Swami Vivekananda says, “Those who dare, therefore, to struggle for victory, for truth, for religion, are in the right way, and that is what the Vedas preach. ‘Be not in despair; the way is very difficult, like walking on the blade of a razor. Yet, despair not, arise, awake, and find the ideal, the goal.’” He quotes from the Katha (speech, story, legend; also, suffering) Upanishad (secret teaching at the feet of a Master), the meeting between a young boy Nachiketa (non-decay, non-defeat) and Yama, god of Death. The text is divided into two chapters of three sections each. First, the tale of how Nachiketa was cursed by his selfish and proud father to death, then how Nachiketa won three boons from Yama: release from death and a path to Freedom from suffering. Yama hesitates when asked to tell the nature of the soul and the law of rebirth. He teaches the difference between the good and the pleasant, the quest for Truth and knowledge of God, and exposes the Tree of Life. He reveals a Spiritual Hierarchy and shows a need for right speech and the control of desires. He warns that yoga can be both beneficial and injurious.
His most famous teaching is the analogy of the Horse and Chariot. “Know that the Atman (soul) is the Master of the chariot, and the body is the chariot. Know that the buddhi is the Charioteer, and manas (mind) is the reigns [bridle]. The senses are called the horses, the objects of the senses their paths” (1.3.3 – 1.3.4). The soul is the enjoyer of the mind, the body, and senses. If the buddhi becomes distracted and loses its discrimination in will and desire, as a charioteer loses control of the reigns, the horses will run wild to disaster. A variation of the story appears in Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue. In this version, the chariot is pulled by two winged horses. The Charioteer is the intellect which guides the soul to Truth. The white horse is right discrimination which follows the gods towards enlightenment, and some souls see the world of forms in all its glory. The black horse is lust and greed which causes the soul to reincarnate in descending order of witness to Truth: philosophers and lovers, civic leaders, politicians and businessmen, physicians, priests, poets, craftsmen and farmers, sophists and demagogues, and tyrants.