Katha Upanishad: The Sacrifice and the Aspiration, Part 2

Nachiketas is identified with the fire of aspiration, the soul’s flame.  We can read this dialogue to be between the outer being who functions in the world, and the inner being who is the spiritual Person who aspires to spiritual realisation.  He asks three times to represent the aspiration and dedication of body, life and mind.  The father replied that he would give Nachiketas to “Death”.  All human beings are subject to death, and this involves the dissolution of the body, the life and the mind.  On an esoteric level, the death of the ego-consciousness is one of the stages of spiritual progress, as noted in the mystery traditions throughout the world, where the spiritual aspirant undergoes a ritual death in order to become an initiate.  On a yogic level, there is a stage in experience where one reaches the point where the ego recognises it is going to “die” and if it draws back in fear, it does not cross over into the new standpoint.  Eventually one must go through the experience of death in the consciousness to move the standpoint from the ego to the spirit.

Some commentators indicate that the father made this statement in a pique of anger, but that is not a necessary reading if we look at this as a parable for the aspiration of the soul shaking off the domination of the outer, worldly life to achieve spiritual realisation.  It would then be more simply a recognition of the state of human beings living in the world, subject to death and thus, shifting the focus to the spiritual life and aspiration to understand the true significance of existence.  This reading fits easily into what follows as Nachiketas, the flame of Agni Jataveda (knower of all things born) explores the deeper meaning behind the outer worldly existence of body, life and mind.  Of course, there might be an outburst of anger as the outer being realises that death lies in its future, and it does not fully accept or comprehend what is to follow.

It is significant that this flame of aspiration, Nachiketas, takes the exclamation as an action that carries out a larger purpose of the divine Law, as Yama, the Lord of Death, is also the Lord of the Law of existence.  He evidences here a shift from the egoistic standpoint of being the “actor” to the soul’s view of carrying out a divine intention.  The soul knows that death is part of a larger process in the divine manifestation.

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