By Sri S.S. Shandilya
In the Ramayana we have the discussion about the first three human aspirations, Dharma (religious duty), Artha (economic security) and Kama (fulfillment of legitimate desires) whereas the Yoga-Vasistha deals exclusively with Moksha, (liberation), the fourth goal.
There are some scholars who believe that these two works (Ramayana and Yoga Vasistha) are complementary to each other and have a psychological continuity between them.
The Ramayana is meant for ordinary people who wish to lead a sane and good life in the world for which they were provided with the rules of Dharma, with the exemplary behaviour of Sri Rama as a model. In the Yoga Vasistha the issue of liberation is taken up in order to help those advanced students, the Jignasus or the enquirers. In this sense the Ramayana is known as Purva Ramayana and Yoga Vasistha is called Adarsha Ramayana. Therefore, here, Sri Rama becomes an enquirer, a person desirous of wisdom, a Jignasu.
The Yoga Vasistha is a very important text on Advaita Vedanta. The text is available in two forms, one the Brahad Yoga Vasistha (greater form) and the Laghu Yoga Vasistha (abridged version). In its greater form it contains 32000 shlokas. Its authorship is attributed to Sage Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana. Some scholars, however, do not accept the antiquity of Yoga Vasistha. The abridged version, Laghu Yoga Vasistha was compiled by Abhinanda, a great pandit from Kashmir. Atmasukha has written a commentary on this known as Vasistha Chandrika, which is for the first three chapters only. Mummidi Devaraya wrote a commentary for the last three chapters known as Samsaaratarani.
The Laghu Yoga Vasistha, the abridged version is done in a masterly manner retaining the most essential original shlokas and the editing is done to remove expansive descriptions. Thus, we have in the Laghu Yoga Vasistha the quintessence of the original text. Its style of narration is Puranic, even though the context is philosophical. Its poetic diction is excellent and one is struck with its beauty of both form and content.
The text consists of six chapters or Prakaranas, namely Vairagya prakarana, Mumukshu prakarana, Utpatti prakarana, Athiti prakarana, Upashanti prakarana and Nirvana prakarana. The structure of the narration being Puranic, there comes in the text a number of episodes in order to illustrate a point in question. Thus we read about the episode of Leela, which brings home the message that the universe is the diversity of Maya. The episode of Karkati illustrates the nature of Jiva (individual soul) as consciousness. The episode of Aindava shows that the mind alone is the universe.
The episode of Indira illustrates the fact that the body and its organs are nothing but the mind. The episode of Manas shows that the mind subjectively is consciousness while objectively it is the universe. The story of Bala points out that the world is real only to those who do not enquire into the nature of Atman (soul), otherwise it is only a Sankalpa (product of the mind). The episode of Siddha shows that the concept of time is only a mode of the mind; visible though illusory and is only a manifestation of consciousness (Chit). The episode of Sukra, the stories of Daama, Vyala and Kata, Bhima, Bhaasa and Dradha, the episode of Daasura, the story of Kacha, are utilised to illustrate that the universe shines as Chaitanya (Consciousness ) only after its rise. If a person contemplates more and more on the non-Atman, the (illusion of) reality of the universe increases to him. It also shows that it is the Sankalpa (resolution to act) that results in the manifestation of Jivas (individual souls), Ishwara (the Lord of the universe) and also the universe. The stories clarify that these are in no way different from the Chit, the Pure Consciousness.
In the Upashanti or Upashama prakarana there are nine stories illustrating the fact that the universe as universe is never true. We have here the episodes of Janaka, Punya and Paavana, Bali, Prahlada, Gadhi, Uddalaka, Suraghu, Bhaasa and Vilaasa, Vitahavya. These are employed to instruct that the quiescence of the mind results in quiescence of the universe.
The last section, the Nirvana prakarana opens with the episode of Bhushunda, in order to show the means of directly cognising the Turyatita state, and the yogic methods are also revealed. In the episode of Deva-puja the rationale of the idol worship is discussed. In the other episodes like the episode of Bilva fruit, episode of Shilaa, story of Arjuna, the episode of Shatarudra, the story of Vetala (goblin), story of Bhageeratha, the famous episode of Shikhidhvaja, story of Kacha, of Mithya-Purusha, Bhrngisha, story of Ikshvaku, the story of a Muni and a Vyadha (hunter), a number of philosophical issues are taken up for discussion and clarification.
A number of practices are advocated for realisation of Truth; practices like observance of silence (mauna), which cover Vak-mauna, Kastha-mauna and Susupti mauna. The discourse terminates with the elaboration of the seven steps of Yogic realisation (Yoga Sapta Bhumika).
Yoga Vasistha – the story settingSri Rama goes on a holy pilgrimage together with his brothers and returns after a long tour. Rama develops a pensive mood and is lost in thoughts. Rama had just completed his fifteenth year of life and instead of enjoying the pleasures of the palace, he developed profound dispassion (vairagya) which is the seed of wisdom (Jnana or knowledge). Rama became a jignasu, an enquirer.
