THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD is one of the eleven major Upanishads. It has special importance for students of Advaita Vedanta and Jnana Yoga because it’s the only Upanishad that sets forth the doctrine of the five sheaths (kosas) that envelop and conceal the Self like a scabbard holding a sword. The techniques of Jnana Yoga (including self-enquiry) are designed to dispel the illusion that these sheaths and the Self are one and the same. For Advaita Vedanta, self-realization is nothing more than the loss of this illusion.
According to this Upanishad, the five kosas fit one inside another like five socks slipped over the same foot. The outermost kosa is the annamaya-kosa or physical sheath (literally, food sheath). Inside it is the pranamaya-kosa or sheath made of prana (energy), which “fills the physical sheath as air fills a bellows.” Inside the prana sheath is the manomaya-kosa or mind sheath. Next is the vijnanamaya-kosa or sheath of intellect, and last is the anandamaya-kosa or sheath of bliss. Inside all five of them, as if sheltered in a cave, is the Self.
Every translation is a tradeoff between mutually incompatible goals, and the creator of this one has taken that principle to extremes by pursuing a literal one-to-one correspondence of words at the expense of everything else. The result is a faithful translation in a peculiar style whose syntax fails at times to qualify as English. Nevertheless, I confess I find the result not displeasing; it suggests to me some imaginary archaic English as old as the work itself.
In its original printed form, this translation was accompanied by translations of several commentaries including Sankaracharya’s. We have omitted the commentaries here on our website and include only the translator’s preface and the English version of the Upanishad.
The complete text of the original book, including both the Upanishad and commentaries, was recently reprinted in an excellent hardcover edition by Samata Books in Madras.
The translation was originally published in 1903, and its copyright has expired.
May 13, 2000
Translated by Swami Gambhirananda
This two-volume set is the translation we most highly recommend if you are a serious seeker who wants to understand the Upanishads as they have been traditionally understood in India. Sankara’s commentaries are included. The prose is straightforward and easy to read.
Swami Nikhilananda’s four-volume edition is also good but it’s more expensive.
Please note that this book is manufactured in India, and Indian books are a bit different from Western ones. If you want an edition manufactured in the US, get Swami Nikhilananda’s instead. It’s made with library bindings and high-quality paper.
Translated by Patrick Olivelle
This is the best Western academic translation of the Upanishads that has ever been made for a general audience. The translator, a professor at an American university, incorporates the full body of Western scholarship in his translated texts and notes.
Olivelle, like most Western scholars (he was born in Sri Lanka but educated in the West), is mainly concerned with uncovering the original meaning of texts as they were understood when they were composed, before the commentaries were written. Therefore he doesn’t assume the traditional commentaries on the Upanishads are correct. This is a very different approach than the one taken, for example, by Swamis Nikhilananda and Gambhirananda, who present the Upanishads and their interpretation by influential commentators as a single unified whole.
Olivelle alludes to this issue in his introduction:
“Even though this equation [Atman = Brahman] played a significant role in later developments of religion and theology in India and is the cornerstone of one of its major theological traditions, the Advaita Vedanta, it is incorrect to think that the single aim of all the Upanisads is to enunicate this simple truth.”
If you want a traditional, Vedantin translation, this book is not for you. But if you want to see how academic scholars interpret the Upanishads, this is one of the best books you can buy.
This book is available only in paperback. Digital and hardcover editions are not available. If you want a hardcover edition you have to buy a much more expensive book called The Early Upaniṣads which contains the same translations by Olivelle plus the Sanskrit text and more extensive notes. This second book is much more substantial, with a library-quality binding and thicker paper, but it costs ten times as much. We strongly recommend this second book but it’s too expensive for the average reader.
Translated by Shree Purohit Swami and W.B. Yeats
There are translations for the heart and for the head; those that recreate the poetic, literary greatness of the original, and those that aim at academic fidelity. This may be the best English translation of the first type that has ever been made of the Upanishads. Shri Purohit Swami was an enormously talented yogi who came to London in 1930, and W.B. Yeats was one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century.
This page was published on May 13, 2000 and last revised on July 8, 2017.