Katha Upanishad: The Sacrifice and the Aspiration, Part 1

Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, First Cycle, First Chapter, Verses 1 through 6:  “Vajashravasa, desiring, gave all he had.  Now Vajashravasa had a son named Nachiketas.  As the gifts were led past, faith took possession of him who was yet a boy unwed and he pondered: ‘Cattle that have drunk their water, eaten their grass, yielded their milk, worn out their organs, of undelight are the worlds which he reaches who gives such as these.’  He said to his father, ‘Me, O my father, to whom wilt thou give?’  A second time and a third he said it, and he replied, ‘To Death I give them.’  ‘Among many I walk the first, among many I walk the midmost; something Death means to do which today by me he will accomplish.  Look back and see, even as were the men of old, — look round! — even so are they that have come after.  Mortal man withers like fruits of the field and like the fruits of the field he is born again.’ ”

The father, Vajashravasa undertook a sacrifice which involved giving away all his possessions {sarva dakshina}   He was desirous of obtaining access to one of the heavenly realms.  He was ready to move into the next phase of life preliminary to his own death and his possessions obviously had been used and enjoyed during his life.  His son, Nachiketas, recognised the fact that the items being given away were well used and of little value for the recipients.   Some commentators state that he withheld possessions and only gave the old and worn out ones, but the clear text indicates that he “gave all he had”.  Thus, the indication that this is preparatory to departing the worldly life and entering the next phase of life.  Nachiketas saw the intention of his father to achieve a future benefit from this sacrifice.  With this context, he intervened and asked his father to whom he, Nachiketas, was to be given.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp.  104-129