Natchiketas: Historys first seeker of truth

The Ten Principle Upanishads

Book 1

May He protect us both. May He take pleasure in us both. May we show courage together. May spiritual knowledge shine before us. May we never hate one another. May peace and peace be everywhere.

Wajashrawas, wanting heaven, gave away all his property.

He had a son by name Nachiketas. While the gifts were passing, Nachiketas, though but a boy, thought to himself:

'He has not earned much of a heaven; his cows can neither eat, drink, calve nor give milk.'

He went to his father and said: 'Father, have you given me to somebody?' He repeated the question a second and a third time; at last his father said: 'I give you to Death.'

Nachiketas thought: 'Whether I die now or later matters little; but what I would like to know is what happens if Death gets me now.'

Wajashrawas would have taken back his words but Nachiketas said: 'Think of those who went before, those that will come after: their word their bond. Man dies and is born again like a blade of grass.'

Nachiketas went into the forest and sat in meditation within the house of Death. When Death appeared his servant said: 'Lord! When a holy man enters a house as guest it is as if Fire entered. The wise man cools him down. So please give him water.

'If a holy man comes into a fool's house and is given nothing, the fool's family, public and private life, ambitions, reputation, property, hopes, alliances, all suffer.'

Thereupon Death said to Nachiketas: 'A guest should be respected; you have lived three days in my house without eating and drinking. I bow to you, holy man! Take from me three gifts and I shall be the better for it.'

Nachiketas said: 'I will take as my first gift that I may be reconciled to my father; that he may be happy; that he may keep no grudge against me but make me welcome.'

Death said: 'I shall so arrange things, that when your father gets you back he shall sleep well at night, his grudge forgotten and love you as before.'

Nachiketas said: 'There is no fear in the Kingdom of Heaven; because you are not there, nobody there is afraid of old age; man is beyond hunger, thirst and sorrow.

'Death! you know what Fire leads to heaven, show it, I am full of faith. I ask that Fire as my second gift.'

Death said: 'I will explain it, listen. Find the rock and conquer unmeasured worlds. Listen, for this came out of the cavern.'

Death told him that out of Fire comes this world, what bricks and how many go to the altar, how best to build it. Nachiketas repeated all, Death encouraged ran on:

'I give you another gift. This Fire shall be called by your name.

'Count the links of the chain: worship the triple Fire: gnosis, meditation, practice; the triple process: evidence, inference, experience; the triple duty: study, concentration, renunciation; understand that everything comes from Spirit, that Spirit alone is sought and found; attain everlasting peace; mount beyond birth and death.

'When man understands himself, understands universal Self, the union of the two, kindles the triple Fire, offers the sacrifice; then shall he, though still on earth, break the bonds of death, beyond sorrow, mount into heaven.

'This Fire that leads to heaven is your second gift, Nachiketas! It shall be named after you. Now choose again, choose the third gift.'

Nachiketas said: 'Some say that when man dies he continues to exist, others that he does not. Explain, and that shall be my third gift.'

Death said: 'This question has been discussed by the gods, it is deep and difficult. Choose another gift, Nachiketas! Do not be hard. Do not compel me to explain.'

Nachiketas said: 'Death! you say that the gods have discussed it, that it is deep and difficult; what explanation can be as good as yours? What gift compares with that?'

Death said: 'Take sons and grandsons, all long-lived, cattle and horses, elephants and gold, take a great kingdom.

'Anything but this; wealth, long life, Nachiketas! empire, anything whatever; satisfy the heart's desire.

'Pleasures beyond human reach, fine women with carriages, their musical instruments; mount beyond dreams; enjoy. But do not ask what lies beyond death.'

Nachiketas said: 'Destroyer of man! these things pass. Joy ends enjoyment, the longest life is short. Keep those horses, keep singing and dancing, keep it all for yourself.

'Wealth cannot satisfy a man. If he but please you, Master of All, he can live as long as he likes, get all that he likes; but I will not change my gift.

'What man, subject to death and decay, getting the chance of undecaying life, would still enjoy mere long life, thinking of copulation and beauty.

'Say where man goes after death; end all that discussion. This, which you have made so mysterious, is the only gift I will take.'

Death said: 'The good is one, the pleasant another; both command the soul. Who follows the good, attains sanctity; who follows the pleasant, drops out of the race.

'Every man faces both. The mind of the wise man draws him to the good, the flesh of the fool drives him to the pleasant.

'Nachiketas! Having examined the pleasures you have rejected them; turned from the vortex of life and death.

'Diverging roads: one called ignorance, the other wisdom. Rejecting images of pleasure, Nachiketas! you turn towards wisdom.

'Fools brag of their knowledge; proud, ignorant, dissolving, blind led by the blind, staggering to and fro.

'What can the money-maddened simpleton know of the future? "This is the only world" cries he; because he thinks there is no other I kill him again and again.

'Some have never heard of the Self, some have heard but cannot find Him. Who finds Him is a world's wonder, who expounds Him is a world's wonder, who inherits Him from his Master is a world's wonder.

'No man of common mind can teach Him; such men dispute one against another. But when the uncommon man speaks, dispute is over. Because the Self is a fine substance, He slips from the mind and deludes imagination.

