View Full Version : A Reading List for Newcomers

28 April 2014, 06:48 AM

With so many scriptures and commentaries, translations and schools of thought - I am thinking that I need the help of experienced hindus to guide me through this initial period of study.

What would you recommend I read, as a newcomer, to deepen and broaden my understanding? Which specific translations do you prefer, and why? And have there been any pieces of literature - essential or secondary - that have proved meaningful to you on your journey?

I have sort of been reading around Hinduism so far (often scholarly works by westerners), but recently I was gifted a Bhagavad Gita in the street by a Hare Krishna - and now I feel an urge to read the Mahabharata. So which one? And what else?

All best and thanks in advance for taking the time to offer reading suggestions.

brahma jijnasa
29 April 2014, 01:43 AM
Namaste KasparHauser

As you say, you are already aware that the world of Hindu dharma is very diverse with many different traditions (sampradayas), their teachers (acaryas), their interpretations and commentaries.

If you're interested in the Vaishnava tradition, translation with commentary on the Bhagavad gita by Srila Prabhupada (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami) will be a good introduction to the insight into a vaishnava understanding of the Hindu dharma holy scriptures such as Bhagavad gita, Mahabharata, Puranas, Upanishads, etc. So I'm saying if you study Srila Prabhupada's commentary on the Bhagavad gita and his other books (see at www.vedabase.com or www.vedabase.net) not only will you gain insight into the teaching of the Gita but also the other scriptures because Srila Prabhupada in his commentary quoted many different Hindu dharma scriptures to explain their points from different angles of view. Thus you can learn a lot from the Srila Prabhupada's books and his commentaries on Bhagavad gita and Bhagavatam.

It is also said that it is precisely the Bhagavad gita a scripture that gives a basic overview of all Vedic knowledge, and it is therefore a good start in order to gain enough knowledge that will help you easily studying many other Hindu dharma scriptures in the future.

Scholarly works on Hindu dharma is not good to read because what you can learn from these books?
From these books you will probably learn that God does not exist, that the Hindu dharma scriptures are not God's revelation but were composed by people in some century or millennium in the past, that there are older Vedic scriptures and some newer post Vedic scriptures, ... etc, all these are some ideas that are not accepted by any Hindu tradition (sampradaya) and no traditional teacher (acarya) would have ever accepted. In search for a true Hindu dharma I advise you to stay away from these books at a distance of at least a million light-years away, literally.
It is always better to read books written by some traditional Hindu dharma teacher. Here are a couple of good introductory books by Srila Prabhupada:
This is Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, a book that is actually a transcript of interviews with Srila Prabhupada. Easy to read and can serve as an introduction to "more difficult" books by Srila Prabhupada.

This is Life Comes from Life, a book that speaks about the theory of modern science that life emerged from matter, from chemicals, and about Vedic explanation that life is a symptom of a spiritual soul, and that life can not be obtained from the interaction of chemicals.

Eventually you would want to read some other scriptures such as Itihasas (Mahabharata, Ramayana), Puranas (Bhagavatam, Vishnu Purana, ...), Upanishads, etc.
It is well known fact that all revealed Hindu dharma holy scriptures are written in Sanskrit. Itihasas and Puranas are written in simpler Sanskrit whereas the Upanishads are written in more complicated and more difficult Sanskrit. Simpler Sanskrit of Itihasas and Puranas makes them simpler and more easily to translate. This practically means that the translators do not have great difficulty in translating Mahabharata's Sanskrit into English, and English translations of various translators do not differ much. So, whatever translation you chose, it will serve, more or less good.
Completely different is the situation with Upanishads because they are written in more complicated and more difficult Sanskrit which makes them more difficult to translate. This practically means that the translators do have great difficulty in translating their Sanskrit into English, and English translations of various translators differ very much. I've already talked about it earlier: http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?p=105681#post105681

Think well before you choose a translation of some Upanishad. At least you should be aware that the translations are greatly influenced by the tradition (sampradaya) the translator is leaning to. Each translator has a preference towards a certain tradition and the philosophy of that tradition. So the most likely his translation will be under the influence of that tradition.
Actually a good idea would be to take several different translations of the same text and go slowly through the text comparing translations of each other.
I always prefer the translations given by the Vaishnava translators.


29 April 2014, 04:22 AM
Namaste KH,

I have sort of been reading around Hinduism so far (often scholarly works by westerners), but recently I was gifted a Bhagavad Gita in the street by a Hare Krishna - and now I feel an urge to read the Mahabharata. So which one? And what else?

It would have been better if you would have given your background in spirituality. See, Hindu Dharma is like an Ocean and many Hindus even the born ones never know how vast it is in their lifetime. Are you an intellectual type spiritual person or just a strong believer in God ? In this Dharma you will find some paths who preach entirely different and even conflicting ways to reach the Ultimate !

My intention is not to scare you away but I would like you to be ready before you get confused by listening to different points of views on one issue from different Hindus. As far as Bhagwad Gita is concerned, it has been commented upon by teachers of many sects in their own ways and you find vast difference in their understanding.

My suggestion is that you should start with Bhagwad Gita but keep in mind that its actual meaning might not have been conveyed in the commentary that you are reading. The best is that you pick up translation which is least tampered with opinions. I really don't know the best one as I found that it is better to study Sanskrit and translate it yourself as far as you can do. Still, you may try these translations :





08 December 2014, 12:17 PM
Namaste again,

It is a few months on from my original post and curiosity has led me through a number of Hindu scriptures. I have selected a few further pieces that I would like to read but am having trouble either sourcing the books or finding out which English translations are most reliable.

The books are:
Tripura Rahasya - Editions are available by Munagala S.Venkataramiah & Swami Sri Ramananda Saraswathi. Which do you recommend?
Lalitāsahasranāmabhāsya - Is this commentary even available in English?
Sri Gurucharitra - Only English version I have found does not seem like a good translation.
Madhaviya Sankaravijaya - Difficult to source. If anyone knows of a good English version of this or other biographies of Shankara I'd much appreciate it.

Also, feel free to make any further reading suggestions in this thread.

All best.

P.S. Many thanks to those who responded to the original post.