Namaskaar. We continue to part 7 of our Kathopanishat commentary series by Shri V. Subrahmanian available at Vedanta Academy. The dialogue between Lord Yama and young Nachiketas is getting more interesting and gives a deep insight into the teachings of the Upanishad.
Towards the end of this Part, the author gives a wonderful example by quoting a very powerful verse from Vairagya Shatakam, another ancient text. Its a profound statement and stands much truer today than any other time. Just shows that these teachings are valid as much in this age and time as any other.
Having offered a number of enjoyable objects to Nachiketa, Yama continues to coax the young but determined spiritual aspirant to give up the quest to know the Self:
एतत्तुल्यं यदि मन्यसे वरं
वृणीष्व वित्तं चिरजीविकां च ।
महाभूमौ नचिकेतः त्वं एधि
कामानां त्वा कामभाजं करोमि ॥
एतत्तुल्यं equal to these (offered in the previous mantra) यदि if मन्यसे you think वरं boon वृणीष्व ask वित्तं wealth चिरजीविकां च and long life. महाभूमौ in this vast region नचिकेतः O Nachiketa त्वं you एधि become कामानां delectable things त्वा you कामभाजं a fit enjoyer करोमि shall I make.
If you deem any other boon equal to that, choose it; choose wealth and a long life. Be the king, O Nachiketa, of the wide earth. I will make you the enjoyer of all desires.
Yama is giving greater leverage for Nachiketa for seeking, expanding the list of enjoyments and the objects and the conditions conducive thereof. One’s imagination is the limit. Mind is compared to a kalpataru, the wish-fulfilling celestial tree. It grants one whatever one wishes for. A person seeking pleasure can attain anything he wants provided he desires strongly and has the determination to give up whatever to attain it. Here, we have Yama in front of Nachiketa ready to grant anything the latter could seek. Yama, the symbol of immense power that could grant anything, from worldly to heavenly to spiritual, makes this offer and it is just for Nachiketa to ask for anything. He could ask for wealth, plenty of gold, ornaments, etc., and a long life to enjoy these. He can become the king of the vast dominion that Yama offers him. He is assured of the necessary physical power to be able to sustain the enjoyment coming from these things, this and other worldly. Yama implies that as He is a powerful devatA, celestial lord, his will never fails.
We have an interesting observation in the taittIriya upaniShad (2.8):
युवा स्यात्साधुयुवाध्यायक: आशिष्ठो दृढिष्ठो बलिष्ठ: |
तस्येयं पृथिवी सर्वा वित्तस्य पूर्णा स्यात् , स: एको मानुष आनन्द: ||
//Suppose there is a young man—a noble young man in the prime of life, good, learned, firm in body and strong and possesses the whole world, full of wealth: that is one measure of human bliss. //
ये ये कामा दुर्लभा मर्त्यलोके
सर्वान् कामान् च्छन्दतः प्रार्थयस्व ।
इमा रामाः सरथाः सतूर्याः
न हि ईदृशाः लम्भनीयाः मनुष्यैः ।
आभिः मत्प्रत्ताभिः परिचारयस्व
नचिकेतो मरणं मा अनुप्राक्षीः ॥
ये ये whatever कामा desirable objects दुर्लभा difficult to get मर्त्यलोके in the world of mortals सर्वान् all those कामान् objects च्छन्दतः according to your choice प्रार्थयस्व seek to obtain. इमा these रामाः celestial nymphs सरथाः endowed with chariots सतूर्याः with musical instruments न never हि indeed ईदृशाः such ones लम्भनीयाः are obtainable मनुष्यैः by humans आभिः by these women मत्प्रत्ताभिः provided by Me (Yama) परिचारयस्व get served नचिकेतो O Nachiketa मरणं regarding death मा never अनुप्राक्षीः ask Me.
Whatever desires are difficult to satisfy in this world of mortals, choose them as you wish: these fair maidens, with their chariots and musical instruments — men of this world cannot obtain them. I give them to you and they shall wait upon you. But do not ask me about death.
Now Yama details the kind of things Nachiketa will be getting in case he chooses to ask for them. These no doubt are impossible to obtain in the world of humans, by human effort. Yama makes it clear that it is only due to His intervention that Nachiketa will get them. These things include women of the heavenly world, who can come to one upon beckoning. They have their own vehicles, chariots, for traveling all over the place. Entertainment, too, comes as a package; these women have the ability to play musical instruments.
The purpose of Yama in alluring Nachiketa with all these attractions is to test the latter’s commitment to the seeking of Self-knowledge. And this commitment is marked by Nachiketa’s willingness to give up everything else that comes in the way of attaining Self-knowledge. These mantras have for their subject matter the important value called ‘nitya-anitya vastu viveka’ or the discrimination between the eternal and the ephemeral.
श्वोभावा मर्त्यस्य यत् अन्तक एतत्
सर्वेन्द्रियाणां जरयन्ति तेजः ।
अपि सर्वं जीवितं अल्पमेव
तवैव वाहाः तव नृत्यगीते ॥
श्वोभावा ephemeral indeed मर्त्यस्य man’s यत् that अन्तक O Death एतत् these सर्वेन्द्रियाणां all the organs जरयन्ति waste away तेजः vigour अपि further सर्वं all जीवितं life अल्पमेव is short indeed. तवैव be yours alone वाहाः all these vehicles तव be yours नृत्यगीते these dances and songs.
Nachiketas simply spurns all ‘overtures’ of Yama. He sees through the enticement. His viveka is so strong that he has no difficulty in applying it to the various allurements Yama is holding out. viveka, discrimination, when diligently applied takes the form of vairAgyam, firm dispassion.
Nachikata reasons: What You, Yama, have offered, are not certain of remaining in existence even tomorrow. Further, these enjoyments, when indulged in, will only weaken the power of the sense/motor organs of man. They ultimately bring all effects that are detrimental to the jIva who applies himself in their enjoyment. For, they diminish dharma (virtue), vIryam (strength), praj~nA (intelligence), tejas (energy), yashas (fame), etc. Also, the long life that you intend offering me, listen what it amounts to: the long life of even brahmA, the Lord of creation, is short indeed. When this is so, what to say about the life of mortals like me? In the light of all these, it is only wise on my part to refrain from accepting all the extraordinary gifts that You make. Keep to Yourself the divine vehicles and let the dances and songs remain with You.
It would be instructive to read about a real life case where indulgence in sense-pleasures leads to one’s disaster:
doshadarshanam, Perception of faults in sense pleasures:
doshadRRShTi or perception of faults in the sense objects forms the foundation for developing vairAgyam. The method involves considering objectively the undesirable effects that result from resorting to the sense objects concerned and form a conviction as to their worthlessness. It is the intention of the scripture that the objective of this exercise is cultivation of dispassion and not hatred to the objects or persons or relationships. This would be another problem by itself requiring a separate treatment. Hence, care should be taken in the doshadarshana abhyAsa, the actual practice of perception of faults. Ideally it culminates in developing indifference, audaasInyam, udAsIna bhAva, towards sense objects.
Here is a famous verse of Bhartrihari, from the vairAgya shatakam, a hundred verses on dispassion that is really frightening:
भोगे रोगभयं कुले च्युतिभयं वित्ते नृपालाद्भयं
माने दैन्यभयम्, बले रिपुभयम्, रूपे जराया भयम् ।
शास्त्रे वादिभयम्, गुणे खलभयं, काये कृतान्ताद्भयं
सर्वं वस्तु भयान्वितं भुवि नृणां वैराग्यमेवाभयम् ॥ ३१ ॥
bhoge rogabhayam, kule chyutibhayam, vitte nrupAlAd-bhayam
mAne dainyabhayam, bale ripubhayam, roope jarAyA bhayam |
shAstre vAdibhayam, guNe khalabhayam, kAye kRtAntAd-bhayam
sarvam vastu bhayAnvitam bhuvi nRNAm vairAgyameva abhayam || 31 ||
In enjoyment, there is the fear of disease; in social position, the fear of falling-off; in wealth, the fear of (hostile) Government (A rule could confiscate excess wealth, or impose very high taxation); in honor, the fear of humiliation; in power, the fear of foes; in beauty, the fear of old age; in scriptural erudition, the fear of opponents; in virtue, the fear of traducers; in body, the fear of death. All things of this world pertaining to man are attended with fear; renunciation alone stands for fearlessness!!
A deep contemplation of the above makes us accord concurrence with the teaching of the verse. Let me relate just one real-life story in substantiation of the first named ‘fear’. I had a friend from a very respectable family. He was one among three brothers and two sisters. They were quite well-to-do. This boy had good talents in sports and had accumulated innumerable prizes and citations, medals, cups and what not in several athletic events. By virtue of all this, even without much higher education, he got a clerical job in a bank. After about two years into the job, he got married to his cousin, his maternal uncle’s daughter. Thereafter started his downfall. With somewhat good looks, he ventured in vain in film acting. He fell into evil company. All sorts of vices he fell into. His banking career took a beating. He borrowed money to fund his vices and the creditors were after him. Unable to bear the fallout of his vices, his wife committed suicide leaving behind two small boys. The vices took a toll on his robust body and one day I got information that he was in the ICU of a hospital. What I saw through the glass door is a sight that I can never forget. The handsome man of less than 35 that he was, had shrunk to a skeleton of about three feet. The next day he passed away. In those days nobody talked about AIDS. In retrospect I feel he was afflicted by this. ‘Bhoge roga bhayam’!
To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari