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Ka-1-Yam and Nachiketaa

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Yam and Nachiketaa

This story of Yam and Nachiketaa, from Kath Upanishad, speaks in very figurative language. In ancient times there was a Braahman named Uddaalak Aaruni. He had  two sons - Nachiketaa and Shwetketu. Once he did a certain sacrifice which required that he should give away everything that he had. His son Nachiketaa found that his father was giving away all his cows who were very sick, so sick that some of them were not able to stand on their feet properly. First he continued to watch all this then he noticed that his father was not sincere. He wanted to get only the fame and glory by that sacrifice, but he was only giving things which were of no further use to him - old, barren, blind, lame and sickly. cows. As he felt that his father was not doing right, but he did not know what to say to him. Father and mother are living gods to their children. He thought something and approached his father with the greatest respect and humbly inquired of him - "Father, You are goiving everything in this sacrifice?" "Yes, My Dear." "Then to whom are you going to give me? For your sacrifice requires that everything shall be given away." The father was very much vexed at this question and replied - "What do you mean, boy? I am giving away my all belongings. You are my son." The boy said - "I also belong to you, so you should give away me also to somebody." The father gave not much attention but Nachiketaa asked the question a second and a third time. At this Uddaalak said angrily - “Thee I give unto Death (Yam).” And the story goes on to say that the boy went to Yam, the god of death.

Yam was the first man who died in the world. He went to Heaven after his death and became the governor of all the Pitri. All the good people who die, go, and live with him for a long time. He is very pure and holy person, chaste and good, as his name (Yam) implies. So the boy went to Yam’s world. But even gods are sometimes very busy, so was yam. He was not at home, so this boy had to wait there for three days and three nights hungry and thirsty. When the fourth day Yam returned, he saw a young boy sitting at his door. He was told that the boy had been waiting for him for 3 days and 3 nights without taking any food or water. He said to him - “O learned one, you have been waiting here for three days without food, and you are a guest worthy of respect. Salutation to thee, O Braahman, and welfare to me! I am very sorry for the inconvenience, I was not at home. But for all that I will make amends. Ask me three boons, one for each day I will gave them to you happily.”

Nachiketaa said - "My first boon is that when I return from here, seeing me my father’s anger against me may pass away; and he should as happy to see me as he was happy to see me when I was born.” Yam granted this - "So be it." Nachiketaa said - "My second boon is that I want to know about the sacrifice which take people to Heaven."

We have seen that the oldest idea which we got in the Sanhitaa portion of the Ved was only about Heaven where they had bright bodies and lived with the fathers. Gradually other ideas came, but they were not satisfying; there was still need for something higher. Living in heaven would not be very different from life in this world. At best, it would only be a very healthy rich man’s life, with plenty of sense-enjoyments and a sound body which knows no disease. The Heaven solution commits this mistake; it insists that the whole of phenomena is only in touch, taste, sight, etc. So this idea of Heaven did not give full satisfaction to all. Yet Nachiketaa asked it, as the second boon, There was an idea in the Ved that these sacrifices pleased the gods and took human beings to Heaven.

Now the third boon comes, and with this boon the proper Upanishad begins. The boy said - "There is this difficulty, I wish to know when a man dies some say he is, others say that he is not. I desire to understand this instructed by you."

Now Yam was a little frightened. He had been very glad to grant the previous two boons, but this third boon was a difficult boon. He said - "Even the gods in ancient times were puzzled on this point. This is a very subtle law and is not easy to understand. Choose some other boon, O Nachiketaa, do not press me on this point, release me.” The boy was determined to know this so he said - "What you have said is true, O God of Death, that even the gods had doubts on this point, and it is no easy matter to understand, but I cannot obtain any other other this, because no other can explain me this except you.

The god of Death said - "Nachiketaa, Ask for sons and grandsons who will live for 100 years, many cattle, elephants, gold, and horses. Ask for empire on the Earth and live as many years as you like. Or choose any other boon which you think is equal to this - wealth and long life. Or be thou a king, O Nachiketaa, on the wide Earth. I will make thee the enjoyer of all your desires. Ask for all those desires which are difficult to obtain for anybody in the world. These heavenly maidens with chariots and music, which are not to be obtained by man at any cost, are all yours. Let them serve you, O Nachiketaa, but do not question me as to what comes after death."

Nachiketaa said - “These are merely things of a day, or a month, or a year, or hundreds of years, but one day the Death has to come, so i wish to know about it. O god of Death, they will wear away the energy of all the sense-organs. Even the longest life is very short to enjoy them. These horses and chariots, dances and songs, may remain with Thee. Man cannot be satisfied by wealth. Can we retain wealth when we behold Thee? We shall live only so long as you desire. Only the boon which I have asked is chosen by me."

Third Boon to Nachiketaa
Yam was very pleased with this answer, he said - "The goal which all the Ved speak of, which all penances proclaim and wishing for, which the aspirants lead the life of a Brahmchaaree or celibate for, that goal I will briefly tell thee. It is Aum. This word is verily Brahm; this word is verily the highest; he who knows this word, obtains, verily, whatever he wishes he attains - Immortality and Eternal Bliss. This Aatmaa is beginningless, endless, birthless, deathless, changeless, formless, attributeless, and colorless. He is without sound, touch, smell and taste. He is eternal, immortal, all-pervading, self-luminous, indivisible, one without a second. He is beyond, A-Vyakt or the un-manifested. He dwells in the intellect or the cave of the heart. He is the inner Self of all beings.

He who is free from desires, whose mind is concentrated and peaceful, whose senses are subdued, beholds this mysterious Atman through meditation and intuition in his own intellect and enjoys immortality and everlasting peace and bliss. This Aatmaa is hidden in all beings. It is realized by subtle seers through their sharp and subtle intellect, with eyes and other senses turned from sensual objects. When all desires are destroyed, when the three knots of the heart, ie, A-Vidyaa (ignorance), Kaam (desire), Karm (work) are rent asunder, when, the five organs of knowledge are at rest together with the mind and when the intellect ceases functioning or becomes calm, you will attain immortality or Param Gati or the highest state. Just as you draw the pith or stalk from a reed, so also, you will have to draw or take out this essence of Aatmaa from the body or the five sheaths patiently and boldly through meditation, Vichaar or enquiry and Vivek (discrimination)".

Perfection is one thing and enjoyment is another. These two having different ends, engage men differently. He who chooses perfection becomes pure. He who chooses enjoyment misses his true end. Both perfection and enjoyment present themselves to man; the wise man having examined both distinguishes one from the other. He chooses perfection as being superior to enjoyment, but the foolish man chooses enjoyment for the pleasure of his body. O Nachiketaa, having thought upon the things which are only apparently desirable, thou hast wisely abandoned them." Death then proceeded to teach Nachiketaa.

Yam further said - "That which is beyond never rises before the mind of a thoughtless child deluded by the folly of riches. "This world exists, the other does not", thinking thus they come again and again under my power. To understand this truth is very difficult. Many, even hearing it continually, do not understand it, for the speaker must be wonderful to explain it, so must be the hearer to understand it. The teacher must be wonderful, so must be the taught. The mind must not to be disturbed by vain arguments, for it is no more a question of argument, it is a question of fact."

Yam answers the question - "What becomes of a man when the body dies?” “This, Wise One, never dies, is never born, It arises from nothing, and nothing arises from It. Unborn, Eternal, Everlasting, this Ancient One can never be destroyed with the destruction of the body. If the slayer thinks he can slay, or if the slain thinks he is slain, they both do not know the truth, for the Self neither slays nor is slain."

Nachiketaa got clear instructions on Brahm Vidyaa from Lord Yam through the third boon granted by him, practiced meditation and attained Brahm, became immortal through knowledge of the Self. Any qualified student like Nachiketaa who knows the Aatmaa can surely attain immortality.

Aum Sahanaavavatu, Sahanau bhunaktu,
Sahaveeryam Karavavahai; Tejasvinaavadhitamastu, Ma vidwishavahai."
Aum Shaantih! Shaantih! Shaantih
Aum! May He protect us both (teacher and pupil). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of Mukti. May we both exert together to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 02/09/13