The Story of Yama & Nachiketa

Vājashravasa, desiring a gift from the gods, started an offering to donate all his possessions. But Nachiketa, his son, noticed that Vajashravasa was donating only the cows that were old, barren, blind, or lame;not such as might buy the worshiper a place in heaven. Nachiketa, wanting the best for his father's rite, asked: "I too am yours, to which God will you offer me?” After being pestered thus, Vājashravasa answered in a fit of anger, "I give you unto Yamaraja Himself!"So Nachiketa went to Yamaraja's home, but Yama was out, and he waited three days without any food or water. When Yama returned, he was sorry to see that a Brahmin guest had been waiting so long without food and water. In Indian culture guests are believed to be equal to god and causing trouble to god is a great sin. To compensate for his mistake, Yama told Nachiketa, "You have waited in my house for three days without hospitality, therefore ask three boons from me". Nachiketa first asked for peace for his father and himself, when he returned to his father. Yama agreed. Next, Nachiketa wished to learn the sacred fire sacrifice, which also Yama elaborated. For his third boon, Nachiketa wanted to learn the mystery of what comes after the death of the body. Yama was reluctant on this question. He said that this had been a mystery even to the gods. He asked Nachiketa to ask for some other boon and offered many material gains. But Nachiketa replied that material things will last only ephemerally and would not confer immortality. So, no other boon would do. Yama was secretly pleased with this disciple and elaborated on the nature of the true Self, which persists beyond the death of the body. The key of the realization is that this Self is inseparable from Brahman, the supreme spirit, the vital force in the universe. Yama's explanation is a succinct explication of Hindu metaphysics. After death, it is the Atma that remains; the Atman is immortal. One must discriminate the Atma from the body, which is the seat of desire. Inability to realize Brahman results in one being enmeshed in the cycle of rebirths. Understanding the Self leads to moksha. Thus having learned the wisdom of the Brahman from Yama, Nachiketa returned to his father as a jivan-muktha.