Vedanta Books

Vedanta Books

Layers of Commentary by Romana Klee
Layers of Commentary by Romana Klee

Vedanta means the end of the Veda or the final knowledge, although the texts cover the full range. It is the last of the 6 systems of Indian philosophy aka the darshanas.

They generally consider the primary texts of Vedanta to be the Brahma Sutra, Upanishad(s), and Bhagavad Gita.

I recommend various books but because of their depth, these are particularly challenging to find good translations of.

An excellent reference work has the Sanskrit, transliteration, and translation, with commentary on both the translation and meaning. But this can bog down the work and create a massive text. If the translator isn’t fluent in both languages, more so. It becomes a lot of excess for those just wanting to read the work itself.

Ideally, the translation is by someone living the topic and versed in the tradition without being burdened by it. That becomes rare indeed. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi not only spread an effortless practice around the world but he brought out an understanding that cut through a lot of mistakes of the dark age that have dramatically slowed evolution. Concepts like controlling the mind, renouncing the world, and killing the ego are seen as required to become enlightened.

I’ve studied with him and got a grad degree based on his approach. This approach has held up well as the stages have unfolded.

I’ve looked at many translations over the years but rarely found them as insightful and often found issues that cast a shadow over the entire text. How is personal control going to lead to liberation from the person? How is the mind going to figure out what is beyond itself?

The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) is the core of the Mahabharata, the story of Krishna’s life. While overall, it’s a Purana (story), this Gita has the core teachings of Krishna to prince Arjuna.

Something of this story is even told in the Yoga Vasishtha, thousands of years before the Mahabharata took place. We could say it was key in human history.

As a westerner, the setting on a battlefield may take you aback. But it’s a powerful place to illustrate the dramas of life and the nature of karma and dharma.

The translation I recommend is that of Maharishi. They’ve only published the first 6 of 18 chapters but this includes key teachings. Maharishi sometimes repeatedly mentions Transcendental Meditation, but this is to emphasize transcending to prepare the ground so we can embody enlightenment.

Maharishi has translated all 18 chapters and commented on most of it (I’ve seen drafts) but he passed in 2008. The organization is taking a long time to publish the rest.

The Brahma Sutra
The Brahma Sutra of Badarayana is the core text of Vedanta. Most translators have seen the Brahma Sutra as intellectual arguments for nonduality. While commentaries on the text like Shankara’s certainly are, the sutras themselves are a list of recognition’s by the resolute intellect, not intellectual arguments.

Prior to awakening, the intellect associates with the mind and looks out and divides. Yes, no, right, wrong, etc. After, it becomes associated with unchanging being and becomes resolute. With the Unity shift, the intellect begins a series of recognition’s of the Self; this is the Self, and this is also the Self, and so on. These progressively unite all in what the Brahma Sutra calls the aggregate. I use the term wholeness or oneness.

Maharishi has translated the Brahma Sutra and that would be an invaluable edition for those in unfolding Unity stage of development. However, again this has not been released yet.

Maharishi worked with Dr. Vernon Katz on this translation; the seer and the academic. Vernon has released some of their conversations on points related to the translation. Called Conversations with Maharishi, Volume 1 and 2, the first covers the late 60s when they sat together for longer blocks of time. The second, the early 70s where the conversations were more spread out as the organization grew and demanded more of Maharishi’s attention. The second also includes a glossary of the verses mentioned in the 2 books. This is just excerpts, but it’s a better translation than anything else I’ve seen.

When the translator has lived what the text is describing, the words carry so much more.

The Upanishad
These are delightful stories and verses of deep teachings, often seen as the essence of Vedic thought. They’re focused on Atman (the cosmic Self) and Brahman (the Great). Each Upanishad is associated with one of the four core Vedas.

The Upanishad are often the first Vedic literature to be read by westerners. They’ve had a profound impact on many, including the American Transcendentalists (Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson), the German philosopher Schopenhauer, and physicists Schrodinger and Bohr.

One of the later Upanishad (Muktika) lists 108 of them but many more have been added since. The earliest ones are considered Mukhya or principal but it varies how many (and sometimes which) are included in that. Adi Shankara commented on 11 and mentioned 4 others in his Brahma Sutra commentary, leading some to consider this 15 to be primary. The Muktika lists 13 mukhya, adding one different from the first 12 listed below. Others only consider the first 10 to be principal.

Upanishad from the same Veda usually have the same opening and closing verses. For example, the opening verse of Upanishad(s) from Shukla Yajur-Veda is the verse I used on This and That.

The best translation I’m aware of is The Upanishads, A New Translation by Vernon Katz and Thomas Egenes. Both are Vedic academics who’ve studied with Maharishi, although they’re not seers. Vernon worked with Maharishi on the Gita and Brahma Sutra above. Thomas wrote the Yoga Sutra translation I recommend and was my Sanskrit professor in grad school.

Their first volume published in 2015 covers the 9 shorter principal Upanishad (1-9 below). They plan another volume with the longer ones (probably 10-12).

