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Nachiketa and the Secret of Immortality

This is one of my favorite stories.  It teaches much of what we need to know to really succeed in our careers and lives. It comes from India and it 
is centuries old. This particular rendition is adapted from Jack Kornfield’s excellent book, 

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path

The hero of our story is a young Indian boy named Nachiketa.  Nachiketa was the son of a rich merchant.  His father, encouraged by the local Hindu priests, tried to buy a good rebirth through a large donation to the local temple.  Nachiketa was horrified by the idea that virtue could be purchased.

The Father persisted. The Brahman priests arranged a big public gathering to mark the donation.  With the whole village gathered, the Father stood up in front of the town folk and announced that he was giving his cattle, his gold, and all he valued to the temple. 

Hearing this Nachiketa could not contain his disgust any longer and cried out,  Hah, all you value Father….what about me your son?”

Publicly embarrassed the father responded, “I give you too you rude boy….. I give you to Death.”

Nachiketa was devastated.  He returned home immediately, said goodbye to his mother and headed off to an isolated spot deep in the forest. And there he sat down, waiting to meet The King of Death.  For three days and three nights with neither food nor water he sat motionless, determined to meet The King of Death also known in these parts as Lord Yama.

Sitting through hunger, pain and exhaustion Nachiketa finally entered that magical stage halfway between life and death. It was then he finally arrived at the land of Lord Yama. 

Upon arrival, he was greeted by Death’s three assistants, pestilence, famine and war, who explained that Lord Yama was currently away, but was expected back shortly. 

“That’s fine”, said Nachiketa, “I will wait for him.”

When Lord Yama returned several days later his assistants told him of the curious young man, who actually came seeking him. (Most humans run far away from Death.)

Lord Yama, The King of Death greeted Nachiketa and apologized for keeping him waiting.  “Welcome to my kingdom.  And since I have kept you waiting, I will offer you three blessings. Choose wisely.”

Now with the clarity of mind that came after 3 days of sitting and fasting, Nachiketa knew exactly what to ask for.

The first boon he requested was forgiveness for himself, and everyone he had known. Nachiketa said, “May my father love me as tenderly as the day I was born.”   (Nachiketa knew that only by releasing the past could he continue his journey.)

For his second boon Nachiketa asked for the blessing of inner fire.

Nachiketa knew that to succeed on his journey, he would need passion, courage and commitment to fully give himself to his path.

Lord Yama was very impressed by the choices young Nachiketa was making.

Now free of past conflicts and pain, and filled with the passion of his own inner fire, Nachiketa had found much of what he needed. But there was one more boon.

Lord Yama asked Nachiketa to name his last blessing.

After careful reflection Nachiketa asked that as his third and last boon, he would like to know immortality.

Lord Yama reminded him that this was his last boon and evoking images of riches, dancing maidens and all that the material world could offer, he tempted Nachiketa to choose among these.

But Nachiketa was wise and determined. He asked The King of Death,  “Will not all of this you have shown me quickly return to your kingdom Lord Yama?”

“Yes it will.” replied The King of Death, extremely impressed by the young man’s wisdom.

“Then let me know that which is immortal.” said Nachiketa.

Lord Yama said, “You are very wise Nachiketa. I will grant your third boon.”  Lord Yama handed Nachiketa an extraordinary gift—a simple hand mirror.  “If you wish to know immortality Nachiketa, I cannot help you more than this. To find immortality, you must look directly into yourself and ask the greatest of all questions, ‘Who am I.’ You must look beyond your body Nachiketa. You must look beyond your personality, thoughts and history.  When you can do this, you will find what you seek.”

At peace with his past, in touch with his inner fire, and stripped of concerns of ego, Nachiketa could now continue on his journey with a peaceful, free and pure heart.


I have three questions for you to consider. 

What do you need to let go of to become more present, and have more energy to focus on what is important to you today?

What do you do to connect to your inner fire, your passions, those things that bring you more fully alive and get you more excited about life?

What is the reflective practice you can do each day to help you get past your ego, the home of your doubts and fears, and more fully embrace 
the day with a light and pure heart?

All the best,