Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Story of Nachiketa and Yamraj

This story is from Katha Upanishad (Kathopanishad). It is well known that Uddalaka, the son of Vajashrava, desiring to possess the fruits of vishvajit yagna, the fire ritual for world conquest, gave all his riches away to the brahmins. He had a son named Nachiketa.

story


When Uddalaka’s cows were being taken to be given to the brahmins as gifts, Nachiketa could see that they were very old. Their bodies were worn out, they had eaten their last, they had drunk their last water and given their last milk. Nachiketa was filled with trust and sincerity – he started thinking that to donate such useless cows was not right: “The person who donates these nearly dead cows will surely go to hell, the lower dimensions of existence, where there is no possibility for happiness or joy.” He thought, “I must discourage my father from doing such a thing.”

Nachiketa then asked his father, “And to whom will you give me as a gift?” Uddalaka remained silent.

When asked the same question a second and a third time, his father became angry and said, “I give you to death!”

Hearing this, Nachiketa started thinking within himself, “About most things, I have followed the highest conduct. About some things I may be a little remiss, but I have never fallen to any bad behavior. So why does my father say that he gives me to death? What could be the work of Yama, the Lord of Death, that my father wants to accomplish through me?”

Nachiketa said to his father, “Consider how your forefathers behaved and how other wise people now behave, then decide what is the right thing for you to do.

“Like the crops, mortal man ripens, withers and then is born again. So in this transitory life, man should not waver from goodness and engage in wrong actions. Do not be sad, father. Honor your word now and allow me to go to Yama, the Lord of Death.”

When he heard these words from his son, Uddalaka became very sad; but feeling Nachiketa’s dedication to truth, he allowed him to go to Yama.

When Nachiketa reached the abode of Yama he found that Yama was not at home, so he waited for him for three days without food or water.

When Yama returned home his wife said to him, “When a brahmin comes to a home as a guest, know that a divine being has come – so it is our duty to prepare for his rest, to give him our hospitality. The son of a brahmin has been sitting here; he has not eaten for three days. Go and receive him with reverence.”

Yama went to Nachiketa and said, “Oh brahmin! You are an honored athiti, an honored guest. You have stayed at my house for three days without food. Therefore, you can ask three wishes from me, one for each night.”

Nachiketa said, “Oh Yama! As the first of the three wishes, I ask that my father, Uddalaka, may become peaceful, joyous and free from sorrow and anger. And when I am sent back to him by you, may he receive me lovingly as his son.”

Yama replied, “Seeing you returning from the mouth of death your father, Uddalaka, inspired by me, will receive you and recognize you as his son. He will be freed from anger and grief and will spend the rest of the days and nights of his life in peace and joy.”

Having had his first wish granted, Nachiketa said, “Oh Lord, in heaven there is no fear. Even you, Death, are not there. There, none are afraid of old age. Those living in heaven are beyond hunger and thirst. Free from all suffering, they are in bliss.”

“Oh, Lord of Death, you know the inner fire which is the path to heaven. So tell me, a sincere seeker, the science of the inner fire, the science by which those who are in heaven attain to the deathless. This is my second wish.”

Yama said, “Oh, Nachiketa, I know the science of the inner fire which bestows heaven. I will tell it to you so that you may understand it completely. Know that this science will give boundless heavenly joy. This fire is hidden in the innermost sanctum of your heart.”

Yama then explained the science of the inner fire to Nachiketa, the science which bestows heaven. He explained in detail all the processes involved. Having understood it Nachiketa repeated the details back to Yama, and Yama was satisfied.

Seeing Nachiketa’s extraordinary intelligence, Yama was well pleased. He said, “Now I will grant you an additional honor – that the science of the inner fire be known by your name, the Naachiket-Fire. Please also accept this beautiful necklace of jewels.”

Yama then said, “One who ignites this inner fire three times and desirelessly practices the fire ritual, practices sharing and practices austerity in accordance with the three Vedas, will become free from birth and death. By knowing this sacred fire and by choosing it with sincerity, he will attain to eternal peace, the peace which I know.”

Yama continued, “One who ignites and attains to this inner fire will cut the snares of death while still in the body. He will go beyond sorrow. He will experience the joys of heaven.”

“Oh Nachiketa, this is the science of the inner fire that will lead to heaven. You have asked this as your second wish. From now onwards this fire will be known by your name.”

“Now, what is your third wish?”

Of his third wish, Nachiketa said, “There is so much uncertainty about death. Some say that the soul lives on after death and others say that it does not. I want to finally understand this through your teaching. This is my third wish.”

Yama thought, “It is harmful to teach the secrets of the soul to one who is unworthy of the teaching.” Seeing the need for a test, Yama tried to dissuade Nachiketa by telling him of the complexity of the matter. He said, “Nachiketa, on this matter, even the gods have had their doubts; they also could not understand because this subject is so very subtle and difficult to understand. You may ask for something comparable as your third wish. Do not insist about this. You must let go of this desire to know the secrets of the soul.”

Nachiketa was not discouraged by hearing of the difficulties; his enthusiasm was not affected. Rather, he said even more strongly, “Yama, you say that the gods have also thought about this but even they could not decide, and that it is not easy to understand. But there are none who can explain this matter as well as you. As I understand it, no other wish can be compared to this one.”

Nachiketa was not dissuaded by the difficulty of the subject: he remained firm in his wish to know. He succeeded in passing this test.
As a second test, with the intention of exposing Nachiketa to many temptations and allurements, Yama said to him, “You may ask for sons or grandsons with lifespans of hundreds of years; you may ask for many cows and other cattle, for elephants, horses and gold. You may ask for an empire with vast boundaries. You may ask to live for as long as you wish.”

“Nachiketa, if you consider a wish for wealth or a means for living a long life as equal to your wish for the knowledge of the soul, you may ask for that. You could be the greatest emperor on this Earth! I can make the greatest pleasure of all pleasures available to you!”

When Nachiketa did not waver from his decision even at this, Yama then tempted him with the heavenly pleasures of the gods. Yama said, “Ask for all the pleasures which are rare in the world of mortals. Take these celestial women with you, along with chariots and musical instruments. Such women are surely not available to mortals. You can enjoy these women and be served by them. But Nachiketa, do not ask to know what happens to the soul after death.”

But Nachiketa had a firm will and was truly worthy: he knew that even the greatest pleasures in heaven and earth could not be compared with the smallest amount of the bliss that comes through enlightenment.

Nachiketa, supporting his decision with reasoning, said these words of non-attachment to Yama: “Yama, the pleasures that you are describing are ephemeral; they exhaust the sensitivity and sharpness of all the senses. Furthermore, a lifespan, howsoever long it may be, is brief: it will end sooner or later. You can keep those celestial women, the chariots, those songs and dances – I don’t want them.”

“A man can never be fulfilled through wealth. Now that I have set my eyes on you, I have already attained abundant wealth. As long as your compassion rules there can be no death for me. It is meaningless to ask for those other things. The only wish that is worth asking for is the one that I have already said: the knowledge of the soul.”

“Man is subject to decay and death. Knowing this reality, where is the man living in this world who, after having met you, an immortal and noble being, would continue to long for the beauty of women, for the pleasures of the senses and to yearn for a long life?”
“Oh, Lord of Death, reveal to me the ultimate truth of this most wondrous and otherworldly subject – the destiny of the soul. Man does not know if the soul lives after death. I wish only for this most mysterious knowledge.”

Having tested Nachiketa, Yama was convinced of his determination, his desirelessness, fearlessness and worthiness to be taught the science of the soul.

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