them far more as ritualists than as Upanishadic philosophers and that the translations of key words, such as Brahman, in the Pali canon do not necessarily presume Upanishadic usages.

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  • Frauwallner, Erich. Geschichte Der indien Philosophie. Vol. 1. Salzburg, Austria: Müller, 1953.

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    This is one of the first major continental studies to suggest that the best way to interpret the early Buddhist writings was in the context of the seemingly contemporary texts of the Upanishads. Much of Frauwallner’s writings were not engaged by the English-speaking world until decades later. However, Frauwallner should be read in the context of late-20th- and early-21st-century serious critique of his racialized understanding of “Aryan” identity. See especially pages 146–256.

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  • Horsch, P. “Buddhismus und Upaniṣaden.” In Pratidānam: Indian, Iranian, and Indo-European Studies Presented to Franciscus Bernandus Jacobus Kuiper on His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by J. C. Heesterman, Godard H. Schokker, and V. I. Subramoniam, 462–477. The Hague: Mouton, 1968.

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    This classical essay suggests that while Buddhist teachings and the Upanishads shared a larger culture, they represented two distinct streams of thought. They do not necessarily show clear evidence of overwhelming mutual contact or influence. Horsh argues that one can explain the similarities without recourse to such ideas of influence.

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  • Noble, Ross Reat. “Karma and Rebirth in the Upaniṣads and Buddhism.” Numen 24.3 (1977): 163–185.

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    Noble argues for striking similarities between Buddhaghoṣa’s theory of bhavāṇga (existence) and Yājñyavalkya’s theory of the atman as expounded in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Despite major philosophical differences, Noble argues that both passages focus on that which is unborn and undisturbed as it transmigrates.

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  • Oldenberg, Hermann. The Doctrine of the Upaniṣads and the Early Buddhism. Translated by Shridhar B. Shrotri. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

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    This work is a late translation of Oldenberg’s classic German text Die Lehre der Upanishaden und die Anfänge des Buddhismus (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1915). It is an inventory of related passages and ideas from the Pali canon and the Upanishads from an early Indological perspective. Oldenberg focuses on the emergence of Sāṃkhya and Yoga ideas within the Upanishads. He emphasizes both the geographical and the chronological distance between Upanishadic and Buddhist ideas.

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Philosophical Interpretations

The Upanishads were of great philosophical interest for two reasons: first, because of their status as some of the earliest texts that contain discourse about metaphysical reality in early India, and second, because of their status as foundational texts for the later philosophical school of Vedanta. They are of interest particularly to the great philosopher Śaṃkara, who commented on them to expound his philosophy that phenomenal reality was maya, or illusory, compared to the ultimate reality of Brahman. This view of the “essential philosophical truths” of the Upanishads, whether medieval or modern, also makes it difficult to interpret the more ritualistic passages of the early texts and the more theistic passages of the later texts. While many debate whether it should be called philosophical by Western standards, extensive systematic interpretation of the Upanishads is first seen in the commentaries of the Advaita (nondual) and Dvaita (dualist) philosophers Śaṃkara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhva, whose commentaries on the Upanishads are given in Srinivasa Chari 2002. Panoli 1991–2008 gives a comparative analysis of Śaṃkara’s approach to the shorter, more theistic Upanishads. A colonial conversation with Indian pandits, Indian and Western Indologists, and philosophers resulted in Sastri and Jha 1898–1901, a collection of Śaṃkara’s major commentaries. Deussen 1966 (originally published in 1906) put the Upanishads on the map of world philosophy. Although Paul Deussen’s interest was primarily Indological, his work remains a reference for scholars working in the early 21st century. Ruben 1947 puts forward the idea of a philosophical development of Upanishadic thought in five stages. Hanefeld 1976 is significant in that it engages most of the previous German arguments about whether the Upanishads were mystical, magical, or philosophical texts and suggests a thematic analysis across Upanishads instead. Edgerton 1965 attempts to show the ways the Upanishads developed earlier ideas of atman and Brahman and suggests that these ideas became even more systematized in later texts. Kapstein 1988 revivifies the idea of the Upanishads as philosophy, but not in the essentialist, orientalizing way of early Indologists, and it focuses on the idea of queries about the self as forms of “proto arguments.” Misra 2002 gives an example of the Hindu response to Western philosophical assessments of the Upanishadic texts.

  • Deussen, Paul. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. New York: Dover, 1966.

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    Deussen’s still helpful work is one of the earliest treatments of the early Upanishads as philosophy. Chapters are arranged according to philosophical doctrines, including “The Essential Brahman,” “The Origin of the Sâṅkhya System,” “The Psychology of the Doctrine,” and “The Organs of the Soul.” These monikers and the treatment of the Upanishads occasionally refer to Christianity as a basic comparand. Original 1906 edition available online.

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  • Edgerton, Franklin B. The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy: Selections from the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Upaniṣads, and Mahābhārata. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

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    Edgerton gives his usual combination of philological acumen and excellent intellectual historical precision in this reader. Beginning students can trace the history of ideas from Vedic to epic understandings of the self and see the Upanishads’ role in that development. More advanced students can examine the reasons for his particular renderings of difficult phrases and words.

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  • Hanefeld, Erhardt. Philosophische Haupttexte der älteren Upaniṣaden. Freiburger Beiträge zur Indologie 9. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1976.

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    This work is critical of earlier Indologists who viewed the Upanishads as high philosophy, primitive magic, or mystical intuitions. Hanefeld also criticizes those who see one particular message in the Upanishads (usually Vedantan) and then interpret the others accordingly. He instead chooses three stand-alone texts of the older Upanishads and interprets them according to a close reading of the motifs, which are understood to be at once social, historical, and cosmological.

