The Story of Nachiketa

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

This mind is very limited. Its perceptions are erroneous and incomplete. Therefore, one should try to develop a higher type of consciousness, which does not depend on the senses, but on experience.

There is a story from the Kathopanishad which explains this. Nachiketa was the name of a young boy. He had some sort of difference with his father and his father said, ‘I give you unto death.’ So it is said that Nachiketa transcended this mortal consciousness and went to Yamaloka, the land of Yamaraj, the lord of death. He stayed there for three days and three nights, after which Yamaraj appeared. As Nachiketa had been waiting for him for three days and three nights Yamaraj gave him three boons.

One of the boons Nachiketa asked for was, ‘Does the consciousness survive after death?’ to which Lord Yama said, ‘Don’t ask that question because this question will not be revealed even to the great people.’ However, Nachiketa insisted. Finally, Lord Yama had to give him the knowledge about eternity, infinity and the survival of consciousness after the death of the body.

The details of this actually is nothing significant. It talks about the experiences of that young man. It is not necessary to say or prove that Nachiketa went to heaven, because there is no such heaven at all. There is no planet or universe where Yamaraj lives. However, at the same time Nachiketa did go somewhere else.

Death means two things, one the death of the body and secondly death also is when one has departed from the mind, from this state of consciousness, but not from the body. It happens in meditation. One does not depart from the body but departs from a particular mental state.

The same thing happened to Nachiketa. He did not die physically. He was in the body, but his mind transcended its consciousness and he began to experience. What was that experience? It was of a man who comes to him and says, ‘I will give you three boons. Ask me for three boons.’

He asks for one, two and three boons. For the third boon the man says, ‘No, I will not tell you the truth.’ Nachiketa says, ‘You have to tell me truth’. Yamaraj says, ‘My boy, I will give you gold and silver and anything that you ask for, please do not ask me this question.’

Nachiketa says, ‘No, no, what am I going to do with gold and silver, damsels, palaces, kingdoms and horses? Please just tell me this. Some say that the soul survives and some say that the soul does not survive. Since you are the lord of death, you come here and go back to the manifest world, hence you should know it.’ All these things happen within your own self.

Please read Markandeya Purana and you will know how a young boy Markandeya entered into the stem of a lotus in order to attain immortality. He remained for many thousands of years in that stem. That is how the story goes. These events are not of our current times, not even one thousand years of this calendar, but many thousands of years ago.

It is an interesting story relating to yoga. Of course, the actors are exhilarated, and it must be that way, because exhilaration is one of the beauties of poetry. He entered into the stem of a lotus leaf remained there for many ages. Death could not touch him there. He remained immortal.

When I say ages, I do not mean this time. I mean the time of that dimension, not the time here. It might have been only one year here, or it might have been fifty thousand years. I do not know because time in this dimension and time in that dimension are not the same. It is not written only in the Vedas; even modern scientists talk about it. Time is relative and as one goes further into space or away from space, the equation of time changes.

This has been the main problem for us in India and in order to solve this problem and give a proper answer the scriptures always insist that you must have experience. Scriptural knowledge or book learning from the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas is not enough. One has to have that experience and this experience can sometimes continue for days together.

Swami Muktananda, who is no more now, from Ganeshpuri, a disciple of Swami Nityananda, has written a book, Chitshaktivilas, the Dance of the Power of Consciousness. It is his autobiography. He writes that when he entered into his own self, he entered into a new universe. He said, ‘I entered into myself and I saw a different universe and the universe in which I lived a short while ago did not exist there. Nothing existed there.’ ‘Nothing’ denotes that the place was beautiful, there was no pain, there was just peace and that state remained with him for eleven days as he went on seeing it.

In that state, I sit here, but I remain within myself. I leave my touch, my relationship, my association with your time and space. When I enter inside, I enter into a new world. Thereafter, I have no attachment and am not sorry for having left all these things behind.

5 December 1985, Munger