The Katha Upanishad makes use of an interesting story for presenting its teachings. A young lad, Nachiketa, goes to the house of Yama, the god of Death and seeks to learn from him about the Ultimate Reality behind life and death.
Before accepting him as
a pupil, Yama wants to
sure that Nachiketa is fit to receive the teaching, that his mind is pure and mature and has overcome all earthly temptations. Yama tempts him with boons offering all types of material riches and heavenly joys and pleasures. But the young lad rejects all of them and stands firm in choosing the boon of the highest wisdom, that is, the knowledge of God, the Ultimate Reality. Yama is pleased to get such a worthy pupil and proceeds togive a discourse on many important aspects of metaphysics and theology and the nature of Brahman, the Absolute.
On the important question of life after death or thenature of the human soul, the Upanishad declares: "The knowing self is not born, dies not. He sprang from nothing and nothing sprang from him. He is unborn, eternal, everlasting, ancient. Heis not destroyed when the body is killed" (II-18). These ideas are also echoed in the Bhagavad Gita.
In a later verse, the Upanishad says that after death,"some souls enter thew womb in order to have a body; othersenter immovable things (like plants) according to the merits of their actions and knowledge" (V-7). This is an explicit declaration of the idea of transmigration of the human soul, which has pervaded all subsequent Indian thought.
There are many fine passages
in the Katha Upanishad
about the nature of God. God is spoken of the infinite and all-pervading Self, subtler than the subtle and greater than the great, hidden in the cave of the heart of living creatures. He is the in-dwelling spirit of all beings; he is awake when all else is asleep. He is the immortal Brahman. He is also spoken of as that from which all that exist have sprung. He is the mighty Ruler of all. Out of fear of Him fire gives heat and the sun gives light.
Brahman is beyond the reach of man's faculties of mind and speech, which can function only in the relative empirical world. The true seeker has to purge his mind of passions and impurities and rise to the subtlest level before hoping to develop the higher intuitive faculty of realising the one-ness of existence.
A remarkable feature of
the Katha Upanishad is its
ethical emphasis and moral
earnestness. There are many beautiful
verses which can inspire our
thought and action in our
purify the mind by ridding
it of all passions and desires
which are unworthy of the
seeker of the highest wisdom.
It says:"When all the desires
that dwell in the heart are
destroyed, then the mortal
becomes immortal and he attains
in this life" (VI-14).
Also, it says:"One who has
not abstained from evil conduct,
who is not tranquil and Self-controlled,
whose mind is not at rest-
cannot attain God by mere book-knowledge
or mundane cleverness" (II-24).