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  • Kapstein, Matthew. “Indra’s Search for the Self and the Beginnings of Philosophical Perplexity in India.” Religious Studies 24.2 (1988): 239–256.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0034412500019284Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kapstein conducts an insightful analysis of the various kinds of identifications made in the Upanishads, particularly in light of questions of personal identity. He argues that one should treat the Upanishads in the way that scholars have recently treated the pre-Socratics: their ideas are “proto-arguments” and as such have historical and conceptual affinities with later Indian Buddhist thought.

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  • Misra, R. S. Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism: The Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavadgītā; A Reinterpretation and Critical Appraisal. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2002.

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    Misra engages here with the focus on Brahman as it is understood by all three textual traditions of the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, but most emphasis is placed on the Upanishads. While Indologists will not find it as useful as other works, this book is a good example of how an early-21st-century Hindu philosopher of comparative religion might counter Western misconceptions and compare his own tradition with Western idealism.

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  • Panoli, V. Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words: Isa, Kena, Katha, and Mandukya with the Karika of Gaudapada; With the Bhashyas in the Original Sanskrit, English Translation, Exhaustive Explanatory Notes and Footnotes. Calicut, India: Mathrubhumi, 1991–2008.

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    An excellent guide to comparative reading of the major Śāṃkara commentaries of some of the shorter Upanishads; Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā gives the readers a full sense of the nature of the Vedantan conversation and interpretive moves. The book is not for the beginning student; the translation needs some work but is serviceable.

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  • Ruben, Walter. Die Philosophen der Upaniṣaden. Bern, Switzerland: Francke, 1947.

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    Ruben’s treatment of the Upanishads includes the usual focus on the notion of atman Brahman and the idea of speculation on the ultimate reality. Ruben’s work is distinguished, however, by the fact that he demurs from naming an “essence” of the Upanishads as a whole but looks at five larger stages of Upanishadic thought developing gradually.

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  • Sastri, S. Sitarama, and Ganganatha Jha, trans. The Upanishads and Sri Śaṃkara’s Commentary. 5 vols. Madras: Natesan, 1898–1901.

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    This series is of historical interest in that it is the first comprehensive edition of Śaṃkara commentary on the principal Upanishads. Its introduction gives a great window into the debate about these texts in colonial India, and the series is dedicated to the theosophist Annie Besant. Available online.

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  • Srinivasa Chari, S. M. The Philosophy of the Upaniṣads: A Study Based on the Evaluation of the Comments of Śaṃkara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhva. Foreword by K. T. Pandurangi New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2002.

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    Srinivasa Chari selects the passages that have been deemed more “philosophical” by scholarly tradition and analyzes them according to the commentaries of the major Vedanta thinkers of the 9th to the 12th centuries CE—Śaṃkara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhva. The work is valuable in that it provides a basic understanding of the Vedantan debates and also includes a focus on Bādarāyaṇa’s sutras as the starting point for these debates.

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Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad is by scholarly consensus the oldest of the Upanishads. It belongs to the school of the White Yajur Veda and makes up the final section of its preceding Brāhmaṇa text, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. There are also two recensions, the Mādhyandina and the Kaṇṿa. The text is well known for its many compelling narratives and dialogues featuring the sage Yājñavalkya as well as the dialogues of Gārgya and those of Śvetaketu. Böhtlingk 1889 gives the first philological treatment of this text, but the work is neither consistent in translation nor respectful of the larger commentarial context. Various other translations in the mid-20th century engage Śaṃkara’s commentary. The Mādhavānanda 1965 translation is to be noted in this regard. Vasu Vidyarna 2001 adds a treatment of the Mādhva, dualist school of commentary on this text. In the late 20th century, Joel P. Brereton published a series of excellent studies of the issues raised by the narratives in this text, focusing particularly on that of the sage Yājñavalkya and his various interlocutors (Brereton 1988, Brereton 1996, Brereton 1997, Brereton 2006).

  • Böhtlingk, Otto von, trans. Bṛhadāraṇjakopanishad in der Mādhjaḿdina Recension. St. Petersburg, Russia: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1889.

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    This is the first translation of the full Bṛhadāraṇyaka into English. It provided the groundwork for further and extensive German interpretations of the text in the early half of the 20th century. However, as Patrick Olivelle has remarked, the translator did not maintain a consistent pattern of word usage, frequently emended the text on his own, and did not consult manuscripts (see Olivelle 1998 cited under Synthetic Works). Thus, this work should be read more for historical value than for accuracy.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “Unsounded Speech: Problems in the Interpretation of BU(M) 1.5.10 = BU(K) 1.5.3.” Indo-Iranian Journal 31 (1988): 1–10.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00159809Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article Brereton takes on the interpretation of Radhakrishnan and, relatedly, Śaṃkara in their understandings of the cosmological function of speech in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Brereton argues, among other things, that speech should not be understood as a bifurcated entity that has both “form” and “function,” but rather that the deeper Upanishadic understanding is that form follows from function and function from form.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “Yājñavalkya’s Curse.” Studien fur Indologie und Iranistik 20 (1996): 47–58.

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    Discusses the various ways the Upanishadic sage Yājñavalkya establishes all Vedic entities as identified with the self, in which individual things (priestly power, the sacrifice, the elements of the sacrifice) become a single foundation. Yājñavalkya does this with a curse to those who do not understand this idea, and Brereton shows the relationship between this curse and other forms of analogy and metaphor in the text.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “What Has a Sleeping Dog Got to Do with a Vedic Sacrifice?” In Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: New Approaches to the Study of the Vedas. Edited by Michael Witzel, 1–14. Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora 2. Cambridge, MA: Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 1997.

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    Here Brereton argues that a crucial episode about karma and rebirth, the dialogue between Janaka and Yājñavalkya, is actually an expansion of a simpler story found in an earlier ritual text, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 11.5.3. Moreover, one can read it as part of a ring cycle that reflects the very cyclical nature of the teachings about transmigration.

