Apparently, the text of the time honored KATHOPANISHAD reads as though it is the triumph of righteous human will; that of a tender boy Nachiketha before Yama the veritable lord of death. A closer look discloses that it contains much more. It dwells upon the crucial aspects of life that of Dharma, right action, knowledge of the self and the inscrutable nuance of living and death.
These vital issues are well contained in an interesting interface between the boy Nachiketha and Yama the arbiter of human life, the oft dreaded God of Death. Rightly named, Nachiketha means the one without attachments or worldly bonds. Let us briefly pore over the content of this Upanishat to verify this hypothesis. In the course, view the same in its relevance to AMMA’S thought.
To begin with Vajashravas, the boy’s father performs the ritual (yagna) in which he offers trivial gifts that are of no real value for the recipient in the conduct of this ritual. His son Nachiketa observes this impropriety on the part of the father. Concerned of drawing his father’s attention to correct this lapse and to ensure the fruits of the Yaga and preempting the fall out of such indiscretion, Nachiketha intervenes in the process. He nears his father and questions, as to whom the son Nachiketha shall be gifted in the ritual. While the father was unresponsive, much involved in the ritual, the boy repeats the question again and again. The father annoyingly blurts out that he shall offer his son Nachiketha to the god of death, Lord Yama.
True to the father’s bidding, the boy Nachiketha proceeds to the abode of Lord Yama. As the god of death has gone out on his calling, the boy Nachiketha is obliged to wait for the arrival of God Yama for three days, having no other choice. When Yama returns to his abode, he finds his guest, the waiting Nachiketha at his doorstep. God Yama is much concerned that the guest, a Brahmin, is kept waiting at his abode unattended. For this lapse Lord Yama conveys his desire to grant three boons to Nachiketha by way of making amends over his absence and lack of timely attention towards the waiting guest.
The first boon Nachiketha asks is that his father shall be as amiable to him as before overlooking the discomfiture or annoyance he caused to his father in the conduct of the Yagna. Yama is much pleased to grant the same instantly assuring that his father shall be as cordial, affectionate and well disposed as ever not minding this minor discord between them both. This we set aside from further thought being an issue of personal amity between the father and son and not of wider meaning or purport.
The second boon Nachiketha seeks is the fire learning (Agni Vidya). Fire is one of the five elements that could consume everything and anything. In fact fire also purifies the person from all blemishes and pollution. Through this discipline the person attains the heavenly life, thus immortality devoid of hunger, old age and other human frailties. Yama imparts this learning to the boy Nachiketha. He could imbibe this learning, instantly because of his innate purity, righteousness and sense of renunciation towards the worldly aspects. With these positive traits, he could acquire fire learning with ease and henceforth this fire is termed the Nachiketagni. Verily Nachiketa has become adept in access, study and practice of this fire learning.
It is apt to recall here that Dharmaraja, in his response to the Yaksha Prasnalu, held AGNI, the fire god as the eternal host who carries all the offerings to the identified deities, invoked in the ritual. Thus fire is held ever pure and holy, emancipating the being of all negative karma of one’s past and present.
AMMA held the hearth at home as one of the five Vedas, upholding matrimony and domesticity, which supports all other modes of living by giving food and alms. AMMA exalted the role of the householder, the domestic hearth (Garhapatya Agni) which sustains the other modes of life. Further AMMA held and exalted the act of quenching other’s hunger as the holy ritual, for it is one mode of appeasing hunger, fire within the belly (Vaiswanaragni) latent in each living being. Thus quenching hunger and subduing such fire within the being is verily held the very sacred ritual, the householder shall perform in daily life.
The third boon Nachiketha seeks is the knowledge of death. Death is ever an enigma to the lesser mortal. The opinion on this final fact is much varied. Some view that the person still exists after this final moment, and some say he does not. Indeed the truth of this death is worth knowing. Nachiketha submits this eternal issue to the Lord Yama for edification.
Yama dissuades the tender boy Nachiketha from this knowledge of death. He persuades him to ask for other worldly ends which matter in mortal life. Yama offers the boy riches, maidens, and other enticements to distract him from this crucial secret of death. Yet, the boy Nachiketha is a little distracted. He insists on knowing this aspect of life. He also stresses none else but Lord Yama, the very god of death, who is the right person to impart this rare knowledge. Or no other person is truly entitled to convey this knowledge to him but the Lord Yama. In this firm resolve Nachiketha is not the least distracted or diverted towards other worldly pleasures that are fleeting always.
God Yama is pleased at the firm resolve and determination of Nachiketa. Verily the other worldly ends and sensuous pleasures are not lasting. They fall and decay in the wake of time. Thus the earthly aspects are but truly transient. So is the human body that passes away with death and decays. One who does not cling to these passing objects, and steadfast in pursuit, like Nachiketha is fit to receive this learning, knowledge of death and timelessness. Yama ponders and is inclined to convey this treasure of knowledge that could rarely be accessed by any human being.
In reality it is the mere body, the physical form that is born or dies. The wise one attains the soul, Athman never dies in the true sense. The soul Atman is timeless, and ageless. It neither is nor takes birth in reality. The soul constant, unborn, primeval and eternal never dies. It is the body that passes through the dualities of pleasure and pain, ecstasy and agony, and ceases with the life span. It is only the body that is time bound while the soul is timeless.
This knowledge of the soul is not imparted by mere instruction. The concept is beyond words, precepts and appreciation by the physical senses. Nor can this be known by mere intellect or teaching. The person who is calm, peaceful, righteous, not too much attached to the worldly aspects is fit to imbibe this learning. For such a prepared and chosen person, this knowledge emanates from within, as an inner revelation. Know that it is not a mere function of intelligence.
For such a person freed from all bonds, and ever tranquil, peaceful, righteous, steeped in the aspect of ‘Pranava’ ‘OM’, this becomes known. The incomprehensible becomes comprehensible. He knows the soul, the ‘Athman’ within that is timeless, ageless and eternal. Death does not overtake the ‘Athman’. In the course, knowledge of ‘Brahman’ too. For such a one, the secret of death is unlocked.
The individual by virtue of good deeds, righteous, steadfast living is well prepared to understand the soul within. He appreciates that while the body is time bound, and all associated actions, their fruits are also time bound, the soul within the body is timeless. The individual does well to identify himself with the soul and not the body which ceases eventually.
This soul rides in the chariot of the body swayed by the senses. The wise one realizes this truth and seeks the timeless truth, not getting lost in the bodily acts. Thus the person is not caught in the turmoil of the senses. He attains the highest state above the body, the senses and even the mind. While knowing the self within he comprehends that the individual soul (Jeevatma), is but a reflection of the eternal, seamless soul (Paramathma) that is all pervasive and the dispenser of human life and destiny. These are the subtle, unmanifest aspects which cannot be felt or grasped through the sensory apparatus or the mere intellect.
From here, Yama expatiates on this concept of soul, ‘Athman’ its nature and its attainment, the subsequent state of the person. Such a person is beyond the three states of wakefulness, sleep and awareness (Jagrat, Swapna. and Sushupthi) that the normal person undergoes regularly. Further he rises above sorrow and joy and the other dualities of existence. He rests in the true state of awareness that is beyond sleep, (Pragnana), ever serene, calm and tranquil. His life is like that of the flowing water that does not stick or attach neither to the bottom terrain nor to the bund beside. Verily it is a true state of freedom beyond the senses and all mundane bondage. He dwells in the consciousness, ever aware of the ‘Athman’ within verily near the heart. In normal life, he goes through the living process completely unattached like the elements of fire, water or air which merely take the shape of the container and not lose the original nature and substance that is formless.
Thus the person gains immortality, with the sense of ‘Paramathman’ contained in him, as also steeped in the knowledge of ‘Brahman’, equally so the aspect of ‘Pranava’. He knows the ‘Athman’ ever seated in his heart in the size and form of a mere thumb, that is notional in physical terms yet true in inner consciousness or deeper awareness. This awareness and the resultant energies flow through him right up to the crown of the head (Sahasrara). The being becomes immortal while apparently being mortal, verily a state devoid or unmindful of death within. Such a person is freed while still in the body, a ‘Jivanmukta’.
AMMA simplified these abstruse concepts of life and death. AMMA’S aphorisms in this context sound more like sooth says comforting the troubled person in the present times. AMMA said “Seeing ME is attaining”; “The MOTHER ever emancipates the person”. SHE added that positive bliss awaits everyone though after varying time lag. Instead of brooding over death and life after, concern yourself with the present and live the present properly that shall take care of the rest. All those who reach ME (AMMA) shall hardly ponder over such issues. I shall cause the redemption; surrender yourself and your lot to ‘ME’ the ‘MOTHER OF ALL’ that is and that exists. The rest shall be well taken care of. These are highly comforting assurances to the troubled human being of the present times. The ease for the seeker in this stance is that the visible passing, physical reality is accepted, with the persuasion to train his gaze within and also beyond for finding the ultimate reality.
Further undue bother of births is pointless, as for the ordinary person; there could be no empirical proof for the chain of births, continuance of life, reentry of the same person into this world and so on. Nor does the reentry of the ageless soul in another physical form too beget any proof in the pragmatic sense ordinarily. Live the present well and surrender to ‘ME’, (AMMA) to take care of the rest.
On the concept of ‘MRUTYUNJAYA’ AMMA defined the same de novo. Mrutyunjaya is not overcoming death in the physical sense. Yet it is a condition of not fearing death or accepting the same in the normal course, with little brother or concern as the inevitable fact of all mortal bodies.
The knowledge of ATHMAN is being in full empathy and identification with the entire ambience that “ALL IS THAT”, “ALL THAT EXISTS IS THAT”. Whatever one may say verbally shall truly perceive “THERE IS NOTHING BUT THAT”. Here THAT’ the concept connotes motherhood, which is all pervasive in the entire creation that involves procreation. ‘THAT’ also is inclusive of the all pervasive ‘Brahman’, the ‘Paramathma’, even the primordial force ‘SHAKTHI’ that conditions and dispenses the entire cosmic process and creation. The sound and concept of ‘Pranava’ too contained such an all inclusive aggregate completion.
The person perceives the entire ambience and all the environs as consisting of such macro, boundless consciousness; call it ‘ATHMAN’, ‘BRAHMAN’, the ‘PARAMATHMA’ or the very seamless, timeless self. The subject shall begin to focus on this mode intently for the eventual perception to dawn within, while yet accepting the visible physical reality. This gives much ease rather than denying the visible and chasing the invisible. The precept or the crux of the issue is to seek the invisible through the visible, training the person’s gaze within and beyond with serious, committed intent after the inherent, yet boundless, timeless truth.
When the person escalates to such perception, awareness and touches the inner consciousness, the sense of the body, or identification with the physical self ceases. The sense and knowledge of ‘ATHMAN’ as a trace of ‘PARAMATHMAN’ prevails over the body too. In such a state of exalted awareness even the body is not far different from the ‘ATHMAN’ though time bound by itself.
This is the acme or the highest state of ‘ATHMA’ and ‘ANATHMA’ discrimination, which the steadfast spiritual seekers resort too. To elaborate even the physical form too is sublimated, rising well above the sensual urges and the earthly enticements, giving room for purity and godliness within the very mortal being. Thus AMMA much simplified the subjective, abstract aspects of life, death, knowledge of the self as also ‘Brahman’ ‘Pranava’ and the eternal seamless self the ‘Paramathman’. SHE brought these seemingly remote aspects closer to real life and within the seeker’s access.
This puts the frail human being at much comfort that AMMA shall take care of the exalted goal if only the being abides by the present and submits to HER in abandon and abject surrender. Continually intense. pondering over this timeless truth too does help the eventual perception of the ultimate reality or essential truth worth knowing for the human.
Such is the boundless, soothing motherly love and comforting assurance for all the living beings by the UNIVERSAL MOTHER, AMMA, the MOTHER OF ALL, that is and that exists with little exception.
Pray AMMA bless us with such surrender to THEE and absolute submission at THY glorious feet and ever benevolent presence.