The Katopanishad delves into the metaphysical and the philosophical aspects of the universe and of the journey of the human soul through the cycle of birth. The search of the highest truth in regard to the state of liberation is embodied in the question-answer framework between Nachiketas and Yama in this Upanishad, pointed out Sri N. Veezhinathan in a discourse.
Nachiketas gets this chance to meet Yama at his abode because he questions his father about the unjustness of the donations he makes at the end of a yagna. What is the purpose in the offer of old cows which cannot yield milk? To whom would he offer his son? Though aware of the truth in his son’s questions, the father reacts in anger saying he will send him to death. So the boy goes to see Yama. Yama offers as compensation three boons to Nachiketas who had waited outside his abode for three days and nights without food.
The first two boons reveal Nachiketas’s concern for his father and mankind. But it is soon clear that there is a marked lack of contentment arising from the temporal nature of the ends that these boons promise. The third boon seeks clarification on the existence of the Self as distinct from the body. Is the Self deathless even when the body dies? Or is there no such thing as the Self at all? This question puts Yama in a tight situation. Yama is no doubt the most knowledgeable in this matter; yet as preceptor, he is bound to instruct on this subtle matter only to one who is absolutely fit for the knowledge of the Self.
He pleads with Nachiketas to give up this boon and not compel him on this instruction. Instead the boy could ask for any other matter on which Yama would be pleased to instruct. But Nachiketas persists saying there is no other boon which is comparable to this.