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  • Brereton, Joel P. “The Composition of the Maitreyī Dialogue in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.3 (July–September 2006): 323–345.

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    This article looks at the two versions of the famous dialogue between Yājñyavalkya and his two wives in the two recensions (Kāṇva and Mādhyaṃdina) of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka. Brereton concludes that while neither can be formally identified as the “older,” the oldest core can be identified in both through an analysis of rhythmic composition. More significantly, the larger discussion of self was added later as part of a new philosophical movement.

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  • Hock, Hans Henrich. “The Yājñavalkya Cycle in the Brhad Āraṇyaka Upaniṣad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (April–June 2002): 278–286.

    DOI: 10.2307/3087621Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hock argues that Brereton’s idea that Yājñyavalkya’s disputation with King Janaka in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3 is part of a ring cycle might be even more broadly applied and includes more than just this story. Hock argues that the entire text of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (BAU) 2.1–4.5 is even more clearly a ring composition, and one can reread the end of the text and ideas about karma in this light.

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  • Mādhavānanda, Swāmī. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad: With the Commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1965.

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    This work comes from a reliable series, the Advaita Ashrama Series, which focuses on Vedantan thought and produces usable Sanskrit texts and commentaries. Eliot Deutsch and J. A. B. van Buitenen’s A Source Book of Advaita Vedānta (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1971) uses this translation.

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  • Röer, Eduard, ed. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad: Text in Sanskrit and Translation with Notes in English from the Commentaries of Śaṃkarācarya and the Gloss of Ānandagiri. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2000.

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    While other translations of the Upanishads have certainly superseded this one, this is a valuable early translation because of its rendition, more lucid than many, of the commentary of Śaṃkara. Śaṃkara’s approach to the more ritualistic passages of the Upanishad is in itself enlightening. In addition the reader can become familiar with the subcommentary of Ānandagiri and get a good primary sense of the indigenous Vedantan debate. Originally published in 1931.

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  • Vasu Vidyarnava, Srisachandra, trans. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad: With the Commentary of Srī Madhvācārya Called Also Ānandatīrtha. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 2001.

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    This work engages the dualist Vedanta perspective on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka with the commentary of Mādhva. As a proponent of Dvaita Vedanta, Mādhva is less discussed in the Indological circles than Śaṃkara, and this is a significant beginning toward closing that gap.

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Chāndogya Upaniṣad

The Chāndogya belongs to the Sama Veda school and is one of the oldest, longest, and most cited Upanishads. The Chāndogya is particularly interested in the cosmic correspondences of the Sama Vedic chants and how they can be transformed into a philosophy of the inner workings of sacrifice. Among other famous passages, it contains the story of Śvetaketu and Uddālaka, who analyze the essence of all things by meditating on their physical natures. Böhtlingk 1889 gives an early but highly Orientalist assessment of this text; Rajendralala Mitra 2001 (originally published in 1931) also adds several key and little discussed commentaries. Faddegon 1926 begins the analysis of the specific passages, such as the list of the “sciences” or forms of knowledge in Chāndogya Upaniṣad (CU) 7.1.2. Hamm 1968–1969 continues this focus on puzzling chapters with a discussion of the Uddālaka and Śvetaketu dialogue, in which identifications are made between the self and parts of nature; Renou 1955 contextualizes the text by comparing it to other Upanishadic passages. Ickler 1973 distinguishes between grammatically difficult and metaphysically difficult passages. Archak 2003 argues against the idealistic interpretation of the Upanishads of Western Indologists. Lincoln 2006 uses Chāndogya passages as a way of studying the establishment and maintenance of discursive authority.

  • Archak, K. B. Philosophy of Realism: A Study Based on Chāndogya Upaniṣad. New Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 2003.

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    Archak’s approach in this text is similar to that in his exposition of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, using comparative study of commentaries to go through a verse-by-verse analysis. He focuses particularly on Mādhva and the lesser-known Raghavendrayati. His main argument with Western scholarship is that the Upanishads should not be considered “idealism” as they have been characterized in the West but a realistic spiritual path.

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  • Böhtlingk, Otto von, trans. Khandogjopanishad. Leipzig: Verlag H. Haessel, 1889.

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    This work is an early philological translation of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad that later was produced with further exegetical notes with the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad in a single edition. This edition should be read for historical value only because of its Orientalist perspective, ignorance of the manuscript tradition, and lack of consistency in translation.

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  • Faddegon, B. “The Catalogue of Sciences in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad.” Acta Orientalia 4 (1926): 42–54.

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    This article is an early but nonetheless helpful assessment of the list of sciences, or forms of knowledge, in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.1.2. Faddegon clarifies some terms on the basis of other usages in related texts and distinguishes between sacrificially related knowledge and that of the snakes, stars, and so forth.

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  • Hamm, F.-R., trans. “Chāndogyopaniṣad VI: Ein emeuter Versuch.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 12–13 (1968–1969): 149–159.

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    Hamm gives a careful and thorough reading of this most famous of chapters, chapter 6, of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, the dialogue between Uddālaka Āuṇi and his son Śvetaketu. He provides a precise analysis of the various elements in nature (rivers, bees, trees, and so on) and how they can stand as models for the relationship between atman and Brahman.

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  • Ickler, Ingeborg. Untersuchungen zur Wortstellung und Syntax der Chāndogyopaniṣad. Göppingen, Germany: Verlag Alfred Kümmerle, 1973.

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    This volume is an invaluable resource for those who wish to engage with the more difficult and obscure passages of the Upanishad. Ickler’s work helps the scholar differentiate between the passages that are intentionally esoteric and those that are grammatically difficult.

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  • Lincoln, Bruce. “How to Read a Religious Text: Reflections on Some Passages of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad.” History of Religions 46.2 (November 2006): 127–139.

