Among the oldest of India's spiritual texts, the Upanishads are records of intensive question-and-answer sessions given by illumined sages to their students - in ashrams, at family gatherings, in a royal court, and in the kingdom of Death. The sages share flashes of insight, extraordinary visions, the results of their investigation into consciousness itself. The Upanishads have puzzled and inspired wisdom seekers from Yeats to Schopenhauer. In this best-selling translation, Eknath Easwaran makes these challenging texts more accessible by selecting the passages most relevant to readers seeking timeless truths today. This book includes an overview of the cultural and historical setting, with chapter introductions, notes, and a Sanskrit glossary. But it is Easwaran's understanding of the wisdom of the Upanishads that makes this edition truly outstanding. Each sage, each Upanishad, appeals in a different way to the reader's head and heart. For Easwaran, the Upanishads are part of India's precious legacy, not just to Hinduism but to humanity, and in that spirit they are offered here.
Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999) is respected around the world as one of the twentieth century's great spiritual teachers and an authentic guide to timeless wisdom. Although he did not travel or seek large audiences, his books on meditation, spiritual living, and the classics of world mysticism have been translated into twenty-six languages. More than 1.5 million copies of Easwaran's books are in print.
His book Meditation, now titled Passage Meditation, has sold over 200,000 copies since it was first published in 1978. His Classics of Indian Spirituality - translations of The Bhagavad Gita, The Dhammapada, and The Upanishads - have been warmly praised by Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions, and all three books are bestsellers in their field. The Nilgiri Press editorial team, under the supervision of Easwaran's wife, Christine Easwaran, continues to publish new books and talks, drawing on the vast archive of Easwaran's unpublished transcripts.
A gifted teacher who lived for many years in the West, Easwaran lived what he taught, giving him enduring appeal as a teacher and author of deep insight and warmth.
Easwaran's mission was to extend to everyone, "with an open hand," the spiritual disciplines that had brought such rich benefits to his own life. For forty years he devoted his life to teaching the practical essentials of the spiritual life as found in every religion. He taught a universal message that although the body is mortal, within every creature there is a spark of divinity that can never die. And he taught and lived a method that any man or woman can use to reach that inborn divinity and draw on it for love and wisdom in everyday life.
Whenever asked what religion he followed, Easwaran would reply that he belonged to all religions. His teachings reached people in every faith. He often quoted the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who influenced him deeply: "I have not the shadow of a doubt that every man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith."
Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999) was born into an ancient matrilineal family in Kerala state, South India. There he grew up under the close guidance of his mother's mother, Eknath Chippu Kunchi Ammal, whom he honored throughout his life as his spiritual teacher. From her he learned the traditional wisdom of India's ancient scriptures. An unlettered village woman, she taught him through her daily life, which was permeated by her continuous awareness of God, that spiritual practice is something to be lived out each day in the midst of family and community.
Growing up in British India, Easwaran first learned English in his village high school, where the doors were opened to the treasure-house of English literature. At sixteen, he left his village to attend a nearby Catholic college. There his passionate love of English literature intensified and he acquired a deep appreciation of the Christian tradition.
Later, contact with the YMCA and close friendships within the Muslim and Christian communities enriched his sense of the universality of spiritual truths. Easwaran often recalled with pride that he grew up in "Gandhi's India" - the historic years when Mahatma Gandhi was leading the Indian people to freedom from British rule through nonviolence. As a young man, Easwaran met Gandhi and the experience of sitting near him at his evening prayer meetings left a lasting impression. The lesson he learned from Gandhi was the power of the individual: the immense resources that emerge into life when a seemingly ordinary person transforms himself completely.
After graduate work at the University of Nagpur in Central India, where he took first-class degrees in literature and in law, Easwaran entered the teaching profession, eventually returning to Nagpur to become a full professor and head of the department of English. By this time he had acquired a reputation as a writer and speaker, contributing regularly to the Times of India and giving talks on English literature for All-India Radio.
At this juncture, he would recall, "All my success turned to ashes." The death of his grandmother in the same year as Gandhi's assassination prompted him to turn inward.
Following Gandhi's inspiration, he became deeply absorbed in the Bhagavad Gita, India's best-known scripture. Meditation on passages from the Gita and other world scriptures quickly developed into the method of meditation that today is associated with his name.
Eknath Easwaran was Professor of English Literature at the University of Nagpur when he came to the United States on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959. Soon he was giving talks on India's spiritual tradition throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. At one such talk he met his future wife, Christine, with whom he established the organization that became the vehicle for his life's work. The mission of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, founded in 1961, is the same today as when it was founded: to teach the eight-point program of passage meditation aimed at helping ordinary people conquer physical and emotional problems, release creativity, and pursue life's highest goal, Self-realization.
After a return to India, Easwaran came back to California in 1965. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area the rest of his life, dedicating himself to the responsive American audiences that began flowing into his classes in the turbulent Berkeley of the late 1960s, when meditation was suddenly "in the air." His quiet yet impassioned voice reached many hundreds of students in those turbulent years.
Always a writer, Easwaran started a small press in Berkeley to serve as the publishing branch of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. Nilgiri Press was named after the Nilgiris or "Blue Mountains" in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Easwaran had maintained a home for some years. The press moved to Tomales, California, when the Center bought property there for a permanent headquarters in 1970. Nilgiri Press did the preproduction work for his first book, Gandhi the Man, and began full book manufacturing with his Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living in 1975.
In thousands of talks and his many books Easwaran taught passage meditation and his eight-point program to an audience that now extends around the world. Rather than travel and attract large crowds, he chose to remain in one place and teach in small groups - a preference that was his hallmark as a teacher even in India. "I am still an educator," he liked to say. "But formerly it was education for degrees; now it is education for living." His work is being carried forward by Christine Easwaran, who has worked by his side for forty years, by the students he trained for thirty years, and by the organization he founded to ensure the continuity of his teachings, the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.