Commentary on the Katha Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Section 1: The Intricacies of the Inner Way of the Spirit

The Self is Not to be Sought Through the Senses

2.1.1 parāñci khāni vyatṛṇat svayambhῡs tasmāt parāṅ paśyati nāntarātman: kaś cid dhīraḥ pratyag-ātmānam aikṣad āvṛtta-cakṣur amṛtatvam icchan.
Yama: (Yama said): The self-existent (Brahma) created the senses with outgoing tendencies; therefore man beholds the external universe and not the internal Self (Atman). But, some wise man with eyes averted from sensual objects (with his senses turned away), desirous of Immortality, sees the Atman within.
2.1.2 parācaḥ kāmān anuyanti bālās te mṛtyor yanti vitatasya pāśam, atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṁ viditvā dhruvam adhruveṣv iha na prārthayante.
Yama: The ignorant run after external objects of desire and fall into the snares of widespread death, but wise men, knowing the nature of Immortality, do not covet the fleeting (unstable) things here.
2.1.3 yena rῡpaṁ gandhaṁ śabdān sparśāṁś ca maithunān, etenaiva vijānāti, kim atra pariśiṣyate: etad vai tat.
Yama: To the Self by which one knows form, taste, smell, sound, touch and the sexual pleasure, nothing remains unknown. This verily is That (Brahman which thou hast asked for).
2.1.4 svapnāntaṁ jāgaritāntaṁ cobhau yenānupaśyati, mahāntaṁ vibhum ātmānam matvā dhīro na śocati.
Yama: The wise, when he knows that by which he perceives all objects in dream or in waking is the great omnipresent Atman, grieves no more.

The Individual Soul, etc., Are One With the Universal

2.1.5 ya imam madhvadaṁ veda ātmānaṁ jīvam antikāt, īśāṅam bhῡta-bhavyasya, na tato vijugupsate: etad vai tat.
Yama: He who knows this Atman, honey-eater, Soul, always near and the Lord of the past and the future henceforward fears no more. This is verily That.
2.1.6 yaḥ pῡrvaṁ tapaso jātam adbhyaḥ pῡrvam ajāyata, guhām praviśya tiṣṭhantam yo bhῡtebhir vyapaśyata: etad vai tat.
Yama: Who beholds him seated within the five elements, him who was born of Tapas (of Brahman), who was created before the waters, who entered the cave of the heart and dwells there (he verily sees Brahman). This is verily That (Brahman which thou hast asked for).
2.1.7 yā prāṇena sambhavaty aditir devatāmayī, guhām praviśya tiṣṭhantī, yā bhῡtebhir vyajāyata: etad vai tat.
Yama: Who is born along with Prana in the form of all Devatas, who, entering into the heart, abides therein, and who was born with the elements (he who knows Him, verily knows Brahman). This is indeed That.
2.1.8 araṇyor nihito jāta-vedā garbha iva subhṛto garbhiṇībhiḥ: dive diva īḍyo jāgṛvadbhir haviṣmadbhir manuṣyebhir agniḥ: etad vai tat.
Yama: The fire that is lodged within two pieces of wood, as the foetus is well-preserved by the pregnant woman, is worshipped daily by men who are awake and those who offer oblations. This is indeed That.
2.1.9 yataś codeti śuryo astam yatra ca gacchati, taṁ devās sarve’rpitās tadu nātyeti kaś cana: etad vai tat.
Yama: And that whence the sun rises, and whither it sets, on that there all the Devatas depend and no one goes beyond. This is indeed That.

Failure to Comprehend the Essential Unity of Being is the Cause of ReBirth

2.1.10 yad eveha tad amutra, yad amutra tad anviha, mṛtyos sa mṛtyum āpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati.
Yama: What is even here (visible in the world), the same is there (invisible in Brahman), and what is there, the same here. He proceeds from death to death who beholds here difference (between Brahman and the world).
2.1.11 manasaivedam āptavyaṁ neha nānāsti kiñ cana: mṛtyos sa mṛtyuṁ gacchati ya iha nāneva paśyati.
Yama: By mind alone could this (Brahman) be obtained; then there is no difference here at all. He goes from death to death who sees any difference here.

The Eternal Lord Abides in One's Self

2.1.12 aṅguṣṭha-mātraḥ puruṣo madhya ātmani tiṣṭhati: īśāno bhῡta-bhavyasya na tato vijigupsate: etad vai tat.
Yama: The person (Purusha) of the size of a thumb resides in the middle of the body, as Lord of the past and the future, and henceforward (after knowing Him) fears no more. This is indeed That.
2.1.13 aṅguṣṭha-mātraḥ puruṣo jyotir ivādhῡmakaḥ: īśāno bhῡta-bhavyasya sa evādya sa u śvaḥ: etad vai tat.
Yama: That person, of the size of a thumb, is like a flame without smoke, Lord of the past and the future. He alone is even today, and will be verily tomorrow. This is verily That.

The Results of Seeing Variety and Unity

2.1.14 yathodakam durge vṛṣṭam parvateṣu vidhāvati, evaṁ dharmān pṛthak paśyaṁs tān evānuvidhāvati.
Yama: As water, when rained on a mountain-ridge, runs down the rocks scattered on all sides, so does he, who beholds the objects as different, run after them only on all sides.
2.1.15 yathodakaṁ śuddhe śuddham āsiktaṁ tādṛg eva bhavati, evaṁ muner vijānata ātmā bhavati gautama.
Yama: As pure water poured into pure water becomes the same only, so the Atman of the thinker who knows this, becomes, O Gautama.

Section 2: The Stages of Self-Control

The Individual Self

2.2.1 puram ekādāśa-dvāram ajasyāvakra-cetasaḥ, anuṣṭhāya na śocati vimuktasca vimucyate: etad vai tat.
Yama: The city of the unborn (Brahman) whose knowledge is permanent, has eleven gates. Adoring Him one does not grieve, and liberated (from all bonds of ignorance), he becomes free. This verily is That.
2.2.2 haṁsaś śuciṣat, vasur antarikṣasat hotā vediṣat, atithir duroṇasat, nṛṣat, varasat, ṛtasat, vyomasat, abjā, gojā, ṛtajā, adrijā, ṛtam bṛhat.
Yama: As Hamsa (sun) he dwells in heaven, as Vasu (air) he dwells in the sky, as fire he dwells on the earth, as guest he dwells in a house, he dwells in men, in gods, in truth, in ether. He is born in the waters, he is born in the earth, he is born in the sacrifice, he is born on the mountains, he is true and great.
2.2.3 ῡrdhvam prāṇam unnayaty apānam pratyag asyati, madhye vāmanam āsīnaṁ viśve devā upāsate.
Yama: He (Brahman) sends up the Prana and throws the Apana downwards, that adorable one seated in the centre, all Devas worship.
2.2.4 asya visraṁsamānasya śarīrasthasya dehinaḥ, dehād vimucyamānasya kim atra pariśiṣyate: etad vai tat.
Yama: When this Atman who dwells in the body departs from the body, what remains then? This verily is That.
2.2.5 na prāṇena nāpānena martyo jīvati kaś cana, itareṇa tu jīvanti, yasminn etāv upāśritau.
Yama: Not by Prana, not by Apana does any mortal live, but it is by some other on which these two depend that men live.

Rebirth

2.2.6 hanta ta idaṁ pravakṣyāmi guhyam brahma sanātanam: yathā ca maraṇam prāpya ātmā bhavati gautama.
Yama: Well then, O Gautama, I will explain the mysterious, ancient Brahman and also what happens to the Self after death.
2.2.7 yonim anye prapadyante śarīratvāya dehinaḥ, sthāṇum anye’nusamyanti, yathā karma, yathā śrutam.
Yama: Some Jivas enter the womb in order to have a body, others go into the inorganic matter according to their Karma and knowledge.
2.2.8 ya eṣa supteṣu jāgarti kāmam kāmam puruṣo nirmimāṇaḥ tad eva śukraṁ tad brahma tad evāmṛtam ucyate. tasmin lokāḥ śritāḥ sarve, tad u nātyeti kaś cana: etad vai tat.
Yama: This Purusha who, building desire after desire, is awake when all sleep, is called certainly ‘the pure,’ is called Brahman, is called even immortal. Upon Him all the worlds are found: no one goes beyond that. This verily is That.

The Inner Self is Both Immanent And Transcendent

2.2.9 agnir yathaiko bhuvanam praviṣṭo rῡpaṁ rῡpam prati-rῡpo babhῡva, ekas tathā sarva-bhῡtāntar-ātmā rῡpaṁ rῡpam prati-rῡpo bahiś ca.
Yama: As the one fire, after it has entered the world, though one, takes different forms according to whatever it burns, so does the internal Atman of all living beings, though one, takes a form according to whatever He enters and is outside all forms.
2.2.10 vāyur yathaiko bhuvanam praviṣṭo rῡpaṁ rῡpam prati-rῡpo babhῡva, ekas tathā sarva-bhῡtāntar-ātmā rῡpaṁ rῡpam prati-rῡpo bahiś ca.
Yama: As the one air, after it has entered the world, though one, takes different forms according to whatever it enters, so the internal Atman of all living beings, though one, assumes forms, according to whatever He enters and is outside all forms.
2.2.11 sῡryo yathā sarva-lokasya cakṣur na lipyate cakṣuṣair bāhya-doṣaih ekas tathā sarva-bhῡtāntar-ātmā na lipyate loka-duḥkena bāhyaḥ.
Yama: As the sun, the eye of the whole world, is not contaminated by the defects of the eye or of external things, so the one internal Atman of all living beings, is not contaminated by the misery of the world, being external to it.
2.2.12 eko vaśī sarva-bhῡtāntar-ātmā ekam bījam bahudhā yaḥ karoti, tam ātmastham ye’nupaśyanti dhīrās teṣaṁ sukhaṁ śasvataṁ netareṣaṁ.
Yama: He is One, the ruler, the internal Atman of all living beings, who makes manifold His one form—those wise men who realise Him in their hearts, to them belongs eternal happiness and not for others.
2.2.13 nityo’nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām eko bahῡnām yo vidadhāti kāmān, tam ātmastham yenupaśyanti dhīrāḥ; teṣāṁ śāntiś śasvatī netareṣāṁ.
Yama: The wise who behold the Self as the eternal among the transient, as conscious among the conscious, who, though one, grants the desires of many, as dwelling in their own selves, to them belongs eternal peace, not to others.
2.2.14 tad etad iti manyante’ nirdeśyam paramaṁ sukham, kathaṁ nu tad vijānīyām kimu bhāti vibhāti vā.
Nachiketas: They (the sages) perceive that indescribable highest bliss as ‘This is That.’ How shall I know that? Does it shine (of itself) or does it shine by another light?
2.2.15 na tatra sῡryo bhāti, na candra-tārakam, nemā vidyuto bhānti, kuto’yam agniḥ: tam eva bhāntam anubhāti sarvaṁ tasya bhāsā sarvam idaṁ vibhāti.
Yama: The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon and the stars, nor do lightnings shine and much less this fire. When He shines, everything shines after Him; by His light, all these shine.

Section 3: The Tree of Life

The World-Tree Rooted in Brahman

2.3.1 ῡrdhva-mῡlo’vāk-śākha eṣo’śvatthas sanātanaḥ, tad eva śukraṁ tad brahma, tad evāmṛtam ucyate. tasmin lokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tad u nātyeti kaś cana: etad vai tat.
Yama: There is that ancient Asvattha tree whose root is upwards and branches are down. That indeed is pure. That is Brahman and that alone is called Immortal. Upon that all the worlds depend and no one goes beyond that. This is verily That.

The Great Fear

2.3.2 yad idaṁ kiñ ca jagat sarvam prāṇa ejati niḥsṛtam, mahad bhayaṁ vajram udyatam, ya etad vidur amṛtās te bhavanti.
Yama: This whole universe evolved from Brahman, moves in the Prana (in the highest Brahman). That Brahman is a great terror, like an uplifted thunderbolt. Those who know this become immortal.
2.3.3 bhayād asyāgnis tapati, bhayāt tapati sῡryaḥ: bhayād indraś ca vāyuś ca, mṛtyur dhāvati pañcamaḥ.
Yama: From fear of Brahman fire burns, from fear the sun shines, from fear Indra and Vayu and Death, the fifth, run.

Perception of the Self

2.3.4 iha ced aśakad boddhum prāk śarīrasya visrasaḥ, tataḥ sargeṣu lokeṣu śarīratvāya kalpate.
Yama: If here (in this life) one is able to comprehend Him (Brahman) before the death of the body, he will be liberated from the bondage of the world; if one is not able to comprehend Him, then he has to take a body again in the worlds of creation.
2.3.5 yathādarśe tathātmani, yathā svapne tathā pitṛ-loke, yathāpsu parīva dadṛśe, tathā gandharva-loka chāyā-tapayor iva brahma-loke.
Yama: As in a mirror, so (Brahman can be clearly seen) here within one’s self, as in dreams, so in the world of the forefathers; as in water, so in the world of Gandharvas; as in light and shade, so in the world of Brahman.
2.3.6 indriyāṇām pṛthag-bhāvam udayāstamayau ca yat, pṛthag utpadyamānānam matvā dhīro na śocati.
Yama: A wise man, having understood that the senses separately produced are distinct from the Atman and also their rising and setting, grieves no more.
2.3.7 indriyebhyaḥ param mano manasas sattvam uttamam, sattvād adhi mahān ātmā, mahato’vyaktam uttamam.
Yama: Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is the great Atman, higher than the Mahat is Avyaktam (the unmanifested).
2.3.8 avyaktāt tu paraḥ puruso vyāpako’liṅga eva ca, yaṁ jñātvā mucyate jantur amṛtatvaṁ ca gacchati.
Yama: Beyond the Avyakta is Purusha, all-pervading and devoid of Linga (indicative sign). He who knows Him is liberated and obtains Immortality.
2.3.9 na saṁdṛśe tiṣṭhati rῡpam asya, na cakṣuṣā paśyati kaścanainam: hṛdā maṇīṣā manasābhikḷpto ya etad vidur amṛtās te bhavanti.
Yama: His form is not to be seen. No one beholds Him with the eye. By controlling the mind by the intellect and by incessant meditation He is revealed. Those who know this (Brahman) become immortal.
2.3.10 yadā pañcāvatiṣṭhante jñānāni manasā saha, buddhiś ca na viceṣṭati, tām āhuḥ paramāṃ gatim.
Yama: When the five organs of knowledge are at rest together with the mind, and when the intellect ceases functioning (becomes calm), that they call the highest state.
2.3.11 tām yogam iti manyante sthirām indriya-dhāraṇām, apramattas tadā bhavati, yogo hi prabhavāpyayau.
Yama: The firm control of the senses, they regard as Yoga. At that time one gets careful, for, Yoga is acquired and lost.

The Self as Existent

2.3.12 naiva vācā na manasā prāptuṁ śakyo na cakṣuṣā, astīti bruvato’nyatra kathaṁ tad upalabhyate.
Yama: The Self cannot be reached by speech, by mind or by the eye. How can it be realised otherwise than from those who say, ‘He is?’
2.3.13 astīty evopalabdhavyas tattva-bhāvena cobhayoḥ, astīty evopalabdhavyas tattva-bhāvaḥ prasīdati.
Yama: He should be known to exist and also as He really is. Of these two, to him who knows Him to exist, His true nature becomes manifest.
2.3.14 yadā sarve pramucyante kāmā ye’sya hṛdi śritāḥ, atha martyo’mṛto bhavaty atra brahma samaśnute.
Yama: When all desires that dwell in the heart of one cease, then the mortal becomes immortal and here attains Brahman.
2.3.15 yadā sarve prabhidyante hṛdayasyeha granthayaḥ, atha martyo’mṛto bhavaty etāvad anuśāsanam.
Yama: When all the knots of the heart are severed here on earth, then the mortal becomes immortal, so far is the instruction (of all Vedanta).
2.3.16 śataṁ caikā ca hṛdayasya nāḍyas tāsām mῡrdhānam abhiniḥsṛtaikā: tayordhvam āyann amṛtatvam eti, viṣvaṅṅ anyā utkramaṇe bhavanti.
Yama: There are hundred and one nerves of the heart. One of them (Sushumna) penetrates the crown of the head, moving upwards by it one (at the time of death) attaining immortality, the other nerves are of various course.
2.3.17 aṅgusṭhamātraḥ puruṣo’ntarātmā sadā janānām hṛdaye sanniviṣṭaḥ taṁ svāc charīrāt pravṛhen muñjād iveṣīkāṁ dhairyeṇa: taṁ vidyāc chukram amṛtaṁ taṁ vidyāc chukram amṛtaṁ iti.
Yama: The Purusha of the size of a thumb, the inner Self, is always seated in the heart of all living beings; one should draw him out from one’s own body with steadiness, as one draws the pith (stalk) from a reed; one should know him as pure and immortal; one should know him as pure and immortal.
2.3.18 mṛtyu-protāṁ naciketo’tha labdhvā vidyām etām yogavidhiṁ ca kṛtsnam, brahmaprāpto virajo ‘bhῡd vimṛtyur anyopy evam yo vid adhyātmam eva.
Yama: Nachiketas then having acquired this knowledge imparted by Yama, and also the whole teaching about Yoga, attained Brahman, having become free from all impurities and death. Thus it will be with another also, who thus knows the nature of the Atman.