The Path – March 1894



The third part of the Katha Upanishad continues the teaching of Death to Nachiketas, which has already been followed through the first two parts:

– Those who know the Eternal, the five fires, and the triple flame tell of the shadow and the light entering the cave through the long age, and drinking the reward of good deeds in the world.

No better sentence for illustrating the symbolism of the Upanishads could be chosen. The first words hardly need an explanation. They need, rather, realization in the inmost recesses of the heart. But who are the knowers or practicers of the five fires? These words allude to an ancient penance, when the ascetic stood bare-headed between four fires, in the blazing heat of the Indian sun. But this penance in itself is symbolical. The five fires are the five senses, or the five powers of sensation, which make up the phenomenal, illusory world; and it is the heat of these five fires of delusion which the true ascetic must learn to withstand. The knower of the triple flame is he who knows the Higher Self, the triple Atma, or the triad Atma, Buddhi, and Higher Manas; that is, Spirit, Soul, and pure reason. What, then, are the shadow and the light that these three tell the knower of the eternal, he who withstands the five fires of sense, and he who knows the triple flame of the Higher Self? We may discern the meaning by the words which follow. The shadow and the light enter the cave, or the hidden world, and enjoy for a long age the fruit of good deeds done in the world. The shadow and the light are, therefore, the Spirit, and its vehicle the soul, which, entering into the hidden world of Devachan after death, reap the good Karma of the past life.

[Death continues:]

– Let us teach to Nachiketas what is the bridge of sacrificers, the unperishing Eternal, and the fearless shore of those who seek, to pass over.

The bridge by which the sacrificers of self pass over to the shore where there is no fear, the resting-place of the unperishing Eternal, is the link between the Higher and the lower self; it is the latent power of the lower self to rise to the Higher Self, and thus to cross over from the outer world which is its field of life to the inner world of the Higher Self.

– Know that the Self (Atma.) is the lord of the chariot; that the body (Sharira ) is the chariot; know that soul (Buddhi) is the charioteer; and that mind (Manas) is the rein.

They say that the organs (or impulses) are the horses; and the external world of objects is their road. As the self is yoked to mind and the impulses, the wise say the Self is the enjoyer. But he who is unwise, with mind not bound to the Self (that is, with lower Manas preponderant), his impulses are ungoverned, like the charioteer's unruly horses. But he who is wise, with mind ever bound to the Self (with higher Manas preponderant), his impulses are controlled like the charioteer's good horses.

In this simile of the chariot, Buddhi governs kama through Manas, under the inspiration of Atma. The reins are well in hand, the horses are controlled, when Manas is recipient of the light of Atma, through the mediation of Buddhi; when the lower aspires to the Higher Self. It will be remembered that in the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna is the charioteer or Buddhi.

– But who is unwise, unmindful, and ever impure, obtains not that resting-place and goal); but falls back into the world of birth and death.

But he who is wise, mindful, and ever pure, he indeed reaches a resting-place from which he is not born again.

He who has wisdom for his charioteer, keeping mind well in hand, reaches the end of the path, the supreme resting-place of the evolving power.

The impulses are higher than the senses; mind (Manas) is higher than the impulses; soul (Buddhi) is higher than mind; and the Great Self (Mahamatma) is higher than Buddhi. Higher than this Great is the Unmanifested. Higher than the Unmanifested is the Logos (Purushas). Than the Logos, none is higher; that is the prop, the Supreme Way.

The "unwise, unmindful" is again he whose lower mind (Manas) is not dominated by the Higher. For only with this domination and preponderance of the higher mind over the lower, by which the center of life passes from the lower mind dominated by desire (kama-manas) to the higher mind dominated by Spirit Soul (Atma-Buddhi-Manas) is the final goal reached; for the center of life thus leaves a temporary and unstable dwelling for one that is eternal and fixed; and thus the end of the path is reached, the supreme seat of the power which evolves the worlds.

– The hidden Self does not shine forth in all beings; but is seen by the keen and subtle soul of subtle seers.

Let the wise man restrain voice (creative power) and mind; let him restrain them by the Self which is wisdom. Let him restrain this wisdom by the Self which is great; and this let him restrain in the Self which is peace.

This is the secret of the triple Self, the three-fold Atma; its three sides are Wisdom, Power, and Peace. These correspond to the three sides of the Self, Sat, Chit, Ananda, or Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, in the classification of the later Vedantins.

Then, having taught the final secret, the bridge across to the Great Beyond, and the way to cross over, and the nature of the Self that dwells on the other side, Death bids Nachiketas:

– "Awake, arise! Having obtained thy wishes, understand them. The wise say the path is hard to traverse, like the keen edge of a razor". Then, having won the soundless, touchless, formless, unfading, the everlasting, that has neither taste nor smell, the beginningless, endless Eternal, that is beyond the Great, he is released from the mouth of Death.

And the Initiation is ended; the lesson of death is learned. The Upanishad concludes:

– This is the immemorial teaching declared by Death to Nachiketas. Declaring and hearing it, the wise grows great in the world of the Eternal. He who causes this supreme secret to be heard in the assembly of those who seek the Eternal, or at the time of the union with those who have gone forth builds for everlastingness; he builds for everlastingness.

A last word as to the meaning of this "union with those who have gone forth". The Sanskrit word used is Shraddha, the yearly sacrifice to the spirits of ancestors in the ascending line; when the sacrificer is united in spirit to his forefathers in the other world. But the inner meaning is that union with spiritual ancestors in the ascending Guru parampara chain which is described in the last chapter of the "Idyll of the White Lotus". This union with the spirit of the Great Ones who have gone be fore is the Great Initiation, the theme of the "immemorial teaching of Death".

The Path