Yama Nachiketa Samvada (यमनचिकेतसोः संवादः)

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Nachiketa (Samskrit : नचिकेता) is the son of Vajashrava (also Auddalaka) who at a young age is known to have sought brahmavidya from Yama (Mrityu devata) himself. Kathopanishad describes in great detail the story of brahmajnani Nachiketa, with lofty thoughts, who takes upon the consequences of the imperfection he observes in his father's Vaajasrava's performance of Visvajit yagna.

Accordingly, upon questioning his father thus he receives the answer that he will be given to Mrityu (Death)

कस्मै मां दास्यसीति ॥ to whom will you offer me to?

मृत्यवे त्वा ददामीति ॥ to Mrityu (Death) I offer you.

With perseverance he undertakes the journey to the Yamapuri (land of death) and awaits the return of Yama at his abode for three nights. For his exceptional courage to face death, Yama grants him three boons, the dialogue between them forms the essence of brahmavidya as elucidated in Kathopanishad (Krishna Yajurveda shaka of Taittriya Samhita) as put forth in this article[1][2][3][4].

कठोपनिषद्सारम् ॥ Kathopanishad Saaram

Kathopanishad is commonly studied to understand the secret of Death unraveled through the dialogue between Nachiketa and Mrityu (Yama, the devata for death). It is a short exposition consisting of 3 adhyayas, each of which is divided into 3 vallis[5]. Each valli has varying number of slokas embedded with words of great thoughts that reveal the secrets to the path of realization of the Self.

In Upanishad Shri[6], Pandit Ramachandra summarizes the essence of Kathopanishad as follows

स्वान्तःप्राणाक्षिवाणीप्रभृति च विषयाभासकं यस्य योगाद् यन्न प्राप्नोति चैतद्विदितं यद्भवेन्नात्मरूपम्। इन्द्राद्या देवमुख्या अपि किल न विदुर्यस्य शक्तिं निगूढां तद्बुद्धं येन सोऽसौ भवति नरवरोऽनन्तसौख्यप्रतिष्ठः ॥

svāntaḥprāṇākṣivāṇīprabhr̥ti ca viṣayābhāsakaṁ yasya yogād yanna prāpnoti caitadviditaṁ yadbhavennātmarūpam। indrādyā devamukhyā api kila na viduryasya śaktiṁ nigūḍhāṁ tadbuddhaṁ yena so'sau bhavati naravaro'nantasaukhyapratiṣṭhaḥ ॥

अतिथिमर्यादा ॥ Atithimaryada

When Yama’s family offered entry and welcome to Nachiketa, he refuses and remains at the gate of Yamapuri for three nights without food as Yama, the host, was not present. Upon return the gate-keepers address Yama as follows to carry water for Nachiketa.

वैश्वानरः प्रविशति अतिथिर्ब्राह्मणो गृहान् । तस्यैताँ् शान्तिं कुर्वन्ति हर वैवस्वतोदकम् ॥ ७॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.7)[5]

vaiśvānaraḥ praviśati atithirbrāhmaṇō gr̥hān । tasyaitām̐ śāntiṁ kurvanti hara vaivasvatōdakam ॥ 7॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.7)

Meaning : Like fire a brahmin guest enters the house (of a grhasta). It is wise to quench the fire by offering water, O Vaivasvata!

आशाप्रतीक्षे सङ्गतँ् सूनृतां च इष्टापूर्ते पुत्रपशू्ँ्श्च सर्वान् । एतद्वृङ्क्ते पुरुषस्याल्पमेधसो यस्यानश्नन्वसति ब्राह्मणो गृहे ॥ ८॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.8)

āśāpratīkṣē saṅgatam̐ sūnr̥tāṁ ca iṣṭāpūrtē putrapaśūm̐śca sarvān । ētadvr̥ṅktē puruṣasyālpamēdhasō yasyānaśnanvasati brāhmaṇō gr̥hē ॥ 8॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.8)

Meaning : Hope, expectation, company of holy men, righteousness and good opinion of men, fruits of religious and charitable deeds, sons and cattle - all these - of that man of little intelligence get destroyed in whose house a Brahmin guest stays without taking food.

यमस्य वरप्रदानम् ॥ Yama grants 3 boons

Yama hastily comes to the gates to receive Nachiketa and duly offers him three boons, one for each night (of his stay) in an act to remedy the evil effect of an honorable guest lying without food at his doorstep. A spark even though it is just a spark, possesses all the qualities of the fire. Therefore it is not at all surprising that when Nachiketa entered Yamapuri after fasting for three days, Yama’s associates were told to bring him water and give him a resting place immediately.

Nachiketa who had already reached the platform of immortality has not come to Yamaloka for boons. However, Yamaraja begging Nachketa to ask him for a boon is one of most delightful aspects of this Vedic compilation. Nachiketa was forced to ask the boons, not for himself but as a favour to Yama[7].

किँ्स्विद्यमस्य कर्तव्यं यन्मयाऽद्य करिष्यति ॥ ५॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.5)[5]

kim̐svidyamasya kartavyaṁ yanmayā'dya kariṣyati ॥ 5॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.5)

Meaning : what purpose can there of Yama, that my father will achieve through me (by sending me here). 

"What will my father achieve of Yama by sending me to him" was Nachiketa’s first thought as he was coming to Yamapuri, but is received with good reception and grant of boons upon arrival. Nachiketa's boons from Yamaraja reveals his sterling qualities and character.  

प्रथमवर: ॥ First boon - Sadhaka Gunas

शान्तसङ्कल्पः सुमना यथा स्याद्वीतमन्युर्गौतमो माभिमृत्यो । त्वत्प्रसृष्टं माऽभिवदेत्प्रतीत एतत् त्रयाणां प्रथम वरं वृणे ॥ १०॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.10)

śāntasaṅkalpaḥ sumanā yathā syādvītamanyurgautamō mābhimr̥tyō । tvatprasr̥ṣṭaṁ mā'bhivadētpratīta ētat trayāṇāṁ prathama varaṁ vr̥ṇē ॥ 10॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.10)

Meaning : Oh Mrityu, give me as the first boon, that Gautama (my father), have शान्तसङ्कल्पः calmness (free from anxiety on my account), सुमना be pleased in mind वीतमन्युः free from anger towards me, and greet me with the same old affection, when sent back by you. Yama is pleased and replies  

यथा पुरस्ताद्भविता प्रतीत औद्दालकिरारुणिर्मत्प्रसृष्टः । सुखँ् रात्रीः शयिता वीतमन्युः त्वां ददृशिवान्मृत्युमुखात् प्रमुक्तम् ॥ ११॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.11)

yathā purastādbhavitā pratīta auddālakirāruṇirmatprasr̥ṣṭaḥ । sukham̐ rātrīḥ śayitā vītamanyuḥ tvāṁ dadr̥śivānmr̥tyumukhāt pramuktam ॥ 11॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.11)

Meaning : Your father Auddalaki or Aruni will consider you as affectionately as he does normally and will be freed from anger.  When you return from the jaws of death he will get over his anger and with my blessings will, for many nights henceforth, be happily resting. 

साधकलक्षणम् || Sadhaka Lakshana

The first boon asked by Nachiketa indicates what one needs to do for achieving the highest perfection, Paramapurusha. Nachiketa’s father who was angry, was simply an instrument in giving the message that anger has to be controlled by a sadhaka.  The prayers offered by Nachiketa are the secondary characteristics which sadhakas must have.  

Sadhaka in Brahma-sutras

Sri Vedavyas in the sutra (Anumanika adhikarana in the Brahma sutra),

"trayanameva caivam upanyasa prasnasca || (1.4.6)"

explains that the entire Katho Upanishad is the compilation of these 3 questions and the answers to the questions. The first question and the answer is considered as the sadhaka’s characteristics who is upetra (the beneficiary)  and the others are the Upaya (the process) and Upeya (instrument to execute the process). For one is not calm, Yoga is not possible. This is elucidated in later in the Upanishad (?)

"||na viratho discaritat  nasantho nasamahitaha"

"nasantha manasovapi prajnanena yenam apnuyath || (2.24)"

One who has not given up bad behavior, is not calm & has no control over his senses, however intelligent he may be will be unable to achieve Ishwara by his own efforts.  

द्वितीय​वर: ॥ Second boon - Agni Vidya

स्वर्गे लोके न भयं किञ्चनास्ति न तत्र त्वं न जरया बिभेति । उभे तीर्त्वा अशनायापिपासे शोकातिगो मोदते स्वर्गलोके ॥ १२॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.12)

svargē lōkē na bhayaṁ kiñcanāsti na tatra tvaṁ na jarayā bibhēti । ubhē tīrtvā aśanāyāpipāsē śōkātigō mōdatē svargalōkē ॥ 12॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.12)

Meaning : In heaven there is no fear whatsoever - as you are not there and no one there fears old age. Having transcended both hunger and thirst and crossed over sorrow, one rejoices in the heavenly worlds.

स त्वमग्निँ् स्वर्ग्यमध्येषि मृत्यो प्रब्रूहि त्वँ् श्रद्दधानाय मह्यम् । स्वर्गलोका अमृतत्वं भजन्त एतद् द्वितीयेन वृणे वरेण ॥ १३॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.13)

sa tvamagnim̐ svargyamadhyēṣi mr̥tyō prabrūhi tvam̐ śraddadhānāya mahyam । svargalōkā amr̥tatvaṁ bhajanta ētad dvitīyēna vr̥ṇē varēṇa ॥ 13॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.13)

Meaning : Oh Mrityu ! explicitly tell me - as you who have studied (having the knowledge of) about the Agni vidya as means for attainment of Svargaloka (where aforesaid qualities exist) and where the dwellers have immortality (divinity) - this Agni vidya or the Knowledge of Fire I seek for, as my second boon. Yama replies as follows

प्रते ब्रवीमि तदु मे निबोध स्वर्ग्यमग्निं नचिकेतः प्रजानन् । अनन्तलोकाप्तिमथो प्रतिष्ठां विद्धि त्वमेतं निहितं गुहायाम् ॥ १४॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.14)

pratē bravīmi tadu mē nibōdha svargyamagniṁ nacikētaḥ prajānan । anantalōkāptimathō pratiṣṭhāṁ viddhi tvamētaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyām ॥ 14॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.14)

Meaning : I shall verily explain that (knowledge) which you seek to learn from me. Know that this Agni which is अनन्तलोकाप्तिम् ॥ the means to attain Infinite world (heaven), is the support of the Universe and know that this is located in the hidden place - in the intellect of wise men.

लोकादिमग्निं तमुवाच तस्मै या इष्टका यावतीर्वा यथा वा । स चापि तत्प्रत्यवदद्यथोक्तं अथास्य मृत्युः पुनरेवाह तुष्टः ॥ १५॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.15)

lōkādimagniṁ tamuvāca tasmai yā iṣṭakā yāvatīrvā yathā vā । sa cāpi tatpratyavadadyathōktaṁ athāsya mr̥tyuḥ punarēvāha tuṣṭaḥ ॥ 15॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.15)

Meaning : Mrithyu explained him about the Agni that is the source of the universe, the class and number of bricks, and the manner of arranging for the fire. Nachiketa too repeated verbatim, with understanding what was told.

नचिकेताग्निः ॥ Nachiketaagni

Nachiketa's second question (at such a tender age) implies his knowledge and inquisitiveness for the Agnividya that grants Amurtatvam (immortality) or Moksha, which is beyond birth and death, a state of unboundedness.  The 1st question was asked from upetra’s perspective. Here he is asking from upaya’s perspective, the process.

तमब्रवीत्प्रीयमाणो महात्मा वरं तवेहाद्य ददामि भूयः । तवैव नाम्ना भवितायमग्निः सृङ्कां चेमामनेकरूपां गृहाण ॥ १६॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.16)

tamabravītprīyamāṇō mahātmā varaṁ tavēhādya dadāmi bhūyaḥ । tavaiva nāmnā bhavitāyamagniḥ sr̥ṅkāṁ cēmāmanēkarūpāṁ gr̥hāṇa ॥ 16॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.16)

Meaning : Feeling greatly pleased at the fitness of the disciple, Nachiketa, the high-souled one (Yama) gives him another boon. This Agni (vidya) will be known by your name indeed. And accept this variously hued necklace symbolic of an additional knowledge about (variegated) karma because it leads to various results.    

Yama pleased with Nachiketa offers another boon besides the three boons. He blesses Nachiketa by saying that in future, the Agni-vidya, so explained by him will be called as Nachiketa-agni. The functioning of this Agni, and how to install it is explained in the Taittirya brahmana 3.11.7 and 9.  

स्वर्गलोकः ॥ Svargaloka

Here Yama’s description of highest loka - being eternal and unlimited indicates that the Svarga mentioned here is not the ordinary Svargaloka, but eternal abode which is a point of no return; rather the sadhaka will be installed there forever. In the present context the word स्वर्गलोकः ॥ Svargaloka has been used to explain the plane attained by a realized soul.  

According to Sri. K. S. Narayanacharya[7] - these are not the lands where one enjoys sensuality as described in kingdom of Devatas where many celestial beings exist along with Indra, it's king. The context describes Nachiketa as one who seeks Infinite Worlds अनन्तलोकाप्तिम् beyond such pleasures. Thus, the characteristics of Svargaloka described by the enlightened Nachiketa does not equate with the Svargaloka. It is well known that Svargaloka or heavenly abode is not permanent as it gets destroyed at kalpanta. Here Nachiketa explains about a state of fearlessness or liberation from all kinds of fear. Different Upanishads explain the state of highest achievement in different ways as follows.   


Keno Upanishad states that apart from Indra, Agni, Vayu, and the other devatas, a person who understands brahmavidya is freed from all kalmasha and contamination and will achieve and permanently adore the highest place of Svarga. Here the word svarga indicates the highest destination.

"yo va yetham evam veda apahathya papananama ananthe"

"swarge loke jyehe prati tishti pratitishtati (4.9)"


In Aithreya Upanishad, Vamadeva rishi while glorifys brahmajnana. Those who understand the consequences of attaining this knowledge will be, after quitting the body, raised to svarga where after fulfilling all their desires, they become immortal or achieve liberation. Here also Svarga denotes an existence of higher planets. 

"||sa evam vidvan asmacharira bedadurdvam"

"Utkramya amushmin svarge loke sarvan"

"Kamanaptva amruta samabhavat samabhavat || (2.4)"

Chandogya Upanishad

Chandogya Upanishad 8.4.5 explains about Svarga as the paramapada or the final/great place of destination described as Brahmaloka  

apahata papma esa brahma lokaha  

This planet is the third from the earthly planet. In that land there are forests knows as Ara, and nyas, lakes known as asairam-madi, ashwatha tree called as Somasavan. This place is said to be eternal called the city of Aparajitha where there is hiranya –golden hued pandal. Only those who practice brahmacarya, achieve this planet. This clearly indicates that this is not the land of caturmukha,  Sruti does not explain any other higher planet than this Brahmaloka. 

Kaushitaki Upanishad

Kaushitaki Upanishad also describes a similar place called Brahmaloka (1.21.67) as given in Chandogya Upanishad. According to this Upanishad the ultimate destination of those souls on the path of Devayana (path of devatas) is brahmaloka.  A similar description of lakes, forest and beautiful pandal is also mentioned here. Here also Brahmapura is described as Aparajitha meaning undefeatable.


In Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.6 the final destination of those on the arichiradi path is called as Brahmaloka.

"Esha vaha punyah sukrito brahma lokah."

It is amruthamaya and the abode of parama purusha. This is explained in 1.2.11 and therefore all this can give us the clear understanding that this is the same parama pada.

"Yasyarvagnya sarva vitha yasmaisa mahima buhi"

divye brahma pure haiva yo mnyatma  pratishitaha (2.2.7) One who is all knowing bhagvantha(Bhagavan) is residing in brahmapura. Same paramdhama is  It is explained in 3.2.11. as Para brahma dhama bandhu in 3.2.4; braham dhama in 3.2.6--it is described as  brahama loka.


Prashnopanishat (1.15) also describes the highest place as Brahmaloka. In here (5.5) it is described as that planet which is higher than all other lokas, where the Paramapurusha of the Brahmaloka is resting in Yoga nidra.  

In this way different schools of thought describe the highest platform of ascent of soul variously as Svarga, Paramapada and Brahamaloka.

तृतीयवर: ॥ Third Boon - Brahma Vidya

Nachiketa is urged to ask for his third boon by Yama. The soul of Kathopanishad and the essence of Vedas lies in the response to the third query.

येयं प्रेते विचिकित्सा मनुष्ये अस्तीत्येके नायमस्तीति चैके । एतद्विद्यामनुशिष्टस्त्वयाऽहं वराणामेष वरस्तृतीयः ॥ २०॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.20)

yēyaṁ prētē vicikitsā manuṣyē astītyēkē nāyamastīti caikē । ētadvidyāmanuśiṣṭastvayā'haṁ varāṇāmēṣa varastr̥tīyaḥ ॥ 20॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.20)

Meaning : This doubt that arises, consequent to the death of a man - some say, "It (the Self) exists" and others say, "It does not exist". I would like to know this, under your instruction as the third of all the boons. On hearing the question Yama answers thus:

देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं पुरा न हि सुविज्ञेयमणुरेष धर्मः । अन्यं वरं नचिकेतो वृणीष्व मा मोपरोत्सीरति मा सृजैनम् ॥ २१॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.21)

dēvairatrāpi vicikitsitaṁ purā na hi suvijñēyamaṇurēṣa dharmaḥ । anyaṁ varaṁ nacikētō vr̥ṇīṣva mā mōparōtsīrati mā sr̥jainam ॥ 21॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.21)

Meaning : In earlier days, even devatas had doubts regarding the subtle substance (the Self) which is not easily comprehended. So Nachiketa ! ask for some other boon and do not press me; give up this question that you asked of me. Hearing this Nachiketa insists to know about Death from Yama as follows:

देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं किल त्वं च मृत्यो यन्न सुज्ञेयमात्थ । वक्ता चास्य त्वादृगन्यो न लभ्यो नान्यो वरस्तुल्य एतस्य कश्चित् ॥ २२॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.22)

dēvairatrāpi vicikitsitaṁ kila tvaṁ ca mr̥tyō yanna sujñēyamāttha । vaktā cāsya tvādr̥ganyō na labhyō nānyō varastulya ētasya kaścit ॥ 22॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.22)

Meaning : O Yama! When even devatas had doubt about this subject, that It (Knowledge of Self) is not well comprehended and any other such learned instructor as yourself is not to be found even on searching, therefore there is no other boon comparable to this one.

However, Yama replies to Nachiketa by offering various things such as granting sons, grandsons, animals, elephants, gold, horses, huge kingdom, fitness to enjoy all delectable things and ultimately even chiranjivatvam or life as long as wished to enjoy all pleasures.

Nachiketa, as serene as an unperturbed lake, replies that all such things are ephemeral and waste away the vigour of the senses that man has. Nachiketa is an exemplary example of an enlightened soul at a young age who realised that all life, without exception, is short indeed and easily turns away from temptations. He offers back all the vehicles, songs and dances offered by Yama may remain with him only. And he persists that men may rule as long as the worlds exist but that boon of knowledge of Self is worth praying for as every person wants to ascend and reach higher levels (material or spiritual). Therefore, Nachiketa says "O Yama! I am not to be seduced by the lure of sons, wealth, cattle and kingdoms. What are these to a sensible man who realises that worldly pleasures are transient in nature?"

यस्मिन्निदं विचिकित्सन्ति मृत्यो यत्साम्पराये महति ब्रूहि नस्तत् । योऽयं वरो गूढमनुप्रविष्टो नान्यं तस्मान्नचिकेता वृणीते ॥ २९॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.29)

yasminnidaṁ vicikitsanti mr̥tyō yatsāmparāyē mahati brūhi nastat । yō'yaṁ varō gūḍhamanupraviṣṭō nānyaṁ tasmānnacikētā vr̥ṇītē ॥ 29॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.29)

Meaning : Oh Mrityu ! tell me what I pray you for. About which (Self) people entertain many doubts as to whether It exists or not, in the context of the next world and whose knowledge leads to a great result. This boon that relates to the Self, which is inscrutable and secretive - is what Nachiketa prayed for. Yama grants him what is called as Nachiketavidya (नचिकेतविद्या).

ब्रह्मविद्या ॥ Knowledge of Brahman

Nachiketa’s third question is very subtle and its significance forms the essence of Kathopanishad. It can be said  that the entire purva paksha of vedanta is hidden in this question.

The Charvaka’s philosophy has been one of the oldest and most prominent opponents of Vedanta philosophy. The Charvaka school does not believe in existence of soul or Atma, and existence after death. Charvakas believe that death is moksha and there is no other place or Brahmaloka that the soul can transmigrate to. It may appear to the intelligent persons that Nachiketa’s question is similar to the Charvaka school of thought[7].    

Nachiketa’s question "It exists or not" seems to imply whether he questions existence or Atma or Self variously called, beyond the bodily state. And if It exists he does not understand or believe in its existence?    

However, careful understanding of Nachiketa's questions disproves the same. He asks Yama about the Paramapada (highest destination) for It (Self) and convinces Yama that he is a persevering student aspiring to gain the knowledge of Self. This shows that he believed of existence of Atma and that It traverses a path, which no worldly pleasures can take one to. Thus it firmly proves his faith in the existence of path for the Self and presses Yama to instruct in such brahmavidya. If he did not believe in such an existence he would have easily accepted Yama's allurings of sons, cattle and chiranjeevatvam instead he was steadfast about brahmavidya[7].  

Shreya and Preya

Yama starts with the choice between Shreyas and Preyas, which is good and pleasant. The concept of Shreyas - one which is good and Preyas - one which is pleasant, lure a sadhaka in different directions.  

While Shreyas - good is difficult to endure and it leads one to the Brahman (Absolute) and he attains Moksha or liberation from samsara. Preyas on the other hand is pleasure and is intimately connected with the body, which prevents a sadhaka from choosing the good. It becomes very clear that one cannot pursue good and the pleasant at the same time, just as light and dark cannot be perceived in the same place.

Brahmavidya as in Kathopanishad

Having found in Nachiketa, a persevering pupil in search of the truth of Spirit ( Atma or Self), Yama imparts the Knowledge of Brahman to him (From 1st adhyaya 2nd Valli to end of 3rd adhyaya). Yama being a Brahmanistha himself explains about Atma - which is difficult to understand as it is subtler than the subtlest and cannot be comprehended by any logical explanation. This omnicient "it" is not born, nor does it die. It does not come from anywhere and it does not become into anything, hence called as "Asti" or "Exists"[2].

नैव वाचा न मनसा प्राप्तुं शक्यो न चक्षुषा । अस्तीति ब्रुवतोऽन्यत्र कथं तदुपलभ्यते ॥ १२॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.12)

naiva vācā na manasā prāptuṁ śakyō na cakṣuṣā । astīti bruvatō'nyatra kathaṁ tadupalabhyatē ॥ 12॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.12)

Meaning : It cannot be attained (understood) through speech (words of expression), nor through mind (intellectual processes), nor through the eye (sense organs). How can It be known to anyone apart from him who speak of It as existing? The idea is that "It" is not perceived in any way by external means. If the world had no root, this creation would be filled with non-existence and would be perceived as non-existent. However, this not being the case, creation is perceived as "existing", just as a pot produced from mrittika or earth are perceived as permeated with earth. Therefore the Self, the root of the Universe, is to be realized as existing. Why?

अस्तीत्येवोपलब्धव्यस्तत्त्वभावेन चोभयोः । अस्तीत्येवोपलब्धस्य तत्त्वभावः प्रसीदति ॥ १३॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.13)

astītyēvōpalabdhavyastattvabhāvēna cōbhayōḥ । astītyēvōpalabdhasya tattvabhāvaḥ prasīdati ॥ 13॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.13)

Meaning : The Self is (primarily) to be realised as existing and then only as It really is. Of these two aspects, the true nature of It reveals itself to one who believes It as existing.

यदा सर्वे प्रमुच्यन्ते कामा येऽस्य हृदि श्रिताः । अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्यत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुते ॥ १४॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.14)

yadā sarvē pramucyantē kāmā yē'sya hr̥di śritāḥ । atha martyō'mr̥tō bhavatyatra brahma samaśnutē ॥ 14॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.14)

Meaning : When all the desires that are dwelling in one's heart cease to be present, then a mortal becomes immortal and attains Brahman here.

एतद्ध्येवाक्षरं ब्रह्म एतद्ध्येवाक्षरं परम् । एतद्ध्येवाक्षरं ज्ञात्वा यो यदिच्छति तस्य तत् ॥ १६॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.16)

etaddhyevākṣaraṁ brahma etaddhyevākṣaraṁ param । etaddhyevākṣaraṁ jñātvā yo yadicchati tasya tat ॥ 16॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.16)

Meaning : This letter ॐ ॥ OM is Brahman, this is indeed the supreme. Knowing which one letter, one obtains what he desires. The knowledge, untouched by the outer objects, reveals itself to the man of concentrated mind on the utterance of the word OM[3].

अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषोऽन्तरात्मा सदा जनानां हृदये संनिविष्टः । तं स्वाच्छरीरात्प्रवृहेन्मुञ्जादिवेषीकां धैर्येण । तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतं तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतमिति ॥ १७॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.17)

aṅguṣṭhamātraḥ puruṣō'ntarātmā sadā janānāṁ hr̥dayē saṁniviṣṭaḥ । taṁ svāccharīrātpravr̥hēnmuñjādivēṣīkāṁ dhairyēṇa । taṁ vidyācchukramamr̥taṁ taṁ vidyācchukramamr̥tamiti ॥ 17॥ (Kath. Upan. 2.3.17)

Meaning : The Purusha, अन्तरात्मा indwelling Self called as Atma, of the size of a thumb, is ever seated in the heart of all living beings. One should courageously separate Him from one's body like a stalk separated from the reed (Munja). Know that it is pure and immortal.

Unborn, eternal, perpetual and ancient, beyond decay, this Atma is not killed when the body is killed. Addressed as "It" Self, Atma or Brahman is said to be seated in the innermost cavity of the heart and attained only by abstracting the senses and mind from outer objective world and resolving this energy into Brahman[4].

संवादः || Discussion

Till date there are many versions about the understanding of life after death which led to a lot of speculation and debate. Similarly there is diversity of thought as regards to Moksha.  Sri K. Ramesh (Bharatiya Vidvat Parishad) presents a simple summary of different thoughts about Moksha a few as given below

  1. Realization of Self as Brahman is Moksha according to Vedas and Upanishads. The knower of Self is called as “JNANI” or “Brahman Jnani”. 
  2. मृत्युः मोक्षः इति *चार्वाकाः*। Mrityu is Moksha according to Charvakas 
  3. प्रकृत्युपरमे पुरुषस्य स्वरूपेण अवस्थानं मोक्षः इति *सांख्याः*। Rejoicing of prakriti and purusha in oneness is moksha or Kaivalya according to Sankhya.  
  4. अशेषविशेषगुणोच्छेदः मोक्षः इति *वैशेषिकाः*। Dissolution of all qualities in entirety is moksha according to Vaiseshakas. 
  5. आत्यन्तिकी दुःखनिवृत्तिः मोक्षः इति *नैयायिकाः*। Dissolution of all sorrows is moksha according to Naiyyayikas. 
  6. स्वर्गादिप्राप्तिः मोक्षः इति *मीमांसकाः*। Svarga prapti or attaining heaven is moksha according to Mimaamsakas. 
  7. सर्वज्ञत्वादीनां परमात्मगुणानां प्राप्तिः याथात्म्येन भगवत्स्वरूपानुभवश्च मोक्षः इति *रामानुजीयाः*। Attaining the omniscient qualities of the Infinite Consciousness, enjoying the oneness with Bhagavan is moksha according to Sri Ramanujacharya. 
  8. मूलाज्ञाननिवृत्तौ स्वस्वरूपाधिगमः मोक्षः इति *अद्वैतवेदान्तिनः*। Removal ignorance and realization that jeeva and paramatma are one is moksha according to Advaita philosophy. 
  9. शिवत्वप्राप्तिः मोक्षः इति *शैवाः*। Attainment of Siva is moksha according to Shaivas. 
  10. Nireeshwara sankhya proposes that body is transient and Atma is nirlepa (without any covering) free from any qualities, hence it is only a sakshi or witness.  
  11. The knower of Self is termed in Shrimad Bhagavadgita, according to the path he has selected to obtain moksha, as Sthitapragya, Yogi, Bhakta or Jnani.  

How many ever may be the differences in explaining the concept according differences in expression of words, the core feature is that Sanatana Dharma propounds the existence of Atma and Jiva travels on a path of realization, that may very well be given differently by different philosophies as above, but all ultimately lead to Infinite Bliss and Peace.

Verses and Meanings

The benefits for one who performs the Nachiketaagni is given by Yama himself as follows.

त्रिणाचिकेतस्त्रिभिरेत्य सन्धिं त्रिकर्मकृत्तरति जन्ममृत्यू । ब्रह्मजज्ञं देवमीड्यं विदित्वा निचाय्य माँ् शान्तिमत्यन्तमेति ॥ १७॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.17)

triṇācikētastribhirētya sandhiṁ trikarmakr̥ttarati janmamr̥tyū । brahmajajñaṁ dēvamīḍyaṁ viditvā nicāyya mām̐ śāntimatyantamēti ॥ 17॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.17)

Meaning: One who getting connection with the Eternal Triad or three (principles) as a source of valid knowledge

- father, mother and teacher

- three Vedas - the Rig, Yajus and Sama vedas

- Vedas, Smritis and Shistachara

- the three Pramanas - Pratyaksha (direct inference), Anumana (Inference) and Scriptures

and is a त्रिकर्मकृत् - one who performs the three kinds of Karma - यज्ञदानतपः कर्ता namely Yagna, Charity and Study (of the vedas) will certainly cross over the cycle of birth and death. When one is illumined by this adorable, bright and effulgent Agni vidya (born of Brahman) and upon meditating and realizing that One (as his Self), he attains everlasting peace.

त्रिणाचिकेतस्त्रयमेतद्विदित्वा य एवं विद्वाँ् श्चिनुते नाचिकेतम् । स मृत्युपाशान्पुरतः प्रणोद्य शोकातिगो मोदते स्वर्गलोके ॥ १८॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.18)

triṇācikētastrayamētadviditvā ya ēvaṁ vidvām̐ ścinutē nācikētam । sa mr̥tyupāśānpurataḥ praṇōdya śōkātigō mōdatē svargalōkē ॥ 18॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.1.18)

Meaning : One who performs the Nachiketa yagna thrice (त्रिणाचिकेतः) after know the arrangement and placement of bricks and having known the Nachiketaagni vidya, casts off the snares of मृत्यु or death, even earlier (before death) crossing over sorrow to rejoice in Svarga.

The following verses outline how Yama tests Nachiketa by luring him to ask for worldly pleasures instead of the inquiry about the nature of Death (Kath. Upan. 1.1.23 to 28).

शतायुषः पुत्रपौत्रान्वृणीष्वा बहून्पशून् हस्तिहिरण्यमश्वान् । भूमेर्महदायतनं वृणीष्व स्वयं च जीव शरदो यावदिच्छसि ॥ २३॥

एतत्तुल्यं यदि मन्यसे वरं वृणीष्व वित्तं चिरजीविकां च । महाभूमौ नचिकेतस्त्वमेधि कामानां त्वा कामभाजं करोमि ॥ २४॥

ये ये कामा दुर्लभा मर्त्यलोके सर्वान् कामाँ् श्छन्दतः प्रार्थयस्व । इमा रामाः सरथाः सतूर्या न हीदृशा लम्भनीया मनुष्यैः । आभिर्मत्प्रत्ताभिः परिचारयस्व नचिकेतो मरणं माऽनुप्राक्षीः ॥ २५॥

श्वोभावा मर्त्यस्य यदन्तकैतत् सर्वेन्द्रियाणां जरयन्ति तेजः । अपि सर्वं जीवितमल्पमेव तवैव वाहास्तव नृत्यगीते ॥ २६॥

न वित्तेन तर्पणीयो मनुष्यो लप्स्यामहे वित्तमद्राक्ष्म चेत्त्वा । जीविष्यामो यावदीशिष्यसि त्वं वरस्तु मे वरणीयः स एव ॥ २७॥

अजीर्यताममृतानामुपेत्य जीर्यन्मर्त्यः क्वधःस्थः प्रजानन् । अभिध्यायन्वर्णरतिप्रमोदान् अतिदीर्घे जीविते को रमेत ॥ २८॥


  1. Vasu, Srisa Chandra. (1905). Kathopanishad. Allahabad: Allahabad Press. https://archive.org/stream/KathaUpanisad/Katha_upani%E1%B9%A3ad#page/n11/mode/1up
  2. 2.0 2.1 Saraswati, Swami Sivananda, (1936). Dialogues from Upanishads.Amritsar: Em. Airi, Editor Ideal Home Magazine.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swami Gambhiranand, (1957) Eight Upanishads, With the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol 1. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama http://estudantedavedanta.net/Eight-Upanisads-Vol-1.pdf
  4. 4.0 4.1 Asopa, Govind Narayan (1940) Dasopanishatsaara, With Hindi Translation. Jodhpur: Govind Bhavan
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kathopanishad from Vedic Heritage Portal, New Delhi
  6. Dasopanishad Rahasya of Ramachandra Pandita by ML Wadekar (2001) extracted from Upanishad Shree by Urmila Srivatsav
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:​Sahitya Prakashana​.