This is a legendary story of a little boy Nachiketas, barely ten years old, son of Sage Vajasravasa. Nachiketa meets Yama (The Death God in Hindu philosophy) and get answers of his question: ‘What is Death?”
Through conversation, Lord Yama reveals “Supreme Knowledge” to Nachiketa, the knowledge of the nature Atman and the path to gain Wisdom, Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
Sage Vajasravasa wished to perform a sacrifice called Vishwajit (Sarva Dakshina), meaning victory over the whole universe. Through such sacrifice, the performer aims to gain the fruit of gaining a higher world and enjoy the pleasures there. (Vajasrava means a Giver). The boy faced wrath of his father after completion of sacrificial fire , when he found there was fault in the part of his father. As such the boy was offered to Yama, by his father in anger.
Finally he got the desired knowledge from Yama when he exhibited “Mumukshautva” (intense desire to seek Wisdom) and Vairagya(dispassion for all worldly pleasures).
The Story in details:-
Sage Vajasravasa, desiring Heaven, rewards, performed the Visvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property as gift[Dakshina]. He had a son by name Nachiketa.
Gifts not worth the name:
When the gifts were being distributed, Nachiketa, who was still a boy said to himself: Joyless, surely, are the worlds to which he goes who gives away cows no longer able to drink, to eat. to give milk, or to calve. He went to his father and said: Father! To whom will you give me? Nachiketa repeated this question second and a third time. At last his father got angry and replied: ‘Unto death I offer you’.
Nachiketa then proceeded to meet the king of Death: “Yama”
Nachiketa thought: whether I die now or later matters a little. What purpose of the King of Death will my father serve today by thus giving me away to Death? Nachiketa said: Think of those who went before, those that will come after. Man dies and born again like a blade of grass. A mortal ripens like a corn and corn springs up again.
"Man dies and is born again like a blade of grass. This means seed grows only to fall and fall only to grow. This is the cycle of human life because birth and death are correlatives."
Lord Yama’s Instructions on Hospitality:
Nachiketa went into the forest and sat in meditation within the house of Death. Death king Yama was out of his kingdom on his job. When Death appeared his servant said: Lord! when a holy man enters a house as guest it is as if fire has entered. The wise man cools him down. So bring him water O king of Death!
If a holy man comes into fool’s house and is given nothing, the fool’s family, public and private life, ambitions, reputation, property, hopes alliances, all suffer. Thereupon Lord Yama said to Nachiketa: ‘A guest should be respected. You have dwelt in my house three nights without eating; I bow to you O holy Boy! Take from me three boons[gifts]. Choose now three boons, one for each night, O Brahmin! may all be well with me’!
The First Boon:
Nachiketa said: ‘O Death! may Gautama, my father, be calm, cheerful and free from anger toward me! may he recognise me and greet me when I shall have been sent home by you! This I choose as the first of three boons’.
Death grants the first boon!
King of Death said: ‘I will so arrange things, that your father, will recognise and love you as before and he will sleep peacefully at night and his grudge against you will vanish’.
The Second Boon:
Nachiketa said: ‘ There is no fear in the kingdom of Heaven, because you are not there, nobody there is afraid of old age. man is beyond hunger, thirst and sorrow. You know, O Death! Please explain me what Fire leads to Heaven, show it, I am full of faith. I ask this as my second boon.’
Death said: ‘ I will explain it, listen! find the rock and conquer unmeasured worlds. Listen, for this came out of cavern.’
Death grants the second boon!
Yama told him that out of Fire comes this world, what bricks and how many go to the alter, how best to build it. Nachiketa repeated all. Death encouraged ran on. I give you another gift. This fire shall be called by your name. Count the links of the chain:
*Worship the triple Fire:1) Knowledge, 2) Meditation, and 3) practice.
*The triple process:1) Evidence, 2) Inference, and 3) Experience.
* The triple duty:1) Study, 2) Concentration, and 3) Renunciation.
Understand that everything comes from Brahman. That Brahman alone is sought and found, attain everlasting peace; mount beyond Birth and Death.
***Here, Fire means Energy-
King of Death continued: ‘ When man understands himself, understands Universal self, the union of the two, kindles the triple Fire, offers the sacrifice; then shall he, though still on Earth, break the bonds of Death, beyond sorrow, mount into Heaven.[ **This is liberation, while living on Earth]
The Nachiketa Agni[Fire]:
The perfect sacrifice is explained by Yama.
Out of fire arises all that exists in the Universe. Mastering this, one gains mastery over any field of human activity, and acquires whatever one desires in terms of worldly prosperity and power. However, it is all within the transitory realm; all gains here are impermanent. Nachiketas very attentively listened and was able to follow what was said. He repeated all that Yama explained. Being happy with Nachiketas, Yama encouraged and said " I will give you another gift. This fire shall be called by your name." And it is known as"Nachiketas Fire".
‘The Fire that leads to heaven is your second gift, Nachiketa! It shall be named after you. Now choose the third gift.’
The Third Boon:
The secret of Death!!!
Nachiketa said: ‘Some say that when man dies he continues to exist, others say that he does not. Explain, and that shall be my third gift.’
It is too difficult for you Nachiketa!
Death said: ‘ This question has been discussed by the gods, it is deep and difficult. choose another gift, Nachiketa! Do not be so hard. Do not compel me to explain.
Nachiketa said: ‘Indeed on this matter, even by the gods doubts have been entertained. You also say, O Death, that this principle is not truly comprehendible easily. But a teacher like you can explain this. Another such teacher I shall never find. therefore, I have no option before me but this. No other boon equal to this there be for me to choose!
To continue in the next part….
Third gift was indeed granted and it is a great part of the story, where the words of wisdom are the main essence. To be published in the second part, or else it will be a very lengthy blog.
Interested readers may go through the following post
*** This story is from Katha Upanishad.Kathopanishad is part of Krishna Yajurveda and consists of two Chapters. Each Chapter has three sections. This Upanishad is a favourite one in all ages and it is placed in third position in the list of Ten Principal Upanishads.
Through this dialogue between Nachiketa and Lord of Death, the response of Death has to be observed minutely! Every one is interested to know the secret of Death! But what are the conditions that an aspirant should posses to know the secret. That discussion proceeds from here onwards.
☆The article is purely based on my studies, my thoughts, my concept, my beliefs, my experiences and self realization.
☆I found some link between modern science(Quantum mechanics) and teachings of ancient sages as mentioned in Vedanta, regarding Universe, Supreme Consciousness or the Ultimate truth , the Ultimate Reality whatever we say.
☆ The term “MAN” wherever used in this entire text is intended to consider as “HUMAN” irrespective of gender differences.
♡ Having gone through the Vedanta/ancient texts, commentaries, translated by different writers, translators, publishers on the same topic, I have tried my best to share the subject matter as I understood and convinced too. My intention is to reach to you with the topic that I found very useful for human lives. I am not good in English literature. Please give your valuable suggestions for the improvement and valuable inputs to make the text beneficial for mankind.
☆ The Spiritual context is purely based on ancient sacred texts. Sanskrit slokas are taken from books and websites. There may be little variation in the translations and commentaries. I have shared my own views and explanations according to my concept gathered in the subject through experience and intuitions. There is no discrimination against any religion, race, cast or creed.
Your feedback will be highly appreciated. I am sure that the subject matter is highly logical and does not bring any conflict. Hope you will enjoy reading. Regards. NAMASTE.
प्रथमाध्यायेप्रथमा वल्ली॥ Introduction:-
Katha Upanishad(Kathopanishad) is one among ten principal Upanishads and part of Krishna Yajurveda. Katha Upanishad consists of two Adhayas (Chapters). Each Chapter has three Vallis (sections). This is a legendary story of a little boy Nachiketas, barely ten years old, son of SageVajasravasa (also known as sage Gautama), who meets Yama (The Death God in Hindu philosophy). Through conversation, Yama reveals Supreme Knowledge to Nachiketas, the knowledge of the nature Atman and the path to gain Wisdom, Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). Vajasravasa wished to perform a sacrifice called Vishwajit (Sarva Dakshina), meaning victory over the whole universe. Through such sacrifice, the performer aims to gain the fruit of going to a higher world and enjoying the pleasures there. (Vajasrava means a Giver). The boy faced wrath of his father after completion of sacrificial fire , when he found there was fault in the part of his father. as such the boy was offered to Yama, by his father in anger. finally he got the desired knowledge from Yama when he exhibited Mumukshautva(intense desire to seek wisdom) and vairagya(dispassion for all worldly pleasures).
Katha Upanishad : — It gives a direct teaching to the spiritual aspirant.
Desiring heavenly enjoyment, sage Gautama performed a sacrifice(rituals part of karma kanda) called “Sarva Dakshina” . After completion of Sacrifice, Nachiketas, son of Sage Gautama, noticed something not quite right about the gifts that were being presented to the priests. Nachiketas thought: ” These cows have drunk water for the last time, and eaten grass for the last time. They have yielded all their milk means can not yield more. They have lost their senses and can be treated as barren. They were totally useless. (1.1.3)
Nachiketas went to his father and asked, ” sa hovaca pitram taata, Kasmai maam daasyasi?” iti;” means ” To whom you have given me as “sarva dakshina“? Three times asked Nachiketa this question. His father was angry and replied, “Mrityave tvaa dadaami! iti.” means ” Unto death I offer you”(1.1.4)
“kimsvid yamasya kartavyam; yat mayaa adya karishyati” Nachiketas thought; ” Whether I die now or later hardly matters; but what would I like to know is what happens if Death gets me now ? (1.1.5) .
The Glory of upholding tradition:
” asyam iva martyah pachyate; sasyam iva aajaayate” Vajasrava would have taken back his words, but Nachiketas said: ” Think of those who went before and those who will come after; their words their bound. “Man dies and is born again like a blade of grass. This means seed grows only to fall and fall only to grow. This is the cycle of human life because birth and death are correlatives.” 1.1.6
Nachiketa then proceeded to Yama -loka.Upon reaching Lord Yama’s abode, he found Yama was out of his kingdom and he was on his usual duty to Martya Loka. Nachiketa waited for three days and nights and refused to accept food that was offered by the ministers of Yama. On Yama’s return, his ministers informed him that one atithih (guest) is waiting for him.
Lord Yama’s Instructions on Hospitality:
वैश्वानरः प्रविशत्यतिथिर्ब्राह्मणोगृहान् ।तस्यैताँशान्तिं कुर्वन्ति हर वैवस्वतोदकम् ॥ ७
When a Brahmana (holy man) enters a house as a guest it is as if Fire has entered. The wise man cools him down. So please give him water. We should pacify guest, as is customary. A guest who comes of his own accord, an atithih -means the one who come without a particular tithih ( particular time or particular day) is regarded as God.(1.1.7)
आशाप्रतीक्षेसंगतँसूनृतां चेष्टापूर्ते पुत्रपशूँश्च सर्वान् ।एतद्वृङ्क्ते पुरुषस्याल्पमेधसो यस्यानश्नन्वसति ब्राह्मणोगृहे॥ ८
Of the person in whose house a guest starves, is not being given, even when asked for; of that person, the guest goes away taking all virtues and merits, and also lives of all children and cows; all these are destroyed.(1.1.8)
As such, Yama said to Nachiketas; ” you have dwelt three nights in my house; without food, O venerable Brahmana guest, I beg of you, O Brahmana, be good to me. Hence, in return, please choose three boons.”[1.1.9] And so, Nachiketas asked his boons one by one.
Nachiketas said: ” I will take as my first gift that I may be reconciled to my father, that he may be happy, that he may keep no grudge against me and when I am sent back to him by you, may he greet me and recognize me“.[1.1.10] Yama grants the first boon! [1.1.11]
The Second Boon:
स्वर्गे लोके न भयं किंचनास्ति;न तत्र त्वं न जरया बिभेति ।
उभेतीर्त्वाऽशनायापिपासे;शोकातिगोमोदतेस्वर्गलोके ॥ १२ ॥
Nachiketas said: ” There is no fear in the kingdom of Heaven; because you are not there, nobody there is afraid of old age; man is beyond hunger, thirst and sorrow. being free from such grief, one rejoices there.” [1.1.12]Nachiketas continued: ” you know that fire sacrifice which leads to Heaven, O Yama; Explain that to me. I am full of faith. I pray for this knowledge as my second boon.” [ 1.1.13]. Yama grants the second boon!
Lord Yama says to Nachiketas: ” I will explain it, you must learn it well from me. The fire sacrifice that leads one to heaven- O Nachiketas, I am well versed in it. It is a means to attain eternal heaven( Hiranyagarbha Loka or Brahma Loka); and it is also the support of the Universe. You should know that knowledge to be seated in the hidden cave of the intellect.[1.1.14] ** Beyond Brahma loka, it is the unmanifest , causal state of the Universe when it goes into cosmic dissolution. Beyond even this is the unconditioned Absolute Brahman.
Detailed Knowledge is Taught!
लोकादिमग्निं तमुवाच तस्मै;या इष्टका यावतीर्वा यथा वा । स चापि तत्प्रत्यवदद्यथोक्तं;अथास्य मृत्युः पुनरेवाह तुष्टः ॥ १५॥
The perfect sacrifice is explained by Yama. Out of fire arises all that exists in the Universe. Mastering this, one gains mastery over any field of human activity, and acquires whatever one desires in terms of worldly prosperity and power. However, it is all within the transitory realm; all gains here are impermanent. Nachiketas very attentively listened and was able to follow what was said. He repeated all that Yama explained. Being happy with Nachiketas, Yama encouraged and said ” I will give you another gift. This fire shall be called by your name.” And it is known as “Nachiketas Fire”.
Yama explained: “Count the links of the chain. Worship “Trinachiketah” the triple Fire: Knowledge, meditation, practice, “TribhihSandhim” :the triple process: evidence, inference, experience; “Trikarmakrit”:the triple duty: study, concentration, renunciation; understand ” Brahmaja-jnam” that everything comes from Brahman, that Brahman alone is sought and found ;attain everlasting peace; mount beyond birth and death. When man understands himself, understands Universal Self, the union of the two, kindles the triple Fire, offers sacrifice; then shall he , though still on earth, break the bonds of death, beyond sorrow, mount into heaven”. [1.1.16 & 1.1.17]
Nachiketas said: ” Some say that when man dies he continues to exist, others that he does not. Please explain. This is my third boon”.[1.1.20]
Lord Yama’s response:
देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं पुरा न हि सुविज्ञेयमणुरेष धर्मः ।अन्यं वरं नचिकेतोवृणीष्व;मा मोपरोत्सीरति मा सृजैनम् ॥ २१॥
Lord Yama replied: ” This question has been discussed by the Devatas(gods), it is deep and difficult. choose another gift, Nachiketas! Do not be hard. Please do not compel me to explain.[1.1.21]
देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं किल त्वं च मृत्योयन्न सुज्ञेयमात्थ ।वक्ता चास्य त्वादृगन्यो न लभ्यो नान्यो वरस्तुल्य एतस्य कश्चित् ॥ २२॥
Nachiketas said:” Indeed, on this matter, even by the gods doubt have been entertained! That it is so deep and difficult; what explanation can be as good as yours? No other boon equal to this can there be.[1.1.22]
शतायुषः पुत्रपौत्रान्वृणीष्वा; बहून्पशून् हस्तिहिरण्यमश्वान् ।भूमेर्महदायतनं वृणीष्व;स्वयं च जीव शरदोयावदिच्छसि ॥ २३॥
Lord Yama starts tempting Nachiketas:
Yama says:” Take sons and grand sons, all long lived ( centenarians) , cattle and horses, elephants and gold, take a great kingdom. From this vast Earth (over which I rule), choose an estate of any size; and for yourself a long life consisting of as many autumns(years) as you like. [1.1.23]
Yama tempts Nachiketas a bit more: Includes Heavenly and Sexual Pleasures”[1.1.24-25]
Yama offers Heavenly & Sexual Pleasures. Says for pleasures beyond human reach, fine women with carriages, their musical instruments; mount beyond dreams, enjoy. But do not ask to know what lies beyond death. Finding that even these extreme pleasures are having no effect on the boy, Yama plays for an offer that has unfailingly worked on many. The most tantalizing and demoralizing, of all sensual objects is beautiful woman. Yama’s ultimate weapon is now MAYA.[1.1.24-25]
Nachiketas said: ” Destroyer of man! these things pass. This is ephemeral world. The longest life is short here. Man with all the sense organs are subject to death and decay. Keep those horses, keep singing and dancing, keep it all for yourself. Wealth can not satisfy a man. If he but please you, Master of all, he can live as long as he likes, get all that he likes. Hence, the boon that is worth praying for by me is “THAT” alone. [1.1.26-27
Nachiketas chooses Wisdom over Folly and stick to his original boon.
Nachiketas said:” I have reached to the proximity of immortals. When I know being a perishable mortal self , why will I rejoice in wanting extended span of life? Please say where does man go after death?.
Conclusion: Temptations are to be discarded through “Viveka”.
The story is nothing but an example of teaching of the Supreme Knowledge. Here Teacher is Lord of Death ” Yama” and the student is “Nachiketas”. In this “Valli” (first part, first section),the message to be taken away is : Beware of all temptations !!. Temptations only make us down fall. The temptation that was offered to Lord Buddha and in other stories in puranas are relevant here. When temptations come, one can not recognise them as temptations. They come as realities and it requires an extra ordinary intelligence to divert them. Always comes as an offer. If we can detect the root cause of those offers and reject those offers, we can easily overcome main handles in the progress of spiritual journey. Temptations are to be treated as “Tests” . Should not fall prey to those offers. Viveka (intellect) must always be active because Viveka acts as true guide, mentor, teacher, guru whatever you say. If we follow Viveka, Truth will be revealed at the earliest.
॥ इति काठकोपनिषदि प्रथमाध्यायेप्रथमा वल्ली॥
***End of First Valli of first Adhaya***
Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite.
THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit Swami and W.B.Yeats
Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.
Commentary of Katha Upanishad By Swami Krishnananda.
Katha Upanishad By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary By Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
Information available on internet.
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