    DOI: 10.1086/511447Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Similar to Muralidharan 2003 (cited under Synthetic Works), Lincoln analyzes crucial passages that are well-known “identifications” or bandhus (equivalences) using the method of discourse analysis whereby social privilege is constructed and social organization maintained. Lincoln gives several recommendations for reading texts that have been traditionally understood as “mystical” or “philosophical” at the end of the piece.

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  • Ranendralala Mitra, Raja. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad: Text in Sanskrit and Translation with Notes in English from the Commentaries of Śaṃkarācarya and the Gloss of Ānandagiri and the Commentary of Śaṃkarānand. New Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2001.

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    Of primarily historical interest, as this is a commentary by Rajendralala Mitra, a very well-known early Indian Indologist who collaborated with Western scholars on a variety of projects. It is also of comparative interest since he includes not only Śaṃkara and Ānandagiri, as Eduard Röer does, but also Śaṃkarānand. Originally published in 1931.

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  • Renou, Louis. “Remarques sur la Chāndogya-Upaniṣad.” In Études védiques et pāninéennes. By Louis Renou, 91–102. Paris: Éditions Boccard, 1955.

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    This is one of the first essays to develop systematic comparisons between the Chāndogya Upaniṣad and other Upanishads, particularly the Bṛhadāraṇyaka. Renou is interested here in narrative comparisons, such as those involving the story of Śvetaketu, and sets the stage for later work on such narrative themes.

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Shorter Prose Upanishads

Three prose Upanishads that follow the two earliest and largest texts date from the pre-Buddhist era of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad is a text from the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka, attached to the end of the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa of the Black Yajur Veda. The three chapters are actually given titles in this text: “That Chapter on Instruction,” “The Chapter on Bliss,” and “The Chapter on Bhṛgu” (a Vedic sage), which consists of the sage Vasiṣṭha’s instruction to Bhṛgu about Brahman and the appropriate cosmological understanding of food. Beall 1986 tackles some problems in the meaning of the term Brahman in the text; Angot 2007 gives a thorough treatment of the text, including an edition, a translation, and a discussion of its commentarial tradition. The Aitareya Upaniṣad belongs to the Rig Vedic school of Aitareya and seems to be understood as very much a part of its earlier Brāhmaṇa and Āraṇyaka texts. Its focus is on the creation of parts of the body, the bodily parts being struck with hunger and thirst, the entrance of the self (atman) into the body, the various ways the self comes into being, and the self’s true nature. Keith 1969 still gives the best information about this text. The Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad is part of the Vedic school by the same name, also called the Śāṅkhāyana school of the Rig Veda. Its contents consist of Citra’s instruction to Uddākala on the two paths of the dead and an explanation of different domestic and public rituals, several discourses on the role of breath (prāṇa), and stories of the well-known characters Śvetaketu and Ajataśatru. The Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad’s transmission is more unstable than that of its counterparts. Frenz 1968–1969 remains the locus classicus of scholarship on this text.

  • Angot, Michel. Taittirīya-Upaniṣad: Avec le commentaire de Śaṃkara. Paris: Édition-Diffusion de Boccard, 2007.

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    Angot’s is a masterful treatment of the history of the text, Śaṃkara’s commentary, and the primary themes contained in both; an edition and translation of both the text and the commentary; and Angot’s own commentary and comparison of the Upanishad and Śaṃkara’s subsequent approach to it. Focus is on some of the poetic and lyrical and tonal aspects of the Upanishad that were ignored by Śaṃkara. Bibliography and glossary are also greatly helpful.

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  • Beall, E. F. “Syntactical Ambiguity at Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.1.” Indo-Iranian Journal 29 (1986): 97–102.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00162367Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beall engages in a discussion of the ambiguity of a passage in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad that describes the paths of the breath. Moreover, the passage describes the ways a person who knows that “truth and knowledge are hidden both in the deepest cavity and the highest heaven” attains all his or her desires, “together with the wise brahman.” “Brahman” could mean either a person or a concept here.

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  • Frenz, Albrecht, ed. and trans. “Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad.” Indo-Iranian Journal 11 (1968–1969): 79–129.

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    One of a larger number of publications about and treatments of the smaller Upanishads in the middle of the 20th century. This is still an important critical edition used by Indologists; Frenz’s work is particularly useful in considering different recensions and their treatment of critical passages of the text.

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  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale, ed. and trans. The Aitareya Āraṇyaka. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

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    Keith gives an early philological analysis and critical assessment of the Aitareya Upaniṣad. The work is unusual in that it is embedded within the larger Aitareya Āraṇyaka text. Originally published in 1909.

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Kena Upaniṣad

The Kena Upaniṣad is from the Jaiminīya school of the Sama Veda and is understood as the oldest of the verse Upanishads. Because this short Upanishad focuses on the unknowability of Brahman, it is known by its first word, kena (by whom?). Oertel 1896 is canonical on this Upanishad, although Fujii 2004 is more recent. Fujii 2004 follows Louis Renou in examining how, in the lesser-studied Jaiminīya Upaniṣad Brāhmaṇa, of which the Kena Upaniṣad is a part, the case can be made for the transition from ritual to philosophical speculation.

  • Fujii, Masato. The Jaiminīya-Upaniṣad-Brāhmaṇa: A Study of the Earliest Upaniṣad, Belonging to the Jaiminīya Sāmaveda. Helsinki: Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki, 2004.

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    Fujii makes a compelling case for how this “transitional” Upanishad, which is often not included in the canonical list, creates the conditions for the move from ritual to philosophical speculation. Fujii writes clearly and engages the philological, ritual, and philosophical levels of the text.

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  • Oertel, Hanns. “The Jaiminīya or Talavakāra Upaniṣad Brāhmaṇa.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 16 (1896): 79–260.

    DOI: 10.2307/592488Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Oertel gives one of the first treatments of this “transitional” Upanishad, from which the Kena Upaniṣad came. At some point the Kena Upaniṣad began to circulate as its own text.

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Kāṭha Upaniṣad

The Kāṭha Upaniṣad is thought to have originally belonged to the Black Yajur Veda school. It is most famous for the dialogue between Naciketas and Death, where the character of Naciketas (also a name for a fire altar) visits Death in his home and is granted three boons. The later chapters include discourse on the atman, the curbing of the senses, and the relationship between atman and Brahman. Rau 1971 gives an early philological treatment of the text. Bodewitz 1985 analyzes the Naciketas story in terms of the early Indian views of death. Archak 2007 is valuable for its comparison of different Vedanta commentators.

  • Archak, K. B. A Metaphysical Analysis of the Kāṭhakopaniṣad in Dialectical Setting. Delhi: New Bharatiya, 2007.

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    Archak focuses on the metaphysical aspects of the Naciketas encounter with Death and the subsequent discourse. In doing so he helpfully compares different Vedantan commentators ideas on Brahman and atman in a verse-by-verse analysis. In addition, in a mini-concordance he shows the relationship between the verses of the Kāṭha Upaniṣad and similar ones in the Veda, other Upanishads, and the Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya.

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  • Bodewitz, H. W. “Yama’s Second Boon in the Kāṭha Upaniṣad.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ost-Asiens 29 (1985): 5–26.

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    A discussion of the role of death and the meaning of ritual fire in the Naciketas episode of the Kāṭha Upaniṣad, where Naciketas finds himself in the house of Death (Yama) and must find a way out. Bodewitz argues that Naciketas is not the name of a ritual fire but of a fire altar made during the sacrifice. The focus of Bodewitz’s analysis is the second boon that Death gives Naciketas—that Naciketas’s good works and sacrifices should not be subject to decay.

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  • Rau, W. “Versuch einer deutschen Übersetzung der Kāṭhaka Upaniṣad.” Asiatische Studien 25 (1971): 158–174.

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    Rau’s work on this less studied Upanishad reflects his typical philological focus and intellectual-historical acumen.

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Īśā Upaniṣad

The Īśā Upaniṣad is connected to the White Yajur Veda and forms part of the Vājāsaneyī Saṃhitā in that school. Like some of the other shorter Upanishads, such as the Muṇḍaka, it uses devotional, theological language in addition to the monistic language of the earlier Upanishads. It is frequently commented upon in the Hindu tradition and usually is placed first in the collection. The short text emphasizes the wise person knowing all beings in his or her very self; moreover, the joint knowledge of being and nonbeing, of becoming and destruction is the truly liberating knowledge. The Īśā Upaniṣad has mostly been treated in the larger collections of Upanishads, but Sonde 1990 discusses Mādhva’s commentaries, and Gaur 2002 focuses on the role of karma in the text.

  • Gaur, Harish C. Understanding Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad: An Exegetical Exposition. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2002.

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    Gaur focuses on the ways the Īśā Upaniṣad is a meditation on the role of karma similar to the Bhagavad Gita, as well as an homage to manifest Brahman acting in the world.

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  • Sonde, Nagesh Dattatray, ed. The Commentary of Sri Madhva on Isha and Kena Upanishad: Sanskrit Text with Translation and Explanatory Notes. Bombay: Vasantik Prakashan, 1990.

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    In this short work, Sonde conducts a basic exposition of Mādhva’s thinking on these two short Upanishads. Readers will find some value in its exposition of Mādhva’s ideas, but it is more devotional in tone and not part of a scholarly debate.

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Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad

The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad belongs to the Black Yajur Veda school. It is known for its synthetic, theological emphasis. It consistently refers to earlier Vedic texts as a way of justifying its own perspectives, and yet it has much in common with theistic texts like the Bhagavad Gita, where all is subsumed under a single deity. There is much material from the philosophical traditions of Sāṁkhya and Yoga in this Upanishad. Hauschild 1927 argued early on that this theistic Upanishad should be removed from the encrustation of Vedantan interpretation that had burdened it over the centuries. Johnston 1930 provides a major discussion of the roles that Sāṁkhya and Yoga play in the text. Rau 1964 continues the author’s excellent philological studies of these Upanishads with this edition of the Śvetāśvatara. Kuntz 1968 embarks on a comparison of the text’s many interpreters, from the intensely Vedanta to the more theistic in nature.

  • Hauschild, Richard. Die Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad: Eine kritische Ausgabe mit einer Übersetzung und einer Übersicht über ihre Lehren. Leipzig: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, 1927.

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    Hauschild gives an excellent exposition of this Upanishad, including an argument that the Vedantan commentary traditionally ascribed to Śaṃkara is best understood as authored by Bhattacarya several centuries later. The article is an attempt altogether to wrest the discourse from the hands of the Vedantans, who have, in his view, superimposed their thought on the work.

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  • Johnston, E. H. “Some Sāṁkhya and Yoga Conceptions of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1930): 855–878.

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    Johnston gives an analysis of how this Upanishad deals with two early and closely related philosophical systems: (1) Sankhya concepts having to do with prakṛti (material nature) and puruṣa (animating spirit), and (2) Yoga concepts having to do with stages of consciousness in meditation.

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  • Kuntz, Arnold. “Some Notes on the Interpretation of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 31.2 (1968): 309–314.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00146531Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the ways this Upanishad has been interpreted, including the Vedantan-oriented readers who wish to see the work as entirely focused on Brahman and those who are more “realist” and look at the more theistic elements in the work. Kuntz focuses particularly on the ambiguities in 6.16, which seem theologically contradictory in their statements about Īśvara, or god.

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  • Rau, W. “Versuch einer deutschen Übersetzung der Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad.” Asiatische Studien 17 (1964): 25–46.

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    This is the most thoroughgoing critical edition and translation of this Upanishad. Rau takes into account earlier philosophical and philological work on the complexity of its ideas and the brevity of its exposition.

