Perennial Joy

This is an extract from the Katha Upanishad, which casts death as the perfect teacher.

The King of Death:

The joy of the spirit ever abides,
But not what seems pleasant to the senses.
Both these, differing in their purpose, prompt us
To action. All is well for those who choose
The joy of the spirit, but they miss
The goal of life who prefer the pleasant.
Perennial joy or passing pleasure?
This is the choice one is to make always.
The wise recognize this; the ignorant
Do not. The first welcome what leads to joy
Abiding, even though painful at the time.
The latter run, goaded by their senses,
After what seems immediate pleasure.

Well have you renounced these passing pleasures
So dear to the senses, Nachiketa,
And turned your back on the way of the world
Which makes mankind forget the goal of life.

Far apart are wisdom and ignorance:
The first leads one to Self-realization;
The second makes one more and more
Estranged from one's real Self. I regard you,
Nachiketa, as worthy of instruction,
For passing pleasures tempt you not at all.

Ignorant of their ignorance yet wise
In their own esteem, deluded people
Proud of their vain learning go round and round
Like the blind led by the blind. Far beyond
Their eyes, hypnotized by the world of sense,
Opens the way to immortality.
"I am my body; when my body dies,
I die." Living in this superstition they fall,
Life after life, under my sway.

It is but few who hear about the Self.
Fewer still dedicate their lives to its
Realization. Wonderful is the one
Who speaks of the Self. Rare are they
Who make it the supreme goal of their life.
Blessed are they who, through an illumined
Teacher, attain to Self-realization.

The truth of the Self cannot come through one
Who has not realized that he is the Self.
The intellect can never reach the Self,
Beyond its duality of subject
And object. He who sees himself in all
And all in him helps one through spiritual
Osmosis to realize the Self oneself.
This awakening you have known comes not
Through logic and scholarship, but from
Close association with a realized teacher.
Wise are you, Nachiketa, because you
Seek the Self eternal. May we have more
Seekers like you!


I know that earthly treasures are transient,
And never can I reach the Eternal
Through them. Hence have I renounced
All the desires of Nachiketa for earthly treasures
To win the Eternal through your instruction.

The King of Death:

I spread before your eyes, Nachiketa,
The fulfillment of all worldly desires:
Power to dominate the earth, delights
Celestial gained through religious rites, and
Miraculous powers beyond time and space.
These with will and wisdom have you renounced.

The wise, realizing through meditation
The timeless Self, beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
Those who know that they are neither body
Nor mind but the immemorial Self,
The divine principle of existence,
Find the source of all joy and live in joy
Abiding. I see the gates of joy
Are opening for you, Nachiketa.


Teach me of That you see as beyond right
And wrong, cause and effect, past and future.

The King of Death:

I will give you the Word all the scriptures
Glorify, all spiritual disciplines
Express, to attain which aspirants lead
A life of sense-restraint and self-naughting.
It is om. This symbol of the Godhead
Is the highest. Realizing it, one finds
Complete fulfillment of all one's longings.
It is the greatest support to all seekers.
When om reverberates unceasingly
Within one's heart, that one is indeed blessed
And greatly loved as one who is the Self.

The all-knowing Self was never born,
Nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect,
This Self is eternal and immutable.
When the body dies, the Self does not die.
If the slayer believes that he can kill
And the slain believes that he can be killed,
Neither knows the truth. The eternal Self
Slays not, nor is ever slain.

Hidden in the heart of every creature
Exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. They go beyond
All sorrow who extinguish their self-will,
And behold the glory of the Self
Through the grace of the Lord of Love.

Though one sits in meditation in a
Particular place, the Self within can
Exercise its influence far away.
Though still, it moves everything everywhere.

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.

The Self cannot be known through the study
Of the scriptures, nor through the intellect,
Nor through hearing discourses about it.
It can be attained only by those
Whom the Self chooses. Verily unto them
Does the Self reveal itself.

The Self cannot be known by anyone
Who desists not from unrighteous ways,
Controls not the senses, stills not the mind,
And practices not meditation.
None else can know the omnipresent Self,
Whose glory sweeps away the rituals of
The priest and the prowess of the warrior
And puts death itself to death.

From God Makes the Rivers to Flow by Eknath Easwaran, founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, copyright © 1991; republished by permission of Nilgiri Press, Tomales, California.