We have seen earlier how the ideal spiritual aspirant in Nachiketaa availed the first of his boons in ensuring the peace and joy of his father and as to how he dedicated the second boon to bless the community of man. Now is the turn for cashing on his third boon. .Nachiketaa frames this encashment in the following manner:-
"There is this doubt, 'when a man is dead', some say that 'he exists' and some others say 'he does not exist'. This I would like to know, being taught by you. Among all my boons this is my third boon (that I ask)."
Only when asking on the last of his boons does Nachiketa think of his own Kalyaan (liberation) and poses one of his greatest doubts for clarification.
It is the phenomenon of death that makes us ask questions about life. What is the truth about life? How many times does this question arise in our minds? We eat and drink, we experience joys and sorrows, successes and defeats. We just live our lives or, rather, allow ourselves to be driftwoods in life's current until one day we see someone dying, or we ourselves happen to come face to face with Death while on death bed. This induces in us a mood of questioning about life and its purpose. What is the life after all? Who is man? Is there anything abiding in him? Is there anything abiding in the world?
The world outside is in a constant flux. The body and mind of man are also in a constant state of change even when he is alive, and entirely ceases to be in the final change of death. This mood of questioning comes to all of us at some point of time or the other in our lives. But the questioning mood does not linger always. The pressures of external life drive it away and we continue our humdrum existence, unaware of the knowledge of the mystery which alone renders life meaningful and worthwhile. If the mood persists, man becomes philosophical; he achieves spiritual depth. However, this mood, if not properly handled, will make man pessimistic, and rob him of all zest in life. There is, therefore, need to discipline this mood of questioning that the experience of death induces in man.
It must be disciplined in the righteous pursuit of truth, unattached to passing moods and unmindful of consequences. It is such a disciplined mind that we meet with in Nachiketaa. The grappling with truth on the part of such a mind, and under the guidance of a master mind in Yam, is what invests the Kathopanishad with special significance for human thought.
We are now on Mantra 20 of Chapter 1 of Kathopanishad. In fact, the proper Upanishad starts with this stanza only. So far we were understanding only the background of the Upanishad. The effort so far was in building up a dramatic situation wherein a highly inquisitive soul is brought into the presence of a full-fledged teacher. The doubt now raised by the young Braahman boy shows his own scriptural knowledge and self-evolution. The tearful incident in life called death has attracted many thinkers and made them debate it within themselves. Even to-day death is a fascinating idea with all writers and thinkers, authors and philosophers. But we find that men of required caliber rarely come to solve this serious problem. It is only the Rishi of old, who in their queietude had prepared their instruments of understanding and feeling to the required efficiency to soar into the sublime realms of the Beyond, that have really succeeded in observing coolly, in analyzing scientifically and in concluding truly the what, how and why of the phenomenon called Death.
Even among the thinkers of India, we meet with opposing conclusions and self-contradictory arguments regarding this common but strange happening, death. As Nachiketaa says, there are some school of thinkers, who have established that death is the end of all and there is nothing beyond it. There are others who accept, argue and establish that is existence even beyond the grave. This question whether there is existence after death or not is not one which belongs to the Realm of the Mind and the intellect. These instruments of feeling and knowing do, at their best, give us only some vague directions pointing towards a world of Knowledge that actually lies spread out beyond their own frontiers. It is only the Great Masters of renunciation and wisdom who have specially developed their intuitive faculty that can at will take one into these Realms beyond.
Briefly put, such transcendental questions can not be explained through
any of the ordinary known 'proofs of knowledge' such as Direct-perception,
Inference, Comparison etc. The only way o solve them is through the words
of Wisdom (Agam) given out by men of greater realization. ...... the
saints and sages.
Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 07/31/12