'Beloved! Logic brings no man to the Self. Yet when a wise man shows Him, He is found. Your longing eyes are turned towards reality. Would that I had always such a pupil.

'Because man cannot find the Eternal through passing pleasure, I have sought the Fire in these pleasures and, worshipping that alone, found the Eternal.

'Nachiketas! The fulfillment of all desire, the conquest of the world, freedom from fear, unlimited pleasure, magical power, all were yours but you renounced them all, brave and wise man.

'The wise, meditating on God, concentrating their thought, discovering in the mouth of the cavern, deeper in the cavern, that Self, that ancient Self, difficult to imagine, more difficult to understand, pass beyond joy and sorrow.

'The man that, hearing from the Teacher and comprehending, distinguishes nature from the Self, goes to the source; that man attains joy, lives for ever in that joy. I think, Nachiketas! your gates of joy stand open.'

Nachiketas asked: 'What lies beyond right and wrong, beyond cause and effect, beyond past and future?'

Death said: 'The word the Wedas extol, austerities proclaim, sanctities approach - that word is Om.

'That word is eternal Spirit, eternal distance; who knows it attains to his desire.

'That word is the ultimate foundation. Who finds it is adored among the saints.

'The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause; is eternal, self-existent, imperishable, ancient. How can the killing of the body kill Him?

'He who thinks that He kills, he who thinks that He is killed, is ignorant. He does not kill nor is He is killed.

'The Self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest. He lives in all hearts. When senses are at rest, free from desire, man finds Him and mounts beyond sorrow.

'Though sitting, He travels; though sleeping is everywhere. Who but I Death can understand that God is beyond happiness and sorrow.

'Who knows the Self, bodiless among the embodied, unchanging among the changing, prevalent everywhere, goes beyond sorrow.

'The Self is not known through discourse, splitting of hairs, learning however great; He comes to the man He loves; takes that man's body for His own.

'The wicked man is restless, without concentration, without peace; how can he find Him, whatever his learning?

'He has made mere preachers and soldiers His food, death its condiment; how can a common man find Him?'

'The individual self and the universal Self, living in the heart, like shade and light, though beyond enjoyment, enjoy the result of action. All say this, all who know Spirit, whether householder or ascetic.

'Man can kindle that Fire, that Spirit, a bridge for all who sacrifice, a guide for all who pass beyond fear.

'Self rides in the chariot of the body, god is the firm-footed charioteer, discursive mind the reins.

'Senses are the horses, objects of desire the roads. When Self is joined to body, mind, sense, none but He enjoys.

'When a man lack steadiness, unable to control his mind, his senses are unmanageable horses.

'But if he control his mind, a steady man, they are manageable horses.

'The impure, self-willed, unsteady man misses the goal and is born again and again.

The self-controlled, steady, pure man goes to that goal from which he never returns.

'He who calls intellect to manage the reins of his mind reaches the end of his journey, finds there all-pervading Spirit.

'Above the senses are the objects of desire, above the objects of desire mind, above the mind intellect, above the intellect manifest nature.

'Above manifest nature the unmanifest seed(which is true innocence), above the unmanifest seed, God. God is the goal; beyond Him nothing.

'God does not proclaim Himself, he is everybody's secret, but the heart of the sage has found Him.

'The wise man would lose his speech in mind, mind in the intellect, intellect in nature, nature in God and so find peace.

'Get up! Stir yourself! Learn wisdom at the Master's feet. A hard path the sages say, the sharp edge of a razor.

'He who knows the soundless, odourless, tasteless, intangible, formless, deathless, supernatural, undecaying, beginningless, endless, unchangeable Reality, springs out of the mouth of Death.'

Those who hear and repeat correctly this ancient dialogue between Death and Nachiketas are approved by holy men.

He who sings this great mystery at the anniversary of his fathers to a rightly chosen company, finds good luck, good luck beyond measure.

Book II

Death said: 'God made sense turn outward, man therefore looks outward, not into himself. Now and again a daring soul, desiring immortality, has looked back and found himself.

'The ignorant man runs after pleasure, sinks into the entanglements of death; but the wise man, seeking the undying, does not run among things that die.

'He through whom we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, enjoy, knows everything. He is that Self.

'The wise man by meditating upon the self-dependent, all-pervading Self, understands waking and sleeping and goes beyond sorrow.

'Knowing that the individual self, eater of the fruit of action, is the universal Self, maker of past and future, he knows he has nothing to fear.

'He knows that He himself born in the beginning out of meditation, before water was created, enters every heart and lives there among the elements.

'That boundless Power, source of every power, manifesting itself as life, entering every heart, living there among the elements, that is Self.

'The Fire, hidden in the fire-stick like a child in the womb, worshipped with offerings, that Fire is Self.

'He who makes the sun rise and set, to Whom all powers do homage, He that has no master, that is Self.

'That which is here, is hereafter; hereafter is here. He who thinks otherwise wanders from death to death.

'Tell the mind that there is but One; he who divides the One, wanders from death to death.

'When that True Person in the heart, no bigger than a thumb, is known as maker of past and future, what more is there to fear? That is Self.

'That True Person, no bigger than a thumb, burning like flame without smoke, maker of past and future, the same today and tomorrow, that is Self.

'As rain upon a mountain ridge runs down the slope, the man that has seen the shapes of Self runs after them everywhere.

'The Self of the wise man remains pure; pure water, Nachiketas, poured into pure water.'of the universal self

'Who, meditates on self- existent, pure awareness, ruler of the body, the city of eleven gates, grieves no more, is free, for ever free.

'He is sun in the sky, fire upon the altar, guest in the house, air that runs everywhere, Lord of lords living in reality. He abounds everywhere, is renewed in the sacrifice, born in water, springs out of the soil, breaks out of the mountain; power: reality.

'Living at the centre, adorable, adored by the senses, He breathes out breathes in.

'When He, the bodiless, leaves the body, exhausts the body, what leaves? That is Self.

'Man lives by more than breath; he lives by the help of another who makes it come and go.

'Nachiketas! I will tell you the secret of undying Spirit and what happens after death.

'Some enter the womb, waiting for a moving body, some pass into unmoving things: according to deed and knowledge.

'Who is awake, who creates lovely dreams, when man is lost in sleep? That Person through whom all things live, beyond whom none can go; pure, powerful, immortal Spirit.

'As fire, though one, takes the shape of whatsoever it consumes, so the Self, though one, animating all things, takes the shape of whatsoever it animates; yet stands outside.

'As air, though one, takes the shape of whatsoever it enters, so the Self, though one, animating all things takes the shape of whatsoever it animates; yet stands outside.

'As the sun, the eye of the world, is not touched by the impurity it looks upon, so the Self, though one, animating all things, is not moved by human misery but stands outside.

'He is One, Governor, Self of all, Creator of many out of one. He that dare discover Him within, rejoices; what other dare rejoice?

'He is imperishable among things that perish. Life of all life, He, though one, satisfies every man's desire. He that dare discover Him within, knows peace; what other dare know peace?'

Nachiketas asked: 'Where shall I find that joy beyond all words? Does He reflect another's light or shine of Himself?'

Death replied: 'Neither sun, moon, stars, fire nor lightning lights Him. When He shines, everything begins to shine. Everything in the world reflects His light.'

'Eternal creation is a tree, with roots above in the brain, branches on the ground (that is, the body); pure eternal Spirit, living in all things and beyond whom none can go; that is Self.

'Everything owes life and movement to Spirit. Spirit strikes terror, hangs like a thunderbolt overhead; find it, find immortality.

'Through awe of God fire burns, sun shines, rain pours, wind blows, death speeds.

'Man, if he fail to find Him before the body falls, must take another body.

'Man, looking into the mirror of himself may know Spirit there as he knows light from shade; but in the world of spirits It is known distorted as in a dream, in the choir of angels as though reflected on troubled water.

'He who knows that the senses belong not to Spirit but to the elements, that they are born and die, grieves no more.

'Mind is above sense, intellect above mind, nature above intellect, the unmanifest above nature.

'Above the unmanifest is God, unconditioned, filling all things. He who finds Him enters immortal life, becomes free.

'No eye can see Him, nor has He a face that can be seen, yet through meditation and through discipline He can be found in the heart. He that finds Him enters immortal life.

'When mind and sense are at rest, when the discrimination of intellect is finished, man comes to his final condition.

'Yoga is union with the self, it brings the constant control of sense. When that condition is reached the Yogi can do no wrong. Before it is reached Yoga seems union and again disunion.

'He cannot be known through discourse, nor found by the mind or the eye. He that believes in His existence finds Him. How can a man who does not so believe fond Him?

'Go backward from effect to cause until you are compelled to believe in Him Once you are so compelled, truth dawns.

'When the desires of the heart are finished, man though still in the body is united to Spirit; mortal becomes immortal.

'When the knot of the heart is cut, mortal becomes immortal. This the law.

'The heart has a hundred and one (energy) channels*; one of these - Sushumna - goes up into the head. He who climbs through it attains immortality; others drive him into the vortex.

'God, the inmost Self, no bigger than a thumb, lives in the heart. Man should strip him of the body, as the arrow-maker strips the reed, that he may know Him as perpetual and pure; what can He be but perpetual and pure?'

'Then Nachiketas having learnt from Death this knowledge, learnt the method of meditation, rose above desire and death, found God: who does the like, finds Him.

*This is an allusion to the subtle system described by ancient sages as existing within the living body.It is comprised of many energy plexuses and several thousand energy channels of which there are three major ones.The central channel, called sushumna, conveys the energy of the divine feminine(god the mother-"the holy ghost" in christian mystic tradition)called kundalini.This energy unites with the self(the divine masculine-god the father) in the limbic area of the brain to give the experience of self realisation.Thus the seeker experiences the absolute by a process of immaculate conception and spiritual rebirth.In this process the human seeker of truth is transformed into the divine child,the embodiment of innocene which is god the son (ie. a pure reflection of the mystic Christ).

Put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats
From the Kathak Branch of the Wedas (Katha-Upanishad)

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