Namaskaar. Some wonderful lessons being taught in this Part 17 of the Kathopanishat commentary.


Mantra 23

The Acharya Yama is continuing his delineation of the Self upon being asked for it by the wonderful aspirant Nachiketas.

नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यो
न मेधया न बहुना श्रुतेन ।
यमेवैष वृणुते तेन लभ्य-
स्तस्यैष आत्मा विवृणुते तनूं स्वाम् ॥ २३ ॥

न अयम् आत्मा This Atman is not प्रवचनेन लभ्यः attained through study न मेधया nor by intelligence न बहुना श्रुतेन or by much hearing of sacred literature. यम् he whom एव alone एष the Self वृणुते chooses तेन लभ्यः It is attaind by such a person तस्य Its एष this आत्मा Atman विवृणुते reveals तनूं स्वाम् Its true nature.

This Atman cannot be attained by the study of the veda-s, or by intelligence, or by much hearing of sacred books. It is attained by him alone whom It chooses. To such a one Atman reveals Its own form.

The upaniShad is making it very clear that a very high degree of commitment is required for the attainment of Self knowledge. One has to be a ‘chosen one’ for such a realization to occur. Who chooses whom? There is the famous statement: If you walk ten steps towards God, He comes hundred steps towards you’. Greater the commitment from the aspirant, greater is the ease with which the Self-revelation takes place. Says the renowned AchArya, Sri Sureshwara, in the naiShkarmyasiddhi:

यावद्यावन्निरस्यायं देहादीन्प्रत्यगञ्चति |
तावत्तावत्तदर्थोऽपि त्वमर्थं प्रविविक्षति
|| 3.28

[As much as a person rejects objects such as the body (as not-Self) and moves towards the Self, so much does the meaning of ‘That’ tend to enter into the meaning of ‘thou.’ ]

‘Self-realization’ amounts to the firm conviction one arrives at about his true brahman-nature. This is what the ’That’ means. It is because one takes himself to be the not-self, which is signified by the body-mind complex, is there the experience of samsAra, bondage. The endeavor of the vedAnta is to enable the aspirant make this discrimination and take it to its logical end of realizing that one is brahman the Eternal and not the ephemeral body-mind.

Surely this viveka, discriminative insight, does not arise from a mere study of the scriptural texts. Nor is the intellectual understanding of the meaning of these texts going to help singularly. Surely not the mere hearing of a number of shruti passages will help one in this endeavor. Then what indeed constitutes the primary cause of realization? The upaniShad replies: When the aspirant aspires to attain the Self alone and nothing else, then alone does it become possible for him to realize It as his own true self. Realizing means knowing. This one-pointed commitment, devotion, to the Self is the key requirement in this endeavor. What indeed constitutes this attainment? The upaniShad answers: For this aspirant of the Self the Atman reveals Its absolute nature. In other words, the state of ignorance is marked by taking the mind, body, senses, ego, etc. as oneself. These are the relative senses of the term ‘Self’. sAdhana, the endeavor, results in knowing that the relative is not the absolute and realizing the absolute as one’s true nature.

Mantra 24

After having said what alone will result in enlightenment the upaniShad goes on to specify the particular conditions that preclude the arising of the liberating knowledge:

नाविरतो दुश्चरितात् नाशान्तो नासमाहितः ।
नाशान्तमानसो वाऽपि प्रज्ञानैनमाप्नुयात् ॥ २४ ॥

 न अविरतः one who has not desisted दुश्चरितात् from evil conduct न अशान्तः whose senses are not under control न असमाहितः whose mind is not concentrated न अशान्तमानसः whose mind is not free from anxiety वा अपि प्रज्ञानेन he too cannot through knowledge एनम् आप्नुयात् attain this Atman.

He who has not first turned away from wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued and whose mind is not at peace, cannot attain Atman through the Knowledge of the Reality.

The upaniShad is highlighting the negativity in an aspirant that could prove a formidable obstacle in the sAdhana. Only the one with a clearly positive attitude to life succeeds in attaining Self-knowledge. For, this exercise demands a pure lifestyle and sane habits. Causing harm, injury, etc. in any form to oneself and others is the foremost impediment in the path of self-knowledge. The Scripture, both the shruti and smRRti, point out what constitutes evil action. Indulging in these results in the aspirant remaining in, or returning to, saMsAra, thus perpetuating the bound nature. While this is with regard to the outside world mostly, what constitutes another form of indulgence is the attachment to sense pleasures. Such indulgence does not free the mind and body for taking up and pursuing serious sAdhana. When the mind is not calm it is given to distractions thereby stultifying the effort involved in concentrating the mind for grasping the self-knowledge.

