Students of the Oriental Theosophy, which finds its highest expression in the Ten Upanishads, are met at the outset by a serious difficulty which has proved a real stumbling-block in the way of many earnest disciples, and has almost completely veiled the true meaning of these most ancient mystical books to all who have approached them in a purely literary or philological spirit.
This serious difficulty, which is caused by the symbolism of the Upanishads, requires two qualifications for its solution: first, some knowledge at first hand of the interior truths and realities represented by these symbols; and secondly, a certain acquaintance with the symbology of the great religions of antiquity. This ancient symbology is marked by such a uniformity in countries and times as widely separated as those which gave birth to the Vedas and the Book of Job, the Mysteries of Osiris and the Apocalypse, that, in view of these resemblances, not only is one led to infer an identity of inspiration underlying all ancient symbolism, but also that an acquaintance with the method of expression of one ancient faith will often give clear insight into the darkest passages of another.
The source of this original identity of inspiration is not far to seek: for all the ancient religions treat of the same subject, the mysteries of the interior development of man, and the understanding of the universe which is reached in the course of that interior development. It is evident that a complete and exhaustive understanding of the ancient scriptures and the mysteries of inner life which are hidden beneath their symbols can be attained only by those whose inner unfoldment has gone so far as to identify them with the spirit in which these ancient scriptures were written, the universal spirit of wisdom and goodness. But though a complete understanding of the whole meaning of books like the Upanishads is thus impossible for all but the highest and holiest Sages, one cannot follow the path of interior development, of the inner light, with earnestness and integrity, without gaining some insight into the hidden meaning of the symbols; and this, added to an acquaintance with other scriptures, may make clear much that seemed hopelessly obscure.
The best way to illustrate this is by a concrete example; and we cannot do better than begin with the Katha Upanishad—the “Secret of Death,” as one translator calls it—which is distinguished for its purity and beauty of style and its universal application to human life, not less than for its avoidance of mere technical and scientific treatment of certain special powers and potencies of the inner life, such as one finds, for instance, in the Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads. The Katha Upanishad begins:
Vâjashravasa, verily, seeking favor, offered in sacrifice all he possessed. He had a son, also, by name Nachiketas. Him, though still a child, faith entered, when the offerings were brought. He meditated:
—These have drunk water, eaten grass, given milk, and lost their strength. Joyless worlds he gains who offers these. He addressed his father:
—To whom, then, wilt thou give me? said he. Twice, thrice he asked him.
—To Death I give thee, said he.
It would not be contrary to the spirit of these ancient scriptures to find a meaning in the names of Nachiketas and his father. Vâjashravasa may mean “one who sacrifices according to tradition or ritual”, while Nachiketas may mean “one who has lost the desire for sensation”. But without insisting upon this, we may turn to the general meaning of father and son. A son, in the symbolism of the Upanishads, means a new birth; either spiritual regeneration, or simply reincarnation; this meaning of the new life which faith has entered, or of the soul in that new life, is represented here by Nachiketas. His father is the past birth, or the condition before the spiritual rebirth, which offers an inadequate sacrifice.
The lean cattle, who have “given milk and lost their strength”, represent either worldly enjoyments or the physical powers which enjoy them; just as perfect, well-nourished cows represent the spiritual powers which succeed them. Vâjashravasa, the type of the soul in the former or unregenerate birth, offered up these lean cattle, the physical enjoyments; Nachiketas, his son, the new or regenerate birth, perceived that this offering was inadequate; the offering needed was not the sacrifice of worldly enjoyments, but the sacrifice of self.
—I go the first of many; I go in the midst of many. What is this work of Death, that he will work on me to-day?
Look, as those that have gone before, behold so are those that shall come after. As corn a mortal is ripened; as corn he is born again.
[Nachiketas comes to the House of Death. Nachiketas speaks:]
—Like the Lord of Fire, a pure guest comes to the house. They offer him this greeting:
Bring water, O King Death!
Fair hopes and friendship, truth and holy deeds, sons and cattle, all forsake the foolish man in whose house a pure guest dwells, without food.
What is the House of Death to which Nachiketas comes? It has two meanings. The first and universal meaning is the physical world, the “world of birth and death” to which the soul comes in each new life. The second, more special, meaning is the underworld, visited by the spirit of the neophyte at initiation.
[After three days, Death returns. Death speaks:]
—As thou, a pure guest and honorable, hast dwelt three nights in my house without food—honor to thee, pure one, welcome to thee—against this, choose thou three wishes.
—That my father may be at peace, well-minded, and with anger gone towards me, O Death; that he may speak kindly to me, when sent forth by thee; this of the three as my first wish I choose.
[ Death speaks:]
—As before will he be kind to thee, sent forth by me; by night will he sleep well, with anger gone, seeing thee set free from the mouth of Death.
The three nights which Nachiketas passes in the House of Death have also two meanings: the first, the universal meaning, in which the three nights are the “three times”, present, past, and future, the three conditions to which everything is subject in this physical world, the House of Death. The special meaning refers to the initiation in which the soul “descended into hell, and rose again the third day”. One of the three wishes of Nachiketas refers to each of these “three times”; the first, “that the father may be at peace”, refers to the past; the meaning of “father” being the same as before.
—In the heaven-world there is no fear; nor art thou there, and fear comes not with old age. Crossing over hunger and thirst, and going beyond sorrow, he exults in the heaven-world.
The heavenly fire thou knowest, Death; tell me it, for I am faithful. The heaven-worlds enjoy undyingness. This as my second wish I choose.
—To thee I tell it; listen then to me, O Nachiketas, learning that heavenly fire. Know thou also the excellent winning of endless worlds, for this is hidden in the secret place.
He told him then that fire, the source of the worlds, and the bricks of the altar, and how many and what they are. And he again spoke it back as it was told; and Death, well pleased, again addressed him.
The next three verses, which speak of the triple fire as part of a ceremony, are evidently a later addition; they are therefore omitted here. It is possible that they take the place of older verses which spoke too clearly of the sacred fire and were therefore omitted in the later manuscripts. But the secret of the triple fire may be revealed by the words, “he told him that fire, the source of the worlds, and the bricks (of the altar), how many and what they are”; the triple fire being here the Higher Triad, the unmanifested three that underlie creation, preservation, and regeneration; as also the being, consciousness, and bliss of the Self, the Atma. The altar being the manifested world, which is crowned by the unmanifested three. The square altar is thus the lower quaternary, the bricks being the four or seven planes or worlds of manifestation. The triple fire and the square altar would thus be the triangle above the square in symbolism, the triangle being the same as the Egyptian pyramid, also connected with “pur” or fire. The “speaking back” is the reflection of the seven in Nachiketas, the individual soul.
—This is the heavenly fire for thee, Nachiketas, which thou hast chosen as thy second wish. They shall call this fire thine. Choose thy third wish, Nachiketas.
—This doubt that there is of a man that has gone forth; “he exists” say some, and “he exists not” others say. A knowledge of this taught by thee; this of my wishes is the third wish
—Even by the gods it was doubted about this; not easily knowable and subtle is this law. Choose, Nachiketas, another wish. Hold me not to it; spare me this.
—Even by the gods, thou sayest, it was doubted about this; nor easily knowable is it, O Death. Another teacher of it cannot be found like thee. No other wish is equal to this.
This third wish is the essence and crown of the whole Upanishad. Not the first wish “that the father may be at peace,” that the past may “sleep well”; nor the second wish, the heavenly fire, are the true mystery of the Secret of Death.
The words, “the doubt that there is of a man that has gone forth,” evidently bear two meanings. They refer first to the death of the body, and the doubt as to the survival of the personality. But this is not the deeper meaning. Nachiketas has confidently looked forward to the time when he shall be “released by Death” and “freed from the mouth of Death”; and has spoken of “the heaven-world which enjoys immortality”; so that he does not doubt as to the immortality of the soul, in its ordinary sense of the individual survival after death.
It is not this physical death, but the death which precedes the true spiritual rebirth and inward illumination; the death of the passions and selfishness, of personal desire, which must be passed through before the initiation by the spirit is reached; what Paul calls the “death to sin, and the new birth to righteousness”; the death which comes only once, while the physical death comes many times; the turning-point of the soul, after it has reached its extremest limit on the outward path. This is the death whose secret Nachiketas asks. The “man that has gone forth” would be, in this sense, the Jivanmukta, “for whom there is no return”, who has entered Nirvana, of whom the gods have doubted; “’he exists’ say some, ‘he exists not,’ others say.”
Of this secret there is no teacher but Death; the death of selfishness must be passed through before an understanding can be reached of that true undyingness “which is not immortality but eternity”; and which may be reached in the midst of life, long before the time of physical death has come.
—Choose sons and grandsons of a hundred years; and cattle and elephants and gold and horses. Choose the great treasure-house of the world, and live as many autumns as thou wilt.
If thou thinkest this an equal wish, choose wealth and length of days. Be thou mighty in the world, O Nachiketas. I make thee an enjoyer of thy desires.
Whatsoever desires are difficult in the mortal world, ask all desires according to thy will.
These beauties, with their chariots and lutes—not such as these are to be won by men—be waited on by them, my gifts. Ask me not of dying, Nachiketas.
This answers to the offer made by the Lord of the House of Death to another neophyte, who, like Nachiketas, “descended into hell, and rose again the third day”; the offer of the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them. It would seem that the knowledge and power which make the spiritual rebirth possible are great enough to render certain the winning of any lesser prize, if the ambition to be mighty on the earth remains. These alternatives are offered, therefore, by the power which, if they are refused, will become the Initiator.
—By to-morrow these fleeting things wear out the vigor of a mortal’s powers. Even the whole of life is little; and chariots and dance are in thy power.
Not by wealth can a man be satisfied. Shall we choose wealth if we have seen thee? Shall we desire life while thou art master? But the wish I choose is verily that.
Coming near to the unfadingness of the immortals, a fading mortal here below, and understanding it, understanding the sweets of beauty and pleasure, who would rejoice in length of days?
This that they doubt about, O Death, what is in the great Beyond, tell me of that. This wish that draws nigh the mystery, Nachiketas chooses no other wish but that.
The first part of the Katha Upanishad, if we have interpreted its symbols aright, taught the descent of Nachiketas—the soul—into this outer world, graphically described as the House of Death; its lingering there for three nights, which are the three times, past, present, and future, that condition everything in the House of Death; there confronted by Death, the prince of this world; the soul is offered three wishes, one for the past, one for the present, one for the future. The first is the quiescence of the past and the tranquil return of the soul to the source whence it fell into the “mouth of death”, the second, the secret of the three fires on the four-fold altar, or the three divine energies which underlie the four-fold world of manifestation, the world of the present; the third is the secret of the Great Beyond, that real world to which the soul’s true life belongs, and whence it has strayed into this House of Death.
The first two wishes have been already satisfied; the third is treated of in the second and third parts of the Upanishad, which we shall translate and comment on as before. In the second part, the speaker is Death the Great Initiator; not the body’s death, but the death of the lower self, which alone can open the doors of the Great Beyond. What lies behind that door is told as far as words can tell it; it is the eternal mystery, which remains hidden in secret, and everlastingly unrevealable for all who have not passed the initiatio—or “new beginning”—of the death of the lower self.
—The better is one thing; the dearer is another thing; these two draw a man in opposite ways. Of these two it is well for him who chooses the better; he fails of his object who chooses the dearer.
The better and the dearer approach a man; looking closely at them, the Sage discerns between them. The Sage chooses the better rather than the dearer; the fool chooses the dearer, through lust of possession.
The better is what belongs to the real world, the Great Beyond. The dearer is what belongs to this unreal world, the House of Death, in whose gift are “wealth and length of days, the great treasure-house of the world, and the beauties with their chariots and lutes”; representative of the ideals of the lower self. The better and the dearer are the blessedness and the happiness, in Carlyle’s inimitable chapters of Sartor Resartus which speak of the Everlasting No, the Center of Indifference, and the Everlasting Yea; where with matchless vividness and power are depicted the death of the lower self and the new birth of the soul. These two, the better and the dearer, draw every man in opposite ways; every man, that is, has the longing for Death’s fair gifts; and also the incipient sense of the Great Beyond, called, in its negative aspect, Conscience, but which becomes positive, as intuition and growing omniscience, when Death’s Initiation has been passed through.
—Thou, indeed, understanding dear and dearly loved desires, Nachiketas, hast passed by them. Not this way of wealth hast thou chosen, in which many men sink.
Wide apart are these two minds, unwisdom, and that of which the knower says “it is wisdom”. I esteem Nachiketas to be one seeking wisdom, nor do manifold desires allure thee.
Others, turning about in unwisdom—self-wise, thinking they are learned—and fools, stagger, lagging in the way, like the blind led by the blind.
The Great Beyond gleams not for the fool, led away by the delusion of possessions. “This is the world, there is no other”, he thinks; and so falls again and again under my dominion.
The understanding of desire is the deep and irrevocable conviction, based upon the experience of innumerable lives, innumerable incarnations, that desire can never be satisfied; that the gratification desired is never actually touched, but remains each time just one step out of reach. Like fruit under a glass case, the object of desire is never seized, but every effort towards perfect gratification is stopped by an irresistible barrier. The essential nature of desire is that it actually is never gratified, but every effort at gratification leads to another and this again to another. Every attempt at gratification is at once a disappointment and the father of a new desire. To this understanding of desire, which is the last ripeness of the lower self before it falls off the tree of life, must be added another qualification, the firm steady will, which, after the conviction of the futility of desire has been fully reached, gives effect to that conviction by checking the little children of desire, as they are born in the mind and run down through emotion into action. These three worlds, the world of mind, of emotion, and of action, are the “three worlds” which are to be conquered by the neophyte, and the first, that of the mind, must be conquered first. When this is done, the outward actions of desire, robbed of their motive power, will cease of themselves; their continuation would show, not that the soul had risen above the body, of whose mere outward acts it was independent, but that the first of the three worlds, the mind where the children of desire are born, was still unconquered and unclean. The delusion that a pure soul may accompany impure action is a part of that unwisdom which brings men “again and again under the dominion of death”. Then Death speaks of the Great Beyond:
—That is not to be gained even for a hearing by many; and, hearing it, many understand it not. Wonderful is the speaker of it, blessed is the receiver; wonderful is the knower of it, blessed is the learner.
Not by a baser man is this declared; but it is to be known by much meditation. There is no way to it unless told by another, nor can it be debated by formal logic.
The comprehending of this cannot be gained by debate; but when declared by another it is dearest to a good understanding. Thou hast obtained it, for thou art steadfast in the truth, and a questioner like thee, Nachiketas, is dear to us.
That which many do not even gain for a hearing is the Voice of the Silence, the first glimmer of the inner light which shines in the soul and illumines the Great Beyond. Many who hear it understand not; they follow the “promptings of conscience” blindly and haltingly, knowing not that this is the first gleam of the light that lightens the world. “The speaker of it” is the Higher Self, which brings the light to the soul; the hearer of it is the soul which receives that light. The Higher Self is the “other that tells it”; without being told by that other, it cannot be known; but whenever the hearer is ready, the teacher is ready also; when the soul is purified and reaches out toward the light, the light will certainly appear.
—I know that what is called precious is unenduring; and by unlasting things what is lasting cannot be gained. Therefore the triple fire was chosen by me, and instead of these unenduring things I have gained what endures.
Thus saying, and having beheld the fulfilment of desire, the seat of the world, the endless fruit of sacrifice, the shore where there is no fear, great praise, and the wide-famed world, thou, Nachiketas, hast wisely passed them by.
The lasting thing which cannot be gained by the unlasting is peace, which can never come from the gratification of desire, but only from the kindling of the triple fire, the three-fold Higher Self, of Being, Bliss, and Knowledge. The words “the fulfillment of desire” refer to Death’s offer in the first part of the Upanishad. The seat of the world is the “Kingdoms of this world and the glory of them”; the fruit of sacrifice or good deeds is the rest in Devachan—the shore where there is no fear; all this, Nachiketas, understanding its unlasting character, had passed by.
—But that which is hard to see, which has entered the secret place and is hidden in secret, the mystery, the Ancient; understanding that bright one by the path of union with the Inner Self, the wise man leaves exaltation and sorrow behind.
A mortal, hearing this and understanding it, passing on to that righteous subtle one and obtaining it, rejoices, having good cause for rejoicing; and the door to it is wide open, I think, Nachiketas.
“The Mystery, the Ancient” is the Higher Self, which for the unenlightened is hidden in the secret place, the beyond, above the ordinary consciousness of the soul; it is the ancient, because the Higher Self is the power which again and again causes the incarnation of the personality through a vast series of lives, and thus, as the Ancient of Days, it is endless both backwards and forwards. It is to be found by the path of union with the Inner Self, the bridge so often spoken of in the Upanishads. This bridge, which the disciple must cross by becoming it, is really the identification of the personality with the life of the Higher Self by perfectly following its dictates and assimilating its nature; by the perfect obedience through which alone there is liberty.
A mortal learning this obedience and understanding it, and then becoming himself the path by identifying himself with the law of the path, reaches that Subtle one, where is eternal joy and not that lower exultation which is merely the opposite of grief; this exultation and grief being the two sides of the lower, personal self, while joy and peace are of the Higher Self and have no opposites; for the Higher Self is beyond the world of opposites, heat and cold, sorrow and exultation, and the rest. As the law is always waiting for obedience, the door is always open.
—What thou seest to be neither the law nor lawlessness, neither what is commanded nor what is forbidden, neither what has been nor what shall be, say that it is That.
That resting-place which all the Vedas proclaim, and all austerities declare; seeking for which they enter the service of the eternal; that resting-place I briefly tell to thee.
It is the unchanging Eternal; it is the unchanging Supreme; having understood that eternal one, whatsoever a man wishes, that he gains. It is the excellent foundation, the supreme foundation; knowing that foundation, a man grows mighty in the eternal world.
The Higher Self is again defined as that which is free from the pairs of opposites; that which is neither the righteousness of the ritual law nor yet the unrighteousness of breach of that law; neither the performance of ritual nor its neglect; but a new life, a new yet ancient being, above the virtue and vice of the ritual law, because it dwells in the Great Beyond, while the law of ritual is, at best, for this world or for Devachan. The Higher Self is also the resting-place declared by the Vedas, because it rests above the personal life, while the personal life goes through endless alternations of birth and death; as the Higher Self, being a facet of the Infinite One, contains within itself the infinite; he who has gained it possesses all things, and therefore possesses whatever he may desire.
—The knower is never born nor dies; nor is it from anywhere, nor did anything become it. Unborn, eternal, immemorial, this ancient is not slain when the body is slain.
If the slayer thinks to slay it, if the slain thinks it is slain, neither of them understands; this slays not, nor is slain. Smaller than small, greater than great, this self is hidden in the heart of man.
He who has ceased from sacrifices and passed sorrow by, through the favor of that ordainer beholds the greatness of the Self.
Though seated, it travels far; though at rest, it goes everywhere; who but thee is worthy to know this bright one, who is joy without rejoicing?
The “knower” is again the Higher Self, which knows all things. It is the ordainer, because it is the will and power of the Higher Self which ordains the incarnations of the personality and directs the whole series, with a single purpose, from beginning to end; correcting one life and supplementing its deficiencies in those that follow. Though seated, though at rest, it travels far, from one end of the chain of births to the other; it is everywhere, in every birth, because it overshadows and ordains them all.
—Understanding this great lord, the Self, the bodiless in bodies, the unstable in stable things, the wise man cannot grieve. This Self is not to be gained by speaking of it, nor by cleverness, nor by much hearing. Whom this chooses, by him it is gained; and the Self chooses his body as its own.
He who has not ceased from evil, who is not at peace, who stands not firm, whose emotions are not at rest, cannot obtain it by understanding. Brahman and Kshattriya are its food; its anointing is death; who knows truly where it is?
This final clause reiterates the truth that through the death of the lower self, and perfect integrity, and through these only, the path to the Self can be known; that Self whose food is Brahman and Kshattriya—knowledge and power; and whose anointing comes only through the death of selfishness. When selfishness is dead, then that Self chooses the purified soul, which gradually becomes one with it, in the resting-place which all the Vedas sing.
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 Âtmâ, or the triad Âtmâ, 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.
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 (Atmâ) 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 (Mahâmâtmtâ) 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 (Âtmâ-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 Âtmâ; its three sides are Wisdom, Power, and Peace. These correspond to the three sides of the Self, Sat, Chit, Ânanda, 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 Shrâddha, 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”.