Katha Upanishad

aka Kathopanishad

"The Katha Upanishad is widely read both in the East and in the West. The Knowledge of the Self is here described in a lucid style almost unparalleled in the philosophical writings of the world. Max Miller has said that the French, German, and English translators of the Upanishads regard this treatise as “one of the most perfect specimens of the mystic philosophy and poetry of the ancient Hindus.”

The Upanishads form, for the most part, the concluding portions of the Brahmana section of the Vedas. But the exact relationship of the Katha Upanishad to the Vedas is a controversial subject, some associating it with the Sama-Veda, some with the Yajur-Veda, and others with the Atharva-Veda. The Brahmana of the Taittiriya Yajur-Veda contains a story of Nachiketa very similar to the one found in the Katha Upanishad.

Like all the Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad aims at inculcating the Knowledge of Brahman, which alone, according to Vedanta, enables a man to attain Immortality and Freedom. As the subject is profound and difficult to grasp, the Upanishad, following an ancient Hindu method, begins with an illustrative tale."

- Swami Nikhilananda

"The Katha-Upanishad is probably the most widely known of all the Upanishads. It was early translated into Persian and through this rendering first made its way into Europe. Later Raja Ram Mohun Roy brought out an English version. It has since appeared in various languages; and English, German and French writers are all agreed in pronouncing it one of the most perfect expressions of the religion and philosophy of the Vedas. Sir Edwin Arnold popularized it by his metrical rendering under the name of “The Secret of Death” and Ralph Waldo Emerson gives its story in brief at the close of his essay on “Immortality.”

There is no consensus of opinion regarding the place of this Upanishad in Vedic literature. Some authorities declare it to belong to the Yajur-Veda, others to the Sama-Veda, while a large number put it down as a part of the Atharva-Veda. The story is first suggested in the Rig-Veda; it is told more definitely in the Yajur-Veda; and in the Katha-Upanishad it appears fully elaborated and interwoven with the loftiest Vedic teaching. There is nothing, however, to indicate the special place of this final version, nor has any meaning been found for the name Katha.

The text presents a dialogue between an aspiring disciple, Nachiketas, and the Ruler of Death regarding the great Hereafter."

- Swami Paramananda

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