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The Upanishads, Part 2 (SBE15), by Max Müller, [1879], at

p. ix


THIS second volume completes the translation of the principal Upanishads to which Saṅkara appeals in his great commentary on the Vedânta-Sûtras 1, viz.:

1. Khândogya-upanishad,
2. Talavakâra or Kena-upanishad,
3. Aitareya-upanishad,
4. Kaushîtaki-upanishad,
5. Vâgasaneyi or Îsâ-upanishad,
6. Katha-upanishad,
7. Mundaka-upanishad,
8. Taittirîyaka-upanishad,
9. Brihadâranyaka-upanishad,
10. Svetâsvatara-upanishad,
11. Prasña-upanishad.

These eleven have sometimes 2 been called the old and genuine Upanishads, though I should be satisfied to call them the eleven classical Upanishads, or the fundamental Upanishads of the Vedânta philosophy.

Vidyâranya 3, in his 'Elucidation of the meaning of all the Upanishads,' Sarvopanishadarthânubhûti-prakâsa, confines himself likewise to those treatises, dropping, however, the Îsâ, and adding the Maitrâyana-upanishad, of which I have given a translation in this volume, and the Nrisimhottara-tapanîya-upanishad, the translation of which had to be reserved for the next volume.

p. x

It is more difficult to determine which of the Upanishads were chosen by Saṅkara or deserving the honour of a special commentary. We possess his commentaries on the eleven Upanishads mentioned before 1, with the exception of the Kaushîtaki 2-upanishad. We likewise possess his commentary on the Mândûkya-upanishad, but we do not know for certain whether he left commentaries on any of the other Upanishads. Some more or less authoritative statements have been made that he wrote commentaries on some of the minor Upanishads, such as the Atharvasiras, Atharva-sikhâ, and the Nrisimhatâpanî 3. But as, besides Saṅkarâkârya, the disciple of Govinda, there is Saṅkarânanda, the disciple of Ânandâtman, another writer of commentaries on the Upanishads, it is possible that the two names may have been confounded by less careful copyists 4.

With regard to the Nrisimhatâpanî all uncertainty might seem to be removed, after Professor Râmamaya Tarkaratna has actually published its text with the commentary of Saṅkarâkârya in the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1871. But some uncertainty still remains. While at the end of each Khanda of the Nrisimha-pûrvatâpanî we read that the Bhâshya was the work of the Paramahamsa-parivrâgakâkârya Srî-Saṅkara, the pupil of Govinda, we have no such information for the Nrisimha-uttaratâpanî, but are told on the contrary that the words Srî-Govindabhagavat &c. have been added at the end by the editor, because he thought fit to do so. This is, to say the least, very suspicious, and we must wait for further confirmation. There is another commentary on this Upanishad by Nârâyanabhatta, the son of Bhatta Ratnâkara 5, who is well known as the author of Dîpikâs on several Upanishads.

p. xi

I subjoin a list of thirty of the smaller Upanishads, published by Professor Râmamaya Tarkaratna in the Bibliotheca Indica, with the commentaries of Nârâyanabhatta.

1. Sira-upanishad,

pp. 1-10;

Dîpikâ by Nârâyana, pp. 42-60.

2. Garbha-upanishad,

pp. 11-15;

pp. 60-73

3. Nâdavindu-upanishad,

pp. 15-17;

pp. 73-78.

4. Brahmavindu-upanishad,

pp. 18-20;

pp. 78-82.

5. Amritavindu-upanishad,

pp. 21-25;

pp. 83-101

6. Dhyânavindu-upanishad,

pp. 26-28;

pp. 102-114

7. Tegovindu-upanishad,

pp. 29-30;

pp. 114-118.

8. Yogasikhâ-upanishad,

pp. 31-32;

pp. 118-122.

9. Yogatattva-upanishad,

pp. 33-34;

pp. 122-127.

10. Sannyâsa-upanishad,

pp. 35-39;

pp. 128-184

11. Âruneya-upanishad,

pp. 39-41;

pp. 184-196.

