View Full Version : Philosoraptor's Book Review: Five Principal Upanishads

23 June 2013, 12:59 PM
Five Principal Upanishads- Exhaustive Commentary in English on Ishavasya, Kena, Katha, Taittiriya & Mundaka Upanishads
Translator/Commentator: Acharya Narasimha
Penman Publishers (2004)
Price: $50 at http://www.exoticindia.com/book/details/five-principal-upanishads-exhaustive-commentary-in-english-on-ishavasya-kena-katha-taittiriya-mundaka-upanishads-IHG016/

My Rating: 3/5 stars
Pros: A lucid translation and commentary in English on the five principal upanishads mentioned, stated to be according to the philosophy of Sri Ramanuja.
Cons: Author does not appear to be a pure Sri Vaishnavite, and frequently makes unwarranted digressions in his commentary by referencing events in the life of Ramakrishna.
Conclusion: Overpriced, and somewhat disappointing, especially for anyone looking for a Sri Vaishnava commentary. I would recommend using this only as a companion text, if even that.

Review: There is certainly a need for clear translations and commentaries on the Upanishads, especially from the perspective of traditions other than Adi Shankara, who has so far enjoyed the greatest attention from academic scholars. This publication includes commentaries on 5 of the 11 principal upanishads, and it seems likely that other volumes covering additional upanishads will be released. The translator hails from a family of traditional scholars, but no other details about his paramparA, AchArya, or guru are given. The introduction indicates that he was looking for an integrative paradigm to reconcile the different viewpoints, and he is very clear in his view that Sri Ramanuja has most successfully accomplished this. To clarify this point, it appears that the author feels that Ramanuja does not just reconcile the different shAstras, but also that his philosophy reconciles the different Hindu philosophical systems in existence. This is where his translations seem to take a bit of a turn south. While he recognizes the deficiences of the various Hindu philosophical schools such as Advaita, he seems interested in reconciling them with each other, as if such a thing were even possible. As a comparison, I have Sri NSA. Rangacharyar Swamy's translation of Sri Ranga Ramnuja's (a 16th century Sri Vaishnava scholar) commentary on the Upanishads. From my reading of the Isha Upanishad, it appears that Acharya Narasimha more or less follows the viewpoint of Sri Ranga Ramanuja. However, he makes very conspicuous references to Ramakrishna repeatedly in his writings to illustrate various points, as if the lives of Ramanuja, the Alvars, and their followers did not have any inspiring tales to instruct us. While he follows them philosophically, he inappropriately emphasizes certain points based on his own preference. For example, in discussing the difference between the Lord and the universe serving as His body, he almost takes a Dvaitin approach and goes on to emphasize the difference between the Lord and His archa-murthy. This appears to reflect a Neo-Hindu bias rather than a concern of Sri Ramanuja and his school of thinking.
All in all, I was disappointed with this translation primarily because of its lack of fidelity to the spirit of Ramanuja's thinking. While it is a modern translation that avoids archaic English, I would not recommend this book to learn about the Sri Vaishnava/vishishtAdvaitc philosophy. At best, I would suggest using this book as a companion text to compare/contrast translations and commentaries, but at $50, I would not purchase this book merely to fill that role.

23 June 2013, 02:24 PM
Nice, clear and very articulate review. Would be interested in reading more of such