Kathopanishad: What comes after death?

The Upanishads anthologize the Vedas' intellectual and moral authority. They describe the inner journey to the non-temporal self. As described in the Kathopanishad, Nachiketa approaches Yama, the King of Death, who explains to him what happens to the soul after death. King Yama offers a detailed explanation to Nachiketa which eventually led to him being jivanmukta.
Yama teaches Atma vidya to Nachiketa, Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yama teaches Atma vidya to Nachiketa, Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nachiketa was granted three boons when he went to Yama’s house; the first one was a relief for his father who was ridden with guilt over sending his son to Yama’s abode. His second boon was to learn the fire ritual that could lead one directly to heaven. After Nachiketa’s persistence on his third boon to know what lies beyond the death of the self, Yama remarked that when a student is ready, he finds an able guru who can help bring the answers that already lie within. He found in Nachiketas an eager student blossoming into self-realization.

The King of Death says to Nachiketa, "The Good and the Pleasant approach man, the wise pick The Good, and the fool chooses The Pleasant out of avarice. Nachiketa, you have remained steady despite witnessing the promise of pleasantries I may bring you. The two may appear to be identical at times, but their paths lead to dramatically different destinations: Wisdom or Ignorance."

“Wonderful are those who have met the subtle nature of the Self, most never get to hear or see it in their lifetime. By means of meditation on Self, the meditator first meets the Primal self that stays hidden in the cave of the heart and dwells in the abyss. From this, removing all qualities and names, the mediator reaches the true being, brahman. Wise Nachiketa you already know that transient treasures are attained through material possessions. When this self is met, all that is perishable dies, and what remains is the imperishable syllable of brahman, Om” Yama added.

“The Self is seated in the heart's cave, the ones who are only in touch with the five senses and mind are the Enjoyers. There are ones whose senses are closely held in, and under control, they are the Charioteers. The Charioteer who is aware of this reining in of the senses reaches to the all-pervading self. The self is hidden in all beings, beyond the mind and intellect, the great self is beyond all this.”

“Brahman, is the unborn one, resides within the city with eleven gates, brahman dwells in heaven, who sends up the breath and throws back the breath, he is the dwarf who sits in the centre as devas (senses) worship him. When the self who dwells in the body is torn from the body, and freed from the body, what remains then? This is that. O Nachiketa I shall tell thee the mystery, the everlasting Brahman, and what happens to the self, after reaching death. The eye of the world, like the sun, should not be defiled by external defects, so is the one Self, within all beings, never tainted by the happenings of the world.”

Nachiketa asks “After death, they perceive that highest indescribable pleasure, the supreme bliss, saying, ‘This is that’. How, then, can I understand it? Has it its own light, or does it reflect light?”

Yama replies, “The sun does not shine, nor the moon and the stars, nor the lightning. When he shines, everything shines after him; by his light, all this is lighted. If a man could not understand it before his body falls asunder, then he will take the body again in the world of creation. This gets revealed by controlling the heart, the intellect, the mind. Those who know this, are immortal. The highest state is when the five senses stand still, together with the mind at rest and the intellect does not move. This firm holding back of senses is called yoga.”

Nachiketa, after listening to Yama, became freed of passions and death after receiving this wisdom from Death and how to it into practice through yoga. It will be the same with anyone else who understands what it is to be self-aware. Nachiketas obtained total self-knowledge and self-realization, and moksha as a jivanmukta; being liberated while living and not yet dying.

Yama chides at the end of his lesson to his able student, “May it protect us both! May it receive us both! May we acquire strength together! May our knowledge shine! May we have no ill-feeling between us! Om! Peace! Peace! Hari, Om!”


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