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Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

The Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad belongs putatively, to the Atharva Veda school (although that ascription has been known to be somewhat of a catchall). It has been thought to be a text for ascetics (the name, “shaven headed,” also suggests this). It attacks Vedic ritualism tout court and extols the ascetic way of life and the wisdom of Brahman as superior knowledge. This text contains one of the earliest usages of the term “Vedanta.” Hertel 1924 and Rau 1965 provide excellent philological discussions of this Upanishad, with Rau 1965 embarking on more definitive interpretations of some of the more difficult passages.

  • Hertel, Johannes. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad: Kritische Ausgabe mit Rodarneudruck der Erstausgabe (Text und Kommentare) und Einleitung. Indo-Iranische Quellen und Forschungen 3. Leipzig: Verlag H. Haessel, 1924.

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    Like Albrecht Frenz and Richard Hauschild, Hertel is a European Indologist who contributed a useful and still-used critical edition of a smaller Upanishad. His edition departs from the edition that Śaṃkara used for his own commentary.

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  • Rau, W. “Versuch einer deutschen Übersetzung der Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad.” Asiatische Studien 18–19 (1965): 216–226.

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    Following Rau’s important earlier work, an excellent philological treatment of the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad geared toward asceticism but still engaging in a basic discussion of atman Brahman.

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Late Prose Upanishads

Connected to the school of the Atharva Veda, the Praśna Upaniṣad is structured whereby the sage Paippalada answers six questions put to him by six Brahmans. The focus of the discussion is on the role of breath in meditation and liberation. Salomon 1991 is a small study of some of the linguistic ambiguities, especially in its quotation of Vedic verses. The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad is a short Upanishad ascribed (again putatively) to the school of the Atharva Veda. Its focus is on an exposition of the sacred syllable “om,” which is broken down into three component parts and correlated with the constituents of the self. It is recognized because it has been closely connected with the Āgama Śāstra, also known as “The Verses of Gauḍapāda,” the man thought to be the teacher of Śaṃkara. This small commentary of Gauḍapāda was one of the key texts in the early Advaitan tradition. Nikhilananda 1949 introduced the commentarial tradition of this Upanishad to the scholarly world. Wood 1990 provides a textual and philosophical analysis in a vein similar to Michel Angot’s treatment of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad in Taittirīya-Upaniṣad: Avec le commentaire de Śaṃkara (Paris: Édition-Diffusion de Boccard, 2007).

  • Nikhilananda, Swami. The Māṇḍūkya Opanishad with Gauḍapāda’s Kārikā and Śaṃkara’s Commentary. Mysore, India: Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, 1949.

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    Of historical interest, this edition provides a readable translation of Śaṃkara’s commentary and a snapshot of the mid-20th-century debate about the status of Gauḍapāda, particularly in terms of early Vedantan thought and the role of Buddhism in that development.

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  • Salomon, Richard. “A Linguistic Analysis of the Praśna Upaniṣad.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 35 (1991): 47–74.

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    Salomon takes on several difficult linguistic passages, including the citation of Rig Vedic verses in the text that focus on that being who is the ground and support, literally the “breath,” of all beings.

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  • Wood, Thomas E. The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and the Āgama Śāstra: An Investigation into the Meaning of the Vedānta. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

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    Wood’s treatment of this text is philological, historical, and philosophical. He examines the relationship between that Upanishad and other Upanishads as well as the related passages in the Āgama Śāstra, the well-known commentary on this text thought to have been authored by Gauḍapāda. In addition Wood offers an analysis of the authorship of the Āgama Śāstra and the particular philosophy of the tradition.

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Minor Upanishads

Following the classical Upanishads, whose latest dates are from the first few centuries CE, a voluminous genre of texts called “Upanishad” grew up in the sectarian world of medieval India. Texts by this name number over one hundred. In many instances, they were composed following some of the aphoristic, cryptic style of the earlier Upanishads. These texts were new compositions that gained credibility within the groups that used them. Deussen 1980 (cited under Early Works) classifies this large group of minor Upanishads as Vedānta Upaniṣads, Yoga Upaniṣads, Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads, Śiva Upaniṣads, and Viṣṇnu Upaniṣads. Their dates range from possibly the last century or two BCE up to the 15th century CE. There remains a large amount of work to be done on the minor Upanishads. Ayyangar 1952 provides a translation of some of the Yoga Upaniṣads; Ayyangar and Murti 1953 is a collection of the Śaivite Upaniṣads with the commentary of Upaniṣadbrahmayogin. Van Buitenen 1962 tackles the difficult Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad, whose composite nature lends itself to some important historical speculations about the Vedanta school. Varenne 1971 is a useful, if not philologically engaged, study of the Yoga Upaniṣads in French. Goudriann and Schoterman 1994 is an exposition of the rare tantric text of the Kubjikā Upaniṣad, with a number of requirements for goddess worship. Olivelle 1992 provides the first complete English translation of the Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads.

  • Archak, K. B. Upaniṣad and Śaivism. New Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 2002.

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    This work is a Hindu philosophical exposition of the major themes within the Śaivite Upaniṣads, particularly on the elements of Saivite theology that equate Shiva with Brahman. Shiva is understood as the unmanifested universe that emerges through the feminine power, Shakti. These theological moves include a kind of triadism (trika), in which universal consciousness is flanked by two poles of the conceptualizable universal and the nonconceptualizable universal.

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  • Ayyangar, T. R. Srinivasa, trans. The Yoga Upaniṣads. Madras: Adyar Library, 1952.

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    Ayyangar’s work is an early translation of several of the principal Yoga Upaniṣads and does not have the fluidity that later translations of better-known Upanishads have. The texts Ayyangar used have not been critically edited, as has the Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads. Originally published in 1938.

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  • Ayyangar, T. R. Srinivasa, trans., and G. Srinivasa Murti, ed. Śaiva Upaniṣads. Madras: Adyar Library, 1953.