The upaniShad identifies yet another hurdle: even if one is endowed with a calm mind, owing to the attachment to the fruit of calmness, there is another kind of obstacle in the form of anxiety. ‘Will I ever attain to a pure, tranquil, mind and enjoy the great peace accruing from Self-knowledge?’ – such concerns, if unduly present in the aspirant, can border on anxiety. This becomes an additional problem requiring adept handling. All these hurdles result in the non-attainment of the Self through knowledge.


  1. He who is free from evil action,
  2. Desisting from sense pleasures,
  3. Endowed with a placid mind,
  4. And also overcome the longing for the fruit of a peaceful mind, will,
  5. Along with the teaching and constant guidance of an AchArya, teacher, is sure to succeed in becoming enlightened through the scripture-based teaching of self-knowledge.

Continuing the same line of instruction, Yama points out that he who is not of the above nature is unlikely to get the liberating knowledge:

Mantra 25

यस्य ब्रह्म च क्षत्रं च उभे भवत ओदनः ।
मृत्युर्यस्योपसेचनं क इत्था वेद यत्र सः ॥ २५ ॥

यस्य for whom ब्रह्म brAhmaNa च and क्षत्रं kShatriya च उभे both भवतः become ओदनः food मृत्युः death यस्य for whom is उपसेचनं side-dish कः who इत्था thus वेद realize यत्र सः that It is the self?

Who, then, knows Him thus—He to whom Brahmins and kShatriyas are mere food and death itself a condiment?

The upaniShad presents the Ultimate Power, the Universal Atman, verily brahman as the source into which the entire universe resolves at the time of praLaya, destruction. This is expressed in a peculiar manner: the brAhmaNa who is the repository of all dharma, righteousness, and the kShatriya, the protector of all from injustice, evil, as constituting the food of brahman. In other words, brAhmaNa and kShatriya represent the entire world which rests on dharma. For only when dharma is practiced by these two classes the world order is well maintained. Also, Death, that causes destruction to every being, is just a side-dish, a curry or a pickle, to brahman, the ultimate Lord of the entire universe. The idea is to show brahman as the Supreme, never transcended/transgressed by any other being in the creation. Yama gives such a reply to Nachiketas’ question about the ‘One that transcends dharma and adharma, cause and effect, past and future.’

By presenting brahman in the above manner, the upaniShad wants to show that realization of such a Great Power, which is verily the substratum of the world, is not an easy thing. Only he who has acquired all the necessary qualifications ultimately succeeds in knowing It as his very Self. This knowledge alone results in liberation.

With this ends the second section of the First Part of the kaThopaniShad.

Now begins the third and last section of the First Part.

Thus far the upaniShad has shown the contrast between Knowledge and Ignorance by presenting their diverse, opposite results. While Knowledge leads to liberation, ignorance leads to continued bondage. Since the detailed presentation of their nature and means have not been done by the upaniShad, in the sequel is taken up a discourse that brings out clearly the diverse nature of Knowledge and Ignorance and their means. We have also the delineation of the two selves, for distinguishing between the attained and the attainer and the goal and the one who seeks the goal.

Towards this end starts the first mantra:

ऋतं पिबन्तौ सुकृतस्य लोके
गुहां प्रविष्टौ परमे परार्धे ।
छायातपौ ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति
पञ्चाग्नयो ये च त्रिणाचिकेताः ॥ १ ॥

ऋतं पिबन्तौ Two enjoyers of the fruit of सुकृतस्य karma लोके in the world गुहां प्रविष्टौ have entered the cave of परमे परार्धे the Supreme abode. छायातपौ these are like shade and light ब्रह्मविदः and the knowers of brahman वदन्ति so say पञ्चाग्नयः ये च त्रिणाचिकेताः the worshippers of the fires.

Two there are who dwell within the body, in the intellect, the supreme AkAsa of the heart, enjoying the sure rewards of their own actions. The knowers of brahman describe them as light and shade, as do those householders who have offered oblations in the Five Fires and also those who have thrice performed the Nachiketa sacrifice.


To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari