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Vedic Study

The Vedas signify divine knowledge. In the Vedic traditions knowledge is of two types viz: direct or indirect. Direct knowledge comes through the senses, mind and objects, while indirect knowledge comes from within, which we call intuitive knowledge. 

Originally, the Vedic hymns were divinely inspired by Lord Brahma (the soul of the universe) who revealed them to the ‘Rishis’ (sages) in a higher state of consciousness and hence known as ‘Shrutis’ (what was heard). Rishis then revealed it to their disciples, Gurus. Gurus, who had heard the revelations, eventually had disciples of their own, and so they passed on this knowledge to them, not as direct revelations, but as something they had remembered. 

In this way, the knowledge which was originally transmitted by inspired Gurus was frequently passed down by intellectual Gurus. It, therefore, became known as Smriti, (memory). Thus we have the Vedas which are Shruti, knowledge obtained by direct revelation, and the Smritis, knowledge retained by memory and then passed down through the ages in the form of stories, so that the common man would remember.



THE FOUR VEDAS

Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda (Krishna& Sukla), Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda are the four Vedas. The most ancient of the four Vedas is Rigveda. Vedas deal with hundreds of topics. These discuss everything in life and after life. These refer to this planet that we live on and the different constellations beyond our Solar system. These also tell us about music, spirituality, philosophy, politics, sociology, geography, history and the absolute form of creation. The original language of the Vedas is Sanskrit.

THE FOUR DIVISIONS

Each of the four Vedas has been classified into four divisions. These are Samhita, Brahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanishads. The Upanishads are the terminal part of Veda. So these are called as Vedantas. There are many Upanishads but out of them 108 are very well known. Out of them Isha, Kena, Katha, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Shwetashwatara, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka are the main ten Upanishads. The Katha Upanishad is very famous amongst the Upanishads. This Upanishad is an integral part of the ‘Katha’ branch of the Krishna Yajurveda. The comprehensive description of the ethereal divine element of the Supreme God is expressed through the conversation between Rishiputra Nachiketa and Yama. Every Upanishad commences with a prayer, the Shanti Mantra. The Shanti Mantra of the Katha Upanishad reads:

Om Saha navavatu, Sahanau Bhunaktu,
Saha viryam Karvavaha, Tejaswi Navadhitamastu,
Ma Vidvishavahai, Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

MEANING

It means that there should be proper attunement of spirit between the Guru and disciples before they begin the study, for only then wills the teaching be fruitful:

“May we both be protected. May both of us be taken care of properly. May we study together. May our teaching and learning be resplendent. May there be no misunderstanding between us. May there be no discord of any kind. May there be peace, may there be peace, may there be peace.”

At the beginning of a Yoga class, the teacher and students generally recite this peace invocation together. It describes determination between master and disciple. There is faith, confidence, honour and dedication between the master and disciple. The master is not greedy and disciple is not selfish. Yogic life means the right feelings between each other. It is deceit free life. It is selfless, philanthropic life with pious conduct and thoughts. Therefore, this prayer is important for both the teacher and the student.

A VEDIC STORY OF A FATHER AND AN HONEST SON

During the Vedic times, a great sage called Vajashravasa, known also as Gautama, performed Yajna or a sacrifice called Vishvajit by which he aspired to enter the heaven of the Gods. In the Yajna, one has to donate whatever he possesses. Vajashravas started donating to the Brahmins accordingly. Nachiketa was the honest son of Vajashravas. He noticed all this.

Nachiketa was a young lad then. When he saw that senile cows were being donated as Dakshina (fee), he thought that as a result of such a Dakshina the donor would have to undergo a vale of sufferings by taking birth in the inferior Yonis as pigs and dogs. To stop his father’s undesirable actions, he asked, ‘‘O Father! I am also a part of your wealth. Whom will you give me to?’’ His father did not reply. Nachiketa repeated the question, ‘Father! Whom will you give me to?’ His father still paid no attention. When Nachiketa asked for the third time his father became angry and said, ‘‘I give you to Yamaraja (death)’’.

When his father said this out of fury, Nachiketa thought that: "I am one of the best disciples of my father. I have never transgressed my father’s orders, which means that I am not of the inferior category. Then why did father say this to me? What is the purpose my father wants to fulfill by handing me over to Yamaraja. I shall definitely materialize my father’s words. I shall not violate his orders otherwise I shall be called an inferior male child. If my father does not adhere to his words he shall be known as the one who deviates or derelicts from his duty.

If my father has said this out of fury it is necessary to pacify him so that he does not undergo anguish and agony”. Nachiketa approached his father and said- "O Father! Our ancestors, our forefathers did not care for their lives to protect truth and we have the conduct of many a noble soul before us who have sacrificed everything and stood by their words. That is why you also renounce this ephemeral mortal world, wrong conduct and duties. By doing so give me the permission to go to Yamaraja."

Listening to this his father was sad and unhappy but seeing the honesty and venality of Nachiketa, his father sent Nachiketa to Yamaraja. Nachiketa went to Yamaraja on the basis of his truthfulness. When Nachiketa reached there he learnt that Yamaraja was not there in his house. Nachiketa decided that he would not touch food and water until he sought the blessings of Yamaraja. In this way, Yamaraja did not return for three days and Nachiketa starved for next three days and awaited his return.

