Katha Upanishad

कठ उपनिषद्

(Kaṭha Upaniṣad)

Translated by Raja Ram Mohun Roy


DESIROUS of future fruition, Bajushrubusu performed the sacrifice Vishwujit, at which he distributed all his property. He had a son named Nuchiketa. Old and infirm cows being brought by the father as fees to be given to attending priests, the youth was seized with compassion, reflecting within himself, “He who gives to attending priests such cows as are no longer able to drink water or to eat grass, and are incapable of giving further milk or of producing young, is carried to that mansion where there is no felicity whatever.”

He then said to his father, “To whom, O father, wilt thou consign me over in lieu of these cows?” and repeated the same question a second and a third time.

Enraged with his presumption, the father replied to him, “I shall give thee to Yumu” (the god of death). The youth then said to himself, “In the discharge of my duties as a son, I hold a foremost place among many sons or pupils of the first class, and I am not inferior to any of the sons or pupils of the second class: whether my father had a previous engagement with Yumu, which he will now perform by surrendering me to him, or made use of such an expression through anger, I know not.” The youth finding his father afflicted with sorrow, said, “Remember the meritorious conduct of our ancient forefathers, and observe the virtuous acts of contemporary good men. Life is too short to gain advantages by means of falsehood or breach of promise; as man like a plant is easily destroyed, and again like it puts forth its form. Do you therfore surrender me to Yumu according to your promise.” The youth Nuchiketa, by permission of his father, went to the habitation of Yumu. After he had remained there for three days without food or refreshment, Yumu returned to his dwelling, and was thus addressed by his family: “A Brahmun entering a house as a guest is like fire; good householders, therefore, extinguish his anger by offering him water, a seat, and food. Do thou, O Yumu, present him with water. A man deficient in wisdom suffers his hopes, his sanguine expectation of success, his improvement from associating with good men, the benefit which he might derive from his affable conversation, and the fruits produced by performance of prescribed sacrifices, and also by digging of wells and other pious liberal actions, as well as all his sons and and cattle, to be destroyed, should a Brahmun happen to remain in his house without food.”

Yumu being thus admonished by his family, approached Nuchiketa and said to him; “As thou, O Brahmun, hast lived in my house, a revered guest, for the space of three days and nights without food, I offer thee reverence in atonement, so that bliss may a tend me; and do thou ask three favours of me as a recompense for what thou hast suffered while dwelling in my house during these days past.” Nuchiketa then made this as his first request, saying, “Let, O Yumu! my father Gotum’s apprehension of my death be removed, his tranquility of mind be restored, his anger against me extinguished, and let him recognise me on my return, after having been set free by thee. This is the first of three favours which I ask of thee.” Yumu then replied:

Thy father, styled Ouddaluki and Arooni, shall have the same regard for you as before; so that, being assured of thy existence, he shall, through my power, repose the remaining nights of his life free from sorrow, after having seen thee released from the grasp of death.” Nuchiketa then made his second request. “In heaven, where there is no fear whatsoever, and where even thou, O Yumu! canst not always exercise thy authority, and where, therefore, none dread thy power so much, as weak mortals of the earth, the soul, unaffiicted either by thirst or hunger, and unmolested by sorrow, enjoys gratification. As thou, O Yumu! dost possess knowledge respecting fire which is the means of attaining heaven, do thou instruct me, who am full of faith, in that knowledge; for, those who enjoy heaven, owing to their observance of sacred fire, are endowed with the nature of celestial deities. This I ask of thee, as the second favour which thou hast offered.” Yumu replied: “Being possessed of a knowledge of fire, the means that lead to the enjoyment of heavenly gratifications, I impart it to thee; which do thou attentively observe. Know thou fire, as means to obtain various mansions in heaven, as the support of the world, and as residing in the body.”

Yumu explained to Nuchiketa the nature of fire, as being prior to all creatures, and also the particulars of the bricks and their number, which are requisite in forming the sacred fire, as well as the mode of preserving it. The youth repeated to Yumu these instructions exactly as imparted to him; at which Yumu, being pleased, again spoke.

The liberal-minded Yumu, satisfied with Nuchiketa, thus says; “I shall bestow on thee another favour, which is, that this sacred fire shall be styled after thy name; and accept thou this valuable and various-coloured necklace. Receiving instructions from parents and spiritual fathers, a person who has thrice collected fire, as prescribed in the Ved, and also has been in habits of performing sacrifices, studying the Veds, and giving alms, is not liable to repeated birth and death: he, having known and contemplated fire as originating from Bruhma, possessing superior understanding, full of splendour, and worthy of praise, enjoys the highest fruition. A wise worshipper of sacred fire, who, understanding the three things prescribed, has offered oblation to fire, surmounting all afflictions during life, and extricated from sorrow, will enjoy gratifications in heaven.

This, O Nuchiketa! is that knowledge of sacred fire, the means of obtaining heaven, which thou didst require of me as the second favour; men shall call it after thy name. Make, O Nuchiketa! thy third request.”

Nuchiketa then said: “Some are of opinion that after man’s demise existence continues, and others say it ceases. Hence a doubt has arisen respecting the nature of the soul; I therefore wish to be instructed by thee in this matter. This is the last of the favours thou hast offered.” Yumu replied: “Even gods have doubted and disputed on this subject; which being obscure, never can be thoroughly comprehended: Ask, O Nuchiketa! another favour instead of this. Do not thou take advantage of my promise, but give up this request.” Nuchiketa replied: “I am positively informed that gods entertained doubts on this subject; and even thou, O Yumu! callest it difficult of comprehension. But no instructor on this point equal to thee can be found, and no other object is so desirable as this.” Yumu said: “Do thou rather request of me to give thee sons and grandsons, each to attain the age of an hundred years; numbers of cattle, elephants, goat, and horses; also extensive empire on earth, where thou shalt live as many years as thou wishest.

If thou knowest another object equally desirable with these, ask it; together with wealth and long life. Thou mayest reign, O Nuchiketa! over a great kingdom: I will enable thee to enjoy all wished-for objects.

Ask according to thy desire all objects that are difficult of acquisition in the mortal world. Ask these beautiful women, with elegant equipages and musical instruments, as no man can acquire any thing like them without our gift. Enjoy thou the attendance of these women, whom I may bestow on thee; but do not put to me, O Nuchiketa! the question respecting existence after death.”

