Selected Upanishads read by Christopher Isherwood Vinyl LPs


Selected Upanishads Read by Christopher Isherwood
Original 1976 Vinyl LP 2-record Set

GT4001-LP 2-Record Set
$15.95 + Media Mail Shipping (& Taxes in California) 


ISHA (2:10), KATHA (20:16), AITAREYA (4:35), BRIHADARANYAKA (19:45), MUNDAKA (9:55),  SVETASVATARA (13:20), KENA (6:30), TAITTIRIYA (7:45), CHANDOGYA (9:43)  

This recording contains materials deleted from the CD due to time constraints: Mundaka Upanishad and Kena Upanishad

Original Liner notes  

Back Cover:

The Upanishads, from which these selections have been recorded, form the concluding portion of the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest and most important scriptures of India. There are four Vedas — the Rik, the Sama, The Yajur, and the Atharva. Each Veda comprises two parts: a work portion and a knowledge portion. The work portion includes prayers, hymns, rules of conduct, and instruction for the performance of sacrificial rituals and duties. The knowledge portion consists of the Upanishads. It is also known as Vedanta.  

The Vedas are, to the Hindu, as nearly as any human document can be, the expression of divine truth. And he believes that a sincere aspirant, by practicing spiritual disciplines under qualified guidance, can, through his own experience, verify the truths of Vedas. The scriptures themselves uphold the position that their validity lies in their capacity for verification. The real study, declares the Upanishads, is not of the Upanishads but of that “by which we realize the changeless.”

The word upanishad means sitting nearby,” bringing to mind the picture of a disciple learning from his teacher. It also means “secret teaching,” the teaching which may be imparted only to those who are fit to receive it. A third meaning is given by the great philosopher Shankara, who defined upanishad as “the knowledge of Brahman, the knowledge that destroys the bonds of ignorance and leads to the supreme goal of freedom.”

The most authoritative opinion assigns the earliest of the Upanishads to a period between 3000 B.C. and 800 B.C. One hundred and eight Upanishads have been preserved, these ranging in length from a few hundred to many thousands of words. Some of them are in prose, some in verse, and some in a combination of the two. Ten Upanishads are regarded as being of major importance and they have become the principal source for the study of the Hindu religion.

The ancient sages of the Upanishads reported the mystical experiences revealed to them in exalted states of spiritual realization. Their visions and insights were later developed into philosophical systems. But whatever philosophical views may be derived from a reading of these great religious documents, the fundamental fact remains that they stand as a witness of an unchangeable reality behind the universe of change, and that this reality is identical with the essential reality of man.

Swami Prabhavananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India, is a noted author on religion and philosophy and a translator of India’s spiritual classics. His point of view is different from that of a Western scholar, in that he speaks always as one born to the religious tradition of India. The aim of the Prabhavananda-Manchester translation has been to convey in clear and simple English the sense and spirit of the original.

Christopher Isherwood is the well-known writer who collaborated with Swami Prabhavananda in translating the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, and Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination.

Special thanks to Christopher Isherwood for reading the selections, to Jan Steward for designing the album, to Charles Mitchell and Jon Monday for supervising the production, and to Dorris Carlson without whose encouragement and help this recording would not have been made.


Original 1976 Interior Notes


The Isha Upanishad derives its name from the opening word of the text. It is first in the traditional order of the Upanishads, partly because of the spiritual significance of its contents and partly because it is the only Upanishad found in a Samhita (a portion of the Vedas concerned with hymns). It forms the last chapter of the White Yajur Veda Samhita. This Upanishad lays down two paths for spiritual aspirants: the path of knowledge and the path of work. The end of both is to know the Self within and Brahman without (imminent and transcendant reality) and to realize their identity.


In the heart of all things, of whatever there is in the universe,

dwells the Lord.

He alone is the reality.

Wherefore, renouncing vain appearances, rejoice in him.

Covet no man’s wealth.


Well may he be content to live a hundred years

who acts without attachment —

who works his work with earnestness, but without desire,

not yearning for its fruits —

he, and he alone.



Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness.

To these, after death, go the ignorant,

slayers of the Self.


The Self is one.

Unmoving, it moves swifter than thought.

The senses do not overtake it, for always it goes before.

Remaining still, it outstrips all that run.

Without the Self, there is no life.


To the ignorant the Self appears to move — yet it moves not.

From the ignorant it is far distant — yet it is near.

It is within all, and it is without all.


He who sees all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings,

hates none.


To the illumined soul, the Self is all.

For him who sees everywhere oneness,

how can there be delusion or grief?



This Upanishad is one of the most poetic and popular of all the Upanishads and belongs to the Black Yajur Veda. By relating the teachings of the King of death to the boy Nachiketa, it illustrates how the qualified spiritual seeker, who purifies his heart through meditation, obtains the secret of immortality.


Know that the self is the rider and the body the chariot;

that the intellect is the charioteer and the mind the reins.


The senses, say the wise, are the horses;

the roads they travel are the maze of desire.

The wise call the self the enjoyer

when he is united with the body, the sense, and the mind.


When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled,

his senses are unmanageable,

like the restive horses of a charioteer.

But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled,

his senses,

like the well-broken horses of a charioteer,

lightly obey the rein.


He who lacks discrimination,

whose mind is unsteady and whose heart is impure,

never reaches the goal,

but is born again and again.

But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady and whose heart is oure,

reaches the goal,

and having reached it

is born no more.



The Aitereya Upanishad belongs to a part of the Rig Veda which, according to modern scholars, originated probably more than three thousand years ago. This Upanishad takes its name from the sage Mahidasa Aitereya, whose mother’s name was Itara — hence Aitereya. According to tradition, Mahidasa’s father had other sons whom he loved more than Mahidasa. In a sacrificial assembly Mahidasa was denied the privilege of sitting on his father’s lap. Itara, grieved by the plight of her son, prayed to the Goddess Earth, who, in response to her prayer, appeared in divine form.  She placed Mahidasa on a celestial seat and imparted wisdom to him. Thus enlightened, Mahidasa Aitereya later revealed that part of the Veda known by his name. Essentially, this Upanishad teaches that the reality behind this universe is Brahman — Existence-Knowledge-Bliss absolute.

The opening chant of the Aitereya Upanishad follows:


May my speech be one with my mind,

and may my mind be one with my speech.

O thou self-luminous Brahman,

remove the veil of ignorance from before me,

that I may behold thy light.

Do thou reveal to me the spirit of the scriptures.

May the truth of the scriptures be ever present to me.

May I seek day and night to realize

what I learn from the sages.

May I speak the truth of Brahman.

May I speak the truth.

May it protect me.

May it protect my teacher.

OM…Peace — peace — peace.




Brihat means great. This Upanishad is great not only in size but in content and importance as well. A part of the White Yajur Veda, it consists of six chapters called Aranyaka, as it was taught in the forest (aranya). This Upanishad exemplifies the lofty philosophy of Vedanta by teaching the realization of the Self as the goal of life. The method presented is hearing the truth, reflecting upon it, and meditating upon it.

From an ethical standpoint, a teaching of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is dramatically conveyed in the selection that follows: the exhortation that all should practice self-control, charity, and compassion in order to eradicate the tendencies of lust, greed, and anger.  

Gods, men and asuras (demons) —

all three descendants of Prajapati (the Creator) —

lived with him for a time as students.


Then the gods said, “Teach us, sir!”

In reply Prajapati uttered one syllable “Da.”

Then he said: “Have you understood?”

They answered, “Yes, we have understood. You said to us

‘Damayata — Be self-controlled.’”

“Yes,” agreed Prajapati, “you have understood.”


Then the men said, “Teach us, sir!”

In reply Prajapati uttered one syllable “Da.”

Then he said: “Have you understood?”

They answered, “Yes, we have understood. You said to us

‘Datta — Be charitable.’”

“Yes,” agreed Prajapati, “you have understood.”


Then the asuras said, “Teach us, sir!”

In reply Prajapati uttered one syllable “Da.”

Then he said: “Have you understood?”

They answered, “Yes, we have understood. You said to us

‘Dayadhwam — Be compassionate.’”

“Yes,” agreed Prajapati, “you have understood.”


The storm cloud thunders:

“Da! Da! Da!” —

“Be self-controlled! Be charitable! Be compassionate!”




The Mundaka Upanishad forms a part of the Atharva Veda. This Upanishad takes its name from the Sanskrit mund, “to shave,” and mundaka, shaven head, referring to a monk. It is said that the supreme wisdom so lucidly taught in this Upanishad removes the veil of ignorance obscuring the Self (the Atman) just as a razor shaves the hair of the head. Also, this Upanishad emphasizes the need of renunciation for the attainment of liberation from worldly bondage.


Affix to the Upanishad,
the bow incomparable, the sharp arrow of devotional worship;

then, with mind absorbed and heart melted in love,

draw the arrow and hit the mark —

the imperishable Brahman.


OM is the bow, the arrow is the individual being,

and Brahman is the target.

With a tranquil heart, take aim.

Lose thyself in him, even as the arrow is lost in the target.


In him are woven heaven, earth, and sky,

Together with the mind and all the senses.

Know him, the Self alone.

Give up vain talk.

He is the bridge of immortality.


Within the lotus of the heart he dwells,

where,  like the spokes of the wheel in its hub, the nerves meet.

Meditate on him as OM.

Easily mayest thou cross the sea of darkness.


This self,

who understands all, who knows all,

and whose glory is manifest in the universe,

lives within the lotus of the heart,

the bright throne of Brahman.


By the pure in heart is he known.

The Self exists in man, within the lotus of the heart,

and is the master of his life and of his body.

With mind illumined by the power of meditation,

the wise know him, the blissful, the immortal.


The knot of the heart, which is ignorance, is loosed,

all doubts are dissolved, all evil effects of deeds are destroyed,

when he who is both personal and impersonal is realized.


In the effulgent lotus of the heart dwells Brahman,

who is passionless and indivisible.

He is pure, he is the light of lights.

Him the knowers of the Self attain.


Like two bird of golden plumage, inseparable companions,

the individual self and the immortal Self are perched

on the branches of the selfsame tree.

The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree;

the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.


The individual self,

deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self,

bewildered by his ego,

grieves and is sad.


when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self,

and beholds his glory,

he grieves no more.


When the seer beholds the Effulgent One,
the Lord, the Supreme Being,


transcending both good and evil, and freed from impurities,

he unites himself with him.


The Lord is the one life shining forth from every creature.

Seeing him present in all,

the wise man is humble, puts not himself forward.

His delight is in the Self, his joy is in the Self,

He serves the Lord in all.

Such as he, indeed, are the true knowers of Brahman.



The Svetasvatara Upanishad, which is part of the Black Yajur Veda, receives its name from the sage who taught it. Its importance is testified to by the fact that it is one of the eleven Upanishads on which the great philosopher Shankara wrote commentaries. Its emphasis is not on the impersonal and changeless but on the personal aspect of the ultimate reality. Containing ideas akin to all three great philosophical standpoints — dualism, qualified nondualism, and nondualism — this Upanishad is an attempt to reconcile various conflicting religious and philosophical views of its times. The Svetasvatara Upanishad contains some of the most poetic and sublime passages in the entire Upanishadic literature.


Hear, all ye children of immortal bliss,

also ye gods who dwell in the high heavens:

Follow only in the footsteps of the illumined ones,

and by continuous meditation

merge both mind and intellect in the eternal Brahman.

The glorious Lord will be revealed to you.


Control the vital force.

Set fire to the Self within by the practice of meditation.

Be drunk with the wine of divine love.

Thus shall you reach perfection.


Said the great seer Svetasvatara:

I have known, beyond all darkness,

that great person of golden effulgence.

Only by knowing him does one conquer death.

There is no other way of escaping the wheel

of birth, death, and rebirth.


There is nothing superior to him, nothing different from him,

nothing subtler or greater than he.

Alone he stands, changeless, self-luminous;

he, the Great One, fills this universe.


Though he fills the universe, he transcends it.

He is untouched by its sorrow.


He has no form.

Those who know him become immortal.

Others remain in the depths of misery.


The Lord God, all-pervading and omnipresent,

dwells in the heart of all beings.

Full of grace, he ultimately gives liberation to all creatures

by turning their faces towards himself.


He is the innermost Self.

He is the great Lord.

