Athato Brahma jignyasaa ! ......

Athato Brahma jignyasaa

The Katho Upanishad (*)

In the tradition of conveying a complex subject through the use of a subtle parable the Kathopanishad starts with the story of a Rishi Vajasravas and his son Nachiketa.The dialog of Nachiketa with Lord Yama carries the message of the Upanishad.

Rishi Vajasravas performs 'Viswajit' sacrifice which involves giving away "all" his wealth. His son Nachiketa notices that his father is giving away gifts( cows) which are of no use. Very much concerned and trying to grab the attention of his father he asks his father to whom will he give 'Nachiketa' as he is part of his fathers wealth. Father being busy with the rituals and with without realizing says "to death". There upon to keep his fathers word Nachiketa moves to Yama's world. Yama was away when Nachiketa reaches the place. He waits for three nights till Yama returns. Alerted that a Brahman was waiting for him for three days without partaking anything as a guest , Yama offers him three boons for the three nights he waited. For the first boon Nachiketa wants to understand the Fire sacrifice and for the Second boon he wants that his Father be free of anxiety and be happy . Both the boons being granted Nachiketa asks for the third boon the knowledge about "here after". Nachiketa says that some say there is life after death some say not and he wants to know what happens after death. Yama tries to dissuade him with all sorts of worldly boons. Nachiketa could not be deterred. Yama tells him even Devas do not know, it is too difficult to understand . Nachiketa still insists on the knowledge then Yama relents.

After testing Nachiketa's determination , Yama starts his teaching. He starts by teaching importance of "Om" the two letter word . After extolling the efficacy of "om" , Yama teaches about Self .

Katha Upanishads 2.1 

Earlier Yama instructed Nachiketa regarding the nature and glory of the Self. Now Yama explains the reasons why the Self is not seen by the majority. It is because man's mind is constantly drawn outward through the channels of his senses, and this prevents his seeing the inner Self ; But now and then a seeker, wiser than others, goes within and attains the vision of the undying Self, Atma.

Yama continues

Oh Nachiketa ! the Senses were created as the out-going senses; for this reason man sees essentially the external, but not the inner Atman (Self). Some wise man, however, desiring immortality, with eyes turned away from the external inducements sees the Atman within. The ignorant - pursue external pleasures; thus they fall into the wide-spread perception of death as a reality. But the wise, knowing the nature of immortality , immortality of Atman , do not seek to find the permanent among fleeting things.”

Yama tells Nachiketa that those who are devoid of discrimination and fail to distinguish between real and unreal, the fleeting and the permanent, set their hearts on the attaining the pleasing things of this world; Hence they entangle themselves in the net of insatiable desire, which leads inevitably to disappointment and suffering. To such, death must seem a reality; because they identify themselves with that which is born and which dies. But the wise, who see deeper into the nature of things, are no longer deluded by the charm of the phenomenal world and do not seek for permanent happiness among its passing enjoyments.

Yama continues:

Oh Nachiketa ,That by which one knows form, taste, smell, sound, touch and sense enjoyments that is Atman. When a sense organ perceives an external object , the perceiver is really the Atman .This really is That which you wanted to know.

Oh Nachiketa that by which a mortal perceives, both in dream and in waking is Atman . By knowing that great all-pervading Atman the wise man grieves no more.

Thus Yama as the teacher tries to make plain that all knowledge, as well as all sense perception, in every state of consciousness – sleeping, dreaming or waking – is possible only because the Self exists. There can be no Knowledge or perception independent of the Self. Wise men, aware of this, identify themselves with their Higher Self and thus transcend the realm of grief.

Yama continues :

"Oh Nachiketa ! He who knows this Atman, the perceiver and enjoyer of objects, ever near, as the lord of the past and future, realizes the non duality of Atman fears no more. This really is That which you wanted to know."

“He who sees Him seated in the five elements, born of Tapas (fire of Brahma), born before water; who, having entered the cave of the heart, abides there-in - this really is That which you wanted to know“.

Thus Yama indicates that He, the Great Self, is the cause of all created objects. According to the Vedas, His first manifestation was Brahman, the Personal God or Creator, born of the fire of wisdom. He existed before the evolution of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether; hence He was “born before water.” he having created the worldand the beings then he himself enteredthe beings. He is the Self dwelling in the hearts of all creatures.

Yama continues:

“He who knows Aditi, who rises with Prana (the Life air), is existent in all the Devas; He who was born from the elements, having entered into the heart abides there. This really is That which you wanted to know.“

“Agni the all-seeing fire which exists hidden in the two sticks, much like the foetus which is well-guarded in the womb by the mother, that fire Agni is to be worshipped day after day by wakeful seekers after wisdom, as well as by sacrificer.This verily is That.”

Fire is called all seeing because its light makes everything visible. In Vedic sacrifices the altar fire was always kindled by rubbing together two sticks of a special kind of wood called Arani. Because fire was regarded as one of the most perfect symbols of Divine wisdom, it was to be worshipped by all seekers after Truth, whether they followed the path of mendicants or the path of rituals.

Yama continues

“Oh Nachiketa! What is here in the visible world, that is there in the invisible; He who sees difference between visible and invisible continues in the cycle birth and death and goes from death to death. Oh Nachiketa by mind alone this is to be realized.”

Yama explains to Nachiketa that in the sight of true wisdom, there is no difference between the creator and the created. Even physical science has come to recognize that cause and effect are but two aspects of one manifestation of energy. He who fails to see this, being engrossed in the visible only, goes from death to death; because he clings to external forms which are perishable. Only the essence which dwells within is unchangeable and imperishable. This knowledge of the oneness of visible and invisible, however, cannot be acquired through sense-perception. It can only be attained by the purified mind.

Yama continues:

Oh Nachiketa the Purushaor Atman of the size of a thumb, resides in the middle of the body as the Lord of the past and the future. He who knows that fears no more. This verily is That”.

Yama Explains to Nachiketa that the seat of the Purusha is said to be the heart, hence It resides in the middle of the body. Although it is limitless and all pervading, yet in relation to Its “abiding place” It is represented as limited in extension, “the size of a thumb.” This refers really to the heart, which in shape may be likened to a thumb. As light is everywhere, yet we see it focused in a lamp and believe it to be there only on a similar basis , although the life-current flows everywhere in the body, the heart is regarded as peculiarly its seat.

Yama continues his teaching. “ Oh Nachiketa that Purusha, of the size of a thumb, is like a light without smoke, Lord of the past and the future. He is the same today and tomorrow. This really is That which you wanted to know.”.

Yama here defines the effulgent nature of the Soul, whose light is pure like a flame without smoke. He also answers the question put by Nachiketa as to what happens after death, by declaring that no real change takes place, because the Soul is ever the same.

Oh Nachiketa ! as rain water, falling on the mountain top, runs down over the rocks on all sides; similarly, the one who sees difference between visible forms runs after them in various directions. 

O Nachiketa, as pure water poured into pure water becomes one ( pure water) , so also it is with the Self of an illumined Knower as he becomes one with the Supreme.

Thus Yama instructs Nachiketa about the Self and non duality of self and Supreme

Om tat sat !!!

(*) Refernces

1 "The Upanishads" Vol 1 by Swami Nikhilananda , Published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkatta.

2 "Eight Upanishads" Vol 1, by Swami Gambhirananda, Published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkatta.