kaThopaniShad Series Part – 2
Having been told that he will be gifted to Yama, the God of Death, Nachiketas went to a secluded place and thought:
Mantra 5: बहूनामेमि Among many students I rank प्रथमो highest बहूनामेमि Among many मध्यमः I rank as belonging to the middling.
किं what स्विद्यमस्य indeed Yama has ktRVy any purpose यन्मयाद्य करिष्यति that my father can achieve through me.
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?
Nachiketas is a very positive-thinking boy. He has complete confidence in himself, his abilities. He cannot see himself as lagging behind. So he makes a self-assessment of himself as someone most of the time ranking highest among his classmates. At the most he allows himself a middling position but never the back-bencher. ‘Despite my being a front-ranker my father has decided to give me away to the Lord of death. What purpose indeed of Yama does my father intend to fulfill by giving me to him? Certainly, without expecting anything in return from Yama, just in a fit of anger has my Father uttered those words of sending me away to him.’ Nachiketas sees his father is now in a repentant mood for having uttered those harsh words. Deciding that even those words uttered by the Father should not become futile, Nachiketas addressed his Father, with a view to console him:
Mantra 6: अनुपश्य Consider यथा पूर्वे the way your forefathers behaved प्रतिपश्य तथा परे and consider also how the others behave now. सस्यमिव Just like corn मर्त्यः man पच्यते decays सस्यमिवाजायते पुनः and is reborn like corns sprouting.
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.
The young boy Nachiketas now addresses his father: Recall to mind the conduct of your ancestors. Their ways have to be followed by you as well. Also see how the noble minded of the present times behave. They too are worthy of emulating. In all of their dealings one can never find contemptible behavior. It is only the ignoble that behave contrary to the adorable ones. One can never hope to attain to immortality by disgraceful conduct. Mortal man dies and is born again even as plants die and sprout. Returning to this world of mortals is no praiseworthy endeavor. Go ahead and stick to your words. Send me to the abode of Yama, the Lord of Death.
Nachiketas has virtually delivered a sermon to his father who could protest no longer. He sent his boy to the world of Yama. Reaching Yama’s residence, Nachiketas, finding that Yama was away refused to enter the mansion. He opted to remain outside, refusing even food, spending three nights in waiting. This shows he was endowed with immense forbearance, titikShA, involving his remaining without food, outside the house. We have already seen his concern for his father’s welfare. These are some of the qualities that favour a spiritual aspirant.
Nachiketas was observing the custom of a male not entering and staying in another’s house if the man of the house was away. Eventually Yama returned from his circuit. Reporting Nachiketas’ arrival and waiting, Yama’s household gives him a piece of advice on what is to be done to welcome Nachiketas:
Mantra 7: वैश्वानरः verily fire प्रविशति enters गृहान् houses ब्राह्मणः in the form of a Brahmin अतिथिः guest तस्यैतां him this kind of शान्तिं propitiation कुर्वन्ति do हर fetch वैवस्वत O son of vivasvAn उदकम् – water.
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!
When a brahmin guest arrives at a house, it is verily the God of Fire, vaishvAnara that comes in his form. The idea is this: the brahmin who has a lot of power born of austerity, tapas, is capable of bringing prosperity or destruction to the house where he enters. It is therefore incumbent upon those who receive him to pacify him by the appropriate protocol. He is given water for washing his feet, offered a seat of honor, etc. This is the method of noble householders in respect of a brahmin guest. Therefore, remind the people of Yama’s household that he, Yama, fetch water to conduct the brahmin guest, Nachiketas, into the house, with due honor. In case there is a lapse in this, or such a protocol is ignored, the scripture warn of accrual of sin for the householder. What befalls such an errant householder? In reply comes the next mantra:
आशा–प्रतीक्षे संगतं सूनृतां च
इष्टा–पूर्ते पुत्र–पशूंश्च सर्वान् ।
एतद्वृङ्क्ते पुरुषस्य अल्पमेधसः
यस्य अनश्नन् वसति ब्राह्मणो गृहे ॥ 8 ॥
आशा-प्रतीक्षे – hopes and expectations संगतं – the reward of his intercourse with pious people सूनृतां च – the merit of his kindly speech इष्टा-पूर्ते – the good results of his sacrifices and beneficial deeds पुत्र-पशूंश्च सर्वान् – and his cattle and children as well एतद्वृङ्क्ते – destroys these अनश्नन् वसति ब्राह्मणो – The brahmin who dwells , fasting गृहे – in a house यस्य पुरुषस्य अल्पमेधसः – that foolish householder’s (house).
