A True Hero & Spiritual Warrior

by Rudra Shivananda

We all like to watch movies or read a book about the heroic figure that battles against all odds and wins through by defeating formidable enemies. This can be the lone cowboy battling foes amidst the lonesome prairie or the space cadet fighting pirates in the starry void. It can be a person struggling through heavy bouts of debilitating depression or physical pain associated with chronic illnesses. These are all heroes.


However, it is striking and unique that in India, the heroic figure is most often the spiritual warrior, the one who conquers his inner nature to become liberated or enlightened.  It is the one who seeks the truth of reality and who defeats all inner demons and achieves the true self. Such a one was the Gautama, the Buddha and many others whose tales are still recounted to the children our this sacred land.

There is a story of another young boy named Nachiketa who provides a good example of somebody who really wanted to know and understand himself.  Nachiketa’s father was sage Vajashravasa, who once conducted a great ceremony, in which he offered all he had.  He had used all he owned to buy cows, but because of his poverty, he could only afford lean and old cows.  In order to honor his father, the boy bravely offered himself as part of the offering.

The little boy asked, “Father, who will you give me to?”  At first his father would not reply, but Nachiketa persisted with the question.  Since the old man had recently been pondering on the mysteries of death, he muttered angrily, “I give you to the god of death.”

Undaunted, Nachiketa marched off and after much effort and hardship, found the palace of Yama, the God of death. Who would seek out and willingly go to Death before their time?

Yama, who is also called Dharmaraja or lord of the law, was away and so Nachiketa waited, fasting and praying. Three days later when Death in his awful form returned to find a fearless boy standing at his palace gates, he was pleased with the lad’s devotion and determination – after all, who would seek out Death and wait for this return?… this was a rare courage.

“Since you have waited for three days I shall grant you three boons,” he told Nachiketa.

“First, let my father be happy when I return to him on earth,” requested Nachiketa.  “Granted,” answered Yama.  “Next tell me how to get to heaven?” asked Nachiketa. Yama then taught Nachiketa how to attain the sorrow-less world called heaven.

Finally, the boy asked Death to explain what happens to a man after he dies, because he wanted to attain to the deathless state. Yama, was taken aback, and reluctant to reveal such secrets to a mortal. “Ask for anything else, herds of cattle, many elephants, gold, palaces and a long life.” He urged.

“Oh no, I don’t want any of these things!” Nachiketa persisted.  “Tell me – does a man continue to exist after he dies?”

Finally, after his best efforts to change the boy’s mind had failed, Yama was convinced of Nachiketa’s keen desire to understand the mysteries of life and death, and assented to instruct him further.

“The soul continues to exist though the body dies and decays,” explained Yama, “it is like a rider and your body is like a chariot.  Your intelligence is the charioteer and your thoughts and feelings are the reins.  Your five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are the five horses that draw the chariot.  The world around you is like the pastures on which these horses graze.”

Then Yama taught Nachiketa the importance of Yoga. He explained how by practicing Yoga, the aspirant can bring his senses under control just as a charioteer brings his horses under control.  As soon as one has controlled the senses, one will see the soul and experience the true Self.  Nachiketa was the best disciple Death ever had and learnt well what Yama taught him.  He made a deep effort to achieve his true nature and achieved Self-Realization, becoming a perfected being.

I would like to present Nachiketa as an ideal of a Hero to all of you for he conquered not only death, but the fear of death as well. Further, he learnt the mysteries of life from Death himself.

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