The Nachiketa fire sacrifice

It doesn’t matter how great your religion is or how ancient your scriptures are if you will not attempt to independently rediscover the Truths which were discovered by your forerunners.  Much too often, people forget this cardinal dictum and fall into the egoistic trap of boasting of the greatness of their religion without actually living it.  The practice of Yoga provides a pathway for rediscovering the verities recorded in the scriptures such as the Upanishads and Vedas.  This article examines the Nachiketa fire sacrifice as experienced by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

In a dialogue in the Katha Upanishad (1.1.12-1.1.19), the child protagonist Nachiketa asks Yama, the God of Death (Thanatos for Greek aficionados) to reveal the fire sacrifice that leads one to immortality.

Nachiketas: “Therefore that heavenly Flame which thou, O Death, studiest, expound unto me, for I believe. They who win their world of heaven, have immortality for their portion. This for the second boon I have chosen.”

Yama: “Hearken to me and understand, O Nachiketas; I declare to thee that heavenly Flame, for I know it. Know this to be the possession of infinite existence and the foundation and the thing hidden in the secret cave of our being.”

Of the Flame that is the world’s beginning he told him and what are the bricks to him and how many and the way of their setting; and Nachiketas too repeated it even as it was told; then Death(Yama) was pleased and said to him yet farther;

Yea; the Great Soul was gratified and said to him, “Yet a farther boon today I give thee; for even by thy name shall this Fire be called; this necklace also take unto thee, a necklace of many figures. (The necklace of many figures is Prakriti, creative Nature which comes under the control of the soul that has attained to the divine existence)

“Whoso lights the three fires of Nachiketas and comes to union with the Three and does the triple works, beyond birth and death he crosses; for he finds the God of our adoration, the Knower who is born from the Brahman, whom having beheld he attains to surpassing peace.

(triple works in the above verse means “The sacrifice of the lower existence to the divine, consummated on the three planes of man’s physical, vital and mental consciousness”)

“When a man has the three flames of Nachiketas and knows this that is Triple, when so knowing he beholds the Flame of Nachiketas, then he thrusts from in front of him the meshes of the snare of death; leaving sorrow behind him he in heaven rejoices..[1]

Sri Aurobindo, when asked about the mystic significance of these three Nachiketa fires, replied, “One is the fire in the heart. Another is above, and the two ends of the third are not known but only the middle term. This middle term is the physical, vital and mental – Bhur, Bhuvar and Swar — including the highest mind regions [2].”

Nagin Doshi (1917-1998), who was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, may have experienced the fires delineated in the Nachiketa fire sacrifice, if we go by the text of the correspondence that he left behind (there is always the possibility of misinterpretation on my part).

There are three exchanges in which Nagin reviews his experience of these fires with Sri Aurobindo:

Nagin: During the evening meditation, when concentrated above, I felt the Agni [Fire] of the Higher Consciousness coming down and uniting below with the psychic fire. Their oneness was experienced deep down in the heart centre. I have never heard of such a unity of the two fires.

Sri Aurobindo: If the development of a higher consciousness did not bring things that were not before heard of by the mind, it would not be good for much. The unification of the psychic and the higher consciousness forces and activities is indispensable for the sadhana(askesis) at one time or another [3].

Nagin: When I become conscious of the Fire or of Mother’s Force, my heart feels a great fire deep in itself. Though the centre of the fire is in the human heart, it is not confined to my being.  It is experienced as a vast and limitless fire stretching out everywhere.

Sri Aurobindo: It is so that all that belongs to the spiritual consciousness is experienced. One’s own self and consciousness is felt like that, something vast and limitless and stretched out everywhere, – so too the force and everything else. It is in that universality that all special action in one’s own mind and body or in others takes place [3].

Nagin: The Mother, as the Divine Agni, has done something special to me during Meditation. It is that which has made me write all this, and has shown me what she wishes to do in me in the future.

Already a change within and around is noticed. She has awakened two fires for her great work. But why two? Was not one enough? It is because one fire may not be able to keep pace with her new working which is so tremendous, powerful, fast, and full of Agni.

Thus two fires are indispensable. One is in the heart; it will go on tirelessly putting its pressure upon the unconverted parts, and helping their purification and transformation. The other is in the higher consciousness, the Agni of the self; this will support the psychic fire and keep it alive all the time. For, the psychic fire, being already in the evolution, may get veiled by the lower nature, but the Agni of the self is always above the Creation and so is ever detached and dynamic. It can bring down whatever help and protection is necessary from the Mother.

Sri Aurobindo: Yes, the two are necessary for any complete or rapid transformation [4].

We too can experience these fires with proper application and Divine grace.  If one regularly meditates on the heart centre, one might, after years of intensifying practice, become aware of a faint flickering light (jyoti) in the sublime depths of the heart.   This light, if nurtured carefully through further conscious living, will transform into a blazing fire (Agni) that radiates its influence on the indurated outer personality and melts down all the acquired habits of the mind-body complex.  This is the substance of the psychic transformation discussed here.

Similarly, the fires above in the “heavens” and the fire in-between could also ignite in due course of time.   If one keeps the consciousness centered on the Sahasrara Chakra above the head, one begins to perceive over there a vast, reverberating Stillness which over time turns into a blazing fire.

Photo by Karolik. Flickr Creative Commons. Click image for source


  1. Sri Aurobindo.  Kena and other Upanishads.  CWSA vol. 18, pp 103-105.
  2. Nirodbaran.  Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, p 174 (18 Jan 1939).
  3. Nagin Doshi. Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 3 (Pondicherry: SABDA, 1987), p 224.
  4.  Nagin Doshi. Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 2 (Pondicherry: SABDA, 1987), p 291.

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5 thoughts on “The Nachiketa fire sacrifice

  1. Pingback: ‘Adventures in Consciousness’ + a passport to wholeness: Amazing account of radical shifts brought about by meditation « Aaron Asphar

  2. Pingback: Introduction to the Upanishads | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. Pingback: The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  4. Sandeep Post author

    A correspondence between the Katha Upanishad and the Taittiriya Brahmana found by Hajime Nakamura:

    …the story of Naciketas’s receiving the three boons from the god of death had already appeared in Taittiriya-Brahmana, Among these three boons, the first and the second correspond closely to those of the Kathaka-Upanisad, but the third in contrast, is “vanquishing of re-death” (punarmrtyor apacati). When he sought for the third boon, the god of death gave him the “fire of Naciketas” (Naciketa agni). The Brahmana thereupon concludes: “He truly has vanquished re-death by means of it. The person who constructs the altar of the fire of Naciketas will vanquish re-death. Here, therefore, as in the Brahmanas in general, the surpassing and conquering of re-death (that is, the repeated death in the other world after death in this world is only mentioned as a wished for fact. Virtually no philosophical speculation on the problem of life after death has been advanced. The Kathaka-Upanisad, however, while inheriting the skeleton of this story, changed its contents into a philosophical argument. It can be thought then that the expression of such speculation in this Upanisad must have been influenced by the evolution of philosophical speculation among Indians of that time.

    Hajime Nakamura, A history of early Vedānta philosophy , Motilal Banarsidass, 1983 p 22.


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