THE HOSPITALITY OF YAMARAJA’S WIFE

On the return of Yamaraja after three days, Yamaraja’s wife said: "O Lord! The coming of a Brahmin as a guest to the house of householders is just like the coming of Agni Dev (fire god). Hence the good and pious people should try to pacify the Agni in the form of a guest by serving him and offering him food. This Brahmin boy has been starving for the past three days awaiting your return. He shall be pacified only if you serve him. Listening to his wife, Yamaraj immediately approached Nachiketa and welcomed him by washing his feet and performing the ceremonial worship. He said: "O Brahmin! You are respectable and venerable guest. You came here three days back to meet me and have been starving since then. I have really committed a blunder. I prostrate before you. May my dereliction be forgiven and lead to my well being. In lieu of every night you can ask me for three favours, as you desire”.

THE FIRST BLESSING: "FATHER’S HAPPINESS"

At Dharmaraja’s behest Nachiketa asked him his first favour to make his father happy. This itself proves the respect and affection of Nachiketa towards his father.

Nachiketa said: "O Lord of Death! May my father’s anger be pacified and when I return back, may he treat me like his son and treat me with love and affection. May he be always happy with me." Yamaraj said: "When your father will see you, after returning from the clutches of death he will be very happy with you. He shall treat you henceforth with love and affection. His anger will vanish and he will forever live in peace and happiness”.

THE SECOND BLESSING: "KNOWLEDGE OF REALIZATION"

Nachiketa told Dharmaraj that: "O Lord of Death! I have learnt that there is a lot of happiness in heaven and that place is devoid of fear, senility, hunger, thirst, grief, sorrow etc. You know the Agni Vijnana (method of doing Yajna) by which one can attain heaven. Please teach me the devoted one, the knowledge to realize heaven. This is the second blessing I desire”.
Listening to this Yamraj was pleased on the devotion and humility of Nachiketa and bestowed upon him the Agni Vidya which is ethereal.

THE THIRD BLESSING ‘KNOWLEDGE OF THE SELF’

Nachiketa asked Yamraj for the third and final blessing of the knowledge of the self which is the means to liberation. He said: "O Lord of Death! There is a difference of opinion with the concept of soul. You are the self realized one. Please advise me about that divine element of the self that helps me surmount the cycle of life and death."

Seeing the curiosity of the young lad and divine understanding, Yamraj was very pleased. But he was aware that the element of soul could be explained only to the appropriate person so he decided to test Nachiketa. He told Nachiketa that the ‘soul’ is difficult to understand. He said:" O Nachiketa! Even the Gods had expressed their doubts with relation to the divine cosmic element ‘soul’ and they failed to understand it because it is a very complex and subtle subject. It is not easily intelligible and comprehensible. So you ask me for another blessing."

But Nachiketa was adamant, he replied: "When such a subject is difficult and sublime and I will not find a person who knows the same, how can I ask for another blessing in lieu of this one. Please bless me with the knowledge of the same”.

THE ALLUREMENTS SHOWN BY YAMRAJ TO NACHIKETA

When Nachiketa was adamant about knowing the knowledge of the soul Yamraj decided to allure and entice him differently. Yamraj said: "O Nachiketa! What will you do knowing the soul. In lieu of this ask for progeny, wife who will be blessed with a very long life, cows, elephants, gold, the earth as the empire and a long life. If in comparison of the element of soul you consider all these material pleasures significant then ask for them." Despite all these allurements Nachiketa was adamant. He refused to give in. Yamraj said: "O Nachiketa! One cannot attain heavenly pleasures on earth. You can ask for all of them. You can desire for the beautiful damsels of the heaven and divine vehicles that even tempt noble sages and saints. Ask for these pleasures in lieu and stop asking for divine knowledge”.

NACHIKETA’S DETACHMENT

Nachiketa said: "O Yamraj! All the pleasures which you tempted me for are momentary and ephemeral. These pleasures ruin the senses and the sense of duty instead of blessing us.

A long life is negligible before infinite time. Even cows and elephants are of no use to me. So I don’t want any of these things. Even wealth cannot satisfy a human being. Seeking your blessings satisfies me. Destiny will bestow upon me the necessary wealth and life is dependent on you. If you are pleased with me, I need not fear death at all. Hence please bless me with the knowledge of the human self and soul”.

When Yamraj was assured that Nachiketa was the appropriate person to whom, knowledge of the Supreme soul could be given, he began by telling Nachiketa the glory of Brahma Vidya. Then the Lord of Death went on to instruct the little boy about the mysteries of life and death, mind and soul. In one of the stanzas the Lord of Death says: 'This is the razor's edge on which you have to walk.' Here he is referring not only to the difficulties of spiritual life, but also to the point at which you have to die, not physically, but on a different plane. This mundane awareness has to cease, and therefore he makes clear the difference between mundane awareness and spiritual awareness. Mundane awareness is ever changing but spiritual awareness does not change. It is permanent. So, these are the subjects discussed in many, many ways in the Upanishads.

The Katha Upanishad breaks through this fortress of ignorance, pierces through the veil of this darkness of the series of misconceptions we seem to be involved in, and takes us to the heart of things, and enthrones us on the empyrean of immortal existence, eternal life, infinite satisfaction. Wonderful is this Upanishad.
God shall bless you with this knowledge.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti