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Vol. 84

Teachings of Shri Mahayogi

Satsangha, Kyoto, 2017

The True Meaning of Living

The Role of the Mind and the True Master

Applying Practice to Gain Mental Strength

What is True Happiness?

Thoughts in the Last Moment of Life and Reincarnation

The Meaning of Having Been Born


Testimonies from Actual Practitioners

The Secret of the Upanishad
The Journey of the Soul of Nachiketas
Part 1
Part 2
Katha Upanishad
(Offered at the sacred theatrical performance “Amrita—Immortality”
at Annex Hall in The Museum of Kyoto, 2005)
by Yogadanda
Sep. 2007, Kyoto, Japan

* * * * * * * * * *

Teachings of Shri Mahayogi

Translation of Satsangha

The True Meaning of Living

Saturday November 11, 2017, Kyoto

It’s a crisp, sunny autumn day, and as evening arrives, rain clouds emerge from the northern sky; the gradation of sunset woven with orange, gold, and pink clouds is mixing with black rain clouds to create a beautiful, mysterious pattern in the sky, and a design akin to an ink marbling is expanding. A gentle drizzling of light rain begins and adds moisture to the surrounding atmosphere.

At the starting time, Shri Mahayogi enters the hall. As Shri Mahayogi sits down at a simple seat, the hall suddenly transforms into a space with sacred breath blown into it. Shri Mahayogi slowly gazes gently at everyone from the front row to the back row.

The Role of the Mind and the True Master

(Ms. Nakajima begins to speak, saying that Shri Mahayogi told everyone last month, “each and every one has a role to play,” which has begun to bring her hope.)

Ms. Nakajima: I would like to ask for a hint in being able to catch on to my role in life, and how I should think about the meaning of that role for myself.

MASTER: At a basic level, it is about devotedly carrying out actions of service. As for the concrete roles of each individual, the forms or manifestations of them will arise and be in accordance with that base of devoted service.

Amiti: Please teach us about the teaching that we should have already prepared ourselves by making our egos into servants of God.

MASTER: Strictly speaking, the mind originally does not have an ego. What indicates the word “ego” is that, just like there are various individual bodies in this relative world, the mind too takes form and manifests with these bodies; yet the stronger the selfish thoughts are, in other words, the greater the concentration of its color becomes, the more dyed in pain-bearing obstacles the mind becomes, while the more diluted the selfish thoughts are, the more the mind works only in the function of a mechanism that distinguishes the self from the other. The mind is just like a tool; for example, just as our hands perform when we do manual tasks, and just as our legs carry us as the necessity arises to go somewhere, the mind too can be considered to be a tool for handling various things, and on so doing it comes up with various things and matters and thinks about various ideas. That is what is meant by having already made the mind, the ego, into tools, that is to say, being a tool means being like a servant.

Whenever there is a servant, there is always a master there. What matters is who this master is. Normally, by the ego pretending to have the face of the master, errors are caused, as mentioned now, but if the ego becomes thinner and fades, or if one becomes aware of the true Self called Atman, then that is the true Master, and then the mind will play the role of a tool just like a body, or just like a servant. On the other hand, when the ego is still not yet extinguished completely but is getting diluted, then you tell the mind that the ego is like a servant or a tool, so that ego understands its proper place. That is the meaning of having to make the ego into the servant. Remember (emphasizes) that there is always a Master for that, called Atman. (Smiling) And, Atman is another name for God.

Applying Practice to Gain Mental Strength

Mr. A: I am only a beginner but may I ask a question? (A man who is participating for the first time asks modestly.)

A while ago, when I read one of Vivekananda’s books, there were these words of his: “We must have faith in ourselves first and then in God.” “Be strong.” I am in the place where my mind is entangled in the world, swirling with desire; so I would very much like to receive teachings in order to ride out these rough waves and how I might be able to have belief in myself so that I can become strong.

MASTER: Indeed, the world is constantly inundated with dizzying, intense changes and everyone, unknowingly, is at the mercy of these changes. During those moments, or in order to train to gain strength in yourself, first you must train yourself to not be affected by external influences. It’s not about becoming a monk and going off somewhere, but it is something that you can practice in your current place and situation, or in the current environment. That is, first, stop judging and evaluating yourself, saying, “I’m this way and that way”—these are merely relative thoughts; there are good times and bad times, and even the standard for evaluation is ambiguous. Therefore, stay in a neutral state so as not to pay attention to either condition. [That means,] do not pay attention to your own judgement and evaluation toward yourself, and at the same time, (sternly) do not react to various influences from others and the surrounding environment either, whether good or bad. Leave things as they change and as they go. Within that, you just act according to what you must act upon, your own job and duties accordingly, and don’t intervene in things beyond that. This does not mean that you withdraw yourself within yourself; it has the effect of silencing your own mind. Through that, the strength in yourself will arise from within your mind.

And, as you are learning Yoga like this, [which teaches about one’s true nature,] then you will begin to acquire the ability to connect to and understand that which is certain, that is, the Truth; so, from there substantial strength will be born. And within the condition of the mind, as this process progresses within your mind, you will come to understand the Truth more, and faith towards God or Truth will naturally sprout. (With a gentle smile) Therefore, before anything else, first you must work on yourself to be well prepared. I suppose that this is what Vivekananda is teaching as well.

Mr. A: Thank you very much. I’ll do my best to work on that.

MASTER: (with a big smile) Yes. And more than anything, every Holy Being has said that the Truth is within everyone. It is undeniable, and it is absolutely within you, too, therefore, trust that and keep practicing.

What is True Happiness?

Mr. A: I used to have many hobbies, but as I’ve learned and studied Yoga more, I began to think about whether the objects of my interests are attachments or not, and I also began to think about what is necessary and unnecessary; however, I also miss these things [that I let go of], so I am not able to feel happy about it. As it says in The Universal Gospel of Yoga—“Our true nature is Bliss, and it is Ever-Free”—I thought that if I deepen Yoga, then I can always remain unshaken by anything and enjoy life, but I find myself unconvinced about that.

(After listening intensely and earnestly to him, Shri Mahayogi, begins to speak eloquently.)

MASTER: Everyone, before starting to learn and practice Yoga, often has some kind of interest or a variety of interests, attaches to them and struggles to acquire or gain them. There must be a thought behind all this that you will feel good in attaining them or that you like them, or that you will be happy by acquiring or gaining them. So, then you will naturally refuse things that will bring unhappiness as a result of gaining them, and that is where choices arise. If we look at it from the perspective of Yoga, the question that arises is, “Is that happiness real?”; since something real means it will neither change nor be destroyed, then the question is, when the mind acquires various objects of interest, will the mind be fulfilled by them or not? Perhaps, three days is enough to possess it, then the mind may begin to look again for its next prey. If you observe why that happens, you come to see that that is exactly what karma is, and sanskara, which are some sorts of tendencies or habits of the mind that have been created by past experiences; and you will come to conclude that these things are active within the mind of the individual, who then chooses various objects and remains in delusion, feeling happiness.

However, true Happiness—when you are liberated from these things, then you will come to realize that Happiness is already within yourself, and there is more than enough. You may not understand this until you actually realize it through experience, yet what is indubitable is that It never changes, and It can never be destroyed; therefore, you will understand that there is nothing else that can replace It. The things of this world, whenever and whatever these things are, are only substitutes that fill a gap, which is the thoughts of the mind, or the desires [of the mind], and when that gap is filled, you might be happy in that moment, but the next hole opens up, and you may begin to seek for the next happiness again. Most likely, you are doing this in a repeated cycle.

To learn and study the Truth is, on one hand, to study the way the world is, its condition, and the way the mind is, and on the other hand, it is to study that which is certain, that which is true, and then realize That. The mind is always depending on something, and by depending on various things, as just mentioned, the mind feels something similar to happiness, that is all; if either side is not there, then it is not valid. That is to say, the mind cannot be independent. The mind is always weak. That is why the mind keeps looking for things to depend on one after another, and is restless. After going through this, the mind tastes the suffering and anxiety from not being fulfilled by these things after all. If the mind does not seek any of these things to begin with, then such suffering is not brought about; and furthermore, in fact, when you realize the Truth, you will experience and know that there is already unending Joy, which is often referred to as Bliss—it’s not about having plenty of something—or, in other words, the origin of happiness exists within Existence, which is called Truth, so this suffices completely. Therefore Yoga is not nihilistic; Yoga is not pessimistic at all—rather, it is the opposite. Once such attachments and agonies that the mind most likely possesses are gotten rid of, then you will truly be able to enjoy various things in a real sense, without attachment.

Mr. A: Because I lack sufficient practice yet, I’m concerned whether I’m progressing or not…

MASTER: These things cannot be self-evaluated, but in this type of path, that is often the reason why the existence of a Guru (Master) is considered to be necessary, although it is not the only reason. By the Guru, the progress of practice and occasional observation is done, and one is guided further to the next steps.

Mr. A: (becoming cheerful) I would like to move forward as best as I can, believing that I am progressing.

MASTER: (smiling) Yes! You are not the only one who feels that way about it (laughing). That’s why it is so wonderful that you are surrounded by like-minded fellows.

Mr. A: I think I will ask you all for much advice (looking at everyone around him), so please bear with me.

Thoughts in the Last Moment of Life and Reincarnation

Ms. Nagaoka: There was a memorable passage in the book Pranava Sara, it was regarding the last moment before dying, and it was about having strong faith and dying in God. By having faith and becoming One with God, we are able to transcend death—is that what is meant by this passage?

MASTER: Yes, it is. And in a more practical sense, one’s last thoughts before death are considered to be very strong. Therefore, even though karma normally continues on, leading one to the next life in accordance with the amount of one’s karma, it can also be considered that by the firm resolution, or intensity of the last thoughts before one dies, a power, that is sufficient to be able to greatly improve one’s own karma, can arise in these moments.

Ms. Nagaoka: I felt that through these ways I could overcome the fear of death within me, in other words, my karma; meaning that if I am with God, then…

MASTER: That is right. Do it now, why don’t you! (laughs) Have it done before you die (laughter bursts out from all). If you are constantly doing it at each moment, then that is the best way.

Ms. Nagaoka: I am so glad to have encountered these words. Thank you very much.

MASTER: (smiling) Yes.

Ms. Masami Yamaguchi: About the moment before dying, does the consciousness dwell within a person until the moment right before dying?

MASTER: That’s right. This consciousness is not the consciousness of the mind, but it is the Pure Consciousness, as the Essence; that means the Consciousness that witnesses the mind. That is Existence, or That Is; It neither changes nor dies; (with emphasis) it is That which exists eternally. That Exists as the Essence of everyone, of everything. However, the mind sort of covers over that Essence, then the body covers it—that is how it is structured. So, dying means that the body has finished its role at that moment. However, that Consciousness never dies; and at that point, the mind too will leave the body, but if the mind has karma, then you will receive a new body, carrying that karma over to the next lifetime. The mind is not the Essence, but in its way of covering the Consciousness, which is the Essence, so to speak, the mind continues to change form one after another. As long as ignorance and attachment are there within the mind, then no matter how many times one is reincarnated, the result is suffering; if one can get rid of the ignorance or attachment, then one can realize the Consciousness itself that is the Essence. Then, there will no longer be a reason to be reincarnated. You can say that being reincarnated is, in other words, in order to process one’s own karma; to reap the results, one must be born, again and again, one birth after another.

Ms. Sasanuma: The mind is afraid of its own demise, I think—nonetheless it never disappears, correct? So that means it’s an unnecessary anxiety, is that right?

MASTER: That is the case, however, even though one must have repeated this so many times, since there is a sort of forgetting device in the mind, the mechanism is such that one forgets their past lives at once and goes on to the new life as if to experience it for the first time. Otherwise, if these past life memories were too vivid, then it would cause confusion.

Ms. Sasanuma: Is it good to tell my mind that since I will simply forget, that it will never disappear, that there is no need to fear?

MASTER: That is not the wise approach. Rather, it is better to clearly give to the mind the final words that what the mind is afraid of is merely an illusion.

Ms. Yamazaki: At what point does the forgetting device of the mind work?

MASTER: In the next life, you spend nearly 10 months in the mother’s womb; perhaps the mechanism comes into effect within that time.

Ms. Yamazaki: Until that point, one’s consciousness, continues to occupy the mind?

MASTER: Yes, I think that it remains in one’s memory. That is why, in fact, there are many real cases of reports of young children, five or six year-olds, who still remember their past lives after being born. This isn’t the case for everyone but there are many actual examples. It demonstrates that one retains memory [from the past] for real, and that it is possible to revive it. Therefore, the fact of reincarnation is an indubitable fact.

Ms. Nagaoka: If we etch something like hatred in our minds, then the person being reincarnated will continue to harbor that hate.

MASTER: That’s right.

Ms. Nagaoka: If so, then it is better to erase these things and to be considerate to have pity for the person in the next life.

MASTER: Rather, it’s the tendency that will remain. Various tendencies and characteristics will be inherited. It seems that where you lived and how you lived—various concrete things are forgotten. So, if you look at the tendencies or what is commonly known as someone’s nature or character, then you can guess how the person was in past lives too (laughing) and you can imagine that if they can’t correct these tendencies, then in their future lives they will be the same. (Everyone laughs.)

Ms. Masami Yamaguchi: That is the case for the mind and soul, but what about genetics, medically speaking, it seems that [the information of] the body is also inherited. In actuality, is there no such thing?

MASTER: I wonder. I think that DNA is understood to be like a blueprint; and biologically, I think that it is affected by one’s parents—a single generation relationship, such as a physical tendency of a parent that has an effect. Regarding the continuation through reincarnation in the aspect of the mind, whether its DNA has been found currently or not—I don’t know; yet, the mechanism is as mentioned before, whether DNA can be found in it or not, because otherwise we cannot explain why the minds of people differ. Individuals, even if they are siblings, everyone has a different personality, and looking at the root cause of the differences of the experiences spent in the lives of individuals, this can only be sought in the past lives. I think that modern science is still researching this, and science has not been able to clarify everything; therefore, there’s nothing to do but to leave what these fields are based on to the authorities in these respective fields.

The Meaning of Having Been Born

(Ms. Ai Yamaguchi, who has been gazing at Shri Mahayogi from the very beginning, raises her hand. Shri Mahayogi gently responds, “Yes, go ahead.”)

Ms. Ai Yamaguchi: I participated in the Satsangha in Kyoto once when I was in elementary school and once when I was in high school. (Shri Mahayogi seems to be surprised and makes a joyful expression.) Now I’ve turned twenty years old, and I came today because I wanted to hear Shri Mahayogi’s teachings again.

Ms. Ai Yamaguchi: I have been going to nursing school; and during my internship, I encounter patients whose lives are under threat, patients who are permanently bed-ridden, and patients with various other conditions, and they all tell me of their appreciation for being alive every single day and thank me. But I understand that in a mental hospital, there are patients who are just screaming and being violent, who are in the condition of having no idea who they are, and there are classmates and teachers who speak badly about others and people who hurt or deprecate themselves—there are many people struggling.

(with tears in her eyes) There are times when I wonder what a human being is. When I thought about what the purpose of being born is, then I suddenly thought that perhaps it’s about being joyful in the joy of the people around us, or being joyful together in having been born and in liking one another… Due to the fact that I don’t know the foundation, which is what we’re living for, I feel pain from being shaky and unstable all the time. Why have people come to be born?

(After Shri Mahayogi listens, while nodding deeply to Ms. Yamguchi who is speaking and asking with utmost effort, he smiles beautifully and compassionately towards her.)

MASTER: Indeed, indeed… As you go out into society, it seems that you’re always shown undesirable things. However, such displeasing things come forth because of the karma and ignorance that everyone is born with. Ignorance is the root cause of all these undesirable things. Ignorance is to not know the Truth. Not only not knowing the Truth, but believing in things that are not the Truth. What is non-Truth? First, comes the ego. As mentioned today, too, what is the true identity of the Self that everyone believes to be “me”?—all of you believe you are the ego, therefore, you all do whatever you want, and think whatever you want. That is why you clash with one another, hurt one another, or even do things that [cause] you to hurt yourself. And, in this world you are deluded into thinking that the world will last forever, and you are deluded into believing that you can gain happiness through fulfilling some kinds of pleasures and desires in this world. However, that is not the case—the world is limited, and you never know when your life will end. Even the things you were attached to that you thought were happiness transform as time passes, and that happiness can possibly change into unhappiness, and the result is suffering. The ego, which does not know these facts, is always acting like it owns the place and doing as it pleases, and that is ignorance.

In actuality, things are not like this. In fact, everyone’s true nature or substance is divine; ego and such things do not truly exist to begin with. Ignorance actually does not exist, in fact. It is a condition, which is just as if you yourself are being dragged and bound by the creation of your own mind—like illusions, or thoughts that the mind has created at one point or another and is unable to do anything about—you must be liberated from this. Then, True Joy, called Freedom, lies there. To know this and then to realize it is the true meaning of having been born. And, you yourself are no exception; you yourself are That too, and others are as well, everyone else, everything; all have the same essence. It is the same One without a second—it is dear, it is precious and it is sacred. Then, you can be tender and have respect toward others, and you can be kinder and more considerate to everything, with tenderness. That is the true meaning of living, and of having been born.

Ms. Ai Yamaguchi: So, I should practice to love people around me tenderly like that?

MASTER: Oh yes, that is good! (With a big smile) To do that, learning Yoga is absolutely the best! Because you can establish that goal steadfastly and quickly.

Ms. Ai Yamaguchi: (eyes are shining as if a fog has cleared) Thank you very much.

(Satsangha ends. After Shri Mahayogi leaves the room, there is a reverberation of silence and tranquility.)

Shri Mahayogi taught the newcomers with sympathy, and through carefully choosing the right words. Shri Mahayogi is always attentive to make sure everyone present can grow spiritually. The guidance of the Guru must be so delicate and sublime that it is unfathomable to the disciples.


* * *

Testimonies from a Practitioner

The Secret of the Upanishads

The Journey of the Soul of Nachiketas (Part 1 of 2)
Katha Upanishad
(Offered at the sacred theatrical performance “Amrita—Immortality”
at Annex Hall in The Museum of Kyoto, 2005)

by Yogadanda
September 2007, Kyoto, Japan

Three thousand years ago, far away in the Nile basin, the Pharaohs were building huge pyramids in the hopes of revival after death, and in the Yellow River basin, emperors were looking for the elixir of life, even to the ends of the earth.

Near the Ganges, the sacrificial rite was widely popular in which people offered all their wealth and sacrificed livestock for a comfortable life in the next world. It was the brahmin who carried out all rituals and ceremonies. Brahmin were actually priests and the intellectuals who sought the mystical world. But even the intellect could not promise rebirth in the next world, for no one has come back from that world to report how it was…

“I have a question when I see someone die. Some say we still exist and others say we don’t. I want to know the truth!”

—cried a young boy named Nachiketas. Yama, the God of Death, was moved by his pure faith and sincere ardor for the truth, and finally explained to him the greatest secret of all. Let us take this spiritual journey with Nachiketas, who pursued the original question—unchanged from the beginning of time to the present moment.

Nachiketas is a symbol of all people, and of an ideal seeker. His Guru (Master), Yama, the god of death, was introduced and has come to be known in Japan as Great King Emma [the ruler of hell], and is seen as a fearsome god; but, he has also originally been described as having a personality that was sincere and humble, and as being handsome. Because he was the first human being to die, he has reigned as the king of the land of the dead.

Long ago, there was a brahmin offering all of his wealth in a ritual of sacrifice.

“Nachiketas, my dear son, I offer all my wealth according to the teachings of the sacred books. Look—I offer my precious cows to the gods, so I will be able to live comfortably in heaven after death.”

His son Nachiketas was still a child, but when he saw the sacrificial cows weak and wasted, pure faith arose in his heart. He thought, “Only when my father offers his most precious thing, will he have truly offered all his wealth.”


“Yes, Nachiketas?”

—“To whom will you offer me?”


—“To whom will you offer me, your most precious wealth?”

“What are you talking about, Nachiketas? I can never offer my dear son.”

—“But Father, you said you would offer all your wealth. Words have divine power. You can’t take back the words you once utter.”

“What a stupid thing you say! I won’t hear any more of it.”

—“Father, you need to perform the rituals correctly to go to heaven. You must offer your most precious thing. If your wish can come true, I don’t mind if I am offered. Please offer me.”

“Alright! Then I give you to the god of Death!”

Of all words, this brahmin carelessly spoke those that would commit his son to the god of Death.

And so began the journey of the pure-hearted brahmin boy, Nachiketas, to the land of the dead.

Without a second thought, Nachiketas headed resolutely toward the land of the dead. He had a great purpose worth exchanging his life for, and he was convinced that a Guru was indispensable in order to accomplish it, and that Guru was the god Yama. The death of Nachiketas’ physical body implies the transformation of the mind, casting off the material world and being initiated into the spiritual world. We can find that there are many religions where a ritual of passing through symbolic death is used at the time of initiation. For example, the oldest form of baptism in Christianity was performed through a complete immersion in the river.

Nachiketas finally arrived at the mansion of Yama, the god of death. Unfortunately, Yama was absent, so Nachiketas was forced to pass three days and nights without food or bed.

A monk wishing to be initiated into a school of the Zen sect must pass three days bowing down at the entryway, imploring to be initiated; the origin of this is seen in this story above. And it is there that the seriousness of the practitioner is tested, and at the same time, purification takes place through tapas (austerity, heat).

“A brahmin appearing as a guest, is like the coming of [the god of] Fire; the world cools down and welcomes him. Treat him politely, bring some water. Yama, get me water to wash my feet.”

In India, all guests are considered as gods. And it is considered that, especially if you neglect hospitality toward a brahmin, all things in the household will be taken away. Nachiketas, who was an honest and a noble brahmin, recited such a chant and called Yama’s attention to it.

Yama came back with Shakti (goddess) and was surprised to find Nachiketas.

“Has he been here for three days? Oh! How terrible that I have left a venerable guest without any hospitality! Brahmin! I respectfully bow to you. May welfare befall me, not disaster.

Well, I will grant you three wishes for my rudeness these past three days. Now, choose the first wish.

—“Well then, I wish for my father to calm his anger, and welcome me back after I am freed from you.”

“Of course! Yes! I am glad to grant that wish! Your father will welcome you when you come back from the land of the dead, and will be able to sleep soundly every night. Now, choose the second wish.”

—“People perform various rites to get to heaven. They say in heaven there is no suffering and they can lead their lives in pleasure. Please teach me the correct fire ritual to get to heaven.”

(with a little hesitation) “Hmmm… Alright, I will teach you the holy fire ritual.”

“Now, Nachiketas, choose the third wish.”

—“Yes. Where do people go after death? Do they still exist after death or not? Please tell me this!”

By Yama granting the prior two wishes, Nachiketas fulfilled his dharma (duty, virtue) as a son of a brahmin. He was able to restore the harmonious relationship with his father, and acquired the means for entry into heaven, highly sought after by the people. In India at the time, the general view was that people reincarnated according to the laws of karma. Because of that they tried to accumulate good karma through rituals, so that they could enjoy the results in the other world. It is the same idea as many of us here in Japan have, to try and live in peace in the Pure Land after death by praying for the repose of the ancestors and by performing good deeds while we are living. But, when karma runs out, the end of this tranquil life must also come. The aim of Nachiketas’ third wish was to verify the actual condition of the other world, and one more thing, that is, to clarify the [state of the] mind that reincarnates, in other words, to clarify what really is the death of the existence of a person, and how one can be freed from the cycle of reincarnation.

“Even gods haven’t been able to know this, since ancient times. It is a delicate thing—as difficult to understand as to cross a razor’s edge. I cannot teach you this. Choose another wish. Don’t bother me anymore!”

—“But Yama, only you can answer this question. I want to know the truth, that all people wonder about!”

“Let me suggest that you choose from various treasures, or how about many cows or elephants? Or you could be a great king and possess a vast territory—wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

—“I can’t be satisfied with such things—even if I do get various treasures, death comes soon, because we can only live as long as you allow us to.”

“So, just choose a life as long as you want.”

—“But even if I got it, I would still grow old, and someday I must die. Knowing that, how can I enjoy even a long life? What we can enjoy on earth doesn’t amount to much.”

“If that’s what you think, you should take this heavenly girl. Her beauty is too special to find on earth.”

—“I am sorry, Yama, but I can’t be satisfied with this kind of thing. Please, just tell me the secret of death.”

“So, one girl’s not enough? Then take all of these beauties! It must be an indescribable happiness to lead a heavenly life surrounded by these girls of matchless beauty! (laughs loudly) And so, Nachiketas, I can do anything but what you ask.”

— (pushing aside the beautiful girls) “I don’t need these things! You can keep them.

Treasures and pleasures—they bind people to endless reincarnation—they are useless to me. If I cannot know the Truth, this very life is useless! ”

In every era, the Guru carefully guide the disciples through the teaching method that is in accordance with each disciple’s ability to listen to and understand the teachings. That is because only when a disciple’s mind has been prepared well to have the right condition, then for the first time the living teaching can be poured in and transform the mind. By offering him various temptations, the God Yama is testing Nachiketas to see if he is worthy of receiving the teachings. These are the sensory enjoyments that people ceaselessly desire, and if people cannot gain them in this life, they hope for them in heaven or the Pure Land. The issue of death does not arise in the mind that is at the mercy of these desires, and it cannot understand this subtle teaching. But, Nachiketas, with the mind of pure faith, discerned the emptiness of treasures and pleasures, and rejected these various temptations outright.


