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Introduction to Kathopanishad

[5] Kathopanishad or Kath Upanishad is one of the most important Upanishad in which a teenage Rishi boy obtains knowledge of life and death directly from the Swaamee (Lord) of death - Yam. It is an integral part of the Kathaa branch of Krishn Yajur Ved.

This story is found in our oldest scripture - Rig Ved. Of more than a hundred Upanishad, the Kath Upanishad stands out as powerful and poetic. In this book, elements of Theory (Saankhya) and practice (Yog) are discussed and both are elaborated in Shree Mad Bhagvad Geetaa. The similarities of this book with Geetaa are - (1) Both works are dynamic dialogs in which an ordinary person receives instruction from an immortal teacher for higher living. In Geetaa it is Arjun who takes this instruction from Krishn; while in Kath Upanishad it is Nachiketaa who takes this instruction from Yam Raaj. (2) In both works, the central questions are those which have been asked by men and women since the earliest times, such as "What is the purpose of Life?" "What is the meaning of Death?" (3) The third most important similarity in both the works is choice, between Shreya and Preya, its consequences, while leaving the selection on you. This is a very positive practical approach. (4) Geetaa's setting is in the battlefield, while Kath's setting is in the Land of Death.

In this story, a boy is told by his father to go to Death. He goes to Death and the king of Death sends him back to live. Nachiketaa - a teenager boy of 16 years of age, is one of among us and Yam is a perfect teacher whose lessons are strong. Their purpose is to teach to live life to the fullest of our capabilities.

During the Vaidik times, Uddaalak Muni, son of Aaruni and the grandson of Baajshravaa, performed a Yagya. In that Yagya one has to donate whatever he possesses, so Uddaalak Muni called Braahman and donated whatever he had. Nachiketaa was the 16 year old son of Muni Uddaalak. Seeing his father donating "so called" all his possessions, including a large herd of cows, Nachiketaa asked him - "Father, You are not donating all your possessions, you are donating only lots of sick cows who cannot even lift their heads if they lower their heads to graze. Who is going to praise you for this kind of donation?"

His father pretends not to hear, but Nachiketaa doesn't stop asking. He again asks - "Father, I am also your possession, to whom you will give me?" His father gets irritated, so he replies, "I will give you to Yam Raaj." His father said it only in anger, but the boy took it seriously. He thinks, "I am one of the best disciples of my father, then why does he say this to me? What is the purpose he wants to achieve by giving me to Yam Raaj. I will certainly go to Yam Raaj. Even if he has said it in fury, his orders must be followed." So he said to his father - "Our ancestors have never hesitated to give their lives for Truth, by doing so please give me the permission to go to Yam Raaj." Muni repented his words, but seeing his son's honesty he allowed him to go to Yam Raaj  and Nachiketaa left home to go to Yam Raaj. Just a thoughtless sentence said in a non-serious mood, "I will give you to Yam Raaj" takes Nachiketaa to the Lord of Death - Yam Raaj.

The Land of Death

[16] In Hindu mythology there is great deal of personification. Forces of nature and mind represent Devtaa (gods) and Devee (goddesses) and Raakshas (demons). Death is personified by Yam as he is the controller who administers the central law, of this phenomenal world - that all things in nature are subject to change continuously. As things come or appear, they must also go and disappear. In modern language Yam is an Eternal force, and that is why Nachiketaa counts him among the "ageless immortals" who have gone beyond death and change. Outer world has boundaries, but everybody knows that mind is not bound by time or space.

In meditation, mind is taught to bring all the powers of the mind into concentration slowly, through the words of a passage containing spiritual ideals. In this way the furious rush of thoughts is controlled to increasing self-mastery. In the climax of meditation, we discover the real core of our personality - Aatmaa (soul or our real Self). However, it is the work not of days, not of even a year, but of many years.




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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 02/10/13