Taking Back the Reigns... Katha Upanishads Week 3

So this week us Yogis gather around again - first to freshen up our understandings so far, before we continue to deepen into the mysterious teachings of The Katha Upanishads. We begin with a small recap of our story…our “Death chat” with Nachiketa and the Lord of Death himself, Yama.

After seeing his father’s false generosity is all for show and image, Nachiketa has challenged his father by asking him, “To whom would you give me!?”
Nachiketa’s father, sick of Nachiketa’s smart-arse comments, bites back; “I give you to DEATH!” (The modern-day equivalent being somewhere along the lines of, “drop dead you little…*bleep!*”)
Hmm, Nachiketa ponders – what would it really mean if I was given to Death? What would happen? Who, or what, would ‘die’?
Eager and very brave, Nachiketa sets himself off on a daring expedition to find Yama, king of Death, to explore these very questions. But poor Nachiketa had no idea that he’d be signing himself up for quite a delay. Of course, being The Lord of Death is understandably hard work, and Yama (being a busy man), has popped out on an errand……for three days.
When Yama returns, impressed by his patience, he offers the courageous (and probably now hungry) Nachiketa, 3 wishes. The first two, Yama grants with ease. Firstly, Nachiketa wishes for forgiveness with his father – for all to be well when he returns home. Granted, Yama nods. Secondly, he wishes to learn the secret to a fire ritual that will give him the power to ignite his whole nervous system, causing transformation within his body. It is yours Nachiketa, Yama agrees.
Third and lastly, Nachiketa decides to really go for it….
Yama, may I know the place of stillness within myself that not even YOU can take away from me. Let me know this, let me experience this place, whilst I am still within this body, within this life”.
With much reluctance and debate, Yama finally gives in – seeing Nachiketa worthy of his knowledge.
Okay, you win”, says Yama. “But Nachiketa, you must be wide open – you must be willing to drop everything you think you know. You must be up for this ride. Are you in Nachieketa?
Okay. Then we begin
Last week saw us dive into the exploration of Yama’s first teaching to Nachiketa – the idea that he (and all of us too), will only ever face two choices in life – Preya or Shreya. Preya, being that which gives us just a temporary benefit or pleasure (e.g., eating too much ice cream), and Shreya being the choice that is beneficial in the long term (e.g., maybe stopping after just the one scoop). 
We all make these choices daily, and we know it – and sometimes Preya choices are made because that is simply just the level of consciousness we are at, at that moment. But how beautiful is it to look back and to see our own growth? How the ‘you’ that sits here now, would not make the same choices as last year’s you? And with this, there can hopefully be a forgiveness. Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is oneself, no? But if we can see that the choices that we made were just the best that we could do at that time, we can start to let it go. Of course, Karmas inevitably need to play themselves out, and we have to accept the consequences of our actions, but moving forward with forgiveness means we can start to change our future. 
And how do we move forward? We learn from our mistakes. We learn that we cannot plant lemon trees and expect oranges. Therefore, we endeavour to make more Shreya choices. Which in turn, leads to more opportunities for Shreya choices to find our way to us. Until eventually, there will be no more choice – our world will just become Shreya orientated. The rest will naturally drop away.
Yama, it’s very cool and helpful that you’ve cut it down to two choices for me…but how on Earth and I supposed to know WHICH is Preya and which is Shreya? It’s not always so easy”, sighs Nachiketa.
Now, if you’ve ever had to make a very difficult decision, you can feel Nachiketa’s confusion. It’s not always simple. And even Yama, Lord of Death, with all his secrets, know this too. And that’s where his second teaching comes in.

“Okay, Nachiketa, let me give you an analogy, which will explain to you precisely how your human being, and body, works.
When you come into this life, it is like you are given a vehicle. A vehicle that you ride through this life until I come to take you away. This vehicle is exactly like a chariot. And to ride the chariot through this life, you must come to know how it works.”

It’s strange isn’t it? How we come into this life, this body, with absolutely no instruction manual whatsoever.  We’re just supposed to figure the whole thing out! It must have got lost along the way somewhere. We would probably be a lot better prepared if it had come attached to us when we were born, somewhere, with big bold red letters saying, “READ ME”.
But it’s okay – Yama has the manual for us, although a bit delayed.

“Your body, Nachiketa, is the chariot. And your 5 senses – they are like the 5 horses pulling the chariot along. Then the reigns upon those horses represent your mind – your desires, your emotions. And the driver in the chariot is your intelligence…your discriminative faculty, the one that can see and learn from your mistakes. 
And finally, the one behind the driver, that witnesses it all…is your true self”.
So as long as our identification, is taken by the horses (our outward senses), pulling on the reigns (our thoughts, emotions, desires), what kind of life is this? How does it look? Who’s driving? It feels totally out of control, right?
But Yama says, we can train this chariot, and we can train these horses. Just like we can (and we must) train the body and our senses. This is OUR vehicle, and if we can train it, we actually have a lot more control over our own health, and our own life than we thought. For example, if we come into a spinal twist every day…we are doing something phenomenal for our digestive system and our well-being. And then when we come into Savasana – isn’t it true, that our senses do a total U-turn from being so ‘out there’, to coming ‘in here’? On top of this, our practice within Yoga causes us to feel everything much more deeply, and see everything so much more clearly within ourselves.
Training, taking care, and taking control of our vehicle, means that we are not so easily ruled by externals, or our thoughts and emotions. Whereas unruly thoughts (wild horses), can lead to Preya choices… the one behind the driver (the one that witnesses it all), can see when these horses go mad. This is the one that when our vehicle is trained, causes us to follow higher intentions. Essentially, taking the reigns of our life back into our own hands.
Now this presence, behind the driver, will have also have been felt by us all. It’s that mysterious, unexplainable sense of uncaused peace that sometimes runs through us, occasionally in the strangest of situations. You know it? That feeling that actually, everything is okay. That you are a supported charioteer. Because you totally are.
Yeah, it might sound a little bit weird. But it doesn’t need to be understood. Actually, it’s not possible to understand it – it’s too big, too magnificent, for the intellect to understand. It would just exhaust our understanding to even try to understand it. But instead of trying to comprehend this one, we can start to build a relationship with it. With the mystery that it is, through experience. Of course, we keep all the tools that we’ve been given, like our intelligence (we don’t suddenly stop locking our doors and crossing the road without looking). But we are also just willing to open up to that which we have no clue about. Can we feel into the space behind the driver, and be with the one who witnesses it all?

The message of the teaching this week:
“You are given a vehicle in this life, which you must learn how to use. If you take good care of this vehicle, and come to understand how it works Nachiketa… you will ride blissfully though this life.”

Om Charioteers
Adele x 


  1. Thank you, Steve for sharing the teaching on Tuesday, and the beautiful summary of it Adele.

    My horses are pulling wildly at present, with such force and vigour, and sometimes it is tempting to feel that the Shreya, heart choice is to follow these horses, to honour their energy. In my heart I know that this is not so, that there is a deeper heart choice. I am deeply grateful for the training we have been given, that this body seems to have learnt. That I can sit with the pulling of the horses and see them for what they are and still settle into a deeper peace behind them – or at least know that there is a deeper peace behind them, even if the ride is a bit too intense to actually settle there for long ! It makes me smile to remember my Sankalpa, my heart wish, my heart wish to release my desires, my attempts to satisfy those desires, to open to life without a fear of leaving these desires unfulfilled.

    And so to the mat, and the cushion, a Shreya choice.


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