The question of 'what happens after death' is what Shakuntala Hawoldar explores in this breathtaking piece of work. The author invites you to experience and lives another mystical and spiritual dimension, and to submerge yourself in the deep and revealing story of Nachiketas'.
Shakuntala Hawoldar has undertaken the terrifying and yet liberating task of confronting her own death for the benefit of us all. Death is a kind of growth', she says in her book 'Nachiketes'. 'Growth means intelligence and intelligence means the Light of Consciousness'. This is when the author grabs our attention. Growth, Maturity and Intelligence all finally mean love and compassion for the other, whosever it may be, because the other is also part of our mutual consciousness and growth.
These are eternal messages in the book which tell us unequivocally that 'YOU' are true and immortal. The journey of life is clearly one from lower animality to a higher and greater spirituality. This involves a humanness which Silos speaks of.
Silo, an Argetiian mystic. Reminds us that if we don't live by this magic triangle of goodness, we would only be mere pariahs and outcasts in the world of humans, struggling and striving for a better life.
Shakuntala Hawoldar was born in Bombay, India on September 15, 1944. She lives in Mauritius where she settled in 1968 with her husband and children. Her husband passed on in 1989. She presently stays in Mauritius with her son Siddharth and family. She is an educationist of long story writer in Mauritius and abroad. She has published several collections of poems in Engalish which have been translated into French, Russian, Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil.
As Deputy of the Mauritius college of the are over two decades she has pioneered audio visual education to a nascent nation. She is popularly known for her educational productions in the local audio-visual landscape.
She is presently the president of the Mauritian Writers Association, dedicated to building budding literary talents in Mauritius not withstanding the extremely complex nature of the cultural linguistic landscape. She promotes vigorously on several platforms the use of the English language as a common medium of communication in schools and elsewhere. She believes that the English language should be better utilised by on and all since it would help the globalisation process of the Island with decidedly commercial and international benefits.
She enjoys being in Mauritius and sees Mauritius as a flagship for allowing an easy translation of the one world one humanity concept.
She also is the president of Women's Federation for World Peace which is an international non govern mental agency promoting educational and social interests of youth and adolescents in Mauritius fostering and adolescents in Mauritius fostering and counselling parents and teachers.
She has been running the Osho meditation center at her residence for many years opening doors to young and old, seeking the truth of Vedanta of oneness of unity, love and peace.
I first read the Kathopanisad when I was 15 and the narrative of this boy who esse into father's corruption and meets with Death with equanimity never failed to impress me then, and, twice again more as I e- read the text. Evidently, the text grew with me as I grew older, taking on a different shape as I acquired formative experience both of the mind and of the body. But I wonder, in the presence of this text which provokes above all things a mindset for questioning and for wonderment and novelty, whether my first readings were more judicious than my more recent readings, and whether I was then closer to Nachiketas then than I am now.
How does Farhad the child Farhad the middle-aged man with paunch with his set habits (rituals) and self-gratification? What would that boy I 'was ' say of my own rituals in life, of the everydayness that I hold to, and the lack of questioning that accompanies the life I have made for myself? Why have I stopped wondering as much as about why the sky is blue, about the magic that is water, of why I am, and about who I am?
Like Ancient Egypt, Ancient China or Ancient Persia, full knowledge of Ancient India's wisdom is not entirely retrievable, not only because history moves in distorting meanders but also that the past is always retrieved in terms of a present day context and feeds needs and functions of a contemporary society with its own meaning construction and ultimately because nothing truly is.
With ancient texts, access is even further. Some use faith as a medium to eschew the issue altogether, presuming a connection across the centuries, whereas others will attempt to produce a truth that is as commonly universal as possible; yet others are content to lay truths and possible truths next to each other.
The first knows translation of the Kathopanisad was into Persian in the 17th century CE. After being in turn translated into Latin, it entered Europe about a century later. The Kathopanisad, deserving of its rightful place the established repository of human knowledge, can be indexed among masterpieces of writing that charter human's search to better understand her/his condition: whys, wherefores, wheretos, questions that have not aged at all since homo sapiens became homo sapiens.
It is in fact touching t encounter old texts that resonate with such modernity but while it is reassuring to find continuity in cultural structures underlying cultural difference across space and time, it can also be dispiriting to find that, with the same queries, the same warnings remaining topical about 2500 – 2000 years later (the text was composed over a matter of centuries), it means there has been little or no true human progress since.
At the centre of this Upanishad is an issue that i almost universal: sacrifice. Sacrifices and rituals are a seemingly inevitable grammar through which many choose to speak to the Unknown – whether in Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism on the one hand, and say, the Abrahamic religions on the other (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha' ism) to name but these and the Persianate religions (Zurvanism, Zoroastrianism, Mandaeism, etc.), and African, Oceanian, Native American belief systems, sacrifice is a common leitmotif that reminds one that human cultures are more similar than different (as the Lakhota people of Narth America put it: 'We are all related!' – Mitakuye Oyasin).
In the Kathopanisad, sacrifice is distinguished in terms of a ritual that carries a strong sense of sacrifice and ritual that has lost its spirit and significance. Thus, in the Judeo-Christiano-Islamic story of Avraham/Abraham/ Ibrahim's sacrifice of his son, the point is the courage and denial of the self hat it takes to sacrifice your child (and therefore what is more precious than your own self). The main point of the story is the opposition between the spirit of sacrifice and a sacrifice that has lost its point.
The main dynamics of the text is on the surface dualistic, proceeding narratively through contrasts.
First Nachiketas is compared o his father, Vajashrava. Nachiketas embodies the new, the promise of a future whereas his father represents that which is old, cynical and corrupt.
The second part of the text works in a similar dynamics, this time, between Nachiketas and Yama, Death. This is after all about a young boy full of life and hesitations confronting death itself, immanent and eternal. Thus far, the movement is inscribed dvaita. The gesture is didactic. Indeed, the posture at the feet of Yama, an invitation to leads to an understanding that there is a reality that is higher than as an everyday reality that is even higher than as an everyday reality, a reality where Atman (as soul) and Brahman (as ultimate reality) become identical (Advaita, perhaps leading more radically to Charvaka although the Charvaks themselves often discredited the Vedas). The Kathopamisad carries the first recorded use of the Ratha Kalpana (the metaphor of the chariot) that is more ways than one reminds one of the much later and very influential Bhagavad Gita.
In terms of mood, the Kathopanisad is very much proto-Bhagavad Gita in that equally proposes a pragmatic morality. How to read Bachiketas? Well, why choose? Do not the Jains of realities that co-exist? Shakuntala Hawoldar expresses this as an overall inclusive social wisdom:
"There is a strange order in the perception of things says Kathopanishad. Each human perceives his level of evolution at his own, unique level of comprehension and readiness. Although humans wear the same type of bodies like clothes, we are all different energies or vibrations seeking different lessons at different levels."
A with all classics, the Kathopanisad has been over the centuries given to polysemic decoding. The suggestion that Yama himself is tentative in some of his answers, and even has very 'human' concerns to Nachiketas's caste, points to the inevitable partiality of truth in the text, with death not a social leveller.
This might be a later addition by a worried Bradmin, although this narrative dissonance mi9ght be still of the order of contradictions that occur in all texts, a reflection of human identity itself as ultimately unaccountable.
Similarly that Yama is representable at all, literally, and so very literally as a good- natured gentleman reflects the cultural specificity of the text in terms of pace (India, although Yima Kshaeta, an ancient proto-Aryan old Iranian approximation of Yama is also quite literal) and time (a past when death was more readily allegorised as a physical entity with an abode and a wife across the world).
Is the ritual given by Yama as the second boon also a later hurried addition by (ironically) a Vajashrava-style Brahmin who was mostly concerned about the source of revenue. Or could we argue that the second boon reminds us of the need to refresh rituals and get rid of tired old ones that have become empty, based on the assumption that some people need it to perform inner sadhana (meditation) for peace?
In my mind, the story of Nachiketas first flows as an open dialectics within the context of our current zeitgeist which is often identified as one when most voices are monologues, often despite appearances to the contrary. It compares Vajashrava, whose closed mindset and externalised only serve to hide the inner had conscience that would otherwise nag him, to Nachiketas who would ask o9ne question too many. Instead Nachiketas is attuned to listening, the ideal posture for learning.
In the act of listening is the implication of a clear heart, free from guilt and ego, ready to receive knowledge and to question knowledge that has become so set as to be cantankerous, infecting any freh new knowledge that seeks to emerge.
Finding the child in us is not as straightforward as it sounds. It sounds simpler than it is since there is a strong assumption in everyday society that wisdom is a runged ladder that we naturally climb with age. Perhaps this is because wisdom, in a world based on irrational competition, is associated with cynicism, rather than with a close (in the world of appearances) but very different (in the noumenal) cousin, an acceptance of the bare realities of truth.
The first is more destructive of life-force (as prana in the wider sense) whereas the second is an understanding that instead enables a construction of life-force that eschews depressions and amxiety (as angst). Instead of the ladder that a younger person climbs to acquire wisdom, in the Kathopanisad, a more appropriate analogy might be that the human who, starting to walk into a tray of fluid concrete which hardens, gradually gets set in her/his ways and unable to receive new knowledge and to open up to the fluidity of the world. Using established associations with words like' and 'adult', this can be expressed as a paradox terms of an 'adult' behaving with 'childish' stubbornness and irresponsibility whereas the 'child' shows the right maturity and discernment, and the true courage to pursue truths.
William Blake's radical idea of the child as the most fundamental energy and his revolutionary revisiting of Jewish and Christian mythology in those terms comes to mind. We assume that childhood comes before adulthood. In fact, it comes during it and, without sounding too provocative, it is the child in us that meets death in the end. Recognising, accepting, coming to terms with our own childhood is about handling not an outside ethics, but an inner ethics with ourselves as judge, not others, which is the more common measure.
According to Shakuntala Hawoldar, "There is an inner antenna in most people which finds out the truth of all matters. Is this antenna the chid we were? Concealment is above all about lying to ourselves, to the child within us who is not yet contrived, has no strategy, no agenda, no fear yet and is thus unafraid to ask questions and be brutally truthful. Answering to the child you once were takes the ultimate courage for no amount of acquired social skills can hide your from yourself. Accepting the child in you is accepting the inevitable reality that your (personal and collective) knowledge system is incomplete, requiring a readiness to be vulnerable, agreeing o learn, and therefore to forgo the fear of others we can term more respectably, ego.
"It will be the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death," said the existential philosopher, Schopenhauer after reading a translation of some of the Upanishads. Many things are lost in translation and translation and yet, the deep insight of the Upanishads into the universe and the human predicament was carried with telling to European thinkers as early as the 19th century through translations.
Among the Upanishads, Katha has a special fascination for thinkers. The Bhagavad Gita has borrowed ideas and imagery from it. See the image of the bayan tree with roots above and branches below: The Indian puranas and mythology have been greatly influenced by the Kathopanishad. Sankara, the advaitic philosopher named as Jagad Guru (Guru of then world), prefaced his reputed commentary on Kathopanished with obeisance to two gurus, Death and Nachiketas. Swami Vivekananda described it as "The most poetic among Upanishads." In another place he termed it as "the most beautiful Upanishad." In another place he termed it as "the most beautiful Upanishad." In a speech he praised it as "the Upanishad with the most wonderful art."
What is surprising is that it has fascinated European poets too. Edwin Arnold, famous for his poetical work, The Light of Asia, in which he recounted the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, made a free translation of Kathopanishad into English with the title, The Secret of Death. In the introductory portion, he penned following poetic lines to pay homage to it.
'The subtle thought, the far-off faith,
The deathless spirit mocking death,
The closed-packed sense, hard to unlock
As diamonds from the mother-rock,
The small solemn, brief simplicity,
The insight, fancy, mystery
Of Hindu scriptures – all are had
In this divine Upanishad.'
Suffice to say that the story Nachiketas, the boy was cruelly banished by his father bravely faing the lord of Death and enquiring about the riddle of existence, has attracted the imagination and love of savants from time immemorial. No wonder Nachiketas is the darling of the mystic lore.
In this work, Nachiketas: The Road to the Ultimate Truth, Shakuntala Hawonlar has presented to the world, a brief, but modem commentary on this upanishadic story. She use modern techniques to unravel an ancient doctrine. Reading this book, one realizes that the latest psychological thinking gels effortlessly with upanishadic thought. And also that the former cannot hold a candle to the latter.
It is clear that Shakuntala has aimed this work mainly at the younger generation. IT also evident that she has already undergone ardous sadhana (practice) in search of the truth enshrined in the story.
Somerset Maugham quoted the line, "the sharp edge of a razor is difficult to walk over, so the wise say the path to salvation is hard" from Kaathopanishad, in the prelude to his famous movel The Razor's Edge. Shakuntala has stepped on that edge and it is clear she has taken not only one step, but several. Hence, she is a fit person to talk about Nachiketas. However, she expatiates on this esoteric subject in the language understandable ever to school boys and girls. Not for her, the high-flying jargon of pundits.
Definitely, a compulasive read and also a booklet to ponder over and digest. Adi Sankara had once said "I will tell you in two lines what is propounded in one crore of books: Only Brahman is the truth. Your soul is nothing else but Brahman." Shakuntala's book is a powerful call to the path of Brahman.
There are many truths uttered in the Kathopanishad before the finale. You can compare the search for the truth peeling of an onion. The layers fall away one by one to reveal the nothingness yet fullness which hold peels together.
This is actually experienced in the body-mind as layers, till you hit the centre of bliss. This Bliss centre is the Sat-Chit-Anand of the creative impulse of which we are all made. From stone to the tree, then to the animal and finally to Man and beyond. This "beyond the human touching or merging with the light" is called Enlightenment. This is the goal and mission of man. From the circumference to the centre, we were always there but through ignorance we have got identified with the outer layers of Mind-Body. We are not a mind-body phenomenon, but the eternal spirit. Touching the eternal light, man is a child of Immortality, never to be visited by Death. In fact, there is immortality in the land of the Spirit.
The story of Nachiketas has been chosen to facilitate the task of communicating the advaitic truth of the ages and sages. "Words," as Bertrand Russell reminds us, "conceal as effectively as they reveal. "We need to probe into our minds and hearts for real consonance and resonance of What Is. The truth is like Oxygen. We breathe it every day but don't see it. Can we persist to be denial age after age?
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend