Katha Upanishad - Part One (chapters I-III)
> Introduction to Katha Upanishad
> Dr. C.S. Shah
> All Upanishads are written in Sanskrit, and the commentary by
> Acharya Shankara is taken as the most authentic. Upanishads are
> based on the dialogue between a realized soul acting as the
> Teacher, Rishi, and a sincere seeker of Truth who approaches Him as
> a disciple.
> In Katha Upanishad the teacher is Yama - The Death Himself - and the
> student is a young Nachiketa in his teens. This Upanishad is one of
> the most popular Upanishads for its simplicity and clarity in making
> the subject matter regarding the highest truth easily
> comprehensible. It consists altogether of 120 verses.
> This summary is based on the English exposition of Katha Upanishad
> by Swami Ghambhirananda of Ramakrishna Order, which in turn takes
> Shankara's commentary as its basis. I am not a scholar, nor do I
> know Sanskrit. I accept the Truths of Upanishads because I know Sri
> Ramakrishna had objectified - personified - Upanishadic Truths in
> his life. Later Swami Vivekananda, his foremost disciple, decided
> to make all these truths broadcast all over the globe for the
> benefit of humanity.
> The Contents
> As the story goes, Vajashrava, Nachiketa's father, decided to
> acquire fruits of sacrificial ritual -Viswajit Yagna- in which the
> performer had to give away all his precious possessions. Cows were
> designated as valuable and special possessions in those very
> ancient days, and hence Vajashrava decided to donate all his cows
> to Brahmins.
> Nachiketa was in his teens, and he was observing the sacrificial
> ritual with innocent interest. However, he was surprised to notice
> that his father was giving away only old and disabled cows, cows
> 'who had given their milk for the last time and who were not
> capable of bearing calves'.
> This 'worldly cleverness' of his father produced unfathomable change
> in the heart of this young boy in whose heart now entered Shraddha -
> Faith. Nachiketa, in order to dissuade his father from engaging in
> further mean acts, asked," O father, whom have you decided to give
> me away?” (The purport was to bring to the notice of his father the
> fact that he has to give his everything and not just old cows.)
> Initially, the father did not take any notice of this 'childish'
> question, but Nachiketa was insistent. He repeated the question
> thrice when the irritated father said," O. K. O Nachiketa, I give
> you to Death.”
> Thus ordained, young Nachiketa went to the kingdom of Yama - The
> Death - where he waited for the return of Death from his duties. On
> his return, Yama was told about the 'Brahmin boy waiting for him for
> there days without food or water'.
> Yama praised sincerity of Nachiketa to wait for him, but also felt
> grieved that he was responsible for keeping a Brahmin boy waiting
> for him. Therefore, he granted three boons to Nachiketa one each
> for a day of waiting.
> The Boons
>"O Death, of the three boons you have offered me, I ask for the
> first to the effect that my father may become freed from anxiety
> about me and he may recognize me and talk to me when freed by you,"
> The boon was granted. As the next boon Nachiketa asked for granting
> him the knowledge of the means to attain higher life in the heaven
> and immortality. There is a dialogue between Yama and the boy about
> the primordial Fire and sacrificial rituals to attain to heavenly
> life. Yama tells him about the methods and ways of performing these
> Yagnas etc. Death tells him that it is the sharpened intellect of
> the enlightened one, which qualifies that sadhaka to become fit to
> go to heaven. In heaven there is no fear, fear of old age, etc.
> having transcended both hunger and thirst, and crossed over sorrow,
> one rejoices in the heavenly world.
> The Third Boon
> Then comes the main subject matter of this Upanishad. As regards his
> third boon, Nachiketa wants to know:
>"This doubt that arises, consequent on the death of a man - some
> saying 'It (The SELF) exists', and others saying 'It (The SELF) does
> not exist'. I would like to know this, under your instruction, O
> Death, what is the Truth.”
> Nachiketa had asked for the ultimate knowledge. What is death, what
> is after death! What is Reality and what is Truth. Yama tries to
> dissuade the young boy from going into these subtle questions of
> immense intricacies for Death was not sure whether Nachiketa was
> qualified to receive this knowledge for which only an occasional and
> rare aspires. Yama says to the boy," O Nachiketa, ask for health,
> life, riches, jewels, and enjoyment. Ask for lasting kingdom and
> armies, ask for anything in this world or of heaven, I will grant
> you all this as your third boon, but do not force me to go into the
> secrets of life and death. Do not insist for ultimate knowledge.”
> But Nachiketa argues that all worldly treasures and heavenly
> pleasures come to an end sooner or later. If not day after, after
> hundred years. These are not permanent means of enjoyment. He
> insists to get the ultimate knowledge of Self, 'for, O Death, you
> have promised me the third boon'.
> Seeing the determination, faith, sincerity, and perseverance of
> Nachiketa, seeing him to be the perfect disciple, Death agrees to
> tell him about the Ultimate Reality: Brahman or Atman.
> And as Death goes on elaborating the subtlety and nuances of means
> and methods to achieve that transcendental state, consciousness of
> Nachiketa also is getting established in that altered state to
> experience those Truths.
> It is wonderful fact that if the Teacher and the taught are of
> highest qualifications, it is a matter of minutes to enter the state
> of samadhi. As the Teacher explains so does the disciple experiences
> the Truths spoken.
> Nachiketa gets established into highest state of bliss where
> 'knowledge of Brahman becomes a fact of direct experience'. The same
> thing can be seen when Arjuna experiences the cosmic form of Sri
> Krishna when the Lord is telling him the Gita!
>—Dr. C.S. Shah
> January 2000
1 Vajasravasa, desiring rewards, performed the Visvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property. He had a son named Nachiketa.
2—3 When the gifts were being distributed, faith entered into the heart of Nachiketa, who was still a boy. He 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.
4 He said to his father: Father! To whom will you give me? He said this a second and a third time. Then his father replied: Unto death I will give you.
5 Among many I am the first; or among many I am the middlemost. But certainly I am never the last. What purpose of the King of Death will my father serve today by thus giving me away to him?
6 Nachiketa said: Look back and see how it was with those who came before us and observe how it is with those who are now with us. A mortal ripens like corn and like corn he springs up again.
7 Verily, like fire a brahmin guest enters a house; the householder pacifies him by giving him water and a seat. Bring him water. O King of Death!
8 The brahmin who dwells in a house, fasting, destroys that foolish householder's hopes and expectations, the reward of his intercourse with pious people, the merit of his kindly speech, the good results of his sacrifices and beneficial deeds and his cattle and children as well.
9 Yama said: O Brahmin, salutations to you! You are a venerable guest and have dwelt in my house three nights without eating; therefore choose now three boons, one for each night, O Brahmin! May all be well with me!
10 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 the three boons.
11 Yama said: Through my favour, your father, Auddilaki Aruni, will recognise you and be again toward you as he was before. After having seen you freed from the jaws of death, he will sleep peacefully at night and bear no anger against you.
12—13 Nachiketa said: In the Heavenly World there is no fear whatsoever. You, O Death, are not there and no one is afraid of old age. Leaving behind both hunger and thirst and out of the reach of sorrow, all rejoice in Heaven.
You know, O Death, the Fire—sacrifice, which leads to Heaven. Explain it to me, for I am full of faith. The inhabitants of Heaven attain immortality. This I ask as my second boon.
14 Yama said: I know well the Fire—sacrifice, which leads to Heaven and I will explain it to you. Listen to me. Know this Fire to be the means of attaining Heaven. It is the support of the universe; it is hidden in the hearts of the wise.
15 Yama then told him about the Fire, which is the source of the worlds and what bricks were to be gathered for the altar and how many and how the sacrificial fire was to be lighted. Nachiketa, too, repeated all this as it had been told him. Then Yama, being pleased with him, spoke again.
16 High—souled Death, being well pleased, said to Nachiketa: I will now give you another boon: this fire shall be named after you. Take also from me this many—coloured chain.
17 He who has performed three times this Nachiketa sacrifice, having been instructed by the three and also has performed his three duties, overcomes birth and death. Having known this Fire born of Brahman, omniscient, luminous and adorable and realised it, he attains supreme peace.
18 He who, having known the three, has performed three times the Nachiketa sacrifice, throws off, even here, the chains of death, overcomes grief and rejoices in Heaven.
19 This, O Nachiketa, is your Fire—sacrifice, which leads to Heaven and which you have chosen as your second boon. People will call this Fire by your name. Now, O Nachiketa, choose the third boon.
20 Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my boons.
21 Yama said: On this subject even the gods formerly had their doubts. It is not easy to understand: the nature of Atman is subtle. Choose another boon, O Nachiketa! Do not press me. Release me from that boon.
22 Nachiketa said: O Death, even the gods have their doubts about this subject; and you have declared it to be not easy to understand. But another teacher like you cannot be found and surely no other boon is comparable to this.
23 Yama said: Choose sons and grandsons who shall live a hundred years; choose elephants, horses, herds of cattle and gold. Choose a vast domain on earth; live here as many years as you desires.
24 If you deem any other boon equal to that, choose it; choose wealth and a long life. Be the king, O Nachiketa, of the wide earth. I will make you the enjoyer of all desires.
25 Whatever desires are difficult to satisfy in this world of mortals, choose them as you wish: these fair maidens, with their chariots and musical instruments — men cannot obtain them. I give them to you and they shall wait upon you. But do not ask me about death.
26 Nachiketa said: But, O Death, these endure only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the vigour of all the sense organs. Even the longest life is short indeed. Keep your horses, dances and songs for yourself.
27 Wealth can never make a man happy. Moreover, since I have beheld you, I shall certainly obtain wealth; I shall also live as long as you rule. Therefore no boon will be accepted by me but the one that I have asked.
28 Who among decaying mortals here below, having approached the undecaying immortals and coming to know that his higher needs may be fulfilled by them, would exult in a life over long, after he had pondered on the pleasures arising from beauty and song?
29 Tell me, O Death, of that Great Hereafter about which a man has his doubts.
1 Yama said: The good is one thing; the pleasant, another. Both of these, serving different needs, bind a man. It goes well with him who, of the two, takes the good; but he who chooses the pleasant misses the end.
2 Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to a man. The calm soul examines them well and discriminates. Yea, he prefers the good to the pleasant; but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.
3 O Nachiketa, after pondering well the pleasures that are or seem to he delightful, you have renounced them all. You have not taken the road abounding in wealth, where many men sink.
4 Wide apart and leading to different ends are these two: ignorance and what is known as Knowledge. I regard you, O Nachiketa, to be one who desires Knowledge; for even many pleasures could not tempt you away.
5 Fools dwelling in darkness, but thinking themselves wise and erudite, go round and round, by various tortuous paths, like the blind led by the blind.
6 The Hereafter never reveals itself to a person devoid of discrimination, heedless and perplexed by the delusion of wealth.”This world alone exists," he thinks," and there is no other.”Again and again he comes under my sway.
7 Many there are who do not even hear of Atman; though hearing of Him, many do not comprehend. Wonderful is the expounder and rare the hearer; rare indeed is the experiencer of Atman taught by an able preceptor.
8 Atman, when taught by an inferior person, is not easily comprehended, because It is diversely regarded by disputants. But when It is taught by him who has become one with Atman, there can remain no more doubt about It. Atman is subtler than the subtlest and not to be known through argument.
9 This Knowledge cannot be attained by reasoning. Atman become easy of comprehension, O dearest, when taught by another. You have attained this Knowledge now. You are, indeed, a man of true resolve. May we always have an inquirer like you!
10 Yama said: I know that the treasure resulting from action is not eternal; for what is eternal cannot be obtained by the non—eternal. Yet I have performed the Nachiketa sacrifice with the help of non— eternal things and attained this position which is only relatively eternal.
11 The fulfilment of desires, the foundation of the universe, the rewards of sacrifices, the shore where there is no fear, that which adorable and great, the wide abode and the goal—all this you have seen; and being wise, you have with firm resolve discarded everything.
12 The wise man who, by means of concentration on the Self, realises that ancient, effulgent One, who is hard to be seen, unmanifest, hidden and who dwells in the buddhi and rests in the body—he, indeed, leaves joy and sorrow far behind.
13 The mortal who has heard this and comprehended it well, who has separated that Atman, the very soul of dharma, from all physical objects and has realised the subtle essence, rejoices because he has obtained that which is the cause of rejoicing. The Abode of Brahman, I believe, is open for Nachiketa.
14 Nachiketa said: That which you see as other than righteousness and unrighteousness, other than all this cause and effect, other than what has been and what is to be—tell me That.
15 Yama said: The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is Om.
16 This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. This syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires.
17 This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.
18 The knowing Self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless, eternal, everlasting and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.
19 If the killer thinks he kills and if the killed man thinks he is killed, neither of these apprehends aright. The Self kills not, nor is It killed.
20 Atman, smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living creatures. A man who is free from desires beholds the majesty of the Self through tranquillity of the senses and the mind and becomes free from grief.
21 Though sitting still, It travels far; though lying down, It goes everywhere. Who but myself can know that luminous Atman who rejoices and rejoices not?
22 The wise man, having realised Atman as dwelling within impermanent bodies but Itself bodiless, vast and all—pervading, does not grieve.
23 This Atman cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, or by intelligence, or by much hearing of sacred books. It is attained by him alone whom It chooses. To such a one Atman reveals Its own form.
24 He who has not first turn away from wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued and whose mind is not at peace, cannot attain Atman. It is realised only through the Knowledge of Reality.
25 Who, then, knows where He is—He to whom Brahmins and kshattriyas are mere food and death itself a condiment?
1 Two there are who dwell within the body, in the intellect, the supreme akasa of the heart, enjoying the sure rewards of their own actions. The knowers of Brahman describe them as light and shade, as do those householders who have offered oblations in the Five Fires and also those who have thrice performed the Nachiketa sacrifice.
2 We know how to perform the Nachiketa sacrifice, which is the bridge for sacrificers; and we know also that supreme, imperishable Brahman, which is sought by those who wish to cross over to the shore where there is no fear.
3 Know the atman to be the master of the chariot; the body, chariot; the intellect, the charioteer; and the mind, the reins.
4 The senses, they say, are the horses; the objects, the roads. The wise call the atman—united with the body, the senses and the mind—the enjoyer.
5 If the buddhi, being related to a mind that is always distracted, loses its discriminations, then the senses become uncontrolled, like the vicious horses of a charioteer.
6 But if the buddhi, being related to a mind that is always restrained, possesses discrimination, then the senses come under control, like the good horses of a charioteer.
7 If the buddhi, being related to a distracted mind, loses its discrimination and therefore always remains impure, then the embodied soul never attains the goal, but enters into the round of births.
8 But if the buddhi, being related to a mind that is restrained, possesses discrimination and therefore always remains pure, then the embodied soul attains that goal from which he is not born again.
9 A man who has discrimination for his charioteer and holds the reins of the mind firmly, reaches the end of the road; and that is the supreme position of Vishnu.
10—11 Beyond the senses are the objects; beyond the objects is the mind; beyond the mind, the intellect; beyond the intellect, the Great Atman; beyond the Great Atman, the Unmanifest; beyond the Unmanifest, the Purusha. Beyond the Purusha there is nothing: this is the end, the Supreme Goal.
12 That Self hidden in all beings does not shine forth; but It is seen by subtle seers through their one—pointed and subtle intellects.
13 The wise man should merge his speech in his mind and his mind in his intellect. He should merge his intellect in the Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Mind in the Tranquil Self.
14 Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say—hard to tread and difficult to cross.
15 Having realised Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging—one is freed from the jaws of death.
16 The wise man who has heard and related the eternal story of Nachiketa, told by Death, is adored in the world of Brahman.
17 And he who, practising self—control, recites the supreme secret in an assembly of Brahmins or at a after—death ceremony obtains thereby infinite rewards. Yea, he obtains infinite rewards.
Katha Upanishad - Part One (chapters I-III)
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