|NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Upanishads > Sri Kathopanisad > Chapter 1|
om saha nav avatu saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam karavavahai
tejasvi nav adhitam astu ma vidvishavahai
om shantih shantih shantih
“May the Personality of Godhead protect us both (teacher and pupil). May He nourish us; may He make us energetic and courageous; may our studies prove fruitful; let us not quarrel with one another. Om peace! Peace! Peace!”
The upanishads are the utterances of realised Vedic sages in the form of lectures on the transcendence. The word “upanishad’ indicates a student approaching a preceptor and sitting at his feet, and the invocation of the Kathopanishad is a prayer for vigorous and congenial study in the matter of Godhead. The Kathopanishad is part of the Atharva Veda and is a lecture in the form of a narrative regarding a certain Naciketa. The Personality of Godhead indicated by this Upanishad is, according to Madhva, Vamana, and the sage, the principal speaker, Yama. He quotes the Brahma Sara stating that, “One who constantly meditates on Lord Vishnu in the sacred fire, and thrice performs the Naciketa sacrifice (which is named after the Naciketa of Kathopanishad) attains the heavenly planets. Having resided there, free from fear, for the period of one manvantara, he is then promoted to the realm of the liberated souls.”
om ushan ha vai vajasravasah sarva vedasam dadau
tasya ha naciketa nama putra asa
“Om! There was a man called Vajasravasa, who gave in charity all that he had to the brahmanas. He had a son called Naciketa.”
Vajasravasa, being a materialist, sought elevation to the higher planetary system. Thus he performed the sacrifice which entails the donation of whatever one possess to the brahmana, viz. one’s money, cloth, utensils, cows, etc.
In the Bhagavad Gita (9.21), Krishna describes the futility of such enterprises and the fate of those who perform Vedic ritual for materialistic purposes, as follows:
te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam vishalam
kshine punye martya-lokam vishanti
evam trayi-dharmam anuprapannah
gatagatam kamakama labhante
“When they have enjoyed vast amounts of heavenly sense pleasure, and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal plane again.Thus, those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death.”
Vajasravasa then, being bereft of mature knowledge, gave all of his belongings in order to enjoy increased sensual pleasure, and not for the sake of spiritual elevation. It so happened that Vajasravasa had a son called Naciketa.
tagm ha kumaragm santam dakshinasu niyamanasu
shraddha vivesha so’ manyata
Though he was a mere boy, regard for his father entered him when he saw their cows being led to the priests as dakshina, and he thought to himself as follows:
Dakshina is the gift given to a priest or preceptor at the conclusion of a sacred rite. Such a gift was not exactly payment, since no fee would ever be decided on in advance, rather, the value of such a gift would depend upon the gratitude and piety of the donor.
pitodaka jagadha-trina dugdha-doha nirindriyah
ananda nama te lokas tan sa gacchati ta dadat
These cows are past eating grass and drinking water, and have been milked dry. Indeed, their bodies are old and feeble with age. Surely, the pla1ce my father will attain after death will be joyless, having donated cows such as these
sa hovaca pitaram tata kasmai mam dasyasiti
dvitiyam tritiyam tam hovaca mrityave tva dadamiti
He therefore spoke unto his father saying: To whom will you donate me, father? He spoke thus twice or thrice, until his father angrily replied: I will give you to death personified!
Naciketa, though a child, could see the imperfection of his father’s renunciation. Thinking that the cows his father was donating to the priests were past any practical use, he concluded that his father could expect to be degraded by this insulting gift, rather than elevated. He therefore fancied that if he was given in charity to the brahmanas his father would, after all, derive some benefit from the sacrifice. His father, however, was angered by his son’s interference, if not acutely embarrassed. Thus, when the child had thrice repeated his importunity, the father cursed him, in effect, to die. According to the version of this story found in the Yajur Veda Katha shakha, Vajasravasa ordered his son to go to the house of the judge of the dead, Yama, and to reside there for three nights without taking food.
bahunam emi prathamo bahunam emi madhyamah
kim svid yamasya kartavyam yan mayadya karishyati
(Naciketa considered thus:) Of many who will die, I may be the first to go to Yama, of the many who are dead or dying, I may be the middlemost to go (at any rate I shall not be the last!). But of what use can I be to him today? What will Yama accomplish by means of me?
anupashya yatha purvam pratipasya tathapare
sasyam iva martyah pacyate sasyam ihajayate
Just see what happened in the past, and observe what will happen in days to come. As corn is cut down, cooked and eaten, is returned to the ground as manure and, being reconstituted, grows up again, so do those that die repeatedly take birth.
vaishvanarah pravishaty atithir brahmano grihan
tasyaitagm shantim kurvanti hara vaivasvatodakam
(Naciketa thereafter entered Yama’s abodein the underworld, and was received by the latter’s wife. When Yama returned home the lady said:) A brahmana guest enters one’s dwelling like fire. Such a person has to be satisfied by cleansing his feet wnad hands and quenching his thirst, so please fetch water, O son of Vivasvan!
Yamaraja was absent from his home when Naciketa, having departed this world, arrived in the plutonic region. He was offered hospitality by Yama’s wife with such iyems as arghya and food –befitting an unexpected guest, but, as commanded by his father, he ate nothing that was offered to him. Yama’s wife was greatly worried by this, thinking that perhaps Naciketa, being a brahmana by birth, might be offended and a curse fall in consequence upon her and her husband. Thus she compared a brahmana’s presence in one’s home to fire and insisted on water being brought to him without delay.
asa-pratikshe sangatagm sunritam
ceshtapurte putra-pashugmsh ca sarvan
etad vrinkte purushayalpa medhasam
yasyanashnan vasati brahmano grihe
If some foolish person keeps a brahmana in the house without feeding him, then his hopes, expectations, friends, reputation, sacrifices, charitable endowments, sons and animals are all destroyed.
In the version of the Yajur Veda Katha shakha it is stated that when Vajasravasa directed his son to go to Yama’s house, and to refuse the hospitality offered by the lady of the house, he also ordered him to answer Yama’s questions as follows: When asked what he ate during the first night of Yama’s absence he was to say, “Your offspring”, when asked what he ate during the second he was to say, “Your cows”, and when asked what he ate during the third night he was to say, “Your pious deed.” Vajasravasa, having rashly condemned his son to die, had perchance conceived of some ruse by which he might redeem the child.
It appears that the etiquette involved in receiving a brahmana guest was so rigid, and for fear of causing some offence so great in those days, that such answers to Yama’s questions would be taken to mean that his children, his cows, and his store of merit had been consumed by the wrath of his slighted guest. Such was Yama’s wife’s fear. Under the circumstances, Naciketa might well be able to win some advantage over the personification of death.
tisro ratrir yad avatsi grihe
me’nashnan brahmann atithir namasyah
namas te’stu brahma svasti me’stu
tasmat prati-trin varan vrinishva
(Yama said:) Because you have dwelt in my house for three nights without eating, O brahmana, and are a guest worthy of honour, I offer my obeisances unto you. Let all good fortune be mine! On that account, kindly ask three boons of me.
Yama was greatly sorry for any inconvenience caused by his absence, and in order to appease Naciketa, offered him three boons.
shanta-sankalpah sumana yatha syad
vita-manyur gautamo mabhi mrityo
tvat prasrishtam mabhi vadet pratita
etat trayanam prathamam varam vrine
(Naciketa said:)Let my father, Gautama (Vajasravasa), be completely calm, free from anxiety and from wrath, O death personified. And when I am sent home by you, let him greet me, knowing well who I am. Let this be the first of the three boons.
yatha purastad bhavita pratita
auddalakir arunir mat prashritah
sukham ratrih shayita vita-manyus
tvagm dadrishivan mrityu-mukhat pramuktam
(Yama assured Naciketa:) Your father, Auddalaki Aruni (Vajasravasa) will be just as before, and will greet you affectionately when I send you home. He will sleep well at night and will be free from anger towards you, seeing you released from the jaws of death.
svarge loke na bhayam kincanasti
na tatra tvam na jaraya bibheti
ubhe tirtvashanaya pipase
sokatigo modate svarga-loke
(Naciketa said:) In the abode of Lord Vishnu, you do not dwell there, nor is there any anxiety, nor fear of old age and death. Having transcended both hunger and thirst – being free from lamentation – one enjoys spiritual bliss in that divine region.
The Svarga referred to in this verse can only mean the abode of Lord Vishnu, since the Svarga in the mundane universe is not free from the above-mentioned anomalies, viz. Anxiety, death etc.
sa tvam agnigm svargyam adhyeshI mrityo
prabhruhi tagm shraddadhanaya mahyam
svarga-loka amritatvam bhajanta
etad dvitiyena vrine varena
O personification of death, you know better than any, Lord Hari’s manifestation as the sacred fire which is meant for attaining the kingdom of God. Please describe to me that fire which the residents of the Svarga planetary system worship, thereby attaining immortality. This is the second boon that I choose.
The Svarga referred to in this verse is the planetary system in this universe, comprising of the orbs between the sun and Satyaloka, the abode of Lord Brahma. One of those planets – Maharloka – is the scene of continuous performance of fire-sacrifice, as described in Sanatana Goswami’s Brihat Bhagavatamrita: “I began to chant my mantra with the sole aim of meeting the Supreme Lord, and within a few days I was taken by aeroplane to Maharloka. On arriving there, I perceived that there was great happiness, majesty, and the practice of devotion existing in great purity everywhere – true to the word of Brihaspati – such as could not be imagined anywhere else in the three worlds. Pure souls such as Bhrigu, and other sages, perform thousands of great fire-sacrifices there, and Lord Vishnu comes out of the shining fire to accept their offerings with pleasure. He shines in this manifestation as the Deity of the sacrifice with the brilliance of millions of suns, and His large head, hands and legs are the object of attraction for all creatures in the universe. Indeed, He stretches out His hands to accept their offerings and bestows choice boons upon His respective devotees.”
pra te bravimi tad u me nibodha
svargyam agnim naciketah prajanan
ananta-lokaptim atho pratishtham
viddhi tvam etan nihitam guhayam
(Yama said:) O Naciketa, I am conversant with the sacred fire that can award salvation, and will describe Him to you. Know Him to be the means to enter the unlimited abode of Vishnu, the support of the universe, and He who resides in the hearts of all creatures.
Madhvacarya states that the Agni mentioned in this verse is Lord Hari, who resides in the sacred fire. Lord Vishnu is ‘Ananta Lokaptim’ – the means of attaining the unlimited, spiritual kingdom – and none other.
lokadim agnim tam uvaca tasmai
ya ishtaka yavatir va yatha va
sa capi tat pratyavady athoktam
athasya mrityuh punarevaha tushtah
Yama described Lord Vishnu, the Origin of the worlds Who is manifest as fire, and the number of bricks (used to build the kunda upon which the sacred fire is kindled). Naciketa exactly repeated what he was told, and Yama, being pleased with him, spoke again.
The Agni mentioned here cannot be the controlling deity of mundane fire, for that limited being was generated, along with the other demigods, as a feature of the created universe. He is not, therefore, Lokadim – the origin of the universe: that title must be reserved for Lord Vishnu alone. Krishna is the original Vishnu, as stated in the Chaitanya Caritamrita:
svayam bhagavan krishna
“Krishna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, is the summum bonum of the all-pervading Vishnu. He is all-perfect knowledge and all perfect bliss. He is the Supreme Transcendence.”
That Vishnu is the origin of the material cosmos is confirmed by Lord Krishna, the original Self of Vishnu, in the Gita (10.8), as follows:
aham sarvasya prabhavo
matah sarvam pravartate
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me.”
Furthermore, evidence is found in the Maha-upanishad to the effect that Vishnu existed prior to the creation of the controlling deities:
eko vai narayanah asin na brahma na ishano napo nagni-
samau neme dyav-aprithivi na nakshatrani na suryah
“In the beginning of the creation there was only Narayana. There was no Brahma, no Rudra, no Agni, no moon, no stars in the sky, nor any sun.”
Thus Yama described Vishnu as sacred fire to Naciketa, together with the means of His invocation. The altar upon which this sacred fire was lit was apparently circular nd comprised 360 bricks. Lord Vishnu is renowned for His fullness – represented by the full circle of 360 degrees – and is said to be free from any angularity on that account. If an angle were to be introduced into the circle it’s fullness would naturally be lessened, and this can never be the case with the Absolute Personality of Godhead.
tam abravit priyamano mahatma
varam tavehadya dadami bhuyah
tavaiva namna bhavitayam agnih
srinkam cemamaneka-rupam grihana
The great-souled Yama was delighted with his pupil and told him: I will grant you your boon immediately. This fire will henceforth bear your name and, furthermore, accept this golden necklace!
tri-naciketastribhir etya sandhim
tri-karma-krit tarati janma-mrityu
brahma-yajnam devam idyam viditva
nicayyemagm shantim atyantam eti
He who performs the Naciketa fire sacrifice thrice, acts in conformity with the three Vedas, has performed the three duties (sacrifice, charity and austerity), and transcends birth and death. Having understood and realised Him who is revealed by the Vedas and is worthy of adoration, one attains everlasting peace.
Sacrifice in this context means the performance of sacred ritual. Penance, or tapas, is described by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita (17. 14-16) as follows:
pujanam shaucam arjavam
brahmacaryam ahimsa ca
shariram tapa ucyate
satyam priya-hitam ca yat
vang-mayam tapa ucyate
manah prasadah saumyatvam
bhava-samshuddhir ity etat
tapo manasam ucyate
Tapas is of five kinds in relation to the body, viz. (1) worship of the demigods, the brahmanas, the preceptor, and revered persons such as one’s parents. (2) cleanliness (3) simplicity (4) chastity (5) nonviolence.
Tapas relating to speech is of four kinds, viz. (1) speaking so as not to disturb others (2) speaking truthfully (3) speaking for the benefit of others (4) studying the scriptures
Tapas in relation to the mind is of five kinds, viz. (1) pacification of the mind (2) being without duplicity (3) speaking only with respect to self-realisation (4) self control (5) taking steps to purify one’s existence.
tri-naciketas trayam etad viditva
ya eva vidvagmsh cinute naciketam
sa mrityu-pashan puratah pranodya
shokatigo modate svarga-loke
He who has thrice performed the Naciketa fire sacrifice and knows the three ingredients of the sacrifice (Lord Vishnu, the number of bricks, and the manner in which they are arranged) – such a person, having thrown off the fetters of mortality, crosses over lamentation and enjoys spiritual bliss in the realm of the Personality of Godhead.
esha te’gnir naciketah svargye yam
avrinitha dvitiyena varena
etam agnim tavaiva pravakshyanti
janas tritiyam varam naciketo vrinishva
That fire which you asked about in your second boon, will be known by your name and its performance will grant salvation. People will henceforth call this sacrifice by your name. Now ask for the third boon, O Naciketa.
yeyam prete vicikitsa manushye
’stity eke nayam astiti caike
etad vidym anushishtas tvayaham
varanam esha varas tritiyah
(Naciketa said:) I have a doubt with regard to the liberated souls: some say there is a person (superior to them all), while others say there is not. I wish to be instructed by you in this matter – I choose this as the third of the boons.
Many people who count themselves as scholars have given a spurious interpretation of this verse. They say that Naciketa was questioning the survival of the personality at death. ‘Is there such a thing as the soul or is there not?’ But Naciketa had himself passed into the next world and would hardly have raised such a doubt. Even had that not been so, in the third verse of this chapter he concluded that his father would attain to some dark, hellish region after death on account of his donation of infirm and elderly cows – a clear indication that he expected his father to survive the annihilation of the body. And in the fifth verse he reasoned that his own demise would be followed by rebirth, citing a simple analogy in that regard. Moreover, when Naciketa asked for the second boon, he referred to a heavenly world where the inhabitants attain final spiritual emancipation. One is therefore bewildered by the stupidity of the aforementioned commentators, and clearly, another interpretation of this verse is called for. Since Naciketa accepted the survival of the soul as a truism, what then did he wish to know? What is immediately clear is that he puts forward the viewpoint of opposing schools of thought. One says ‘asti’ (there is one) and the other says ‘na ayam asti’ (there is not one). The singular subject of his query cannot be the plurality of souls who have attained salvation – although in a secondary sense he was curious to know whether the freed souls retained their individuality upon attaining salvation. And, as it shall be seen, Yama did not address the state of the living beings, either bond or free, except in relation to the Supreme Person. That being so, the personal pronoun ayam, used by Naciketa in this instance, must refer to the Godhead.
devair atrapi vicikitsitam pura
na hi suvijneyam anur esha dharmah
anyam varam naciketa vrinishva
ma moparotsir ati ma srijainam
(Yama relpied:) This personality, (who is called) Dharma, is extremely difficult to comprehend, and thus, in the past, even the demigods were unable to reach any firm conclusion in that regard. O Naciketa, choose some other boon; do not force me to discharge my promise in this instance.
Here is a clarification of Naciketa’s last query. Yama’s use of the word ‘dharma’ makes little sense if Naciketa merely wished to ascertain whether there was life after death. If dharma meant in this context that the survival of the soul or otherwise were a religious abstraction , then it obviously would not have been a matter so difficult of comprehension. Madhva confirms that Dharma- which is a celebrated epithey of Vishnu – refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The nonclamenture, Dharma, is to be found in the 56th verse of the Vishnu Sahasranama of the Mahabharata:
ramo viramo virajo
margo neyo neyo’nayah
viraj shaktimatam shreshtho
dharmo dharmavid –uttamah
devair atrapi vicikitsitam kila
tvam ca mrityo yan na suvijneya mattha
vakta casya tvadrig anyo na labhyo
nanyo varas tulya etasya kashcit
(Naciketa:) Even though you say the demigods came to no firm conclusion, and that this matter is not easily understood, still I ask, for there is not another like you, nor is there any boon equal to this, O death personified.
shatayushah putra-pautran vrinishva
bahun pashun hasti-hiranyam ashvan
bhumer mahad ayatanam vrinishva
svayam ca jiva sharado yavad icchasi
(Yama:) Choose sons and grandsons who will live one hundred years; choose numerous cows and elephants, gold and horses; choose a worldwide empire and live as many autumns a you desire!
etat tulyam yadi manyase varam
vrinishva vittam cira-jivikam ca
mahabhumau naciketas tvam edhi
kamanam tva kama bhajam karomi
Choose if you will, a boon similar to this; choose wealth and longevity. Be a monarch of the entire earth. I will make you the envy of worldly men!
ye ye kama durlabha martyloke
sarvan kamagmsh chandatah prathayasva
ima ramah sarathah saturya
nahidrisha lambhaniya manushyaih
abhir mat pratabhih paricarayasya
naciketo maranam manuprakshih
Whatsoever is difficult of attainment in this mortal world, whatever you may desire, ask that thing of me. Take beautiful women seated on chariots and playing musical instruments. Such as these are not obtainable by men. Be waited upon by these maidens given by me, O Naciketa, do not ask about the liberated souls.
shvo’bhava martyasya yad antakaitat
sarvendriyanam jarayanti tejah
api sarvam jivitam alpam eva
tavaiva vahas tava nritya-gite
(Naciketa:) These things are temporary and cause the aging of the senses of the embodied soul. O terminator, even the utmost duration of life is meagre. Let these vehicles, dancers and singers remain yours.
na vittena tarpaniyo manushyo
lapsyamahe vittam adrakshma cet tva
jivisyamo yavad ishishyasi tvam
varastu me varaniyah sa eva
Man is never satisfied by wealth. We shall, at any rate, get riches having seen you, and shall live long as you feel fit to govern. That boon which I choose, that alone is to be chosen by me.
ajiryatam amritanam upetya
jiryan martyah kvadhah-sthah prajanan
atidirghe jivite ko rameta
Having attained that place which is devoid of the decrepitude of age, which is the abode of those who are deathless, O knowledgeable one, has such a person ever fallen down from there? Who can derive happiness from a long life contemplating mundane beauty, pleasure and affection?
yasmin idam vicikitsanti mrityo
yat samparaye mahati bruhi nas tat
yo’ham varo gudham anupravishtho
nanyam tasman naciketa vrinite
Of that matter about which men enquire, of the great salvation, of Vishnu, speak, O Death Because this subject is confidential, Naciketa chooses no other boon.
Thus Ends The First Part Of The Kathopanisad
anyac chreyo’nyad utaiva preyaste
ubhe nanarthe purushagm sinitah
tayoh shreya adadanasya sadhu
bhavati hiyate’rthadya u preyo vrinite
(Yama said:) The ultimate good (shreyas) and the immediate good (preyas) are distinctly different. They bind the living being to different goals. Of the two, shreyas is productive of liberation for one who accepts it, while one who chooses preyas misses the chance of salvation and becomes degraded.
The embodied living entities are no different from their liberated counterparts in that they both have an inherent tendency to seek enjoyment. Since the bound souls are unknowingly out of their element in this mundane atmosphere, they may well seek such pleasure in the immediate, but temporary environment. If, however, they strive for the pleasure found in the higher realm from which they are presently barred, they will at length attain happiness greater than that derived from material emolument. The benefit derived from the immediate situation is termed preyas, and that which is derived from a situation as yet unattained, but prospectively superior, is termed shreyas.
shreyash ca preyash a manushyam etas
tau samparitya vivinakti dhirah,
shreyo hi dhiro’bhipreyaso vrinite
preyo mando yogaksheman vrinite
The ultimate good and the immediate good both proffer themselves to the living being, but the sober carefully discriminate between the two. The wise reject the preyas and choose instead the shreyas. The foolish choose the preyas and the resultant conceptionsof gain and preservation of acquisitions.
sa tvam priyan priya-rupagmsh ca kaman
naitagm srinkam vittamayim avapto
yasyam majjanti bahavo manushyah
Having contemplated various desirable things you have forsworn all allurements and pleasant forms, O Naciketa. You did not accept the golden chain by which many men are bound.
The golden chain (srinka) referred to in this verse is not the necklace that Yama gave to Naciketa. The boy accepted that gift, and thus the rejected necklace, or golden chain, mentioned in this mantra is metaphorical.
duram ete viparite vishuci
avidya ya vidyeti jnata
vidyabhipsinam naciketsam manye
na tva kama bahvo lolupantah
The wise know knowledge (vidya) and ignorance (avidya) to be separated by an immense gulf. I think Naciketa is a seeker of transcendental knowledge, for you had no desire for many desirable sense objects.
avidyayam antare vartamanah
svayam dhirah panditam manyamanah
dandramyamanah pariyanti mudha
andhenaiva niyamana yathandhah
Residing in the midst of ignorance, but considering themselves to be learned scholars, the grossly foolish stagger round and round like blind men led by the blind.
na samparayah pratibhati balam
pramadyantam vitta-mohena mudham
ayam loka nasti para iti mani
punah punar vasham apadyate me
The Lord, the bestower of liberation, does not enlighten the puerile fool who is stupified by the delusion of worldly opulence. He who thinks: ‘There is nothing superior to this world’, falls again and again under my power
shravanayapi bahubhir yah na labhyah
shrinvanto’pi bahavo yam vidyuh
ashcaryo vakta kushalo’sya labhdash-
caryo jnata kushalanushishtah
Many never hear about the Lord, while many who do, do not truly know Him. One who speaks about Him is rarely found, one who has conceived of Him is ingenious, and one who truly knows Him is uncommon, though instructed by an expert teacher.
na narenavarena prokta esha
suvijneyo bahuda cintyamanah
ananya-prokte gatir atra nasty
aniyan hy atarkyam anupramanat
The Lord, who is replete with scriptural characteristics, as conceived by the Vedic scriptures, cannot be well understood when spoken of by a polluted, materialistic man. Nor is there any prospect of perfection for one who thinks himself nondifferent from the Lord. The Supreme Being is beyond the scope of hypothesis, being smaller than the atomic individual souls (in His immanent feature).
Madhva declares the word ananya to indicate one who does not differentiate between himself and the Lord. If such foolish people, in the madness of their dalliance with the deluding potency of the Lord, declare themselves to be God, and teach their delusions to others, then there can be no understanding of the Supreme Spirit between them. According to the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, one who does not know the difference between the jiva and Lord Vishnu, and those who accept the teachings of such a person, can never obtain transcendental knowledge a long as they entertain such misconceptions.
naisha tarkena matir apaneya
proktanyenaiva sujnanaya prestha
yam tvam apah satya-dhritir batasi
tvadrin no bhuyan naciketah prashta
This faith that you have cannot be destroyed by mundane wrangling, and the Lord is easily known when described by a theist, dear boy. Verily, you are firmly fixed in the Absolute Truth. There are few like you, O seeker of the truth.
janamy ahagm shevadhir iyt anityam
hy adhruvaih prapte hi dhruvam tat
tato maya naciketash cito’gnir
anityaih praptavan asmi nityam
I know a veritable treasure, viz. The eternal Supreme Person, Lord Vishnu. He is never obtained by those who lack consistency. Thus, O Naciketa, have I meditated upon Him who is manifest as sacred fire, and have thereby obtained Him.
Yama offered various treasures to Naciketa and the boy displayed mature discrimination by refusing them all. Yama was thus prepared to reveal to him what he considered to be his real treasure – Lord Vishnu. While the Lord is the master of all, He gives Himself to those who cherish Him in their heart of hearts as the sole object of their love. Thus Yama obtained the Lord, not exactly by his meditation upon Him, but by his unwavering devotion. The word which indicates Lord Vishnu in this verse is anitya. The prefix a is one of Vishnu’s many names, and nitya means ‘eternal’; therefore anitya means ‘the eternal Lord Vishnu’. Yama thus indicates that his ‘treasure’ is not subject to decay or destruction, unlike the worldly treasures he had just proffered to Naciketa. The adhruvaih mentioned in the last quarter of this mantra are the material sense organs, which are non-eternal. Yama affirmed that he attained the Lord even by the means of his temporary eyes, ears, hands and so forth.
kamasyaptim jagatah pratishtham
krator anantyam abhayasya param
stomam mahad-urugayam pratishtham
drishtva dhritya dhiro naciketo’tyasrakshih
He is the fulfillment of all desires, the foundation of the universe, the eternal refuge of the performers of sacrifice, the transcendence of fear, the mighty object of the Vedic hymns, and, having conceived of Him and held fast to that conception, O Naciketa, you have forsaken all mundane allurements.
The words krator-anantyam in this verse may be interpreted as ‘He who is infinite knowledge’. Since knowledge of Godhead is boundless, H can never be fully known from the Vedas. The words stomam mahat can also be taken to mean ‘greater than the Vedas’. If it be said that this mantra could equally describe the jiva, then the equality of the jiva and the Supreme Lord is denied elsewhere. In the Mundakopanishad, for example, it is stated:
pranavo dhanuh sharo hy atma
brahma tal lakshyam ucyate
“The syllable Om is the bow, the soul is the arrow, and Brahman is the target, it is said”. (Mundakopanishad 2.2.4)
Here the individual soul is compared to an arrow and Brahman to a target.No one in their right mind would suggest that an arrow and its target were at any time identical, not even when the arrow has found its mark. Such examples are found throughout the scriptures.
tam durdarsham gudham anupravishtam
guhahitam gahvareshtam puranam
matva dhiro harsha-shokau jahati
He is difficult of comprehension, for He has secreted Himself in the region of the heart of the individual souls, keeping Himself hidden there. He is the oldest Person, and is realised by the process by which one attains union with Him. Those sober individuals who realise the Lord transcend material happiness and distress.
The liberated sols are called gahvara because the depth of understanding required to know them in truth is beyond the conceptualising power of the souls bound by the Lord’s deluding energy. Thus the word gahvareshtam indicates that the Lord dwells especially in the liberated souls.
etac chrutva samparigrhya martyah
pravrihya dharmyah anum etam apya
sa modate modaniyagm hi labdhva
vivrita sadma naciketasam manye
Having heard this (teaching regarding the Supreme Being), and fully grasping it withal, the embodied soul, upon destroying the misconception of nondistinction between the Lord and the atomic jiva, attains the subtle possessor of personal characteristics, Lord Vishnu. He then experiences bliss, because he has attained Him who is the veritable source of all bliss. The gate to Vaikuntha has opened to naciketa in my opinion.
The attainment of Vaikuntha mentioned in this verse does not entail the individual souls losing their identity in the Supreme Soul. Those souls who attain to loving union with the Lord, with one of the five possible ecstatic sentiments, retain their individuality eternally.
anyatra dharmad anyatradharmad anyatrasmat kritakritat
anyatra bhutac ca bhavyac ca yat tat pashyasi tadvada
Different to the pious, different to the impious, different to this world of cause and effect, different to that which was and different to that which will be – that is Lord Vishnu. As you see Him, speak then of Him!
sarve veda yat padam amananti
tapagmsi sarvani ca yad vadanti
yad icchanto brahmacaryam caranti
tat te padagm samgrahena bravimi
om ity etat
That form which all the Vedas indicate, and all the penances they describe to realise it, and desiring which the brahmacaris study and maintain celibacy, shall I describe to you in brief: it is called ‘om’.
The transcendental form described by all the Vedas, which is the form of the Supreme Lord, Vishnu, is the highest entity, and is composed of eternity, cognition and bliss. That Vishnu is the Supreme, and is the object of meditation of great ascetics who envisage Him as such, is confirmed in the Rg Veda (1.22.20) as follows:
om tad vishno paramam padagm
sada pashyanti surayah
tad vipraso vipanyavo jagrivagm sa
samindhate vishnor yat paramam padam
“Just as the sun’s rays in the heavens are extended to the mundane organ of light, so do the godly souls always look to the abode of Lord Vishnu, which is supreme. Inasmuch as such twice-born men are worthy of praise and are awake to the spiritual stratum, they are able to exhibit the Supreme Abode, which is Lord Vishnu’s.”
As for the syllable Om, the following is found in the Gita (17.23-24):
om tat sad iti nirsesho
brahmanas tri-vidhaa smritah
brahmanas tena vedash ca
yajnas ca vihitah pura
tasmad om ity udahritya
“From the beginning of creation, the words om tat sat were used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth. These three symbolic representations were uttered by brahmanas while chanting the hymns of the Vedas and during sacrifices for the satisfaction of the Supreme. Thereafter, transcendentalists undertaking performances of sacrifice, charity, and penance in accordance with scriptural regulations begins always with ‘om’to attain the Supreme.”
The Rg Veda also states:
om ityeda bramano nedishtam nama
“The word ‘om’ really indicates the Supreme Spirit.”
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna declares:
“I am the syllable ‘om’ (pranava) in all the Vedic mantras.”
Thus om is identical to the Supreme Brahman, Krishna, whose extension is Vishnu or Narayana. Further to this, the Gosvamia of Vrindavana have analysed the constituent sound particles of om, which properly comprises the letters a,u and m, as follows:
“By the letter a, Krishna, who is the master of all living entities, is indicated. By the letter u His internal potency, Radha, is indicated. The jivas are signified by the letter m.”
etad dhy evaksharam brahma
etad evaksharam param
etad dhy evaksharam jnatva
yo yad icchati tasya tat
That syllable is verily Brahman, that syllable is the Supreme. Upon knowing that selfsame syllable (which is Vishnu) – whatever one desires, it is his.
That om and the Supreme Lord are one is proven above. That Vishnu, the plenary expansion of Krishna, is the Supreme Brahman, is proven by the following verses, addressed to Lord Krishna, from the Bhagavad-Gita (10.12-13)
param brahma param dhama
pavitram paramam bhavan
purusham shashvatam divyam
adi-devam ajam vibhum
ahus tvam rishayah sarve
devarshir naradas tatha
asito devalo vyasah
svayam caiva bravimi me
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate, the Supreme abode and purifier, the Absolute Truth and the eternal divine person. You are the primal God, and the unborn and all-pervading beauty. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa proclaim this of You...”
etad alambanagm shreshtham
etad alambanam param
etad alambanam jnatva
That (Vishnu) is the highest resort, he is the supreme refuge. Knowing that refuge, one is glorified by entrance into the spiritual world.
na jayate mriyate va vipashcin
nayam kutashcin na babhuva kashcit
ajo nityah shashvato’yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sharire
The wise neither take birth nor die (having attained salvation), nor does the Lord – in any place or at any time. Th embodied souls are likewise unborn, eternal, undying, and ancient; they do not die though the body is slain
The Bhagavad-gita, which is grounded upon Upanishadic principles, contains a verse spoken by lord Krishna almost identical to the above (2.20):
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayan bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nitya shashvato’yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sharire
The meaning of this text is as above. The only difference in the version of Kathopanishad is in the employment of the word vipashcit, which indicates one possessed of real knowledge. Such a soul, having attained elevation to the spiritual stratum, is never born again in this world, nor does he again suffer the pangs of death. Factually, the atma is never born, for by its constitution it is deathless. The difference between the bound souls and the liberated souls is that the bond souls assume various material bodies, which are naturally prone to decay, disease and accident. The liberated souls never have to undergo such distressing experiences.
hanta cen manyate hantugm
hatash cet manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijanitau
nayagm hanti na hanyate
If a slayer thinks to kill, or his victim thinks himself slain they neither comprehend, for the soul does not slay nor is slain.
This verse is also echoed in the Bhagavad-gita (2.19):
ya enam vetti hantaram
yashcainam manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijanito
nayam hanti na hanyate
the meaning of this verse is as above. It is to be noted that such statements of scripture are not meant to encourage the unnecessary slaughter of innocent souls. The Vedas therefore declare: ma himsyat sarva-bhutani – ‘Do not hurt any living being.’
anor aniyan mahato mahiyan
atmasya jantor nihito guhayam
tam akratuh pashyati vita-shoko
dhatuh prasadan mahimanam atmanah
Smaller than the atom, greater than the greatest, the Supreme Self secretly resides even within the core of the atomic soul (the jiva). When the devotee beholds Him he is freed from lamentation, and by the grace of the Lord (Dhatri) he realises the superiority of the Supreme Soul.
The last hemistich of this verse is sometimes taken to mean that the greatness of the individual soul is realised by the devotee – as if it were identical with the Supreme Soul. The word atmanah does not have the possessive termination, which would indicate that the greatness referred to pertains to the jiva, rather, it has the ablative termination, which indicates that the Oversoul is greater than the jiva. Thus the words mahimanam atmanah mean that Lord Vishnu, who is sometimes referred to as jivat-mahima, is greater than the jiva.
asino dura vrajati
shayano yati sarvatah
kas te madamada deva
mad anyah jnatum arhati
He walks though sitting, and though He reclines (upon His bedstead) He goes everywhere. Who, other than someone like me, is able to comprehend the Lord, who is the bestower ofjoy and grief?
The Godhead id not limited by subordinate entities such as time and space. Thus He is simultaneously present in all parts of His domain, and can perform innumerable, simultaneous fats in His unlimited spiritual forms. Because of His extraordinary and inconceivable power, Vishnu is able to bring about contradictory occurrences. Thus His possessing spiritual form should not be taken as in any way limiting His greatness or His transcendence of things mundane. Only a small intellect, devoid of conceptualising ability, would denounce God’s spiritual body as a curtailment of His absolute supremecy. Yama, and those like him, are alone able to know the Supreme Lord to any extent. Such knowledge is the monopoly of the devotees, as is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (18.55):
bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yash casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
vishate tad anantaram
“One can understand Me (Vishnu) as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.”
mahantam vibhum atmanam
matva dhiro na shocati
Knowing the mighty Lord of the individual souls to dwell, without any material body, within these temporary bodies (as the companion of the embodied jiva), the sober do not lament (the passing of the jiva from one body at death).
nayam atma pravacanena labhyo
na medhaya na bahuna shrutena
yam evaiva vrinute tena labhyas
tasyaiva atma vivrinute tanugm svam
The Supreme Soul (and the individual soul) cannot be grasped by hearing discourses (thereon), nor by intellectual endeavour, nor by perusing many scriptures. Only one whom the Lord selects can comprehend Him. Indeed, He reveals His personal, transcendental form to such a person.
He who is detached from evil conduct, who is not agitated, who is not lacking in single-mindedness, and whose mind is not disturbed, may attain the Supreme Soul by dint of transcendental knowledge.
yasya brahma ca kshatram ca
ubhe bhavata odanahe
ka ittha veda yatra sah
How can one know where He resides (viz. Vaikuntha) when Brahma (the lord of the brahmanas) and Vayu (lord of the kshatriyas) are both His boiled rice, and Rudra (Mrityu) His condiment (sprinkled ghee)?
In the second section of Kathopanishad, Yamaraja has described the spiritual path, and the super-exellence of the Supreme Soul, Vishnu, who is a plenary emanation of the fountainhead of all extensions of Godhead, Lord Krishna. In addition, he has detailed he qualification for one who desires knowledge of that sublime Personality.
His concluding words, meant to illustrate the awesome and inscrutable glory of Vishnu, and His spiritual abode of Vaikuntha, should be compared with such English idioms as: ‘He is but a fig in comparison with so-and-so.’ Brahma, Vayu and Rudra are undoubtedly highly illustrious and potent relative to the ordinary, puny inhabitants of the mundane universe, yet they are but steamed rice and butter in comparison with their Author. Since such beings as these wield powers inconceivable to lesser creatures, and are thus truly beyond our comprehension, how could a mere child enter into an understanding of the kingdom of the Greatest Being of all, in comparison to whom Brahma the creator, Vayu the wind god, and Rudra the destroyer, are insignificant?
Thus Ends The Second Part Of The Kathopanisad
ritam pibantu sukritasya loke
guham pravishto parame paradhe
chaya-tapau brahmavido vadanti
pancagnayo ye ca trnaciketah
(Yama said:) Two aspects of the Godhaed imbibe the fruits of good works in the world of matter. He enters the heart cavity (of embodied jivas for that purpose, and sits) upon the vital airs (which circulate therein). Those who maintain the five huosehold fires and have thrice performed the Naciketa sacrifice, or who are knowers of Brahman, speak of (the two features of the Lord) as the ‘shade’ and the ‘sun’.
The Godhead is both the soul of the universe and the Oversoul who acompanies the jivas (atma and antaratma). The Lord, according to Madhva, is thus able to imbibe the good fruits of all works, or karma. It may be argued that if the Lord imbibes the fruits of good deeds that He must also suffer for the evil ones. But this is not so, for He is the controller of matter and is never subject to its governance. The jiva, however, must suffer or enjoy according to the nature of is actions. The Lord has two features according to the condition of the souls with whom He deals; to the saintly, who are set upon attaining loving union wit hHim despite all difficulties, He is like the cooling shade, and to the atheists, who are always bent upon doing evil, He islike the scorching sun.
yah setur ijananam aksharam brahma yat param
abhayam titirsham param naciketagm shakemahi
I know the imperishable Supreme Brahman, Lord Vishnu (the indwelling Deity of) the Naciketa sacrifice. He is the shelter from fear for His devotees, who are desirous of traversing (the ocean of material afliction and attaining) the far shore, viz. Vaikuntha.
The word setu in this verse is wrongly interpreted by the monists to mean ‘bridge’. Thus they imagine that Vishnu is some kind of stopgap between the worshipper and impersonal Brahman. The word setu, however, means ‘refuge’in this context – He is the refuge of His devotees. The former interpretation is sheer fantasy, otherwise the word brahma would not be expressed in the nomnative.
atmanagm rathinam viddhi
shariragm ratham eva ca
buddhim tu sarathim viddhi
manah pragraham eva ca
Know the jiva to be like one seated upon a chariot, and the body to be the chariot itself. Know the intelligence to be the charioteer and the mind to be the reins.
indriyani hayan ahur
vishayagms teshu gocaran
The wise declare the senses to be the horses and the sense objects to be the road on which (they run). They say the soul yoked to the senses by the mind experiences pleasure and grief.
yas tv avijnanavan bhavati
ayuktena manasa sada
dushtashva iva saratheh
But he who is without discrimination is like one who has lost the reins: his senses are uncontrollable, like a driver’s ill-behaved steeds.
yas tu vijnanavan bhavati
yuktena manasa sada
sad-ashva iva saratheh
But one who is possessed of wisdom born of experience, and whose mind is always held in rein, has subdued his senses like a driver’s well trained steeds.
yas tv avijnanavan bhavati
na sa tat-padam apnoti
On the other hand, one who is an ignoramus, who is unmindful (of spiritual matters), and is ever impure, does not attain the transcendental station of Vishnu, and is subjected to recurrent birth and death.
yas tu avijnanavan bhavati
samanskah sada shucih
sa tu tat-padam apnoti
yasmad bhuyo na jayate
But one who possesses transcendental knowledge, who is equipoised, and is always pure at heart, verily, he attains the abode of Lord Vishnu, from whence he never returns.
vijnana-sarathir yas tu
manah pragrahavan narah
so’dhvanah param apnoti
tad-vishnoh paramam padam
One who has realised knowledge of the Absolute as his charioteer and who takes his mind in rein, reaches the limit of the road (of material bondage) and attains the Supreme Destination, the abode of Lord Vishnu, the Personality of Godhead.
indriyebhyah para hy artha
arthebhyash ca param manah
manas tu para buddhir
buddher atma mahan-parah
The objects of perception are superior to the senses thereof, and the mind is superior to the objects of perception; the intelligence is superior to the mind, but the soul is superior by far to the intelligence.
Madhvacarya interprets this verse as follows:
“The demigods presiding over the objects of perception are superior to the Devas of the senses. The demigods presiding over he mind are superior to the Devas of the object sof perception. Greater than the Devas of the mind is the goddess of intellect, Sarasvati; but greater still than she is the Supreme Lord, Vishnu.”
mahatah paarm avyaktam
avyaktat purushah parah
purushan na param kimcit
sa kashtha para gatih
The unmanifest, impersonal feature of the Godhead (the avyakta) is superior to the material aggregate (the Mahat- Tattva); th ePersonality of Godhead (the Purusha) is superior to the avyakta – nothing is superior to the Purusha. He is the Ultimate Entity – the Supreme Destination.
The monists advocate the supremecy of the avyakta, the impersonal Brahman, over all other manifestations of cognitive existence. Yet even the commander-in –chief of the impersonalists, Sankara, acknowledges the superiority of the Personality of Godhead: narayanah paro’vyaktat – “Narayana (Vishnu) is superior to the unmanifest Brahman (the avyakta).” And Krishna, the original self of Narayana, confirms His supremacy over the avyakta in the Bhagavad-gita (14.27):
brahmano hi pratishthaham
shashvatasya ca dharmasya
“I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.”
esha sarveshu bhuteshu
gudhatma na prakashate
drishyate tv-agryaya buddhya
Though the Supreme Soul secretes Himself within the core of all living beings, He does not manifest Himself (to all and sundry). He is perceived only by those with superlative intelligence and purified vision.
yacched van-manasi prajnas
tad yacchej jnana atmani
jnanam atmani mahati
niyacchet tad yacchec chanta atmani
Let the wise meditate upon the (demigods presiding over the) faculty of speech as subordinate to the (Devas of the) mind. Let them meditate upon the (demigods that govern the) mind as subordinate to the personification of intellect (Sarasvati). Let them meditate upon the personification of intellect (Sarasvati) as subordinate to the personification of the material aggregate (Brahma). Let them meditate upon them (the Devas of the material aggregate) as subordinate to Rama (the consort of the Godhead), and upon her as subordinate to the Supreme Soul (Vishnu).
The items not directly mentioned in this verse are to be construed by inference based on the proper understanding of Vedic scripture. Sarasvati, the consort of Brahma, is worshipped to this day as the presiding deity of learning; in that sense she is ‘jnana-atma’, the personification of knowledge (jnana). Rama is the embodiment of the Lord’s cognitive potency, and the material cosmos owes its existence to the pastime of the Lord’s dalliance with her.
uttishthata jagrata prapya varan nibhodata
kshurasya dhara nishita duratyaya durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti
Arise! Awaken, and having obtained an elevated soul (as your preceptor), learn the spiritual truths from him! The (spiritual) path is difficult to traverse, for it is like a whetted razor’s edge. The sages say it is beset with thorns.
ashabdam asparsham arupam avyayam
tatha’rasam nityam agandhavac ca yat
anady-anantam mahatah param dhruvam
nicayya tan mrityu-mukhat pramucyate
Having realised Him who is neither material sound nor touch, who is devoid of material form and (is thus) without decay, who, furthermore, is neither taste nor scent (as perceived by material organs), who is beginningless, unlimited, and superior to the mundane energies without a doubt – having realised Him, one is delivered from the jaws of death.
uktva shrutva ca medhavi
(The shruti said:) The wise person who recites or lends ear to the history of Naciketa and the eternal teachings of the personality of death (Yama), is glorified in the spiritual world.
ya imam paramam guhyam
prayatah shraddha-kale va
tad anantyaya kalpate
tad anantyaya kalpate iti
One who recites this supremely confidential treatise in the assembly of transcendentalists, or who recites it with devotion (to the Godhead) during the performance of the shraddha ceremony, is fit for eternal life – he is fit for eternal life!
Thus Ends The Third Part Of Kathopanisad
End Of Chapter One