Nachiketas – a beacon light for aspirants of VairAgyA : Part 3

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 तेजःThese 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 रमेतHaving 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 नृत्यगीतेKeep 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 त्वंSeeing 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“.


  1. “It is the natural intrinsic tendency of man to be attracted towards wealth and assume that he can be happy by it alone”.
    This might be a correct assumption in itself, i.e., if one has wealth then he can be happy, so it is logical to work towards wealth and achieve it, and to state that he will go for more wealth is unsound. But only problem is ‘wealth is transitory’, and hence if I make up my mind that I will not be unhappy if it goes away then there is no issue, however, that said, then why bother about amassing it in the first place.

    • By “being happy” Vedanta always means “being not discontent/bored, not-looking-to-be-complete-by-needing-to-do-something-else-again.” From this angle it is clear that wealth can never give happiness. In general wealth is not only transitory, but also positively worry-causing if accumulated beyond a certain point. It is easy to say – “I make up my mind that I will not be unhappy if it goes away then there is no issue” , but in practice very difficult, like a alcoholic saying that “From tomorrow I won’t drink”. Being a Janaka is far more difficult than being a sanyAsi jnAni :).

      • Siddhar… Nice again…

        In life, if one were to pursue any goals that he/she may have, once accomplished, he/she will feel a void or a sense of boredom and look for a next goal (of course some pursuits may take an entire lifetime and remain unattained). If there exists such a goal, that attaining which one feels eternally fulfilled and does not have to look for anything else, I believe that that goal is worth struggling for.
        And about the statement “being a Janaka is considerably difficult”. I’m not sure the question of difficulty really should arise. For a Janaka, being like him is natural. Just as in a Sanyasi, living the life of a recluse is natural.
        It is only for the aspirants, that the question of relative difficulties in different paths arise, depending on his/her temperament. By following the traits (characteristics) of Janaka, it in itself becomes a means to the end (jnanam)… (But I suppose you were talking about the aspirant in that paragraph). 🙂

  2. Varunji ! You are right, indeed – I was talking from more of a saadhaka point of view. But there is a kind of a ‘shadow-difficulty’ that has the potential to arise for non-sanyaasi jnaanis more than sanyaasi-jnaanis [by sanyaasa i don’t mean mere robes, but actual dissociation with possessions, obligations, relationships, transactions [what Paramarthananda Swamiji has termed PORT], These shadow difficulties are the mental and physical hindrances which arise because of the magnitude of circumstances for a person still involved with the world. However, because of JnAna, the non-sanyaasi jnAni does not suffer like the ajnAni, she is able to effectively dissociate from the body-mind complex [that is why I am calling them ‘shadow-difficulties’. The technical language I believe is ‘avidya-lesha’ or ‘trace of avidya’]. But still, experiences are experiences, even for a JnAni. Like pinpricks in a dream, they will continue. These dream-pin-pricks will hurt the dream-body-mind-complex, most probably more for a non-sanyaasi jnaani than for a sanyaasi jnaani. If memory serves right, I have heard that according to Swami Vidyaranya in Jivan-mukti viveka, this is one of the reasons why Yagnavalkya rishi physically renounced his home and went for a life of nididhyaasana. Nididhyaasana reduces the problems that arise in the mind due to avidya-lesha, and enable a jnAni’s mind [“jnani’s mind’ is a kind of contradiction .. still I am using it] to enjoy jivanmukti more.

    But ultimately speaking, what you say is correct. For one in the condition of Sadashiva Brahmendraal, our Paramesti Gurudeva Sri Sri Chandrashekara Bharati Mahaswamin, Ramana Maharshi, etc., VarnAshramas don’t matter.

    yogaratovaa bhogaratovaa sangaratovaa sangaviheenah
    yasya brahmani ramate chittam, nandati nandati nandatyeva! – bhajagovindam.

    But this has to come naturally and not by force. As far as jnaana saadhana goes, shaashtra always recommends sanyaasa – external one as a precursor to internal one.

    • Siddhar,

      What you say is true… As long as one is associated with the dream-body-mind complex, one is compelled to live according to one’s respective personality traits. That’s why even among jnaanis, while there is no difference from the perspective of their realisation of brahman, the kind of lives they lead and personalities they are, are entirely different, based on a number of other factors (such as environment, prarabdha, etc…).

      The funny thing is, the path to enlightenment is not really a step by step process. It is completely non linear. It’s more of a sudden jump, when you realise “Oh!!! That’s all this is…!!!”
      But alas, being born in this world, we are bound by duties, attachments, afflictions, pleasure, pain, etc… till such a realisation dawns…
      On the bright side, we have plenty of ideal beings that we can emulate. As in the Gita, Krishna says that following the traits of a jnaani (such as ahimsa, purity, dexterity at work, etc… I can’t find equivalent english words to the original Sanskrit verses) itself is a means.

      • Yes Varunji, all the descriptions in the scriptures of a Jnaani and of Jnaanam are only to awaken us from our deep slumbers, they are only guidelines/pointers for us. Who can capture the real glory of the JnAni who is Brahman itself.. the scriptures themselves fail there. Advaita is a very tricky non-objective understanding… kind of like falling off into a black-hole, the descriptions of the scriptures converge at the event horizon.

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