Chapter 2: The Thirst for the Deathless
Of his third wish, Nachiketa said, “There is so much uncertainty about death. Some say that the soul lives on after death and others say that it does not. I want to finally understand this through your teaching. This is my third wish.”
Yama thought, “It is harmful to teach the secrets of the soul to one who is unworthy of the teaching.” Seeing the need for a test, Yama tried to dissuade Nachiketa by telling him of the complexity of the matter. He said, “Nachiketa, on this matter, even the gods have had their doubts; they also could not understand because this subject is so very subtle and difficult to understand. You may ask for something comparable as your third wish. Do not insist about this. You must let go of this desire to know the secrets of the soul.”
Nachiketa was not discouraged by hearing of the difficulties; his enthusiasm was not affected. Rather, he said even more strongly, “Yama, you say that the gods have also thought about this but even they could not decide, and that it is not easy to understand. But there are none who can explain this matter as well as you. As I understand it, no other wish can be compared to this one.”
Nachiketa was not dissuaded by the difficulty of the subject: he remained firm in his wish to know. He succeeded in passing this test.
As a second test, with the intention of exposing Nachiketa to many temptations and allurements, Yama said to him, “You may ask for sons or grandsons with lifespans of hundreds of years; you may ask for many cows and other cattle, for elephants, horses and gold. You may ask for an empire with vast boundaries. You may ask to live for as long as you wish.”
“Nachiketa, if you consider a wish for wealth or a means for living a long life as equal to your wish for the knowledge of the soul, you may ask for that. You could be the greatest emperor on this Earth! I can make the greatest pleasure of all pleasures available to you!”
When Nachiketa did not waver from his decision even at this, Yama then tempted him with the heavenly pleasures of the gods. Yama said, “Ask for all the pleasures which are rare in the world of mortals. Take these celestial women with you, along with chariots and musical instruments. Such women are surely not available to mortals. You can enjoy these women and be served by them. But Nachiketa, do not ask to know what happens to the soul after death.”
But Nachiketa had a firm will and was truly worthy: he knew that even the greatest pleasures in heaven and earth could not be compared with the smallest amount of the bliss that comes through enlightenment.
Nachiketa, supporting his decision with reasoning, said these words of non-attachment to Yama: “Yama, the pleasures that you are describing are ephemeral; they exhaust the sensitivity and sharpness of all the senses. Furthermore, a lifespan, howsoever long it may be, is brief: it will end sooner or later. You can keep those celestial women, the chariots, those songs and dances - I don’t want them.”