Yama and Yoga- Kathopanishad
The Katha Upanishad is also a principal Upanishad. It begins with Sage Vajasravas giving away his possessions to get brownie points from the gods. He has a son Nachiketa, who wonders what was the point of giving away cows that were too old to milk. He asks his father who he would give him away to. Angry, Vajasravas says that he gives him away to Yama.
Yama was not at home for 3 days. When he returns, he granted 3 boons to Nachiketa. For the first boon, Nachiketa asks that his father forgive him. Yama grants this.
Next, Nachiketa asks Yama to teach him the agni yagna that can take him to heaven. Again, Yama grants this boon and teaches him the yagna.
Pleased with how quickly Nachiketa picked up the lesson, Yama says that now this yagna will be known by Nachiketa’s name. Gifting him a multicolored necklace, he says that whoever respects their father, mother and teacher, and performs the rituals, studies the scriptures and is charitable, will escape death’s noose and reach heaven.
For the third boon, Nachiketa wants an answer to the eternal question of do we die or do we exist after death too. Reluctant to grant this boon, Yama tries to tempt him by listing what else he could ask for- wealth, women, children.
Nachiketa rejects all these, saying they are transient and people can’t be happy when they know Yama is breathing down their necks. Pleased that Nachiketa has stood firm, Yama grants this boon too.
Yama says that he has power over the ignorant, since they are governed by their senses and equate themselves with their bodies, thinking that when their bodies die, they die too.
Yama likens the Self to the one sitting in a chariot, the body to a chariot, the intellect to the charioteer, and the mind as holding the reins. The senses are the horses, riding the roads of desire. When the Self is mixed up with the body, mind or senses, we enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrows.
If you have well trained horses, a tight rein and know where you’re going, you’ll reach your goal. A teacher can help you in this mission. The path is like a razor’s edge. Somerset Maugham’s novel derives its name from this phrase.
The senses keep us looking outward rather than within. So we must disregard them so that we can look inside ourselves and find the Self.
Just like fire takes the shape of all that it consumes, the Self takes the shape of everything she enters.
Like the Bhagvad Gita and the other Upanishads, this one too says that we must still the senses, the mind, the intellect with yog, so that we can reunite with the Self. I used Eknath Easwaran’s excellent translation of Kathopanishad.
With this knowledge of yog, Nachiketa became immortal in Brahman. We can get there too, by the same route.