The Secret of the Upanishads

The Journey of the Soul of Nachiketas (Part 2 of 2)
Katha Upanishad
(Offered during the sacred theatrical performance “Amrita—Immortality”
at Annex Hall in The Museum of Kyoto, 2005)

A summary of Part 1: Long, long ago, the child of a brahmin (caste of priests), Nachiketas, angered his father and was offered to Yama, the god of death. Nachiketas goes to the other world to see Yama, but Yama is unfortunately absent. Three days later, Yama returns and apologizes to Nachiketas for his lack of hospitality and promises to grant Nachiketas three favorable wishes. Nachiketas wishes for his father’s anger to be dissolved, for the way to guide people to the heavens, and for the last wish, he asks for the ultimate secret—what happens when people die? Because this was a very subtle, unfathomable mystery that even the ancient gods could not grasp, Yama pleads with Nachiketas to ask for other favorable wishes—any amount of treasures or pleasures he wanted. But Nachiketas rejects these temptations outright.

Yama, who was very moved by this, said:

“Ah, Nachiketas, you are [the embodiment of] sincerity itself! By your seriousness, you now have a chance to hear this teaching. I wish every human being could be a seeker like you. I am willing to teach you the truth that even the gods don’t know. Now, for you Nachiketas, the gate of the Truth is open!”

Yama only began to teach upon confirming that Nachiketas was truly seeking the Truth from the bottom of his heart. The Guru (Master) exists only for the purpose of leading people to the Truth. Therefore, if discontent arises in you for not being able to receive the grace of the Guru, then you must ask yourselves whether you have freed yourselves from the temptations of this world and are seriously seeking the Truth. It is up to you whether to proceed on the path of the Truth or the path of karma (law of causality of action).

—“What you see beyond virtue and vice, beyond causality and time—Yama, please explain that Truth to me.”

“The true Self is neither the body nor the mind. It is Atman, the Pure Consciousness behind them. Atman is the eternal and imperishable being. It has never been born, and will never die.”

—“Atman… the Pure Consciousness? I am not the body, not the mind… but the eternal and imperishable being!?

Yama, am I not this mind? What is Atman? By these words alone, I can’t really understand.”

“Nachiketas, calm your mind and see Atman. Listen, and I’ll give you the example of a chariot. Listen carefully.

The five senses are the horses. These five horses, the sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin—are tied to a chariot. The horses of the senses chase their desires. The roads the horses run on are the objects of the senses. The body is the chariot. Reason is the charioteer, and the mind is the reins. Just as a charioteer tightens the reins and handles the horses, so reason restrains the mind and controls the senses. But none of these are the master of the chariot. The master is residing in the chariot; it is the true Self, Atman. Nachiketas, you are That.”

—“Yama, I can’t be calm at all in this terrible chariot!”

“Yes. One who is irrational and does not rein in the mind cannot control his senses. Conversely, when one uses reason, one can lead the horses freely like a skilled charioteer. Furthermore, a good charioteer drives with constant care for his master. In the same way, when one keeps the mind clear, one realizes Atman is the real master.”

It is up to the work of the charioteer whether the chariot will go to the destination or will wander around aimlessly in the world of the senses. In other words, it is necessary for the charioteer to have learned the Truth, know the right route, and to have mastered the way to control the horses. Not only Yoga, but the Noble Eightfold Path (Eightfold Right Path) taught by Buddha also requires viewing things in the correct manner with firsthand understanding of the Truth. In any case, it is said that the Truth must be directly learned from the Guru, because just by reading books alone one cannot acquire and master the ways of controlling the horses. Furthermore, the destination is beyond the realm of the mind, so unless there is a voice of Truth emanating from a Guru who is already there, or the light that shines upon the darkness, the chariot will only go round and round on a path familiar to the horses, without seeing the correct route. As one continues to apply the practice following the guidance of the Guru and when the chariot reaches the destination, the chariot itself is dismantled, and the Guru and the master of the chariot, who were the same Existence to begin with, merge into One.

—“Yama, how can I know Atman, which is behind the mind?”

“Know It yourself, in meditation! Realize!”

As his passion for the realization of the Atman heightened to its apex, Nachiketas sat to meditate. Yama sat beside him, as if to watch over him, and his other half, Shakti (the goddess) surrounded Nachiketas and guided him into meditation.

“Wise man, Nachiketas, keep the senses within the mind. You are not this body.”

“Wise man, Nachiketas, keep the mind within reason. You are not this mind.”

“Wise man, Nachiketas, keep reason within Atman. The Pure Consciousness, Atman—you are That.”

“It is Atman that is your true Self.”

“Get up, awaken, realize the Truth!”

Atman dwells in the lotus of the heart. This is That.”

Atman is always awake. This is That.”

“Nothing is beyond It. This is That.”

“It is pure. It is the Truth. It is indeed…immortal.”

Atman is realized in the depths of meditation. Now and then, it manifests into the world of phenomena.

“Inside this life, the world is quickening…”

“There used to exist only Atman.

“Nothing else was awake.”

“But It was not able to enjoy itself, being alone.”

Atman thought—‘I will create the world.’”

Atman became heat.”

“The warmth of skin.”

Atman became wind.”

“The breath of all living things.”

“The one Life becomes various and enjoys playing in this world.”

Atman is life itself.”

“It is imperishable.”

“To the one who finds Atman, eternal bliss comes.

Nachiketas arises from meditation and utters:

—“This is That.”

“Those who realize Atman are free. When the mind stands still, this state remains. Nachiketas, this is Yoga. Words, thoughts cannot reach it. It just…Is.

When you burn away the obstacles in the mind, you will no longer fear death. At that time, you become immortal.”

—“That is the immortal—this is Amrita!”

And in this way, guided by Yama, Nachiketas realized Yoga, overcame death, and reached Amrita. It is handed down that whoever knows Atman and realizes Yoga will enjoy the nectar of immortality—Amrita.

In this Katha Upanishad the word “Yoga” appears in literature for the first time. Yoga is the state of the realization of the Truth, and the path to reach It. It is not that Realization is just limited to those with exceptional intuition, but rather, It is a science, which anyone can apply in practice and realize. Yoga is a path that must be validated by oneself, therefore It is clearly distinct from blind faith, where one’s own self is not being interfered with, and from metaphysical thinking, which only brings about escapism. That is exactly why you can say that Yoga brings true mercy and salvation.

Yogi sought the Truth freely and boldly, without being bound by preexisting religions. They entirely observed the cause of suffering in people, and entered into deep meditation. They even bravely and directly faced the ultimate issue of death, which everyone wants to avoid. As a result, they extinguished all suffering and unraveled its mechanism. That was not the destruction of religion but the perfection of it; it did not attack the contradictions of its believers, but held their hands and raised them up. That is why Yoga is the ultimate of all the various religions, and their essence.

This story from the Katha Upanishad expresses symbolically the process that takes place from the arising of religious awakening to the point of reaching the realization of the Truth. Through this story, we can perceive what is essential to reach the realization of the Truth, and how beautiful that story can be. Furthermore, we see that we ourselves are living right in the middle of that story.

Most of us who live in this current day and age, did not encounter Yoga through a deeply religious culture like in the case of Nachiketas. Because of that, we might be puzzled as to whether we were truly seeking the realization of the Truth or for a Guru. But, just like when we cannot explain why we fell in love with a particular person, the changes in the depths of the mind cannot be inferred by reason. If the object of romantic love is infinite, then even more so. Regardless of the reason for embarking on the journey, if we look within ourselves carefully, there must be something indescribable and absolute that we are seeking. Within everyone is a Nachiketas. Yama—the Guru, when he hears the cry of the soul for the Truth, he will definitely appear in front of that soul. While there may be trials on the surface, the Guru leads the disciple with an immeasurable depth of love. Because it was originally One. Because each and every one of the disciples is God. And the Guru awaits the disciples to stake his or her life only on the Truth.

The Guru is graciously demonstrating to us through the way he lives how Yoga can be realized in any situation, and that the Truth is universal. Now, we, each disciple must validate the truth of it.

Glory to the Rishi who have awakened to the Truth!

Glory to the Yogi who have realized the Truth!

May we all be able to offer our lives for the Truth!



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