The following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.
Questioner: In Katha Upanishad, young boy Nachiketa attained the highest wisdom and immortality by the virtue of dispassion and the firm resolve to know the Truth. Unless I resolve to know the Self, there is no other way it seems. Acharya Ji, kindly speak on the virtues of determination and dispassion Nachiketa had.
Acharya Prashant: Yes, obviously, Nachiketa had determination and dispassion, but do not think of that as merely the stuff this boy exhibited in front of the death god. It is common for readers to say that Nachiketa’s fearlessness and glory lie in standing unperturbed in front of death, not quite so. The story of Nachiketa is more flesh and blood, the story of Nachiketa is more like our own story; and if it is more like our own story, then we have to keep the encounter with death god aside for a while and look at the more mortal aspects of Nachiketa’s story.
Nachiketa is a mere boy dependent on his father, and he has the honesty and the guts to go to his father and say, “Of what use is all this that you are doing? Who will benefit from these old and sick and milkless cows?” I assure you that was more difficult than facing Yamraj.
We glorify Nachiketa’s encounter with Yamraj and that keeps things safe for us, “Glory to Nachiketa who stood unflinching in front of Yamraj.” Nice, because we very well know that this encounter is a myth. We very well know that we will never have the occasion in our own life to stand face-to-face with the death god, at least not in the way the Upanishad narrates. We all will die, in that sense, we all will face the death god one day; but not in the way Nachiketa faced. Not in the way of having a conversation in words and sentences.
So, nice and safe, say, “Glory to the one who can stand unflinching, unflappable in front of Yamraj.” I’ll put it differently Parmeshwari (Questioner) I’ll say, “Glory to the one who is dependent on somebody close to him, and yet has the guts to utter the truth and the guts to leave his home.” That’s where Nachiketa’s glory really lies.
Yamraj is fictitious; what danger is there in facing fiction? Nachiketa’s father is not fictitious.