Nuchiketa then replied. “The acquisition of the enjoyments thou hast offered, O Yumu! is in the first place doubtful; and should they be obtained, they destroy the strength of all the senses; and even the life of Bruhma is, indeed, comparatively short. Therefore let thy equipages, and thy dancing and music, remain with thee.

No man can be satisfied with riches; and as we have fortunately beheld thee, we may acquire wealth, should we feel desirous of it, and we also may live as long as thou exercisest the authority of the god of death; but the only object I desire is what I have already begged of thee.

A mortal being, whose habitation is the low mansion of earth, and who is liable to sudden reduction, approaching the gods exempted from death and debility, and understanding from them that there is a knowledge of futurity, should not ask of them any inferior favour—and knowing the fleeting nature of music, sexual gratification, and sensual pleasures, who can take delight in a long life on earth? Do thou instruct us in that knowledge which removes doubts respecting existence after death, and is of great importance with a view to futurity, and which is obscure and acquirable with difficulty. I, Nuchiketa, cannot ask any other favour but this.”

End of the first Section of the first Chapter (1st Bullee.)

Yumu now, after a sufficient trial of Nuchiketa’s resolution, answers the third question, saying, Knowledge of God which leads to absorption, is one thing; and rites, which have fruition for their object, another: each of these producing different consequences, holds out to man inducements to follow it. The man, who of these two chooses knowledge, is blessed; and he who, for the sake of reward, practises rites, is excluded from the enjoyment of eternal beatitude. Knowledge and rites both offer themselves to man; but he who is possesed of wisdom, taking their respective natures into serious consideration, distinguishes one from the other, and chooses faith, despising fruition; and a fool, for the sake of advantage and enjoyment, accepts the offer of rites.

Thou, O Nuchiketa! knowing the perishable nature of the desirable and gratifying objects offered by me, hast rejected them, and refused the adoption of that contemptible practice, which leads to fruition and to riches, and to which men in general are attached. Wise men are sensible that a knowledge of God which procures absorption, and the performance of rites that produces fruition, are entirely opposite to each other, and yield different consequences. I conceive thee, Nuchiketa, to be desirous of a knowledge of God, for the numerous estimable objects offered by me cannot tempt thee. Surrounded by the darkness of ignorance, fools consider themselves wise and learned, and wander about in various directions, like blind men when guided by a blind man.”

To an indiscreet man who lives carelessly, and is immersed in the desire of wealth, the means of gaining heavenly beatitude are not manifest. He thinks that this visible world alone exists, and that there is nothing hereafter; consequently he is repeatedly subjected to my control. The soul is that of whose real nature many persons have never heard; and several though they have heard, have not comprehended. A man who is capable of giving instruction on this subject is rare: One who listens to it attentively, must be intelligent: and that one who, being taught by a wise teacher, understands it, is uncommon.

If a man of inferior abilities describe the nature of the soul, no one will thoroughly understand it; for various opinions are held by contending parties. When the subject is explained by a person who believes the soul to emanate from God, doubt, in regard to its eternity, ceases; but otherwise it is inexplicable and not capable of demonstration.

The knowledge respecting the soul which thou wilt gain by me, cannot be acquired by means of reason alone; but it should be obtained from him who is versed in the sacred authorities. Oh, beloved pupil, Nuchiketa! may we have enquirers like thee, who art full of resolution. I know that fruition, acquirable by means of rites, is perishable; for nothing eternal can be obtained through perishable means. Notwithstanding my conviction of the destructible nature of fruition, I performed the worship of the sacred fire, whereby I became possessed of this sovereignty of long duration.

Thou, Oh wise Nuchiketa! hast through firmness refused, though offered to thee, the state of Bruhma, which satisfies every desire, and which is the support of the world—the best consequence of the performance of rites without limit or fear—praise-worthy—full of superhuman power—extensive and stable.

The soul is that which is difficult to be comprehended—most obscure—veiled by the ideas acquired through the senses, and which resides in faculties—does not depart even in great danger, and exists unchangeable. A wise man knowing the resplendent soul, through a mind abstracted from worldly objects, and constantly applied to it, neither rejoices nor does he grieve.

A mortal who, having heard the pure doctrines relative to the soul and retained them in his memory, knowing the invisible soul to be distinct from the body, feels rejoiced at his acquisition. I think the abode of the knowledge of God is open to thee.

Nuchiketa then asked, “If thou knowest any Being who exists distinctly from rites their consequences and their observers, and also from evil, and who is different from effects and their respective causes, and is above past, future, and present time, do thou inform me.”

Yumu replies: “I will explain to thee briefly that Being whom all the Veds treat of, either directly or indirectly, to whom all austerities are directed, and who is the main object of those who perform the duties of an ascetic, He to wit, whom the word Om implies, is the Supreme Being.”

That Om is the title of Bruhmá and also of the Supreme Being, through means of which man may gain what he wishes; (that is, if he worship Bruhma by means of Om, he shall be received into his mansion; or if through it he elevate his mind to God, he shall obtain absorption.)

Om is the best of all means calculated to direct the mind towards God; and it is instrumental either in the acquisition of the knowledge of God or of the dignity of Bruhma: man therefore having recourse to this word, shall either be absorbed in God, or revered like Bruhm.

The soul is not liable to birth nor to death: it is mere understanding: neither does it take its origin from any other or from itself: hence it is unborn, eternal without reduction and unchangeable; therefore the soul is not injured by the hurt which the body may receive. If any one ready to kill another imagine that he can destroy his soul, and the other think that his soul shall suffer destruction, they both know nothing; for neither does it kill nor is it killed by another.

The soul is the smallest of the small, and greatest of the great. It resides in the hearts of all living creatures. A man who knows it and its pure state, through the steadiness of the external and internal senses, acquired from the abandoning of worldly desires, overcomes sorrow and perplexity.

The soul, although without motion, seems to go to furthest space ; and though it resides in the body at rest, yet seems to move everywhere. Who can perceive besides myself, that splendid soul, the support of the sensation of happiness and plain?

The soul, although it is immaterial, yet resides closely attached to perishable material objects: knowing it as great and extensive, a wise man never grieves for it. A knowledge of the soul is not acquirable from the study of the Veds, nor through retentive memory, nor yet by constant hearing of spiritual instruction: but he who seeks to obtain a knowledge of it, is gifted with it, the soul rendering itself conspicuous to him.

No man can acquire a knowledge of the soul without abstaining from evil acts; without having control over the senses and the mind; nor can he gain it with a mind, though firm, yet filled with the desire of fruition; but man may obtain a knowledge of the soul through his knowledge of God.

