The Third Boon: What is Beyond
Then the third boon comes, and with that the Upanishad proper begins.[Source] Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, “Is this real?” To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, “Is this real?” Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, “What becomes of this? What is real?”[Source]
येयं प्रेते विचिकित्सा मनुष्ये-
ऽस्तीत्येके नायमस्तीति चैके ।
वराणामेष वरस्तृतीयः ॥ २०॥
yeyaṃ prete vicikitsā manuṣye-
‘stītyeke nāyamastīti caike .
varāṇāmeṣa varastṛtīyaḥ .. 20..
Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my boons.
Swami Vivekananda Says —
The boy said, “There is this difficulty: when a man dies some say he is, others that he is not. Instructed by you I desire to understand this.”[Source]
…the most poetical of the Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad, begins with the inquiry: “When a man dies, there is a dispute. One party declares that he has gone for ever, the other insists that he is still living. Which is true?” Various answers have been given. The whole sphere of metaphysics, philosophy, and religion is really filled with various answers to this question. At the same time, attempts have been made to suppress it, to put a stop to the unrest of mind which asks, “What is beyond? What is real?” But so long as death remains, all these attempts at suppression will always prove to be unsuccessful. We may talk about seeing nothing beyond and keeping all our hopes and aspirations confined to the present moment, and struggle hard not to think of anything beyond the world of senses; and, perhaps, everything outside helps to keep us limited within its narrow bounds.
The whole world may combine to prevent us from broadening out beyond the present. Yet, so long as there is death, the question must come again and again, “Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances?” The world vanishes in a moment and is gone. Standing on the brink of a precipice beyond which is the infinite yawning chasm, every mind, however hardened, is bound to recoil and ask, “Is this real?” The hopes of a lifetime, built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered. Time never lessens its power; on the other hand, it adds strength to it.[Source]
What question has been asked a greater number of times, what idea has led men more to search the universe for an answer, what question is nearer and dearer to the human heart, what question is more inseparably connected with our existence, than this one, the immortality of the human soul? It has been the theme of poets and sages, of priests and prophets; kings on the throne have discussed it, beggars in the street have dreamt of it. The best of humanity have approached it, and the worst of men have hoped for it. The interest in the theme has not died yet, nor will it die so long as human nature exists. Various answers have been presented to the world by various minds. Thousands, again, in every period of history have given up the discussion, and yet the question remains fresh as ever. Often in the turmoil and struggle of our lives we seem to forget it, but suddenly some one dies — one, perhaps, whom we loved, one near and dear to our hearts is snatched away from us — and the struggle, the din and turmoil of the world around us, cease for a moment, and the soul asks the old questions “What after this?” “What becomes of the soul?”[Source] …this question is asked by Nachiketâ, a youth: “Some say of a dead man, he is gone; others, he is still living. You are Yama, Death. You know the truth; do answer me.”[Source]