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The Yoga Vasishtha - Sri Swami Sivananda

The Yoga Vasishtha


Sri Swami Sivananda

Origin and Glory
Its Division and Doctrine
Moksha According to Yoga Vasishtha
Qualifications of the Student
Essence of Yoga Vasishtha
Related Links

Origin and Glory

The earliest work in Sanskrit on Vedanta of the highest order is the Vasishtha Maha Ramayana or Yoga Vasishtha. This monumental work is one without a second in Sanskrit literature. Vasishtha, the great sage, taught the principles of Vedanta to his royal pupil, Sri Rama, the victor of Ravana and hero of the epic, Ramayana. He narrated beautiful and interesting stories to illustrate the principles. The book is written in the language of Valmiki.

It is the crest-jewel of all the works on Vedanta. It is a masterpiece. A study of the book raises a man to the lofty heights of divine splendour and bliss. It is really a vast store of wisdom. Those who practise Atma Chintana or Brahma Abhyasa or Vedantic meditation will find a priceless treasure in this marvellous book. He who studies the book with great interest and one-pointedness of mind cannot go without attaining Self-realisation. The practical hints on Sadhana are unique. Even the most worldly-minded man will become dispassionate and will attain peace of mind, solace and consolation.

The Yoga Vasishtha was once one of the most widely read books in India. It greatly influenced the general philosophical thought. The late Pundit Brindawana Saraswati of Benares had read the Yoga Vasishtha one hundred and sixty-five times. It is a comprehensive, deep, systematic and literary philosophical work of ancient India.

The name is derived from the sage Vasishtha. Though the book is called Yoga Vasishtha, it treats of Jnana only. Practical Yoga is dealt with in two stories. The word "Yoga" is used in the title of this work in its generic sense. It is known by the name Jnana Vasishtham also.

Rishi Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, compiled this remarkable book. He related the whole of Yoga Vasishtha to Rishi Bharadwaja as it passed between Sri Rama and sage Vasishtha.

There are two books, namely, the Brihat Yoga Vasishtha and the Laghu Yoga Vasishtha. The former is a big book containing 32,000 Granthas or Slokas or 64,000 lines. "Brihat" means big. The latter book contains 6,000 Granthas. "Laghu" means small.

The Yoga Vasishtha contains a system of ancient philosophical thought unique in its kind. This is a valuable heritage from the hoary past of this sacred land known as Bharatavarsha or Aryavarta. The system of thought that is presented in this book is a highly valuable contribution not only to Indian philosophical thought but also to the philosophical thought of the world at large.

Those whose minds are turned from this world, who have become indifferent towards the objects of this world and who are thirsting for liberation, will be really benefited by a study of this precious book. They will find in this book a vast mine of knowledge and practical spiritual instructions for guidance in their daily life. The Yoga Vasishtha first enunciates a doctrine in its various aspects and then makes it very lucid through interesting stories. This is a book for constant study as many times as possible. It must be read and re-read, studied and mastered.

The Yoga Vasishtha deals with the subject of effecting union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul amidst all the trials and tribulations of life. It prescribes various directions for the union of the Jivatman and Paramatman.

The nature of Brahman or Sat and the various methods of attaining Self-realisation are vividly described in this book. The main enquiry regarding the final beatitude or summum bonum is beautifully dealt with. This book embodies in itself the science of ontology, the knowledge of the Self, the principles of psychology, the science of emotions, the tenets of ethics and practical morality, discourses on theology, etc. The philosophy of Yoga Vasishtha is sublime.

Its Division and Doctrine

The book consists of six Prakaranas or sections, namely: 1. Vairagya Prakarana (on dispassion or indifference); 2. Mumukshu Prakarana (on longing for liberation) 3. Utpatti Prakarana (on creation or origin); 4. Sthiti Prakarana (on preservation or existence); 5. Upasanti Prakarana (on dissolution or quiescence); and 6. Nirvana Prakarana (on liberation). According to Yoga Vasishtha, this world of experience with various objects, time, space and laws, is a creation of the mind, that is, an idea or Kalpana. Just as objects are created by the mind in dream, so also everything is created by the mind in the waking state also. Expansion of the mind is Sankalpa. Sankalpa, through its power of differentiation, generates this universe. Time and space are only mental creations. Through the play of the mind in objects, nearness seems to be a great distance and vice versa. Through the force of the mind, a Kalpa is regarded as a moment and vice versa. A moment of waking experience may be experienced as years in dream. The mind can have the experience of miles within a short span and miles can also be experienced as a span only. Mind is not anything different and separate from Brahman. Brahman manifests Himself as mind. Mind is endowed with creative power. Mind is the cause of bondage and liberation.

The doctrine of Drishti-Srishtivada is expounded in the Yoga Vasishtha. In some places Vasishtha speaks of the Ajativada of Sri Gaudapadacharya, the great Guru of Sri Sankara. You begin to see and then there is creation. This is Drishti-Srishtivada. This world does not exist at all in the three periods of time. This is Ajativada or non-origin of the universe.

This is a most inspiring book. Every student of Vedanta keeps this book for constant study. It is a constant companion for a student on the path of Jnana Yoga. It is not a Prakriya Grantha; it does not deal with the Prakriyas or categories of Vedanta. Only advanced students can take up this book for their study. Beginners should first study the Atma Bodha, Tattwa Bodha and Atmanatma Viveka of Sri Sankara, and the Pancheekaran before they take up the study of Yoga Vasishtha.

Moksha According to Yoga Vasishtha

Moksha, according to Yoga Vasishtha, is the attainment of the essence of the bliss of Brahman through knowledge of the Self. It is freedom from births and deaths. It is the immaculate and imperishable seat of Brahman wherein there are neither Sankalpas nor Vasanas. The mind attains its quiescence here. All the pleasures of the whole world are a mere drop when compared to the infinite bliss of Moksha.

That which is called Moksha is neither in Devaloka nor in Patala nor on earth. When all desires are destroyed, the extinction of the expansive mind alone is Moksha. Moksha has neither space nor time in itself; nor is there in it any state external or internal. If the illusory idea of "I" or Ahamkara perishes, the end of thoughts (which is Maya) is experienced, and that is Moksha. Extinction of all Vasanas constitutes Moksha. Sankalpa is only Samsara; its annihilation is Moksha. It is only Sankalpa destroyed beyond resurrection that constitutes the immaculate Brahmic seat or Moksha. Moksha is freedom from all sorts of pains (Sarva-Duhkha Nivritti) and the attainment of supreme bliss (Paramananda Prapti). "Duhkha" means pain or suffering. Births and deaths generate the greatest pain. Freedom from births and deaths is freedom from all sorts of pain. Brahma Jnana or knowledge of the Self alone will give Moksha. The quiescence produced in the mind by the absence of desires for objects is Moksha.

Moksha is not a thing to be achieved. It is already there. You are in reality not bound. You are ever pure and free. If you were really bound you could never become free. You have to know that you are the immortal, all-pervading Self. To know that, is to become That. This is Moksha. This is the goal of life. This is the summum bonum of existence. That state of non-attraction of the mind, when neither "I" nor any other self exists for it, and when it abandons the pleasures of the world, should be known as the path that leads to Moksha.

The Absolute, according to the Yoga Vasishtha, is Satchidananda Para Brahman, who is non-dual, partless, infinite, self-luminous, changeless and eternal. He is the ultimate substance. He is the unity behind the subject and the object of experience. He is one homogeneous essence. He is all pervading. He is beyond description. He is nameless, colourless, odourless, tasteless, timeless, spaceless, deathless and birthless.

Qualifications of the Student

He whose mind is calm, who is endowed with the "Four Means" of salvation, who is free from defects and impurities can realise the Self intuitively through meditation. The scriptures and the, spiritual preceptor cannot show us Brahman. They can only guide us and give us a hint by way of analogies and illustrations.

Shanti (quiescence of mind), Santosha (contentment), Satsanga (association with sages) and Vichara (Atmic enquiry) are the four sentinels who guard the gates of Moksha. If you make friendship with them, you will easily enter the kingdom of Moksha. Even if you keep company with one of them, he will surely introduce you to his other three companions.

The student should have an unshakable conviction that Brahman is the only Reality, that everything is Brahman, that Brahman is the very Self of all beings. Then he should realise this truth through direct cognition or intuition (Aparokshanubhava). This direct knowledge of Brahman alone is the means of liberation.

There is no difference between the waking and dream experiences. The waking state is a long dream. The dream experiences become unreal as soon as man comes back to his waking state. Even so, the waking state becomes unreal for a sage who has attained Self-realisation. For the man who dreams, the waking state becomes unreal.

Essence of Yoga Vasishtha

If you attain knowledge of the Self or Brahma Jnana, you will be freed from the trammels of births and deaths. All your doubts will vanish and all Karmas will perish. It is through one’s own efforts alone that the immortal, all blissful Brahmic seat can be obtained.

The slayer of the Atman is only the mind. The form of the mind is only Sankalpas. The true nature of the mind consists in the Vasanas. The actions of the mind alone are truly termed actions (Karmas). The universe is nothing but the mind manifesting as such through the power of Brahman. The mind contemplating on the body becomes the body itself and then, enmeshed in it, is afflicted by it.

The mind manifests itself as the external world in the shape of pains or pleasures. The mind subjectively is consciousness. Objectively, it is this universe. By its enemy, discrimination, the mind is rendered to the quiescent state of Para Brahman. The real bliss is that which arises when the mind, divested of all desires through the eternal Jnana, destroys its subtle form. The Sankalpas and Vasanas which you generate, enmesh you as in a net. The self-light of Para Brahman alone is appearing as the mind or this universe.

Persons without Atmic enquiry will see as real this world, which is nothing but of the nature of Sankalpas. The expansion of this mind alone is Sankalpa. Sankalpa, through its power of differentiation, generates this universe. Extinction of Sankalpas alone is Moksha.

The enemy of the Atman is this impure mind only which is filled with excessive delusion and hosts of worldly thoughts. There is no vessel on this earth to wade through the ocean of rebirths other than mastery of the antagonistic mind.

The original sprout of the painful Ahamkara, with its tender stem of rebirths, at length ramifies itself everywhere with its long branches of "mine" and "thine" and yields its unripe fruits of death, disease, old age and sorrows. This tree can be destroyed to its root only by the fire of Jnana.

All the heterogeneous visibles, perceived through the organ of sense, are only unreal; that which is real is Para Brahman or the Supreme Soul.

If all objects which have an enchanting appearance become eyesores and present the very reverse of the former feelings, then the mind is destroyed. All your properties are useless. All wealth lands you in dangers. Freedom from desires will take you to the eternal, blissful abode.

Destroy Vasanas and Sankalpas. Kill egoism. Annihilate this mind. Equip yourself with the "Four Means". Meditate on the pure, immortal, all-pervading Self or Atman. Get knowledge of the Self and attain immortality, everlasting peace, eternal bliss, freedom and perfection.

A Jivanmukta or a realised soul roams about happily. He has neither attractions nor attachments. He has nothing to attain nor has he anything to give up. He works for the well-being of the world. He is free from desires, egoism and greed. He is in solitude though he works in the busiest part of a city.

May you all drink the nectar of Yoga Vasishtha! May you all taste the honey of wisdom of the Self! May you all become Jivanmuktas in this very birth! May the blessings of sage Vasishtha, sage Valmiki and other Brahma-Vidya Gurus be upon you all! May you all partake of the essence of the bliss of Brahman!

Related Links

\ Introduction to the Yoga Vasistha
\ The Supreme Yoga a 2 volume translation of the Yoga Vasishtha by Swami Venkatesananda.

Last Updated: Thursday, 18-Feb-2010 08:30:35 EST
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Introduction to the Yoga Vasistha


Sri Swami Venkatesananda

The Yoga Vasistha is a scripture of great importance but it is perhaps not as well-known in the world as, for instance, the Bhagavad Gita may be. The scripture contains a cosmology which is most modern. It contains theories of physics which are not only nuclear but sub-atomic; and, what is extremely important, it gives a vision that is at the same time both grand and subtle. Recently I was reading a very interesting book titled Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas, where he describes the human body in cosmic dimensions, meaning that every cell in this body is an enormous organism within which there are independent organisms, which themselves house other organism—worlds within worlds. That is just about the basic theory of the Yoga Vasistha. Thomas says that on the basis of his studies, he does not even visualise the earth as an organism. The best view of the world could be that it is one single cell. The Vasistha gives a beautiful story which resembles exactly that. If one has this view, then I think all the division which haunts our vision will disappear. You and I, including the dog, are not only one, but we are all cells—little things within one cell.

The scripture contains wonderful health hints, psychosomatic theories, wonderful instructions for meditation and for worship and beautiful descriptions, if not instructions, concerning warfare. All this and highly romantic stories, too.

However, we are not really concerned with all that. Most of our problems revolve around the questions: What is our life? What am I? What must I do? Why am I here? Some of us at some time or other in our lives reach the point where we feel: "I am living a useless life. What is all this for? I feel so insignificant—like a dry leaf which is wafted in the wind." There arises despair—what St. John of the Cross might have called the dark night of the soul. The response to this question is the teaching contained in the scripture.

Vasistha declares right in the beginning that the feeling that I am bound psychologically and that I want to get out of this prison is the qualification of one who can profit by study of this text. If the soul experiences this dark night and that soul, craving for light, is exposed to this teaching, it is instantly enlightened.

Why do despair and fear arise in our life? Why do we get attached to anything in this life? Why do we hate anything in this life? All these arise from hope or desire for happiness, for peace of mind. This hope inevitably leads us to its own destruction, leads us to unhappiness. Vasistha says: "Give up all these ideas of running away from this world. Don’t even try to examine what this despair is, don’t even try to investigate whatever is a passing phenomenon. Don’t even let your mind dwell on what has been considered unreal."

There is one verse which is extremely beautiful:

bhramasya jagatasya ’sya jatasya ’kasavarnavat
apunah smaranam manye sadho vismaranam varam

The world is bhrama—an appearance, hallucination. Vasistha compares the world-appearance to the blueness of the sky; although there is nothing blue there, if you look at it you will still see blue. This hallucination will continue as long as you continue to look at it and wonder. You have hallucinated this world and you have strengthened this hallucination by constantly thinking about whether it is real or unreal. Vasistha says: "It is better to think of something else."

What is the reality? That which is, is real. The following example occurs quite often in the scripture: there is a bracelet made of gold. Bracelet is a word which we have used conventionally. We also see this as a form and as soon as the form is seen, it generates a concept and a word in the mind. If we dismiss the word and look at the form, we can play a very interesting game: is it gold or is it bracelet? Both. How can only one thing be two? The substance is gold; the reality is gold. It appears in a certain form and convention has given it a name.

If that is clear, everything is clear. For instance, if somebody called me a fool, by reacting to that, I am accepting that I am a fool. The statement had a certain psychological form but the reality of that is nothing but pure consciousness within. Something that happened in the outside world sent me into this ocean of despair. I became afraid and I did not bother to look into it, because I took the external circumstance as something real. And so my attention was completely and totally directed towards this external experience. If I am not a fool, why should I react to him at all? In such a situation, can I look for the reality? What is the reality of one I call the other person? What is the reality of that body, that mind? At the same time what is the reality that I call me, which reacts? Are these two completely separate and independent realities? This dual enquiry has to continue together, not one after the other. The subject and the object have to be looked into together.

A student of the Yoga Vasistha discovers that enlightenment consists of just three steps: there is an appearance; what is the substance behind the appearance? The mind. What is the substance of the mind, and who understands all this? The answer is pure consciousness. In that consciousness you and I, the subject and the object, appear to be divided.

Consciousness, being omnipresent and infinite, manifests (no other word is possible) itself in infinite ways everywhere. It is not possible for this diversity to disappear, but what can and should disappear is seeing it as diverse objects opposed to one another. The infinite remains infinite all the time and the infinite conceives of all this in creation within itself.

A beautiful symbolism is given to us: Vasistha says that this objective creation is like uncut figures in a marble slab—you are a sculptor and you think of the lovely figures you can carve out of it. All those figures exist in it already, potentially. You can visualise one big Buddha or you can visualise hundreds of smaller Buddhas in that one figure of Buddha. That is how this whole world exists.

The world exists not as a reality; the world is a word and there is a psychological form. The psychological form is nothing more than an hallucination which arises in consciousness. Accepting it as an independent reality, we chase one thing and reject something else. All these experiences again form impressions on the mind, strengthening bondage or rather strengthening the idea we have of bondage.

The external world and external circumstances arise in this cosmic consciousness (which you call God); the same consciousness experiences these external circumstances and these are known as subjective experiences, which change—that is all. Realising this you are freed from the delusion of considering these appearances as the reality. Having been freed, says Vasistha, you don’t sit idle, you are rejecting that which is the flow of life. Finally Vasistha advises: live in this world as life is lived here, but completely free of all sorrow. Then if you have to weep, weep; if you have to express suffering, express suffering; if you have to express joy and happiness, do so—because you are free.

I have seen only one person who measured that description—my Guru, Swami Sivananda, who was a completely enlightened and liberated person and also totally human. If you went to him with an unhappy story, even before you shed tears you would find tears in his eyes; if you had something joyous to tell him, he was more happy than you were. He was completely uninhibited; free psychologically and spiritually; he was extremely busy—not because he wanted to achieve anything, but because he had realised that achievement or non-achievement are both irrelevant to life.

Your life is not your life. It is part of this cosmic being and whatever that cosmic being decides has to happen. The direct understanding of this is surrender. In order to see this, you must have passed through this despair. You must have come to the direct understanding that what you want to happen, does not happen. If you want something, work for it and if it does happen, Vasistha would say that it is an accidental coincidence. It does not happen all the time and you might notice that more often than not it does not happen. When one sees that, he completely surrenders and at that point he directs his attention towards the source of all these cravings, desires, hopes and anxieties and comes face to face with the mind. He realises that that mind itself is pure consciousness. In it there appears to be conditioned motivations and even that appearance is discarded. That is a life totally free, instantly freed and divine.

Last Updated: Sunday, 27-Mar-2005 10:45:12 EST
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