Sri Gurubhyo Namaha
The Upanishads form the crown of the VedA and convey the truth about the Atman to the one who is qualified to receive it. As mentioned here – https://vairaagya.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/the-necessity-of-vairagya/, VairAgyA is perhaps the most important qualification to receive this knowledge about the Atman, by which one attains that unconditional freedom from suffering known as Moksha.
The story of Nachiketas appears in the KaThopanishad as a glorification of this Atma-Jnaanam or Self-Knowledge. Nachiketas, a mere-boy [possibly not more than 10 years of age] shines as a beacon light of inspiration for all spiritual aspirants who wish to be possessed with the great treasure called VairAgyA with which alone the Atman can be known in its real nature.
The story goes thus. VAjashrava, the father of our hero Nachiketas, was once performing a great Yagna where the performer of the Yagna is supposed to give away all of his wealth. When VAjashrava begins to give away some of his cattle which were so old that they practically of no use to the beneficiary, Nachiketas begins to worry for his father that he might not reap the fruits of this Yagna as he is giving away possessions which are useless to the recipient.
He becomes possessed by his desire to avert this great danger about to befall his father, and asks his father to give him (Nachiketas) away to someone. It was Nachiketas strong belief that he would be of far greater use to someone than the cattle that his father was giving way, and therefore if his father were to give him away to someone, that itself would earn his father the proper benefit of the Yagna.
VAjashrava, in a fit of anger at his son’s question, declares “मृत्यवे त्वा ददामि” – “ I give you to Death! “. Nachiketas, though realizing that VAjashrava had spoken in anger, still wanting to uphold the Satya (truth) of his father’s statement, makes up his mind to “go to Death”.
Thus by a twist of fate, Nachiketas finds himself on the doorway of YamA, the Lord of Death. Three days pass with Nachiketas waiting on the doorway, as YamA, the DharmarAjA, is away, perhaps performing his duties. On his return, YamA apologizes to Nachiketas for making him wait for so long. YamA, being DharmarAjA, says that it is greatly improper to make a guest who is a man of truth and piety wait without being welcomed at once.
As a PrAyaschitta (remedial action), Yama DharmarAjA tells Nachiketas that he may ask three boons, which he will be sure to grant. Nachiketas spends his first two boons asking nothing for himself, but only for his father and for the benefit of humanity. It is Nachiketas third boon which further reveals his maturity as a spiritual aspirant. Nachiketas asks –
“ येयं प्रेते विचिकित्सा मनुष्ये अस्तीत्येके नायमस्तीति चैके |
एतद्विद्यां अनुशिष्यस्त्वया अहं वराणामेष वरस्तृतीयः | “
“(Nachiketas said) This well-known doubt as to what becomes of a man after death, some say he is and some, he is not, I shall know being taught by thee. This boon is the third of the boons. “
In a roundabout way, Nachiketas asks of Yama DharmarAjA about the real nature of Atman, the Self. “Some say he survives death and some say he does not” clearly indicates that Nachiketas has in his mind the doubt whether the Atman (the “I”, the Self) of one’s continues even after the passing of his/her body.
The next few lines of the dialogue show Nachiketas as a qualified spiritual aspirant and contain the relevance of his story to our purpose of gaining VairAgyA. We will see them in part II.
P.S: For the other parts in this series, click here – “Nachiketas“.