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Kathopanishad Chapter 1 - Valli 1 - Mantras 17-20

Today (Nov 14, 2021), we finished our discussion of Nachiketa's 2nd boon and introduced his 3rd boon.

The 2nd boon represents Nachiketa's effort to help the people around him, most of whom are seeking long-term happiness in swarga (heaven). Although Nachiketa himself is not interested in swarga, he has compassion for those who have this goal. Yamaraju gives instructions about the ritual, which he says will forever be known as the Naachiketa Yagna. Performance of the ritual is not enough to go to the swarga. One must have three strong connections in life - mother, father, and guru. One must also perform 3 types of karma (action): Yagna, or proper action in which we trade the lower for the higher; Daanam, or charity towards others; Tapas, a thoughtful, self-disciplined way of living. Only such a person will attain swarga after performing the Naachiketa ritual three times during their life.

Nachiketa then asks his third boon, which is the foundation for the rest of the Upanishad. He asks what happens after death. Far from being a theoretical exercise, this question is one of the fundamental questions of existence, because the answer determines how we live. There are three broad possibilties, as shown in the figure above:

  • Materialistic view (nothing at all happens after death; the body simply ends)

  • Conventional religious view (the jeeva, or soul, continues after death on a path determined by how we have lived)

  • Advaita view (the true Self was never born and never dies but is unknown to most of us)

We had a workshop in which attendees discussed how a person would live if he or she believed in on of the three possible answers. Some of the discussion points are shown below. We will continue the discussion next week!

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