kaThopaniShad Series Part – 3
Having been informed by his people about the arrival of the young brAhmaNa guest, Nachiketas, and his waiting outside the house, without food, Yama, the Lord of Death, approached Nachiketas worshipfully and said:
तिस्रो रात्रीः यदवात्सीः गृहे मे
अनश्नन् ब्रह्मन् अतिथिः नमस्यः ।
नमस्तेऽस्तु ब्रह्मन् स्वस्ति मेऽस्तु
तस्मात्प्रति त्रीन् वरान् वृणीष्व ॥
तिस्रो three रात्रीः nights यदवात्सीः that you have stayed गृहे मे in my house अनश्नन् without food ब्रह्मन् O! brAhmaNa अतिथिः guest नमस्यः (you are) an adorable person नमस्तेऽस्तु salutations to you ब्रह्मन् O! brAhmaNa स्वस्ति मेऽस्तु let good accrue to me तस्मात् (by averting) the fault arising from that lapse प्रति one in respect of each night वरान् वृणीष्व ask for three boons.
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!
O! brahmaNa , since you have stayed in my house as a guest for three nights without eating anything, you are adorable, worthy of worship. Salutations to you. O! brahmaNa, let all auspicious things accrue to me. How will any good accrue to me? With your grace, let the fault owing to the lapse of seeing you stay here without food for three days be averted. Thereby will good accrue to me. There is no doubt that due to your grace all good will ensue to me, yet in order that you will be all the more propitiated, I wish to offer you three boons, one in return for each night (you have stayed in my house without food). Ask for any particular three things that you desire.
Even though Yama is a j~nAni and occupies a very important position in the cosmic-administration being the Lord of Death, yet, out of humility he bends down to wash the feet of Nachiketas, a small boy from the planet earth. And also he offers Nachiketas boons. Yama, being a j~nAni and a celestial, need not have expressed his fear of misfortune befalling him and his people due to the lapse of not immediately attending to a brAhmaNa guest. Yet Yama, as an adherent of dharma, the code of righteous conduct, behaves in such a way that his act becomes a model for others to follow. This is representative of the ways of a dhArm-ic person. The concern for another’s welfare is a trait hat is very important in a dutiful man. It is such lofty ideas and ideals that strengthen the fabric of dharma in a society. A dhArm-ic society is an ideal place for practice of spiritual sAdhana. Even if one is not spiritually inclined, still artha (wealth) and kAma (desire) when based on dharma, confers great good on that society.
Nachiketas replied, accepting Yama’s offer to ask what he desires:
शान्तसंकल्पः सुमना यथा स्यात्
वीतमन्युःगौतमो माभि मृत्यो ।
त्वत्प्रसृष्टं मा अभिवदेत् प्रतीत
एतत् त्रयाणां प्रथमं वरं वृणे ॥
शान्तसंकल्पः freed from anxiety सुमना calm of mind यथा स्यात् may become वीतमन्युः freed from anger गौतमो Gautama, my father माभि towards me मृत्यो O! Death त्वत्प्रसृष्टं when I return to him released by you मा अभिवदेत् and talk to me प्रतीत recognizing me एतत् this one त्रयाणां is among the three boons प्रथमं वरं the first boon वृणे shall I seek.
Nachiketa said: O Death, may Gautama, my father, be calm, cheerful and free from anger toward me! May he recognize me and greet me when I shall have been sent home by you! This I choose as the first of the three boons.
Nachiketa specifies his first wish: My father must be feeling remorseful for having sent me away to Yama’s abode. He must be thinking ‘what indeed will my son be doing in Yama’s place?’ He must be freed of this anxiety about me. Also, he must become a man of calm mind. Any anger he has been harboring for me should be dispelled. O Lord of Death, when I return to my father after being released by you, he must recognize me as ‘this is verily my son who has now returned’ and converse with me.
Nachiketa, a clever boy he is, has grouped together all the above wishes in the encashment of the first boon. This verily shows his sharp intelligence. Without wasting his other two boons by singling out his list of wishes for his father’s welfare, Nachiketa makes a combined list to address the first boon. This bunch of desires, concerning his father, shows Nachiketa’s genuine concern for his father’s welfare and wellbeing. He proves that he is not a selfish person who is intent upon seeking only his welfare. It is such a trait that makes a person a caring one in society. When the elders are taken care of, their welfare is the priority, there ensues from that a great feeling of goodness in the society. There is a nice saying that speaks of what virtues come about when elders are honored:
अभिवादनशीलस्य नित्यं वॄद्धोपसेविनः ।
चत्वारि तस्य वर्धन्ते आयुर्विद्यायशोबलम् ॥
abhivAdanashIlasya nityaM vRRddhopasevinaH|
catvAri tasya vardhante AyurvidyA yasho balam|| [mahAbhArata 5.39.60]
“For one who is by nature respecting and serving elders, four things accrue to him: long-life, knowledge, fame and strength.”
