This is the story of Nachiketas, a young boy who was the son of a great rishi named Vajasravas. This saint once performed a huge Vedic sacrifice (yaga). He was giving away old and useless cows as alms to seekers. Nachiketas, who was watching his father asked him “Father! To whom are you planning to give me?” The rishi absorbed in his work did not respond to the query. The boy persisted with his question and the rishi irritated with the interruption, said in a fit of anger: “I am giving you away to Yama”. The rishi was himself shocked when the realisation seeped into his mind that Yama was the Lord of Death. But he had already uttered the words during the sacrifice and there was no going back on it. The father sat transfixed in sorrow but the young boy fearlessly declared, “Father! Do not grieve. I will go to the land of Yama and return back safely.”
Thus, Nachiketas sought Lord Yama and went to his abode (Yamaloka). Since Yama was away, Nachiketas sat down awaiting his return. Yama returned after three days. He rushed to the boy and said: “Dear son of the rishi! I am extremely sorry for keeping you waiting. You have gone hungry for three days. It is an unpardonable sin to starve a guest, that too a brahmin child. I grant you three wishes.”
Yama Enlightens Nachiketas
Nachiketas addressed Yama and said: ” Please bless my father’s sacrifice and grant that he forgives my rash words.” Yama granted the first wish. The boy went on to ask, “Lord! Please tell me if there is a place where there is no hunger, thirst, sleep, disease and old age.” Yama replied that Sri Vaikuntha, the permanent abode (Nitya Vibhuti) of Sriman Narayana is the only place, which is permanent bliss. The boy went on to ask for ways to attain this blissful land. Yama tried to dissuade the child by promising enormous wealth and pleasures. But the lad could not be tempted and he persisted with his question. Yama, pleased with the child’s single-mindedness, elaborately described the heavenly abode where the atma enjoys everlasting bliss remaining close to the Lord.
This upadesa given by Lord Yama to Nachiketas is the essence of Kathopanishad. He instructed the lad saying: “Imagine your physical body to be a chariot. The jivatma, within, is the owner of the chariot who is riding in it. The intellect is the charioteer who drives the chariot. Consider the mind as the reins, which control and steer the vehicle. The five senses are the five horses that drag the coach. The jivatma is known as the bhokta – the one who experiences the fruits of good and bad acts that the person performs. The intellect which is in the driver’s seat should be conscious, capable, strong and with sharp vision. We must direct the mind on to the right path, which leads to the abode of the Lord. The task of harnessing the senses and the mind is a big challenge even for great saints and cannot be achieved without the Lord’s grace.” Yama thus granted the third boon by enlightening Nachiketas on bhaktiyoga and surrender.