In the Katha Upanishad, Vajasravasa was a wealthy merchant who only pretended to give away his possessions in a mock demonstration of religious merit. His son, Nachiketa, called him on it and the father, in a pique of rage, sent his son away to meet Yama=Death. But Yama was late for the appointment, and in compensation for his inhospitability offered the boy three wishes.
Nachiketa’s first wish was for reconciliation with his father. Granted. His second wish was for instruction in the ritual of fire, which opens all of Heaven to the supplicant. Granted.
Nachiketa’s third wish was for knowledge of the soul and its relation to mortal flesh. Yama feigned reluctance to grant it, but he was secretly pleased with the boy’s wisdom. Thus he instructed Nachiketa:
The joy of the Atman ever abides,
But not what seems pleasant to the senses.
“Each of us must choose between identification with the immortal soul, which leads to everlasting joy, or identification with the mortal body, which leads to pleasure while the body lasts.”
I know that earthly treasures are transient
And never can I reach the eternal through them.
Hence have I renounced all my desires for earthly treasures
To win the eternal through your instruction.
Knowing the senses to be separate
From the Self, and the sense experience
To be fleeting, the wise grieve no more.
Above the senses is the mind,
Above the mind is the intellect,
Above that is the ego, and above the ego
Is the unmanifested Cause.
And beyond is Brahman, omnipresent,
Attributeless. Realizing him one is released
From the cycle of birth and death.
Yama proceeds to offer an account of Brahman that is strikingly similar to Lao Tzu’s (non-)description of the Dao. There is a non-material essence that gives rise to all physical manifestations. By long meditation practice, or by grace, or by shaktipat from a realized master, our awareness may be lifted from the realm of the body into the realm of Brahman.
Here’s how Brian Browne Walker concludes his translation of the Hua Hu Jing of Lao Tzu:
With all this talking, what has been said?
The subtle truth can he pointed at with words, but it can’t be contained by them.
Take time to listen to what is said without words, to obey the law too subtle to be written, to worship the unnameable and to embrace the unformed.
Love your life. Trust the Dao.
Make love with the invisible subtle origin of the universe, and you will give yourself everything you need.
You won’t have to hide away forever in spiritual retreats. You can be a gentle, contemplative hermit right here in the middle of everything, utterly unaffected, thoroughly sustained and rewarded by your integral practices.
Encouraging others, giving freely to all, awakening and purifying the world with each movement and action, you’ll ascend to the divine realm in broad daylight.
The breath of the Dao speaks, and those who are in harmony with it hear quite clearly.
Today begins the Hindu Festival of Lights.