Upanisads though contain speculative knowledge, their relevancy cannot be overlooked altogether from the perspective of modern living. Indian mind, since time immomorial had dwelt upon the queries related to eschatology as well as epistemology rather narrowing them to mere empirical existance. For Upnisadic thoughts being invariably lofty, ethical should act as leading light for the mankind to march towards meaningful existance. Even then Upanisads have come with utilitarian answers for harmless-harmonious-happy living that renders them to be relevant forever as man is increasingly involved in destructing his environs inclusive of animate as well as inanimate in his race of survival.
The mantra of pacifism stems from dispassionate indulgence, which perhaps is one of the basic tenets of upanisads. Live and let live is its policy. They breath out pleasant air for hormonius healthy human living, it is to the inclusion of human interest to puff it to live elevated individually, at the same time transpiring his overall well being socially as well.
There is a long list of lofty thoughts available in Upanisads, such being the case, Kathopanisad, the present text with you has plenty in store to offer universal values to your kind. The present edition or Kathopanisad has one commentary namely Prakasika of Sri Rangaramanuja, translated in to English by erudite scholar Dr. N.S. Anantharangachar.
I commend Dr. N.S. Anantharangachar for his lucid translation of original verses of this Upanisad as well as commentary. I hope this work will go a long way in helping common reader in comprehending true spirit of this Upanisad in the light of Visistadvatic perspective.
I appreciate whole heartedly Dr. Bhashyam Swamiji, for his keen investigation to this edition. I also take pleasure in thanking Vid. S. Narayana and his team for their neat editing of the book.
I feel deeply indebted to Dr. K.S. Narayanacharya for his stupendous as well as weighty introduction to this edition that makes this one of real value.
We take pleasure in presenting Kathopanisad in our Upanisad series, translated into english by eminent scholar Dr. N .S. Anantharangachar. The present edition furnished with a commentary of sri Rangaramanuja namely "Prakasika" that conforms to Ramanuja philosophy, though lucid in style yet deep in thought.
The Philosophy of Upanisads represent the epitome of human ideals that one can aspire. Since there have been philosophical strategies in the form of queries and rejoinders between an adept preceptor who treads the path of truth and a steadfast pupil unasumingly seeking the highest knowledge, in these texts the transmit of highest knoweldge was done through simple analogies.
The message of Upanisads have been to show that one should strive to acquire knowledge of ultimate reality, which is without mutation and eternal in contrast to the knowledge of ever- changing-ephemeral empirical- existance.
The Katha Upanisad consisting of two chapters and each chapter containing three vallis, presents itselfin the form of verses. As this Upanisad belongs to Katha branch of Krsnayajurveda, hence has its name thus. Katha Upanisad as a text is a free flowing stream of the confluence of the sublime aesthetics of poetry the logical strength of philosophy and the depth of spiritual experience. I take this opportunity to convey my gratitude to Dr. N.S. Anantharangachar for his dextrous translation of not only the original verses of Katha U panisad but also of the commentary therewith. I am very much beholden to the service of Dr. K.S. Narayanacharya for his rendition of versatile introduction to this Upanisad. I also extend my thankful regards to Sri S.Kumara, Registrar, Vid. S. Narayana and Vid. R. Narayana Iyengar for apt presentation of verses with its translation correspondingly. Thanks are also due to Vid. H.S. Hanumantha Rao, Sri Lokesh for the precise cover-page design and also to our DTP composer Smt. M.N. Saraswathy, printers K.S. Bettaswamygowda and G.N. Bettegowda and Sri Prasanna for his neat binding of the book.
No doubt, the Upanisad has a captivating style of expression, exposition, and teaching, in a dramatic set up, having recourse to the method of myth, which is man's oldest, and highest mode of preserving and communicating valuable thoughts, when ordinary language fails. It is proportioned into neat chapters, and the teaching arranged in installments of ascending order of value and importance. We can now examine the thoughts themselves, one by one, from our list.
1. The Nature of Boons obtained by Nachiketas
In the main text boons asked for are as follows :
1."Oh Death! Let my father have a peaceful, pleased mind on my return to him; sleep well at nights, without anger, and let him be in a mood to welcome me back with honeyed word." (1-10)
2."They say that in the Heavens there is no fear; for' you are not there; none fears death through old age, having .crossed hunger and thirst, being beyond sorrow, one enjoys in those heavens. You know the worship of a fire that can lead there; teach me that to me, as I am thinking with faith to reach there". (1-12 up to 13)
3."When one dies, there is this doubt about, what it yet to be known some say he is still in existence others say he is no more in existence. Here is, truly, some Englightenment to be taught by you, as my third boon". (1-21)
Let us look at the first one; Apparently it looks like a mundane boon, that the father of the lad should be blessed with peace of mind, sound sleep at nights etc., so that the lads return-home may be a welcome event for that irritable father! It also throws light on the traits of Ouddalaki Auruni. But is this all? Sankara, and Madhva, here, take the three questions, and answer as on the mere textual superficial level, concerning the nature of.a heavenly fire, the nature of the individual soul, and God.
But Ramanuja in his Sribhasya (1-4-6) takes a deeper look at the questions, and concludes that they are inter - related and they are one- in- three, and one more than mere personal boons of Nachiketas ! (Asmin prakarane hi upayopeyopetrnam trayanameva caivarnupanyasah -. jneyatvenopanyasah, tadvisayasca prasno drsyate.
(i) The boon regarding his father's being blessed with peace of mind etc has overtones of what one should be like, if one wants to be an aspirant of final release from cycles of sorrow, and of Beatitude. The boy is here ot merely concerned with his own father's future, but in general about all yearners after that grand goal. Otherwise what is the use of Visvajit sacrifice, or of any other, and of charity, fasting and other vows, which his father has been meticulously observing all these years, adhering to the mere word of Vedic injunctions ? This concerns, hence, the nature of 'Upetr' ; one who makes, (or ought to make), efforts for release from worldly bondage, This can be elaborated, contextually, and also in a larger philosophical perspective, and enjoyed as literary exegesis. Truly a very convincing interpretation.
(ii) The second boon, asking to be taught into an Agnividya the secret of a 'sacrifice' leading to heaven is even more intricate! The 'Heavens' talked of here, cannot be the one of physical pleasures as presided over by Indra, and as full of enjoyable divine damsels like Rambha, Urvasi, etc, as described in the Puranas. The 'Heavenly fire' (svargyam Agnim) cannot be one of sacrifices connected withAsvamedha, or such other mundane ritual, as this interpretation would both negate the context, and nullify the third boon, showing the boy as not trully interested in Salvation. No doubt, the word used is, Heavens, 'Svarga'. But the boy himself specified that it is 'Heavens' "where there is no fear, where there is no jurisdiction of Death, no old age," which one can reach only after crossing mires of hunger and thirst, where one enjoys eternal bliss, beyond all sorrows, where one becomes Immortal. How can all this apply to a transient heaven of extended mundane pleasure, as a temporary paradise? Following Ramanuja's hints, the commentator has done an excellent job, by quoting here numerous other contexts in the Upanisads, and similar usages of the word 'Heavens' (Svarga) to clinch the matter. It is a pity that Acaryas of other persuasions have not cared to examine the issue from this necessary angle, and have brushed it aside as leading to a mere ritualistic question! Ramanuja shows that the boon concerns the nature of means for the object of Attainment' the Upaya. The first and the second, now become, inter related boons unless one develops equanimity of mind (and other traits detailed, later on, in the Upanisad itself), one can never dream of attaining the end of the journey (Adhvanah Paramam Padam) as the text puts it later.
(iii) The third boon is of vital interest of all the schools. Madhva and Sankara take it as concerning Paramatman or God, which is true in their different senses, in a way. But there is more here for Ramanuja. After the physical death of a man, 'what remains of him' is not the only object of inquisitiveness of the boy! It is easy to push in God, in a clouded, confused, view of this question, immediately here. For Sankara there would be nothing more than the absolute to remain once the 'snake- impression' vanishes from the 'rope view' Madhva, also, misses the point, to bring in God as the remnant, in a hurry.
But see Ramanuja's examination; first, the boy knows that after death, the individual soul in him, survives as immortal. Has he not undergone this experience already, left his mortal coils behind on earth, to be here at death's doors, in a state of 'beyond death - survival' and not to be asking these questions? Is he doubting his own existence? This would make nonsense of the entire episode, and nullify the background of the entire Upanisad ! Surely the boy knows that his individual soul is immortal. The doubt is not about this : it is 'about the possibility of (or otherwise of) a distinct (not separate), distinguishable personality for the individual soul in that final emancipation! Does it become 'bloated; out (as Aurobindo sums up the other view) to become Brahman, in an absolute merge, or does it retain its individuality to enjoy the pleasures of a divine union with God? Does 'Sayujya' mean a togetherness of a unity between the individual and the supreme souls, or does it mean an absolute non- difference, a living out of the personality of the Jivatman? If the latter is the possibility why would one try for this Vedantic 'self-annihilation? The boy must have heard debates on this vital point, times without number, and must have come to his own inferences too, after deep meditation; the question here is to confirm his own conclusions. Perhaps he is not doubting his own existence beyond body. But he is not yet a 'released' soul ! He has no taste of it yet. Only death can throw more light on life! And this knocking on his doors is the moment for his true enlightenment; now or never; and so the question. In short, the point of his question is whether in the state of release, one exists to enjoy the fruits of that release, or no such existence is possible. No living man on earth can enlighten on this, and no better teacher than death can throw light on this.
2. 'Understanding' God and the 'means' to it
These occur in the Upanisad (2-7 onwards) the view that for true God-experience, mere logical reasoning, guessing discrimination, etc are not instrumental ; one should seek a real teacher who has seen him, and even here all kinds of teacher will not do ! For God is not accessible even for the hearing of many; even among those who have heard of him, few only would 'know' him, hence one who can claim to have experience of God is a wonder of wonders, and one who claims to have obtained instruction from such a one is still more a rare wonder; one's own ratiocination cannot lead one to God, straight; an inferior teacher's instruction is of no use at all! One who cannot live away from God - he alone is the refuge of a true seeker after God ; for this is very subtle and beyond logic."
If properly not understood, this can be a big Pandora's box of never ending mischief, creating confusions in epistemology, regarding the validity of inference - Anumana or Tarka - as an accepted instrument of philosophical knowlede. Reason is not the same thing as reasoning or logic.
Is the Upanisad condemning logic, or the very faculty of mind as an instrument of experience, or grasp of reality? If Tarka is of no use altogether, why does even 'Sankara accept it is a valid means of knowledge, along with Ramanuja and other philosophers? The context, clearly, is not to condemn reasoning, but to show its limitations, as an exclusive guide to experience, God cannot be 'learnt' from a mere bookish study; or by mere analysis and application of the brain - as we solve problems in mathematics. He can certainly not be known by dogmatic faith, by the mere acceptance of a Messiah, or by mechanical devices. Like only a lamp capable of lighting another lamp, only a God - Experiencer can stimulate it in an aspirant; but this, after many a rigour, penance, yearning, and the acquirement of numerous qualifications. Upanisads are very vocal about all this. Still, there is a tendency among many, to take the present context as one of wholesale condemnation of reason, and so some explanation is needed here, to guard ourselves.
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