Translated by A. Mahadeva Sastri
The Taittiriya-Upanishad is so called because of the recension (sakha) of the Krishna-Yajurveda to which it is appended. It is the most popular and the best-known of all the Upanishads in this part of the country, where the majority of the brahmins study the Taittiriya recension of the Yajurveda, and it is also one of the very few Upanishads which are still recited with the regulated accent and intonation which the solemnity of the subject therein treated naturally engenders. The Upanishad itself has been translated by several scholars including Prof. Max Muller; and the latest translation by Messrs. Mead and J.C. Chattopadhyaya, of the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society, London, is the most ‘soulful’ of all, and at the same time the cheapest. A few words, therefore, are needed to explain the object of the present undertaking.
Sankaracharya and Suresvaracharya are writers of highest authority belonging to what has been now-a-days marked off as the Advaita school of the Vedanta. Every student of the Vedanta knows that the former has written commentaries on the classical Upanishads, on the Bhagavadgita, and on the Brahmasutras, besides a number of manuals and tracts treating of the Vedanta Philosophy, while among the works of the latter, which have but recently seen the light, may be mentioned (1) the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad-bhashya-Vartika, (2) the Taittiriya-Upanishad-bhashya-Vartika, (3) the Manasollasa,* (4) the Pranava-Vartika,* and (5) the Naishkarmya-siddhi. The first four of these are professedly commentaries on Sankaracharya’s works, while the last is an independent manual dealing with some fundamental questions of the Vedanta.
As the subject is treated of in the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad from different stand-points of view and in great detail, it is the one Upanishad, in commenting on which Sankaracharya evidently seeks to present an exhaustive rational exposition of the Vedic Religion by fully explaining every position as it turns up and examining it from several points of view, whereas in his commentaries on other Upanishads he contents himself with merely explaining the meaning of the texts and shewing, only where necessary, how they support his advaita [sic] doctrine as against the other doctrines which seek the support of the Upanishads. It is certainly for this reason that Suresvaracharya, who undertook to explain, improve, amplify and supplement the teachings of Sankaracharya, thought fit to further expound the latter’s commentary on the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad. This exposition forms the colossal work know as the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad-bhashya-Vartika, which is held to be of no less authority than the bhashya itself and is more frequently cited by later writers on all knotty points of Advaita, as expounding its philosophy with greater precision. Much need not be said here as to Suresvaracharya’s marvellous power of exposition, since the readers of this series have been made familiar with it through the Manasollasa, which is only a condensed statement of the first principles of the system as developed in the commentary on the Upanishad and of the main lines of argument on which he proceeds to establish them.
Not quite so exhaustive, however, is either Sankaracharya’s or Suresvaracharya’s commentary on the Taittiriya-Upanishad. The only reason for the latter’s writing a vartika on the bhashya of the Upanishad seems to me to have been the high importance of this classical Upanishad as exclusively treating, among other things, of the five Kosas (sheaths of the Self). As the doctrine of the Kosas is the pivotal doctrine of the Vedanta on its theoretical as well as its practical side, students of the Vedanta should be thoroughly familiar with it before proceeding further in their studies. Accordingly, in an attempt to present to the English-reading public the Vedanta Doctrine as expounded by the two great teachers, it is but proper first to take up the Taittiriya Upanishad.
As though to make up for the want of that thoroughness in Sankaracharya’s and Suresvaracharya’s commentaries on the Taittiriya-Upanishad which is so characteristic of their commentaries on the Brihadaranyaka, Sayana (or Vidyaranya, as some would have it), that prolific scholiast on the Vedic literature, has written a commentary on the Taittiriya-Upanishad which is at once thorough and lucid. Though in interpreting the original text of the Upanishad Sayana differs slightly here and there from Sankaracharya, he follows the great teacher very closely on all points of doctrine, and quotes profusely from the writings of the two great leaders of the school. In fact, Sayana’s Introduction to the study of the Upanishads is, as its readers are aware, made up of long extracts from the Vartikasara, a lucid digest of Suresvaracharya’s Vartika on the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad. Into his exposition of the Taittiriya-Upanishad, Sayana introduces, in appropriate places and in a concise form, the various discussions embodied in the Vedanta-sutras, so that by studying this exposition the reader is sure to obtain a comprehensive view of the contents of the Vedanta-sutras and a fair insight into the true relation between the Sutras and the Upanishads.
The work now presented to the public contains a literal translation of the Taittiriya-Upanishad, and of Sankaracharya’s and Sayana’s commentaries thereon. Of Sayana’s commentary, only such portions — and they are very rare — are omitted as are mere repetitions of Sankaracharya’s commentary. Suresvaracharya’s vartika is in many places — especially in the Sikshavalli — a mere repetition of the bhashya; and therefore it is only where the vartika explains the bhashya or adds to it something new, that the vartika has been translated. A few notes have been extracted from Anandagiri’s (or, more properly, Anandajnana’s) glosses on the bhashya and on the vartika. I have also added some notes of my own where they seem most necessary.
The Sanskrit Text of the Upanishad is given in Devanagari, followed by the English rendering of the Upanishad printed in large type (pica). Then follows the English rendering of Sankaracharya’s commentary printed in a smaller type (small pica). The English translation of Sayana’s Commentary as well as the notes from Suresvaracharya’s Vartika and Anandagiri’s Tika are given in a still smaller type (long primer), these notes being marked (S.) or (A.) or (S.&A.) as the case may be. Some of the foot-notes which have been taken from the Vanamala (Achyuta Krishnananda swamin’s gloss on the bhashya) are marked off as (V).
A. Mahadeva Sastri
Translated by Swami Gambhirananda
This two-volume set is the translation we most highly recommend if you are a serious seeker who wants to understand the Upanishads as they have been traditionally understood in India. Sankara’s commentaries are included. The prose is straightforward and easy to read.
Swami Nikhilananda’s four-volume edition is also good but it’s more expensive.
Please note that this book is manufactured in India, and Indian books are a bit different from Western ones. If you want an edition manufactured in the US, get Swami Nikhilananda’s instead. It’s made with library bindings and high-quality paper.
Translated by Patrick Olivelle
This is the best Western academic translation of the Upanishads that has ever been made for a general audience. The translator, a professor at an American university, incorporates the full body of Western scholarship in his translated texts and notes.
Olivelle, like most Western scholars (he was born in Sri Lanka but educated in the West), is mainly concerned with uncovering the original meaning of texts as they were understood when they were composed, before the commentaries were written. Therefore he doesn’t assume the traditional commentaries on the Upanishads are correct. This is a very different approach than the one taken, for example, by Swamis Nikhilananda and Gambhirananda, who present the Upanishads and their interpretation by influential commentators as a single unified whole.
Olivelle alludes to this issue in his introduction:
“Even though this equation [Atman = Brahman] played a significant role in later developments of religion and theology in India and is the cornerstone of one of its major theological traditions, the Advaita Vedanta, it is incorrect to think that the single aim of all the Upanisads is to enunicate this simple truth.”
If you want a traditional, Vedantin translation, this book is not for you. But if you want to see how academic scholars interpret the Upanishads, this is one of the best books you can buy.
This book is available only in paperback. Digital and hardcover editions are not available. If you want a hardcover edition you have to buy a much more expensive book called The Early Upaniṣads which contains the same translations by Olivelle plus the Sanskrit text and more extensive notes. This second book is much more substantial, with a library-quality binding and thicker paper, but it costs ten times as much. We strongly recommend this second book but it’s too expensive for the average reader.
Translated by Shree Purohit Swami and W.B. Yeats
There are translations for the heart and for the head; those that recreate the poetic, literary greatness of the original, and those that aim at academic fidelity. This may be the best English translation of the first type that has ever been made of the Upanishads. Shri Purohit Swami was an enormously talented yogi who came to London in 1930, and W.B. Yeats was one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century.
This page was published on May 13, 2000 and last revised on July 8, 2017.