The great Sage Vishwamitra arrived at the palace of king Dasharatha. In reply to an enquiry of Sage Vishwamitra, Sri Rama observed: "Sir, there is not an iota of bliss in this world. Wealth does not confer bliss. This wealth which the mind covets and which is very ephemeral in its nature is utterly useless like a flower-bud on a creeper growing in a well and encircled by a serpent. Life is like a drop of rain water dropping from the end of a leaf. I do not rejoice in this life of mine which is like a flash of lightning in the cloud of delusion. I am terrified by the enemy, the harmful Ahamkara (egoism). There is no greater enemy than it. It is impossible to control this mind of ours. This venomous monster that is mind is more terrible than fire itself. I am like a bird caught in a trap, and the fire of desire has scalded me. I am unable to understand the end and the aim of all these births.
All these objects which appear to perish produce only bondage. Even Brahma (the creator) has to die in a Kalpa which is but a moment of time. Therefore, in this dilemma of mine, please point out to me that resplendent and eternal state, devoid of pain, doubt and delusion. How could the great ones manage to avoid the pain in this world? Will someone unlock to me the real mysteries? Is there not such a state as quiescence? I shall not be able to attain this state of quiescence with my efforts alone, therefore, please enlighten me in this respect."
Rama is seen here as a deeply involved student of Vedanta who is desirous of Knowledge (Gyaan) through which he would get liberation. The whole subsequent discourse is an answer to the various questions and doubts raised by Rama.
Sage Viswamitra asks Sage Vasistha to tell Rama about the spiritual knowledge they gained from the discourse they had of Brahma as Sri Rama is an Adhikari (deserving student) for the spiritual knowledge.
Vasistha accordingly starts a discourse about Suka who also had a similar problem. Suka’s father sent him to King Janaka for answers to his questions. King Janaka told Suka: "Atman (soul) alone is, all pervading as the all-full Chidakasha everywhere. There is nothing other than that. That knowledge or Gyaan is bound by its own Sankalpa, and with the liberation from that Sankalpa, there is freedom from the bondage."
Vasistha tells Rama that this is the path he too should follow.
Vasistha said: "O Rama, the extinction of Vasanas alone is Moksha (liberation), the fixation of the mind in material objects through Vasanas (latent tendencies) is bondage. Atma-Vichara (self-inquiry) is very essential for the mind to get purified and to attain the state of Shanti (peace) which is the pathway for realisation. An aspirant for perfection should cultivate such virtues as Santosha (contentment) and should keep the company of sages and saints (Sadhu-sangha)."
Concluding the discourse, Vasistha said: "This Jiva (individual soul) has three forms (gross, subtle and Turya), the first two of which are base ones and the last one is Supreme Brahman. O Rama, having attained and being absorbed in the Turiya state, do not identify yourself with the first two forms, namely the gross and the subtle, but destroy them once and for all."
Sage Vasistha enumerates the stages by which one can reach this ultimate goal. The first stage is the Subhechha which makes one arrive at a firm resolve to study and seek spiritual knowledge. This resolve is practised in word, thought and deed (body, speech and mind).
The second stage is known as Vicharana, a process of enquiry. This stage helps to eliminate pride, envy, Ahamkar (egoism), desires, delusions etc. arising out of Avidya (Nescience or ignorance). One can achieve this stage successfully with the grace of a Guru.
The third stage is Vairagya, freedom from attractions, wherein he would listen to the Tattva-Jnana stories (stories about spiritual knowledge) from great souls. This third stage would bring in its train the matchless lotus bud of Jnana (Knowledge) that blossoms through the sun of Viveka (discrimination). At this stage the mind would vanish like the autumnal clouds. This is known as manonasha or mano-laya (destruction of the mind). The Jignasu (enquirer) remains in the transcendent Sat-Bhava (experiences bliss). Such a person will have full Jnana (knowledge) and would be free from any gloom of duality. The egoism is completely eliminated. He is a Jivan-Mukta (liberated), even though he engages in external activities in day to day life.
Sage Vasistha says in conclusion that the existence of Manas or the mind is Sankalpa, but its non-existence is bliss. Truth (sat) is self-luminous and all-pervading. It alone is the essence and perfect bliss, free from all objects. This alone is Jnana (knowledge) and Sat (existence). It is the cognition of this state of non-duality that constitutes the real Karma-Yoga or the renunciation of the fruits of all actions.
The whole narration is set as a dialogue between Sage Valmiki and Sage Bharadvaja who asks Valmiki as to how did Rama, full of Sattwa Guna, come into this world of samsara full of pain and cycles of rebirths.
Valmiki concludes that whoever listens to this perfect dialogue between Vasistha and Sri Rama would tread the path of liberation, and attain the perfect goal of life, namely Mukti.
[For readings from the Yogavaasishtha, visit page
"Ideal behind the idol" and read "The manner of worshipping the Deity".]
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Brahmasri Sreeman S S Shandilya for the collection)