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    This work is an early collection of the Śaivite Upaniṣads with a focus on the commentary of Upaniṣadbrahmayogin, who supposedly wrote a commentary on all 108 extant Upanishads. All of these short texts contain passages meditating on the names of Shiva, his worship, and his mythology. These Upanishads connect these Saivite ideas and practices, in bandhu fashion, with different elements of Brahman.

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  • Goudriann, Teun, and Jan A. Schoterman, eds. The Kubjikā Upaniṣad: Edited with a Translation, Introduction, Notes, and Appendices. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1994.

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    Named for the “stooped” form of the goddess, this Upanishad belongs to the younger “sectarian” Upanishads. The text includes several verses from the Atharva Veda in its instructions for worship. The text is understood as a Tantric exposition of worship of the goddess, including mantras and mandalas, and morning puja. This work is valuable for its assertion of continuity between Vedic and Tantric tradition.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    Olivelle gives a masterful collection of the later sectarian Upanishads focusing on renunciation (3rd century BCE through 15th century CE). These Upanishads provide Vedic grounding for the rules and practices of renunciation in the Brahmanical tradition. Olivelle provides excellent overview essays on the origin and development of renunciation, renunciation and society, and the nature of renouncers, followed by lucid and accessible translations.

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  • van Buitenen, J. A. B. The Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad: A Critical Essay with Text, Translation, and Commentary. The Hague: Mouton, 1962.

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    In this work, van Buitenen tackles the reconstitution of a difficult composite text, the Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad, with many layers. It was translated earlier by well-known scholars, such as F. Max Müller, Robert Ernest Hume, S. Radhakrishnan, and Paul Deussen. It is not commented on by all Vedantan commentators, and its structure is a summary of Upanishadic ideas with one or two narratives, such as the instructions of King Bṛhadrātha and Vālakhilya.

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  • Varenne, Jean. Upanishads du Yoga. Paris: Gallimard, 1971.

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    Varenne gives a helpful translation of eight of the Yoga Upaniṣads with a focus on their meaning for the historian of yoga as well as the practitioner. This is a readable French translation but with very little textual criticism.

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Hindu Interpretations

The Hindu tradition has long engaged with the Upanishads in a variety of perspectives, many from the Vedantan school. Hindu commentaries are numerous in Sanskrit, Hindi, and regional languages. There have also been several commentarial series by Hindu teachers whose exegesis has become canonical for many of their followers as well as general readers. Ranganathananda 1971 is both classical and comparative. The three other most notable authors are Swāmī Gambhīrānanda, whose commentaries represented the classical Vedantan thought of the Ramakrishna Mission and are included in the Advaita Ashrama series (Gambhīrānanda 1987–); Swami Chinmayananda, whose global movement focuses on consciousness of mind (Chinmayananda 1955–); and Narendra Prasad Muni, whose lucid commentaries in the late 1990s and early 2000s provide an accessible window into the Upanishads as literature as well as Hindu texts (Muni 1994–). For purposes of space this bibliography does not give each commentary upon each Upanishad but rather the publisher, scope, and orientation of the commentaries by each author and the Hindu intellectual tradition from which it comes. In addition, readers might want to consult Gambhīrānanda 2006a and Gambhīrānanda 2006b.

  • Aurobindo, S. The Upanishads. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2004.

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    This is a voluminous work that contains translations (both complete and incomplete) and commentaries of all the major early Upanishads. Aurobindo also includes work on the Kaivalya and Nilaruda Upaniṣads and other Vedantan texts. Aurobindo disagrees with early Indologists who see the Upanishads as a mixture of high philosophy and childish stammering. Instead, he sees them as the origin of both Hindu and Buddhist wisdom.

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  • Chinmayananda, Swami. Discourses on the Upaniṣads. Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1955–.

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    Chinmayananda’s “Discourses” give the original Upaniṣad text in Devanāgarī with transliteration in Roman letters, word-for-word meaning in text order, translation, and commentary. While the Chinmayananda approach to Upanishadic commentary does engage some helpful historical background, the extensive line-by-line commentaries focus more on the workings of consciousness and mind in relationship to each Upanishadic idea. Chinmayananda pays attention to the role of metaphor and the furthering of what he calls the “Conscious Life Principle,” a kind of awakened mind trained by meditation.

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    • Gambhīrānanda, Swāmī. Commentaries on the Upaniṣads. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 1987–.

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      Gambhīrānanda focuses on both the Gauḍapāda Kārikās as well as the more classical poetic and shorter Upanishads. Gambhīrānanda’s work represents the late-20th-century thinking of the Ramakrishna Mission, the mainstay of Vedantan thought in India.

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      • Gambhīrānanda, Swāmī. Chāndogya Upaniṣad: With the Commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2006a.

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        This work is one of the more thorough treatments of this longer, early Upanishad, with a focus on Śaṅkara’s commentary.

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      • Gambhīrānanda, Swāmī, trans. Eight Upaniṣads: With the Commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. 2 vols. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2006b.

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        This two-volume set is a good basic textual reference of the smaller Upanishads for beginning students of Śaṅkarā’s commentaries by a leading scholar of the Ramakrishna Mission.

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      • Muni, Narendra Prasad. Commentaries on the Upaniṣads. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1994–.

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        General readers will probably find this the most approachable of Hindu commentaries. It is also the most complete. The exposition is clear and the focus is on literary structure as well as religious and philosophical ideas. In addition to its clarity and accessibility, there is a strong Vedantan emphasis on the Upanishadic move away from “ritualism,” with which some scholars would disagree.

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        • Ranganathananda, Sankaran. The Message of the Upanishads: An Exposition of the Upaniṣads in the Light of Modern Thought and Modern Needs. 2d ed. Mystic, CT: Lawrence Verry, 1971.