12. Brahmavidyâ-upanishad,

pp. 197-203;


13. Kshurikâ-upanishad,

pp. 203-218;


14. Kûlikâ-upanishad,

pp. 219-228;


15. Atharvasikhâ-upanishad,

pp. 229-238;


16. Brahma-upanishad,

pp. 239-259;


17. Prânâgnihotra-upanishad,

pp. 260-271;


18. Nîlarudra-upanishad,

pp. 272-280;


19. Kanthasruti-upanishad,

pp. 281-294;


20. Pinda-upanishad,

pp. 295-298;


21. Âtma-upanishad,

pp. 299-303;


22. Râmapûrvatâpanîya-upanishad,

pp. 304-358;


23. Râmottaratâpanîya-upanishad,

pp. 359-384;


24. Hanumadukta-Râma-upanishad,

pp. 385-393;


25. Sarvopanishat-sârah,

pp. 394-404;


26. Hamsa-upanishad,

pp. 404-416;


27. Paramahamsa-upanishad,

pp. 417-436;


28. Gâbâla-upanishad,

pp. 437-455;


29. Kaivalya-upanishad,

pp. 456-464;



pp. 465-479;

Dîpikâ by Saṅkarânanda,

30. Garuda-upanishad,

pp. 480 seq.;

Dipikâ by Nârâyana,


p. xii

We owe to the same editor in the earlier numbers of the Bibliotheca the following editions:

Nrisimhapûrvatâparî-upanishad, with commentary.
Nrisimhottaratâpanî-upanishad, with commentary.
Shatkakra-upanishad, with commentary by Nârâyana.

Lastly, Harakandra Vidyâbhûshana and Visvanâtha Sâstrî have published in the Bibliotheca Indica an edition of the Gopâlatâpanî-upanishad, with commentary by Visvesvara.

These editions of the text and commentaries of the Upanishads are no doubt very useful, yet there are many passages where the text is doubtful, still more where the commentaries leave us without any help.

Whatever other scholars may think of the difficulty of translating the Upanishads, I can only repeat what I have said before, that I know of few Sanskrit texts presenting more formidable problems to the translator than these philosophical treatises. It may be said that most of them had been translated before. No doubt they have been, and a careful comparison of my own translation with those of my predecessors will show, I believe, that a small advance, at all events, has now been made towards a truer understanding of these ancient texts. But I know full well how much still remains to be done, both in restoring a correct text, and in discovering the original meaning of the Upanishads; and I have again and again had to translate certain passages tentatively only, or following the commentators, though conscious all the time that the meaning which they extract from the text cannot be the right one.

As to the text, I explained in my preface to the first volume that I attempted no more than to restore the text, such as it must have existed at the time when Saṅkara wrote his commentaries. As Saṅkara lived during the ninth century AD1, and as we possess no MSS. of so early a date, all reasonable demands of textual criticism would thereby seem to be satisfied. Yet, this is not quite so. We may draw such a line, and for the present keep within it, but scholars who hereafter take up the study of the

p. xiii

[paragraph continues] Upanishads will probably have to go beyond. Where I had an opportunity of comparing other commentaries, besides those of Saṅkara, it became quite clear that they often followed a different text, and when, as in the case of the Maitrâyana-brâhmana-upanishad, I was enabled to collate copies which came from the South of India, the opinion which I have often expressed of the great value of Southern MSS. received fresh confirmation. The study of Grantha and other Southern MSS. will inaugurate, I believe, a new period in the critical treatment of Sanskrit texts, and the text of the Upanishads will, I hope, benefit quite as much as later texts by the treasures still concealed in the libraries of the Dekhan.

The rule which I have followed myself, and which I have asked my fellow translators to follow, has been adhered to in this new volume also, viz. whenever a choice has to be made between what is not quite faithful and what is not quite English, to surrender without hesitation the idiom rather than the accuracy of the translation. I know that all true scholars have approved of this, and if some of our critics have been offended by certain unidiomatic expressions occurring in our translations, all I can say is, that we shall always be most grateful if they would suggest translations which are not only faithful, but also idiomatic. For the purpose we have in view, a rugged but faithful translation seems to us more useful than a smooth but misleading one.

However, we have laid ourselves open to another kind of censure also, namely, of having occasionally not been literal enough. It is impossible to argue these questions in general, but every translator knows that in many cases a literal translation may convey an entirely wrong meaning. I shall give at least one instance.

My old friend, Mr. Nehemiah Goreh--at least I hope he will still allow me to call him so--in the 'Occasional Papers on Missionary Subjects,' First Series, No. 6, quotes, on p. 39, a passage from the Khândogya-upanishad, translates it into English, and then remarks that I had not translated it accurately. But the fault seems to me to lie

p. xiv

entirely with him, in attempting to translate a passage without considering the whole chapter of which it forms a part. Mr. Nehemiah Goreh states the beginning of the story rightly when he says that a youth by name Svetaketu went, by the advice of his father, to a teacher to study under him. After spending twelve years, as was customary, with the teacher, when he returned home he appeared rather elated. Then the father asked him:

Uta tam âdesam aprâksho 1 yenâsrutam srutam bhavaty amatam matam avigñâtam vigñâtam iti?

I translated this: 'Have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known?'

Mr. Nehemiah Goreh translates: 'Hast thou asked (of thy teacher) for that instruction by which what is not heard becomes heard, what is not comprehended becomes comprehended, what is not known becomes known?'

I shall not quarrel with my friend for translating man by to comprehend rather than by to perceive. I prefer my own translation, because manas is one side of the common sensory (antahkarana), buddhi, the other; the original difference between the two being, so far as I can see, that the manas originally dealt with percepts, the buddhi with concepts 2. But the chief difference on which my critic lays stress is that I translated asrutam, amatam, and avigñâtam not by 'not heard, not comprehended, not known,' but by 'what cannot be heard, what cannot be perceived, what cannot be known.'

Now, before finding fault, why did he not ask himself what possible reason I could have had for deviating from the original, and for translating avigñâta by unknowable or

p. xv

what cannot be known, rather than by unknown, as every one would be inclined to translate these words at first sight? If he had done so, he would have seen in a moment, that without the change which I introduced in the idiom, the translation would not have conveyed the sense of the original, nay, would have conveyed no sense at all. What could Svetaketu have answered, if his father had asked him, whether he had not asked for that instruction by which what is not heard becomes heard, what is not comprehended becomes comprehended, what is not known becomes known? He would have answered, 'Yes, I have asked for it; and from the first day on which I learnt the Sikshâ, the A B C, I have every day heard something which I had not heard before, I have comprehended something which I had not comprehended before, I have known something which I had not known before.' Then why does he say in reply, 'What is that instruction?' Surely Mr. Nehemiah Goreh knew that the instruction which the father refers to, is the instruction regarding Brahman, and that in all which follows the father tries to lead his son by slow degrees to a knowledge of Brahman 1. Now that Brahman is called again and again 'that which cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be perceived, cannot be conceived,' in the ordinary sense of these words; can be learnt, in fact, from the Veda only 2. It was in order to bring out this meaning that I translated asrutam not by 'not heard,' but by 'not hearable,' or, in better English, by 'what cannot be heard 3.'

p. xvi

Any classical scholar knows how often we must translate invictus by invincible, and how Latin tolerates even invictissimus, which we could never render in English by 'the most unconquered,' but 'the unconquerable.' English idiom, therefore, and common sense required that avigñâta should be translated, not by inconceived, but by inconceivable, if the translation was to be faithful, and was to give to the reader a correct idea of the original.

Let us now examine some other translations, to see whether the translators were satisfied with translating literally, or whether they attempted to translate thoughtfully.

Anquetil Duperron's translation, being in Latin, cannot help us much. He translates: 'Non auditum, auditum fiat; et non scitum, scitum; et non cognitum, cognitum.'

Rajendralal Mitra translates: 'Have you enquired of your tutor about that subject which makes the unheard-of heard, the unconsidered considered, and the unsettled settled?'

He evidently knew that Brahman was intended, but his rendering of the three verbs is not exact.

Mr. Gough (p. 43) translates: 'Hast thou asked for that instruction by which the unheard becomes heard, the unthought thought, the unknown known?'

But now let us consult a scholar who, in a very marked degree, always was a thoughtful translator, who felt a real interest in the subject, and therefore was never satisfied with mere words, however plausible. The late Dr. Ballantyne, in his translation of the Vedânta-Sâra 1, had occasion to translate this passage from the Khândogya-upanishad, and how did he translate it? 'The eulogizing of the subject is the glorifying of what is set forth in this or that section (of the Veda); as, for example, in that same section, the sixth chapter of the Khândogya-upanishad, the glorifying of the Real, besides whom there is nought else, in the following terms: "Thou, O disciple, hast asked for that instruction whereby the unheard-of becomes heard, the inconceivable

p. xvii

becomes conceived, and the unknowable becomes thoroughly known."'

Dr. Ballantyne therefore felt exactly what I felt, that in our passage a strictly literal translation would be wrong, would convey no meaning, or a wrong meaning; and Mr. Nehemiah Goreh will see that he ought not to express blame, without trying to find out whether those whom he blames for want of exactness, were not in reality more scrupulously exact in their translation than he has proved himself to be.

Mr. Nehemiah Goreh has, no doubt, great advantages in interpreting the Upanishads, and when he writes without any theological bias, his remarks are often very useful. Thus he objects rightly, I think, to my translation of a sentence in the same chapter of the Khândogya-upanishad, where the father, in answer to his son's question, replies: 'Sad eva, Somya, idam agra âsîd ekam evâdvitîyam.' I had tried several translations of these words, and yet I see now that the one I proposed in the end is liable to be misunderstood. I had translated. 'In the beginning, my dear, there was that only which is, one only, without a second.' The more faithful translation would have been: 'The being alone was this in the beginning.' But 'the being' does not mean in English that which is, τὸ ὄν, and therefore, to avoid any misunderstanding, I translated 'that which is.' I might have said, however, 'The existent, the real, the true (satyam) was this in the beginning,' just as in the Aitareya-upanishad we read: 'The Self was all this, one alone, in the beginning 1.' But in that case I should have sacrificed the gender, and this in our passage is of great importance, being neuter, and not masculine.

What, however, is far more important, and where Mr. Nehemiah Goreh seems to me to have quite misapprehended the original Sanskrit, is this, that sat, τὸ ὄν, and âtmâ, the Self, are the subjects in these sentences, and not predicates. Now Mr. Nehemiah Goreh translates: 'This was the existent one itself before, one only without a second;' and he

p. xviii

explains: 'This universe, before it was developed in the present form, was the existent one, Brahma, itself.' This cannot be. If 'idam,' this, i.e. the visible world, were the subject, how could the Upanishad go on and say, tad aikshata bahu syâm pragâyeyeti tat tego 'srigata, 'that thought, may I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth fire.' This can be said of the Sat only, that is, the Brahman 1. Sat, therefore, is the subject, not idam, for a Vedântist may well say that Brahman is the world, or sent forth the world, but not that the world, which is a mere illusion, was, in the beginning, Brahman.

This becomes clearer still in another passage, Maitr. Up. VI, 17, where we read: Brahma ha vâ idam agra âsîd eko 'nantah, 'In the beginning Brahman was all this. He was one, and infinite.' Here the transition from the neuter to the masculine gender shows that Brahman only can be the subject, both in the first and in the second sentence.

