A Katha Upanishad for Millennials and Ranchers

The home of Yama, King of Death, was a craftsman bungalow near an urban area revitalized for Millenials. The plots in this neighborhood were tiny, the homes half the size of those in newer neighborhoods but twice the cost. Most had seen a non-load bearing wall removed to achieve an open floor concept. Owners of these homes owned vehicles with deluxe emblems on their trunks, and though the main road through the neighborhood was paved with brick, and walking for groceries or to a restaurant was encouraged, vehicles such as these needed to be driven, or rather paraded, often, if not daily. Otherwise what would be the point of anything.

Wet leaves dampened the thud of Nacho’s boot heels on the wooden steps leading to Death’s door. The steps smelled of fresh pine, and fresh paint. The potted mums of fresh soil. The curb appeal was to die for.

Nacho removed his cowboy hat and knocked. He waited. No answer. He knocked again, breath steaming in crisp October air. No response.

He tried the knob. It turned. The door swung open, the portal expanded, the doorjamb widened. Like a telescopic lens opening, the entrance receded, the porch tilted inwards. Nacho’s wet boots skidded across the deck boards, drawn into Death’s abode.

The door closed behind him. The interior seemed untouched, unlived, like a model home staged to entice a new owner. Perfectly appointed, the ‘after’ shots of a remodeling show.

“Hello?” called Nacho to no one. Or what felt like no one. It would not have surprised him to see the home owner round a corner with a smile and a cup of freshly ground coffee. Perhaps a woman in yoga pants and a Dry-Fit top, her make-up and earrings freshly applied. Or a young man in skinny jeans, a slim-fit button down, his hair shaved close on the sides, but long at the part that swoops over top. He would be in web design, or perhaps in HR at a high-end retailer. Diversity in the workplace would be his main concern, followed closely by craft beer.

But there was no one.

In the living room was a small, uncomfortable looking sofa born of the 1960s but obviously brand new and underused. Nacho lowered himself onto it. It was not comfortable.

He waited.

He waited three days.

During this time he did not move. He sat in meditation, eyes closed under the low brim of his hat, as the sun rose and fell outside and shadows crossed his chest. He sank deep inside himself. To a place beyond content. Beyond time.

On the third day, Death rumbled into the driveway in an oversized F-150 too big to fit in the garage. He entered through the kitchen, dropped his keys on the counter, leaned his scythe against the wall, pulled back his hood to reveal his own emptiness. He flipped through the mail with invisible hands.

Nacho rejoined the world of shape and form, opened his eyes. “It is customary for a Spiritual guest to be welcomed warmly in a priest’s home,” he said to Death.

Death fingered open an envelope, mumbled hmm?

“It would be appropriate to wash my feet with water, offer me bread or fruit. Failing to show hospitality to such a guest as myself is not only unwise but wreaks havoc on one’s reputation, and could result in the forfeiture of cattle.”

Yama, the King of Death, looked up from his notice of bills due. He dropped them on the granite counter, stared at his visitor. “Did you say cattle?”

“I’ve been waiting three days,” said Nacho.

“No one keeps cattle anymore.”

“Three boons you must grant me. One for each day I have spent unwelcome in your home.”

“Boons,” repeated the King of Death. “You speak of old ways no one follows.”

Nacho said nothing.

“You’re serious?”

Nacho’s eyes blazed, unblinking.

Yama sighed, gave the distinct impression of throwing back his invisible head. He joined his guest on the couch. He adjusted himself once, twice, trying to get comfortable, but it didn’t seem to be working. “This is a thousand dollar couch. Does it feel like to you like a thousand dollars?”

Nacho drilled his eyes into Death, waiting.

“You seem so serious. I haven’t had a visitor like you in ages.”

Nacho waited.

“Who sent you?” said Death.

Mi padre,” said Nacho.

“Why?”

Nacho’s eyes fell. “I spoke against his hypocrisy,” he said, rubbing his fingers over a knee. “He tithed properly only when eyes were on him, otherwise not at all. He gifted only old items even he no longer wanted.”

This seemed to have an effect on Death. He might have softened in the eyes, if he had them. In the jaw, had he one. “Penance,” he said.

“Penance, yes, but my desire is my own. My request sincere.”

“I see that,” Yama said, and sighed. “Where shall we begin?”

“With you. When you come, do we cease to be, or do we carry on?”

“That’s your first question?”

“My only question.”

Death held the boy’s gaze, or seemed to, then shook his head. Or rather, the space around his invisible head shook, as if disturbed by something invisible shaking. “Let’s go somewhere else with this, Nacho. Can I offer you this house? It’s a nice house, great neighborhood. It’s yours.”

“I do not want it.”

The front door opened. In walked Nacho’s ideal woman. She was everything he could possibly have desired. Her very DNA zigged where his zagged, two puzzle pieces perfect for making puzzles together.

“She’s yours, Nacho, if we can move on.”

“She will bring me fleeting pleasure,” said Nacho. “But Death is certain.”

The woman’s heels clacked away down the steps as the front door closed behind her.

Nacho looked down at the bulge in his pocket. He stretched out his leg, reached into his pocket, pulled out a fat roll of currency. He thumbed through it, a 100-count strap of $100 bills.

Death nodded, smiled. “You could pull one of those out whenever you want.  I can make it happen.”

“I have no need,” said Nacho, tossing the bills onto the coffee table. “They will not bring me closer to the Divine. Pleasure is temporary, and so is life. I wish to know what is offered beyond life.”

Death would have chortled, had he a face. “Offered,” he mused. “That’s rich.”

Nacho stared, said nothing.

“Geeze, okay,” said Death. “Listen, Nacho. It’s clear you will be a good student, so here’s the deal, but I’ll make it quick. You are a singularity.”

Nacho took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through his nose.

“You are dimensionless consciousness rising from within itself. When dimensionless consciousness stirs, you happen. The Big Bang also happens. You’ve heard of the Big Bang?”

Nacho nodded.

“You and the Big Bang are not different. A scientist looking at the Big Bang sees only himself becoming himself. The universe explodes out of what looks like nothing, you explode out of what looks like nothing. Only there’s no nothing. There is only everything.”

Nacho tilted his head but did not blink.

Death sighed. “This is why I offer sex and money. Listen. When you wake up in the morning, where have you been all night?”

“In my bed,” said Nacho, tentatively.

“No,” said Death. “The body you are tethered to was in bed. But you are not your body, else you’d have an experience of being in bed. There is no ‘all night’ when you sleep, because there is no time when you sleep. Because you are a singularity. Dimensionless consciousness does not exist as shape and form.”

“I’m pretty sure I exist,” said Nacho.

“You do and you don’t,” said Yama. “Exist, from the latin existare, meaning literally to stand out from the rest. You wake from sleep, you rise, you move, you experience four dimensions of time and space. That is what it means to existare. In your dreams, you exist — or stand out from — the single dimension of time, but you do not exist in space. You rise, you move, and experience time and space, but you exist only in time. Dreams are consciousness active as mind alone, exploring itself without interference from perceptions arising in ‘space.'”

Nacho dropped his gaze, rubbed a finger along the brim of his hat. “And what about when I am deeply asleep, with no dreams?”

“That is the singularity,” said Death. “Dimensionless consciousness resting in itself, not existing, or standing out. But when consciousness rises again, you wake up and return to the temporary world of shape and form. Time resumes in your mind, until you collapse back into the singularity. Until it starts over again. It’s like breathing, in and out, a cycle that repeats, until it doesn’t anymore. Like the universe exploding, expanding, until it collapses again.”

They sat quietly as the shadows grew longer.

Death said, “You ask what happens in the after-life, or after-death, when every day you die and are born again. You ask from the point of view of a material body that will cease to be. But you are not a material body. Do you grow your hair, or does it just grow? Do you pump your heart, or does it pump itself? Can what you call you stop this from happening? You have already experienced before-life as a non-material body, but you don’t remember it because your mind wasn’t active, just like it’s not active in dreamless sleep. Why do you expect after-death to be different?”

Nacho blinked. The room was growing dark as the sun set. Outside the living room window, streetlights flickered on. Two children ran past, seeing no light in the house.

“You were not dropped into this world as a body, Nacho. You are not the matchstick that, once struck, burns with consciousness for a time, then burns out. You are consciousness itself, Nacho. You are fire. You can never burn out. You can only burn.”

Staring out the living room window, Nacho saw a vampire and a mermaid run up to the front door carrying orange plastic pumpkins with black handles. They looked to be about seven or eight years old. Behind the wheel of the white Lexus that spilled them out sat their father, his beard lit by the cold white light of his cell phone, his eyes dead.

The doorbell rang. At the window near the door, two hands cupped themselves around eyeballs and a voice called trick or treat.

“Shit,” said Death. “I forgot that was tonight.” He jumped up, padded his hips with the invisible hands at the end of his baggy sleeves, said to Nacho, “I don’t suppose you have any candy?”

“I have two boons remaining.”

“That won’t do,” said Death, glancing at the door.

Nacho said, “At least you’re in costume.”

9 thoughts on “A Katha Upanishad for Millennials and Ranchers

  1. Brilliant. Especially the part with the bills, the caricature of Death. And all that deep correspondence. Followed up with the kids at the door, the eyes on the cell phone dead. Bull’s eye, Death’s door!

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