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.
What is a ‘hope’? It is the wish for a desirable thing which is attainable yet unknown about its occurrence. For example a mother hopes that her son who has gone to the war front will return some day. What is an ‘expectation’? It is an informed waiting for an event that is well known to happen. For example, I wait in the platform for the arrival of the particular train by which my cousin is travelling.
What accrues to one who has a good rapport with pious people? One becomes convinced of taking to the path of virtue. A whole lot of opportunities to tread this virtuous path open up. Newer connections with like-minded people and teachers are formed.
What is the merit derived from kindly speech? It is well known that when we use pleasant words the hearer is pleased and our purpose stands easily served. Constant use of pleasant words, as a practice, as a habit, brings forth great benefits in one’s life.
‘kAmaM dugdhe viprakarShatyalakShmIM
kIrtim sUte duShkRRtaM yaa hinasti
shuddhAm shAntaaM mAtaraM mangalAnAM
dhenum dhIrAH sUnRRitAm vAchamAhuH’
Speech that is embellished by truth and love yields all one’s wishes, drives away poverty, builds a reputation and prevents wrongdoings. It is the pure, placid Mother cow which yields all auspicious things.
What are the ‘sacrifices and beneficial deeds’ and what are the good results that these bring to the doer thereof?
‘agnihotraM tapaH satyaM devAnAM paripAlanam (vedAnAm chAnupAlanam)/
atithir vaishvadevaM ca iSTam ity abhidhIyate//
puSkariNyaH sabhA vApyo devatAyatanAni ca/
annapradAnamArAmaH pUrtam ity abhidhIyate//’
Performance of ‘agnihotraM’, a twice-daily fire-ritual to be performed by householders (married men), observance of austerities like fasting, undertaking pilgrimages, sticking to truth, worship of gods, daily recitation of the veda of one’s branch, serving the guests who come, performance of the ‘vaishvAdevam’ ritual daily – these are called by the collective name of ‘iShTam’ . Digging ponds/lakes wells, arranging for assemblies, building/maintaining Temples, serving food to travelers, establishing parks/gardens – these are known by the collective name of ‘pUrtam’.
Every person, especially the householder, is required to engage himself in the above activities. This will lead to his earning great merit and result in his departing to heaven, svarga. When these very activities are performed as a pure offering to the Lord, then these very acts purify the mind and prepare him for taking up spiritual sAdhanA.
The kaThopaniShad mantra we are studying now says that all the above good deeds, along with one’s cattle-wealth and children, will come to perish and leave one impoverished of merit in case a brahmin guest is left uncared for. The idea is this: an error of omission will result in the destruction of great good that has been earned with immense effort over a long time. How does this happen? It is like this: When one is not alert to what is to be done in each situation, one fails to do that which is ideally to be done then. This failure, a disregard, will remain as a tendency and when the time for action arises next, the most likely thing to happen is that the tendency to disregard be complacent, will take over and render one incapable of taking the right course of action. It is this tendency, a samskAra that renders infructuous all good things done from giving their fruit to the doer. Just as the person loses an opportunity by failing to make the best use of it, as for example, disregarding a brAhmaNa guest who would otherwise have showered great blessings on the household, one would disregard a good opportunity that comes as a result of only good deeds done in the past. This is what is meant by this mantra.