Kathopanishad (Madhva commentary)

by Srisa Chandra Vasu | 1909 | 21,449 words | ISBN-13: 9789332869165

The English translation of the Kathopanishad (Katha-upanishad) including the commentary of Madhva called the Bhasya. It is an important text associated with the Krishna Yajurveda and discusses topics such as the nature of Atman, karma, rebirth and the soul The Kathopanishad is also known as: Kaṭhopaniṣad (कठोपनिषद्, kathopanisad), Kaṭha-paniṣad (क...

Chapter 1 - First Valli

Peace chant.

Om! May He protect us both (teacher and pupil). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of Mukti. May we both exert together to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other! Om! Peace! peace! peace!

Madhva’s Salutation.

The Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord, whom I how to, is above all things. Thou who dwellest in the hearts of all living creatures—Salutations to thee, O Vāmana! Salutations.

Note.—He who possesses the six-fold qualities of lordliness, etc., is called Bhagavan. The word Vāmana shows that the Lord has a form which the devotees meditate upon. The Devatā of this Upaniṣad is Vāmana and the Seer is Yama.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

In the Brahma-Sāra we read:—“He who meditates on Viṣṇu in Agni constantly, and performs three times the Nāciketa Fire sacrifice reaches Heaven; and there, free from all fears, resides for a manvantaric period and after that attains immortality in due time.”

Note.—This shows that mere fire-sacrifice does not lead to Mukti: but to Svarga only. The “immortality” here means mokṣa. The performers of Nāciketa Fire sacrifice first go to Svarga and then obtain mokṣa along with Brahma. Thus it is Krama-Mukti. While Jñāna gives direct mukti. The above quotation also shows that the second boon asked by Naciketas refers to Mukti and not merely to ordinary Svarga. The second boon relates to Krama-mukti, obtained by those who meditate on Viṣṇu in Fire.

It is clear from the above that Madhva has taken up the explanation of the verse “svarga lokā amṛtatvaṃ bhajante” (Kaṭha I.13) first. This shows that he attaches great importance that verse and that he differs fundamentally from Śrī Śaṅkara in its interpretation. According to Śaṅkara, the knowledge of Heavenly Fire is a secondary thing and lias nothing to do with Mukti. The knowledge of such Fire is Upaniṣad only in a secondary sense of the word.

Mantra 1.1

1. Desiring once (the heaven-worlds), Vājaśravasa gave away all his possessions as fee to the priests, He had a son called Naciketas.—1.

Mantra 1.2.

2. Faith entered him, though still a boy, when the cows wore being given as present to the priests. He thought.—2

Mantra 1.3.

Verily joyless are the worlds of him who gives decrepit old cows that have drank water and owing to the weakness of old age can drink no more), eaten, hay (and can eat no more), given milk (and arc dry now), and are barren.—3.

Mantra 1.4.

4. He said to his father then: “O father! to what (priest) wilt thou give me.” Twice and thrice, (he put this question). The father said, to him “To Death I give thee.”—4.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

Thus we record in the Gati-Sāra

Uddālaka, the grandson of Vājaśravas, desiring to attain heavenly regions, gave away all his possessions, as fee to the officiating priests. He gave also cows who were decrepit. The young son of Uddālaka seeing this, said to his father “Such cows should never be given in gift, better give me away to some priest, and thus fulfil thy pledge of giving cows.” On hearing this, the father cursed the boy.

Note.—In another version of Yajur Veda Katḥa Śākhā the story is given in these words:—“The boy said—father! to whom shalt thou give me?” He said this twice and thrice. To him the father answered in anger: “I give thee to Death. Thou shalt reach the palace of Death when he will not be at home. There thou must dwell for three nights without taking any food. When on his return, he will ask thee, ‘child! how many nights thou hast been here?’ Tell him “three nights.” ‘What didst thou eat, the first night?’ Thy offsprings. ‘What didst thou eat the second night?’ Thy cattle. ‘What, the third night?’ All thy meritorious deeds.”

This recension shows in greater detail the scope of the curse: which may have been uttered, in some such language as the following:—Die thou, and going, to the palace of Death, remain there, though be be out, for three nights without any food.

Mantra 1.5.

5.—Among many I go as first, among many I go as middle. What object has Yama, which through me, will he accomplish to-day.—5.

Mantra 1.6.

Note. Look at those who have died before me, so also look round On those others who are now dying and will follow me and thus learn that the mortal man matures and dies like the corn, and is born again like the corn.

6.—Look at those who have died before me (Naciketas) and also at those others who are now dying and will follow me; and thus learn that the mortal man matures and dies like the corn, and is born again like the corn.—6.

Mantra 1.7.

7.—Like lire a Brahmin guest enters the house. The wise quench it thus by peace-offerings. Fetch water, O Vaivasvat—7.

Mantra 1.8.

8.—All his hopes and expectations, friends and reputation, the fruits of religious and charitable deeds, sons and cattle perish, in the house,of that man of small intellect, where dwells a Brahmin without any food;—8.

Mantra 1.9.

9. Because in my house, O Brāhmaṇa! thou, an honorable guest hast dwelt for three nights (without food) so let there be salutation to thee and peace to me and therefore ask three boons, one for each night passed without eating.—9.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

That youthful Brahmacārin went to Yama’s abode. Though the wife of Yama offered him food and arghya with all due honors, he did not accept them. When Yama returned she said to him—Fetch water. On being so addressed, Yama brought water, and doing honor to the young guest, gave him three boons. These were (1) reconciliation of his father towards Naciketas and the forgiveness of Naciketas’ sins (2) the knowledge appertaining to Hari dwelling in the Nāciketa Fire sacrifice. (3) the knowledge that Viṣṇu dwells in the Muktas and controls them too. These were the three boons. This we find in the Gati-Sāra.

Mantra 1.10.

10.—O Death! Let my father Gautama be calm of thought, pleased in mind, free from anger towards me, and when sent, back by thee, may he recognise and greet me with old affection. This is the first boon I ask for.—10.

Mantra 1.11.

11. As beloved thee before, so also Auddalaki Āruṇi will even now love thee. He will have pleasant sleep in nights, and free from anger towards thee will see thee freed from the mouth of death and will recognise thee when thou art sent back to him by me.—11.

Note.—(You) being dismissed by me, will he recognised (by your father), as (a person returning home) from another city. The son of Uddālaka will be free from anger, having seen thee freed fully from the jaws of death.

Mantra 1.12.

12.In the Heaven-world there is no fear. O Death, thou art not there, and decay does not Frighten one. Crossing over both hunger and thirst, the sorrow-transcended rejoices in the Heaven-world.—12.

Mantra 1.13.

13.O Death! thou verily knowest the Heaven-giving Fire; teach, that to me who have faith, The dwellers of Heaven world enjoy immortality. This as the second boon I choose.—13.

Mantra 1.14.

14.O Naciketas! 1 know well this Heaven giving Fire, and will describe Him to thee—learn that He is the Giver of the eternal world, the Support (of the universe), and Dweller in the hearts of all creatures.—14.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The word ‘Agni’ is the name of Hari, because He is the Foremost (agrya) of all. He abides in the Nāciketa Agni. The phrase Anantaloka-āptiḥ means the instrument by which one reaches (āptiḥ) the region (loka) of the Infinite (Ananta): or the means by which one reaches the eternal (Ananta) region (loka). The ananta means Viṣṇu—and so ananta loka means the Viṣṇu loka. Or ananta may mean eternal, and so ananta loka will mean the endless or eternal region. The word pratiṣṭhā means “the foundation of all regions.” Viṣṇu who dwells in the heart of all beings is the great Pratiṣṭhā or the Foundation on which all the Universes rest.

Mantra 1.15.

15. Yama told him about that Fire who is the cause of all the worlds, and what the nature of the Devatas are, how many (they are in number), and how (they are to be known). Naciketas repeated that as he was told. Then Yama, being pleased (with his aptness) said again.—15.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The word “Lokādi” moans “the Beginning of all worlds.” Hari is verily the great beginning or source of all worlds. By knowing Him one certainly attains mukti. The word iṣṭakāḥ or bricks here mean the devatas. As says a text: “One becomes free from the fetters of karma when he understands rightly the number 360 which represents Viṣṇu, the complete circle called also the Brick or angle devatā.”

Note.—Was this altar made in the form of a circle consisting of 360 bricks, each being an arc of one degree: the whole circle being called Viṣṇu and each brick an iṣṭakā devatā? In the Aitareya the number is 1080 or 3x360 in which case each brick would represent an are of 20 minutes.

Mantra 1.16.

16. Being pleased, the high-minded Yama spoke to him:—“Let me give thee here another boon to-day. By thy name alone this fire will be (known among men). Accept also this golden necklace.”—16.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The word “aneka-rūpām” means ‘golden; and not multi-form.’ For the Lexicon says:—‘The word bahu-rūpām means gold.’

in the Padma-Purāṇa also it is stated“The Lord Yama being satisfied with the aptness of Naciketas in reciting the teachings faultlessly, named the Fire after Naciketas and gave him also a necklace of gold.”

Mantra 1.17.

17. He who has performed the Nāciketas sacrifice thrice, and has discharged the three duties and lias attained harmony with the three Vedas, crosses over birth and death. Having known and realised that adorable God who is omniscient and revealed by the Vedas, he attains everlasting peace.—17.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The phrase “having attained union with the three” means having attained union with, the three Vedas, i.e., the Ṛk, Yajus, Sāman (and Atharvan). Who does nothing opposed to the Vedas. Who knows the true nature of the Lord (and the Jīva and Prakṛti) as revealed in the Vedas. The phrase “who has performed the three duties” means “he who has performed Yajña (sacrifice), dāna (alms-giving), and tapas (austerity).” As says the Gītā:—

“Acts of Sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be relinquished, but should be performed (Gītā, XVIII, 5).

Note.—The word ‘tapas,’ of course, includes study, &c.. See the Bhagavad Gītā, XVII, 14—17.

The phrase ‘tray am etad’—“this three”—in mantra 18 means (1) the bricks, (2) their number and (3) their arrangement.

The word “Brahmjajña” has been thus explained in Nāma-Nirukti:—

“By Brahman is meant the Vedas, as Viṣṇu is styled Brahmja because the Vedas reveal Him. That Hari is the Jña or the knower of the whole universe. The whole compound word, therefore, means Hari, the knower, whom the Vedas have revealed.”

The epithets “the Beginning of the Worlds,” “the Great Foundation or support,” “the Omniscient whom the Vedas reveal,” “The Infinite World attainment” and the rest show that the Agni, the topic of the second boon, means the Lord Viṣṇu here: and not fire. The phrase “the Mighty one praised by all hymns” in mantra 11 of the second Valli also suggests the same idea. In fact, that mantra expressly uses all these words “The great support (pratiṣṭhā) of the world,” “The giver of endless rewards,” &c., with regard to Viṣṇu and not fire,

Note.—If we analyse and compare the mantras 1.5, 16, 17 of the First Valli and Mantra 11 of the Second Valli, we find that almost word for word, epithets applied to Agni are applied there to Viṣṇu: and thus we infer that Agni here must mean Viṣṇu.


Ananta-loka-āptiḥ (I.14) = Kāmasya āptiḥ (II. 11).
Pratiṣṭhām (I. 14) = Jagataḥ pratiṣṭhām, (II. 11).
Ananta-loka-āptim (1.14) = Krator ānaatyam (II. 11).
Tarati janma-mṛtyu (I. 17)=Abhayasya pāram (II. 11).
Brahma-ja-jñam (I. 17) = Stoma-mahat-urugāyam (II. 11).

The epithet “urugāya” (II. 11) is a well-known designation of the Lord, and means “He whom the Great Ones Sing.” So also the epithet “placed in the cavity” (1.14) applied to Agni is the specific attribute of the word Viṣṇu, and so the Lord Agni there must mean Viṣṇu. Nor does one attain the endless world by the mere knowledge of Agni as fire, or Fire-god, but the knowledge of the Lord alone gives such position.

For we find in the Bṛ. Up. III. 8. 10, it stated expressly that a diligent performer of fire-sacrifices fails to reach the endless world if lie is ignorant of the Lord.

“O Gārgi! He who offers oblations to Vaiśvadeva, etc., in this world or gives alms, or performs sacrifices like aśvamedha, etc., or undergoes protracted penances for thousands of years, but does not know the Imperishable, reaches the world which has an end: and never the endless world.”

Moreover, where the primary meaning of a word gives a sensible and reasonable interpretation, it is not proper to take the secondary meaning. The primary meaning of the word ananta-loka—the endless state—is Mukti and not Heaven. Svarga is only a secondary meaning of this word. Nor is the knowledge of Fire a direct means of mukti, it may lead indirectly to Mukti: while the knowledge of Viṣṇu is the direct means of Mukti. For this reason, too, the word Agni must mean Viṣṇu, here.

Mantra 1.18.

18. That wise Three-fold-performer of Nāciketas sacrifice, who having known, these three, thus performs the Naciketas meditation, having thrown off the toils of death lurking in. the heart, transcending all sorrows, rejoices in the Lord Viṣṇu, and thus is liberated.—18.

Mantra 1.19.

19. This heavenly Fire which thou didst ask for in thy second boon, will be known by thy name as Nāciketa Agni. People will call this by thy name. O Naciketas! ask the third boon.—19.

Mantra 1.20.

20. Some say that the God controls the dead and the (liberated) jīvas, others say that He does not. Therefore this doubt has arisen. May I know this being taught by thee. Of the boons, this is the third that I have chosen.—20.

There is this doubt regarding (the condition of the) man in mokṣa, some say there is (still an Individual self or form or centre in Mokṣa) others say it is not. May I learn, being taught by thee, this (true nature of Mokṣa). Of the boons, this is the third.

Note.—The meaning generally given to this question is—some say that there is such a thing as an ātman, which survives after death, and which is distinct from body, senses, manas, and buddhi, while others say there is no such entity as ātmā. This is a subject which we cannot know either through perception or through reasoning, hence the necessity of revelation about it. This interpretation is set aside by the commentator. The question is not about the survival of Personality after death, but about the nature of God and the Liberated jīva, and their inter-relation.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The wise say that the Lord controls the embodied and unembodied the bound as well as the liberated jīvas. The ignorant say that He rules only the living and those souls which are bound, but over the liberated He exercises no control. They are perfectly free. Let me know, O Yama, the true nature of the controller. Teach me this.

That the question is about this Controller, and not about the survival after death, is also clear from mantra 4 of the Fifth Vallī:—“What remains when this soul, the dweller in the body, gees out leaving the sense body (at death); and is freed also from the subtle body (at Mukti). This is that indeed.” This question also shows that the Lord dwelling in the Freed Ones is the subject of enquiry. The word there is “Vimucyamānsya”—“completely freed” that is, the soul that has shaken off even the subtle body. The Mukti alone can be called vimucyamāna [vimucyamānam], i.e., vīseṣeṇa-mocana [mocanam]: merely physical death is not called vimucyamānam. Of course, Yama in I. 25, says “do not ask me about death (maraṇa [maraṇam]).” But that does not show that Naciketas asked about ordinary death. The word maraṇam or death is applied to the Freed Souls also for they had been under the control of death. In V. 41 there are wo epithets used, visraṃsamāna [visraṃsamānam] and vimucyamānam—the first means, to throw off the dense body, the latter to discard the subtle body. If both meant leaving off the dense body, there would be tautology. So the use of these two epithets in that verse also proves that the enquiry really refers to Muktas and not the ordinary dead.

[The second and the third questions both relate to the mystery of the Lord. Yama answers the second question very promptly, but the third he answers with great reluctance.] The reason for this is thus given in the Tattva-Sāra A person who knows the Supreme Self in a general way, as residing in Agni, but does not know the Lord particularly, as residing in the heart of all jīvas even when they are freed, and who is ignorant of the fact that the Lord is also always the controller of all Mukta Jīvas and that He possesses super-relatively excellent qualities—a person who is thus ignorant of the greatness of Hari does not get Mukti. Therefore Yama answers the third question with great reluctance, in order to show that the question implies a great mystery. Still by knowing the Lord as residing in Agni there accrues an increase of happiness in the Mukta state. Therefore the third question is separately put.”

Note.—The second and the third questions both relate to the Lord: but the knowledge of the Lord as the indwelling spirit of Fire docs not alone lead to Mukti, hence the necessity of the third question. It is the knowledge of the super-excellent qualities of the Lord as described in answer to the third question, and the knowledge that He is the Controller of the Alukta Jīvas also, that leads to salvation. In the state of Mukti there is happiness, but this happiness is considerably enhanced if one possesses the knowledge implied in the second question also. In Valli 5, Mantra 7, the Śruti recites “Some jīvas ready for birth go into the womb and obtain a body, others enter into immoveable object, according to their action and their knowledge.” Then the Śruti goes on to declare in the next Mantra “He the Lord who is awake in those who sleep, shaping one desired object after another—that is the bright, that is Brahman, that alone is called the Immortal.”

This also indicates that the Lord dwells in the jīvas; and as this is said in answer to the question put in Mantra V, 1, we conclude that the question there also was about the Lord and His control over the jīvas, both bound and free. Otherwise there would be no relevancy between the question and the answer. In the third boon of Nāciketas the question relates to Mukta Jīvas only, while in V. 4. the question refers to all jīvas whether bound or free; in the third boon “yeyaṃ prete” etc., the word used is prete, which means the ‘dead’ as well as ‘Mukta.’ So that question is confined to the enquiry whether the Lord controls the ‘dead’ and the ‘free’: while the question in V. 4. relates to jīvas in general, whether alive, dead or free. Tims there is no contradiction between these two.

In V. 6 also Yama says “Now I shall tell thee about that mysterious ancient Brahman how He, the Supreme, governs the dying and the dead.” The same idea is more definitely expressed in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa;—“The mysterious Supreme Brahman, though dwelling in the dying and decaying bodies of the jīvas yet He is awake in all the jīvas whether they be asleep or not.”

Mantra 1.21.

21. This (question) was left undecided even by the gods of old, because it is not of easy comprehension. This God is subtle (and of unmanifested nature). O Nāciketas! ask any other boon. Do not press me. [??]e me from this ‘pledge of answering thee).—21.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The word “Dharma” here means the supporter, He who upholds all the worlds.

Note.—About this the devas, even of yore had their doubt because it is not easy of [??]standing because this Lord is very subtle. O Nāciketas! ask another boon, do not [???] me; let go to me this boon.

Mantra 1.22.

22.O Death because even thou sayest ‘the devas even verily had [???]ts about this and it is not easy of understanding’—(therefore that [???]e boon which I ask), because there can not be found a teacher like [???] nor is there any other boon equal to it.—22.

Note.—(Nāciketa said) O Death about this certainly of old the devas oven were in [???] and thou also sayest that it is not easy of understanding: of this truth, a speaker [???]ee no other can be obtained, therefore, like this there is no other boon.

Mantra 1.23.

23.—(Yama said) choose sons and grandsons living for a hundred [???]; choose many animals, horses, elephants and gold. Choose a wide empire on earth ami live them thyself as many autumns as thou desirest.—23.

Mantra 1.24.

24.—If thou thinkest (there is) any other boon like this, choose that also. Choose wealth and long life, O Nāciketa, be thou a king of wide world. I shall make thee an object of desire even, to those whom the world desires.—24.

Mantra 1.25.

25.—Whatever desires are difficult of attainment in the mortal body, all those desires, fully mayst thou ask. Take these—fair maidens seated on chariots and playing on musical instruments, men verily cannot get like them. Be thou served by these given by me, 0 Naciketas! Do not enquire about the Lord of death and life.—25.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The words maraṇam mānuprākṣīḥ mean do not press me to tell thee about the Lord who controls the dying. The word maraṇa [maraṇam] does not mean death here, but the dying.

Mantra 1.26.

26.O End-maker, all these enjoyments are transitory. They cause decay of the senses of man. The longest life is indeed short. Let thy vehicles, thy dancers and singers remain with thee.—26.

Mantra 1.27.

27. No man is ever satisfied with wealth. When we have seen thee, we shall obtain wealth. We shall live, so long as thou rulest (as Yama). So that indeed is the boon chosen by me, I ask no other boon.—27.

Mantra 1.28.

28.O wise (Yama)! Having (once) approached (the vicinity) of the Undecaying and the Undying where (has ever, a decaying mortal been drawn down? (Even a long life is not desirable for) remembering (the bye-gone) beauty, pleasures and joy (of dead beloved ones) who can find happiness in a long life?—28.

Mantra 1.29.

29. O Death, as with regards to the Great Beatitude (the condition of Mukti), they have raised this doubt, that indeed tell thou to us. As this boon relates to the Hidden, therefore, Naciketas does not choose any other boon.—29.

About which (people) have raised such doubts, that (God) indeed, O Death, reveal thou to us (that we. may get) the Supreme Liberation. As (the subject of) this boon has been kept a secret (so long), therefore, no other boon does Nāciketa choose.

Madhva’s commentary called the Bhāṣya:

The words Mahati sāmparāye mean the Great Blessing, i.e., the Mukti.

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