Bhagavata Purana consists of the story of Shukdevji reciting to the dying king Parikshit.
Shukdevji was son of sage Vyasa. Sukadeva studied with guru Brihaspati for many years and he became expert at Veda Vedanta. Vyasaji then asked Shukdevji to marry. Sukadeva said, I was born from the Divine Fire, I had a father like Veda Vyasa, and I studied under a Guru like Brihaspati, the Guru of the Gods; I learned for many, many years Veda, Vedanta and now you’re throwing me in to the whirlpool of maya and attachment. Vyasaji informed that as per scriptures, one should go stepwise in life viz. Brahmacharya, Grahasta, Vanaprastha and then Sanyasa. Vyasaji tried to convince him but he refused to marry.
Vyasaji then asked him to go to King Janaka of Mithila for training who is an ocean of wisdom. Shukdevji was keen on learning, but he was doubtful of the knowledge a Palace dwelling king can possess. He was greeted by the guard who said, “Who are you, and what business do you have in our city, and where do you think you are going?”
Shukdevji said, “I’m a Brahmin, I’ve come to see the King, my father sent me, but I don’t think there is any reason to see the King. My father said that I would see the darshan of someone who is known as Videha, He doesn’t have a body, He’s liberated while living, He is a jivanmukta.
Shukdevji thought this man is so bound by attachment; he’s got guards and soldiers standing with weapons around his city saying “Who are you, and what business do you have to enter my door?” No reason to go in at all, I don’t even want to see this guy, I’m going home!”
The guard said, “wait, wait please, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that my job is to stand here and ask everybody. When Janak heard that Shukdevji, his Guru’s son had come to see him, he sent the prime minister. Prime minister greeted Shukdevji and invited him in to the hospitality chambers where he was served delicious food, and he was massaged by beautiful maidens and given a nice bath and given fine clothes to wear and treated like a royal guest. Shukdevji said, I’m a brahmin, I was born from the Divine Fire, I had a father like Veda Vyasa, I had a Guru like Brihaspati. I studied the Vedas for all my life, and here these people are trying to bribe me with beautiful clothes and sumptuous feast and beautiful ladies, I have no desire whatsoever.”
Janakji said, “What is the purpose of your visit here?” Shukdevji said, "My father sent me to you, to learn higher spiritual knowledge, please take me as your student. I must ask you, I don't understand, 'how can a palace dwelling king indulged in the wealth of palace, in the company of queen and children be such a highly recommended Yogi?'"
Janakji said, “Well, you know, it says in our scriptures that a man should be a Brahmacharya, then he becomes a Grahasta, and then he is a Vanaprastha, and then he takes Sanyasa. Shukdevji said, “A man who is bound to a sacrificial pillar could hope for escape, but a man who is bound to care for a wife and family can never hope for escape. How can he flee from the attachments, the bondage to family? I don’t want to get married!”
Janakji said, "We will talk about that later, if you want to be my student, you have to pass a test, take this cup of oil, keep it on your head, go around the palace, keenly observe every room, I will need every detail from you, also you shouldn't spill even a drop of this oil if you want to be my student."
Shukdevji walked into each room of the palace, observed every room in detail and came back in the evening. "O King, I have fulfilled your task." said the young Shukdev.
King Janaka asked many questions to confirm that he had indeed completed his task without fail; King asked Shukdev "How could you observe every room in such detail when you had a full cup of oil on your head?" "I observed every room, but my focus was always on the cup." said Shukdev.
"Same way, though I live in this world performing my duties as a king, husband, father, I always keep my focus on the higher reality." said King Janaka answering Shukdev's earlier question. Janak further said, “I have all of these responsibilities, but none of it is mine. I’m the administrator of this kingdom on behalf of a higher King. I’m only a servant in the kingdom of God. And that’s why they call me liberated while living.”
Sukadeva bowed down to the King, and went back to Veda Vyasa’s house, and said, “Father, Whatever you say, I’m ready to do.” Shukdev got married and he had two children. At the time of marriage, Shukdev was 25 years old. Even after staying in the house of pilgrimage, Shukdev started following the yoga path.
He narrated the story of Srimad Bhagwat to Raja Parikshit, whose testicular serpunition - after examination of death, attained liberation.
While performing duties as Grahasta, one can remain detached and attain liberation.
The story is a conversation between Nachiketa (a teenage boy) and Yama (Lord of death) from ''KATHOPANISHAD'' (5th Century BC).
Nachiketa was the son of the sage Vājashravas. He was performing a sacrifice named Viswajet Yajna. In this Yajna, the performer had to give away all his wealth. In ancient times, Cows were designated as valuable and special possessions and hence Vajashrava, desiring a gift from the gods, decided to donate all his cows to Brahmins.
Nachiketa was in his teens, and he was observing the sacrificial ritual with innocent interest. He was surprised to notice that his father was giving away only old and disabled cows unable to give milk.
Nachiketa was very intelligent & with pure heart. He said his father that he has heard in this Yajna, one has to give up all that one possesses. This being the case to whom will you give me?” Vajashravas did not give any reply. After some time Nachiketa asked again the same question, but in vain. He did not get any response from his father. Again for the third time, Nachiketa repeated the same question.
Vajashravas could not control his temper; he burst out saying to his own son, “I will give you Yama, the God of Death.” Nachiketa followed the words of his father and went to the kingdom of Death. However, during that time Yama was not present. None dared to admit Nachiketa. So he waited near the gate for three days and three nights without taking even a drop of water. When Yama returned and found Nachiketa at his doorstep he felt sad for keeping a Brahmin waiting for three days and three nights. He ordered his attendants to fetch holy water to invite and welcome Nachiketa. After the hospitality offered to Nachiketa, Yama told Nachiketa, “Dear child, I have not done good by keeping you waiting for three days. So I request you to ask for three boons.”
Nachiketa asked Yama:
1. First boon - O Lord, let my father not be anxious about me, and let his anger against me vanish. When I go back to earth, let him recognize me and receive me back gladly.” “Granted son,” said Yama.
2. Second boon - Teach me the proper ritual for the fire sacrifice. Yama agreed and taught Nachiketa the proper ritual for the fire sacrifice.
3. Third boon - Is there indeed a life beyond death. Yama said, “Boy, do not ask me about matters of life and death. Even the gods are not clear on all points. Ask me something else. I will grant all your wishes other than this.” Nachiketa persisted and said, “O Yama, I only wish to know about the mysteries of life and death, and nothing else.” Yama tries to offer Nachiketa worldly pleasures so that he may change the nature of his request for the third boon, but Nachiketa insists by stating that all the worldly pleasures are short-lived and do not render long lasting happiness. Nachiketa was bold enough saying that one can never reach the eternal through the worldly possessions. Therefore he has renounced all desires for worldly pleasures and has come here with the hope of winning the Eternal through the instructions of the God of Death. It was too difficult for Yama to change the mind of young Nachiketa. So finally, he agreed to tell Nachiketa about the mysteries of life and death. Yama told:
1. The Self is immortal. It was not born, nor does it die. It did not come out of anything, neither did anything came out of it. Even if this body is destroyed, the soul is not destroyed. Smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest, the Self is living in all beings. Mere reading of the scriptures or intellectual learning cannot realize Atma. One must discriminate the Atma from the body, which is the seat of desire. It reveals itself to the deserving one. The goal of the wise is to know this Atma.
2. This body is the chariot, intelligence the driver, the senses are the horses, conscience the rein and the Atma is the lord of the chariot. The Self is superior to body, mind and senses.
3. Greater than the individual soul is the enveloping super consciousness, the seed of everything in the universe, still greater is the Ultimate Person than whom there is nothing greater. He is the goal of our aspiration. Once That (Supreme Self) is realized, death loses all its terrors, and the one who has realized becomes immortal.
4. The path to realization is long and difficult. Inability to realize Brahman results in one is being enmeshed in the cycle of rebirths. Understanding the Self leads to moksha.