No ignorant man can, in a perfect manner, know the state of the existence of that God whose food is all things even the Brahmu and the Kshutru; (that is, who destroys every object bearing figure and appellation); and who consumes death itself even as butter.

The end of the second Section of the first Chapter (2nd Bullee.)

God and the soul 1 entering into the heart, the excellent divine abode, consume, while residing in the body, the necessary consequences of its actions; that is, the latter is rewarded or punished according to its good or evil actions, and the former witnesses all those events. Those who have a knowledge of God, consider the former as light and the latter as shade: the observers of external rites also, as well as those who have collected fire three times for worship, believe the same.

We can know and collect fire, which is a bridge to the observers of rites; and can know the eternal and fearless God, who is the conveyer of those who wish to cross the ocean of ignorance. Consider the soul as a rider the body as a car, the intellect its driver, the mind as its reign, the external senses are called the horses restrained by the mind, external objects are the roads: so wise men believe the soul united with the body, the senses and the mind, to be the partaker of the consequences of good or evil acts.

If that intellect, which is represented as the driver, be indiscreet, and the rein of the mind loose, all the senses under the authority of the intellectual power become unmanageable; like wicked horses under the control of an unfit driver.

If the intellect be discreet and the rein of the mind firm, all the senses prove steady and manageable; like good horses under an excellent driver.

He, who has not a prudent intellect and steady mind and who consequently lives always impure, cannot arrive at the divine glory, but descends to the world.

He who has a prudent intellect and steady mind, and consequently lives always pure, attains that glory from whence he never will descend.

Man who has intellect as his prudent driver, and a steady mind as his rein, passing over the paths of mortality, arrives at the high glory of the omnipresent God.

The origin of the senses is more refined than the senses; the essence of the mind is yet more refined than that origin: the source of intellect is again more exalted than that of the mind; the prime sensitive particle is superior to the source of intellect; nature, the apparent cause of the universe, is again superior to that particle, to which the omnipresent God is still superior: nothing is more exalted than God: he is therefore superior to all existences, and is the Supreme object of all. God exists obscurely throughout the universe, consequently is not perceived ; but he is known through the acute intellect constantly directed towards him by wise men of penetrating understandings. A wise man shall transfer the power of speech and that of the senses to the mind, and the mind to the intellect, and the intellect to the purified soul, and the soul to the unchangeable Supreme Being.

Rise up and awake from the sleep of ignorance; and having approached able teachers, acquire knowledge of God, the origin of the soul: for the way to the knowledge of God is considered by wise men difficult as the passage over the sharp edge of a razor. The Supreme Being is not organised with the faculties of hearing, feeling, vision, taste or smell. He is unchangeable and eternal; without beginning or end; and is beyond that particle which is the origin of the intellect: man knowing him thus, is relieved from the grasp of death.

A wise man reading to Brahmuns, or hearing from a teacher, this ancient doctrine imparted to Nuchiketa by Yumu, is absorbed into God.

He who reads this most secret doctrine before an assemblage of Brahmuns, or at the time of offering oblations to his forefathers, enjoys innumerable good consequences.

The end of the third Section of the first Chapter (3rd Bullee.)

God has created the senses to be directed towards external objects; they consequently are apt to perceive outward things only, and not the eternal spirit. But a wise man being desirous of eternal life, withdrawing his senses from their natural course, apprehends the omnipresent Supreme Being.

The ignorant seek external and desireable object only; consequently they are subjected to the chain of all-seizing death. Hence the wise, knowing that God alone is immortal and eternal in this perishable world, do not cherish a wish for those objects.

To Him, owing to whose presence alone the animate beings, composed of insensible particles, perceive objects through vision, the power of taste, of feeling, and of hearing, and also the pleasure derivable from sexual intercourse, nothing can be unknown: he is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

A wise man after having known that soul, owing to whose presence living creatures perceive objects whether they dream or wake, is great and extensive never grieves. He who believes that the soul, which enjoys the fruits of good or evil actions intimately connected with the originates from and is united with God, the Lord of past and future events, will not conceal its nature: he is that existence which thou desiredst to know. He who knows that the prime sensitive particle, which proceeded from God prior to the creation of water and the other elements, having entered into the heart, exists united with material objects, knows the Supreme Being. He is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

That sensitive particle which perceives objects, and includes all the celestial deities, and which was created with all the elements, exists, entering into the space of the heart, and there resides. It is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

The sacred fire, the receiver of obtains, after the wood has been kindled below and above, is preserved by its observers with the same care as pregnant women take of their fœtus: it is praised daily by prudent observers, and men habituated to constant devotion. That atmosphere from whence the sun ascends, and in which he goes down, on which all the world, including fire, speech, and other things, rest, and independently of which nothing exist, is that existence which thou desiredst to know. Whatever individual intellect there is connected with the body, is that intellectual principle, is pure and immaterial overspreading principle is the individual intellect; but he who thinks here that they are different in nature, is subject to repeated transmigrations.

Through the mind, purified by spiritual instructions, the knowledge that the soul is of divine origin, and by no means is different from its source, shall be acquired, whereby the idea of duality entirely ceases. He who thinks there is variety of intellectual principle, undergoes transmigration.

The omnipresent spirit, extending over the space of the heart, which is the size of a finger, resides within the body; and persons knowing him the Lord of past and future events, will not again attempt to conceal his future events, will not again attempt to nature: He is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

The omnipresent spirit which extends over the space of the heart, the size of a finger, is the most pure light. He is the Lord of past and future events; He alone pervades the universe now and ever; He is that existence which thou desiredst to know. In the same way as water falling on uneven ground disperses throughout the hollow places, and is lost, so man who thinks that the souls of different bodies are distinct in nature from each other, shall be placed in various forms by transmigration.

As water falling on even grounds remains unchanged, so the soul of a wise man of steady mind is always pure, freed from the idea of duality.

End of the first Section of the second Chapter (4th Bullee.)

The body is a dwelling with eleven gates, belonging to the unborn and unchangeable spirit, through whose constant contemplation man escapes from grief, and acquiring absorption, is exempted from transmigration. He is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

That spiritual Being acts always and moves in heaven; preserves all material existence as depending on him; moves in space; resides in fire; walks on earth; enters like a guest into sacrificial vessels; dwells in man, in gods, in sacrifices; moves throughout the sky; seems to be born in water, as fishes, &c.; produced on earth, as vegetables, on the tops of mountains, as rivers, and also as members of sacrifices: yet is he truly pure and great. He who causes breath to ascend above the heart and peditum to descend, resides in the heart: He is adorable; and to him all the senses offer oblation of the objects which they perceive.

