Eknath Easwaran: The Katha Upanishad

[In 2013, we launched an experimental project sharing mp3 talks, which we described below. The talk referenced here is no longer available, but we'll continue sharing other mp3 talks via the blog in 2014.]

In August we shared an audio talk on the Katha Upanishad, given by Eknath Easwaran in the 1970s to his close students, mostly YAs at the time. This month, we’re pleased to offer another talk from this classic series.


The Katha Upanishad, with its story of teenaged Nachiketa asking Death to teach him the meaning of life, has long been a favorite of YA passage meditators. In fact, just last week Gary shared his story on how Easwaran’s book on the Katha Upanishad drew him to passage meditation.

The power of the Katha Upanishad lies not only in the relatable story (with the young hero), but also in the content, which continues to ring true today, thousands of years after the story was told. In this talk, Easwaran focuses on the beginning of Death’s teachings to Nachiketa, the ideas of preya and shreya and… well, why don’t we let him set the scene:

Nachiketa is ready. “There is nothing else that I want, O Death, and I can have no better teacher than you. I am your devoted disciple; give me instruction.”

Pleased, the King of Death begins. “Nachiketa,” he says, “as a human being, you have been born with the capacity to make choices. No other creature has this capacity, and no human being can avoid this responsibility. Every moment, whether you see it or not, you have a choice of two alternatives in what you do, say and think.”

These alternatives have precise Sanskrit names that have no English equivalent: preya and shreya. Preya is what is pleasant; shreya, what is beneficial. Preya is that which pleases us, that which tickles the ego. Shreya, on the other hand, has no reference to pleasing or displeasing. It simply means what benefits us – that which improves our health, or contributes to our peace of mind.

- Eknath Easwaran from Essence of the Upanishads

With these ideas of preya and shreya upfront and center in this talk, we are especially interested in hearing your thoughts and reactions. We’re offering this talk on behalf of the Digital Library team who are very interested in the experience of YAs (and non-YAs) interacting with Easwaran’s teachings.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or by email (young.adults@easwaran.org), and our questions from last time remain!

  1. Do you have any observations on the content of the talk that you'd like to share?
  2. Do you have any observations on the audio experience of the talk that you'd like to share? 
  3. How might we help you interact with this content better?
  4. Anything else? 

No worries if you haven’t had a chance to listen to the talk from last month, you can jump right in with this one. Enjoy!