Nachiketas – a beacon light for aspirants of VairAgyA : Part 2

Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

In Part 1 of this series, Nachiketas, our hero of not more than 10 years, was asking for the boon of Atma-jnAnam from Yama DharmarAjA, the Lord of Death himself.

To this request of Nachiketas, YamA replied –

देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं पुरा न हि सुविज्ञेयमणुरेष धर्मः |
अन्यं वरं नचिकेतो वृणीष्व मा मोपरोत्सीरति मा सृजैनम् ||

” Here, even the gods of yore had doubt. Indeed it is not easy to know; subtle is this matter. Oh, Nachiketas, ask for some other boon. Press not this on me; give this up for me. “

The Vedic tradition is a tradition of teaching based on adhikAri-bheda, or qualifications. For the student of the JnAna kAndA, the qualifications are purely mental/psychological qyama-nachiketaualifications [beyond of course the obvious physical abilities to hear, understand, think and reason]. These include Viveka, VairAgyA, shamAdishatkasampattih, and mumukshutvam – already explained here ( To establish these qualifications YamA first attempts to dissuade Nachiketas from seeking Self-Knowledge, by saying that even the gods(devas), who are regarded to be more knowledgeable than human beings, are also confused in such spiritual matters regarding the Self (Atman), which is tricky and requires not just a sharp intellect but also a spiritual mindset that is not attracted towards worldly pursuits. Thus, Yama DharmarAjA indicated Nachiketas to ask for some other worldly boon.

Nachiketas’ reply to YamA at this juncture is most exhilarating. He says –

देवैरत्रापि विचिकित्सितं किल त्वं च मृत्यो यन्न सुविज्ञेयमात्थ |
वक्ता चास्य त्वादृगन्यो न लभ्यो नान्यो वरस्तुल्य एतस्य कश्चित् ||

” Thou sayest, Oh Death, that even the gods had doubts here and that this is not easy to know. None other like thee, who could tell of this, can be found ; no other boon can at all equal this.”

Nachiketas turns the tables right on his AchAryA’s (YamA’s) seeming dissuasion. He gives two compelling reasons on why YamA should teach him the knowledge of the Self. While the DharmarAjA asked him to ask for another worldy boon because Self-knowledge is most difficult and confusing, Nachiketas mentions that this is precisely the reason why he wants Self-Knowledge. After all, what is most difficult to attain is what is most precious and valuable; what else is worthy of asking? Every other boon for some worldly end can bring long-lasting enjoyment, but they all have to end on a particular day. But the knowledge of the Self reveals the eternal and infinite real nature of the individual, upon which he comes to know of no sorrow. And moreover, as Nachiketas’ reason goes, who else but the Lord of Death himself is a greater teacher of this Self Knowledge? The Vedic tradition is a Guru-ShishyA tradition. All knowledge in this tradition is conveyed from a living teacher to a student. The presence of written texts are no more than aids to this process, thus resorting to them for real understanding is never the recommendation of any AchAryA in the Vedic tradition. Knowing this, and having got such a teacher like Yama DharmarAjA who is eulogised in this tradition everyday, who is definitely the possessor of this Knowledge [facing death everyday might be a difficult job for him to do without Self-knowledge ;-)], why should he ask for anything else?

Yama DharmarAjA must have definitely been pleased with this quite intelligent reply from Nachiketas. However, he perhaps felt there is still a need to determine the inner qualities of Nachiketas and his deep desire for Self-Knowledge. Thus he reels out a big list of possible enjoyments which he can easily provide Nachiketas with, and tempts him to ask for a boon by which he can gain all of them in one shot.

शतायुषः पुत्रपौत्रान् वृणीष्व बहून पशून हस्तिहिरण्यमश्वान् |
भूमेर्महदायतनं वृणीष्व स्वयं न जीव शरदो यावदिच्छसि ||
” (Death says) ask for centenarian sons and grandsons, many cattle, elephants, gold and horses. Ask for wide extent of earth and live yourself, as many autumns as you like. “

एतत्तुल्यं यदि मन्यसे वरं वृणीष्व वित्तं चिरजीविकां च |
महाभूमौ नचिकेतस्त्वमेधि कामानां त्वां कामभाजं करोमि ||
” Some boon equal to this, if thou thinkest fit, demand wealth and longevity ; be king of the wide earth. Nachiketas, I shall make thee enjoy all thy desires (pertaining to earth and heaven). “

ये ये कामा दुर्लभा मर्त्यलोके सर्वान् कामान्श्छन्दतः प्रार्थयस्व |
इमा रामाः सरथाः सतूर्या नहीदृशा लम्भनीया मनुष्यैः |
आभिर्मत्प्रत्ताभिः परिचारयस्व नचिकेतो मरणं मानुप्राक्षीः ||
” Whatever desires are difficult to realise in the land of mortals, ask, as thou likest, for all such desired objects. These nymphs have their chariots and lutes ; .and women like these are not enjoyable by mortals ; with these, by me given, have thy services performed. Oh Nachiketas, do not ask about death. “

And thus was the list of things offered by YamA DharmarAjA to Nachiketas as an exchange offer instead of Self-Knowledge. It included not only the things most desired by men on earth, power, wealth, and long lasting ability to enjoy both, but also heavenly pleasures including the heavenly damsels and their service, which was not available even to temporary residents of heaven but only to the high-ranking devataas.

In the spirit of these posts, it is natural to assume that Nachiketas would refuse to take all these. But we are using Nachiketas’ story to understand the spirit of the spiritual seeker, and thus this purpose is most important for us, more than guessing what happens in Nachiketas’ story. In the modern circumstances, what is being offered to Nachiketas is like the wealth of the richest man on earth multiplied a few times over, along with a lifetime that is extended to many times an average lifetime of a human being (through some method). Naturally most of us would take it, if such an offer was made to us. Self-Knowledge, for a believer in the Vedic tradition, is the eventual goal of all beings. Since anyway we are going to get it at some point of time, why can’t we enjoy life a little when we have the opportunity to do so? The Upanishad understands our difficulties in getting away from Samsaara and through the voice of this not-yet-10 year old Nachiketas, gives the reasoning for why the seeker for Self-Knowledge has nothing personally to with the world except seek Self-knowledge itself. This we shall see in the next post.

P.S: For the other parts in this series, click here – “Nachiketas“.


  1. Siddhar… Fantastic stuff… This is one of my favourite stories from the upanishads… Is there any fixed time when you update your blog? It’s like watching a tv series and waiting for the next episode…

    • Good to see you liked it Varun :). This is one of my favourites and all time inspirations too :). Will write about that in the last post of the series ;). Unfortunately posts like these which involve something more than mere copy-paste or transcribing from my side requires 3-4 hours of work during the best hours. Finding such slot is hard that why so much gap between such posts ;). Anyway will try to be more regular, with the blessings of the Lord and Guru!

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