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Kathopanishad Chapter 1 - Section 1 - Mantras 01-04


Today we started Kathopanishad proper with the blessings of our Guru Paramapara and Bhagavan. We gave the layout of the Upanishad. It has 2 chapters(adhyayas) and each chapter has 3 sections (Vallis). There are a total of 120 Mantras (119 mantras plus the Santi mantra).


We refer to these as “mantras” not “verses”, because they are directly received by the rishis from the Lord Himself.


We briefly discussed, why a story format is used in this Upanishad. It is easy to relate to a character in a story and emulate the virtues of that character and ultimately follow him/her as a role model. As an example, in the movie ET, the boy Elliot relates to ET and feels what ET is feeling. Similarly, we can relate to the character Nachiketa, and hopefully learn from this little boy how to think and act in difficult situations.


Mantra 1:

Vajasravasa (son of Vajasrava), desirous of attaining higher lokas (heavens), is performing Vishwajit Yagna during which he must give away all his possessions as Dakshina (offering) to the priests. He has a son by name Nachiketa.

Important points to learn from this mantra:

· Vajasrava means one who earned fame by giving food to the needy (Anna daanam). Vajasravasa is the son of Vajasrava.

· Vajasravasa is performing this Yagna with a desire to accomplish higher heavens. Although it is a nobler desire, it is still a desire. The word “Ushan” which is the first word of this Upanishad, means “desire”.

· Nachiketa means fire. In Adi Shakara’s Bhashyam, he enumerates the characteristics of fire as heat, light and reaching heights and says how this little boy embodies all these traits as we see his character evolve in this story.


Mantra 2:

As the father is giving away the cows to the priests, because of the underlying “Shraddha” in the Shastras, Nachiketa feels anxious regarding his father’s actions.

Important points to learn from this mantra:

· Nachiketa is referred to as Kumara which puts him between the ages 6-12 (probably 8 or 9). Age 1-5 is referred to as Sishu, 6-12 as Kumara and 13-21 as Yuva according to our Shastras

· Shraddha is one the most important virtues one must possess in order to progress in any field and more so in Spiritual path.

o Shraddha is defined here as a belief in a future state of existence

o Cannot be experienced by our senses in the present

o Can only be imagined based on available information and from memory

· We all have Shraddha in a lot of things, and this is essential for us to do anything in life. For example, we have shraddha that we will reach our destination when we get in a car.

· It is important to develop that Shraddha in the right things and most importantly in our Scriptures, which have stood the challenge of time.

Interesting fact: Bhagawan Shankara offers his salutations to not only Lord Yama, who is the teacher of Brahma Vidya but also to the student Nachiketa, who is the “Adhikari” (most well-prepared student) to receive this knowledge.


Mantra 3:

In this Mantra, the cows that Vajasravasa is giving away are described. They all seem to be at the end of their lives, perhaps took their last gulp of water and ate their last meal. Some of them are barren and cannot produce milk anymore. Nachiketa is worried that by giving such subpar dakshina his father might not attain the lokas he is hoping for through this Yagna.

Important points to learn from this mantra:

· It is unclear why Vajasravasa is giving away cows that are in such a bad shape

o Could he be saving good cows for his son? or perhaps he gave away everything and these are the only ones left over!

o Adi Shankara comments that since he is performing this Karma with a desire there is place for compromise in such an individual. However, it is not clearly stated what the intention is.

o But Nachiketa is intelligent enough to know regardless of the intent this type of action will not yield proper result.


Mantra 4:

Nachiketa approaches his father and asks him, “who are you giving me to Father?”. In his anxiety to help his father he asks the question 3 times. His father gets annoyed and replies back saying, “I will give you to Death”.

Important points to learn from this mantra:

· Nachiketa exhibits highest level of control in his behavior and his Shraddha shines through this whole interaction

o He does not directly criticize his father

o He offers himself to overcome his father’s mistaken dakshina

o He is trying to fulfill his role as “putra”, the one who helps to save his father from going to lower lokas like “punnama narakam”


At the end we had a very insightful discussion on this statement:

• Nachiketa should go to Lord Yama as per his father’s angry order

• Everyone expressed their opinion about this. Some are for and some are against.

• Few people expressed that he should clarify with his father if he really meant it.


Our conclusion:

Nachiketa’s thinking is very clear and firmly rooted in his Shraddha.

His Shraddha is as follows:

· His Shraddha in Shastras gave him a clear idea of what Dharma is. He firmly believed that when you are performing any action with a desire, you must stick to the prescribed rules more firmly. Otherwise, the result will not come as expected.

· His Shraddha in Guru (his father in this situation) directed him to perform the action that was given to him without any argument. Guru’s words are like a command and there is no going back. He firmly believed that, if those words came out of his father’s mouth, there is a purpose to it. That purpose is in fact above and beyond his father’s intent. Shraddha to such a degree will not tolerate any compromise.

· Most of all, Nachiketa has immense Shraddha in himself. He has no doubt that he must, and he can fulfill his father’s command and hence relieve his father of his wrongdoing.



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