Introduction: The Kathopanishad is very famous amongst the Upanishads. This Upanishad is an integral part of the ‘Katha’ branch of the Krishna Yajurveda. The comprehensive description of the ethereal divine element of the Supreme God is expressed through the conversation between Rishiputra Nachiketa and Yama.
AUM SAHANAAVAVATU | SAHANAO BHUNAKTU |
||AUM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI: ||
O Brahma! Protect both of us the teacher and the disciple in all ways. Please nourish both of us. May we both become strong, may we become radiant because of the knowledge imbibed by us. May we be never tormented by mutual hatred. O Supreme God! May we be liberated from the miseries and worries.
THE DONATION BY MAHARSHI UDDALAKA IN THE VISHWAJITYAGYA
During the Vedic times, Uddalaka, the son of Aruna who was the son of Vajabhrava, performed a yagya.
In the yagya, one has to donate whatever he possesses. Accordingly, Uddalaka called upon all the Ritwijas and other members and donated everything in the form of Dakshina (fee). Nachiketa was the honest son of Uddalaka.
Nachiketa was a young lad then. When he says that senile cows were being donated as Dakshina, he thought that as a result of such a Dakshina the donor would have have to undergo a vale of sufferings by taking birth in the such inferior yonis as pigs and dogs. He went to his father and said humbly: “Whom are you donating me to?” As Uddalaka loved his son a lot, he was giving away all the aged cows and keeping all the healthy ones for himself. Realizing this Nachiketa asked: “Whom are you donating me to? Uddalaka got infuriated and said: “I shall hand you over to Yamaraja.”
When Uddlaka said this out of fury, Nachiketa thought that: “I am one of the best disciples of my father. I have never transgressed my father’s orders that means I am not of the inferior category. Then why did father say this to me? What is the purpose my father wants to fulfill by handing me over to Yamaraja. I shall definitely materialize my father’s words. I shall not violate his orders otherwise I shall be called an inferior male child. If my father does not adhere to his words he shall be known as the one who deviates or derelicts from his duty.
If my father has said this out of fury it is necessary to pacify him so that he does not undergo anguish and agony.” Nachiketa apporached his father and said- “O Father! Our ancestors, our grandfather did not care for their lives, to protect truth and we have the conduct of many a noble soul before us who have sacrificed everything and stood by their words. That is why you also renounce this ephemeral mortal world, wrong conduct and duties. By doing so give me the permission to go to Yamaraja.”
Listening to this Uddalaka was sad and unhappy but seeing the honesty and venality of Nachiketa, Uddalaka sent Nachiketa to Yamaraja.
Nachiketa went to Yamaraja on the basis of his truthfulness. When Nachiketa reached there he learnt that Yamaraja was not there in his house. Nachiketa decided that he would not touch food and water until he did not seek the blessings of Yamaraja. In this way, Yamaraja did not return for three days and Nachiketa starved for next three days and awaited his return.
THE HOSPITALITY OF YAMARAJA’S WIFE
On the return of Yamaraja after three days, Yamaraja’s wife said: “O Lord! The coming of a Brahmin as a guest to the house of householders is just like the coming of Agni Dev (fire god). Hence the good and pious people should try to pacify the Agni in the form of a guest by serving him and offering him food. This Brahmin boy has been starving for the past three days awaiting your return. He shall be pacified only if you serve him.
That person does not get anything who does not offer food to a Brahmin and keeps him starved. Even if one gets anything as a result he does not get happiness from that particular thing. He remains far from the happiness one can beget from good speech. All his previous karmas, actions, such as donations, building of wells, hospices etc gets destroyed. Not only this by disrespecting the guest he also remains bereft of children, animals etc that he should get due to his past deeds. Hence O Dharmaraj! Please welcome your guest and pacify him with your service.
THE CORDIAL WELCOME OF NACHIKETA BY DHARMARAJ
Listening to his wife, Yamaraj immediately approached Nachiketa and welcomed him by washing his feet and performing the ceremonial worship. He said: “O Brahmin! You are respectable and venerable guest. You came here three days back to meet me and have been starving since then. I have really committed a blunder. I prostrate before you. May my dereliction be forgiven and lead to my well being. In lieu of every night you can ask me for three favours, as you desire.
THE FIRST BLESSING: “FATHER’S HAPPINESS”
At Dharmaraja’s behest Nachiketa asked him his first favour to make his father happy. This itself proves the respect and affection of Nachiketa towards his father.
Nachiketa said: “O Lord of Death! May my father’s anger be pacified and when I return back, may he treat me like his son and treat me with love and affection. May he be always happy with me.” Yamaraj said: “When your father will see you, after returning from the clutches of death he will be very happy with you. He shall treat you henceforth with love and affection. His anger will vanish and he will forever live in peace and happiness.
THE SECOND BLESSING: “KNOWLEDGE OF REALIZATION”
Nachiketa told Dharmaraj that: “O Lord of Death! I have learnt that there is a lot of happiness in heaven and that place is devoid of fear, senility, hunger, thirst, grief, sorrow etc. You know the Agni Vijnana (method of doing Yagya) by which one can attain heaven. Please teach me the devoted one, the knowledge to realize heaven. This is the second blessing I desire.
Listening to this Yamraj was pleased on the devotion and humility of Nachiketa and bestowed upon him the Agni Vidya which is ethereal. As a cross examination Yamraj asked Nachiketa to repeat all what he had learnt. Nachiketa repeated everything how he had learnt it from Yamraj. Listening to this Yamraj was surprised at the boy’s strange intellect and blessed him that Agni Vidya shall be known by his name. Yamraj presented Nachiketa the method of performing different Yagyas so that he attains god-hood. This was the special gift of Yamaraj to Nachiketa.
THE BENEFITS OF AGNI DEVA
Yamaraj said that this Agni Vidya would be known by Nachiketa and that this knowledge can bestow upon one not only heaven but also salvation. That person who performs the religious sacrifice thrice but conjoining its relation to the three Vedas becomes conversant in all of them. Such a person selflessly performs penance, donation and is eventually delivered from the cycle of life and death. He realizes the evolution of the world creator Brahma, by this Agni and is embellished by infinite powers.
THE THIRD BLESSING ‘KNOWLEDGE OF THE SELF’
Nachiketa asked Yamraj for the third and final blessing of the knowledge of the self which is the means to liberation. He said: “O Lord of Death! There is a difference of opinion with the concept of soul. You are the self realized one. Please advise me about that divine element of the self that helps me surmount the cycle of life and death.”
YAMRAJ’S EXPLANATION THAT THE ELEMENT OF SOUL IS UNINTELLIGIBLE
Seeing the curiosity of the young lad and divine understanding, Yamraj was very pleased. But he was aware that the element of soul could be explained only to the appropriate person so he decided to test Nachiketa. He told Nachiketa that the ‘soul’ is difficult to understand. He said:” O Nachiketa! Even the gods had expressed their doubts with relation to the divine cosmic element ‘soul’ and they failed to understand it because it is a very complex and subtle subject. It is not easily intelligible and comprehensible. So you ask me for another blessing.”
But Nachiketa was adamant, he replied: “When such a subject is difficult and sublime and I will not find a person who knows the same, how can I ask for another blessing in lieu of this one. Please bless me with the knowledge of the same.
THE ALLUREMENTS SHOWN BY YAMRAJ TO NACHIKETA
When Nachiketa was adamant about knowing the knowledge of the soul Yamraj decided to allure and entice him differently.
ALLUREMENTS OF MATERIAL HAPPINESS
Yamraj said: “O Nachiketa! What will you do knowing the soul. In lieu of this ask for progeny, wife who will be blessed with a very long life, cows, elephants, gold, the earth as the empire and a long life. If in comparison of the element of soul you consider all these material pleasures significant then ask for them.” Despite all these allurements Nachiketa was adamant. He refused to give in.
ALLURMENTS OF HEAVENLY PLEASURES
Yamraj said: “O Nachiketa! One cannot attain heavenly pleasures on earth. You can ask for all of them. You can desire for the beautiful damsels of the heaven and divine vehicles that even tempt noble sages and saints. Ask for these pleasures in lieu and stop asking for divine knowledge.
Nachiketa said: “O Yamraj! All the pleasures which you tempted me for are momentary and ephemeral. These pleasures ruin the senses and the sense of duty instead of blessing us.
A long life is negligible before infinite time. Even cows and elephants are of no use to me. So I don’t want any of these things. Even wealth cannot satisfy a human being. Seeking your blessings satisfies me. Destiny will bestow upon me the necessary wealth and life is dependent on you. If you are pleased with me, I need not fear death at all. Hence please bless me with the knowledge of the human self and soul.
When Yamraj was assured that Nachiketa was the appropriate person to whom, knowledge of the Supreme soul could be given, he began by telling Nachiketa the glory of Brahma Vidya.
The Vedas speak of the two ways to get happiness
SHREYA: The method to transcend all miseries and attain the supreme spirit.
PREYA: The method to attain material pleasures i.e. wealth, wife, progeny etc.
Both these pleasures are antipodes of each other and attract humans towards them. Most people get happiness through material pleasures and are attracted by the Preya. But there are some fortunate people who realize the mortality of this world and the transition of material pleasures. Such people are attracted towards Shreya.
Such people are blessed with divinity and in all ways. People who are attached to worldly pleasures do not understand the real essence of the supreme spirit. He is deluded and assumes the material pleasure to be the highest form of pleasure. He is bereft of all sublime happiness and pleasure.
PRAISES OF NACHIKETA’S DETACHMENT
Yamraj says: “O Nachiketa! I have realized that you are detached and are intelligent and sagacious. You have not accepted the material bondage. You are the right person to understand and realize the divine cosmic spirit.”
THE INEVITABILITY OF DETACHMENT FOR SELF-REALIZATION
The characteristics and the benefits of Vidya and Avidya are in fact contradictory. Those people who merely seek material pleasures cannot think of spiritual growth and he who seeks self realization does not even look at material pleasures.
“O Nachiketa! You are desirous of Vidya as the greatest of material desires cannot entice you.”
Those people cannot understand the divine truth who are self-conceited, does not show respect towards scholars. On the contrary criticize and hate them, engage in material happiness and pleasures and waste their time in ephemeral enjoyments.
That person who does not realize the significance of human life is attached towards wealth and pleasure and acts as he wishes. He just cannot strive for higher ideals, as he cannot repose his faith in things he cannot see. Such a person undergoes incessant transmigration and his state is despicable and repugnable.
DEARTH OF THE REALIZED ONES
The knowledge of realization is inaccessible. People seldom even discuss about all this. Either we listen to it as it is sublime or we neglect it, as we are not that intelligent enough to understand.
Those people who understand the real meaning and fathom the real depth are few in numbers. Such people are the ones who take sermons from their Guru, contemplate and practice meditation and consequently experience the beauty of the Supreme soul.
But such people are difficult to find due to the inherent dearth.
INACCESSIBILITY OF SELF-REALIZATION
The soul is very minute and intangible. It is so very deep and profound that it becomes impossible to fathom. It is very difficult to impregnate into it. Those people who have not realized engage in discussions and debates and conclude finally that the soul is not intelligent.
Yamraj said: “O Nachiketa! I am pleased to see your chaste mind and your allegiance. Such devotion towards knowledge cannot be obtained by logic. We realize some of the things through the sermons of the realized ones.”
“O Nachiketa! I pray to God so that I always get curious listeners like you.”
THE PRAISES OF THE SELFLESSNESS EXHIBITED
Yamraj says: “O Nachiketa! It is true that all material pleasures are transitory. We cannot attain immortality by the aid of ephemeral things. Realizing this, I have attained the supreme knowledge by performing yagyas selflessly.
O Nachiketa! You are intelligent and selfless. I have kept before you the entire heaven which is embellished with all pleasures which would be attained by Yagya and allied good deeds but you, very patiently renounced all that. This is something extraordinary. You are thus the right person who will be able to realize divinity.
THE GLORY OF THE SUPREME GOD
The divine element is present in the entire universe which is like a dense forest. Although that divine element stays with us, we cannot see him as he has covered himself in Yoga maya (delusion). His vision experience is difficult. He who incessantly meditates on the divine cosmic element and has a pure and chaste mind, heart can experience his beauty; such a person is devoid of happiness and pain.
We should hence engage in listening to the glory of the Lord as orated by the noble souls and should thereafter contemplate on it. He should practice mind control and should dwell in solitude.
Such a person attains God, the embodiment of happiness. O Nachiketa! The path leading to god-hood is open for you.
THE OATH TO DESCRIBE THE DIVINE COSMIC ELEMENT
Yamraj decided that he should now according to the promise given, tell Nachiketa the essence of the divine cosmic element. He started saying: “That Supreme God is worth to be attained by all worshippers and means. His name is ‘AUMKAR’. Although, he is nameless, he has infinite epithets. Seeking the refuge of these countless names who realize this secret and worships him with indomitable faith and love undoubtedly attains the Supreme God.
THE FORM OF SOUL
The soul is devoid of beginning and end. It is infinite and is devoid of cause and effect. Thus it is devoid of life and death. It is one and flawless. The body ceases to exist but the soul is indestructible.
THE FORM OF SUPREME GOD
The supreme God is smaller than the atom and is all pervasive. The devotee realizes the glory and experiences the beauty. Seldom do we come across a person who as a result of God’s divine blessings is devoid of sorrow and desires.
The energy of the supreme God is simply unimaginable and undecipherable. He is embellished with contradictory merits. He engages in the good and bad divine play simultaneously. Hence he is all pervasive and is omnipresent. He is seated in each and every form and creature. We can realize him only as a result of his divine blessings.
THE APPROPRIATE PEOPLE FOR REALIZATION OF GOD
The person who realizes god is mentally balanced, rational, devoid of self-conceit and free from happiness and sorrow.
We cannot realize God by merely listening to the divine play by engaging in the study of the scriptures or by engaging in acrimonious debates. Those people are the blessed ones who await God’s blessings and do not have faith on their own efforts. These people are liberated from delusion and they are the ones who in reality experience the beauty of god.
PEOPLE UNFIT FOR REALIZATION
Those people are considered unfit for realization who do not renounce despicable acts, incessantly engage in material pleasures, remain in vagrancy due to lack of faith and whose minds and senses are not within control.
Even though such people engage in self analysis, they do not respect God’s infinite blessings and are always bereft of God’s divine grace.
That supreme god is the time of time. He is the ultimate refuge of each and every creature. How can he be known by the mind intellect and the senses? Only he can realize him who has God’s divine grace.
THIRD VALLI (CHAPTER)
THE RELATION BETWEEN THE SUPREME SOUL AND UNREDEEMED SOUL
The supreme cosmic soul is seated in the heart of the unredeemed soul or jeeva. Both of them together partake truth. The jeevatma and the supreme soul are different like shadow and the sun. The unredeemed soul is ignorant or knows less while the supreme soul is omniscient. The little knowledge possessed by the Jiva also belongs to the supreme soul. Hence a human should not have ego on one’s capabilities and aptitudes.
THE NOBLEST METHOD TO ATTAIN GOD- ‘PRAYER’
The Yamaraj prays to the supreme God and says: “O Lord! Give us that assiduity by which we can selflessly perform good deeds such as Yagya so that we can make you happy and realize the ultimate truth and experience your beauty. The best way hence to realize the supreme God is nothing but prayer.
THE METAPHOR OF THE CHARIOT AND CHARIOTEER
O Nachiketa! The Jeeva is the master of the chariot. This body itself is the chariot. The intellect is the charioteer, the mind is the reins, the senses are the horses and the material pleasures are the paths on which the senses run.
The desires and the person suffering is the human who is embellished by a body, a mind, the senses etc.
Humans should try to attain the supreme God on the basis of the mind and the senses. But unfortunately, due to negligence, the human being became careless and the intellect was bereft of the divine inclination. The reins were not in control of the mind and the mind delegated its duty to the wicked senses.
As a result, the senses took control of the human mind and body. The human thus became dependent and eventually indulged in ephemeral, material pleasures. He got caught in the vicious cycle of birth and death. He continued to take birth in inferior yonis such as dogs and pigs.
But a cautious and sagacious person makes the mind calm and stable and orients the mind towards spiritual thoughts, frees himself from desire and hatred and surrenders himself at the feet of the supreme Lord by being selfless, he attains the highest state of bliss and divinity from where he never returns.
THE SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS OF THE SENSES
Orienting oneself towards God means disinclining the senses from the wrong path of enjoyment. The material pleasures are stronger than the senses that is why the senses should be kept away from material pleasures. The mind is stronger than the material allurements.
If the mind remains detached, the senses and the material allurements are thoroughly conquered. Hence one should cleanse the mind away from desire and hatred and by controlling the impulses of the fickle mind. This can be done by the concerted efforts of the intellect. But superior to the intellect is the soul. All have to knowingly or unknowingly agree to the decree passed by the soul. One should keep a watch on the intellect by one’s latent divine energy.
The delusion (Maya) embellished by three qualities is stronger than the ‘Jeeva’ due to which the Jeeva cannot realize God. Strong in the sense that the jeeva cannot curtail the delusion with his individual efforts. By being blessed by God only he can transcend the delusion. But there is nothing superior to the supreme God. The jeeva’s well being lies in surrendering himself at the feet of the Lord.
That supreme God is omnipresent and dwells in the heart of each and everyone. But he is hiding behind the vast curtain of Maya (delusion). They who seek refuge and tune their intellect towards him, are endowed with divine powers by which they attain the supreme God.
The intellectual human should curb the impulses of the senses and should orient the senses towards the mind. He should instate the mind in the intellect and the intellect into the pure form of the unredeemed soul.