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 up 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.

NOTE: While Swami Nikhilananda isn't technically a teacher of "traditional" Advaita Vedanta (he was of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda order sometimes referred to as "Neo-Vedanta"), his translations and commentary on the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Atma Bodha are, for the most part, aligned with traditional Advaita Vedanta.*

General Introduction to Vedanta

The Essence of Enlightenment: The Science of Consciousness

By James Swartz

The best introduction to Vedanta. 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.

Vedanta: The Big Picture

By Swami Paramarthananda

This is the book to read if you want a quick overview of Vedanta based on the talks of a great 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 a student of Swami Dayananda. This lengthy introduction includes many Sanskrit terms and references to the Upanishads. 

Be Free From "Me"

By Paul Bahder and Carol Bahder

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

1. TATTVA BODHA

One of the first traditional texts taught to students 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 a foundational text. 

Tattvabodhah

Commentary by Swami Dayananda

Introduction to Vedanta (Tattva Bodha)

Commentary by Swami Paramarthananda

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. 

Srimad Bhagavad Gita (translation only)

Translated by Swami Dayananda

A modern and accurate translation of the Gita.

Bhagavad Gita

Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda

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 very accessible.

Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course

Commentary by Swami Dayananda

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

The Wisdom Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita

Commentary by Daniel McKenzie

My own commentary and "unlocking" of the Gita, supported by quotes from modern teachers of Advaita Vedanta (all of which are included on this list). 

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 helps one make sense of the Upanishads.

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 in this text is how Shankara converts the experiential language of Patanjali's Yoga into Vedanta's language of knowledge.

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. It is considered a more advanced introductory text.

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?"

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 force. This text is an advanced teaching covering the theory and nature of the Self, the four states of consciousness, and the syllable "om."

Mandukya Upanishad with Karika by Swami Paramarthananda

Commentary by Swami Paramarthananda

Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada's Karika

Commentary by James Swartz

8. PANCHADASI

Panchadasi or "the book of fifteen chapters," was written by Vidyaranya of the Shankaracharya Math. It consists of fifteen ("panchadasi") 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 of Vedanta.

Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge

Commentary by James Swartz

*Swami Nikhilanada's commentary mostly differentiates from traditional Advaita Vedanta in calling for a fourth step to the process leading to Self-knowledge. Neo-Vedanta promotes nirvikalpa samadhi as the last step in a process that is traditionally outlined as shravana, manana and nididhyasana (hearing, reflecting, assimilating). However, traditional Vedanta sees samadhi practice only as preparation for gaining Self-Knowledge, not as a requirement for knowing the Self.