1. Vajasravasa, desiring
rewards, performed the Visvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his
property. He had a son named Nachiketa.
2. When the gifts were
being distributed, faith entered into the heart of Nachiketa, who was
still a boy.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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?
7. They said to him:
Verily, like fire a Brahmin guest enters a house; the householder
pacifies him by giving him water and a seat. Bring him water, O King of
8. The Brahmin who
dwells in a house, fasting, destroys that foolish householder’s hopes
and expectations, the reward of his intercourse with pious people, the
merit of his kindly speech, the good results of his sacrifices and
beneficial deeds, and his cattle and children as well.
9. Yama said: O Brahmin,
salutations to you! You are a venerable guest and have dwelt in my house
three nights without eating; therefore choose now three boons, one for
each night, O Brahmin! May all be well with me!
10. Nachiketa said: O
Death, may Gautama, my father, be calm, cheerful, and free from anger
toward me! May he recognise me and greet me when I shall have been sent
home by you! This I choose as the first of the three boons.
11. Yama said: Through
my favour, your father, Auddalaki Aruni, will recognise you and be again
toward you as he was before. After having seen you freed from the jaws
of death, he will sleep peacefully at night and bear no anger against
12. Nachiketa said: In
the Heavenly World there is no fear whatsoever. You, O Death, are not
there, and no one is afraid of old age. Leaving behind both hunger and
thirst, and out of the reach of sorrow, all rejoice in Heaven.
13. 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.
14. 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
15. Yama then told him
about the Fire, which is the source of the worlds, and what bricks were
to be gathered for the altar, and how many, and how the sacrificial fire
was to be lighted. Nachiketa, too, repeated all this as it had been told
him. Then Yama, being pleased with him, spoke again.
17. He who has performed
three times this Nachiketa sacrifice, having been instructed by the
three, and also has performed his three duties, overcomes birth and
death. Having known this Fire born of Brahman, omniscient, luminous, and
adorable, and realised it, he attains supreme peace.
18. He who, having known
the three, has performed three times the Nachiketa sacrifice, throws
off, even here, the chains of death, overcomes grief, and rejoices in
19. This, O Nachiketa,
is your Fire-sacrifice, which leads to Heaven and which you have chosen
as your second boon. People will call this Fire by your name. Now, O
Nachiketa, choose the third boon.
20. Nachiketa said:
There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he
exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by
you. This is the third of my boons.
21. Yama said: On this
subject even the gods formerly had their doubts. It is not easy to
understand: the nature of Atman is subtle. Choose another boon, O
Nachiketa! Do not press me. Release me from that boon.
22. Nachiketa said: O
Death, even the gods have their doubts about this subject; and you have
declared it to be not easy to understand. But another teacher like you
cannot be found and surely no other boon is comparable to this.
23. 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 desires.
24. If you deem any
other boon equal to that, choose it; choose wealth and a long life. Be
the king, O Nachiketa, of the wide earth. I will make you the enjoyer of
25. 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.
26. Nachiketa said: But,
O Death, these endure only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the
vigour of all the sense organs. Even the longest life is short indeed.
Keep your horses, dances, and songs for yourself.
27. 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.
28. 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?
29. Tell me, O Death, of
that Great Hereafter about which a man has his doubts.
Part One –
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. O Nachiketa, after
pondering well the pleasures that are or seem to he delightful, you have
renounced them all. You have not taken the road abounding in wealth,
where many men sink.
4. Wide apart and
leading to different ends are these two: ignorance and what is known as
Knowledge. I regard you, O Nachiketa, to be one who desires Knowledge;
for even many pleasures could not tempt you away.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Many there are who do
not even hear of Atman; though hearing of Him, many do not comprehend.
Wonderful is the expounder and rare the hearer; rare indeed is the
experiencer of Atman taught by an able preceptor.
8. Atman, when taught by
an inferior person, is not easily comprehended, because It is diversely
regarded by disputants. But when It is taught by him who has become one
with Atman, there can remain no more doubt about It. Atman is subtler
than the subtlest and not to be known through argument.
9. This Knowledge cannot
be attained by reasoning. Atman become easy of comprehension, O dearest,
when taught by another. You have attained this Knowledge now. You are,
indeed, a man of true resolve. May we always have an inquirer like you!
10. Yama said: I know
that the treasure resulting from action is not eternal; for what is
eternal cannot be obtained by the non-eternal. Yet I have performed the
Nachiketa sacrifice with the help of non-eternal things and attained
this position which is [only relatively] eternal.
11. The fulfilment of
desires, the foundation of the universe, the rewards of sacrifices, the
shore where there is no fear, that which adorable and great, the wide
abode, and the goal—all this you have seen; and being wise, you have
with firm resolve discarded everything.
12. The wise man who, by
means of concentration on the Self, realises that ancient, effulgent
One, who is hard to be seen, unmanifest, hidden, and who dwells in the
buddhi and rests in the body—he, indeed, leaves joy and sorrow far
13. The mortal who has
heard this and comprehended it well, who has separated that Atman, the
very soul of dharma, from all physical objects and has realised the
subtle essence, rejoices because he has obtained that which is the cause
of rejoicing. The Abode of Brahman, I believe, is open for Nachiketa.
14. Nachiketa said: That
which you see as other than righteousness and unrighteousness, other
than all this cause and effect, other than what has been and what is to
be—tell me That.
16. This syllable Om is
indeed Brahman. This syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this
syllable obtains all that he desires.
17. This is the best
support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is
adored in the world of Brahma.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Atman, smaller than
the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living
creatures. A man who is free from desires beholds the majesty of the
Self through tranquillity of the senses and the mind and becomes free
21. Though sitting
still, It travels far; though lying down, It goes everywhere. Who but
myself can know that luminous Atman who rejoices and rejoices not?
22. The wise man, having
realised Atman as dwelling within impermanent bodies but Itself
bodiless, vast, and all-pervading, does not grieve.
23. This Atman cannot be
attained by the study of the Vedas, or by intelligence, or by much
hearing of sacred books. It is attained by him alone whom It chooses. To
such a one Atman reveals Its own form.
24. He who has not first
turn away from wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued, and whose
mind is not at peace, cannot attain Atman. It is realised only through
the Knowledge of Reality.
Part One –
1. Two there are who
dwell within the body, in the intellect, the supreme akasa of the heart,
enjoying the sure rewards of their own actions. The knowers of Brahman
describe them as light and shade, as do those householders who have
offered oblations in the Five Fires and also those who have thrice
performed the Nachiketa sacrifice.
2. We know how to
perform the Nachiketa sacrifice, which is the bridge for sacrificers;
and we know also that supreme, imperishable Brahman, which is sought by
those who wish to cross over to the shore where there is no fear
3. Know the atman to be
the master of the chariot; the body, chariot; the intellect, the
charioteer; and the mind, the reins.
4. The senses, they say,
are the horses; the objects, the roads. The wise call the atman—united
with the body, the senses, and the mind—the enjoyer.
5. If the buddhi
[intellect], being related to a mind that is always distracted, loses
its discrimination, then the senses become uncontrolled, like the
vicious horses of a charioteer.
6. But if the buddhi
[intellect], being related to a mind that is always restrained,
possesses discrimination, then the senses come under control, like the
good horses of a charioteer.
7. If the buddhi
[intellect], 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.
8. But if the buddhi
[intellect], 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.
9. 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
11. Beyond the Great
Atman, the Unmanifest; beyond the Unmanifest, the Purusha. Beyond the
Purusha there is nothing: this is the end, the Supreme Goal.
12. That Self hidden in
all beings does not shine forth; but It is seen by subtle seers through
their one-pointed and subtle intellects.
13. 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
14. 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.
15. Having realised
Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying, and
likewise tasteless, eternal, and odourless; having realised That which
is without beginning and end, beyond the Great, and unchanging—one is
freed from the jaws of death.
16. The wise man who has
heard and related the eternal story of Nachiketa, told by Death, is
adored in the world of Brahman.
Part Two –
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. It is through Atman
that one knows form, taste, smell, sounds, touches, and carnal
pleasures. Is there anything that remains unknown to Atman? This,
verily, is That.
4. It is through Atman
that one perceives all objects in sleep or in the waking state. Having
realised the vast, all-pervading Atman, the calm soul does not grieve.
5. He who knows the
individual soul, the experiencer of the fruits of action, as Atman,
always near, and the Lord of the past and the future, will not conceal
himself from others. This, verily, is That.
6. 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.
7. He verily knows
Brahman who knows Aditi, the soul of all deities, who was born in the
form of Prana, who was created with the elements, and who, entering into
the heart, abides therein. This, verily, is That.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. By the mind alone is
Brahman to be realised; then one does not see in It any multiplicity
whatsoever. He goes from death to death who sees multiplicity in It.
This, verily, is That.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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
Part Two –
1. There is a city with
eleven gates belonging to the unborn Atman of undistorted Consciousness.
He who meditates on Him grieves no more; liberated [from the bonds of
ignorance], he becomes free. This, verily, is That.
2. He is the sun
dwelling in the bright heavens. He is the air in the interspace. He is
the fire dwelling on earth. He is the guest dwelling in the house. He
dwells in men, in the gods, in truth, in the sky. He is born in the
water, on earth, in the sacrifice, on the mountains. He is the True and
3. He it is who sends
prana upward and who leads apana downward. All the devas worship that
adorable One seated in the middle.
4. 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?
5. No mortal ever lives
by prana, which goes up, nor by apana, which goes down. Men live by
something different, on which these two depend.
6. Well then, Gautama, I
shall tell you about this profound and eternal Brahman, and also about
what happens to the atman after meeting death.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. As the same non-dual
fire, after it has entered the world, becomes different according to
whatever it burns, so also the same non-dual Atman, dwelling in all
beings, becomes different according to whatever It enters. And It exists
10. As the same non-dual
air, after it has entered the world, becomes different according to
whatever it enters, so also the same non-dual Atman, dwelling in all
beings, becomes different according to whatever It enters. And It exists
11. As the sun, which
helps all eyes to see, is not affected by the blemishes of the eyes or
of the external things revealed by it, so also the one Atman, dwelling
in all beings, is never contaminated by the misery of the world, being
12. 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.
13. There is One who is
the eternal Reality among non-eternal objects, the one [truly] conscious
Entity among conscious objects, and who, though non-dual, fulfils the
desires of many. Eternal peace belongs to the wise, who perceive Him
within themselves—not to others.
14. The sages realise
that indescribable Supreme Joy as “This is That.” How can I
realise It? Is It self-luminous? Does It shine brightly, or not?
Part Two –
1. This is that eternal
Asvattha Tree with its root above and branches below. That root, indeed,
is called the Bright; That is Brahman, and That alone is the Immortal.
In That all worlds are contained, and none can pass beyond. This,
verily, is That.
2. 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.
3. From terror of
Brahman, fire burns; from terror of It, the sun shines; from terror of
It, Indra and Vayu, and Death, the fifth, run.
4. If a man is able to
realise Brahman here, before the falling asunder of his body, then he is
liberated; if not, he is embodied again in the created worlds.
5. 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 Brahma.
7. Beyond the senses is
the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is
the Great Atman, higher than the Great Atman is the Unmanifest.
8. Beyond the Unmanifest
is the Person, all-pervading and imperceptible. Having realized Him, the
embodied self becomes liberated and attains Immortality.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Atman cannot be
attained by speech, by the mind, or by the eye. How can It be realised
in any other way than by the affirmation of him who says: “He
13. He is to be realised
[first] as Existence [limited by upadhis], and [then] in His true
transcendental nature. Of these two aspects, Atman realised as Existence
leads [the knower] to the realisation of His true nature.
14. When all the desires
that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal becomes immortal and
here attains Brahman.
16. There are one
hundred and one arteries of the heart, one of which pierces the crown of
the head. Going upward by it, a man at death attains immortality. But
when his prana passes out by other arteries, going in different
directions, then he is reborn in the world.
17. 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.
18. Having received this
wisdom taught by the King of Death, and the entire process of yoga,
Nachiketa became free from impurities and death and attained Brahman.
Thus it will be also with any other who knows, in this manner, the
Om. That is full; this
is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this
fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is fullness.