When the soul, which is connected with the body, leaves it, nothing then remains in the body which may preserve the system: It is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

Neither by the help of breath, nor from the presence of other powers, can a mortal exist: but they all exist owing to that other existence on which both breath and the senses rest.

I will now disclose to you the secret doctrine of the eternal God: and also how man, void of that knowledge, O Goutum! transmigrates after death.

Some of those who are ignorant of this doctrine enter after death the womb of females to appear in the animal shape, while other assume the form of trees, according to their conduct and knowledge during their lives.

The being who continues to operate even at that time of sleep, when all the senses cease to act, and then creates desirable of objects of various descriptions, is pure and the greatest of all; and he alone is called eternal, on whom all the world rests, and independently of whom nothing can exist: He is that existence which thou desiredst to know. As fire, although one in essence, on becoming visible in the world, appears in various forms and shapes, according to its different locations, so God, the soul of the universe, though one, appears in various modes, according as he connects himself with different material objects, and, like space, extends over all.

As air, although one in essence, in becoming operative in the body appears in various natures, as breath and other vital airs, so God, the sole of the universe, though one, appears in different modes, according as he connects himself with various material objects, and, like space, extends over all.

As the sun, though he serves as the eye of all living creatures, yet is not polluted externally or internally by being connected with visible vile objects, so God, the soul of the universe, although one and omnipresent is not affected by the sensations of individual pain, for he is beyond its action.

God is but one; and he has the whole world under his control, for he is the operating soul in all objects; He, through his omniscience, makes his sole existence appear in the form of the universe. To those wise men who acquire a knowledge of him who is operative on the human faculties, is eternal beatitude allotted, and not to those who are void of that knowledge.

God is eternal amidst the perishable universe; and is the source of sensation among all animate existences and he alone assigns to so many objects their respective purposes: To those wise men who know him the ruler of the intellectual power, everlasting beatitude is allotted; but not to those who are void of that knowledge.

How can I acquire that most gratifying divine knowledge, which, though beyond comprehension, wise men, by constant application of mind, alone obtain, as if it were present? Does it shine conspicuously?— and does it appear to the human faculties?

Neither the sun, nor the moon, nor yet the stars can throw light on God: Even the illuminating lightning cannot throw light upon him; much less can limited fire give him light: But they all imitate him, and and borrow their light from him—that is, nothing can influence God and render him perspicuous: But God himself imparts his knowledge to the heart freed from passion and desire.

End of the second Section of the second Chapter (5th Bullee.)

The world is a fig-tree of long duration, whose origin is above, and the branches of which, as different species, are below. The origin alone is pure and supreme; and he alone is eternal on whom all the world rests, and independently of whom nothing can exist. He is that existence which thou desiredst to know.

God being eternal existence, the universe, whatsoever it is, exists and proceeds from him. He is the great dread of all heavenly bodies, as if he were prepared to strike them with thunderbolts; so that none of them can deviate from their respective courses established by him. Those who know him as the eternal power acquire absorption.

Through his fear fire supplies us with heat; and the sun, through his fear, shines regularly; and also Indru, and air, and fifthly, death, are through his fear constantly in motion.

If man can acquire a knowledge of God in this world, before the fall of his body, he becomes happy for ever: Otherwise he assumes new forms in different mansions. A knowledge of God shines on the purified intellect in this world, as clearly as an object is seen by reflection in a polished mirror: In the region of the defied Progenitors of mankind it is viewed as obscurely as objects perceived in: the state of dreaming; and in the mansion of Gundhurvus, in the same degree as the reflection of an object on water; but in the mansion of Bruhma it appears as distinctly as the difference between light and darkness.

A wise man, knowing the soul to be distinct from the senses, which proceed from different origins, and also from the state of waking and of sleep, never again grieves.

The mind is more refined than the external senses; and the intellect is again more exalted than the mind. The prime sensitive particle is superior to the intellect;—nature, the apparent cause of the universe, is again superior to that particle unaffected by matter: Superior to nature is God, who is omnipresent and without material effects; by acquisition of whose knowledge man becomes extricated from ignorance and distress, and is absorbed into Him after death. His substance does not come within the reach of vision; no one can apprehend him through the senses: By constant direction of the intellect, free from doubts, he perspicuously appears; and those who know him in the prescribed manner, enjoy eternal life.

That part of life wherein the power of the five external senses and the mind are directed towards the Supreme Spirit, and the intellectual power ceases its action, is said to be most sacred; and this steady control of the senses and mind is considered to be Yog (or withdrawing the senses and the mind from worldly objects): Man should be vigilant in the acquisition of that state; for such control proceeds from constant exercise, and ceases by neglect.

Neither through speech, nor through intellectual power, nor yet through vision, can man acquire a knowledge of God; but, save him who believes in the existence of God as the cause of the universe, no one can have a notion of that Being. A man should acquire, first, a belief in the existence of God, the origin of the universe; and next, a real knowledge of him; to wit that he is incomprehensible; for the means which lead men to acquire a knowledge of his existence, graciously conduct them to the belief of his incomprehensibility. When all the desires settled in the heart leave man, the mortal then become immortal, and acquire absorption even in this life. When the deep ignorance which occasions duality is entirely destroyed, the mortal become immortal: This is the only doctrine which the Vedant inculcates.

There are one hundred and one tubes connected with the heart, one of which, called Sookhumna, proceeds to the head: The soul of a devotee proceeding through the hundred and first, is carried to the mansion of the immortal Bruhma; and those of others, which ascend by other tubes, assume different bodies, according to the evil or good acts which they perform.

The omnipresent eternal spirit resides always within that space of the human heart which is as large as a finger: Man should, by firmness of mind, separate that spirit from the body, in the same manner as the pith is removed from the plant Moonju: that is, the spirit should be considered totally distinct from matter and the effects of matter—and man should know that separated spirit to be pure and eternal.

Having thus acquired this divine doctrine, imparted by the God of death, with every thing belonging to it, Nuchiketa, freed from the consequences of good or evil acts, and from mortality, was absorbed into God; and whatever person also can acquire that knowledge, shall obtain absorption.

End of the third Section of the second Chapter (6th Bullee).

End of the Kuth-opunishad.

1. The word soul here means the human soul, Jeebatma; but generally in these translations it is used for Paramata the Great Soul.—ED.

See Also

Translation of the


Of The Ujoor-Ved

According to the Gloss of the Celebrated Sunkuracharyu

(incl. Preface)

By Raja Ram Mohun Roy

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Charles Johnston

See also: The Mukhya Upanishads, by C. Johnston

Katha Upanishad

Seeking for favour, verily, Vajashravasa made a sacrifice of all his possessions. He had a son, named Nachiketas. Him, being still a boy, faith entered as the cattle for the sacrifice were being led up. He thought:

These have drunk water, they have eaten grass, they have been milked of their milk, they are without strength. Joyless, verily, are those worlds; to them he goes, giving these.

He said to his father:

Then to whom wilt thou give me? said he.

A second and third time he asked him.

To Death I give thee! said he.

(Nachiketas speaks): Of many, I go the fast; of many, I go the midmost. What is this to be done of Yama, which through me he will today accomplish?
Look after those who have gone before; look toward those who are coming; as it was with those, so it is with these. As grain a mortal ripens; as grain he rises again in birth.
As Vaishvanara, a sacred guest approaches dwellings. Therefore they give him this greeting of peace: Bring water, oh Son of the Sun!
Hope and expectation, friendship and pleasant words, sacrifice and good deeds, sons and cattle, this destroys, of the man of little wisdom in whose house a sacred guest dwells without eating.

(Yama greets Nachiketas): Because thou hast dwelt three nights in my house without eating, a sacred guest, worthy of reverence—reverence to thee, holy one, and may it be well with me—therefore, in return do thou choose three wishes.

(Nachiketas answers): That the descendant of Gotama, my father, may be of quiet heart, well-minded, without resentment towards me, O Death, when I am sent forth by Thee; that he may address me gladly this I choose as the first wish of my three!

(Yama replies): As before, Uddalaka Aruni’s son will be well-disposed toward thee through my grace. Happily by night he will sleep with resentment gone, having beheld thee released from the mouth of Death.

(Nachiketas speaks): In the heavenly world there is no fear at all; nor art Thou there, nor is there fear because of decay. Crossing over both hunger and thirst, passing beyond sorrow, he rejoices in the heavenly world.
Thou indeed knowest the heavenly fire, Death! Declare it to me, possessing faith. The heavenly worlds enjoy immortality; this as my second wish I choose.

(The Initiator replies): To thee I declare it; through awakening, learn thou of me this heavenly fire, Nachiketas, becoming conscious of it. Behold and know the obtaining of the unending world, the root and resting place, that which is hid in the secret place.

He declared to him that fire, which is the beginning of worlds; what are the bricks of the altar, how many they are, and how they are. And he in turn repeated it to him as it had been told him; and Death, well pleased with him, again spoke.

To him, he of Mighty Soul, well satisfied, said: Today I give again thy wish; thine shall this fire be by name; and take thou this garland of many forms.
He who kindles the triple fire of Nachiketas, gaining union with the three, completing the three works, crosses over birth and death; gaining knowledge of the Radiant Divinity, ever to be praised, who knows that which is born of the Eternal, and comprehending it, he goes to the unending peace.
He who kindles the triple fire of Nachiketas, knowing this triad, who, thus knowing, prepares the altar for the fire of Nachiketas, he, escaping beforehand the snares of death, and crossing beyond sorrow, rejoices in the heavenly world.
This is thy heavenly fire, Nachiketas, which thou hast chosen by thy second wish. This fire, men shall call thine. Choose, Nachiketas, a third wish!

(Nachiketas expresses his wish): This question that there is, in the case of the man who has gone forth; some saying that he is, while some say that he is not; a knowledge of this, imparted by Thee this, of my wishes, is the third wish!

(Death answers): By the Radiant Divinities even, this was questioned of old! For not easily known and subtile is this law. Another wish choose thou, Nachiketas! Constrain me not, but spare me this!

(Nachiketas speaks): By the Radiant Divinities even, this was questioned, thou sayest, O Death, and it is not easily known! And another like Thee to speak it is not to be gained. No other wish is equal to this!

(Death answers): Choose sons and grandsons of a hundred years, many cattle, elephants, gold, horses; choose the wide dwelling of the earth, and live thyself as many autumns as thou wilt! If thou thinkest this an equal wish, choose thou wealth and length of days. Be thou great on the earth, Nachiketas! I make thee an enjoyer of thy desires!
Whatever desires are hard to gain in the world of mortals, ask all desires according to thy will! These beauties with their chariots and lutes not such as these are to be gained by men; be waited on by these, bestowed by Me! Ask me not concerning dying, Nachiketas!

(Nachiketas speaks): Because these things, lasting only until the morrow, Thou who makest an end, consume this fire of all a mortal’s powers, and even the whole of life is little; Thine, verily, are chariots, Thine are dance and song!
Not by wealth is the son of man to be satisfied. Shall we choose wealth, if we have seen Thee? Shall we live, so long as Thou art lord? But that is the boon to be chosen by me!
Having drawn near to the unfading Immortals, a fading mortal here below, and understanding Them, thoroughly considering the enjoyment of these beauties and of desire, who would delight in long-drawn life?
This, concerning which (even the Radiant Divinities) question, Death, What is in the Great Beyond tell us that! This boon which enters the hidden no other than this Nachiketas chooses!

(Death): One thing is the better; other than that, verily, is the dearer. These two draw a man in different directions.
Of the two, for him who takes the better it is well; he fails of his goal who, verily, chooses the dearer.
The better and the dearer come near to a man; viewing both well, the wise man discerns between them. For the wise man chooses the better above the dearer; the fool through lust of possession, chooses the dearer.
Thou, indeed, pondering over dear and dearly loved desires, Nachiketas, hast passed them by; not this flowery way of wealth hast thou accepted, in which sink many of the sons of men.
Far different are these two ways: the unwisdom of delusion, and that which is known as wisdom. I hold Nachiketas a chooser of wisdom; nor do many desires draw thee astray.
Others, turning about in the unwisdom of delusion, self-wise, thinking themselves learned, stray, wandering in the way, deluded, like the blind led by the blind.
The Great Beyond shines not to the child, led forward by allurement, misled by the delusion of wealth. “This is the world! There is none beyond!” thinking thus, again and again he falls under my dominion.
He who is not to be gained by many, even for a hearing; whom many know not, even when they hear: wonderful is the speaker, blessed is the receiver of Him; wonderful is the knower, receiving the teaching from the blessed.
Nor when declared by the lower man is He to be well known, though pondered in many ways. There is no going to Him, unless He be declared by the other, for He is inconceivably more subtile than the measure of the subtile.
Nor is this mind to be gained by reasoning; declared by the other, verily, it may be known well, beloved! this, which thou hast gained, for thou holdest the Real firmly; may there be for us a questioner like thee, Nachiketas!

(Nachiketas): I know that what is called treasure is unenduring; nor is that unchanging One to be gained by things that change. Therefore the fire of Nachiketas has been kindled by me; for changing things I have gained the Unchanging.

(Death): The gaining of desire, the world’s foundation, the unending fruit of sacrifice, great fame, the wide foundation, thou, wise in valour, Nachiketas, hast passed by.
But He, who is hard to see, who has entered the hidden place, who dwells in secret, standing in the deep, the Ancient, pondering on that divine One, through the path of union with the Higher Self, the wise leaves exultation and sorrow behind.
Hearing this and fully comprehending, the mortal, setting aside that which is conditioned, and gaining this subtile One, rejoices; for he has gained what is worthy of rejoicing. I think Nachiketas is an open dwelling.

Other than law, other than lawlessness; other than what is done or abstained from here; other than what has been or what shall be—what thou so seest, say that it is That.

That resting place which all Vedas proclaim and all fervent devotions declare; seeking for which, they fulfil the service of the Eternal—that resting place briefly I tell to thee: It is Om.

For this unchanging Om is the Eternal; this, verily, is the Supreme. Knowing, verily, this unchanging Om, whatever a man desires, that is his.

This is the most excellent foundation; this is the supreme foundation. Knowing this most excellent foundation, he is mighty in the world of the Eternal.

That Seer is not born, nor dies; nor does He proceed from aught, nor has any become He. Unborn, eternal, immemorial, the Ancient is not slain when the body is slain.

If the slayer thinks to slay Him, if the slain thinks of Him as slain, both these understand not; He slays not, nor is slain.

More subtile than the subtile, yet mightier than the mighty, the Self is hidden in the inmost heart of the creature here. Him he beholds, who is without desires, his sorrow gone, through the grace of that divine Disposer, beholding the mightiness of the divine Self.

Seated, That goes far; resting, It goes everywhere. Who other than I is worthy to know that Divinity, who is joy without exultation?

Bodiless in bodies, stable among unstable things; understanding this mighty Lord, the Divine Self, the wise grieves not.

Not by speaking is this Divine Self to be gained, nor by reasoning, nor by much hearing. Whom It chooses, by him It is to be gained; this Divine Self chooses his body as Its own.

He who has not ceased from evil doing, who has not attained to peace, who is not one-pointed, whose heart has not gained peace, cannot win Him even by much knowledge.

Of Whom Priest and Warrior are the food; Whose condiment is Death: who knows truly where He is?

The knowers of the Eternal, they who know the five sacred fires, they who offer the triple fire of Nachiketas, tell of the two, the shadow and the light, entering the hidden place in the upper half of the life-cycle, and there drinking spiritual power in the world of good works.

May we gain power over the sacrificial fire of Nachiketas, which is the bridge of those who sacrifice, and which is the imperishable Eternal, the Supreme; the bridge of those who seek to pass over to the farther shore where no fear is.

Know the Higher Self as the lord of the chariot, and the body as the chariot; know the soul as the charioteer, and the mind and emotional nature as the reins.

They say that the powers of perception and action are the horses, and that objective things are the roadways for these; the Self joined with the powers through the mental and emotional nature is called the enjoyer of experience by the wise.

But he who is without understanding, with mind and emotional nature ever uncontrolled, of such a one his powers of perception and action are not under his command, like the unruly horses of the charioteer.

But he who is possessed of understanding, with mind and emotional nature controlled, his powers of perception and action are under his command, like the well-ruled horses of the charioteer.

But he who is not possessed of understanding, with ungoverned mind and emotional nature, ever impure, gains not that goal, but follows the circling path of death and rebirth.

But he who possesses understanding, with well governed mind and emotional nature, ever pure, he indeed gains that goal, from which he returns not to rebirth.

But the man who, using the wisdom of the charioteer, keeps the mind and emotional nature, the reins, well in hand, he gains the consummation of the way, the supreme goal of the divine Pervading Power.

Higher than the powers of perception and action are the impulses; and higher than the impulses is the mental and emotional nature; but higher than the mental and emotional nature is the soul; and higher than the soul is the Self, the Great One.

Higher than the Great Self is the Supreme Unmanifested; higher than the Unmanifested is Spirit. Higher than Spirit is nothing; Spirit is the goal, the highest Way.

This Self, hidden in all beings, shines not forth, but by the keen and subtile vision of seers the Self is perceived.

He who has gained illumination should control speech and mind; he should rule them through the Self which is wisdom; the Self which is wisdom he should rule through the Self which is mighty; this he should rule through the Self which is Peace.

Arise ye! Awake ye! Having obtained your boons, thoroughly understand them. A razor’s edge, sharp, hard to pass over, a path difficult to tread is this, as seers declare.

Without sound, without touch, passing not away, without taste, everlasting, without odour, beginningless, unending, higher than the Great One, set firm, perceiving That, he is set free from the mouth of Death.

Having declared this immemorial Teaching of Nachiketas, spoken forth by Death, hearing it, the wise man grows great in the world of the Eternal.

Whoever recites this supreme hidden teaching in the assembly of the Eternal, or with devotion at the time of the sacrifice for those who have gone forth he builds for the everlasting; he builds for the everlasting.

The Self-being pierced the openings of the senses outward; therefore man looks outward, not within, toward the Self.

A certain wise man, with reverted vision, turned his sight toward the Self, seeking immortality.

The children of men go after outward desires; they go to the widespread net of Death. Therefore the wise, beholding immortality, seek not that which is permanent among impermanent things.

That, through which he discerns form, taste, odour, sounds, mutual contacts, by that, verily, he discerns wisdom; for what else is there left here? This, verily, is That.

That through which he beholds both dreaming and waking, meditating on this Great One, the Lord, the Self, the wise man grieves no more.

He who has come to know this taster of honey as the Self, the Life, near at hand, Master of what has been and what shall be, thereafter seeks not to hide himself from That. This, verily, is That.

He who of old was born of fervent brooding, born of old from the waters, who, entering into the hidden place, standing there, looked forth through beings: This, verily, is That.

She who comes to birth through the Life, the Mother, clothed with divinity, she who, entering into the hidden place, standing there, was born through beings: This, verily, is That.

The Fire-lord hidden in the fire-sticks, like the germ well borne by those who bear the germ, day by day to be adored by the sons of men who keep vigil offering oblations, the Lord All-knowing: This, verily, is That.

That, whence rises the sun, and whither he goes to his setting, in Him all Bright Powers are set firm, nor does any transcend Him: This, verily, is That.

That, verily, which is here, that, indeed, is there; that which is there, that is also here. From death to death he goes, who beholds difference in this.

By mind and heart, verily, it is to be apprehended that there is in this no difference at all. From death to death he passes, who beholds difference in this.

The Spirit, of the measure of a thumb, stands in the midst, in the Self ; Master of what has been and what shall be; therefrom he seeks not to conceal himself: This, verily, is That.

The Spirit, of the measure of a thumb, like a flame that is without smoke; Master of what has been and what shall be; the same to-day, the same to-morrow: This, verily, is That.

As water, rained on broken ground, flows away among the mountains, so he who beholds the properties of life scattered abroad, runs hither and thither after them.

As pure water, poured into pure water, becomes one with it, thus, verily, is the Self of the silent sage, who has attained to wisdom, Gautama.

Standing in command of the eleven-doored dwelling of the Unborn, of unbending consciousness, he grieves not; and, being set free, he is free: This, verily, is That.

The Swan in the ether, the Power in the interspace, the Priest at the altar, the Guest in the dwelling; dwelling in man, in the gift, in righteousness, in the clear sky; born in the waters, born in the sacred cow, born in righteousness, born in the mountains, is the Righteous, the Great One.

He leads upward the forward-life; He impels the downward-life. All the Powers worship the Dwarf seated in the midst.

When this Lord of the body, who dwells within the body, departs, set free from the body, what, indeed, remains there? This, verily, is That.

No mortal lives by the forward-life or by the downward-life; but the mortal lives through another, in Whom these two are set firm.

Behold, This shall I declare to thee, the Eternal, hidden, immemorial; and also how it is with the Self, coming to death, O Gautama: To the womb go some, for the embodying of the Lord of the body; to that which moves not go others; according to their Work, according as they have heard.

This Spirit who is awake in those who sleep, moulding desire after desire: this, verily, is the luminous one, this is the Eternal; this, verily, is called the immortal. In this all worlds are set firm, nor does any transcend it. This, verily, is That.

As the one vital Fire, entering the world, has shaped itself according to form after form, so the one Inner Self of all beings shapes itself to form after form, and is also outside them.

As the one Breath, entering the world, has shaped itself according to form after form, so the one Inner Self of all beings shapes itself to form after form, and is also outside them.

As the Sun, the eye of all the world, is not stained by visible outward defects, so the one Inner Self of all beings is not stained by the evil of the world, being outside it.

The one Ruler, the Inner Self of all beings, who makes one form manifold: the wise who recognize Him dwelling within them, theirs is joy everlasting, but not of others.

The enduring among unenduring things, the Intelligence of intelligences, who, being one, disposes the desires of many, the wise who recognize Him dwelling within them, theirs is peace everlasting, but not of others.

This is that, they say, the ineffable, supreme joy; how may I understand it? Does this give light, or shine by another’s light?

The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars, nor these lightnings, nor fire like this. After this shining, all shines; from the shining of this, all draws its light.

Rooted above, downward branching is this immemorial Ashvattha tree: this, verily, is the luminous one, this is the Eternal; this, verily, is called the immortal. In this all worlds are set firm, nor does any transcend it. This, verily, is That.

Whatever is here, the whole moving world, moves in the Life, made manifest from That. This is the great Fear, the uplifted sceptre; they who know this, become immortal. Through fear of this, fire burns through fear of this, the sun glows; through fear of this, Indra and Vayu, and Death runs as the fifth.

If one has been able to awaken to this, here, before the body’s dissolution, thereafter he builds for embodiment in the creative worlds.

As in a mirror, so in oneself is this perceived; as in dream, so in the world of the Fathers; as in the waters, dispersedly, this is perceived in the world of the Seraphs; as in the light and the shadow, it is perceived in the world of the Eternal.

The wise man, considering that the activity of the powers of perception and action is separate from his real being, and that they have their rising and setting, as of activities arising apart from himself, grieves not.

Higher than the powers is Mind; higher than Mind is spiritual being; above spiritual being is the Great Self ; above the Great is the Unmanifest. But higher than the Unmanifest is the Spirit, all pervading, without distinctive mark. Knowing this, a living being is set free and goes to immortality.

The form of the Eternal cannot be seen, nor can any one behold Him with the eyes. Through the heart, through illumination, through the understanding He is apprehended. They who know this, become immortal.

When the five powers of perception come to rest, with the mind, and the understanding no longer strives, this they call the highest way; this they hold to be union, the steady controlling of the powers; thereupon he becomes undeluded, for union is a rising and a surcease.

Not, verily, by speech, or by thought, or by the eyes, can this be obtained. It is apprehended of him who realizes its being; how could it be known otherwise?

It is to be apprehended by realizing its being, and by direct experience of both; to him who has apprehended it through realization, its true being is revealed.

When all desires that dwell in his heart are let go, the mortal becomes immortal and enters the Eternal.

When all the knots of the heart are untied, the mortal becomes immortal; so far goes the teaching handed down.

A hundred and one are the channels of the heart; of them, one rises to the crown; ascending by this, he reaches immortality; the others lead in diverse ways.

Of the measure of the thumb, the Spirit, the Inner Self, dwells ever in the hearts of creatures. Let him draw this forth from the body, steadily, like a reed from its sheath. Let him know this to be the luminous, the immortal; let him know this to be the luminous, the immortal.

Nachiketas, receiving this wisdom declared by Death, and the perfect rule of union, attained to the Eternal, gaining freedom from passion and from death. So, verily, will he who knows this, concerning the Divine Self.

See Also

In the House of Death

Katha Upanishad

Translated from the Sanskrit with an Interpretation

By Charles Johnston

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Swāmi Nikhilānanda

Katha Upanishad

Part 1

Chapter I


Vājaśravasa, desiring rewards, performed the Viśvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property. He had a son named Nachiketā.


When the gifts were being distributed, faith entered into the heart of Nachiketā, 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 him?


Nachiketā 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 again.


[Yama’s ministers said to him]: Verily, like fire a brāhmin guest enters a house; the householder pacifies him by giving him water and a seat. Bring him water, O King of Death!


The brāhmin 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 brāhmin, 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 brāhmin! May all be well with me!


Nachiketā said: O Death, may Gautama, my father, be calm, cheerful, and free from anger toward me! May he recognize 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, Auddālaki Āruni, will recognize 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.


Nachiketā 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 boon.


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. Nachiketā, 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 Nachiketā: 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 Nachiketā 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 realized it, he attains supreme peace.


He who, having known the three, has performed three times the Nachiketā sacrifice, throws off, even here, the chains of death, overcomes grief, and rejoices in Heaven.


This, O Nachiketā, 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 Nachiketā, choose the third boon.


Nachiketā 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 boons.


Yama said: On this subject even the gods formerly had their doubts. It is not easy to understand: the nature of Ātman is subtle. Choose another boon, O Nachiketā! Do not press me. Release me from that boon.


Nachiketā 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 desire.


If you deem any other boon equal to that, choose it; choose wealth and a long life. Be the king, O Nachiketā, 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 death.


Nachiketā 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 song?


Tell me, O Death, of that Great Hereafter about which a man has his doubts.

Nachiketā will surely not choose any other boon but the one so wrapped in mystery.

Chapter II


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 Nachiketā, 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 sink.


Wide apart and leading to different ends are these two: ignorance and what is known as Knowledge. I regard you, O Nachiketā, 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 Ātman; though hearing of Him, many do not comprehend. Wonderful is the expounder and rare the hearer; rare indeed is the experiencer of Ātman taught by an able preceptor.


Ātman, 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 Ātman, there can remain no more doubt about It. Ātman is subtler than the subtlest and not to be known through argument.


This Knowledge cannot be attained by reasoning. Ātman becomes 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 Nachiketā sacrifice with the help of non-eternal things and attained this position which is [only relatively] eternal.


The fulfilment of desires, the foundation of the universe, the endless rewards of sacrifices, the shore where there is no fear, that which is adorable and great, the wide abode, and the goal—all this you have seen; and being wise, you have with firm resolve discarded everything.


The wise man who, by means of concentration on the Self, realizes 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 Ātman, the very soul of dharma, from all physical objects and has realized the subtle essence, rejoices because he has obtained that which is the cause of rejoicing. The Abode of Brahman, I believe, is open for Nachiketā.


Nachiketā 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 desires.


This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahmā.


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 killed.


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.


Ātman, 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 Ātman who rejoices and rejoices not?


The wise man, having realized Ātman as dwelling within impermanent bodies but Itself bodiless, vast, and all-pervading, does not grieve.


This Ātman 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 Ātman reveals Its own form.


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


Who, then, knows where He is—He to whom brāhmins and kshattriyas are mere food, and death itself a condiment?

Chapter III


Two there are who dwell within the body, in the buddhi, the supreme ākāśa 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 Nachiketā sacrifice.


We know how to perform the Nachiketā 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 Ātman to be the master of the chariot; the body, the chariot; the buddhi, the charioteer; and the mind, the reins.


The senses, they say, are the horses; the objects, the roads. The wise call the Ātman—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 discrimination, 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 again.


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 Ātman; beyond the Great Ātman, 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 subtle intellects.


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 realized Ātman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying, and likewise tasteless, eternal, and odourless; having realized 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 Nachiketā, told by Death, is adored in the world of Brahman.


And he who, practising self-control, recites the supreme secret in an assembly of brāhmins or at a śrāddha ceremony obtains thereby infinite rewards. Yea, he obtains infinite rewards.

Part 2

Chapter I


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 world.


It is through Ātman that one knows form, taste, smell, sounds, touches, and carnal pleasures. Is there anything that remains unknown to Ātman? This, verily, is That.


It is through Ātman that one perceives all objects in sleep or in the waking state. Having realized the vast, all-pervading Ātman, the calm soul does not grieve.


He who knows the individual soul, the experiencer of the fruits of action, as Ātman, always near, and the Lord of the past and the future, will not conceal himself from others. This, verily, is That.


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 That.


He verily knows Brahman who knows Aditi, the soul of all deities, who was born in the form of Prāna, 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 difference here.


By the mind alone is Brahman to be realized; then one does not see in It any multiplicity whatsoever. He goes from death to death who sees multiplicity in It. This, verily, is That.


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 That.


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 knows.

Chapter II


There is a city with eleven gates belonging to the unborn Ātman 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 dwelling 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 prāna upward and who leads apāna downward. All the devas worship that adorable One seated in the middle.


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 prāna, which goes up, nor by apāna, 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 Ātman 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 That.


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 Ātman, 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 Ātman, 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 Ātman, 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 others.


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, fulfills the desires of many. Eternal peace belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves—not to others.


The sages realize that indescribable Supreme Joy as “This is That.” How can I realize 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.

Chapter III


This is that eternal Aśvattha 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 Vāyu, and Death, the fifth, run.


If a man is able to realize 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 Brahmā.


Having understood that the senses have their separate origin and that they are distinct from Ātman, and also that their rising and setting belong to them alone, a wise man grieves no more.


Beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is the Great Ātman, higher than the Great Ātman is the Unmanifest.


Beyond the Unmanifest is the Person, all-pervading and imperceptible. Having realized 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 become immortal.


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.


Ātman cannot be attained by speech, by the mind, or by the eye. How can It be realized in any other way than by the affirmation of him who says: “He is”?


He is to be realized [first] as Existence [limited by upādhis], and [then] in His true transcendental nature. Of these two aspects, Ātman realized as Existence leads [the knower] to the realization of His true nature.


When all the desires that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal becomes immortal and here attains Brahman.


When all the ties of the heart are severed here on earth, then the mortal becomes immortal. This much alone is the teaching.


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 prāna passes out by other arteries, going in different directions, then he is reborn in the world.


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, Nachiketā 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.

See Also

The Upanishads

Katha, Isa, Kena, and Mundaka

Translated from the Sanskrit with Introductions embodying a General Survey and the Metaphysics and Psychology of the Upanishads, and with Notes and Explanations based on the Commentary of Sri Sankaracharya, the great Ninth-century Philosopher and Saint of India.

By Swami Nikhilananda

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Vidyavachaspati V. Panoli

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