Granting Nachiketa his wish through the first boon, Yama assured him:
यथा पुरस्तात् भविता प्रतीतः
औद्दालकिः आरुणिः मत्प्रसृष्टः ।
सुखं रात्रीः शयिता वीतमन्युः
त्वां ददृशिवान् मृत्युम्खात् प्रमुक्तम् ॥
यथा पुरस्तात् just as before भविता प्रतीतः having recognized you will be (possessed of affection) औद्दालकिः आरुणिः (your father) auddAliki AruNiH मत्प्रसृष्टः त्वां ददृशिवान् मृत्युम्खात् प्रमुक्तम् seeing you freed from the jaws of Death सुखं happily रात्रीः many nights शयिता sleep वीतमन्युः getting over his anger.
Yama’s delivered his words of reassurance: Your father was affectionate towards you before you came away to my abode. Even after I have released you from this world of Death, and you have returned home, your father will continue to be affectionate towards you. As before, your father AruNi will continue to have peaceful nights of sleep. Freed of any resentment he will transact with you as his dear son.
Having done with the first boon, Nachiketa preludes his specification for the second boon:
स्वर्गे लोके न भयं किञ्चन अस्ति
न तत्र त्वंन जरया विभेति |
उभे तीर्त्वा अशनाया-पिपासे
शोकातिगो मोदते स्वर्गलोके ||
स्वर्गे लोके In heaven न भयं किञ्चन अस्ति there is no fear whatsoever न तत्र त्वं you (Yama) are not there न जरया विभेति nobody is struck with the fear of old age. उभे तीर्त्वा Having gone beyond both अशनाया-पिपासे hunger and thirst शोकातिगो freed from sorrow मोदते one rejoices स्वर्गलोके in the heavenly abode.
In heaven there is no fear owing to disease or other unforeseen problems. You, the Lord of Death, will have no authority there to strike anyone all of a sudden. As a result even as someone in old age in this earth would fear your arrival there is no such anxiety in heaven. Most of the problems earthly people face is concerned with the catering to the pangs of hunger and thirst. Procuring food and processing it takes away a lot of energy of people. In heaven, however, one is free of this very problem of hunger and thirst as the body there is not susceptible to these needs. Freed from these concerns and all other worries, with their mind settled, the inmates of heaven spend a happy life there.
Fear of uncertainty is the greatest threat humans face on earth. No moment is man free of the fear regarding events that could transpire causing disturbance to him. Security-seeking is a lifelong project for man. Procuring objects, forging relationships, attaining positions are important for man in life. Equally demanding is the strain of maintaining them and securing them from loss, depletion, decay and destruction. In spite of all his efforts to intelligently foresee threats and take damage-minimizing action, man is faced with distress brought by events like disease, death, humiliation, loss of wealth and other property, loss of near and dear ones, etc.
What indeed can he do to avoid all unforeseen events in life? The only way out, the Scripture teaches, is acquiring Self-knowledge and be free of the identification with the body-mind complex. It is gaining sooner or later the viveka, the discriminative insight that happiness depends not on what I have but on what I am. How will this solve the problem? It is like this: Since all misery is due to identifying with the body-mind complex, a disidentification from them will result in identifying with one’s true self, the Atman. When that happens, the onslaughts of nature, karma, which is bound to come owing to the rule of nature’s law will not affect the person possessing this knowledge of the Self. The events concern themselves with the body-mind and since the ‘person’ in the body-mind is no longer identifying himself as a person of the body-mind, and a one with the discrimination of ‘I am not the body or the mind but am the witness that is distinct from the body-mind’, the events’ arrival and departure will not affect the ‘he/him’.
Freedom from most of the concerns of bodily life in swarga, heaven, ought not to be seen as the ultimate freedom from transmigratory life. It is by no means the liberation, mokSha, that the scripture talks of. By this mention of freedom from concerns in heaven what Nachiketas means is only that the earthly concerns will not be there for the residents of heaven and by this relative improvement, one can work to obtain a life in heaven, even though it is only temporary. And with a view to know the means to go to heaven, Nachiketas asks in the next mantra the method of performing the fire-ritual that is aimed at taking one to heaven.