He it is that reveals the purity within the heart

by means of which he, who is pure being, may be reached.

He is the ruler.

He is the great Light, shining forever.



The Sanskrit word Kena means “by whom,” and like the Isha, this Upanishad owes its name to its first word. Found in the Sama Veda, the Kena Upanishad is half verse and half prose. The first part deals with the unqualified Brahman, the absolute principle underlying the phenomenal world. The second half contains a charming allegory (included in this recording), which illustrates that the power behind every activity of nature and of man is the power of Brahman.


The peace chant of the Kena Upanishad follows:


May quietness descend upon my limbs,

My speech, my breath my eyes, me ears;

May all my senses wax clear and strong.

May Brahman show himself unto me.

Never may I deny Brahman or Brahman me.

I with him and he with me — may we abide always together.

May there be revealed to me,

Who am devoted to Brahman,

The holy truth of the Upanishads.

OM . . . Peace — peace — peace.




The Taittiriya Upanishad belongs to the Black Yajur Veda and is one of the most authoritative and widely studied texts on Vedanta philosophy. It comprises three chapters. The subject matter of the first is concerned with rules of right conduct; the second with the study of and meditation on Brahman; and the third with the revelations of the sage Brighu. The excerpt here is from the second chapter.


The Self-Existent is the essence of all felicity.

Who could live, who could breath,

if that blissful Self dwelt not within the lotus of the heart?

He it is that gives joy.


When a man finds existence and unity in the Self —

who is the basis of life,

who is beyond the senses,

who is formless, inexpressible, beyond all predicates —

then alone does he transcend fear.

So long as there is the least idea of separation from him,

there is fear.

To the man who thinks himself learned,

yet knows not himself as Brahman,

Brahman, who drives away all fear, appears as fear itself.


Concerning which truth it is written:

Through fear of Brahman the wind blows and the sun shines;

through fear of him

Indra, the god of rain, Agni, the god of fire,

and Yama, the god of death,

perform their tasks.


He who is the Self in man, and he who is the Self in the sun,

are one.


Verily, he who knows this truth overcomes the world;

he transcends the physical sheath,

he transcends the vital sheath,

he transcends the mental sheath,

he transcends the sheath of the ego.


It is written: He who knows the joy of Brahman,

which words cannot express and the mind cannot reach,

is free form fear.

He is not distressed by the thought,

“Why did I not do what is right? Why did I do what is wrong?”

He knows the joy of Brahman,

knowing both good and evil,

transcends both.




The Chandogya Upanishad is part of the Sama Veda. Chandoga is the singer of the Saman (or Vedic hymn). Sri Krishna gave special honor to the Sama Veda in the Bhagavad-Gita, declaring: “Of the Vedas, I am the Sama Veda.”

The Chandogya Upanishad says, in essence, that Brahman is all. From Brahman comes appearances, sensations, desires, deeds. But all these are merely name and form. To know Brahman one must experience the identity between him and the Self, or Brahman dwelling in the heart. Only by so doing can man escape from sorrow and death.


Within the city of Brahman, which is the body,

there is the heart,

and within the heart there is a little house.

This house has the shape of a lotus,

and within it dwells that which is to be sought after,

inquired about, and realized.


What then is that which, dwelling within this little house,

this lotus of the heart,

is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized?


As large as the universe outside,

even so large is the universe within the lotus of the heart.

Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon,

the lightening, and all the stars.

What is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm.


All things that exist, all beings and all desires,

are in the city of Brahman;

what then becomes of them when old age approaches

and the body dissolves in death?


Though old age comes to the body,

the lotus of the heart does not grow old.

At death of the body, it does not die.

The lotus of the heart, where Brahman exists in all his glory —

that, and not the body, is the true city of Brahman.

Brahman, dwelling therein, is untouched by any deed,

ageless, deathless, free from grief,

free from hunger and from thirst.

His desires are right desires,

and his desires are fulfilled.  



The Selected Upanishads CD is an edited and re-mastered re-issue of this 1976 LP. Issued with permission of Vedanta Press. The book Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal from which these readings are taken, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, as well as other related works are available from Vedanta Press.

Original Recording © 1976 Vedanta Society of Southern California
Related works at Vedanta Press