In English it may seem to make little difference whether we say, 'Brahman was this,' or 'this was Brahman.' In Sanskrit too we find, Brahma khalv idam vâva sarvam, 'Brahman indeed is all this' (Maitr. Up. IV, 6), and Sarvam khalv idam Brahma, 'all this is Brahman indeed' (Khând. Up. III, 14, 1). But the logical meaning is always that Brahman was all this, i.e. all that we see now, Brahman being the subject, idam the predicate. Brahman becomes idam, not idam Brahman.

Thus the Pañkadasî, I, 18, says:

Ekâdasendriyair yuktyâ sâstrenâpy avagamyate
Yâvat kimkid bhaved etad idamsabdoditam gagat,

which Mr. A. Venis (Pandit, V, p. 667) translates: 'Whatever may be apprehended through the eleven organs, by argument and revelation, i.e. the world of phenomena, is expressed by the word idam, this.' The Pañkadasî then goes on:

Idam sarvam purâ srishter ekam evâdvitâyakam
Sad evâsîn nâmarûpe nâstâm ity Âruner vakah.

This Mr. Venis translates: 'Previous to creation, all this

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was the existent (sat), one only without a second: name and form were not:--this is the declaration of the son of Aruna.'

This is no doubt a translation grammatically correct, but from the philosophical standpoint of the Vedânta, what is really meant is that before the srishti (which is not creation, but the sending forth of the world, and the sending forth of it, not as something real, but as a mere illusion), the Real alone, i.e. the Brahman, was, instead of this, i.e. instead of this illusory world. The illusion was not, but the Real, i.e. Brahman, was. What became, or what seemed to change, was Brahman, and therefore the only possible subject, logically, is Brahman, everything else being a predicate, and a phenomenal predicate only.

If I were arguing with a European, not with an Indian scholar, I should venture to go even a step further, and try to prove that the idam, in this and similar sentences, does not mean this, i.e. this world, but that originally it was intended as an adverb, meaning now, or here. This use of idam, unsuspected by native scholars, is very frequent in Vedic literature, and instances may be seen in Boehtlingk's Dictionary. In that case the translation would be: 'The real (τὸ ὄν), O friend, was here in the beginning.' This meaning of idam, however, would apply only to the earliest utterances of ancient Brahmavâdins, while in later times idam was used and understood in the sense of all that is seen, the visible universe, just as iyam by itself is used in the sense of the earth.

However, difficulties of this kind may be overcome, if once we have arrived at a clear conception of the general drift of the Upanishads. The real difficulties are of a very different character. They consist in the extraordinary number of passages which seem to us utterly meaningless and irrational, or, at all events, so far-fetched that we can hardly believe that the same authors who can express the deepest thoughts on religion and philosophy with clearness, nay, with a kind of poetical eloquence, could have uttered in the same breath such utter rubbish. Some of the sacrificial technicalities, and their philosophical interpretations with which the Upanishads abound, may perhaps in time assume a clearer meaning, when we shall have more fully mastered

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the intricacies of the Vedic ceremonial. But there will always remain in the Upanishads a vast amount of what we can only call meaningless jargon, and for the presence of which in these ancient mines of thought I, for my own part, feel quite unable to account. 'Yes,' a friend of mine wrote to me, after reading some of the Sacred Books of the East, 'you are right, how tremendously ahead of other sacred books is the Bible. The difference strikes one as almost unfairly great.' So it does, no doubt. But some of the most honest believers and admirers of the Bible have expressed a similar disappointment, because they had formed their ideas of what a Sacred Book ought to be, theoretically, not historically. The Rev. J. M. Wilson, in his excellent Lectures on the Theory of Inspiration, p. 32, writes: 'The Bible is so unlike what you would expect; it does not consist of golden sayings and rules of life; give explanations of the philosophical and social problems of the past, the present, and the future; contain teachings immeasurably unlike those of any other book; but it contains history, ritual, legislation, poetry, dialogue, prophecy, memoirs, and letters; it contains much that is foreign to your idea of what a revelation ought to be. But this is not all. There is not only much that is foreign, but much that is opposed, to your preconceptions. The Jews tolerated slavery, polygamy, and other customs and cruelties of imperfect civilisation. There are the vindictive psalms, too, with their bitter hatred against enemies,--psalms which we chant in our churches. How can we do so? There are stories of immorality, of treachery, of crime. How can we read them?' Still the Bible has been and is a truly sacred, because a truly historical book, for there is nothing more sacred in this world than the history of man, in his search after his highest ideals. All ancient books which have once been called sacred by man, will have their lasting place in the history of mankind, and those who possess the courage, the perseverance, and the self-denial of the true miner, and of the true scholar, will find even in the darkest and dustiest shafts what they are seeking for,--real nuggets of thought, and precious jewels of faith and hope.


ix:1 See Deussen, Vedânta, Einleitung, p. 38. Saṅkara occasionally refers also to the Paiṅgi, Agnirahasya, Gâbâla, and Narâyanîya Upanishads.

ix:2 Deussen, loc. cit. p. 82.

ix:3 I state this on the authority of Professor Cowell. See also Fitzedward Hall, Index to the Bibliography of the Indian Philosophical Systems, pp. 116 and 236.

x:1 They have been published by Dr. Roer in the Bibliotheca Indica.

x:2 Dr. Weber's statement that Saṅkara wrote a commentary on the Kaushîtaki-upanishad has been corrected by Deussen, loc. cit. p. 39.

x:3 See Deussen, loc. cit. p. 39.

x:4 A long list of works ascribed to Saṅkara may be seen in Regnaud, Philosophie de l'Inde, p. 34, chiefly taken from Fitzedward Hall's Index of Indian Philosophical Systems.

x:5 See Tarkaratna's Vigñâpana, p. 3, l. 5.

xii:1 India, What can it teach us? p. 360.

xiv:1 Mr. Nehemiah Goreh writes aprâkshyo, and this is no doubt the reading adopted by Roer in his edition of the Khândogya-upanishad in the Bibliotheca Indica, p. 384. In Saṅkara's commentary also the same form is given. Still grammar requires aprâksho.

xiv:2 The Pañkadasî (I, 20) distinguishes between manas and buddhi, by saying, mano vimarsarûpam syâd buddhih syân niskâyatmikâ, which places the difference between the two rather in the degree of certainty, ascribing deliberation to manas, decision to buddhi.

xv:1 In the Vedânta-Sara, Sadânanda lays great stress on the fact that in this very chapter of the Khândogya-upanishad, the principal subject of the whole chapter is mentioned both in the beginning and in the end. Tatra prakaranapratipâdyasyarthasya tadâdyantayor upâdânam upakramasamhâram. Yathâ Khândogyashashthaprapâthake prakaranapratipâdyansyadvitîyavastuna ekam evâdvitîyam (VI, 2, 1) ityâdâv aitadâtmyam idam sarvam (VI, 16, 3) ity ante ka pratipâdanam. 'The beginning with and ending with' imply that the matter to be declared in any given section is declared both at the beginning and at the end thereof:--as, for instance, in the sixth section of the Khândogya-upanishad, 'the Real, besides which there is nought else'--which is to be explained in that section--is declared at the outset in the terms, 'One only, without a second,' and at the end in the terms 'All this consists of That.'

xv:2 Vedânta-Sâra, No. 118, tatraivâdvitîyavastuno mânântarâvishayîkaranam.

xv:3 See Mund. Up. I, 1, 6, adresyam agrâhyam.

xvi:1 Lecture on the Vedânta, embracing the text of the Vedânta-Sâra, Allababad, 1851, p. 69. Vedântasâra, with Nrisimha-Sarasvatî's Subodhinî and Râmatîrtha's Vidvanmanorañginî, Calcutta, 1860, p. 89. Here we find the right reading, aprâkshah.

xvii:1 Âtmâ vâ idam eka evâgra âsît.

xviii:1 Saṅkara says (p. 398, l. 5): ekam evâdvitîyam paramârthata idam buddhikâle 'pi tat sad aikshata.

Next: I: The Katha-Upanishad