Translation: Dr. Radhakrishnan

Notes & image added by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

Page 593.The Principal Upaniṣads

Kaṭha Upaniṣad, also called Kāṭhakopaniṣad which belongs to the Taittirīya school of the Yajur Veda, uses the setting of a story found in ancient Sanskrit literature.1 A poor and pious Brāhmaṇa, Vājaśravas, performs a sacrifice and gives as presents to the priests a few old and feeble cows His son, Naciketas, feeling disturbed by the unreality of his father's observance of the sacrifice, proposes that he himself may be offered as offering (dakṣiṇa) to a priest. When he persisted m his request, his father in rage said, 'Unto Yama, I give thee' Naciketas goes to the abode of Yama and finding him absent, waits there for three days and nights unfed Yama, on his return, offers three gifts in recompense for the delay and discomfort caused to Naciketas. For the first, Naciketas asked, 'Let me return alive to my father.' For the second, 'Tell me how my good works (iṣṭā-pūrta) may not be exhausted'; and for the third, 'Tell me the way to conquer re-death (punar mṛtyu).

In the Upaniṣad, the third request is one for enlightenment on the 'great transition' which is called death.

The Upaniṣad consists of two chapters, each of which has three Vallis or sections.

There are some passages common to the Gītā and the Kaṭha U  

1 Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa III. I 8, see also M B Anuśāsana Parva 106. The first mention of the story is in the R.V. (X.135) where we read how Naciketas was sent by his father to Yama (Death), but was allowed to get back on account of his great faith, śraddhā. 


May He protect us both; may He be pleased with us both; may we work together with vigour; may our study make us illumined; may there be no dislike between us. Aum, peace, peace, peace.

The teacher and the pupil pray for harmonious co-operation in keen and vigorous study.

Chapter 1 Section 1


NACIKETAS = (Na + Cit = No + Knowledge)


उशन्    वै  वाजश्रवसः  सर्ववेदसं ददौ

तस्य    नचिकेता  नाम पुत्र आस

uśan  ha  vai  vājaśravasaḥ  sarva-vedasaṁ dadau

tasya  ha  naciketā  nāma putra āsa  --1

Desirous (of the fruit of the Viśvajit sacrifice) Vājaśravas, they say, gave away all that he possessed. He had a son by name Naciketas.  --1


Vājaśravasah = One who has fame for giving of food. Vāja = food. śrava = glory, fame. Vājaśrava is the father of Vājaśravasah.

NACIKETAS = (Na + Cit = No + Knowledge)

Uśan: desirous. Evidently, at the time of the Upaniṣad, the sacrificial religion of the Brāhmanas was popular. Desire for earthly and heavenly gain was the prominent motive. The Upaniṣad leads us to a higher goal. 'He who is free from desire beholds him.' 

uśan, is sometimes said to be the offspring of Vājaśravas1.

gave away all that he possessed: He is represented as making a voluntary surrender of all that he possessed, saṁnyāsa, in order to secure his spiritual interests.

Naciketas: one who does not know and therefore seeks to know.

The author attempts to distinguish between Vājaśravasa, the protagonist of an external ceremonialism, and Naciketas, the seeker of spiritual wisdom. Vājaśravasa represents orthodox religion and is devoted to its outer forms. He performs the sacrifice and makes gifts which are unworthy. The formalism and the hypocrisy of the father hurt the son.


  2. तं कुमारं सन्तं दक्षिणासु नीयमानासु  श्रद्धाविवेश  सोऽमन्यत

2. taṃ ha kumāraṁ santaṁ dakṣiṇāsu nīyamānāsu  śraddhāviveśa  so'manyata.

As the gifts were being taken to the priests, faith entered him, although but a (mere) boy; he thought. --2

Prompted by the desire to do real good to his father, the boy felt worried about the nature of the presents.

śraddhā: faith. It is not blind belief but the faith which asks whether the outer performance without the living spirit is enough.

The gifts to the Ritviks and Sadasyas were the cows. Ritviks are the fire-priests who perform Yajna on behalf of a person to please the gods so the sponsor’s wishes attain fulfillment. Sadasya is the supertending priest of the Yajna.   


पीतोदका  जग्धतृणा  दुग्धदोहा  निरिन्द्रियाः

अनन्दा  नाम ते  लोकास् तान् गच्छत  ता  ददत्   3

pītodakā  jagdha-tṛṇā  dugdha-dohā  nirindriyāḥ

anandā  nāma te  lokās tān sa gacchata  tā  dadat.   3

Their water drunk, their grass eaten, their milk milked, their strength spent, joyless, verily, are those worlds, to which he, who presents such (cows) goes. --3


I usan nama vajasravaso'patyam. Bhattabhaskara Misra.

Cp, R.V. 'No knowledge of the god have I, a mortal.'


596 The Principal Upaniṣads I.1.5.


nirindriyḥ: without the strength to breed.

anandāḥ: auānandāḥ, asukhāḥ, joyless, Īśa 3: BU IV. 4.11. The cows which are presented are no longer able to drink, eat, give milk or calve.

Naciketas reveals here, with the enthusiasm of youth, the utter inadequacy of a formal soulless ritualism, The idea of complete surrender (sarva-vedasaṁ dadau) in the first verse should be properly mterpreted as utter dedication or complete self-giving.

True prayer and sacrifice are intended to bring the mind and will of the human being into hannony with the great universal purpose of God.


4. He said to his father, 'O Sire, to whom wilt thou give me?' For a second and a third time (he repeated) (when the father) said to him, 'Unto Death shall I give thee.'

Dr Rawson suggests that a mere boy should be so impertinent as to interfere with his doings, the father in anger said, 'Go to hell.'

The boy earnestly wishes to make himself an offering and thus purify his father's sacrifice. He does not discard the old tradition but attempts to quicken it. There can be no qwickening of the spirit until the body die.

Cp. St Paul 'Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.'

mṛtyave: unto Death Mṛtyu or Yama is the lord of death. When Vājaśravasa gives away all his goods, Naciketas feels that this involves the giving away of the son also and so wishes to know about himself. When the father replies that he will give him to Yama, it may mean that, as a true saṁnyāsin, personal relations and claims have henceforward no meaning for him. Naciketas takes his father's words hterally He in the course of his teaching points out that the psychophysical vehicles animated by the spirit are detennmed by the law of karma and subject to death. He who knows lnmself as the spirit, and not as the psychophysical vehicle is free and unmortal.  

5. Naciketas, 'Of many (sons or disciples) I go as the first, of many, I go as the middling. What duty towards Yama that (my father has to accomplish) today, does he accomphsh through me?'

Emi: gacchāmi, I go.

madhyamaḥ. middling, mṛtānām madhye. Among many who are dead. I am in the middle. I am not the last. Many others will still follow me and there is no need for lamentation.

Naciketas in sadness reflects as to what help he has to render to Yama.

Anticipatmg the teacher's or the parents' wishes and carrying them out is the way of the best pupils or sons, promptly attending to what is ordered is the next best, neglecting the orders ts the worst form of conduct of pupils or sons Naciketas belonged to the first type, at worst to the second, he was never negligent of his duty to his father.

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I.I.7. Kaṭha Upaniṣad 597  

6. 'Consider how it was with the forefathers, behold how It is with the later (men), a mortal ripens like com, and like com is born again.'  

Saṁkara makes out that Naciketas, startled by his father's words, reflected and told his father who was now in a repentant mood that he was much better than many sons, and there was nothing to be gained by going back on one's word. Naciketas reminds his father that neither his ancestors nor his contemporaries who are decent ever broke their word. After all, human life is at best transitory. Like a blade of grass man dies and is born again. Death is not all, rebirth is a law of nature. The life of vegetation on which all other life depends passes through the seasonal round of birth, growth, maturity, decay, death and rebirth. The unity of all life suggests the application of this course to human beings also. This perpetual rebirth is not an escape from the wheel of becoming into a deathless eternity. Even if we do not gain life eternal, survival is inescapable.  So the son persuades his father to keep his word and send him to Yama's abode.

Possibly Naciketas wished to know what happened to his ancestors and what will happen to his contemporanes after death.

The doctrine of rebirth is assumed here.  


7. As a very fire a Brāhmaṇa guest enters mto houses and of the people do him this peace-offering; bringwater, O Son of the Sun! 

598 The Principal Upanisads I I 9 

In the Brāhmaṇa account, Naciketas goes to Yama's house at the command of a divine voice. He waits for three nights before Death returns and shows him hospitality due to a guest.

Śaṁkara says 'Thus addressed, the father sent his son to Yama in order to keep his wor. And going to Yama's abode, be waited 'for three nights as Yama had gone out. When be returned his attendants, or perhaps his wife said to him as follows informing him (of what had taken place in his absence).'

As fire is appeased by water, so is a guest to be entertained with hospitality. The word for fire used here is Vaiśvānara, the universal fire, which affirms the unity of all life. The guest comes as the embodiment of the fundamental oneness of all beings.

8. Hope and expectation, friendship and joy, sacrifices and good works, sons, cattle and all are taken away from a person of little understanding in whose house a Brahmana remained unfed.

BU VI 4 12

sūnṛta: joy in Vedic Sanskrit, 'kindly speech' in Jaina and later Brāhmanical works.

iṣṭāpūrte: sacrifices and good works.

iṣṭam: fruit produced by sacrifice, pūrtam: fruit resulting from such works as planting gardens, etc.

'Unite thou with the fathers and with Yama with the reward of thy sacrifices and good works in highest heaven.'  


9. 'Since thou, a venerable guest, hast stayed in my house without food for three nights, I make obeisance to thee, O Brāhmaṇa, May it be well with me. Therefore, in return, choose thou three gifts.

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I.I.II. Kaṭha Upaniṣad 599 

'When the disciple is ready, the Master appears.'

tastmāt· in order to remove the evil effects of that, tasya pratīkārāya.  


10. That Gautama (my father) with allayed anxiety, with anger gone, may be gracious to me, O Death, and recognizing me, greet me, when set free by you and this, I choose as the first gift of the three.

sumanāiḥ. gracious prasanna-manāḥ. S.

pratīta: recognizing. It means 'recollected, recognizing that this is my own son come back again.'  

11. (Yama said)· 'As of old will he, recognizing thee (thy father) Auddalāki, the son of Aruṇa, through my favour will he sleep peacefully through nights, his anger gone, seeing thee released from the jaws of death.'

Auddalākir āruṇīr. Uddālaka, the son of Aruṇa The father of  Śvetaketu is also called Aruṇi C U VI.I.I

mat-Prasṛṣṭaḥ· through my favour. It may apply to the first or the second part.

In the previous verse tvat-Prasṛṣṭam is taken to mean 'set free by you', so in this verse mat-Prasṛṣṭaḥ should mean 'set free by me.'  In the nominative case in apposition to Auddalāki Ᾱruṇi, the subject which is incorrect. So S gives a different meaning, which is, however, not the obvious meaning of the phrase. If we alter it to tvat-Prasṛṣṭam, the rendering will be, 'As of old will he (thy father) Auddalāki Ᾱruṇi, recognising thee, set free by me.'  

Deussen retains the original reading but gives a different rendering: Auddalāki Ᾱruṇi will be just as before. Happy will he be, released byme (from his words).  

Charpentier identifies Naciketas with Auddalāki Ᾱruṇi. He renders the verse thus:

As of old he will be full of joy, since the son of Uddālaka Ᾱruṇi has (already) been let loose by me.' So too, Hillebrandt 'Aruṇi, son of Uddālaka, is (herewith) released by me 'Indian Antiquary (1928) pp 205, 223. 

600 The Principal Upanisads I.1.14


12. (Naciketas said) In the world of heaven there is no fear whatever; thou art not there, nor does one fear old age. Crossing over both hunger and thirst, leaving sorrow behind, one rejoices in the world of heaven.

See R V IX 113, R says that svarga is moksa.

leaving sorrow behind: sokam atītya gacchati.  

13. Thou knowest, O Death, that fire (sacrifice which is) the aid to heaven. Describe it to me, full of faith, how the dwellers in heaven gain nnmortality. This I choose, as my second boon.

svarga-lokāḥ: svargo loko yeṣāṁ te param-pada-prāptāḥ.

amṛtatvam: immortality. In svarga which is a part of the manifested universe, the immortality may be endlessness but not eternity. Whatever is manifest will sooner or later enter into that from which it emerged. Yet as the duration in svarga-loka is incalculable, the dwellers in it are said to be immortal. They may continue as long as the mamfested world does.  

14 (Yama said) Knowing well as I do, that fire (which is) the aid to heaven, I shall describe it to thee-learn it of me, O Naciketas Know that fire to be the means of attaining the boundless world, as the support (of the universe) and as abiding m the secret place (of the heart).

nikitaṁ guhāyām: abiding m the secret place (of the heart). It means literally,hidden in the cave. The cave or the hiding-place is said to be in the centre of the body.

The central purpose of the passage is to indicate that the ultimate power of the universe is also the deepest part of our being. See also I.2.12. It is one of the assumptions of the Upaniṣad writers that deep below the plane of our empirical life of imagination, will and feeling is the ultimate being of man, his true centre which remains unmoved and unchanged, even when on the surface we have the fleeting play of thoughts and emotions, hopes and desires. When we withdraw from the play of outward faculties, pass the divisions of discursive thought, we retreat into the soul, the witness spirit within.

 I.I.16. Katha Upaniṣad 601 

15. (Yama) described to him that fire (sacrifice which is) the beginning of the world (as also) what kind of bricks (are to be used in building the sacrificial altar), how many and in what manner. And he (Naciketas) repeated all that just as it had been told, then, pleased with him, Death spoke again.

Lokādi: the beginning of the world. In the R.V., Agni is identified with Prajā-Pati, the Creator, and so may be regarded as the source or origin of the world. In II 2.9 we are told that the one Fire, having entered the universe, assumed all forms B U. I 2 7 makes out that 'this fire is the arka, the worlds are its embodiment.’

S, however, interprets Lokādi as first of the worlds, as the first embodied existence prathama-śarīritvād Cp. C U where it is said that all other things evolved from fire (tejas) which was itself the first product of essential being (sat). VI 8 4  

I6. The great soul (Yama) extremely delighted, said to him (Niciketas) I give thee here today another boon. By thine own name will this fire become (known). Take also this many-shaped chain.

sṛṇkā: chain. The word occurs again in I. 2. 3, where it means a road sṛṇkā vitta-mayī, the road that leads to wealth. S gives two meanings· ratna-mayīm mālām, a necklace of precious stones, (ii) akutsitāṁ gatiṁ karma-mayīm, the straight way of works which is productive of many fruits karma-vijñānam aneka-phala-hetutvāt.

aneka-rūpām: many-shaped. While the ignorant are limited to one form, the wise, who have attained unity with the higher self, can assume many forms.  

602 The Principal Upaniṣads I.1.1 

17. He who has lit the Naciketa fire thrice, associating with the three, performs the three acts, crosses over birth and death. Knowing the son of Brahma, the omniscient, resplendent and adorable and realizing him, one obtains this everlasting peace. 

tri-ṇāciketaḥ: one who has lit the Naciketa fire thrice. S suggests an alternative: One who knows about him, studies about him and practises what he has learnt.

Tribhir etyas sandhim: associating with the three. S mentions 'father, mother and teacher,' or alternatively 'Veda, smrti and good men.'

tri-karma: three acts. S suggests 'sacrifice, study and alms-giving.'  

Brahmajājña: the knower of the universe born of Brahmā, Agni, - who is known as jāta-vedas or all-knower. S, however, takes it as, referring to Hiraṇya-garbha. For Ramanuja, the individnal Jiva is Brahma-born. He who knows him and rules his behaviour is Īvara.

nicāyya, realizing in one's own personal experience.

imāṁ śāntim: this peace. It is the peace which is felt in one's own experience.

Two tendencies which charactense the thought of the Upaniṣads appear here, loyalty to tradition and the spirit of reform. We .must repeat the rites and formulas in the way in wluch they were originally instituted. These rules which derive then- authority from their antiquity dominated men's minds. Innovations in the spirit are gradually introduced.  

I8. The wise man who has sacrificed thrice to Naciketas and who knows this three, and so knowing, performs meditation on fire throwmg off first the bonds of death and overcoming sorrow, rejoices in the world of heaven·

nāciketam: meditation on fire.  

I.1.20. Katha Upaniṣad Page 603 

19. This is thy fire (sacrifice) O Naciketas, which leading to heaven, which thou hast chosen for thy second boon. This fire (sacrifice) people will call by thy name only. Choose now, O Naciketas, the third boon.

Whoever sacrifices to Naciketas fire, knowing its nature as the fire born of Brahma, becomes verily of that nature and is not born again.

Whoever conceives the sacrificial structure of bricks as the body of fire born of Brahmā and kindles on it the sacrificial fire called Nāciketa, he becomes one with the Fire born of Brahmā and performs the sacrifice by which he is not born again.  


20. There is this doubt in regard to a man who has departed, some (holding) that he is and some that he is not I would be instructed by thee in this knowledge. Of the boons, this is the third boon.

Prete: departed. Naciketas has no doubt about survival. He has already said: 'A mortal ripens like corn and like corn is born again.'

1.6. His problem is about the condition of the liberated soul. Madhava says prete means mukte.  

nāsti: he is not. Doubts about the future of the liberated being are not peculiar to our age. In the B.U. Yājñavalkya says, the liberated soul, having passed beyond (pretya) has no more separate consciousness (saṁjñā). He is dissolved m the Absolute consciousness as a lump of salt is dissolved in water. He justifies the absence of separate consciousness to his bewildered wife Maitreyī. 'Where everything has become the one self, when and by what should we see, hear or think?' He who is liberated from the limitations of name and form, who has become one with the all, cannot be said to exist in the ordinary sense. He is not limited to a particular consciousness; nor can he be said to be non-existent, for he has attained to real being (II. 4. 12-14). The question repeatedly put to the Buddha is, 'Does the Tathāgata survive after death or does he not survive?' The Buddha refused to answer this question, holding that to say that he continues to exist would give rise to one kind of misunderstanding while to deny it would lead to others.    

Page 604

604 The Principal Upanisads 1. 1. 23.

21. (Yama said): Even the gods of old had doubt on this, point. It is not, indeed, easy to understand; (so) subtle is this truth. Choose another boon, O Naciketas. Do not press me. Release me from this.  

22. (Naciketas said:) Even the gods had doubt, indeed, as to this, and thou, O Death, sayest that it is not easy to understand. (Instruct me) for another teacher of it, like thee, is not to be got. No other boon is comparable to this at all.   

 Gods cannot have any doubts about survival; it is about the exact nature of the state of liberation which transcends the empirical state that there is uncertainty.  

23. (Yama said:) Choose sons and grandsons that shall live a hundred years, cattle in plenty, elephants, gold and horses. Choose vast expanses of land and life for thyself as many years as thou wilt.  

mahad-āyatanam: vast expanses. S suggests sovereignty over vast domains of earth. bhumeḥ Pṛthivyā mahad vistīrṇam āyatanam āśrayam maṇḍalam rājyam.

1.1.26. Kaṭha Upanisad Page 605 

24. If thou deemest (any) boon like unto this, choose (that) as also wealth and long life. O Naciketas, prosper then on this vast earth. I will make thee the enjoyer of thy desires.  

edhi: prosper. Be thou king. Rājā bhaua. S.  

25. Whatever desires are hard to attain in this world of mortals, ask for all those desires at thy will. Here are noble maidens with chariots and musical instruments: the like of them cannot be won by men. Be served by these whom I give to thee. O Naciketas, (pray) ask not about death.  

The story of the temptation by Mṛtyu occurs for the first time in the Upaniṣad and not in the account in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa. The temptation of Naciketas has points of, similarity with that related of Gautama the Buddha.  

Cp. also the temptation of Jesus.

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Naciketas is unmoved by the promises of transient pleasures and obtains from the god of death the secret of the knowledge of Brahman which carries with it the blessing of life eternal. Gautama the Buddha also rejects the offers at Māra in order to obtain true wisdom. There is this difference, however, that while Yama, when once his reluctance is overcome, himself reveals the liberating truth to Naciketas, Māra is the evil one, the tempter.  

26. (Naciketas said:) Transient (are these) and they wear out, O Yarna, the vigour of all the senses of men. All life (a full life), moreover, is brief. Thine be the chariots, thine the dance and song.  

śvobhāvāḥ: transient, existing till tomorrow, so things of a day, ephemeral. What profit has a man of these things which are evanescent?  

antaka. Yama who ends all. Even the Creator is not eternal. Saṁkara says sarvam yad brahmaṇo'pi Jīvitam āyuk alpam eva kim utāsmadādi; dīrgha-jīvikā.

Naciketas portrays the human aspiration to reach the eternal as the goal of the truest safety from the ills and anxieties of finite experience.

The Buddhist view that everything that exists is fleeting and evanescent is suggested in this verse.


Page 606. The Principal Upaniṣads 1.1.28.

 27. Man is not to be contented with wealth. Shall we enjoy wealth when we have seen thee? Shall we live as long as thou art in power?' That alone is (still) the boon chosen by me.  

Man is not to be contented with wealth. The material guarantees of human security are fragile. It is an earth-bound philosophy that makes man the end and aim of life, that recogruses no value of a transcendental character. What is the value of wealth or life, as they are impermanent? So long as death is is power we cannot enjoy wealth or life for the fear of death destroys the zest for livmg So Naciketas asks for self-knowledge, ātma-vijñānam, which is beyond the power of death.

Naciketas says that 'We shall live, so long as Yama endures.' In other words, he is certain of our continuance in this cosmic cycle presided over by Yama.

Permanence till the dissolution of the primal elements is called nnmortality.

What Naciketas is doubtful about, what Yama says, even the gods have doubts about, is in regard to the state of liberation.  

28. Having approached the undecaying immortahty, what decaying mortal on this earth below who (now) knows (and meditates on) the pleasures of beauty and love, will delight in an over-long life?  

Anyone who knows here below the joys of immortal life cannot be attracted by an earthly life of passion and speed. No one who has a foretaste of that which perishes not or changes would find pleasure in earthly delights.  

I.2.1. Kaṭha upaniṣad  Page 607 

29. Tell us that about which they doubt, O Death, what there is in the great passing-on. This boon which penetrates the mystery, no other than that does Naciketas choose.

Sāmparāya: passing-on. What is the great beyond? What is there after liberation? These questions lead naturally to others. What is the nature of eternal reality? What is man's relation to it? How can he reach it?

Naciketas has already attained svarga-loka (heaven-world) and is not raising the question of the post-mortal state. He is asking about the great departure, mahān sāmparāya, from which there is no return, which is nirupādhiśeṣa nirvāṇa according to Itvuttaka 44. Majjhima Nikāya II opposes samparāyika attha.

Knowledge of life after death is regarded as of the utmost importance See CU. V.3, 1-4 where Śvetaketu is told that he is not well instructed as he does not know about where the creatures go to from this world.  

Section 2. THE TWO WAYS 

1. (Yama said) : Different is the good, and different, indeed is the pleasant. These two, with different purposes, bind a man. Of these two, it is well for him who takes hold of the good; but he who chooses the pleasant, fails of his aim.  

After testing Naciketas and knowing his fitness for receiving Brahma~knowledge, Yama explains the great secret to him.

śrayaḥ: the good, niḥśreyasam. S. The highest good of man is not pleasure but moral goodness.

Cp Samyuta Nikāya I.4.2.6. tasmā satān ca astatañ ca nānā hoti  ito gati, saanto nirayam yanti santosaggaparāyaṇā.

Therefore do the paths of the good and the evil of this world divide, the evil go to hell but the final destniation of the good is heaven.  

In Samyuta Nikāya V. 4.5.2 instead of sagga-parāyaṇā we read nibbāṇa parāyaṇam.

In N. P Chakravarti's edition of L'Udāna (Sanskrit), Paris, 1930, p 63, we read asantaś caiva santaś ca nānā yānti tv itaś cyutāḥ, asanto narakam yānti svarga-parāyaṇāḥ.

Cp. Plato: 'In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead, the one being an innate device of pleasure, the other an acquired Judgment which aspires after excellence. Now these two principles at one time maintain harmony, while at another they are at feud within us, and now one and now the other obtains mastery.--Phaedrus.


608 The Principal Upaniṣads I 2 3 


2 Both the good and the pleasant approach a man. The wise man pondering them, discriminates. The wise  chooses the good in preference to the pleasant. The simple-minded, for the sake of worldly well-being, prefers the pleasant.

mandaḥ: the simple-minded. Cf Heraclitus 'Oxen are happy when they have peas to eat ' Fr.4 'For the best men choose one thing above all else, immortal glory above transient things.' Fr.29.

yoga-kṣema: worldly well-being.1 He adopts a materialist view of life The indispensable condition of piritual wisdom is a pure heart.

S distinguishes between the elimination of faults and the acquisition of virtues which are the results of Karma and the contemplation of the divine which is Jñāna. Cassian divides spiritual knowledge into practical and theoretic and argues that we cannot strive for the vision of God. 1f we do not shun the stains of sin. Illumination and union follow purgation or the process of self-discipline.

1 śarīrādy-upacaya-rakṣaṇa-nimittam for the sake of bodily welfare, S

Cf B.G IX.22: Bhagavadgita Verse 9:22

But those who worshipMe, mmditating on Me alone, to them who ever persevere, I bring attainment what they have not and security in what they have. Tranlsation by Dr. Radhakrishnan.

Dr. A Coomaraswamy makes out that the simple-minded prefers kṣema or well-being to yoga or contemplation, yogāc ca kṣemāc ca, taking his stand on Sutta Nipāta 2.20: 'Unlike and widely divergent are the habits of the wedded householder and the holy man without a sense of ego.' asamā ubho dūra-vihāravuttino, gihī dāraposī, amamā ca subbato. He says that this verse means that the fool prefers the ease of the householder to the hard life of the Yogi. See New Indian Antiqttary, Vol 1, pp 85-86. 

 I.2.6 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 609 

3. (But) thou, O Naciketas, has rejected (after) examining, the desires that are pleasant and seem to be pleasing. Thou hast not taken to the way of wealth, where many mortals sink (to ruin).

sṛṅkā: see I.16. If sṛṅka means chain, then majjanti should read sajjanti. The meaning then is 'Thou hast not taken to the chain of wealth in which many mortals are entangled.' The Buddha refused the wheel-jewel, cakka-ratanam, the recognised symbol of temporal power. Naciketas, by refusing all these temptations, makes out that his kingdom is not of this world. He hungers and thirsts for the eternal, in which alone he can find real satisfaction.  

4. Widely apart and leading to divergent ends are these, ignorance and what is known as wisdom. I know (thee) Naciketas, to be eager for wisdom for (even) many desires did not distract thee.

S suggests that avidyā or ignorance is concerned with the pleasant and vidyā or wisdom with the good avidyā preyo-viṣayā, vidyā śreyo-viṣayā.

avidyā kāma-karmātmikā vidyā vairāgya-tattva-jñāna-mayī. R  

5. Abiding in the midst of ignorance, wise in their own esteem, thinking themselves to be learned, fools treading a tortuous path go about like blind men led by one who is himself blind.

See also M.U. I. 2-8; Maītrī VII.9.

Cp Matthew. 'If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.' XV I4.

R wise their own esteem. Their ignorance is serenely ignorant of itself and so assumes the appearance of wisdom.


610 The Principal Upaniṣads 1. 2. 8. 

6. What lies beyond shines not to the simple-minded, careless, (who is) deluded by the glamour of wealth. Thinking 'this world exists, there is no other,' he falls again 'and again into my power.

mānī: thinking, manana-ṣīlo mānī. S.

He who is filled with selfish desires and attracted by worldly possessions becomes subject to the law of Karma which leads him from birth to birth and so he is under the control of Yama.

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7. He who cannot even be heard of by many, whom many, even hearing, do not know, wondrous is he who can teach (Him) and skilful is he who finds (Him) and wondrous is he who knows, even when instructed by the wise.

Nipuṇena ācāryeṇa anuśiṣtaḥ saḥ: even when instructed by the wise.

See B.G. VII. 3.  Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan.

BG 7:3. Among thousands of men scarcely one strives for perfection and those who strive and succeed, scarcely one knows Me in truth. –Spoken by Bhagavan Kṛṣna.

Naciketas is complimented by Yama as the seeker of final bliss is rare among men. The task is very difficult for subtle is the nature of the Self. The hidden depths of being are conceived as a great mystery. Not many have the earnest purpose: not many are able to find a proper teacher. 

8. Taught by an inferior man He cannot be truly understood, as He is thought of in many ways. Unless taught by one who knows Him as himself, there is no going thither for it is inconceivable, being subtler than the subtle.

bahudha cintyamānaḥ: thought of in many ways, or it may mean 'much meditated upon' or 'conceived of as a plurality.' while the ātman is an absolute oneness.

ananya-prokte: taught by one who knows Him as himself. This is S's rendering. He must be taught by one who is non-different, ananya, i.e. who has realised his oneness with Brahman.1 He alone can teach with the serene confidence of conviction. As a man with experience, he is lifted above sectarian disputes. It may also mean 'taught by one other than an inferior person,' i.e. a superior person who knows the truth or 'taught by another than oneself,' i.e. some teacher.

 1Cp, Eckhart: 'Some there are so simple as to think of God as if He dwelt there, and of themselves as being here. It is not so. God and I are one.' Pfeiffer's edition, p.206.


1.2.10. Kaṭha Upaniṣad 611


For Rāmānuja, the understanding, avagatiḥ, which a person gets about the self when taught by one who has realised Brahman is impossible of attainment when taught by a person of inferior capacity. Madhva means by it that it is inferior teaching when taught by a learned but unintelligent person for it has been variously understood and so is not easy of understanding. But when taught by one who sees no difference at all, there is no knowledge, not even of an inferior kind. It is subtler than an atom and so cannot be perceived. It is not to be understood by reasoning.

gatir atra nāsti: without access to a teacher there is no way to it. 'There is no going thither' may mean either there is nothing beyond the knowledge of Brahman or there is no way back from samsara or worldly becoming, saṁsāra gatiḥ.

atarkyam: inconceivable, unreachable by argument. The Supreme Self is unknowable by argument, as It is subtle, beyond the reach of the senses and the understanding based on sense data. It can be immediately apprehended by intuition.  

9· Not by reasoning is this apprehension attainable, but dearest, taught by another, is it well understood. Thou hast obtained it, holding fast to truth. May we find, Naciketas, an inquirer like thee.

Mere reason unassisted by faith cannot lead to illumination.

May we find an inquirer like thee. It is not only the pupil who is in search of the teacher, but the teacher is also in search of the pupil.  


10. I know that wealth is impermanent. Not through the transient things is that abiding (one) reached; yet by me is laid the Nāciketa fire and by impermanent means have I reached the everlasting.


612 The Principal Upaniṣads I. 2 II


By burning in the sacrifice all transient things is the eternal attained.

Some translators (e g Max Muller and Hume) attribute this verse to Naciketas. But surely Naciketas has not yet performed the sacrifice called by his name. S attributes these words to Yama who makes out that through the sacrificial fire, he has obtamed the enduring sovereignty of heaven But this sovereignty is only relatively permanent. Through the ephemeral means of Karma including sacrifices, nothing truly permanent can be achieved. The performer of the Naciketa fire will endure as long as the cosmos lasts but such endurance is not eternity, smce the cosmos with all that it contains will be absorbed into the eternal at the end of the cosmic day.  

By 'impermanent means have I reached the everlasting' What Yama has attained is thus stated by Gopāla-yatīndra: adhikārāpanno, dharmādharmaphalayoḥ, prādinena Jantūnṁ niyantṛtvam āpannaḥ. If by the symbolic worship of so unstable a thing as fire we can attain an enduring state, then the view reminds us of a verse in Blake's Auguries of Innocence.1

1To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a Wild fiower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

We have to use the means of the empiricaI world to cross it and attain to the trans-empirical….brahma-prapti-sadhana jnanoddesena anityair istakadi-dravyair naciketo'gnis citah, tasmadd hetor nitya-Phala-sadhanam Jnanam praptavan asmi. R.  

11. (Having seen) the fulfilment of (all) desire, the support of the world, the endless fruitt of rites, the other shore where there is no fear, the greatness of fame, the far-stretching, the foundation, O wise Naciketas, thou hast steadfastly let (them) go.

Before his eyes were spread out all the allurements of the world, including the position of Hiraṇya-garbha the highest state in the phenomenal world, obtained by those who worship the Supreme by sacrifice and meditation, according to S, and he has rejected them all. Here perhaps is suggested the contrast between the Vedic ideal of heaven and the Upaniṣad ideal of life eternal. The world to which the righteous go is the Brahma world. In svarga loka or heaven there      continued in the next page.



I.2.I2. Katha Upanisaii 6I3


is no fear. See Katha I.12. When we pass beyond fear we pass beyond duality, B U I.4-2 .  

The fulfilment of all desire can apply to the immortal Brahman: It is the support of the world, the ultimate. M U. III. 2.I. If this is the way we take these words, then the reference cannot be to the Vedic heaven but to eternal life or moksa.

atyasrākṣiḥ· this refers not to the rejection of eternal life but to the rejection of a false view of the objects described in this verse.

Kratu: rite or worship.

upāsanāyāḥ phalam ānantyam. S



12. Realising through self-contemplation that primal God, difficult to be seen, deeply hidden, set in the cave (of the heart), dwelling in the deep, the wise man leaves behind both joy and sorrow.  

gūḍham: deeply hidden. It is hidden because we have to get behind the senses, mind and understanding. It is the very ground of the soul The Buddhists look upon every creature as an embryo of the tathāgata, tathāgata –garbha. Every creature has the possibility of becoming a Buddha. When we get into the inner being of the spirit, we are in immediate relationship with the Eternal. This basic principle which we recognize by immediate experience or continued contemplation is the basis of human freedom. It is the principle of indeterminacy, the possibilities of determinations which are not yet. If we identify ourselves with what is determinate, we are subject to the law of determinism 'If ye are led by the spirit, ye are not under the law.'

adhyātma-yoga: self-contemplation. S adhyātma means pertaining to the self as distinct from adhibūta, pertaining to the material elements and adhidaiva, pertaining to the deities Adhyātma-yoga is yoking with one's essential self. It is the practice of meditation, a quiet, solitary sustained effort to apprehend truth which is different from the ordinary process of cerebration.

Yarna answers Naciketas's question raised in I.29 about the mysterious divine being hidden behind the phenominal world in the depths of one's own being, which is difficult of access by ordinary means and yet is open to spiritual contemplation. Yama, in different ways and phrases, brings out the impenetrable mystery of the inmost reality which is the object of search. If the Brahma world is the fulfilment of all desires, this eternal bliss is obtained by the renunciation of all desires, while brahma-loka is the highest place of the manifested cosmos, its farthest limit, there is the eternal beyond it.

devam: God See S U. I.3, Maitrī VI.23

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614 The Principal Upaniṣads I. 2 14. 

13. Hearing this and comprehending (it), a mortal, extracting the essence and reaching the subtle, rejoices, having attained the source of joy. I know that such an abode is wide open unto Naciketas.

Dharmyam: the essence. We must extract its essential nature, discern its real character

aṇum: subtle. sūkṣmam. S

modanīyam: the source of joy. The deepest being is the highest value. To attain Him is to gain supreme, abiding bliss. It is not merging in a characterless absolute, where all feeling fades out.

vivṛtaṁ sadma: the abode is wide open.

Naciketas can get released from his house of life, body and mind. Cp the words of the Buddha 'Never agam shalt thou, O builder of houses, make a house for me, broken are all thy beams, thy ridgepole shattered.'

Yama says that Naciketas is fit for salvation, mokṣārham. S.

It is suggested that the three steps of śravaṇa (śrutva), manana (samparigṛahya) and nididhyāsana (pravṛhya) are mentioned in this verse and these lead to ātma-darśana or ātma-sākṣāt-kāra (āpya).  

14 (Naciketas asks) Tell me that which thou seest beyond right and wrong, beyond what is done or not done, beyond past and future.

what is done or not done:

S says effect and cause. kṛtam kāryam, akṛtam kāraṇam.

Cp. T U where it is said that the knower is not vexed with the thought 'why have I not done the good? why have I done the evil? (II.9)

beyond past and future: the eternal is a 'now' without duration.


 2.15 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 615


Naciketas asks for an account of that deepest reality and of all extraneous externalities, the real which is deeper than all the happenings of time. yad idrsam vastu sarva-vyavahara-gocaratitam pasyasi Janasi tad vada mahyam. S



15. (Yama says) That word which all the Vedas declare, which all the austerities proclaim, desiring which (people) live the life of a religious student, that word, to thee, I shall tell in brief. That is Aum.  

See SU. IV 9; BG. VIII.11.

Bhagavdgita Verse 8:11. Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan

I am the strength of the strong, devoid of desire and passion. In beings am I the desire which is not contrary to law, O Lord of the Bharatas (Arjuna).

Pada: word S means by it goal padanīyam, gamanīyam. The Supreme ts the goal of all revelation, of all religious practices and austerities. Āmanati avibāgena pratipādayanti.

brahmacarya· the life of a religious student. It is referred to in R.V.X 109 and described in Atharva veda XI.5. It lasts for twelve years but may be longer. Śvetaketu was a brahmacārin from 12 to 24. The student is expected to live in the house of his teacher, wait on him, tend his house and cattle, beg for his own and his master's food, look after the sacrificial fires and study the Veda.Detiled rules for brahmacarya are given m the Gṛhya Sūtra.

Ᾱśvalāyana says that a brahmacārin is required to be chaste, obedient, to drink only water and not sleep in the daytime I.22, I.2. Brahmacarya has come to mean continence and self-restraint.

Aum is the praṇava, which, by the time of the Upaniṣads, is charged with the sigrnficance of the entire universe. Deussen is certainly incorrect when he observes: 'essentially it was the unknowableness of the first principle of the universe, the Brahman, and the impossibility of expressing it by word or illustration, which compelled the choice of something so entirely rneaningless as the symbol Aum as a symbol of Brahman.' The word first occurs m the Taittirīya Saṁhitā of the Black Yajur Veda,, where it is called the praṇava and indicates, according to Keith, the prolongation of the last syllable of the offering verse uttered by the hotṛ, In the Brāhmaṇas, It occurs more frequently as a response by the Adhvaryu to each Ṛg Vedic verse uttered by the hotṛ meaning, 'yes,' so be it, answering to the Christian 'Amen.'  

In the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa V. 32, aum is treated as a mystic syllable representing the essence of the Vedas and the universe.  

616 The Principal Upaniṣads I.2.19 

It is the symbol of the manifested Brahman (waking, dream and dreamless sleep) as well as the unmanifested beyond See Mā U. IV.32  

16. This syllable is, verily, the everlasting spirit. This syllable, indeed, is the highest end, knowing this very syllable whatever anyone desires will, indeed, be his.'

S makes out that Brahmā is the lower Brahman and Param, the higher. Whatever one may desire, the lower or the higher Brahman, one’s desire will be fulfilled.  

17. This support is the best (of all). This support is the highest; knowing this support, one becomes great in the world.

He attains Brahman, the higher, brahma eva lokaḥ, or the world of Brahman, the lower, 'Brahmaṇaḥ lokaḥ.




18. The knowing self is never born; nor does he die at any time. He sprang from nothing and nothing sprang from him. He is unborn, eternal, abiding and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

See BG II.20.  Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan

Bhagavad gita Verse 2:20. He is never born, nor does he die at any time, nor having (once) come to be will he again cease to be. He is unborn, ethernal, permanent and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

Erson’s Brahma:

“If the red slayer thinks he slays,

Or if the slain think he is slain,

They know not well the subtle ways

I keep and pass and turn again.”

The Kaṭha vipaścit becomes in the Gītā, kadācit medhāvin: Śayana RV IX 86.44

The self constitutes the inner reality of each individual. It is without a cause and is changeless. When it knows itself as the spirit and ceases to know of itself as bound up with any name or form (nāma-rūpa) it realises its true nature

purāṇaḥ: primeval, new even in old times, purā api navaḥ, or devoid of growth, vṛddhī-vivarjitaḥ.



I.2.20 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 617


19. If the slayer thinks that he slays or if the slain think that he is slain, both of them do not understand. He neither slays nor is he slain.

See BG II.I9 Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan.

Bhagavadgita Verse 2.19: He who thinks that this slays and he who thinks that this is slain; both of them fail to perceive the truth; this one is neither slays nor is slain.

Here is the answer to the question of Naciketas about the mystery of death. The self is eternal and death does not refer to it.


20. Smaller than the small, greater than the great, the self is set in the heart of every creature. The unstriving man beholds Him, freed from sorrow. Through tranquillity of the mind and the senses (he sees) the greatness of the self.

aṇor aṇiyān: smaller than the small, smaller than the minute atom. When the self is thought of as a psychical principle, its smallness is emphasized. See also II 2.3 where it is said to be 'the dwarf' and Il.I. 12 where it is described as 'thumb-sized. In these cases, the old animistic language is used. When it is thought of as cosmic, its vastness is emphasized.1  

a-kratuḥ: unstriving man. He who is free from desire for external objects, earthly or heavenly, which distract the soul and distort its vision. S adopts this view. He will, however, have the desire for salvation, mumukṣutva. The Upaniṣad insists on the absence of strife or anxiety and refers to the man whose will is at peace.2

dātu-prasādāt: through the tranquillity of the mind and the senses.  

1  Cp. C U (III.14.3) where it is said to be greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than all these worlds. Cp Dionysius, De Div. nom IX.2.3. 'Now God is called great in his peculiar Greatness which giveth of itself to all things that are great and is poured upon all magnitude from outside and stretches far beyond it. Thts Greatness is infinite, without quantity and without number.'  

And Smallness or Rarity is attributed to God's nature because He is outside all solidity and distance and penetrates all things without let or hindrance. This smallness is without quantity or quality, it is infinite, unlimited, and while comprehending all things, is itself incomprehensible.' Quoted by Ananda Coomaraswamy in New India Antiquary, Vol.I, P.97. 

2CP.  Rawson: 'Christian ataraxia, the untroubled peace of true faith, of trust which leads to vision is taught very emphatically by Jesus in the passage in John IV beginning “Let not your hearts be troubled," and in the sermon on the Mount with its repeated warning against anxious striving as a hindrance in the way of entrance into the kingdom of heaven.'  Kaṭha Upaniṣad (1934), P.107.

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618 The Principal Upaniṣads I.2.22.


V dhātuḥ Prasādāt, through the grace of the Creator. The vision comes through the tranquillity of the senses and the mind accordmg to the reading adopted by S. According to the other reading, the vision is reached by the grace or self-revelation of the Creator God. If the second reading is adopted it will be a clear statement of the doctrine of Divine grace which was developed in the Ś.U.III.20.  


21. Sitting, he moves far, lymg he goes everywhere Who, save myself, is fit to know that god who rejoices and rejoices not?

See Īśa 4 and 5.

By these contradictory predicates, the impossibility of concerning Brahman through empirical determinations is brought out. viruddha-dharmavān. S. Brahman has both the sides of peaceful stability and active energizing. In the former aspect He is Brahman; in the latter Īsvara. The latter is an active marufestation of the absolute Brahman, and not an illusory one as some later Advaita Vedāntins suggest.  

22. Knowing the self who is the bodiless among bodies, the stable among the unstable, the great, the all-pervading, the wise man does not grieve.

The wise man who knows that his self, though now embodied and subject to change, is one with the imperishable ommpresent Self, has no cause for grief. He goes beyond all fear and sorrow.  

I.2.23 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 6I9 


23. This self cannot be attained by instruction, nor by intellectual power, nor even through much hearing. He is to be attained only by the one whom the (self) chooses. To such a one the self reveals his own nature.  

See MU.III.2.3.

Pravacanena: aneka-veda-svīkaraṇena or vyākhyānena.

Medhayā: granthārtha-dhāraṇa-ṣaktyā or svakīya-prajñā-balena.

While the Supreme Self is difficult to know and is unknowable by unaided intellect, He is knowable through His own self-revelation to the man whom He chooses. This view looks upon the Supreme Self as personal God and teaches a doctrine of divine grace.  

When we contemplate God in a passive condition without any images or concepts derived from authority or instruction, a supernatural light darts into the soul and draws it towards itself. We can acquire the fruits of the more elementary contemplation by self-discipline and prayer, by practice in recollection, introversion. When we rise in contemplation, when there is the vision of the Supreme which is entirely beyond the power of the soul to prepare for or bring about, we feel that it is wholly the operation of God working on the soul by extraordinary grace. In a sense all life is from God, all prayer is made by the help of God's grace but the heights of contemplation which are scaled by few are attributed in a special degree to drivine grace. If the indwelling of God in the souls is a reality, this very indwelling takes us to the supernatural. If man becomes aware of God's presence in the soul, it is due to God's own working in the soul. It is beyond the power of unassisted nature. Those who are familiar with the Pelagian controversy will know that this consciousness of divine grace is a fact of religious experience. Human nature feels so weakened that it is helpless of itself to help itself. If a man is to escape from himself as he actually is and reach the perfection for which he is made, he needs a transforming force within. The seeker feels that this force issues not out of his own natural self but enters into him from beyond.  

Here the natural is equated with the creaturely but the fulness of human nature includes the divine working in it.  

Cp. 'Thy counsel who hath known, except thou give wisdom and send thy Holy Spirit from above.' Wisdom of Solomon IX.I7.

620 The Principal Upaniṣads I.2.24 

Cp. St Paul: 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure ' Epistle to the Philippians 2.12-13. Cp. 'If thou askest how may these things be, interrogate grace and not doctrine, desire and not knowledge, the groaning of prayer rather than study, the spouse rather than the teacher, God and not man, mist rather than clarity, not light but fire all aflame and bearing on to God by devotion and glowing affection ' St Bonaventura. Itinerary of the Mind, quoted from H.O. Taylor's Mediaeval Nind 3rd ed, Vol II, pp. 448. '  

S, however, gives a different interpretation by an ingenious exegesis 'Him alone whom he chooses by that same self is his own self obtainable. ' The self reveals its true character to one that seeks it exclusively.  

24. Not he who has not desisted from evil ways, not he who is not tranquil, not he who has not a concentrated mind, not even he whose mind is not composed can reach this (self) through right knowledge.

Saving wisdom cannot be obtained without the moral qualifications here mentioned No one can realize the truth without illumination, and no one can have illumination without a thorough cleansing of one's moral being. See also: MU. III. I.5, III.1.8; Cp. BU· 4.4.23. So long as we are indulgent to our vices, so long as we pine away with hatred and ill will to others, we cannot get at true knowledge. The classical division of spiritual life into purgation, illumination and union gives the first place to ethical preparation, which is essential for the higher degrees of spiritual life: Moral disorder prevents us from fixing our gaze on the Supreme. Until our mind and heart are effectively purged, we can have no clear vision of God. It follows that man's effort is essential to grasp grace and profit by it. Grace is not irresistible. It is open to us to accept or reject it. Election by God referred to in the previous verse is not to be interpreted as fostering fatalism or predestination, though the religious seer feels that even in the first movement of the soul towards wisdom, the effort at purgation, the prime mover is God.

This verse gives the lie direct to the suggestion sometimes made that the spiritual and the ethical are not organically connected. If we wish to attain the spiritual, we cannot bypass the ethical.


I.3.I. Kaṭha Upaniṣad 621


25. He for whom priesthood and nobility both are as food and death is as a sauce, who really knows where he is?

CP. RV. XI.129. Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it? Whence it was born and whence come this creation?

Anyone lacking the qualifications mentioned m the previous verse cannot understand the nature of the Supreme, which contains the whole world. Death leads to the reabsorption into the Supreme of the entire world in which the Brāhmaṇas and the Kṣatriyas hold the highest place.

odanaḥ: food for the body.

Even Death is absorbed in the Eternal. B U. I.2.I

Upasecanam: sauce. (juice or anything poured)

We cannot know where the Omnipresent Spirit is any more than we can know where the liberated individual is, for they are not in any one place. 

Section 3 TWO SELVES 

1. There are two selves that drink the fruit of Karma in the world of good deeds. Both are lodged in the secret place (of the heart), the chief seat of the Supreme. The knowers of Brahman speak of them as shade and light as also (the householders) who maintain the five sacrificial fires and those too who perform the triple Naciketas fire.

It has been said already that the Eternal Reality which is greater than anything this world or the celestial offers can be reached by meditation on one's own inner self and not by ordinary empirical knowledge. This section continues the account of the way in which the Supreme Self may be known. This verse makes out that meditation on the inner self leads to the knowledge of the Supreme because the latter dwells in close fellowship with the individual self in the cave of the human intelligence. R. 'There are two drinking,' etc. shows that, 'as the object of devout meditation and the devotee abide together, meditation is easily performed ' R.B. I.4.6.  

622 The Principal Upaniṣads I.3.2 

ṛtam: Karma. Ṛta signifies the divinely established order of the universe, both natural and moral. It here refers to the divine order connecting deeds with their results. S means by it 'the truth because it is the inescapable fruit of action ' ṛtaṁ satyam avaśyam bhāvitvāt karma phalam. S.

Sukṛtasya: of good deeds: of their own deeds. sva-kṛtasya

The two referred to here are the individual soul and the Supreme self, Cp. M.U. III.1.10; Ś.U. IV. 6 and 7, which go back to RV.1.64.20. Śayaṇa, commenting on this verse, says that the reference is to the two forms of the atman, the individual soul (Jīvātman) and the universal (Paramātman). But how can the self which is represented as looking on without eating, be treated as experiencing the rewards of deeds? S R, and Śrīnivāsa in his commentary on Nimbārka argue that it is loose usage of chattri-nyāya. When two men walk under an umbrella, we say there go the umbrella-bearers. Madhva is more to the point when he quotes Bṛhat Saṁhitā and says, 'The Lord Hari dwells in the heart of beings and accepts the pure pleasure arising from their good works.' The Supreme in its cosmic aspect is subject to the chances and changes of times. Īsvara as distinct from Brahman participates in the processes of the world.

Madhva finds support in this verse for his doctrine of the entire disparateness of the individual and the universal souls.

parame parārdhe: the chief seat of the Supreme. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us. It is in the deepest reaches of the soul that the human soul holds fellowship with God.

chāyā-tapau: shade and light, shadow and glowing or bright.

pañcāgnayaḥ: those who maintain the five sacrificial fires.

All this indicates that while meditation is the way to saving knowledge, due performance of the ordained sacrifices gives us a measure of spiritual understanding.

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2. That bridge for those who sacrifice, and which is the highest imperishable Brahman for those who wish to cross over to the farther fearless shore, that Naciketa fire, may we master.  

Setu: bridge Cp. CU. VIII. 4.4. B.U. IV. 4.22. aja ālmā eṣa setuḥ M. U II. 2. 5. It is that by which we pass from time to eternity. In the beginning, it is said that the sky and earth were one. They became separated by an intervening river or sea of time and space, saṁsāra-sāgara. Each one of us, here on earth, wishes to find his way to the farther shore by a ladder or a bridge. If we think of a ladder, the way (panthā) is upward (ūrdhvam); if we think of a bridge, the way is across. That which takes us across to the other shore is the immanent spiritual self which is at once the way and the goal The bridge holds the worlds apart and also unites them. See B.U IV. 4.22, VIII. 4.1.


I.3.3 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 623


In Buddhist texts, the way from the vortex of existence, saṁsāra to the extinction of life's fires, nirvāṇa is the eightfold path. 'I am the way,' John XIV 6. He who calls himself the way appeared to St Catherine of Siena 'in the form of a bridge extending from Heaven to Earth over which all mankind had to pass.' See Dona Luisa Coomaraswamy- The Perilous Bridge. Harvard journal of Asiatic Studies, August 1944.  

Two ways of crossing the river of saṁsāra are indicated, the performance of the Vedic sacrifices, which leads to the heaven of the gods and the knowledge of Brahman. The first prepares the way for the second, on the path of gradual liberation of krama-mukti. B.U. IV.4.22   


3. Know the Self as the lord of the chariot and the body as, verily, the chariot, know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind as, verily, the reins.

आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथम् एव तु:

बुद्धिं तु सारधिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहम् एव च. Verse 1.3.3

ātmānaṁ rathinaṁ viddhi śarīraṁ ratham eva tu:

buddhiṁ tu sāradhiṁ viddhi manaḥ pragraham eva ca. Verse 1.3.3

The idea of the self riding in the chariot which is the psychophysical vehicle is a familiar one See also Jātaka VI. 242. The chariot with its sensitive steeds represents the psycho-physical vehicle in which the self rides. In Maitrī IV.4, the embodied self is spoken of as rathita or 'carted' and thus subjected to the conditions of mortality. Mind holds the reins. It may either control or be dragged by the team of the senses. Rumi in his Mathnawī says: 'The heart has pulled' the reins of the five senses' (I. 3275). The conception of yoga derived from the root Yuj to yoke, to harness, to join is connected with the symbolism of the chariot and the team. Yoga is the complete control of the different elements of our nature, psychical and physical and harnessing them to the highest end. See Plato: Phaedo 24-28, Phaedrus 246f. In spite of difference in details, Kaṭha Upaniṣad and Plato agree m lookmg upon intelligence as the ruling power of the soul (called buddhi or vijñāna by the Upaniṣad and nous by Plato) and aiming at the integration of the different elements of human nature. Cp. Republic (IV. 433): 'The just man sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and at peace with himself, and when he has bound together the three Principles within him (i.e reason, emotion and the sensual appetites) and is no longer many but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he will proceed to act, if he has to act, whether in

state affairs or in private business of his own.'  

624 The Principal Upaniṣads I.3.9 

4. The senses, they say, are the horses, the objects of sense the paths (they range over), (the self) associated with the body, the senses and the mind wise men declareis the enjoyer,

The atman (self) is compared to the owner of a chariot (rathin) the body being the chariot (ratha), buddhi or intellect is the driver (sārathi), the horses are said to be the senses (indriyāṇi), manas is the rein (pragraha) by which the intellect controls the senses.


Indriyāṇi hayān āhur viṣayāṁs teṣu gocarān

ātmendriya-mano-yuktam bhoktety āhur manīṣiṇaḥ. I.3.4

इन्द्रियाणि हयान् आहुर् विषयांस् तेषु गोचरान्

आत्मेन्द्रिय‍-मनो-‍युक्तम् भोक्तेत्य् आहुर् मनीषिणः.


5. He who has no understanding, whose mind is always unrestrained, his senses are out of control, as wicked horses are for a charioteer.  

6. He, however, who has understanding, whose mind is always restrained, his senses are under control, as good horses are for a charioteer.

यस् तु विज्ञानवान् भवति, युक्तेन मनसा सदा,

तस्येन्द्रियाणि वश्यानि सदश्वा इव सारथेः.

yas tu vijñānavān bhavati, yuktena manasā sadā,

tasyendriyāṇi vaśyāni sadaśvā iva sāratheḥ. Verse Kaṭha Upa. I.3.6

सद् = sad: good, well-trained. Sad is pronounced as sud. 

7. He, however, who has no understanding, who has no control over his mind (and is) ever impure, reaches not that goal but comes back into mundane life.  

saṁsāram mundane life, the world of becoming characterized by life and death. janma-maraṇa-lakṣaṇam. S.  

8. He, however, who has understanding, who has control over his mind and (is) ever pure, reaches that goal from which he is not born again.  

9. He who has the understanding for the driver of the chariot and controls the rein of his mind, he reaches the end of the joumey, that supreme abode of the all-pervading.  

viṣṇu: all-pervading. tad viṣṇoh vyāpana-śīlasya brahmaṇaḥ paramātmano vāsudevākhyasya. S. The name is used for the Supreme Self. The development of this idea is taken up in the B.G. and the later Bhāgavata religion. See RV I:154, 5; I. 22. 20, where Viṣṇu, a deity of the solar group, is conceived as the giver of light and life.

I.3.11 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 625


10. Beyond the senses are the objects (of the senses) and beyond the objects is the mind; beyond the mind is the understanding and beyond the understanding is the great self.

ātmā mahān: the great self.

S means by it the great soul of the universe said to be the firstborn of avyakta, the unmanifest. According to the R.V (X.121) in the beginning was the chaos of waters, floating on which appeared Hiraṇya-garbha. the golden germ, the first born of creation and the creator of all other human beings. Hiraṇya-garbha is the soul of the universe RV. X.129.2.

When the golden light of Puruṣa is cast on all the rich content of Prakṛti, we have the manifestations from crude matter to the divinities in paradise.1

For R, mahān ātmā is the individual self kartṛ, which is indwelt by the highest self. RB. I. 4. 1.

1Cp. Deussen: 'We know that the entire objective universe is possible only insofar as it is sustained by a knowing subject. This subject as the Sustainer of the objective universe is manifested in all individual subjects but is by no means identical with them. For the Individual subjects pass away, but the objective universe continues to exist without them; there exists therefore the eternal knowing subject (Hiraṇya-garbha) also by whom it is sustained. The Philosophy of Upaniṣads, P.201.  

11. Beyond the great self is the unmanifest; beyond the unmanifest is the spirit. Beyond the spirit, there is nothing. That is the end (of the journey), that is the final goal.

avyakta· unmanifest. It is beyond mahat, it is prakṛti, the universal mother from out of which by the influence of the light of Puruṣa, all form and all content emerge into manifestation.  

S calls avyakta, māyā, avidyā. While Puruṣa subject, and prakṛti, object are co-ordinate principles at the stage of cosmic creation,

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626 The Principal Upaniṣads I.3.11.

while their inter-action is essential for all manifestation, Puruṣa is considered to be higher as he is the source of light and his unity appears nearer to the ultimate one than the multiplicity of prakṛti strictly speaking; however, the Pure Self is beyond the descriptions of unity, duality and multiplicity.  

For Rāmānuja, avyakta is the body or the chariot. It is called avyakta because the subtle body and not the gross body is referred to. While there is agreement between S and Rāmānuja, on the point, S proceeds to say that the subtle body has avidyā or ignorance for its cause and therefore belongs to the world of māyā 'Māyā is properly called undeveloped or non-manifested since it cannot be defined as that which is or that which is not.' S B I 4 3. By avyakta, S means not the prakṛti of the Sāṁkhya but the māyā-śakti, which is responsible for the whole world including the personal God. For Rāmānuja, avyakta denotes Brahman in its causal phase, when names and forms are not yet distinguished. It is a real mode, prakāra or development, paṛināma of Brahman through which the universe is evolved RB I.4.23-27.  

Madhva observes that 'the word avyakta which primarily denotes the Supreme Lord alone also denotes the other (matter), for it is dependent on Him and like unto a body of the Lord ' Sūtra Bhāṣya I.4.i.

Puruṣān na paraṁ kiñcit: beyond the Spirit there is nothing.

The term Puruṣa goes back to the Puruṣa Sūkta (R V X 90) and is distinctly personal in significance.

Puruṣa is the subject side of that within which are both subject and object, the light of unity and the darkness of multiplicity. We do not reach it, until the end of the cosmic day. So we can say that there is nothing beyond the Puruṣa.

 In these two verses, we find a hierarchy of principles or beings which have later acquired highly technical significations. We are asked to pass from outward nature to the one world-ground, avyakta, and from it to the spirit behind. Between the two, Puruṣa and prakṛti, a certain priority is given to Puruṣa, for it is the light of puruṣa's consciousness that is reflected on all objects of the manifested universe high or low, gross or subtle. From the sense world where the senses reveal their objects, we pass to the dream world where manas or mind operates independent of the senses. From this latter we pass to the world of dreamless sleep where the unmanifest prakṛti becomes the divine mother. Those who are absorbed in prakṛti, those who have attained to the state of prakṛti-laya have the bliss and freedom of dreamless sleep, but it is not the illuminated freedom that we seek. For that, we must get to the Puruṣa, who is the source of all.

Cp Pseudo Dionysius: 'Do thou, in the intent practice of mystic contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the  

I.3.13 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 627


intellect, and all things that the senses or the intellect can perceive, and all things which are not and things which are, and strain upwards in unknowing as far as may be towards the union with Him who is above all being and knowledge. For by unceasing and absolute withdrawal from thyself and all things in purity, abandoning all and set free from all, thou wilt be borne up to the ray of the Divine Darkness that surpasseth all being.' Mystical Theology, I.  

Mahat, avyakta and puruṣa are terms used by the Sāṁkhya philosophy. Avyakta is the prakṛti or pradhāna. When its equilibrium is disturbed by the influence of Puruṣa. the evolution or sṛṣṭi or the manifest world starts, and this evolution consists of twenty-three principles. Mahat, the great principle, buddhi or intelligence, ahaṁkāra self-sense, principle of individuation from which issue manas, the central, co-ordinatory sense-organ, 5-9. five buddhīndriyas or sense organs, l0-14, five karmendriyas or organs of action, 15-19, five tanmātras, or subtle elements, 20-24, five sthūla-bhūtas or gross elements. Puruṣa is the twenty-fifth, is totally distinct in nature from all others, neither producing nor produced, though by its influence on prakṛti, it causes the evolution of the manifest world.

The account in the Kaṭha Up. is different from the classical Sāṁkhya in many respects; there is no mention of ahaṁ-kāra or self-sense, though it is true that the distinction between buddhi and ahaṁ-kāra, intellect and individuation is not a material one.

While the Sāṁkhya identifies buddhi and mahat, the Upaniṣad distinguishes them.

The Puruṣa of the dualistic Sāṁkhya is not beyond the avyakta or Prakṛti but is a co-ordinate principle.

It is doubtful whether avyakta refers to the prakṛti of the Sāṁkhya.

See S.B I 4.1. The Upaniṣad account gives certain Sāṁkhya ideas in a theistic setting.



I2. The Self, though hidden in all beings, does not shine forth but can be seen by those subtle seers, through their sharp and subtle intelligence.

We must direct a serene and straight look at the Divine object. It is samyag-darśana which is quite different from occult visions or Physical ecstasies.  

13. The wise man should restrain speech in mind; the latter he should restrain in the understanding self. The understanding he should restrain in the great self. That he should restrain in the tranquil self.  


628 The Principal Upaniṣads I.3.15 

Jñānātman is the buddhi of I.3.II.

Puruṣa answers to the Śāntātman. The soul must go beyond all images in the mind, all workings of the intellect, and by this process of abstraction, the soul is rapt above itself and flows into God in whom are peace and fullness. The process of recollection and introversion is stated here. By shutting out all external things and emptying it of all distracting thoughts, the mind is enabled to concentrate on its own highest or deepest part. Cp Bishop Ullathorne: 'Let it be plainly understood that we cannot return to God unless we enter first into ourselves. God is everywhere but not everywhere to us. There is but one point in the universe where God communicates with us, and that is the center of our own soul. There He waits for us. There He meets us, there He speaks to us. To seek Him therefore we must enter into our own interior.'1

1 Groundwork of Christian Virtues, p 74. 

The wise disciple should discriminate the unchanging light, the ātman, from the changing objects of sense and mind which it illumines, an-ātman. The technique for attaining the spiritual consciousness requires the soul to stand clear of all concepts and enter into its own depth.  

14 Arise, awake, having attained thy boons, understand (them). Sharp as the edge of a razor and hard to cross, difficult to tread is that path (so) sages declare.

prāpya varān: having attained the boons. S means by it 'approaching the best of teachers ' prāpya upagamya, varān prakṛstān ācāryān.

Cp. Hitopadeśa: Idleness is the great enemy of man, ālasyaṁ hi manuṣyāṇām śarīrastho mahā-ripuḥ.

sharp as the edge of a razor: The way of religion is never easy. It is steep and hard. There can be no progress m religious life without self-control. Only the clean in heart shall see God. Self-discipline is the first step m spiritual training.

Cp. Jesus: 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for narrow is the gate and straitened the way that leads to life, and few be they that find it ' Matthew VII.14

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I.3.7 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 629


I5. aśabdam asparśam arūpam avyayam tathā arasaṁ nityam agandhavac ca yat

anādy anantam mahataḥ paraṁ dhruvaṁ nicāyya tam mṛtyu-mukhāt pramucyate.

अशब्दम् अस्पर्शम् अरूपम् अव्ययम् तथा अरसं नित्यम् अगन्धवच् च यत्

अनाद्य् अनन्तम् महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तम् मृत्यु-मुखात् प्रमुच्यते

I.3.15 Kaṭha Upaniṣad

15. (The self) without sound, without touch and without form, undecaying, is likewise, without taste, eternal, without smell, without beginning, without end, beyond the great, abiding, by discerning that, one is freed from the face of death.

The atman is not an object of any sort but is the eternal subject. We hear, touch, see, feel and think by the atman. By withdrawing from all outward things, by retreating into the ground of our own soul, in the remotest depth of the soul, we find the Infinite. There the Self is raised above all empirical concepts of sound, touch, form, etc.  

16 This ancient story of Naciketas, told by Death, telling and hearing (it), a wise man grows great in the world of Brahma.  

17. Whoso shall cause to be recited this supreme secret before an assembly of Brāhmaṇas or devoutly at the time of the ceremonies for the dead, this will prepare (for him) everlasting life, this will prepare everlasting life.

This seems to be the appropriate ending of the Upaniṣad and the second chapter with the three sections, is, perhaps, a later addition.  

630 The Principal Upaniṣads II.1.1 

CHAPTER II.  Section I 


I. The Self is not to be sought through the senses. The Self-caused pierced the openings (of the senses) outward, therefore one looks outward and not within oneself. Some wise man, however, seeking life eternal, with his eyes turned inward, saw the self.  

Vyatṛṇat: pierced. The Self-caused has so set the openings of the soul that they open outwards and men look outward into the appearances of things but the rare soul ripe for spiritual wisdom withdraws his attention from the world, turns his eye inward, sees the Self and attains immortality. S makes out that he cursed or injured them by turning them outward, hiṁsitavān hananaṁ kṛtvān. Such observations which are disparaging to the legitimate use of the senses give the impression of the unworldly character of much of our best effort. S's opinion is opposed to the view set forth in the previous section that senses are like horses, which will take us to our goal, if properly guided. The Upaniṣad calls for the control and not the suppression of the senses. Spiritual search has an inward movement leading to the revelation of the Divine in the inmost soul. It is this aspect which is stressed in this verse.1 We generally lead outward lives; to have a vision of truth we must turn our gaze inward. See S U III.18, we must bring about an inversion of the natural orientation of our consciousness.  

svayambūḥ: self-caused Cp. Causa sui of Neoplatonism. That which causes itself or produces itself is different from the unproduced, the uncaused. It is the Creator God and not the uncaused Brahman. See Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa I.9.3.10, Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa III. B V II 6. 3, IV 6 3, VI 5.4

āvaṛtta-cakṣuḥ: eyes turned inward. We close our eyes to the phenomenal variety and turn them inward to the noumenal reality.

1It were a vain endeavour

Though I should gaze for ever

On that green bght which lingers m the west;

I may not hope from outward forms to win

The passion and the life whose fountains arc within Coleridge.  

11.1.2   Kaṭha Upaniṣad   631 

The soul is like an eye. When the eye rests on the perishing things of the world, it does not know the truth of things. When it turns inward and rests on truth and being, it perceives truth.  

Plato speaks of the object of education as a 'turning around of the soul ' In the famous simile of the cave Plato compares those who are destitute of philosophic wisdom to prisoners in a cave who are able only to look in one direction. They are bound and have a fire behind them and a wall m front. They see shadows of themselves and of objects behind them cast on the wall by the light of the fire. They regard these shadows as real and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last some wise man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun. He sees real things and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows.  

Cp. Phaedo: 'The soul, when using the body as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or hearing or some other sense... is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable and wanders and is confused. But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity and eternity and immortality, and unchangeableness which are her kindred and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom.'  

Descartes points to the necessity of turning away from external appearances and using to the spiritual realities which self-knowledge reveals. Only while the author of the Upaniṣad requires us to rise above intellection into insight when we will be imbued with the truth already present in the soul, Descartes asks us to strive to know the truth through reason. 

The Upaniṣad points out that God is more manifest in the soul of man than min the world outside it, therefore, demands a conversion of the spirit on itself.  

2. The small-minded go after outward pleasures. They walk into the snare of widespread death. The wise, however, recognizing life eternal do not seek the stable among things which are unstable here.1 

1 Cp the Christian hymn:

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;

Earth's Joys grow dim, its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou Who changest not, abide with me.  

632  The Principal Upaniṣads  II.I. 6 

3. That by which (one perceives) form, taste, smell, sounds and touches of love, by that alone one perceives. What is there that remains (unknown to it)? This, verily, is that.  

Everything is known by the Self and there is nothing which is unknowable to it sarvam evatvātmanā vijñeyam, yasyātmano' vijñeyam na kiñcit pariśiṣyate, sa ātmā sarvajñaḥ. S Though the Self is not manifest as an object, it is ever present in all experience as the subject. It is the ground of every possibility of thought, of every act of knowledge. As Ś says, it is self-proven, svasiddha, for even he who denies it presupposes it.  

4. That by which one perceives both dream states and waking states, having known (that as) the great, omnipresent Self, the wise man does not grieve.

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Svapnāntam: dream states. Literally dream-end. It is sometimes suggested that at the end of a dream, before it is waking or sleeping we catch the self which is the pure subject. It is the state when we dream that we dream.  


5. He who knows this Self, the experiencer as the living spirit close at hand as the lord of the past and the future—one does not shrink away from Him This, verily, is that.  

madhv-ada: experiencer. Literally, honey-eater, 'the enjoyer of the fruit of action ' karma-phala-bhujam. S.  

6. He who was born of old from austerity was born of old from the waters, who stands, having entered the secret place (of the heart) and looked forth through beings. This, verily, is that.  

The text refers to Hiraṇya-garbha, who is mentioned in several Upaniṣads. There is no suggestion here of the unreality of the cosmic evolution.

adbhyaḥ: the waters which refer to the mūla-prakṛti, the aspect of the Supreme Spirit which remains when the light of Puruṣa is withdrawn into itself. Cp CU VII 10.1; B.U V. 5, AU I. l-3; KU. I.7. 

II.1.9.   Katha Upaniṣad   633 

7. She who arises with life, Aditi, the soul of the gods, who stands, having entered the secret place (of the heart), who was born with the beings. This, verily, is that.  

Aditi (a-diti, not bound, boundless) is said to be the mother of the gods, sarva-devatā-mayī sarva-devātmikā. S. The term is used here m the sense of mother-nature1 prakṛti, the source of all objectivity. S derives it from root ad 'to eat' and makes aditi the eater or experiencer of all objects. 'Born from the highest Brahman as prāṇa, i.e in the form of Hiraṇya-garbha.' Hiraṇya-garbhasya eva viśeṣaṇāntaram āha. A.

1RV. (1. 89. 10) 'Aditi is the sky, Aditi the air, Aditi is mother,father and son, Aditi is all the gods and the five tribes, Aditi is whatever has been and will be born.' 

8. Agni, the all-knower, hidden in the fire-sticks. like the embryo well borne by pregnant women, should be daily adored by the watchful men with oblations. This, verily, is that.  

This verse is quoted from Sama Veda I.I.8.7; see also R.V. III.29.2.

Both Puruṣa and prakṛti, the subject and the object are identified with the Supreme Reality as they are two movements of His being.

araṇyoḥ: between the upper and the lower fire-sticks: uttarādharāṇyoḥ, Madhva.

nihitaḥ: hidden, nitarāṁ sthitaḥ.  

9. Whence the sun rises and where it goes to rest; in it are all gods founded and no one ever goes beyond that. This verily is that.   

See Atharva Veda X 18 16, B U I 5. 23

The ancient Vedic gods are recognized by the Upaniṣads but they are all said to derive their being from the One Supreme Reality. In verses 5-7, the living soul, the soul of the universe, infinite nature are identified with Brahman; in verses 8 and 9, Fire and Sun are said to have their reality in Brahman: devās sarve ātmam Pratiṇṭhitā iti. R. 

634 The Principal Upaniṣads II.1.6 


10. Whatever is here, that (is) there. Whatever is there, that, too, is here. Whoever perceives anything like manyness here goes from death to death.  

11. By mind alone is this to be obtained. There is nothing of variety here. Whoever perceives anything like variety here, goes from death to death.  

In these two verses, the Supreme is declared to be devoid of any difference. The multiplicity of the world does not touch the unity of the Supreme.  


12. The person of the size of a thumb resides in the middle of the body. After knowing him who is the lord of the past and the future, one does not shrink (from Him) This, verily, is that.  

aṅguṣṭha-mātra-puruṣa· the person of the size of a thumb Taittirīya Āraṇyaka X. 38.1; S U III.13; V. 8; Maitrī VI 38.  

In the story of Sāvitrī, it is said that Yama, with his grim force extracted out of the body of Satyavān a person of the size of a thumb, bound in his snare and brought in his control.1  BU· I. 5. 23; Revelation I.8.  

1'tataḥ satyavataH kāyāt pāśabaddham vaśaṁ gatam

anguṣṭha-mātram puruṣam niścakārsa yamo balātMB. Vana Parva. 

II.I.15 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 635 

13. The person of the size of a thumb resides in the middle of the body, like a flame without smoke. He is the lord of the past and the future. He is the same today and the same tomorrow. This, verily is that.  

The lord of the past and the future is not a timeless Absolute but the ruler of the time order.  

S discusses this passage in his Sūtra Bhāṣya (I. 3. 24 and 25) and argues that the soul which is said to be of the size of a thumb is in reality Brahman. Rāmānuja and Nimbārka agree and hold that the highest self is called 'thumb-sized' since it dwells in the heart of the worshipper. In B U the self is said to '00 'as small as a grain of rice or barley and yet it is the ruler of all and lord of all,' V.5.I. In C U, it is said to be of the measure of a span, pradeśa-mātra, V.18.1 Maitrī states all the views of the size of the soul. It tells us that a man 'reaches the supreme state by meditating on the soul, which is smaller than an atom or else of the size of the thumb, or of a span, or of the whole body.' VI.38.  


14. As water rained upon a height flows down in various ways among the hills, so he who views things as varied runs after them (distractedly).  

He who perceives differentiation of dharmas is condemned to the restless flowing he perceives.  

14. As pure water poured forth into pure becomes the very same, so the self, O Gautama, of the seer who has understanding becomes (one with the Supreme).  

tādṛg eva: the very same. Literally just such. S affirms metaphysical identity between the individual soul and the Supreme Self. Rāmānuja and Nimbārka hold that the individual soul is non-different, i.e. not separate from the Supreme Self. It attains equality with the Supreme. See M U III. 2 8 manana-śīlasya  ātmāpi param-ātma-jñānena viśuddhas san viśuddhena paraṁ-ātmanā samāno bhavati. R.    

Cp. the observations of the Christian mystics. Bernard of Clair vaux says 'As a drop of water poured into wine loses itself and takes the colour and savour of wine, so in the saints all human affections melt away, by some unspeakable transmutation into the will of God. For how could God be all in all if anything merely human remained in man. The substance will endure but in another beauty a higher power, a greater glory.' St Theresa says 'Spiritual marriage is like rain falling from the sky into a river, becoming one and the same liquid, so that the river water and the rain cannot be divided; or it resembles a streamlet flowing into the ocean which cannot afterward be dissevered from it.'  

636 The Principal Upaniṣads II.2.2 

Section 2 


I. (There is) a city of eleven gates (belonging to) the unborn, uncrooked intelligence. By ruling it one does not grieve and being freed is freed indeed. This, verily is that.  

ekādasa-dvāram: eleven-gated. B.G (V. 13) mentions nine gates1 which are the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, anus and generating organ.1 Here two others are mentioned to make up eleven and they are the navel and the sagittal suture, the opening at the top of the skull (AU. III.12], through which the liberated soul is said to escape at death.  

a-vakra-cetasaḥ: whose thoughts are not crooked. avakram akuṭilam. Anusṭhāya: ruling (the city). S takes it to mean 'contemplating,' dhyātva. When the soul controls the gates and lives in peace it is free from sorrow. It is freedom which begins here (Jīvan-mukti.) and leads after death to complete release (videha-mukti). 1Bunyan in his Holy War describes the human soul as living in a city with five gates, which are the five senses.  

2 He is the swan (sun) in the sky, the pervader in the space (between earth and heaven), the priest at the altar, the guest in the sacrificial Jar (house). He dwells in men, in gods, in the right and in the sky. He is (all that is) born of water, sprung from the earth, born of right, born of mountain. He is the true and the great.  

II.2.5 Kaṭha Upaniṣad page 637 

This haṁsavatī mantra whose seer is Vāma-deva is a prayer to the sun who illumines the world and dispels the darkness of men.  

See RV IV 40. 5; Vājasaneyi Saṁhitā X 24; XII.I4, Taittirīya Saṁhitā III.2.10.1; Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa VI 7 3 II.

vasu: the pervading:  vāsayati sarvān. S.

hotā: priest. 'Fire' according to S. hotāgniḥ, agnir vai hotā ity śrutcḥ.  

In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, the triune Agni is identified with the sun in heaven, the air in the space between earth and heaven and with the priest or the guest on earth. Here, Agni, the Supreme energy is identified with Brahman or the Ᾱtman. The verse affirms that the whole universe is non-different from the Supreme Brahman. etat sarvam aparicchinna-satya-rūpa-brahmātmakam. R.  

3. He leads the out-breath upward, he casts inwards the in-breath, the dwarf who is seated in the middle, all the gods adore.  

Originally prāṇa meant breath and was used for the Supreme Being. In the early Upaniṣads, all the vital powers (i.e., speech, breath, eye, ear and manas) are called prāṇaḥ. B U. I. 5. 3, T U. I.7. These are looked upon as varieties of breath or as powers presiding over different parts of the body. Prāṇa and apāna stand for breaths in expiration and inspiration respectively.  

vāmanam· the dwarf (another name for the thumb-sized person, angusṭha-mātra puruṣa)  

'Worthy to be served,' vananīyam sambha Jatīyam. S.  

viśve devāḥ: all the gods. S interprets as 'the senses and the vital powers' which are subject to the person within, who is their Lord whom they worship by their uninterrupted activity.  

4· When the embodied self that dwells within the body slips off and is released from the body, what is there that remains? This, verily, is that.

What remains is the Universal Soul.  

5. Not by any outbreath or in-breath does any mortal whatever live. But by another do they live on which these life-breaths) both depend.

This verse repudiates the materialist doctrine that the soul is just an assemblage of parts. It makes out that as the house and the dweller are separate, the destruction of the house does not mean the destruction of the dweller. The loss of the body does not mean the dissolution of the soul, while desertion of the body by the soul would mean the disintegration of the body.  

638   The Principal Upaniṣads   II.2.8.


6. Look (here) I shall explain to you the mystery of Brahman, the eternal, and also how the soul fares, after reaching death, O Gautama. 

7. Some souls enter into a womb for embodiment; others enter stationary objects according to their deeds and according to their thoughts.  

While the Upaniṣads insist on the independent reality of the Supreme Self they also affirm the reality of the individual soul. Here the law of Karma that we are born according to our deeds is assumed. Yathā śrutam yādṛśaṁ ca vijñānam upārjitaṁ tad anurūpam eva śarīram pratipadyanta iti. S. 

8. That person who is awake in those that sleep, shaping desire after desire, that, indeed, is the pure. That is Brahman, that, indeed, is called the immortal. In it all the worlds rest and no one ever goes beyond it. This, verily, is that.  

kāmam kāmam: desire after desire, really objects of desire. Even dream objects like objects of waking consciousness are due to the Supreme Person. Even dream consciousness is a proof of the existence

of the self. See B U IV 3.

No one ever goes beyond it: cp. Eckhart: 'On reaching God all progress ends ' Quoted in New Indian Antiquary, Vol.1, P.205. 

II 2 II     Katha Upaniṣad     639 


9. As fire which is one, entering this world becomes varied in shape according to the object (it burns), so also the one Self within all beings becomes varied according to whatever (it enters) and also exists outside (them all).  

Cp. R.V. where Indra, in his conflict with the demons, is said to have assumed many forms through his magic powers, becoming the counterform of every form.  

rūpaṁ rūpam prati-rūpo babhūva  

indro māyābhiḥ pururūpa īyate VI.47.I8  

bahiś: outside. While the Self assumes many forms, it is yet outside the manifested world in its own unmodified nature svena avikṛtena rūpeṇa ākāśavat. S. This verse teaches the immanence as well as the transcendence of the Supreme Self. Cp R V X 90, where all beings are said to be a quarter of the Puruṣa while three-quarters are immortal m heaven, tripād asyāmṛtaṁ divi. RV X 90. 3; SU III 9 and 10.  

10. As air which is one, entering this world becomes varied in shape according to the object (it enters), so also the one Self within all beings becomes varied according to whatever (it enters) and also exists outside (them all).  

11. Just as the sun, the eye of the whole world, is not defiled by the external faults seen by the eye, even so the One within all beings is not tainted by the sorrow of the world, as He is outside (the world).  

The verse admits the reality of the pain of the world but denies that it touches the Supreme Self which is our inner being. The forms, which the Supreme assumes are not its modifications but are the manifestations of its possibilities. The Supreme Self is unaffected by the pain of the individual selves because the pain of the individual self is due to its identifying itself with its psycho-physical vehicle. The individual ego makes a confusion between the self and what is not the self. The Supreme, on the other hand does not suffer because it is not subject to ignorance (avidyā) and it does not identify itself with any of the accidents to which its various psycho-physical vehicles are subject.  

640   The Principal Upaniṣads   II. 2.14. 

12. The one, controller (of all), the inner self of all things, who makes his one form manifold, to the wise who perceive him as abiding in the soul, to them is eternal blissto no others.  

vaśī: controller See B U. IV. 4.22; Ś U. VI.12.

ātmastham· abiding in the soul. The Supreme dwells in the inmost part of our being.

sva-śarīra-hṛdayākāśe buddhau caitanyākareṇābhivyakutam. S. Cp. I John IV.I3 'Hereby know we that we abide in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His spirit.'

who makes his one form manifold: It is one in the unmanifested condition. It becomes manifold in the manifested condition.  

13. The one eternal amid the transient, the conscious amid the conscious, the one amid many, who grants their desires, to the wise who perceive Him as abiding in the soul, to them is eternal peace and to no others.

See SU. VI.13

nityo'nityānām, sometimes nityo nityānām the one eternal among the eternal.

The Supreme grants the desires of many. We may see here the doctrine of Divine providence.  

II.3.I    Kaṭha Upaniṣad    641 

I4. This is that and thus they recognize, the ineffable Supreme bliss. How then may I come to know this? Does it shine (of itself) or does it shine (in reflection)?  

Does the Supreme shine in Himself (see III I 3 12) or does He shine in His expression?  

I5 The sun shines not there, nor the moon and the stars, these lightings shine not, where then could this fire be? Everything shines only after that shining light His shining illumines all this world.  

The Supreme who is the source of all light, 'the master light of all our seeing'1 cannot be known by any earthly light. Our knowledge cannot find him out. 1 Revelation XX I 23.  

See MU II 2 10; SU VI 14, BG XV.12. The symbol of light is the most natural and universa. Plato in his Seventh letter compares the sudden inspiration of the mystic to a 'leaping spark.' In the myth of the cave, the real world is a realm of light outside the cave. The Old Testament and the Zoroastrian religion speak of the antagonism between darkness and light. In the First Epistle of John, we read, 'God is light and in him is no darkness at all.'

Bhagavadgita verse 15.12.

That splendor of the sun that illumines the whole world, that which is in the moon, that which is in the fire, that splendor, know as Mine. Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnan.

Section 3 


1. With the root above and the branches below (stands) this ancient fig tree That (indeed) is the pure, that is Brahman That, indeed, is called immortal. In it all the worlds rest and no one ever goes beyond it. This, verily, is that.  

tad eva: that indeed, i.e. the root of this tree. The description here has its analogue in the description of the tree Igdrasil in Scandinavian mythology.

The tree of life has its unseen roots m Brahman. The tree, roots and branches represent Brahman in its manifested form. While the tree of life is said to be imperishable Brahman, B.G , which uses this illustration, asks us to cut off the tree of existence by the potent weapon of non-attachment. XV.1.3. The tree grows upside down It has its roots above and branches below. See S U III 9, Maitrī VI 4. The branches below are for Madhva the lower gods. avāṁcaḥ adhamāḥ devāḥ śākhāḥ yasya asau.

Prepared by Veeraswamy Krishnaraj  bhagavadgitausa.com 

642   The Principal Upaniṣads   II 3 4


2. The whole world, whatever here exists, springs from and moves in life (It is) the great fear (like) the upraised thunderbolt. They that know that become immortal. 

The whole world trembles in Brahman parasmin brahmaṇi saty ejati kampate. S.  

3. Through fear of him, fire burns, through fear (of him) the sun gives heat, through fear both Indra (the lord of the gods) and wind and Death, the fifth, speed on their way.  

See TU II 8 1  

The source and sustaining power of the universe is Brahman. Evolution is not a mechanical process. It is controlled by Brahman, who is here represented as prāṇa, the life-giving power jagato mūlam prāṇa-pada-lakyam prāṇa-pravṛttir api hetutvāt. A. 


4. If one is able to perceive (Him) before the body falls away (one would be freed from misery), (if not) he becomes fit for embodiment in the created worlds.  

aśakat: able. It is sometimes split up into na śakat, unable, i.e. if one fails to know it. The simplest meaning would be 'If one is not able to know (the Supreme) before the body falls away, one becomes fit for embodiment in the created worlds.' S interprets the verse thus: 'If here, in this life, a man is able to know the awe-inspiring Brahman before the falling of the body, he is freed from the bond of saṁsāra, if he is not able to know, then for lack of knowledge, he takes embodiment in earth and other created worlds.

sargeṣu lokeṣu: created worlds. V. sarveṣu kāleṣu: at all times. 

The verse teaches that it is possible for us to attain the saving wisdom here and now.  

II 3 8 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 643 

5. As in a mirror, so (is it seen) in the soul, as in a dream, so in the world of the manes, as (an object) is seen in water, so in the world of the gandharvas, as shade and light in the world of Brahma.  

He can be seen m this life as in a glass, if his mind is pure and clear. In the region of the departed, he can be seen only as a remembrance, a remembrance of dreams. In the world of the gandharvas, he can be seen as a reflection in trembling waters. In the world of Brahma he can be seen clearly as shade and light.

gandharvas: angels who live in the fathomless spaces of air. R V VIII 65.5, see also BU IV 3 33. 

6. Knowing the separate nature of the senses, which spring separately (from the various subtle elements) and (knowing also) that their rising and setting (are separate), the wise man does not grieve.  

The discrimination of the Self from the sense organism is here insisted on. When the wise man knows, that the material senses do not come from the Self, that their rise and fall belong to their own nature, he grieves no more.  

7. Beyond the senses is the mind, above the mind is its essence (intelligence) , beyond the intelligence is the great self, beyond the great (self) is the unmanifest.  

Sattva: essence. Intelligence constitutes the essence of the mind. See notes on I 3 10 and 11.  

644 The Principal Upaniṣads II 3 9 

8. Beyond the unmanifest is the person, all-pervading and without any mark whatever. By knowing whom, a man is liberated and goes to life eternal.  

aliṅga: without any mark. See MU III 2 4, Maitrī V 31, 35, VII.2 'Without any empirical attributes' sarva-saṁsāra-dharma-varjitaḥ. S. Liṅga is a distinctive mark or sign. In logic, it is an invariable sign which constitutes the basis of inference. liṅga refers to liṅga-sama sūkṣma-śarīra, the entity consisting of buddhi, ahaṁkāra, manas, indriyāṇi, tanmātrāṇi SU VI 9, Maitrī VI 10.19 If liṅga is taken in this sense, it means that the Supreme needs no subtle body as it is not subject to death and re-birth.  

9. Not within the field of vision stands this form. No one soever sees Him with the eye. By heart, by thought, by mind apprehended, they who know Him become immortal.  

The first half points out that we cannot form a visual image of the Supreme Person and the second half urges that we can still apprehend Him by heart, by thought and by mind The Supreme Reality is to be apprehended through the concentrated direction of all mental powers.  

manīṣā (reflective) thought. vikalpa-varjita buddhi. 

manas: mind, true insight in the form of meditation manana-rūpeṇa samyag-darṣana. S. When the mind becomes clear and the heart pure, God-vision arises. Cp RV I 61.2. hṛdā manasā maniṣā. We must seek God in our hearts and our souls. The process is called introversion, the solitary communing of the soul with God, the thought of the alone to the Alone, as Plotinus described it. Cp. Cassian 'The mind will come to that incorruptible prayer which is not engaged in looking on any image, and is not articulate by the utterance of any voice or words, but with the intentness of the mind aglow, it is produced by an ineffable transport of the heart, by some insatiable keenness of spirit, and the mind being placed beyond all senses and visible matter, pours it forth to God with groanings and sighs that cannot be uttered.'1

1Collation X II quoted m Dom Cuthbert Butler: Benedictine Monachism, 2nd Ed (1924), p 79. 

Abhiklpta: apprehended. As the concept of God is formed by our mental nature, it cannot be identical for all. This attitude develops charity, open-mindedness, disinclination to force one's views on other people's attention. If the Hindu does not feel that he belongs to the chosen race, if he is relatively free from a provincial self-righteousness, it is to no small extent due to the recognition that the concepts of God are relative to our traditions and training.  

II.3.11 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 645 

10. When the five (senses) knowledges together with the mind cease (from their normal activities) and the intellect itself does not stir, that, they say, is the highest state.

Cp Boehme 'When thou standest still from the thinking of self and the willing of self, when both thy intellect and will are quiet and passive to the expressions of the eternal world and spirit, and when thy soul is winged up and above that which is temporal, the outward senses and the imagination being locked up by holy abstraction, then the Eternal Hearing, Seeing and Speaking will be revealed in thee, and so God heareth and seeth through thee, being the organ of this spirit and so God appeareth in thee and whispereth to thy spirit. Blessed art thou, therefore, if thou canst stand still from thy self-thinking and self-willing and canst stop the wheel of thy imagination and senses.'  

11. This, they consider to be Yoga, the steady control of the senses. Then one becomes undistracted for Yoga comes and goes.  

apramattaḥ: undistracted pramāda-varjitaḥ samādhānam prati-nityam prayatnavān S See also C U I 3 12 and II 22 2, M U II 2 4. In Buddhism all virtues are said to be centred in apramāda (Pāli appamādo). Keenness is the way of eternal life and slackness the way of death appamādo amatapadam, pamādo maccuno padam. Dhammapada 21.  

Prabhavāpyayau: comes and goes.  

Vigilant keenness is necessary m Yoga, as it comes and goes. Jananāpāya-dharmakaḥ. S pratikṣanāpāyaṣālitayā avadhānam apekṣitam. R. If we are careful we will acquire it, if we are careless we will lose it. Mind is liable to fluctuation and therefore we should be extremely careful.  

It is sometimes interpreted as 'beginning and end' 'The world sinks down m Yoga and again is created afresh,' says Deussen. This is later Pātañjala Yoga.  

646    The Principal Upaniṣads   II 3.14 


12. Not by speech, not by mind, not by sight can he be apprehended How can he be comprehended except by him who says, 'He is'?  

He can be comprehended only by those who affirm that 'He is.' The self as the knowing subject can never become an object. It can be realized through Yoga. While He transcends the ordinary means of apprehension, He can be immediately experienced through Yoga, and for such apprehension faith in His existence is an indispensable condition. The conviction of the reality of that which is sought is the prerequisite.  

Commenting on this verse, S argues that the Supreme Brahman who is conceived as the source of the universe must be regarded as existent. We cannot conceive of the world as produced from nothing. The world effect must have an existent cause.  

We can at least reasonably say of God that He is. Cp. Epistle to the Hebrews" 'He that cometh to God must believe that He is.' Cp. St Bernard 'Who is God? I can think of no better answer than, He who is Nothing is more appropriate to the eternity which God is. If you call God good, or great or blessed, or wise or anything else of this sort, it is included m these words, namely, He is. '  

13. He should be apprehended only as existent and then in his real naturein both ways. When He is apprehended as existent, his real nature becomes clear (later on).  

The primary assertion that can be made of the Self is the declaration of existence, pure and simple.  

ubhayoḥ: in both ways. In the conditioned and the unconditioned ways sopādhika-nirupādhikayoḥ. S.  

Rational faith in the existence of Brahman leads on to spiritual experience m which His nature is revealed to and understood by the believer.  

In this section, the author speaks to us of the discipline of Yoga by which man's whole being is unified and concentrated on the realization of the highest Being who is also the inner and real self.  

14. When all desires that dwell within the human heart are cast away, then a mortal becomes immortal and (even) here he attaineth to Brahman.

When self-seeking desire, ignorance and doubt disappear, the vision of God is attained. The Upaniṣad treats fellowship with God as the consummation of spiritual experience.  

II 3 17   Kaṭha Upaniṣad   647 

I5. When all the knots that fetter here the heart are cut asunder, then a mortal becomes immortal. Thus far is the teaching.  

etāvad anuśāsanam: thus far is the teaching. The original Upaniṣad, it was felt, ended with I.3.17. These words seem to mark the end of the enlarged Upaniṣad. The remaining verses seem to be a still later addition.  

16. A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal, the others serve for going in various other directions.  

See C U VIII 6 6, where it is said, that if a man has lived the disciplined life of a student and so 'found the self,' then at the time of death, his soul, dwelling in the heart, will pass upward by an artery known as suṣumna (Maitrī VI 21), to an aperture in the crown of the skull known as the brahma-randhra or vidṛti, by which at the beginning of life it first entered. For there the soul rises by the sun's rays to the sun which is a door-way to the Brahma world to those who know and a stopping-place for those who do not know. The other ways lead the unliberated to re-embodiment.  

17. The person of the size of a thumb, the inner self, abides always in the hearts of men. Him one should draw out with firmness, from the body, as (one may do) the wind from the reed. Him one should know as the pure, the immortal, yea, Him one should know as the pure, the immortal.

dhairyeṇa: with :firmness, apramādena: S with courage, with intellectual strength Jñāna-kauśalena. R   

648 The Principal Upaniṣads II 3 18 

18. Then Naciketas, having gained his knowledge declared by Death and the whole rule of Yoga, attained Brahman and became freed from passion and from death. And so may any other who knows this in regard to the self.  

End Kaṭha Upaniṣad