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          This work contains references to Western scientific traditions and Western philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant. The commentary is valuable in that it is both classically Hindu and comparative in nature. First published in 1968 (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

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        The Upanishads and Western Thought

        When Western intellectuals encountered the texts of early India, true to Orientalist perspectives they tended either to romanticize or denigrate the ideas contained within them. Although the Upanishads received both kinds of treatment, they were more romanticized than denigrated. Arthur Schopenhauer’s first reading of the Upanishads in 1814 probably introduced the texts to the larger world of European philosophy (see Schopenhauer 1966–1975). Glasenapp 1980 and Hübscher 1979 provide beginning analyses as to the nature of Schopenhauer’s encounter with M. Antequil De Perron’s initial translation of the Upanishads into Latin in Oupnek’hat, id est, Secretum Tegendum (Paris: E. Leroux, 1801–1802). In mid-19th-century New England, the intellectuals Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and W. Bronson Alcott also used the early translations to develop their ideas of transcendentalism and the unity of being. Versluis 1993 discusses these American developments in helpful detail. In the mid-19th century, comparative philosophical work between Western and Indian philosophical thinkers emerged. Later comparative philosophical studies use a tighter, text-by-text frame, as exemplified in Schiltz 2006 , a comparison of the Kāṭha Upaniṣad and Plato’s Phaedrus. Halbfass 1988 is a good set of essays describing the historical and philosophical details of this encounter, including the Upanishads. And the Upanishads have become accepted on the world philosophical stage, so much so that they are written into larger histories, such as Scharfstein 1998. In addition, following Arthur Versluis’s treatment of the transcendentalists, Kearns 1987 treats the influence of Asian texts, including the Upanishads, on T. S. Eliot, and Sikka 2002 discusses William Butler Yeats’s collaboration with Swami Purohit on a translation of the Upanishads.

        • Glasenapp, Helmuth von. “Schopenhauer and India.” In Ausgewalte kleine Schriften. By Helmuth von Glasenapp. Edited by Heinz Bechert and Volker Moeller, 504–509. Weisbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1980.

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          Glasenapp’s introductory article opens up the topic of Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Indian influence” for other scholars to engage. Contains basic information about how and when Schopenhauer’s turn to the East affected his other writings. Originally published in 1955.

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        • Halbfass, Wilhelm. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

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          Halbfass’s work has become somewhat of a classic that deals with the ways India has been imagined by Europeans, beginning with the Greeks. The Upanishads play a role in this intellectual history very early on, and Halbfass does a careful job of examining this role in relationship to other Indian traditions of thought.

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        • Hübscher, Arthur. “Schopenhauer und die Religions Asiens.” In Schopenhauer Jahrbuch fur das Jahr 1979. By Arthur Hübscher, 1–16. Frankfurt: Verlag Waldemar Kramer, 1979.

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          Hübscher gives an excellent overview of Arthur Schopenhauer’s response to the Upanishads as he read it in M. Antequil du Perron’s Latin edition Oupnek’hat, id est, Secretum Tegendum (Paris: E. Leroux, 1801–1802). Hübscher also gives a description of the intellectual climate of the time, including responses by major personalities, such as the philosopher K. C. F. Krause and Joseph von Görres, a figure in the German Romantic movement.

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        • Kearns, Cleo McNelly. T. S. Eliot and Indic Traditions: A Study in Poetry and Belief. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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          Kearns brings together all the small observations about Indian influence on T. S. Eliot into a coherent, synthetic work. She shows Upanishadic influence on Eliot through the person of Josiah Royce, who studied them extensively, and provides a discussion of individual Upanishads that influenced Eliot in his work.

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        • Scharfstein, Ben-Ami. A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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          A sweeping work that attempts from an explicitly comparative perspective to tell the story that Paul Deussen attempted more from an Indological point of view—how the Upanishads take a place in the larger history of thought.

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        • Schiltz, Elizabeth Ann. “Two Chariots: The Justification of the Best Life in the Katha Upanishad and Plato’s Phaedrus.” Philosophy East and West 56.3 (July 2006): 451–468.

          DOI: 10.1353/pew.2006.0044Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Schiltz takes up the tantalizing similarity in the Kāṭha Upaniṣad and Phaedrus of the metaphor of the self as compared to a charioteer in a chariot with steeds of various temperaments. Rather than focusing on the historical connections, however, she focuses on the philosophical work that each of the images does in turning toward a more inward notion of the self.

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        • Schopenhauer, Arthur. Der Handschriftliche Nachlass. Vol. 1. Edited by A. Hübscher. Frankfurt: Verlag Waldermar Kramer, 1966–1975.

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          This is Schopenhauer’s initial formulation of the spiritual insight that he gained after reading M. Antequil du Perron’s Oupnek’hat, id est, Secretum Tegendum (Paris: E. Leroux, 1801–1802) for the first time in 1814. He understands that desire is at the root of all suffering, and when we understand “something else to be the case” (jñāna understood as Erkenntnis), this is insight. This is one of the major intuitions that sparked his later, major work, The World as Will and Idea (1818).

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        • Sikka, Shalini. W. B. Yeats and the Upaniṣads. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

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          An intriguing treatment of the understudied subject of Yeats’s translation of the ten principal Upanishads with Swami Purohit, as well as some of the Upanishadic symbolism contained in Yeats’s The Vision. Contains an excellent discussion of Yeats’s larger understanding of how the Upanishads could contribute to the emerging world of Symbolist poetry and Irish letters.

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        • Versluis, Arthur. American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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          Versluis provides a thorough review and analysis of the American transcendentalist engagement with Asian texts and religions. His chapter “Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and the Orient” discusses the role of the Upanishads in their thought, particularly in Emerson’s case. His discussion of Samuel Johnson’s response to F. Max Müller’s translation of the Upanishads is also informative.

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        LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

        DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0057

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