Nachiketa's Qualities (नचिकेतसः गुणाः)

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Nachiketa's Qualities (Samskrit : नचिकेतसः गुणाः) reflect the essential qualities required of a साधकः॥ brahmavidya sadhaka. Kathopanishad which is based on the story of Nachiketa and his journey to Yamapuri to seek Brahmavidya, is an outstanding example in Upanishads that age is not a restriction for acquiring Jnana, the ultimate requirement for Moksha. Many texts of Sanatana Dharma have discussed the story of Nachiketa, known for his enlightenment and Sadhaka qualities at an extremely tender age.

परिचयः || Introduction

Vaajasrava, Nachiketa's father performed the Visvajit yaaga and gave away all that he had in charity. Nachiketa a mere boy, कुमारं प्रथमवयसं सन्तमप्राप्तप्रजननशक्तिं बालमेव [1] Kumaara, young, not yet possessed of the power of procreating, was observing all those who received the दानम् || dana (charity). He was filled with anxiety at the impropriety of the act, all the faith in the principles laid down by the Vedas, rushed into his senses. It is to be observed that a small boy he is, realized that the cows given in charity were old, barren and useless to the receiver, and such an act would only lead the donor, his father to the lands devoid of happiness. The present article gives insights into Nachiketa's qualities, having which led him to have permanent place in Brahmaloka.

नचिकेतसः गुणवैशिष्टम् ॥Nachiketa's Qualities

निश्चितबुद्धिः || Determination

उशन्ह वै वाजश्रवसः सर्ववेदसं ददौ || uśanha vai vājaśravasaḥ sarvavēdasaṁ dadau || (Katha. Upan. 1.1.1)

Meaning : Once, desirous of heaven, the son on Vajasrava (Vaajasrava) gave away all that he possessed.

Nachiketa was fully aware that his father was desirous of giving away everything that he possessed. Nachiketa himself filled with श्रद्धास्तिक्यबुद्धिः made up his mind that - he was also "possessed" by his father and so he could also be given away in charity[2].

दानधर्माचरण विज्ञानम् || Knowledge of Charity

पीतोदका जग्धतृणा दुग्धदोहा निरिन्द्रियाः || pītōdakā jagdhatr̥ṇā dugdhadōhā nirindriyāḥ || (Katha. Upan. 1.1.3)

Meaning : Ones (cows) which have drunk water, eater grass, given their milk are barren.

Anything that is given in charity has to given with an intent that it would be useful to the receiver. Nachiketa was completely knowledgeable at a tender age, that his father's donation of barren cows would not serve the purpose of such a charity and is not advisable according to sastras. This aspect of charity is discussed in the Sikshavalli of Taittiriya Brahmana[2].

वाक्कौशलम् || Expert Orator

Nachiketa's way of questioning and choice of words is an important quality that is required for a sadhaka. He was well versed in the knowledge of charitable things, yet he did not directly question his father's improper act of donation of barren cows. Indirect questioning - Paroksha--- devaaha is a characteristic that is appreciated and followed by Devatas in order not to hurt any being by direct harsh speech.

दूरदृष्टिः || Farsightedness

Nachiketa aware of the evil results of an improperly conducted charity was impelled to take on the consequences and asks his father[3][1]

स होवाच पितरं तत कस्मै मां दास्यसीति || sa hōvāca pitaraṁ tata kasmai māṁ dāsyasīti || (Katha. Upan. 1.1.4)

Meaning : So he asks his father "to whom will you offer me".

पितृभक्तिः || Affection for elders

Seeing the charity of barren cows, wishing heartily for the welfare of his father (पितुर्हितकामप्रयुक्ताविवेश), to ward off the evil result that his father would accrue (पितुरनिष्टं फलं मया पुत्रेण सता निवारणीयमात्मप्रदानेनापि क्रतुसंपत्तिं कृत्वेत्येवं मत्वा[1] (Shrimad Sankaraacharya Bhashyam)), Nachiketa making an offering of himself as an object to be given away[3] shows his affection for his father.

आत्मपरिशीलनम् || Introspection

बहूनामेमि प्रथमो बहूनामेमि मध्यमः । bahūnāmēmi prathamō bahūnāmēmi madhyamaḥ । (Katha. Upan. 1.1.5)

Meaning: Among many (disciples) I rank first (foremost in conduct of a disciple), among many I may be counted as (madhyama - may behave not as foremost in conduct). But I never did behave as the worst[3].

Nachiketa inspite of hearing that he would be given to Yama, introspected his actions and mind as to why his father gave such a remorseful curse on him.

पितृवाक्यपालनम् || Treading the path of Truth

अनुपश्य यथा पूर्वे प्रतिपश्य तथा परे । सस्यमिव मर्त्यः पच्यते सस्यमिवाजायते पुनः ॥ ६॥

anupaśya yathā pūrvē pratipaśya tathā parē । sasyamiva martyaḥ pacyatē sasyamivājāyatē punaḥ ॥ 6॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.1.6)

Meaning : Nachiketa implores saying "considering the actions of forefathers (it behoves that one should tread in their footsteps) and consider the actions of others presently. Like corn, the mortal decays, and like corn they are born again.

Nachiketa reminds his father that his forefathers were सत्यवाक्परिपालकाः followers of Truth, so his father's words should not be falsified even if they are uttered in anger. What does one gain in this impermanent human world by breaking one's own words? Thus the concept पालयात्मनः सत्यम्। प्रेषय मां यमायेत्यभिप्रायः || protect your own truth and send me to mrityuloka[1] (Shrimad Sankaraacharya bhasyam) ; establishes Nachiketa's adherence to truth. He consoles saying that everything is temporary in this material world, so there is no need to be desolate.

शक्तिसंपन्नः || Strength

Nachiketa, addressed as Kumara, is at a tender age of initiation into the formal education. Enlightenment at such age and knowledge of the rituals and sastras endowed him the ability to travel to Yamapuri and return from the point where no mortal can return[2].

परार्थम् || Welfare of others

Nachiketa's quest for knowledge of Agni or Brahman and Yama's revealing it is Paropakarakam for the welfare of all the mortal beings[2]. Once the benefits of Agnichayanam and piling the fire thrice are known, people would be motivated to pursue it for their own good.

तवैव नाम्ना भवितायमग्निः सृङ्कां चेमामनेकरूपां गृहाण ॥ १६॥

tavaiva nāmnā bhavitāyamagniḥ sr̥ṅkāṁ cēmāmanēkarūpāṁ gr̥hāṇa ॥ 16॥(Katha. Upan. 1.1.16)

पारलौकिकार्थम् || Goals beyond worldly things

त्रिणाचिकेतस्त्रिभिरेत्य सन्धिं त्रिकर्मकृत्तरति जन्ममृत्यू । triṇācikētastribhirētya sandhiṁ trikarmakr̥ttarati janmamr̥tyū । (Katha. Upan. 1.1.17)

Pleased with Nachiketa's quest for brahmavidya, Yama grants that it (Agnichayana) will be celebrated with Nachiketa's name and blesses that those who perform Agnichayana will realize Atma by overcoming the cycles of birth and death. This shows that knowledge beyond the material world and for attainment of brahmajnana is the ultimate goal.

कार्यदक्षता || Steadfastness

देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं पुरा न हि सुविज्ञेयमणुरेष धर्मः । dēvairatrāpi vicikitsitaṁ purā na hi suvijñēyamaṇurēṣa dharmaḥ ।(Katha. Upan. 1.1.21)

Meaning : Nachiketa says "Even devatas have doubts and it is not easily understood."

Nachiketa pursues what is not easily understood even by the devatas shows his determination to achieve the apparently impossible task.

प्रलोभराहित्यम् || Unallured

Mantras from Kathaopanishad 1.1.23 to 29 reveal how Yama tries to lure Nachiketa into the materialistic world with grant of sons, cattle, gold, kingdom, horses and elephants among other things. Nachiketa remains unagitated and insists to learn about the secrets of death only. This shows his conquering of Preyas without getting lured into worldly pleasures.

सहनशीलता || Patience

Patiently, Nachiketa refuses all of Yama's offers of material things, and waits until Yama is totally convinced that he is a worthy disciple ready for the knowledge.

संवादः || Discussion

Bharatavarsha has produced such rishis and maharshis, who have given Jnana and Jivana vidhana for the generations to come. Stories of similar personalities who had the courage to be different, such as of Dhruva, Markandeya, and Garuda stand testimony to great achievements in ancient ages and reflect the timelessness of our heritage.

Vedanta and Upanishads abound with the definitions of Sadhaka and Sadhana.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sitarama Sastry. S.(1923) Katha and Prasna Upanishads and Sri Sankara's Commentary. Madras: The India Printing Works
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Kodandaramacharyulu. K. (2011) Kathopanishat - Samajikaamsamulu (Pages 78 to 92) from Upanishat Sudha Lahari, Hyderabad: Sahiti Samskritika Samstha
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Swami Gambhiranand, (1957) Eight Upanishads, With the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol 1. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama