Thursday 4 August 2011

Nachiketas : Value of Truth

Truth will lead one to the Absolute.  This has been explained by the story of Nachiketas in Mahabharata and Kathopanishad. 
  According to the Anusana Parva of Mahabharata, Nachiketas, the son of Uddalaki, was a sage of bygone days.   The ashram served his father, who devoted his time in performing  various sacrifices for the benefit of the society.
   Nachiketas was once sent to the forest by his father for fetching flowers etc.  However, on not finding them there, he returned to the ashram without them.  His father became angry and cursed him to be taken to Yamaloka. 
   Accordingly, he went to Yamaloka and waited to meet Yama who was out of station.  When Yama appeared, he sang and praised Yama and he learnt various sastras.  When he returned, his father, Uddalaki, was pleased by his scholarship.
Kathopanisad gives details of Nachiketas.  According to it, Vajasravas was a great hermit who performed many sacrifices.  Once he performed a sacrifice in which the fees prescribed was all he owned. 
Accordingly, when he gave away good things, there  was the turn of old cows.  They were toothless, cannot milk and chew their food.  So old were they, that it would be difficult to maintain them also. But he had to give them too.
When their turn of gifting came, Nachiketas thought that by giving such things the giver would get only sin.  Being a dutiful son, he thought that somehow he should do only good to his father.  He thought of a plan and approached his father. 
He asked him to whom would he be giving him away since he too belonged to him.  Though Vajasravas remained calm, Nachiketas pressed him by asking this question many times.  Vajasravas got annoyed and chided him that he would be giving him away to Lord Yama or the Lord of Death. 
Surely he did not mean it.  But those words came out of his mouth in a fit of rage.
Nachiketas is now on the horns of a dilemma.  He wanted  to save his father from the sin of giving away useless things as fees. He could get a boon when he gives him, a youth, well-educated, highly useful to others. 
But his father, in a fit of anger had directed him to die.  If he goes to the kingdom of death, naturally being a father, he would be in deep sorrow.  On the other hand, if he did not visit death, his words would become false making the sacrifice fruitless.
Nachiketas pondered over that and approached his father.  He asked his father to permit him to go to the kingdom of death.  He had to convince his father the necessity of his leaving this world; otherwise, his own words would become false and the fruit of the sacrifice might be lost. 
He requested him to consider how his forefathers and his contemporaries behaved.  None of them broke their words.  There was nothing to be gained by going back on one’s word. 
After all, the life of a human being was transitory.  Man like a blade of grass died and was reborn again.  Death was not the end of all.  Rebirth was the law of nature.  A mortal ripened like corn and  was born again.  Hence one should keep his word and send Nachiketas to the abode of Yama. 
He repeated:
Anupasya yatha purve   pratipasya tathapare
Sasyam iva martyah pacyate   sasyam ivajayate punah.
Vajasravas had no alternative than to permit Nachiketas to go to Yama’s abode. 
Nachiketas took leave of his father and could go to the abode of Yama, the Lord of death, by the power of his tapas.  On reaching the abode of Yama, Nachiketas came to know that Yama was out of station.  He waited for three nights so that he could meet Yama on his arrival.  At last Yama came on the third day.  The moment Yama came, Dhumorna, the wife of Yama and the ministers of Yama came rushing and reported to him about Nachiketas.  They advised him that a guest had to be honoured by showing him the hospitality due to him.  The guest was the embodiment of the fundamental oneness of  all beings. 
He should not be neglected.  In such a case, all the virtues earned by sacrifices, resulting in good things like planting gardens, making parks, digging wells etc. would be destroyed.  Hence the guest had to be entertained with hospitality.
Yama agreed and paid respects to Nachiketas.  Even Nachiketas was pleased with the honour accorded to him; Yama wanted to be sure that Nachiketas was pleased. 
He extended three boons to Nachiketas, one each for a day he had waited.  Nachiketas agreed and the first boon was, “That his father Gautama who would now be with anxiety and anger should be relieved of them.  He should be gracious to Nachiketas.  When Yama set Nachiketas free and he went to his father’s place, he should recognise and greet him well”.  We could see the power of Truth which made Nachiketas to get maximum benefit from a single boon.
Yama agreed and by the second boon, Nachiketas wanted to know the sacrifice which would lead one to heaven where there was no fear of death or old age. Persons in heaven overcoming both hunger and thirst, rejoice the heaven leaving behind all sorrows.  Lord Yama was pleased and taught the same. 
Nachiketas was quick to grasp, that he had repeated everything back to Yama; Yama was so pleased that he had given another boon apart from the three given already.
 He said that from that day this sacrifice would be known as Nachiketa chayana in the name of Nachiketas. 
He had also presented a beautiful chain appreciating his power of grasping quickly and correctly. 
Yama said that not only the fruit of Agni worship, but the fruits of various rites mentioned in Vedas would be granted to Nachiketas. 
The power of quick and correct grasping was the result of leading a truthful life.
Finally, Nachiketas asked about the soul which moved from this gross body after its death.  Yama first tested whether Nachiketas had the requisite qualifications for knowing that secret knowledge.  After ascertaining it, Yama communicated it to Nachiketas and this was the central theme of Kathopanishad. 
Thus strict adherence of truth would result in his achieving perfection and liberation which everyone should try to lead.
Article by : Dr. Goda Venkateswara Sastry
Source: Bhavan's Journal May 15 2010
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