Kierkegaard wrote a meditation in several parts of the sacrifice (facer sacer - to make holy) by the aged patriarch Abraham of his son Isaac; this is the content of his text Fear and Trembling.

In a curious inversion there is an Upanishad, in which the the situation is reversed and Nakiketas, the son of the sage Vajasrava, disturbed by the quality of his fathers sacrifice:

Unblessed, surely, are the worlds to which a man goes by giving cows which have drunk water, eaten hay, given their milk, and are barren.

annoys his father enough that his father angrily swears an oath to send him to Yama (death):

"Dear father, to whom wilt thou give me?". He said it a second and a third time. Then the father replied: "I shall give thee unto Death."

Kierkegaard focuses on the sacrifice itself; and the nature of the 'temptation' that Abraham is tempted with: both disobedience and fidelity.

How is the sacrifice of Nakiketas, a sacrifice that he brings upon himself, seen in the context of Indian Philosophy?

1 Answer 1


Nachiketa being a good obedient son, was only following his father's orders. In Katha I. i. 5. Nachiketa says "Among many I am the first;..." this sentence implies that a good son or disciple anticipates his fathers wishes, he does not have to wait to be told to do something before acting.

In the Indian philosophical tradition, once a man says something or gives his word, it is considered a great sin to go back on it or take it back. Although his father had spoken in anger, it didn't matter.

There are other examples of similar circumstances.

When Arjuna brought his wife back with his brothers he called to his mother to come out and see what they had brought home today. Without looking out, their mother (thinking they had brought home some food) called out to share it equally among themselves. To keep it so that their mother would not have to go back on her word, all the brothers married the same woman.

When Rama was supposed to be crowned King, one of his father's minor wives reminded his father of a promise he had made to her and demanded as payment of the promisse that he make her son King. Rama, so that his father would not have to go back on his word, declined the crown and was sent into exile.

The moral of all these is threefold; 1) don't go back on your word 2) always be very careful what you say, and 3) be an obedient son/daughter/disciple no matter how bad the circumstances appear to do otherwise.

In all three instances, Nachiketa, Arjuna, and Rama, it was an opening to great teachings and epics.

  • In the translation that I read the word 'angry' was in brackets; so that looks as though it was an interpretation by the translator. But if Nakiketas was only anticipating his fathers wishes why was did he have to ask three times? Feb 16, 2015 at 12:31
  • And also his first wish to Yama, is for his father to 'forgive' him? Feb 16, 2015 at 12:32
  • @MoziburUllah Not to forgive, but to not be angry with him and greet him with affection when he returned home (Katha I. i. 10). His father was not angry at him for going, his father was angry at him before leaving for questioning his sacrifice before he went. Feb 16, 2015 at 13:41

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