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Vedanta Reading List

Seekers often wonder where to start with Vedanta's many texts and commentary. Vedanta is traditionally taught directly by a qualified teacher who is able to unfold the meaning of the words and clear any doubts. Nevertheless, there are many books available with excellent commentary to help direct the student with Self-inquiry. The following is a list of recommended books based on the teachings of traditional Advaita Vedanta. The numbers represent the sequence in which the texts are typically taught by a qualified teacher.

General Introduction to Vedanta

The Essence of Enlightenment: The Science of Consciousness

By James Swartz

In this book, Swartz, a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, makes Vedanta accessible to a modern western audience. Any Sanskrit is kept to a minimum except for a handful of important Vedantic terms you will want to know. Highly recommended for those just starting out.

Vedanta: The Big Picture

By Swami Paramarthananda

The book to read if you want a quick overview of Vedanta based on talks by an authentic living master. All the important topics are covered within its slim, seventy-three pages. 

Vedanta: The solution to our fundamental problem

By D. Venugopal

A comprehensive introduction to Vedanta written by an Indian student of Swami Dayananda. The overview includes many Sanskrit terms and references to the Upanishads. 

Be Free From "Me"

By Paul Bahder and Carol Bahder

This little gem was written based on the notes of two western students of Swami Dayananda. The writing style is very accessible.

Scripture and Traditional Texts

1. TATTVA BODHA

One of the first traditional texts taught to students of Advaita Vedanta is Tattva Bodha ("Knowledge of Truth") by Shankaracharya, which is considered an introductory text (prakarana grantha). Tattva Bodha covers the qualifications for liberation, as well as all the essential Vedantic terminology. For this reason, it's considered foundational and frequently recommended for all students of Vedanta.

 

Recommended books

Tattvabodhah

Commentary by Swami Dayananda

Introduction to Vedanta (Tattva Bodha)

Commentary by Swami Paramarthananda

Tattvabodha

Commentary by Swami Tejomayananda

2. BHAGAVAD GITA

The well-known "Song of God" is a brilliant summary of the Vedas that comes out of the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata. Bhagavad Gita is one of three primary Vedantic texts (the other two being the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra) and of all the texts, is the one most often quoted.

Recommended books: 

Srimad Bhagavad Gita (verse translation only)

Translated by Swami Dayananda

A modern and accurate translation of the Gita from a master of Advaita Vedanta and Sanskrit.

Bhagavad Gita

Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda*

An excellent translation and commentary on the Gita. Nikhilananda also provides important context from the epic, Mahabharata, from which the Bhagavad Gita is derived.

Bhagavad Gita: The Divine Song: A New Translation and Commentary

Commentary by Rory Mackay

A contemporary translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita that is accessible to a western audience.

Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course

Commentary by Swami Dayananda

A challenging and comprehensive nine-volume study course on the Bhagavad Gita. For serious students.

The Wisdom Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita

Commentary by Daniel McKenzie

My own commentary and unlocking of the Gita, supported by quotes from modern masters of traditional Advaita Vedanta. 

3. VIVEKACHUDAMANI

A beloved introductory text written by Shankaracharya that translates as "The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination." Shankaracharya wrote many introductory texts on Vedanta that help one make sense of the esoteric Upanishads.

Recommended books: 

The Crest Jewel of Discrimination

Commentary by Edwin Faust

There are other translations and commentaries out there (including by Swami Dayananda and by Swami Chinmayananda), but personally, Faust's commentary, based on Swami Dayananda's translation, was the moment when Vedanta "clicked" for me. Highly recommended. 

4. APAROKSHANUBHUTI

Another popular text attributed to Shankaracharya. The name translates as "that which cannot be known through the mind and senses," which in Vedantic terms can be summarized as "direct knowledge of the Self." Of particular interest is how Shankara converts the experiential language of Patanjali's Yoga into Vedanta's language of Self-knowledge.

Recommended books: 

Aparokshanubhuti: Intimate Experience of Reality

Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

5. ATMA BODHA

Translated as "Self-Knowledge" and written by Shankaracharya, this text describes the practice of Self-knowledge and the essential teaching of the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal). It is considered a more advanced introductory text.

Recommended books: 

Self-Knowlege (Atmabodha)

Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda*

The Fire of Self-Knowledge: Commentaries on Shankaracharya's Atma Bodha

Commentary by James Swartz

6. KATHA UPANISHAD & KENA UPANISHAD

These are two of the more popular Upanishads. The Katha reveals Self-knowledge through a dialog between a boy, Nachiketas, and the deity of death, Yama, who tempts the young Nachiketas with many worldly delights before reluctantly teaching him the truth about the Self. The Kena is famous for its opening verse which asks, "By whom is the mind and senses directed?"

Recommended books: 

Upanishads, Volume 1: A New Translation

Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda*

Nikhilandanda's translation and commentary of the Upanishads is still one of the best. Volume 1 of this four-set includes both the Katha and Kena Upanishads, along with a well-written introduction to the Upanishads.

7. MANDUKYA UPANISHAD WITH KARIKA

The Mandukya Upanishad is, by itself, the shortest of the Upanishads with only 12 verses. However, with Gaudapada's karika, or "commentary," the seemingly brief Upanishad becomes a philosophical treatise like no other. This text is an advanced teaching covering the theory and nature of the Self, the four "states" of existence, and the syllable om.

Recommended books: 

Mandukya Upanishad with Karika

Commentary by Swami Paramarthananda

Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada's Karika

Commentary by James Swartz

8. PANCHADASHI

Panchadashi or "the book of fifteen chapters," was written by Vidyaranya of the Shankaracharya Math (school). It consists of fifteen ("panchadashi") chapters grouped in three quintets: (1) on the discrimination between the real and non-real (2) on expounding the nature of the Self as pure consciousness and (3) on the bliss-nature of pure consciousness. It is an advanced text for serious students.

Recommended books: 

Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge

Commentary on all fifteen chapters by James Swartz

Tattva Vivekaḥ

Commentary on Chapter 1 by Swami Tejomayananda

Tṛpti Dīpa

Commentary on Chapter 7 by Swami Tejomayananda

Pañcadaśī

Commentary on Chapters 5, 10 and 15 by Swami Tejomayananda

9. ADVAITA MAKARANDA

Advaita Makaranda, or "The Nectar of Non-duality," is a lesser known, advanced text written by the obscure 17th century court poet, Lakshmidhara Kavi. The text is only 28 verses long, but is said to contain the essence of the Upanishad verses. For sincere seekers.

 

Recommended books: 

The One and One Only

Commentary by Swami Tejomayananda

Additional Books 

The following are considered important in helping to modify and manage one's lifestyle in preparation for Vedanta.

The Value of Values

By Swami Dayananda

It's said that before one can come to any Self-realization, they must first meet certain qualifications. In this short book, Swami Dayananda avoids the usual Sunday School sermon on the importance of values, and instead, discusses why they even matter at all. Like all great Vedanta teachers, he approaches the topic with logic and clear thinking. 

The Yoga of the Three Energies

By James Swartz

Gaining knowledge of the three gunas or "energies" is an important step in understanding and maintaining one's psychological condition. It shows how impersonal forces, mostly thoughts and that which trigger them, can influence our state of mind and create suffering. While the teaching of the gunas is not new, never before has a book delved into the topic so deeply. Along with other sadhanas (practices) that help one prepare for the teachings of Vedanta, such as karma yoga and upasana yoga, one will also want to be familiar with triguna vibhava yoga—"the yoga of the three energies."  

*Included on this list is Swami Nikhilananda, who isn't technically a teacher of traditional Advaita Vedanta (he was of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda order sometimes referred to as "Neo-Vedanta"). Nevertheless, his translations and commentary on the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Atma Bodha are for the most part, aligned with traditional Advaita Vedanta. His commentary mostly differentiates from traditional Advaita Vedanta in calling for a fourth step to the process leading to Self-realization. Neo-Vedanta promotes nirvikalpa samadhi as the last step in a process that is traditionally outlined as shravana, manana and nididhyasana (hearing, reflecting, assimilating the teachings). However, traditional Vedanta sees samadhi (the practice of obtaining a deep meditative state where the meditator purportedly "experiences" the Self) only as preparation for Self-inquiry, not as a required step for gaining Self-knowledge. 

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