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The Katha Upanishad - P A R T - I

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The Katha Upanishad - P A R T - I

The Katha Upanishad (Devanagari: कठोपनिषद्) (Kaṭhopaniṣad) is one of the mukhya (primary) Upanishads, embedded in the last short eight sections of the Kaṭha school of the Krishna Yajurveda.[1][2] It is also known as Kāṭhaka Upanishad, and is listed as number 3 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads.

The Katha Upanishad consists of two chapters (Adhyāyas), each divided into three sections (Vallis). The first Adhyaya is considered to be of older origin than the second.[2] The Upanishad is the legendary story of a little boy, Nachiketa – the son of Sage Vajasravasa, who meets Yama (the Indian deity of death). Their conversation evolves to a discussion of the nature of man, knowledge, Atman (Soul, Self) and moksha (liberation).[2]

The Kathaka Upanishad is an important ancient Sanskrit corpus of the Vedanta sub-schools, and an influential Śruti to the diverse schools of Hinduism. It asserts that "Atman (Soul, Self) exists", teaches the precept "seek Self-knowledge which is Highest Bliss", and expounds on this premise like the other primary Upanishads of Hinduism. The Upanishad presents ideas that contrast Hinduism with Buddhism's assertion that "Soul, Self does not exist", and Buddhism's precept that one should seek "Emptiness (Śūnyatā) which is Highest Bliss".[5][6] The detailed teachings of Katha Upanishad have been variously interpreted, as Dvaita (dualistic)[7] and as Advaita (non-dualistic).[8][9][10]

The Katha Upanishad
Translation by Eknath Easwaran
The Secret of Death
(The story of Nachiketa, son of sage Vajasravasa, and his encounter with Yama, Hindu God of death)
5th century BCE

P A R T - I
[ l ]

Once, long ago, Vajasravasa gave away his
possessions to gain religious merit. He had a son
named Nachiketa who,

though only a boy, was full
of faith in the scriptures. Nachiketa thought when the
offerings were made

“What merit can one obtain by
giving away cows that are too old to give milk?”

To help his father understand this, Nachiketa said:
“To whom will you offer me?” He asked this again and
again. “ To death I give you!” said his father in anger

The son thought: “I go, the first of many who will die,
in the midst of many who are dying, on a mission to
Yama, king of death                                            [5]

See how it was with those who came before,
How it will be with those who are living.
Like corn mortals ripen and fall; like corn
They come up again.”
Nachiketa went to Yama’s abode, but the king of death
was not there. He waited three days. When Yama
returned, he heard a voice say:

“When a spiritual guest enters the house,
Like a bright flame, he must be received well,
With water to wash his feet.

Far from wise
Are those who are not hospitable
To such a guest. They will lose all their hopes,
The religious merit they have acquired,
Their sons and their cattle.”


O spiritual guest, I grant you three boons
To atone for the three inhospitable nights
You have spent in my abode.
Ask for three boons, one for each night


O king of death, as the first of these boons
Grant that my fathers anger be appeased,
So he may recognize me when I return
And receive me with love                                      [10]


I grant that your father, the son of Uddalaka
and Aruna,
Will love you as in the past. When he sees you
Released from the jaws of death, he will sleep
Again with a mind at peace


There is no fear at all in heaven; for you
Are not there, neither old age nor death.
Passing beyond hunger and thirst and pain,
All rejoice in the kingdom of heaven.

You know the fire sacrifice that leads to heaven,
O king of death. I have full faith
In you and ask for instruction. Let this
Be your second boon to me


Yes, I do know, Nachiketa, and shall
Teach you the fire sacrifice that leads
To heaven and sustains the world, that knowledge
Concealed in the heart. Now listen


Then the king of death taught Nachiketa how to
perform the fire sacrifice, how to erect the altar for
worshiping the fire from which the universe evolves.
When the boy repeated his instruction, the dread king
of death was well pleased and said:                              [15]


Let me give you a special boon: this sacrifice
Shall be called by your name, Nachiketa.
Accept from me this many-hued chain too

Those who have thrice performed this sacrifice,
Realized their unity with father, mother,
And teacher, and discharged the three duties
Of studying the scriptures, ritual worship,
And giving alms to those in need, rise above
Birth and death. Knowing the god of fire
Born of Brahman, they attain perfect peace

Those who carry out this triple duty
Conscious of its full meaning will shake off
The dread noose of death and transcend sorrow
To enjoy the world of heaven

Thus have I granted you the second boon,
Nachiketa, the secret of the fire
That leads to heaven. It will have your name.
Ask now, Nachiketa, for the third boon


When a person dies, there arises this doubt:
“He still exists,” say some; “he does not,”Say others.
I want you to teach me the truth.
This is my third boon                                         [20]


This doubt haunted even the gods of old,
For the secret of death is hard to know.
Nachiketa, ask for some other boon
And release me from my promise


This doubt haunted even the gods of old;
For it is hard to know, O Death, as you say.
I can have no greater teacher than you,
And there is no boon equal to this


Ask for sons and grandsons who will live
A hundred years. Ask for herds of cattle,
Elephants and horses, gold and vast land,
And ask to live as long as you desire

Or, if you can think of anything more
Desirable, ask for that, with wealth and
Long life as well. Nachiketa, be the ruler
Of a great kingdom, and I will give you
The utmost capacity to enjoy
The pleasures of life.

Ask for beautiful
Women of loveliness rarely seen on earth,
Riding in chariots, skilled in music,
To attend on you. But Nachiketa,
Don’t ask me about the secret of death                           [25]


These pleasures last but until tomorrow,
And they wear out the vital powers of life.
How fleeting is all life on earth! Therefore
Keep your horses and chariots, dancing
And music, for yourself

Never can mortals
Be made happy by wealth. How can we be
Desirous of wealth when we see your face
And know we cannot live while you are here?
This is the boon I choose and ask you for

Having approached an immortal like you,
How can I, subject to old age and death,
Ever try to rejoice in a long life
For the sake of the senses’ fleeting pleasures?

Dispel this doubt of mine, O king of death:
Does a person live after death or does he not?
Nachiketa asks for no other boon
Than the secret of this great mystery                               [29]

( Contd...)

P A R T - I
[ 2 ]


The joy of the spirit ever abides,
But not what seems pleasant to the senses.
Both these, differing in their purpose, prompt
Us to action. All is well for those who choose
The joy of the spirit, but they miss
The goal of life who prefer the pleasant.

Perennial joy or passing pleasure?
This is the choice one is to make always.
Those who are wise recognize this, but not
The ignorant. The first welcome what leads
To abiding joy, though painful at the time.
The latter run, goaded by their senses,
After what seems immediate pleasure.

Well have you renounced these passing pleasures
So dear to the senses, Nachiketa,
And turned your back on the way of the world
That makes mankind forget the goal of life.

Far apart are wisdom and ignorance.
The first leads one to Self-realization;
The second makes one more and more
Estranged from ones real Self. I regard you,
Nachiketa, as worthy of instruction,
For passing pleasures tempt you not at all.

Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise
In their own esteem, those deluded men
Proud of their vain learning go round and round
Like the blind led by the blind.                                        [5]

Far beyond
Their eyes, hypnotized by the world of sense,
Opens the way to immortality.
“I am my body; when my body dies,
I die.” Living in this superstition,
They fall life after life under my sway.

It is but few who hear about the Self.
Fewer still dedicate their lives to its
Realization. Wonderful is the one
Who speaks about the Self. Rare are they
Who make it the supreme goal of their lives.
Blessed are they who, through an illumined
Teacher, attain to Self-realization.

The truth of the Self cannot come through one
Who has not realized that he is the Self.
The intellect cannot reveal the Self,
Beyond its duality of subject
And object. Those who see themselves in all
And all in them help others through spiritual
Osmosis to realize the Self themselves.

This awakening you have known comes not
Through logic and scholarship, but from
Close association with a realized teacher.
Wise are you, Nachiketa, because you
Seek the Self eternal. May we have more
Seekers like you!


I know that earthly treasures are transient,
And never can I reach the eternal through them.
Hence have I renounced all my desires for earthly
To win the eternal through your instruction.                              [10]


I spread before your eyes, Nachiketa,
The fulfillment of all worldly desires:
Power to dominate the earth, delights
Celestial gained through religious rites,
Miraculous powers beyond time and space.
These with will and wisdom have you renounced.

The wise, realizing through meditation
The timeless Self, beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.

Those who know they are neither body nor mind
But the immemorial Self, the divine
Principle of existence, find the source of all joy and live in joy abiding.
I see the gates of joy are opening
For you, Nachiketa.


Teach me of That you see as beyond right
And wrong, cause and effect, past and future.


I will give you the Word all the scriptures
Glorify, all spiritual disciplines
Express, to attain which aspirants lead
A life of sense-restraint and self-naughting.                              [15]

It is OM . This symbol of the Godhead
Is the highest. Realizing it one finds
Complete fulfillment of all ones longings.

It is of the greatest support to all seekers.
When OM reverberates unceasingly
Within the heart, that one is indeed blessed
And deeply loved as one who is the Self.

The all-knowing Self was never born,
Nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect,
This Self is eternal and immutable.
When the body dies, the Self does not die.

If the slayer believes that he can kill
Or the slain believes that he can be kill,
Neither knows the truth. The eternal Self
Slays not, nor is ever slain.

Hidden in the heart of every creature
Exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. They go beyond
All sorrow who extinguish their self-will
And behold the glory of the Self
Through the grace of the Lord of Love.                                  [20]

Though one sits in meditation in a
Particular place, the Self within
Can exercise his influence far away.
Though still, he moves everything everywhere.

When the wise realize the Self,
Formless in the midst of forms, changeless
In the midst of change, omnipresent
And supreme, they go beyond sorrow.

The Self cannot be known through study
Of the scriptures, nor through the intellect,
Nor through hearing discourses about it.
The Self can be attained only by those
Whom the Self chooses. Verily unto them
Does the Self reveal himself.

The Self cannot be known by anyone
Who desists not from unrighteous ways,
Controls not the senses, stills not the mind,
And practices not meditation.

None else can know the omnipresent Self,
Whose glory sweeps away the rituals
Of the priest and the prowess of the warrior
And puts death itself to death.                                        [25]

( Contd...)

P A R T - I
[ 3 ]

In the secret cave of the heart, two are
Seated by life’s fountain. The separate ego
Drinks of the sweet and bitter stuff,
Liking the sweet, disliking the bitter,
While the supreme Self drinks sweet and bitter
Neither liking this nor disliking that.
The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self
Lives in light. So declare the illumined sages
And the householders who worship
The sacred fire in the name of the Lord.

May we light the fire of Nachiketa
That burns out the ego and enables us
To pass from fearful fragmentation
To fearless fullness in the changeless whole.

Know the Self as lord of the chariot,
The body as the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as
The charioteer, and the mind as reins.

The senses, say the wise, are the horses;
Selfish desires are the roads they travel.
When the Self is confused with the body,
Mind, and senses, they point out, he seems
To enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow.

When a person lacks discrimination
And his mind is undisciplined, the senses
Run hither and thither like wild horses.                                   [5]

But they obey the rein like trained horses
When one has discrimination and
Has made the mind one-pointed.

Those who lack
Discrimination, with little control
Over their thoughts and far from pure,
Reach not the pure state of immortality
But wander from death to death;

but those
Who have discrimination, with a still mind
And a pure heart, reach journeys end,
Never again to fall into the jaws of death.

With a discriminating intellect
As charioteer and a trained mind as reins,
They attain the supreme goal of life,
To be united with the Lord of Love.

The senses derive from objects of sense-perception,
Sense objects from mind, mind from intellect,
And intellect from ego;                                                  [10]

ego from undifferentiated
Consciousness, and consciousness from Brahman.
Brahman is the First Cause and last refuge.

Brahman, the hidden Self in everyone,
Does not shine forth. He is revealed only
To those who keep their minds one-pointed
On the Lord of Love and thus develop
A superconscious manner of knowing.

Meditation enables them to go
Deeper and deeper into consciousness,
From the world of words to the world of thoughts,
Then beyond thoughts to wisdom in the Self.

Get up! Wake up! Seek the guidance of an
Illumined teacher and realize the Self.
Sharp like a razor’s edge, the sages say,
Is the path, difficult to traverse.

The supreme Self is beyond name and form,
Beyond the senses, inexhaustible,
Without beginning, without end, beyond
Time, space, and causality, eternal,Immutable.
Those who realize the Self
Are forever free from the jaws of death.                

The wise, who gain experiential knowledge
Of this timeless tale of Nachiketa,
Narrated by Death, attain the glory
Of living in spiritual awareness.
Those who, full of devotion, recite this
Supreme mystery at a spiritual
Gathering are fit for eternal life.
They are indeed fit for eternal life.                                 [16]

(End of Part - I)

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