The Secret of Life After Death
COMPETENCE – THE ELIGIBILITY TEST
Yama Raja was extremely impressed by this request. Indeed, Yama Raja knew how many secrets this young child had asked the solutions for in this one boon. There was no option or alternative but to reveal the heart of spirituality. The lofty mental attitude and intellect of Nachiketa, (who at first seemed a mere child) had already been experienced. Nevertheless, in accordance with the established traditions, Yama Raja decided to test Nachiketa’s eligibility and only then teach him the principles.
Yama Raja said, ‘देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं पुरा न हि सुविज्ञेयमणुरेष घर्मः। अन्यं वरं नचिकेतो वृणीष्व मा मोपरोत्सीरति मा सृजैनम्॥’ – ‘Devairatrãpi vichikitsitam purã na hi suvigneyamanuresha dharmaha. Anyam varam Nachiketo vruneeshva mã moparotseerati mã srujainam.’ – ‘Nachiketa! Ask for something else. What you want to know is very subtle. Even the devas have struggled to understand this matter. You are still a child. This will not be easy to understand. Ask for something else’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/21). In this way, he first showed him the difficulty of the topic. But, as though attaining some new enthusiasm from this matter, Nachiketa said, ‘देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं किल त्वं च मृत्यो यन्न सुविज्ञेयमात्थ।’ – ‘Devairatrãpi vichikitsitam kila tvam cha mrutyo yanna suvigneyamãttha.’ – ‘ Death! What you said has only increased my curiosity further. There must be some great secret hidden in something that even the devas struggle to attain. Therefore, even if the matter is subtle, I want to know it’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/22). Then Nachiketa continues to address Yama Raja, ‘वक्ता चास्य किल त्वादृगन्यो न लभ्यः’ – ‘Vaktã chãsya tvãdruganyo na labhyaha.’ – ‘When will I ever find a speaker of your calibre, who can simply explain the deepest principles lucidly?’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/22.) Therefore, ‘नान्यो वरस्तुल्य एतस्य कश्र्चित्’ – ‘Nãnyo varastulya etasya kashchit’ – ‘I do not feel that there is anything else worth asking for instead of this. Therefore give me only this’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/2).
Yama Raja had by now realized the eagerness of the child. Yet he felt that the test should continue. Brahmavidyã can only be digested by one who is ãtmãrup (controlled by his ãtmã) not by one who is controlled by his indriyas (senses). Thinking this, he tried to tempt him with other enticing things: ‘शतायुषः पुत्रपौत्रान्वृणीष्व बहून्पशून् हस्तिहिरण्यमश्वान्। भूमेर्महदायतनं वृणीष्व स्वयं च जीव शरदो यावदित्व्छसि॥’ ‘Shatãyushaha putrapautrãnvruneeshva bahoonpashoon hastihiranyamashvãn. Bhoomermahadãyatanam vruneeshva svayam cha jeeva sharado yãvadichchhasi.’ – ‘ Nachiketa! Ask for progeny, fame, grandeur and a lifetime of a hundred years. Ask for abundant elephants, horses, etc. Ask for gold or a lot of land. Not only that, ask to live as long as you wish’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/23). And then Yama Raja continues, ‘नचिकेतो! मरणं माऽनुप्राक्षीः’ – ‘Nachiketo! maranam mã’nuprãksheehee.’ – ‘Nachiketa! Don’t ask about matters after death’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/25). Further, Yama Raja adds, ‘एतत्तुल्यं यदि मन्यसे वरं वृणीष्व वित्तं चिरजीविकां च। महाभूमौ नचिकेतस्त्वमेघि कामानां त्वा कामभाजं करोमि॥’ – ‘Etattulyam yadi manyase varam vruneeshva vittam chirajeevikãm cha. Mahãbhoomau Nachiketastvamedhi kãmãnãm tvã kãmabhãjam karomi.’ – ‘Moreover, O child! For your boon ask for anything similar to what I have told you. I will make you wealthy. Nachiketa! If you ask, I will make you the king of the world. You will be the Lord of all. Whatever you want from this world, I will bring before you’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/24).
Yama Raja continues with generous and glamorous offers, ‘ये ये कामा दुर्लभा मर्त्यलोके सर्वान् कामाँश्छन्दतः प्रार्थयस्व। इमा रामाः सरथाः सतूर्या न हीदृशा लम्भनीया मनुष्यैः। आभिर्मत्प्रत्ताभिः परिचारयस्व नचिकेतो मरणं माऽनुप्राक्षीः॥’ – ‘Ye ye kãmã durlabhã martyaloke sarvãn kãmãnshchhandataha prãrthayasva. Imã rãmãhã sarathãhã satooryã na heedrushã lambhaneeyã manushhyaihi. Ãbhirmatprattãbhihi parichãrayasva Nachiketo maranam mã’nuprãksheehee.’ – ‘Ask as you wish for whatever is difficult to attain in this world for enjoyment as you wish. These beautiful women (on this chariot) which no man can attain, I will let you attain. But, O Nachiketa! The path after death is imperceptible, above logic, and hard to attain; therefore do not ask for that’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/25).
Yama Raja tested him in every possible way. He offered women, wealth, power and many other things. What was Nachiketa’s response to all of this? The answer he gave was forever etched in the golden pages of Indian history. Here is the response of the child Nachiketa, ‘श्वोभावा मर्त्यस्य यदन्तकैतत् सर्वे´द्रियाणां जरयंति तेजः। अपि सर्वं जीवितमल्पमेव तवैव वाहास्तव नृत्यगीते॥’ – ‘Shvobhãvã martyasya yadantakaitat sarvendriyãnãm jarayanti tejaha. Api sarvam jeevitamalpameva tavaiva vãhãstava nrutyageete’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/26). The essence of this stanza is: ‘ Death! We are all mortal humans. Everything you have told me to ask for – sons, animals, wealth, beautiful women, etc. are all ‘श्वोभावाः’ – shvobhãvãhã – inexistent tomorrow. None of this will remain tomorrow. You yourself are the one that brings an end to them all. Moreover, attractive women and other pleasures that you suggest I ask for weaken the organs of knowledge and action. As a result, one has to endure fatigue and depression. O Death, it is also a fact that even if one enjoys such (mundane) pleasures for a lifetime one will still not be satisfied. How can indulging in pleasures satisfy desire? You tell me to ask for a long life, but compared to Time itself it will still seem fractional.
‘Therefore, O Yama Raja, keep your temporal, misery-giving and unfulfilling elephants, horses and other means of enjoyment to yourself. I do not want them.’
Also, Yama Raja had suggested that Nachiketa ask for 'वित्त’ – vitta – i.e. wealth, and to live as long as he desires. Nachiketa countered that with the words, ‘न वित्तेन तर्पणीयो मनुष्यो लप्स्यामहे वित्तमद्राक्ष्म चेत्त्वा। जीविष्यामो यावदीशिष्यसि त्वम्।’ – ‘Na vittena tarpaneeyo manushyo lapsyãmahe vittamadrãkshma chettvã. Jeevishyãmo yãvadeeshishyasi tvam.’ – ‘Who has ever been satisfied by wealth! And in any case, the merit gained by having your darshan I will attain that also. Furthermore, how long one lives is in your very hands. Therefore, if you are pleased, why should I worry about that’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/27). Hence, Nachiketa says, ‘यस्मिन्निदं विचिकित्सन्ति मृत्यो यत्साम्पराये महति ब्रूहि नस्तत् । योऽयं वरो गूढमनुप्रविष्टो नान्यं तस्मान्नचिकेता वृणीते॥’ – ‘Yasminnidam vichikitsanti mrutyo yatsãmparãye mahati broohi nastat. Yoyam varo goodhamanupravishto nãnyam tasmãnnachiketã vruneete.’ – ‘Yama Raja! Give me the solution to the matter at hand regarding what happens after death. That is all; there is nothing else that Nachiketa wants’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/1/29). Emphasizing his wish with such determination, Nachiketa became silent.
Yama Raja was impressed by Nachiketa’s determination and maturity. He was momentarily confused as to how to praise the noble child. What he then said shows the impression Nachiketa had left on him. He said, ‘श्रेयश्र्च प्रेयश्र्च मनुष्यमेतः तौ सम्परीत्य विविनक्ति घीरः। श्रेयो हि घीरोऽभि प्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्षेमाद् वृणीते॥’ – ‘Shreyashcha preyashcha manushyametaha tau sampareetya vivinakti dheeraha. Shreyo hi dheero’bhi preyaso vruneete preyo mando yogakshemãd vruneete.’ – ‘O Brahmin child! There are two paths from time eternal – one shreya and the other preya. The shreya path is that of liberation, and the preya path is that of enjoying material pleasures. Most people turn towards the preya path, i.e. they are diverted by the desire for material enjoyment. Only a few who are steadfast and wise choose the right shreya path. But you astonish me.’ ‘स त्वं प्रियान्प्रियरूपांश्र्च कामान् अभिध्यायन्नचिकेतोऽत्यस्राक्षीः।’, ‘विद्याभीप्सिनं नचिकेतसं मन्ये न त्वा कामा बहवोऽलोलुपन्त॥’– ‘Sa tvam priyãnpriyaroopãnshcha kãmãn abhidhyãyannachiketo’tyasrãksheehi.’ ‘Vidyãbheepsinam Nachiketasam manye na tvã kãmã bahavo’lolupanta.’ – ‘You understand women, wealth and power, which lure the mind and divert most, as insignificant and scorn them. I cannot see the slightest covetousness in you! You have passed the test Nachiketa. You are truly eligible for brahmavidya. Therefore come, I have decided that the third boon you have asked for, regarding that after death, I will now explain to you’ (Katha Upanishad: 1/2/3,4).
We shall see Yama Raja’s explanation in the next installment.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas