BEHOLDER OF INFINITE BRAHMANDS
Describing another form of that same Akshardham, Yama Raja says: ‘तदेव शुक्रं तद् ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुत्व्यते। तस्मिंल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्र्चन’ – ‘Tadeva shukram tad brahma tadevãmrutamuchyate Tasminlokãhã shritãhã sarve tadu nãtyeti kaschana’ – ‘O Nachiketa! That Aksharbrahman is extremely luminous, extremely pure and eternal. All these people say that infinite brahmands are supported by Aksharbrahman. And apart from Paramatma, none can supercede Aksharbrahman. That is, it is all-pervasive’ (Katha Upanishad 5/8, 6/1).
So, Aksharbrahman is the divine abode of Paramatma and that Akshar pervades the infinite brahmands. The shastras describe this form as chidakash. The knowledge of this form is attained here.
Now, Yama Raja declares a special position occupied by Aksharbrahman. This special position is as a medium which establishes the true ideals of life, provides support on this difficult path, bestows eligibility to offer the highest upasana and gives an experience of the manifest Paramatma to all. In short, the place of the guru. Now Yama Raja describes the place of Akshar as the brahmaswarup guru.
BRIDGE BETWEEN SAMSARA AND PARABRAHMAN
Yama Raja says: ‘यः सेतुरीजानानामक्षरं ब्रह्म यत्परम्। अभयं तितीर्षतां पारं नाचिकेतš शकेमहि॥’ – ‘Yaha setureejãnãnãmaksharam Brahma yatparam Abhayam titeershatãm pãram Nãchiketas shakemahi॥’ – ‘For a spiritual aspirant who wishes to escape from the vortex and forceful flow of maya, Aksharbrahman serves as a bridge’ (Katha Upanishad 3/2). Just as a bridge serves as a medium to help one cross easily over from one side of the river to the other, Aksharbrahman manifests as the guru and serves as a bridge (setu). He saves us from drowning in maya, helps us to cross the ocean of samsar and helps us attain Paramatma in the abode of Paramatma.
This principle has also been described by Angiras Rishi to his disciple, Shaunak, in the Mundak Upanishad: अमृतस्यैष सेतुः’ – ‘Amrutasyaisha setuhu’ – ‘This Aksharbrahman is the bridge to attain eternal Paramatma’ (Mundak Upanishad 2/2/5).
Yama Raja also describes the brahmaswarup guru as ‘वरान्’ – ‘varãn’ – ‘The best of men’ (Katha Upanishad 3/14).
GREATER THAN ALL, BUT SERVANT OF PARAMATMA
While describing the various forms of Aksharbrahman, Yama Raja explains the greatest of that divine entity. As we have seen, the indriyas, panchvishays, mind and buddhi are each superior to the preceding entity, and superior to them all is atma –‘आत्मा महान् परः’ – ‘Ãtmã mahãn paraha’ (Katha Upanishad 3/10). Then Yama Raja says: ‘महतः परमव्यक्तम्’ – ‘Mahataha paramavyaktam’ – ‘The Avyakta entity is superior to the atma’ (Katha Upanishad 3/11). This Avyakta is Aksharbrahman. This is clarified in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita: ‘अव्यक्तोऽक्षर इत्युक्तः’ – ‘Avyakto’kshara ityuktaha’ – ‘That Avyakta is Aksharbrahman’ (Bhagavad Gita 8/21). Also, in the twelfth chapter of the Gita, Arjun says, ‘अक्षरम् अव्यक्तम्’ – ‘Aksharam Avyaktam’ (Bhagavad Gita 12/1) and Shri Krishna Bhagwan says, अक्षरम् अनिर्देश्यम् अव्यक्तम्’ – ‘Aksharam Anirdesham Avyaktam’ (Bhagavad Gita 12/3), thus further identifying Avyaktam as Aksharbrahman. Hence, the meaning of महतः परम् अव्यक्तम्’ – ‘Mahataha param Avyaktam’ is ‘superior to even the great atma is Aksharbrahman’ (Katha Upanishad 3/11).
Then, next in the line of superiority is Paramatma. ‘अव्यक्तात् पुरुषः परः।’ – ‘Avyaktãt Purushaha paraha!’ – ‘Greater than that Aksharbrahman is Purushottam Paramatma’ (Katha Upanishad 3/11). And there is nothing superior to Purushottam – ‘पुरुषान्न परं किञ्चित्। सा काष्ठा सा परा गतिः।’ – ‘Purushãnna param kinchit Ð Sãkãshthã sã parã gatihi’ (Katha Upanishad 3/11). So Paramatma is the supreme of all.
Analysis here reveals that Aksharbrahman is that entity between atma and Paramatma who is superior to atma but below Paramatma. There is no entity between Aksharbrahman and Paramatma which is superior to Aksharbrahman. So, this means that Aksharbrahman is superior to all atmas but subservient to Paramatma.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan was the first to highlight to the philosophical world this glory of Aksharbrahman described in the Katha Upanishad. Bhagwan Swaminarayan says in Vachanamrut Gadhada II-3, “That Brahman is the cause of all – Prakruti-Purush, etc. It is their supporter and pervades all through its antaryami powers…. Transcending that Brahman is Parabrahman, Purushottam Narayan, who is distinct from Brahman, and is the cause, the supporter and the inspirer of Brahman.”
This is the knowledge of atma, Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman imparted to Nachiketa by Yama Raja.
SADHANA – ENDEAVOURS
Yama Raja still continues. The purpose for which all this description was necessary is the attainment of moksha. And, Nachiketa had intelligently asked about moksha in his question regarding events after death. So, Yama Raja, an expert teacher, does not fail to mention the details of sadhana – endeavours.
What is the benefit of mere information? Can moksha be experienced with just information?
For this sakhastkar – realization – is necessary: of one’s own atma, of Aksharbrahman and of Paramatma. Then all miseries will be resolved, and the highest bliss attained. When this happens, moksha is said to have been attained. For this, sadhanas are necessary. These sadhanas are now described.
SUPREME UPASANA VIA SPIRITUAL YOGA
The highest of all sadhanas is to become aksharrup and offer upasana to Purushottam. So, Yama Raja says: अध्यात्मयोगाघिगमेन देवं मत्वा घीरो हर्षशोकौ जहाति’ – ‘Adhyãtmayogãdhigamena devam matvã dhirau harshashokam jahãti’ – ‘Instill the virtues of Brahman in one’s atma and attain the state of brahmarup. Then offer upasana to and contemplate on Paramatma. One who, thus adorned with the virtues of Aksharbrahman, offers upasana and contemplates on the God of gods, Paramatma Parabrahman, becomes free of the dualities of worldly happiness and misery’ (Katha Upanishad 2/12).
So, it is clear that to attain moksha or Paramatma, it is necessary to offer upasana to him. Thus, one who desires moksha must know Paramatma. To become eligible to offer this upasana, one has to become brahmarup and so must know Aksharbrahman. And to attain this state of brahmarup, one has to know the atma.
Thus, with great thought, Yama Raja has narrated the above knowledge.
GOD IS ATTAINED BY HIS GRACE
It is not easy to attain God. Mere sadhanas do not result in the attainment of God; his grace is necessary. The power of mere endeavours is insignificant. And to highlight one’s endeavours at the forefront is ego. Even to practice the endeavours, the grace of God is required. When, by his grace, one acquires the body, mind, indriyas, one can endeavour to please him. So, in whatever endeavours are performed, the strength of God is to be kept at the forefront. Explaining this, Yama Raja says: ‘नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यो न मेघया न बहुना श्रुतेन। यमेवैष वृणुते तेन लभ्यस्तस्यैष आत्मा विवृणुते तनूš स्वाम्॥’ – ‘Nãyamãtmã pravachanena labhyaha na medhayã na bahunã shrutena Yamevaisha vrunute tena labhyastayaisha ãtmã vivrunute tanum svãm॥ – ‘O Nachiketa! This Paramatma cannot be attained through merely speeches, intelligence, scriptural study or other such endeavours. He is attained only by those on whom he showers his grace’ (Katha Upanishad 2/23).
So, Yama Raja explains that Paramatma is not attainable through mere endeavours, but through grace and that on the path of endeavours (sadhanas), faith in the form of God is most important.
EVERYTHING ATTAINED THROUGH ASSOCIATION WITH GURU
To know the atma or become brahmarup; to know Parabrahman or become eligible for his grace, one must bow one’s head and surrender at the feet of the manifest guru. Explaining this, Yama Raja says: ‘उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोघत। क्षुरस्य घारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति॥’ – ‘Uttishthata jãgrata prãpya varãnnibodhata kshurasya dhãrã nishitã duratyayã durgam pathastatkavayo vadanti॥ – ‘The path of spirituality is difficult like walking on the edge of a sword. So, shun all lethargy and laziness, arise, awake, and attain the manifest brahmaswarup guru and realize brahmavidya’ (the word ‘वरान्’ – ‘varãn’ refers to a wise guru) (Katha Upanishad 3/14).
Such a wise guru is equal to the form of Narayan himself. One should associate with him. He is able to know, identify and change our inner feelings. So, one should do as he says. By doing this everything is attained.
Thus, Yama Raja teaches the principle of surrendering to a guru.
The real essence of what happens after death is the secret of life.
Eventually, Yama Raja connects the essence of what happens after death to the life one lives. Philosophy is not a credit note to cash in later. It is cash. One can experience mukti, liberation, while alive. So, concluding, Yama Raja says: ‘For one who perfectly practices the talks I have revealed to you, he does not have to wait for moksha after death. He has already attained Akshardham’ –‘अत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुते’ – ‘Atra Brahma samashnute’ (Katha Upanishad 6/13).
Concluding, Yama Raja says: ‘एतावदनुशासनम्’ – ‘Etãvadanushasanam’ – ‘OK Nachiketa! That was my feeling. I give this teaching to you as the third boon’ (Katha Upanishad 6/15).
Hearing this, young Nachiketa is satisfied and expresses his pleasure. The Katha Upanishad concludes here.
Thus, this Katha Upanishad is like a star shining in the firmament of philosophy and its teachings of death transports us into deep thought about life and what happens after death.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas