To very few is it given to hear about the Atma
Many more who hear of the Atma, do not understand.
Wonderful is the person who speaks of it.
Intelligent is the person who learns of it.
Most blessed is he who hears it
from a knowing teacher and understands it.

The Katha Upanishad contains the story of the young and virtuous Nachiketa. When the father of Nachiketa gives away inferior gifts as part of a ritual ceremony, the boy tries to lessen the impact of this serious error in judgment. The father gets angry and in disgust at his interference shouts that he is going to give the son away to Yama, the god of death. The son resolves that the words uttered by the father should not be untrue so he proceeds to the residence of Yama to offer himself up as a ritualistic gift. The boy spends three nights waiting to see the god. When Yama discovers his presence, he feels sorry that the boy had to wait so long, so he decides to grant him three boons, one for each night he waited.

Nachiketa asks first that when he returns home, his father will have shed his anger and gained mental equanimity and so welcome him home. Second, he asks to know the secret of the absence of hunger and fear of death in the heaven worlds. Yama gladly grants these boons and further initiates his new disciple into the details of a special ritual ceremony.

Yama sees the reverence, intelligence, and eagerness of his new pupil and is much pleased with him. Nachikethas then asks for his third boon. He tells his new teacher: “some say that death is not the end; that there is an entity called the Atma which survives the body and senses. Teach me that secret of the Atma”.

Yama at first resists and decides to test him to see if he is deserving of this unique knowledge. He offers him many other attractive boons involving worldly prosperity and happiness. But Nachiketa firmly declines these ephemeral favors. “The alternative boons you hold before me cannot assure me the everlasting benefit that Atmajnana (Atmic knowledge) alone can bestow”. Yama is again pleased with his pupil and decides he is fit to receive the highest wisdom. The remainder of the Upanishad contains his teachings to Nachiketa. The young disciple grasped the teachings immediately and thoroughly and, putting them into practice, he attained to Brahmam.


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