Sri Gurubhyo Namaha
We continue from Part 2 where Yama DharmarAjA offered Nachiketas innumerable pleasures of this world and the heavens, sons and daughters who will live long, and a lifetime equal to that of Lord Brahma, the longest living individual in the entirety of creation. To Yama DharmarAjA’s exchange offer of exchanging Self-Knowledge with this mega-list, Nachiketas said –
श्वोभावा मर्तस्य यदन्तकैतत् सर्वेन्द्रियाणां जरयन्ति तेजः |
अपि सर्वं जीवितं अल्पमेव तवैव वाहास्तव नृत्यगीते ||
“(Nachiketas says) Ephemeral are these ; Oh Death, these tend to the decay of the fire (vigour) of all the senses in man. Even the longest life is, indeed, short. Thine alone be the chariots, the dance and music.”
न वित्तेन तर्पणीयो मनुष्यः लप्स्यामहे वित्तमद्राक्ष्म चेतवा |
जीविष्यामो यावदीशिष्यसि त्वं वरस्तु मे वरणीयः स एव ||
“Man is not to be satisfied with wealth ; if wealth were wanted, we shall get it, if we only see thee. We shall also live, as long as you rule. Therefore, that boon alone is fit to be craved by me.”
अजीर्यताममृतानामुपेत्य जीर्यन् मर्त्यः क्वधःस्थः प्रजानन् |
अभिध्यायन् वर्णरतिप्रमोदान् अतिदीर्घे जीविते को रमेत ||
” What decaying mortal living in the world below and possessed of knowledge, having reached the company of the undecaying and the immortal, will delight in long life, knowing the nature of the delight produced by song and sport ? “
यस्मिन्निदं विचिकित्सन्ति मृत्यो यत्साम्पराये मति ब्रूहि नस्तत् |
योऽयं वरो गूदमनुप्रविष्टो नान्यं तस्मात् नचिकेता वृणीते ||
“Oh Death, tell us that in which men have this doubt, and which is about the great hereafter ; no other boon doth Nachiketas crave, than this which entered into the secret.”
Before we look into Nachiketas’ wondrous assertions here, a note about the Vedic tradition.
The Vedic tradition according to Advaita holds that the Vedic teachings are separable into two portions (a) The Karma KANdA – The portion which teaches the various ends that are accessible to a JivA (an individual) by performing different types of actions, and the various religious actions that aid in achieving these ends, and (b) the JnAna-kANdA – the portion of the VedA which deals with Atma-jnAnam, the Knowledge of the intrinsic divinity and infinite nature of the individual.
The Karma kANda is primarily to refine the seeker’s mind, to convert him from an animal-man who works only for food, clothing, shelter and personal likes and dislikes, into a man-man who will put Dharma above all these goals. A Karma kANdin is expected to act in the world not based on personal likes and dislikes but based on what is right and what is wrong. Who decides these? With respect to the basics of morality, he need not be taught what is right and what is wrong, since it is inbuilt into his mind. He knows that telling untruth for personal gain is wrong, since he feels disturbed when someone gets an personal advantage by telling him a lie. He knows that injuring others is wrong, as he does not want anyone to injure him. Thus he is expected to know these common Dharmas, sAmAnya Dharma, such as satya and ahimsa, intuitively, without the necessity of any religion to tell him to follow it. However, in the case of vishesha Dharma (special Dharmas), Dharmas which are not directly intuited by him, the Veda and associated scriptures play a major role.
Thus the Karma kANdA refines the individual into a Dharmic person, who will see the world based on Dharma and adharma, and who can set aside even basic physical necessities, if need be, for the sake of Dharma.
Such a person, as he lives a Dharmic life, comes to know of certain facts of life. He comes to know that what he is looking for is to fill a psychological gap he constantly feels, which is that “I am not a complete person”. He is always seeking to become this “complete” person, whether it is by actions in the domain of the Veda or outside of it. However, the performance of actions, however Dharmic they might be, is not sufficient to fill this void forever. Eventually, the feeling of incompleteness still arrives, and he is left wanting to shooting for bigger and better things. Thus, the game of desiring and achieving goals, including the performance of Dharma, does not satisfy his thirst anymore; he wants something that can fill this void forever. This is the first qualification gained by this Dharmic individual, called nitya-anitya vastu viveka, upon which his spiritual journey towards becoming a divine-man begins. It is to such a person the JnAna kANdA speaks, and only such a person can grasp its meaning.
Now we look at the verses. Nachiketas, being a person who is well qualified for the JnAna kANda, demonstrates his convictions to DharmarAjA. He spurns DharmarAjA’s exchange offer of wealth and pleasures. One might be tempted to ask, isn’t a 10 year old too young for knowing what is good and bad for himself? To prove that his rejection of YamA’s offer is not based on childishness or ignorance, Nachiketas gives him sound logical reasoning of why he still chooses to ask Self-Knowledge from him rather than accepting his offer of pleasure and wealth. He says [I am giving free translations of the verses] –
(a) श्वोभावा मर्त्यस्य यत् – The so-called pleasures and wealth you give me, it is doubtful whether they will even exist another day. Kings are reduced to paupers in a matter of days, there is no guarantee that these pleasures that you give will sustain.
(b) न वित्तेन तर्पणीयो मनुष्यः – Nowhere in history is there any person who has claimed that “I am satisfied, I have no more desires, I am a complete person” purely on the basis of such pleasures and wealth that you offer.
[It may be right that these pleasures and wealth are short lived, but should one not go for them instead of Self-Knowledge and enjoy them for as long as they last? Expecting such a doubt from us perhaps, the Veda, through Nachiketas’ words, says -]
(c) सर्वेन्द्रियाणां जरयन्ति तेजः – These pleasures that you give me, they do little more than provide temporary appeasement of the senses, and moreover the very use of the senses to enjoy these pleasures continuously causes the decay of the ability of the sense-organs itself. They offer nothing more than waste of energy for the sake of temporal pleasure.
(d) अपि सर्वं जीवितं अल्पमेव – Even the greatest lifetime that you offer me, has a last day. And that day will bring me pain equivalent to multiple times the amount of pleasure that I would have experienced by your gifts, because I would miss them that much if I go for them now.
(e) अभिध्यायन् वर्णरतिप्रमोदान् अतिदीर्घे जीविते को रमेत – Having known these and other defects of the pleasures and wealth that you offer, who will seek them and a long life to enjoy them? Certainly one who is sensible will obviously go not for these things which bring nothing but sorrow.
Demonstrating thus his sharp understanding of the nature of worldly pleasures, Nachiketas unflinchingly says to his AchAryA – तवैव वाहास्तव नृत्यगीते – “Keep your wealth and pleasures with you, O Lord!”. It is hard for us to imagine a 10 year old speak such words to the Lord of Death himself; but such is the conviction of a real spiritual seeker. Though it may seem unbelievable to the normal eye, one need only look hard enough for such examples today, they certainly exist and can be found.
Finally, In order to stress that he wants nothing except what the knowledge of the Self that he has already asked for, Nachiketas then brings out the greatness of his AchAryA and the teaching of Self-Knowledge.
(a) लप्स्यामहे वित्तमद्राक्ष्म चेत्वा, जीविष्यामो यावदीशिष्यसि त्वं – Seeing you, the Lord of Dharma himself, is a great blessing that is sufficient by itself to bring wealth and long life, why would I then go for asking a boon with all those things that anyway I am going to get upon seeing you?
(b) वरस्तु मे वरणीयः स एव ,
यस्मिन्निदं विचिकित्सन्ति मृत्यो यत्साम्पराये मति ब्रूहि नस्तत् |
योऽयं वरो गुढमनुप्रविष्टो नान्यं तस्मात् नचिकेता वृणीते ||
– Thus offer to me that Self-knowledge, which is most valuable, because it removes sorrow and desire altogether and forevermore, because it is the most secretive one not known to even the gods. I, Nachiketas, seek nothing else other than this from you, the great teacher.
We should note here that it is not a “pessimistic” view of life which Nachiketas’ demonstrates, as some thinkers have termed it. Certainly it is not the goal of the VedA to teach or prescribe a negative view of life or of the world. Instead, the idea is that the individual should be de-addicted to any particular object of pleasure or hatred that the individual is already addicted to. It is to bring an appropriate mental atmosphere for receiving the teaching of VedAntA, one where the individual is not psychologically swayed by either objects of pleasure or pain, For this purpose, understanding certain facts of life is essential. Facts like what Nachiketas tells us, for example – “no man is ever satisfied with wealth alone” seem simplistic, but they are stressed repeatedly in the VedAnta tradition, because it is the natural intrinsic tendency of man to be attracted towards wealth and assume that he can be happy by it alone. Thus, any such fact that the Veda says is to wean our minds away from our addictions to the world and therefore make it responsive to the VedAntic teaching.
With these words from Nachiketas, we presume that Yama DharmarAjA must be satisfied, and indeed he was, as we shall see in the next post.
P.S: For the other parts in this series, click here – “Nachiketas“.