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Teachings of Kath Upanishad-24
Rig Ved 10th Mandal;   Taittireeya Braahman

Verse 1-1-24
Nachiketaa characterizes rightly all objects of the senses as finite and ephemeral and hence, his disgust for for them. During his short life in the world, he has been living intensely, and in his discrimination, he has come to the wise conclusion that material objects, even if they be heavenly, are only things delusory and so will not last long, "even till tomorrow"- which are uncertain in their existence even till the next day. Moreover, not only the sense-objects are in themselves finite, but to indulge in them is to weaken the very instrument of our enjoyment. But for the sense organs, the sense objects can not influence our minds and produce therein any experience either of joy or sorrow. When the light of Nachiketaa's discrimination comes to play fully upon them, it becomes clear that the disastrous sense-objects, themselves perishable, would also hasten the deterioration of the sense-organs. (This reminds us of the 'Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility' of Economics).

Let us take the example of a Laddoo-eating competition. The first Laddoo one eats may be sweet, but the third one one eata is not that sweet; the fifth Laddoo may be full of pain for me and the tenth or twelfth would be cruelty manifest! With the addition of each Laddoo to my stomach, the pleasure it is capable of giving is gradually reducing and on the other hand may harm. Such being the case, no intelligent individual (who has the courage of intellectual conviction to pursue only the path shown by his intellect) will run after the material pleasures of born of ephemeral objects, however glorious they may look for the time being.

Nachiketaa has but a disgust for the offer regarding long span of life offered by Yam. To Nachiketaa, life in this embodiment, however long, is only fleeting; for, can a human mind ever come to feel any sense of complete satisfaction however long he may succeed in living here on this earth? Whatever be the span of life he is allotted, there is, after all, a death lurking at the end of it all. And death is equally painful whether it comes to-day or a ten or twenty years later! And hence, at the peak of his disgust, born out of a right understanding, Nachiketaa says, "keep thou thy chariots, the dance and music." Imagine the ocean of joy Lord Death must have felt at this seemingly outrageous explosion of the young boy. This declaration in its very vehemence unveils the brilliant inner personality of the matured soul, Nachiketaa.

Verse 1-1-29 (the last verse)
Nachiketaa firmly tells Yam that he stands by his original request and that it is up to Yam to stand by his original promise, or to go back on his promise. He says; "O Death, tell us about that supreme theme of the Hereafter in which men have doubt, and which is the great passing beyond (ie life after death). Nachiketaa does not choose any other boon but that (about the soul) which is profound and mysterious."

Nachiketaa tells Yam in plain words. Please stop this pastime of me with transient things and pleasures. I am convinced that the question I have posed to you as my third boon is fraught with great blessings for me and for all humanity. It is capable of arresting the stagnation in human life arising from a rank materialistic outlook and the unmitigated worldliness it engenders. Hence I beseech you to honor your promise and enlighten me on this subject of far-reaching significance.

Here we find the opening section of the first chapter being rounded off with a firm and determined demand of the disciple. No temptation offered by Yam could entice Nachiketaa into the deluding charms of the perishable sense-objects and their glittering joys. This section not only gives a dramatic setting for the whole Upanishad, but also leaves upon our minds an unforgettable picture of the adorable spirit and the burning thirst in the young Braahman boy. He has not only a discriminating intellect but also a grip on the spirit of detachment from the false and saintly attachment with the Real. Like the first chapter of the Geetaa, we have very little of the Upanishad proper in the first section of the first chapter of Kathopanishad. The philosophical discussions or exposition starts only from the second section.

Verse 1-1-30
In the previous verse Yam and Nachiketaa were facing each other; and Nachiketaa was expecting the answer from Yam to his question about truth of the Hereafter. Yam had tested Nachiketaa in variously ways and had found him unwavering in his passion for truth.

"Na anyam tasmaat nachiketaa vrnite--" 'No other boon, therefore, than this shall Nachiketaa chooses'. Nachiketaa never wavered even once. He illustrates in its highest and purest form what the Geetaa, 2:41 calls "Vyavasaayaatmik Buddhi" one-pointed determination. He illustrates the type of character that is emphasized in Vedaant. This discloses a mind that seeks the truth and nothing but the truth; it is prepared to to face suffering, privation, and even death itself in the bargain. Yam was immensely pleased with the words of Nachiketaa. He was proud of this young boy who had stood the severest of tests and also established his fitness (Adhikaar or worth) to receive and to benefit from knowledge of the truth (Aatm Vidyaa), the science of the Self asked for in his third boon.

What is meant by fitness? These are the qualifications which a student of Vedaant ought to possess viz., "Vivek, Vairaagya, Sham, Dam, Uparati, Titiksha, Shraddhaa, Samaadhaan and Mumukshatwa." Using the subject of the boon as a starting point, Yam proceeded to impart Nachiketaa the highest wisdom. This forms the theme of the remaining sections and chapters of the Upanishad.

Now we will start the second section. Here we are introduced to a fascinating exposition of the science, which is 'the science of all sciences', an exposition given by Yam to Nachiketaa, and by both to humanity at large. Here we get Lord Death's teaching on
immortality - the comprehension and apprehension of the eternal Reality. Yam begins his exposition with a pointed reference to the good life as the ethical precondition to spiritual striving and realization. He draws a distinction between good and pleasant.

1-2-22 to 24
"The wise who knows the Self as bodiless within the bodies, as unchanging among changing things, as great and omnipresent, does never grieve". "That self cannot be gained by the Ved, nor by understanding, nor by much learning. He whom the Self chooses, by him the Self can be gained. The Self chooses him (his body) as his own". But he who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil, and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, he can never obtain the Self (even) by knowledge.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 07/31/12