On should be like Nachiketa, the celebrated questor who questioned Yama without cavil or equivocation about the body, enjoined with distinct attributes (guna) and performance of actions (karma) here in the empirical world and its status after the death of the body when it ceases to have distinct attributes (guna) and performance of actions (karma). He is known as Nachiketa because he asked the questions with sustained and undivided determination. As an epithet of Agni it signifies pure energizing spirit of inquiry in the reality o things which one comes across.
Yama was not an ordinary person but, as Rigveda says, was the first person to cross this barrier and therefore is the beneficiary of this great riddle. He is the lord of righteousness who from that moment on ward supervises the process of death and subsequent evolution as per the performance of the self when it made body its dwelling place for performance of effulgence according to attributes. On departure of the self from the gross body, it is he who determines whether the self would then dwell for the time allotted in his company in his abode or be put back in process o further evolution. Only those who have not transgressed Rta and have been intone with Satya, the Prime Existence, as the Dharma, the righteous principles are allowed to dwell in Yama’s abode along with other like persons. As far as others are concerned, Yama’s hounds keep them far away from his abode.
Who are these ancestors? For one who was a father to one would be a son to another. It is rare misconception that giving birth is only a biological function. It is more than that. It is an instance of transmission of one’s functions in this world as the ancient fathers did to us. It is natural for a father to consider that their sons should follow their counsel and follow their footsteps. They overlook, however, to what extent they have followed the counsel of their father and the ancestors, who were the earlier fathers too. If what we expect from our sons and descendents could also be the same what our fathers and ancestors expect reasonably from us.
Ancestors are those whom the Rigvedic seer prays,
Fathers, whom Agni’s tongues have tasted, do draw closer being compassionate guides; take each one of you your proper seat and accept the oblations offered and grant us riches and many valiant sons. - May they, the gentle and righteous ones, who have attained the life of the spirits, support us when needed.
'- Now let us pay this homage to our ancestors, to those who passed in earlier time and those who followed, those who took refuge on earthly region and those who dwell among the mighty persons. About whom the seers plead compassion and sympathy and understanding,
Sitting down with bended knees with face southward be gracious to accept this sacrifice of ours. Punish us not for any transgression which through human frailty has come to pass.
Three remarkable statements from the past come to mind. ‘Follow the footsteps of your ancestors, for the mind is trained through knowledge. Behold, their words endured, follow their wise counsel’ (The Book of Kheti, from the Sacred Wisdom of Egypt). ‘To you alone it is given to know the truth about Gods and deities of the sky . . . The innermost groves of far-off forests are your abodes. And it is you who say that the shades of the dead seek not the silent land of Erebus and the pale halls of Pluto; rather , you tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere and death , if what you sing is true, is but a mid-point of long life’. (Lucan Pharsalia c. 60 AD) and Death is not an end; it is a change of address. For one who was a father to one would be a son to another. It is rare misconception that giving birth is only a biological function. It is more than that. It is an instance of transmission of one’s functions in this world as the ancient fathers did to us. It is natural for persons to consider that their sons should follow their counsel and follow their footsteps but overlook to what extent they have followed the counsel of their father and the ancestors.
In this connection, Brihad Aranyaka Up. lays down the following principles of Dharma in this connection by elaborating the actions of a father whose self is about to depart from the body.
– Now, verily, there are three worlds, the world of men, the world of ancestors and the world of the luminous beings. The world of men is to be achieved through the continuation of the line of offspring, not by other performance of works. Therefore, individual personal achievements in the world of men do not mean achieving success in life. The world of fathers is to be achieved through performance of actions in life. That is to say, success in life which performance of actions brings is in continuation of the traditions of the ancestors. The world of the luminous beings is to be achieved through acquisition of Wisdom. Therefore, the world of the luminous beings is considered supreme. Therefore Wisdom is eulogized.
– Now, verily, is the transmission. When a man thinks that he about to depart, he says to his offspring, ‘You are Brahman, the offspring too is the effulgent fragment of the Prime Existence. You are Yajna, performance of actions, your assignment is continuation of the tradition by providing line of offspring, not by individual personal achievements in the world of men. You are the world, for the fulfillment of his assignment would be established by his achievements in the world of men.
Therefore when a man realizes that he is about to depart, he says to his offspring, ‘You are Brahman, i.e. the offspring too is effulgent fragment of the Prime Existence. You are Yajna, performance of the actions, i.e. your assignment is to continue the tradition by providing line of offspring, not by personal achievements. You are the World, i.e. his assignment being established by his achievements in the World of men’.
- Then the offspring replies, ‘(I am conscious that) I am Brahman; that he too is the effulgent fragment of the Prime Existence. I am Yajna, performance of actions; my assignment is continuation of the tradition by providing line of offspring, not only by individual personal achievements in the world of men. I am the world; the fulfillment of my assignment would be established by my achievements in the world of men.
Verily whatever has been learnt, all that is included in Brahman (Wisdom), because Brahman is said to be,
- a great, infinite, limitless aggregate mass of Wisdom. - Verily whatever actions are performed for continuation of the tradition by providing line of offspring, all that is included in Yajna.
- Verily whatever has achievements been attained in the world, all that is included in the word World.
This is all that is to be done. Being all, let my offspring guard me from my assignments in the world. Therefore, the need of well-informed offspring is spoken as supportive in the worlds. Therefore, a father educates his offspring. When he (father), knowing thus departs from the world, here itself he enters into his offspring together will his energies. Whatever transgressions have been committed by him, his offspring frees him from them, and therefore, he is call offspring. By such actions, a father stands firm in this world. Then into him enter those divine energies.