Posts Tagged ‘Death’

The Katha Upanishads

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Karuna hosts a free discussion group every Thursday from 5-5:30. For the past month the group has been reading and discussing the Katha Upanishads, also known as “Death as Teacher”. The Katha Upanishads is a series of verses in the ancient Vedic scripture on Death and the Hereafter. The verses are a conversation between Nachiketa, son of the sage Vajasravasa, and Yama, the Hindu lord of death. In the story Vajasravasa has performed a sacrifice to the Gods in which he is required to give away all his worldly possessions. Among these possessions is his son Nachiketa.

Susan Yard Harris, a teacher and student at Karuna, wrote this summary of the verses:

When Vajasravasa gave away his cows to gain religious merit, his son Nachiketa
questioned the wisdom of his father’s actions. Repeatedly, he asked his father, “To whom do you
offer me?”

Naciketa’s father got angry with his son’s insubordination and banished him to Yama,
the Lord of Death.

Nachiketa went to Yama’s abode and waited three days until Yama returned. Because
it was inhospitable to keep a spiritual guest waiting for so long, Yama granted Nachiketa three
boons, or wishes, one for each night he was kept waiting.

Nachiketa’s first request was reconciliation with his father, and Yama granted that easily.

His second wish was to learn how to perform the fire sacrifice. Yama explained that the
fire sacrifice leads to heaven and sustains the world, and that this knowledge is concealed in the
heart. Yama explained how to perform the fire sacrifice and how to erect the altar for
worshipping the fire, from which the universe evolves. Nachiketa learned this lesson well,
and Yama was pleased, and named the fire sacrifice after Nachiketa.

For his third boon, Nachiketa asked Yama to answer his question: What happens to a
person after he dies– does he perish or live on?

Yama did not want to answer this question and said, “The secret of death is hard to
know.” Instead, he offered Nachiketa long life, long-lived sons, power to rule a kingdom,
capacity to enjoy the pleasures of women and riding chariots, and skill in music.

Nachiketa refused Yama’s offer. He answered the Lord of Death that the pleasures of this
world are transitory, as is life on earth. He asked, how can a mortal desire wealth when he knows
he will die? Nachiketa told the Lord of Death that the the only boon he wanted was to understand
the mystery of life after death.

Yama decided that Nachiketa was worthy of his instruction.Yama explained that when
people think that the body is all there is to life, they are subject to repeated reincarnations. Only a
few people, he said, dedicate their lives to realization of the eternal, non-dying Self. You are
wise, Yama told Nachiketa, because you seek the eternal Self, which is hidden in the cave of the

heart and is the divine principle of existence and source of all joy.

Teach me, Nachiketa said.

And so Yama taught Nachiketa that OM is the symbol of God. When OM reverberates
unceasingly in the heart, one is blessed and deeply loved, Yama said. “The all-knowing Self was
never born, nor will it die…[it] is eternal and immutable.” A seeker can behold the “glory of the
Self through the grace of the Lord of Love.” “When the wise realize the Self, formless in the
midst of forms, changeless in the midst of change, omnipresent and supreme, they go beyond all
sorrow.”

Yama told Nachiketa that only one who controls the senses, stills the mind, and practices
meditation can know Brahman, the hidden Self that is present in everyone. But the Self can be
attained only by those whom the Self chooses. Those who have discrimination (Viveka), a still
mind, and pure heart “are forever free from the jaws of death.”

Yama explained further that Brahma is in the heart of all creatures, that thumb-sized
being enshrined in the heart. The Self exists in the multiplicity of life–the sun, the wind, fish,
plants, water. “…the one multiplies…oneness into many” and “cannot be tainted by the evils of
the world.” Those who see the Self in their hearts have eternal joy and eternal peace.

Nachiketa asked, “How can I know that blissful Self?”

Yama replied, “The Self is the light reflected by all” and that “ Brahman can be seen as
in a mirror in a pure heart.”

Yama explained that when the senses, mind, and intellect are stilled in yoga, one enters
the state of unity, never to be separate again. If one is not established in the state of unity, the
sense of oneness will come and go. When all desires and “the knots that strangle the heart are
loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.”

As Nachiketa learned the discipline of meditation from the Lord of Death, freed himself
from separateness, and achieved immortal life, so can everyone who knows the Self.

Susan teaches the Wise Yoga, a class specially designed for practitioners age 50 and up on Mondays from 4-5pm  at Karuna.

Gratitude: Abhinevsa’s Antidote

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Loren Magruder, 500hr Karuna Advanced Teacher Training Graduate, Mother

Gratitude: Abhinevsa’s Antidote

Recently I have been meditating on death and it has had an unintended result- overwhelming gratitude.   This is an evolution from my past relationship with Death (read Denial), which included juvenile ruminations about my parents dying to paralyzing anxiety in my early twenties about myself dying.  In the past few years, I have been experiencing birth and death (of my own children and dear friends respectively) which has culminated in deep work and investigation regarding my own mortality and the inevitable loss of those I hold closest.

Adyashanti said that “when we experience anything fully we also experience its opposite”, that vajra-wisdom struck my heart and has become a mantra in those moments when death thoughts intrude.  When I fell deeply in love, I also fell deeply in fear, for opening my heart so wide to love also opens it to inevitable heartbreak– as with life– for “until we embrace death, we cannot live fully” asserts Stephen Jenkinson in the documentary Griefwalker (which follows his revolutionary palliative care work and can be watched online at  http://www.nfb.ca/film/griefwalker ).  Iyengar echos this in his commentary on Sutra II.9: “the Sadhaka perceives that there is no difference between life and death, that they are simply two sides of the same coin. He understands that the current of Self, the life-force, active while alive, merges with the universe when it leaves the body at death”.

As I attempt to face Death instead of rebuke it when those thoughts “intrude” I have begun to experience great space, deeper exhalations and my heart has opened more than I thought possible.  That said, I have yet to lose anyone in my closest circle and the hubris with which my intellect writes this reflects that.  But gratitude… this deep soul-stirring thankfulness and joy for the moments that I have been granted.. has been the ultimate antidote to abhinevesa, this inherent and universal fear of death.  Do not mistake me, the fear is still there, merely the other side of the coin it shares with Love, but I have this empowering ability each moment to choose with which lens I view this precious human birth.

There is so much yogic wisdom addressing Death— Sutra II.9, Sutra 2.48, Savasana, the Katha Upanishads.  In the Katha Upanishads the Seeker Naciketas pleads with Death itself to tell him what happens after he dies, Death offers him anything else instead, riches, women, success, “but about that don’t ask me” Death says.  Then the author goes on to outline the numerous paradoxes we are asked to accept when we incarnate.  Closing his exposition with the ultimate paradox:  “Yoga is the coming-into-being as well as the ceasing-to-be.”  Jenkinson says that Death is the ultimate crucible for making human beings- “it’s not success, it’s not growth, it’s not happiness, it is Death- that’s the cradle of your love of life, the fact that it IS”.

I suppose this investigation will continue for the rest of my life and challenge me when the grief arrives after the inevitable loss of those I love comes.   I feel buoyed and incredibly blessed by the teachings of yoga, which require me to face death and by doing so live with more presence.  So how can I let Kali and Durga cohabitate in peace?  How can I open wide the doors of my own heart and surrender to its lessons in impermanence, fear and santosha?  How can I embrace my children completely with the knowledge that we gave them life and at the same time eventual death? Now the yoga teacher in me asks you- what can you do to infuse savasana into every other asana?