Part One - Chapter I
Vajasravasa, desiring rewards,
performed the Visvajit
sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property. He had a son named
When the gifts were being distributed,
faith entered into the heart of Nachiketa, who was still a boy. He said to
himself: Joyless, surely, are the worlds to which he goes who gives away
cows no longer able to drink, to eat, to give milk, or to calve.
He said to his father: Father! To whom
will you give me? He said this a second and a third time. Then his father
replied: Unto death I will give you.
Among many I am the first; or among many I
am the middlemost. But certainly I am never the last. What purpose of the
King of Death will my father serve today by thus giving me away to
Nachiketa said: Look back and see how it
was with those who came before us and observe how it is with those who are
now with us. A mortal ripens like corn and like corn he springs up
Verily, like fire a brahmin guest enters a
house; the householder pacifies him by giving him water and a seat. Bring
him water. O King of Death!
The brahmin who dwells in a house,
fasting, destroys that foolish householder’s hopes and expectations, the
reward of his intercourse with pious people, the merit of his kindly speech,
the good results of his sacrifices and beneficial deeds and his cattle and
children as well.
Yama said: O Brahmin, salutations to you!
You are a venerable guest and have dwelt in my house three nights without
eating; therefore choose now three boons, one for each night, O Brahmin! May
all be well with me!
Nachiketa said: O Death, may Gautama, my
father, be calm, cheerful and free from anger toward me! May he recognise me
and greet me when I shall have been sent home by you! This I choose as the
first of the three boons.
Yama said: Through my favour, your father,
Auddilaki Aruni, will recognise you and be again toward you as he was
before. After having seen you freed from the jaws of death, he will sleep
peacefully at night and bear no anger against you.
Nachiketa said: In the Heavenly World
there is no fear whatsoever. You, O Death, are not there and no one is
afraid of old age. Leaving behind both hunger and thirst and out of the
reach of sorrow, all rejoice in Heaven.
You know, O Death, the
Fire-sacrifice, which leads to Heaven. Explain it to me, for I am full of
faith. The inhabitants of Heaven attain immortality. This I ask as my second
Yama said: I know well the Fire-sacrifice,
which leads to Heaven and I will explain it to you. Listen to me. Know this
Fire to be the means of attaining Heaven. It is the support of the universe;
it is hidden in the hearts of the wise.
Yama then told him about the Fire, which
is the source of the worlds and what bricks were to be gathered for the
altar and how many and how the sacrificial fire was to be lighted.
Nachiketa, too, repeated all this as it had been told him. Then Yama, being
pleased with him, spoke again.
High-souled Death, being well pleased,
said to Nachiketa: I will now give you another boon: this fire shall be
named after you. Take also from me this many-coloured chain.
He who has performed three times this
Nachiketa sacrifice, having been instructed by the three and also has
performed his three duties, overcomes birth and death. Having known this
Fire born of Brahman, omniscient, luminous and adorable and realised it, he
attains supreme peace.
He who, having known the three, has
performed three times the Nachiketa sacrifice, throws off, even here, the
chains of death, overcomes grief and rejoices in Heaven.
This, O Nachiketa, is your Fire-sacrifice,
which leads to Heaven and which you have chosen as your second boon. People
will call this Fire by your name. Now, O Nachiketa, choose the third
Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about
a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not.
This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my
Yama said: On this subject even the gods
formerly had their doubts. It is not easy to understand: the nature of Atman
is subtle. Choose another boon, O Nachiketa! Do not press me. Release me
from that boon.
Nachiketa said: O Death, even the gods
have their doubts about this subject; and you have declared it to be not
easy to understand. But another teacher like you cannot be found and surely
no other boon is comparable to this.
Yama said: Choose sons and grandsons who
shall live a hundred years; choose elephants, horses, herds of cattle and
gold. Choose a vast domain on earth; live here as many years as you
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.
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 cannot obtain them. I give them
to you and they shall wait upon you. But do not ask me about
Nachiketa said: But, O Death, these endure
only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the vigour of all the sense
organs. Even the longest life is short indeed. Keep your horses, dances and
songs for yourself.
Wealth can never make a man happy.
Moreover, since I have beheld you, I shall certainly obtain wealth; I shall
also live as long as you rule. Therefore no boon will be accepted by me but
the one that I have asked.
Who among decaying mortals here below,
having approached the undecaying immortals and coming to know that his
higher needs may be fulfilled by them, would exult in a life over long,
after he had pondered on the pleasures arising from beauty and
Tell me, O Death, of that Great Hereafter
about which a man has his doubts.
Yama said: The good is one thing; the
pleasant, another. Both of these, serving different needs, bind a man. It
goes well with him who, of the two, takes the good; but he who chooses the
pleasant misses the end.
Both the good and the pleasant present
themselves to a man. The calm soul examines them well and discriminates.
Yea, he prefers the good to the pleasant; but the fool chooses the pleasant
out of greed and avarice.
O Nachiketa, after pondering well the
pleasures that are or seem to be delightful, you have renounced them all.
You have not taken the road abounding in wealth, where many men
Wide apart and leading to different ends
are these two: ignorance and what is known as Knowledge. I regard you, O
Nachiketa, to be one who desires Knowledge; for even many pleasures could
not tempt you away.
Fools dwelling in darkness, but thinking
themselves wise and erudite, go round and round, by various tortuous paths,
like the blind led by the blind.
The Hereafter never reveals itself to a
person devoid of discrimination, heedless and perplexed by the delusion of
wealth. "This world alone exists," he thinks, "and there is no other." Again
and again he comes under my sway.
Many there are who do not even hear of
Atman; though hearing of Him, many do not comprehend. Wonderful is the
expounder and rare the hearer; rare indeed is the experiencer of Atman
taught by an able preceptor.
Atman, when taught by an inferior person,
is not easily comprehended, because It is diversely regarded by disputants.
But when It is taught by him who has become one with Atman, there can remain
no more doubt about It. Atman is subtler than the subtlest and not to be
known through argument.
This Knowledge cannot be attained by
reasoning. Atman become easy of comprehension, O dearest, when taught by
another. You have attained this Knowledge now. You are, indeed, a man of
true resolve. May we always have an inquirer like you!
Yama said: I know that the treasure
resulting from action is not eternal; for what is eternal cannot be obtained
by the non-eternal. Yet I have performed the Nachiketa sacrifice with the
help of non-eternal things and attained this position which is only
The fulfilment of desires, the foundation
of the universe, the rewards of sacrifices, the shore where there is no
fear, that which adorable and great, the wide abode and the goal-all this
you have seen; and being wise, you have with firm resolve discarded
The wise man who, by means of
concentration on the Self, realises that ancient, effulgent One, who is hard
to be seen, unmanifest, hidden and who dwells in the buddhi and rests in the
body-he, indeed, leaves joy and sorrow far behind.
The mortal who has heard this and
comprehended it well, who has separated that Atman, the very soul of dharma,
from all physical objects and has realised the subtle essence, rejoices
because he has obtained that which is the cause of rejoicing. The Abode of
Brahman, I believe, is open for Nachiketa.
Nachiketa said: That which you see as
other than righteousness and unrighteousness, other than all this cause and
effect, other than what has been and what is to be-tell me That.
Yama said: The goal which all the Vedas
declare, which all austerities aim at and which men desire when they lead
the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is Om.
This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. This
syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he
This is the best support; this is the
highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of
The knowing Self is not born; It does not
die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless,
eternal, everlasting and ancient, It is not killed when the body is
If the killer thinks he kills and if the
killed man thinks he is killed, neither of these apprehends aright. The Self
kills not, nor is It killed.
Atman, smaller than the small, greater
than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living creatures. A man who
is free from desires beholds the majesty of the Self through tranquillity of
the senses and the mind and becomes free from grief.
Though sitting still, It travels far;
though lying down, It goes everywhere. Who but myself can know that luminous
Atman who rejoices and rejoices not?
The wise man, having realised Atman as
dwelling within impermanent bodies but Itself bodiless, vast and
all-pervading, does not grieve.
This Atman cannot be attained by the study
of the Vedas, 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
He who has not first turn away from
wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued and whose mind is not at peace,
cannot attain Atman. It is realised only through the Knowledge of
Who, then, knows where He is-He to whom
Brahmins and kshattriyas are mere food and death itself a
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.
We know how to perform the Nachiketa
sacrifice, which is the bridge for sacrificers; and we know also that
supreme, imperishable Brahman, which is sought by those who wish to cross
over to the shore where there is no fear.
Know the atman to be the master of the
chariot; the body, chariot; the intellect, the charioteer; and the mind, the
The senses, they say, are the horses; the
objects, the roads. The wise call the atman-united with the body, the senses
and the mind-the enjoyer.
If the buddhi, being related to a mind
that is always distracted, loses its discriminations, then the senses become
uncontrolled, like the vicious horses of a charioteer.
But if the buddhi, being related to a mind
that is always restrained, possesses discrimination, then the senses come
under control, like the good horses of a charioteer.
If the buddhi, being related to a
distracted mind, loses its discrimination and therefore always remains
impure, then the embodied soul never attains the goal, but enters into the
round of births.
But if the buddhi, being related to a mind
that is restrained, possesses discrimination and therefore always remains
pure, then the embodied soul attains that goal from which he is not born
A man who has discrimination for his
charioteer and holds the reins of the mind firmly, reaches the end of the
road; and that is the supreme position of Vishnu.
Beyond the senses are the objects; beyond
the objects is the mind; beyond the mind, the intellect; beyond the
intellect, the Great Atman; beyond the Great Atman, the Unmanifest; beyond
the Unmanifest, the Purusha. Beyond the Purusha there is nothing: this is
the end, the Supreme Goal.
That Self hidden in all beings does not
shine forth; but It is seen by subtle seers through their one-pointed and
The wise man should merge his speech in
his mind and his mind in his intellect. He should merge his intellect in the
Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Mind in the Tranquil Self.
Arise! Awake! Approach the great and
learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say-hard to
tread and difficult to cross.
Having realised Atman, which is soundless,
intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and
odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond
the Great and unchanging-one is freed from the jaws of death.
The wise man who has heard and related the
eternal story of Nachiketa, told by Death, is adored in the world of
Part Two - Chapter I
And he who, practising self-control,
recites the supreme secret in an assembly of Brahmins or at a after-death
ceremony obtains thereby infinite rewards. Yea, he obtains infinite
Yama said: The self-existent Supreme Lord
inflicted an injury upon the sense-organs in creating them with outgoing
tendencies; therefore a man perceives only outer objects with them and not
the inner Self. But a calm person, wishing for Immortality, beholds the
inner Self with his eyes closed.
Children pursue outer pleasures and fall
into the net of widespread death; but calm souls, having known what is
unshakable Immortality, do not covet any uncertain thing in this
It is through Atman that one knows form,
taste, smell, sounds, touches and carnal pleasures. Is there anything that
remains unknown to Atman? This, verily, is That.
It is through Atman that one perceives all
objects in sleep or in the waking state. Having realised the vast,
all-pervading Atman, the calm soul does not grieve.
He who knows the individual soul, the
experiencer of the fruits of action, as Atman, always near and the Lord of
the past and the future, will not conceal himself from others. This, verily,
He verily knows Brahman who knows the
First-born, the offspring of austerity, created prior to the waters and
dwelling, with the elements, in the cave of the heart. This, verily, is
He verily knows Brahman who knows Aditi,
the soul of all deities, who was born in the form of Prana, who was created
with the elements and who, entering into the heart, abides therein. This,
verily, is That.
Agni, hidden in the two fire-sticks and
well guarded-like a child in the womb, by its mother-is worshipped day after
day by men who are awake and by those who offer oblations in the sacrifices.
This, verily, is That.
Whence the sun rises and whither it goes
to set, in whom all the devas are contained and whom none can ever pass
beyond-This, verily, is That.
What is here, the same is there and what
is there, the same is here. He goes from death to death who sees any
By the mind alone is Brahman to be
realised; then one does not see in It any multiplicity whatsoever. He goes
from death to death who sees multiplicity in It. This, verily, is
The Purusha, of the size of a thumb,
dwells in the body. He is the Lord of the past and the future. After knowing
Him, one does not conceal oneself any more. This, verily, is
The Purusha, of the size of a thumb, is
like a flame without smoke. The Lord of the past and the future, He is the
same today and tomorrow. This, verily, is That.
As rainwater falling on a mountain peak
runs down the rocks in all directions, even so he who sees the attributes as
different from Brahman verily runs after them in all directions.
As pure water poured into pure water
becomes one with it, so also, O Gautama, does the Self of the sage who
There is a city with eleven gates
belonging to the unborn Atman of undistorted Consciousness. He who meditates
on Him grieves no more; liberated from the bonds of ignorance, he becomes
free. This, verily, is That.
He is the sun dwelling in the bright
heavens. He is the air in the interspace. He is the fire dwelling on earth.
He is the guest dwelling in the house. He dwells in men, in the gods, in
truth, in the sky. He is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice, on
the mountains. He is the True and the Great.
He it is who sends prana upward and who
leads apana downward. All the devas worship that adorable One seated in the
When the soul, identified with the body
and dwelling in it, is torn away from the body, is freed from it, what then
remains? This, verily, is That?
No mortal ever lives by prana, which goes
up, nor by apana, which goes down. Men live by something different, on which
these two depend.
Well then, Gautama, I shall tell you about
this profound and eternal Brahman and also about what happens to the atman
after meeting death.
Some jivas enter the womb to be embodied
as organic beings and some go into non-organic matter-according to their
work and according to their knowledge.
He, the Purusha, who remains awake while
the sense-organs are asleep, shaping one lovely form after another, that
indeed is the Pure, that is Brahman and that alone is called the Immortal.
All worlds are contained in Him and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is
As the same non-dual fire, after it has
entered the world, becomes different according to whatever it burns, so also
the same non-dual Atman, dwelling in all beings, becomes different according
to whatever It enters. And It exists also without.
As the same non-dual air, after it has
entered the world, becomes different according to whatever it enters, so
also the same non-dual Atman, dwelling in all beings, becomes different
according to whatever It enters. And It exists also without.
As the sun, which helps all eyes to see,
is not affected by the blemishes of the eyes or of the external things
revealed by it, so also the one Atman, dwelling in all beings, is never
contaminated by the misery of the world, being outside it.
There is one Supreme Ruler, the inmost
Self of all beings, who makes His one form manifold. Eternal happiness
belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves-not to
There is One who is the eternal Reality
among non-eternal objects, the one truly conscious Entity among conscious
objects and who, though non-dual, fulfils the desires of many. Eternal peace
belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves-not to
The sages realise that indescribable
Supreme Joy as "This is That." How can I realise It? Is It self-luminous?
Does It shine brightly, or not?
The sun does not shine there, nor the moon
and the stars, nor these lightnings-not to speak of this fire. He shining,
everything shines after Him. By His light all this is lighted.
This is that eternal Asvattha Tree with
its root above and branches below. That root, indeed, is called the Bright;
That is Brahman and That alone is the Immortal. In That all worlds are
contained and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is That.
Whatever there is-the whole
universe-vibrates because it has gone forth from Brahman, which exists as
its Ground. That Brahman is a great terror, like a poised thunderbolt. Those
who know It become immortal.
From terror of Brahman, fire burns; from
terror of It, the sun shines; from terror of It, Indra and Vayu and Death,
the fifth, run.
If a man is able to realise Brahman here,
before the falling asunder of his body, then he is liberated; if not, he is
embodied again in the created worlds.
As in a mirror, so in the buddhi; as in a
dream, so in the World of the Fathers; as in water, so Brahman is seen in
the World of the Gandharvas; as in light and shade, so in the World of
Having understood that the senses have
their separate origin and that they are distinct from Atman and also that
their rising and setting belong to them alone, a wise man grieves no
Beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the
mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is the Great Atman, higher
than the Great Atman is the Unmanifest.
Beyond the Unmanifest is the Person,
all-pervading and imperceptible. Having realised Him, the embodied self
becomes liberated and attains Immortality.
His form is not an object of vision; no
one beholds Him with the eye. One can know Him when He is revealed by the
intellect free from doubt and by constant meditation. Those who know this
When the five instruments of knowledge
stand still, together with the mind and when the intellect does not move,
that is called the Supreme State.
This, the firm Control of the senses, is
what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both
beneficial and injurious.
Atman cannot be attained by speech, by the
mind, or by the eye. How can It be realised in any other way than by the
affirmation of him who says: "He is"?
He is to be realised first as Existence
limited by upadhis and then in His true transcendental nature. Of these two
aspects, Atman realised as Existence leads the knower to the realisation of
His true nature.
When all the desires that dwell in the
heart fall away, then the mortal becomes immortal and here attains
When all the ties of the heart are severed
here on earth, then the mortal becomes immortal. This much alone is the
There are one hundred and one arteries of
the heart, one of which pierces the crown of the head. Going upward by it, a
man at death attains immortality. But when his prana passes out by other
arteries, going in different directions, then he is reborn in the
The Purusha, not larger than a thumb, the
inner Self, always dwells in the hearts of men. Let a man separate Him from
his body with steadiness, as one separates the tender stalk from a blade of
grass. Let him know that Self as the Bright, as the Immortal-yea, as the
Bright, as the Immortal.
Having received this wisdom taught by the
King of Death and the entire process of yoga, Nachiketa became free from
impurities and death and attained Brahman. Thus it will be also with any
other who knows, in this manner, the inmost Self.
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