Glimpses of Vedic Literature - Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd.)

THERE is something so important in this Upanishad that, even in these short notes, it is necessary to dilate upon it to some extent.

It is concerning the secret that Yama was so reluctant to reveal to Nachiketas when he asked him the following question:

"This debate that there is over the man who has passed and some say 'This he is not' and some say that 'he is', that, taught by thee, I would know; this is the third boon of the boons of my choosing."

Why, we may ask, was Yama so reluctant to answer this question? The reply is that the secret related not to the objects of senses or of the speech or of the mind. It related to the complexity of the Self, the soul and the Supreme Being. And, as Yama explains at a certain stage of exposition:

"The Self is not to be won by eloquent teaching, nor by brain-power, nor by much learning: but only he whom this Being chooses can win Him; for to him this Self bares His body."

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

And again, Yama declares towards the end of the exposition:

"Not with the mind has man the power to get God, no, not through speech, nor by the eye. Unless one says 'He is', how can one become sensible of Him?"

The first condition of entering into this knowledge is to get over the temptation of the pleasures of the world. That was the reason why Yama tested Nachiketas by offering all kinds of pleasures, the greatest pleasures that the worldly life can offer. Nachiketas, however, rejected this temptation and said:

"Until the morrow mortal man has these things, 0 Death, and they wear away all this keenness and glory of his senses; nay, all life is even for a little. Thine are these chariots and thine the dancing of these women and their singing. Man is not to be satisfied by riches ..."

Nachiketas repeated his demand:

"This boon and no other is for my choosing... This of which they thus debate, 0 Death, declare to me, even that which is in the great passage; than this boon which enters into the secret that is hidden from us, no other chooses Nachiketas."

It was when Yama was pleased with this answer that he declared that there are two paths in this world: the path of pleasure and the path of the good. And he reveals:

"Whoso takes the good, it is well with him; he falls from the aim of life who chooses the pleasant."

The great teaching of the Kathopanishad is then expounded, and even after the exposition, even after Nachiketas won from his teacher the God-knowledge, he learned the whole ordinance of Yoga. It was then that "he

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

obtained God and became void of stain and void of death.

But what is the substance of that secret teaching that Yama expounded?

Let us state it very briefly:

Death of man is not the end of man. He does not cease to be. He remains. But what remains is different from the body, from the senses, from the mind.

Yama explains:

"Know the body for a chariot and the soul for the master of the chariot: know Reason for the charioteer and the mind for the reins only."

And he adds:

"Yea, he that is without knowledge and is unmindful and is even unclean, reaches not that goal, but wanders in the cycle of phenomena. But he that has knowledge and is mindful, pure always, reaches that good whence he is not born again."

Yama describes the ignorant as follows:

"They who dwell in the ignorance, within it, wise in their wit and deeming themselves very learned, men bewildered are they who wander about stumbling round and round helplessly like blind men led by the blind. The childish wit bewildered and drunken with the illusion of riches cannot open its eyes to see the passage to heaven: for he that thinks this world is and there is no other, comes again and again into Death's thraldom."

Truly, this world in which we live is not the only world; there are other worlds also which lead up to the Supreme immovable from whom all things proceed. After death, the soul has a movement. Yama explains:

"Some enter a womb to the embodying of the Spirit and others follow after the Immovable: according to their deeds is their goal and after the measure of their revealed knowledge."

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

The soul is really the Jiva, whom Yama describes as the "Eater of Sweetness;" he is the master or lord of what was in the past and what shall be in the future. He who knows the Jiva does not shrink thereafter from anything nor does he abhor any.

This Jiva cannot be known if we do not know Him, the Supreme and Aditi. The Mind is higher than senses and their objects; higher than the Mind is the faculty of knowledge;higher than that faculty is the Great Self; higher than the Great Self is the Unmanifest. Higher than the Unmanifest is He. He is the culmination. He is the goal of knowledge.

That Supreme is also creative Power, Aditi, "the mother of the Gods," manifesting the consciousness-force. He, the supreme, and She, the creative Power, Aditi,— are seated deep in the heart of things having entered into them and mingled with all the elements of things.

But even among things, where the body and mind meet, the Master of Knowledge is lodged. This Master of Knowledge is Agni, born from the Supreme and Aditi, the delegate of Jiva, of whom Aditi is the Mother as she is the Mother also of the Gods.

This Agni is lodged in the tinders symbolising body and mind. Just as the tinders by friction give rise to spark and . fire, even so by constant action of the body and the mind on each other, our inner Agni our inner fire is kindled; the more it is kindled, the larger it grows. At a stage when we become aware of it, it is experienced as a Dwarf (vamana) or "not bigger than the thumb," angushtha matra ... It is this fire that is inextinguishable, and it burns and connects our past, present and future. It is, therefore, like the Jiva of

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

whom it is a delegate, the lord of what was and what will be. This fire, this Agni, is three-fold: it is in the body, it is in our vital being and it is in our mind. These are called the three fires of Nachiketas. But when it is discovered seated within the cavern of our inner heart, then we have reached the decisive Moment. Yama declares:

"Day by day should men worship him, who live the waking life and stand before him with sacrifices; for he is that Agni."

That which is no bigger than the thumb, seated in the midst of our heart, which is therefore called the inner soul, antaratma, gives immediate access to Aditi and the Supreme who are also seated in the midst of the heart mingled in the elements of all things.

It is that Agni, that Purusha, the knowledge of whom is so secret, who is to be known.

"The Purusha who is seated in the midst of our self is no larger than the thumb of a man; He is the Lord of what was and what shall be. Him having seen one shrinks not from aught, nor abhors any. The Purusha that is within us is no larger than the finger of a man: He is like a blazing fire that is without smoke, He is the lord of His past and His future. He alone is today and He alone shall be tomorrow."

The knowledge of this Fire increases the blaze of this Fire and it rises upwards to become five-fold fire,1 the fire of the faculty of knowledge which is higher than mind (vijnanamaya) and of bliss (anandamaya). That is the stage of the great deliverance.

The Jiva, who is unborn, takes up his abode in the body of eleven gates. He is the eater of sweetness and grieves not. But when in that body, his delegate, the inner fire, grows and rises up to the vital, the mental, and thence to the supramental and the blissful, he is set free from the bodily

Kathopanishad (contd)

Kathopanishad (contd)

existence even while still in the body.

Then, indeed, the universe is truly known, for the universality of the Jiva is realised, and transcendence is also known, as the Jiva lives by the Mother, Aditi, who is one with the Supreme, the Transcendent. And how shall we describe that Transcendental Supreme?

Yama declares:

" 'This is He' is all they can realize of Him, a highest felicity which none can point to nor can any define it. How shall I know of Him whether He shines or reflects one light and another?

"There the sun cannot shine and the moon has no lustre; all the stars are blind: there our lightnings flash not, neither any earthly fire. For all that is bright is but the shadow of His brightness and by His shining all this shines."

The important elements of this secret knowledge are the concepts of the Supreme, Aditi, Jiva, Antaratma (the inner fire seated in the midst of our inner heart) and their connections with the concepts of senses, objects of senses, mind and intellect.

The clarity of these concepts and the realization of their interconnections by the processes of Yoga so as to possess and become one with the Transcendental Supreme is the true knowledge, true liberation.

This is what we can learn from the secret teaching of the Kathopanishad.


1. Three-fold fire is the fire in the body, vital being and mind. Five-fold fire is the fire in the body, vital being, mind, faculty of knowledge and greater Self of bliss.

Kathopanishad (contd)

Back to Content