The truth about Life and Death from the Katha Upanishad

The Katha Upanishad is a story of a wise boy Nachiketa, who has conversations with Yama, the lord of death. I studied this story in highschool when we were too young to understand. But it is very profound and meaningful as it answers some really important questions about life and death. I will not describe the story here, but I have listed some of the verses which I found most meaningful.

“Look back to those who lived before and look to those who live now. Like grain the mortal decays and like grain again springs up (is reborn).”

Nachiketa thought to himself when his father was afraid to give him as a sacrifice as a part of the ‘Viswajit Yagna’.

All the wisdom you need to go through life is found in these few lines above. The ultimate truth is that all mortals perish and then get reborn. You and I will also go through the same process. No problem in life is big when you remember your mortality. If you understand that you are here only for a short time, you will know what is important and what is not worth your time.

“Yama said: The good is one thing and the pleasant is another. These two, having different ends, bind a man. It is well with him who chooses the good. He who chooses the pleasant misses the true end.”

The lord of Death explaining the mystery of death to Nachiketas

Everyday we go through a test of choosing between what is good and what is pleasurable. A wise person examines both and discriminates between them. The wise chooses good because he knows that all sensory pleasures are temporary and never ending. I think that ‘good’ here are the actions taken selflessly, without any attachment or craving for pleasures.

“Wide apart are these two,- ignorance and wisdom, leading in opposite directions. I believe Nachiketas to be one who longs for wisdom, since many tempting objects have not turned thee aside.”

The lord of Death explaining the mystery of death to Nachiketas

Ignorance of death and our mortality leads a person to chase endlessly the pleasures of the worlds. Wisdom is facing the truth of death and abandoning those temptations to reach a higher consciousness.

“Fools dwelling in ignorance, yet imagining themselves wise and learned, go round and round in crooked ways, like the blind led by the blind.”

The lord of Death to Nachiketas

The hereafter never rises before the thoughtless child ( the ignorant), deluded by the glamour of wealth. “This world alone is, there is none other.”: thinking thus, he falls under my sway again and again.”

The lord of Death to Nachiketas

It is very hard to become aware of an illusion when you are under one! One effective way is to constantly ask yourself relevant questions and use your buddhi (the discriminative power) to choose ‘good’ instead of pleasurable. It is a next to impossible task to bring some sense into an ignorant person because he imagines himself as wise. Therefore it is important to ask questions and to remind yourself of just how much you don`t know.

“This self is never born, nor does it die. It did not spring from anything, nor did anything spring from it. The ancient one is unborn, eternal, everlasting. It is not slain even though the body is slain.”

The self is subtler than the subtle, greater than the great, It dwells in the heart of each living being. He who is free from desire and free from grief, with the mind and senses tranquil, beholds the glory of the Atman (Spirit or true self)

“The wise who know the Self, bodiless, seated within perishable bodies, great and all-pervading, grieve not.”

He who has not turned away from evil conduct, whose mind is not at rest, he can never attain this Atman even by knowledge.

The lord of Death to Nachiketas explaining the Atman

The intellect has its own limits. To understand the Spirit (Atman) through words is just a take-off point from where we can begin the journey. But only understanding of concept of Atman is useless. The actions must be taken towards purifying mind and body and to let go of the desires and grief to truly experience the Atman.

Beyond the senses are the objects, beyond the objects is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, beyond the intellect is the great Atman.

Beyond the great Atman is the Unmanifested, beyond the Unmanifested is the Purusha (the Cosmic Soul.) Beyond the Purusha there is nothing. That is the final goal.

The lord of Death to Nachiketas explaining the Atman

“The Self-existent created the senses out-going, for this reason man sees the external, but not the inner Atman (Self). Some wise man, however, desiring immortality, with eyes turned away (from the external) sees the Atman within.”

So these were just some of the verses which I found very meaningful. There are a lot more in the Katha Upanishad. Do look it up if you are interested.

Hope this adds value to your life. Be wise, be good. Let go of the temptations of pleasure and search the immortal Atman. Thank you for reading and have a great life 🙂

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