Nachiketas – a beacon light for aspirants of VairAgyA : Part 4 (Conclusion)

Shri Gurubhyo Namaha

The concluding part of this series was written during this Guru purnima as a humble tribute to my Acharyas who have helped me in the adhyaatmic path.yama-nachiketa

May all benefit from their presence as I have,


In Parts 1, 2 and 3 (See – Nachiketas) we have seen Nachiketas demonstrating his qualifications of Viveka and Vairaagya to Yama Dharmaraja and conveying to him his tivra-mumukshutvam (deep desire for release from samsaara). Convinced of his qualifications, Lord Yama goes into a deep mood reflecting on the glory of the Vedantic Guru, the glory of the qualified shishya of such a Guru, the glory of the teaching, and the misery of those people who settle for the pleasures of samsaara.

Glory of the student

Yama Dharmaraja completely approves of Nachiketas’ single-pointed desire to know Brahman. While following the age-old tradition of teaching someone after determining the qualifications required, the Dharmaraja also brings out the qualities that is required of a saadhaka by eliciting a response from Nachiketas to his tempting offers of worldly gains. Nachiketas shines forth as worthy saadhaka. Yama Dharmaraja’s praise for Nachiketas is unequivocal.

अन्यच्छ्रेयोऽन्यदुतैव प्रेयस्ते उभे नानार्थे पुरुषं सिनीतः ।

तयोः श्रेय आददानस्य साधु भवति हीयतेऽर्थाद्य उ प्रेयो वृणीते ॥ १ ॥

“All beings who desire to be happy can be divided into two classes – those who seek happiness through the objects of pleasure (preyas) and those who seek happiness through freedom from samsaara, and thereby Atma-jnaana (shreyas). Among these they who desire for the freedom from samsaara alone become fulfilled and happy, the others do not gain this goal and thereby remain unfulfilled”.

स त्वं प्रियान्प्रियरूपांश्च कामानभिध्यायन्नचिकेतोऽत्यस्राक्षीः ।

नैतां सृङ्कां वित्तमयीमवाप्तो यस्यां मज्जन्ति बहवो मनुष्याः ॥ ३ ॥

“Having clearly analysed the nature of the worldly objects (which I have offered you as a replacement for Atma jnaana), you (Nachiketas) have understood that they all ultimately lead to only more pain and have given all of them up. Thus you have not been deluded and caught up in the worldly pleasures like most people”.

दूरमेते विपरीते विषूची अविद्या या च विद्येति ज्ञाता ।

विद्याभीप्सिनं नचिकेतसं मन्ये न त्वा कामा बहवोऽलोलुपन्त ॥ ४ ॥ 

“The pursuit of worldly pleasures and the pursuit of Atma-jnaana (moksha) are opposed to each other. Having not been deluded by the innumerable desires for worldly pleasures, I hold you, dear Nachiketas, to be desirous of Atma jnaana alone, which alone leads to Moksha”.

एतच्छ्रुत्वा सम्परिगृह्य मर्त्यः प्रवृह्य धर्म्यमणुमेतमाप्य ।

स मोदते मोदनीयं हि लब्ध्वा विवृतं सद्म नचिकेतसं मन्ये ॥ १३ ॥

“Having heard this teaching about the glorious Atman, and having become convinced that one’s real nature is that of the infinite Atman/Brahman and not the body-mind, one recognises oneself as being unconditionally happy. The door to that glorious Brahman is left open for you, my dear Nachiketas; this is indeed my feeling”.

The Misery of those embroiled in pursuing worldly goals

In order to further instigate Vairaagya and the thirst for Atma-jnaanam for all the students of the Upanishad, the Acharya further points out to the pitfalls in living a life focused purely on worldly pleasures like wealth, fame, etc. Not being on the path to Moksha, they remain hooked to samsaara and thereby are destined to be born and to die again and again and continuously go through the cycle of pleasure and pain –

न साम्परायः प्रतिभाति बालं प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम् ।

अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी पुनः पुनर्वशमापद्यते मे ॥ ६ ॥

“The knowledge of the Atman is not gained by those immature people who go behind the worldly pleasures on account of their lack of viveka (discrimination) and vairaagya (dispassion). They are caught up in the delusion that this world here is all that is there (and therefore we must do everything to enjoy here). Because of this delusion, they come back to Me (Yama Dharmaraja, the Lord of Death) again and again”

Furthermore, the Dharmaraja points to the rare but glorious nature of this teaching and that only the most fortunate can get a Guru who not only communicates the Atma-jnaanam but also lives according to the teaching itself.

Glory of the Guru

श्रवणायापि बहुभिर्यो न लभ्यः शृण्वन्तोऽपि बहवो यं न विद्युः ।

आश्चर्यो वक्ता कुशलोऽस्य लब्धा आश्चर्यो ज्ञाता कुशलानुशिष्टः ॥ ७ ॥

“There are few that wish to hear (know) the AtmA, and most of those who listen to the knowledge of the AtmA being communicated do not understand its nature. Indeed, miraculous it is to find a Guru of Atma-jnaana and miraculous further is a shishya who knows the Atman from such a Guru”.

न नरेणावरेण प्रोक्त एष सुविज्ञेयो बहुधा चिन्त्यमानः ।

अनन्यप्रोक्ते गतिरत्र नास्ति अणीयान्ह्यतर्क्यमणुप्रमाणात् ॥ ८ ॥

“This Atman cannot be known from those who are still consumed by worldly desires, nor from those who argue about it in many ways without any convictions. Only by those who know it as one’s own nature, who teach it as the Advaita Atma, only by such a Guru can the Atman be known, as it is most subtle and cannot be known by mere argumentation and logical analysis by oneself”.

Here the word “ananya-prokte gatiratra naasti” used by the Upanishad carries several meanings. Bhagavatpaada Shankaracharya comments extensively in bringing out the multiple facets of this half-verse. These include –

“ananya-prokte gatiratra naasti” – When Brahman is taught by a Guru as not being separate from anything in the world, a worthy shishya has no further confusion about the nature of the Atman.

“ananya-prokte gatiratra naasti” – When the shishya is taught that Brahman, the cause for the entire manifested world, is not different from the Shishya (as in his true nature he himself is Brahman), there is no further cause to know anything in particular, as he has known it all, as he himself is all in reality.

“ananya-prokte gatiratra naasti” – Having been taught that the Brahman is itself the Atman, his own real nature, the shishya is identified with all and hence is liberated from samsaara. Thus he attains Moksha here and now and there is no further attainment that is required by going to other worlds (lokas like Brahma loka).

The Dharmaraja also reveals the only means to obtain this liberating knowledge of the Atman – via a Guru who has come down in the hoary Guru-shishya parampara, who is well-versed in the scriptures and also a Brahma-jnaani himself.

नैषा तर्केण मतिरापनेया प्रोक्तान्येनैव सुज्ञानाय प्रेष्ठ ।

यां त्वमापः सत्यधृतिर्बतासि त्वादृङ् नो भूयान्नचिकेतः प्रष्टा ॥ ९ ॥

“This Atman is not known through logical argumentation by oneself but only by the teaching of a Guru, an Acharya. This Atma-jnaana is capable of knowing by you, dear Nachiketas, for you are most eligible for it. I wish that every student of mine be like you, my dear Nachiketas!”.

Glory of the Shaastra and the knowledge of the Atman gained by it

Yama Dharmaraja declares further the glorious nature of this Brahmajnaana, indicating that he who is possessed of the knowledge of oneself as Brahman, the cause of everything that is manifested, establishes himself in abhaya (fearlessness). All the variegated things in the world appear as mere playthings in his own Atman –

यस्य ब्रह्म च क्षत्रं च उभे भवत ओदनः ।

मृत्युर्यस्योपसेचनं क इत्था वेद यत्र सः ॥ २५ ॥

” ‘ That Brahman/Atman has (as though) the Brahmana/Kshatriya for its food, and has death itself as the side-dish’ – Who (which immature person without the qualifications that Nachiketas demonstrates) can know the Atman in its glory like this?”

Becoming unconditional happiness in himself, he becomes a source of compassion and a blessing for the entire world. Nothing in the world disturbs him and his life is fulfilled as he knows no sorrow –

अशरीरं शरीरेषु अनवस्थेष्ववस्थितम् ।

महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ॥

“Having known that Atman which is omnipresent, which is as though embodied but still truly not embodied, as though limited but still not truly limited, that wise man crosses over sorrow.”

Having listened to Dharmaraja’s soliloquy, Nachiketas, embodying all the values for a devoted student of Brahma-jnaana, comes back to his request for knowing the Atman demonstrating further the nature of its subtlety and his own qualification –

अन्यत्र धर्मादन्यत्राधर्मादन्यत्रास्मात्कृताकृतात् ।

अन्यत्र भूताच्च भव्याच्च यत्तत्पश्यसि तद्वद ॥ १४ ॥

“If you find me worthy, Sir, please teach me about that Brahman, which is different from all that which is part of the cause-and-effect universe and all kinds of karma and their effects, which lies untouched by the ravages of the past and unaffected by the future. Since it is clear you know this Brahman, please teach me”. 

And Yama Dharmaraja teaches him the nature of the Atman. Nachiketas absorbs it completely and becomes established in the teaching. The Katha-Upanishad, recounting this tale of Nachiketas’ saadhana and its culmination, concludes the chapter saying that all those who gain this knowledge attain the same as Nachiketas, which is Atma-jnaana and freedom from bondage.

With this I conclude this series on the young student of Brahmajnaana, Nachiketas, with the invocatory verse of Shankaracharya in His commentary to this Upanishad, with the prayer that all be endowed with the qualities of our hero Nachiketas and gain the knowledge of the Atman for the good of oneself and all.

ॐ नमो भगवते वैवस्वताय मृत्यवे ब्रह्मविद्याचार्याय, नचिकेतसे च ।

श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः| श्री कृष्णार्पणमस्तु ||


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