The Kathopanishad

The Kathopanishad is one of the ten primary Upanishads, belonging to the Yajurveda. It is in the form of a conversation between a young boy called Nachiketa and the Lord of Death.

The boy is curious to know what happens after death and in search of the answer, he goes to the abode of the Lord of death and puts forth his question. The ensuing conversation is of immense value to mankind, throwing light on the core values of life, on the common human frailties and the mystery of the hereafter.

Nachiketa commences by asking “In respect of a dead man, some say ‘ he is’, some say ‘ he is not’. Please enlighten me on this”. Death tries to dissuade the boy by saying that it is not easy to understand and is so subtle that even the Gods had difficulty in understanding it.

But the pertinacious boy refuses to leave until he gets an answer. Death then tries to distract him with offers of wealth, lordship over the world, unending life, anything that a mortal may desire. But the boy will not be dissuaded and says that all these pleasures are ephemeral. Death is compelled to relent and thus begins his discourse. 

“Both the good and the pleasing come to man. The one who is wise chooses the good in preference to the pleasing. The one who chooses only the pleasing gets lured into the trap of temporary pleasures. There are fools, who consider themselves learned and strut about like blind men led by another blind man. The ‘self’ in the cave-heart of man is the same in every being. It is not born, nor does it die. It is everlasting, eternal and ancient.

It does not disappear when the body collapses. The self can be perceived by one who is free from desire and who is pure of mind and senses. This self cannot be attained through intellectual power, vast scholarship or by exposition. The body is the chariot, the self is its lord, intellect the charioteer, the mind the reins, the sense organs the horses. The horses run after the pleasures.

They need to be reined in by the intellect. For the unwise, the senses are uncontrolled. Knowledge confers purity and a place among the Gods, where there is no rebirth. But the path of knowledge is like a knife edge, hard to traverse.

One is released from death only through knowledge. Only the immature pursue transitory material pleasures, like rain water running down a slope in different directions. O Nachiketa, some souls, after death become embodied in a new womb. Others enter into trees etc, according to their past actions and learning.

The one person, who resides in all, the eternal witness, who controls all, who only takes on different outward shapes, is the unmanifest Lord. Know this, O Nachiketa,”

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