If you’d like a lighter read, All Love Flows To The Self by Kumuda Reddy and Thomas and Linda Egenes is a beautiful compilation of some stories from the Upanishad.
Davidya

15 Principal Upanishad (Veda)*
1 Isha (Shukla Yajur)
2 Kena (Sama)
3 Katha (Krishna Yajur)
4 Prashna (Atharva)
5 Mundaka (Atharva)
6 Maanduukya (Atharva)
7 Aitareya (Rik)
8 Taittriiya (Krishna Yajur)
9 Shvetaashvatara (Krishna Yajur)
10 Chhaandogya (Sama)
11 Brihadaaranyaka (Shukla Yajur)
12 Kaushitaki (brahmana) (Rik)
13 Jaabaala (Shukla Yajur)
14 Mahaanaaraayana (Atharva)
15 Paingala (Shukla Yajur)

* the first 9 are in the Katz-Egenes book mentioned above. Shukla is white, Krishna is black. Rik, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva are the 4 principle Vedas. In the transliteration, I double the letters for the long vowels to avoid accents.

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25 Comments

        1. Yes, and some of the phrases are also found in other texts, word for word. Some describe the Upanishad as the essence of Veda and consider it excerpts. That seems to vary a bit.

          One example is the 100x the bliss quote. A long description of 100x the bliss of this is that, 100x that bliss is the bliss of, etc. It’s found in multiple works.

          Nrishima was one of the avatars of Vishnu. But the Upanishad is a later one so may be quoting Chhandogya. Or they both may source another.

  1. Jalal

    I’m glad you made this post, because I’d love to put forth the idea that I would greatly appreciate you translating one of the texts. There are many out there that are totally soulless. Your light on something like the Narada Bhakti Suktas would be nice.

    1. Thanks, Jalal. I am working on a translation of the Yoga Sutra. It’s a key text on the means of culturing enlightenment. Even a short text like that is a lot of work and cross-checking to ensure you’ve caught the intention. The works arose in a different time and culture.

      While I’ve been through phases of bhakti, it’s not my dominant path unless you frame it as devotion to knowledge. 🙂 But it’s a beautiful text.

      From the text: “Of the three paths, devotion alone is the greatest…” This is true as ultimately, it’s all a surrender to the Divine. Allowing what is. However, I’d note it’s important to have a taste of the Divine before we surrender to it. This is also why the means are important. Surrendering to a belief can be entangling with an identified ego.

      1. Jalal

        Your comment and clarification just here is a good example of why I might like you to speak on that topic! Or perhaps the Jaimini Sutras are a better fit. Those are very good comments.

        I didn’t think the Egenes translation of Patanjali’s sutras could be improved upon, but I just heard your talk on it and I am definitely looking forward to this greatly.

        1. Hi Jalal
          It’s one thing to comment on a text but it’s another to research the entire Sanskrit and background. Yoga Sutra I’ve studied for years, even spreadsheeting it various ways (like studying the sequence of book 3).

          I’m only vaguely familiar with the Narada Bhakti Suktas. Jaimini I know a little more via Jyotish.

          The Egenes translation is excellent. A few tweaks for clarity and adding a commentary. Michael Speight has also just published an interpretation. Have got a copy but have not read it yet.

          Maharishi described 40 branches of the Veda. Most contain multiple texts and other texts are still being discovered. There are many options but the priority to me is the framework to help people progress. Without the map (stages), the means (yoga), and the model (layers), it can be like being lost in the jungle. 🙂

          Thus, these are the priority for the first books.

      1. oskari

        Hi Jalal and David, I wonder if there are any translations of Narada Bhakti Sukta (less soulless than others 🙂 ) that stand out for you? I just googled it and see there are some texts available on the internet. Haven’t heard of it before but reading now a verse here and there instantly amps up Devotion and Love. On that topic, I wonder if you know any other vedic/vedanta/other bhakti texts? I remember hearing about Hanuman and Ram story by RamDass which was very powerful, and stayed ever since. Never read anything around that but then just putting attention to it is often more than enough. I haven’t thought of being on a ‘bhakti path’ as such, more that it is what arises and all there is as we shift through, and that there is no alternative to it. That alone is probably further evidence that I’m so deep in bhakti that I can’t even see it for myself 🙂

        1. Hi Oskari
          I didn’t have a copy here, so I looked online. The one I found seemed decent but was unclear on some passages so it used multiple words (Sanskrit meaning can change with context). The line I used, for example, was about the Yogas or paths so I translated accordingly.

          There are a lot of options. YouTube is full of devotional chants. But I’d be very careful of the source as the energy of the chanter is carried with the voice. In devotion, you want to open so take care what you open to.

          Kavitha is a good source. I’ve also found Yogini Shambhavi good. Krishna Das. Anandamayi.

          Another point is what forms you resonate with. You mention Ram, for example. There are a number of audio Ramayanas around, and 2 TV series. A good jyotishi can tell you what your chart suggests. But go with feel.

          Lalita Sahasranama is a famous list of the 1,000 forms of Mother Divine .
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zYycduhCgk

          Gandharava veda is another style, played at certain times of the day. There are a LOT of possibilities.

          1. Oskari

            Thanks David. Yes, I’m with you on following the feeling as the main steer. I always come back to that. I’ll be exploring Narada and Ramayana further and am also curious on doing a jyotish at some point. And will look into the ones I don’t recognise. I feel particularly devotional re some forms, saints, practices and texts, often just to be reminded of my devotion to God as Oneness. Devotion, bliss, awe and love often come together, sometimes pretty intensely. Yes, sorry, I wasn’t clear, I was curious if there are vedic (or other) texts around styles/evolution/frameworks of bhaktism for the journey, etc as the experience of devotion has evolved a lot along the way. But then it’s often been self-validating experience as well, so this is more an intellectual curiosity, I feel. Blessings!

            1. Hi Oskari
              There are various devotionally-oriented branches. Don’t really have a broad overview myself. You might find exploring some of Kavitha’s stuff interesting that way. She’s in the tantra line but has a strong devotional aspect. I’ve written a few articles on her content.

              Agreed, it’s all forms of the Divine. And yes, those flavours can be very powerful. Opening things up and softening our edges.
              Blessings!

            2. I can note that here, devotion arose spontaneously. I favoured the upaguru approach of devotion to ones mate and later, to the Divine itself. I didn’t directly explore devotional approaches or practices, just picking things up as they arose.

              1. oskari

                For what this is worth and hopefully not amounting to a thread hijack 🙂

                I had a look at various translations of Narada Bhakti Sutra. There’s quite a few on the internet incl. three quite different translations juxtaposed here: https://www.satyavedism.org/divine-ecstasy/narada-bhakti-sutra-3-translations-narada and an interesting mind-map here: https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/sites/default/files/narada_bhakti_sutra.jpg. 

                What a truly lovely and incredibly beautiful text. It notes 11 different types of devotion (Service to God, Remembrance of, Absorption with, God as Beloved, etc). The above map also describes the journey of devotion from Apara Bhakti (i.e. initial) towards Para Bhakti (i.e. more mature devotion) and unpacks them. Some parallel themes with the 4 levels of Love in Christianity, I feel.

                As with any text, I feel it can resonate and ‘make sense’ at any stage, and as a result the interpretations vary depending on where one’s at in their journey. I have noticed how after each realisation there is a feeling that ‘oh, now I get it’, and then another ‘oh, now I really get it!’, and until the next ‘oh, NOW I get it’ and so on…

                The following e-book has longer narratives that help (a vedic beginner like myself) to understand some of the terminology, vedic context, etc at https://unclesuraj.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/narada-bhakti-sutra.pdf It also mentions another interesting sounding devotional text “Bhagavata Purana”, which is something to look into.

                Looking back I can see how devotion has always been there but due to ignorance it got (mis-)channelled and (mis-)understood accordingly. At present, devotion seems to describe the process of increasingly becoming one with the return movement of/for God’s unconditional Love. And devotion is yet another way of describing how realisations are lived and experienced in the world. Another name for the movement of Truth, so to say. Whether that understanding is just a phase, ‘my’ experience, general Bhakti thing or more universal experience – I would hesitate to speculate and it doesn’t matter. I’ll probably say something very different tomorrow anyway 🙂

                While writing this I notice that the more the flow/movement is allowed the more comfortable I feel saying ‘I’, ‘my experience’, etc – as ‘my’ experience is ultimately recognised as God’s experience (albeit frequently forgotten as well !!! 🙂 ). Same words but said from a different place, if that makes sense. Thank you for bringing this text to my attention. Halle Lujah !

                1. Hi Oskari
                  Those are interesting resources. The graphic brings out an overview too. Seems a tendency to see it as “how good you are at devotion” rather than the depth of it developmentally. I’d like to see the Sanskrit though. Then I can compare to interpretations.

                  Yes, it’s very much stages of unfolding as you note. I’ve similarly talked about the layers of heart unfolding (anahata, hridaya, etc)

                  I’m not sure I’d say devotion is “how realizations are lived” unless you’re a bhakti. But yes, surrender and devotion to one’s journey are part of it so I can see why you framed it that way.

                  Not recognizing it isn’t a failure. You simply reach stages on your journey when insights arise that then seem obvious. Like feeling you’ve always been awake after waking.

                  And yes, you highlight some of the tricky bits. Like my article on Individuality in Wholeness – that got an objection. The good Sanskrit texts often have layers of meaning. 🙂

                  Halle Lujah!

              1. Bernie

                Hi David, which 300-episode version are you referring to? Is it the series shown on one national TV in India?

                The “All Love Flows to the Self” audio by Michael Sternfeld from FF is a very recent production. I just saw it when I checked out and sent you the above Ramayana link. Was pleasantly surprised too..

                1. Hi Bernie
                  The Sagar Arts series ’08-9. It was online for a time, though I didn’t watch it all.
                  There was 2 series. The original 80’s series is being rebroadcast in India during the pandemic. It’s apparently broken the world record for audience. I liked the energy and production values of the 2nd more.

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