Yoga Vaasishta is also called Yogavasishta Ramayana, Maha Ramayana, and Jñana Vaasishta also.It is an extensive philosophical poem that might have been composed during the 8th century AD. Although the tradition assigns it to Valmiki, the authorship is still unknown.It is an extremely popular work that has influenced several later works such asAnnapoorna Upanishad, MahOpanishad, MaanasOllAsa of SurEshwara andJeevanmuktivivEka of VidyAraNya. It contains stories within stories and ends with a long dialogue between sage Vasishta and Shree RAmaTHE GIST-The first portion which is called Vairagya Prakarana deals with the intense dispassion of Rama on account of his disillusionment with the world. Vasishta tries to enlighten him.The second section which is called “Mumukshu vyavahaara prakarana triesto” suggests that such disillusionment should lead to wisdom.It should lead to the cultivation of the four qualities of Saama, Vichaara, Santosha, and Saadhusangamana (tranquility, rational investigation, contentment, and the company of wise people).Vasishta says that Purusha (self-effort) is important and that can overcome even the effect of past karmā.The third section is Utpatti Prakarana. It deals with Srishti or creation.He says the world is a manifestation of the mind. Even as the ocean is real and not the waves, they appear and disappear.It is Brahman which is real and not the world.The fourth is the Sthithi prakarana. The world continues till the Sankalpa or desire is there. As long as the mind is active, the world experience is there and there is outward-looking. It is Vāsanā that is responsible for the continuance of world experience.The fifth Upaasana Prakarana teaches the art of calming the mind.The technique of destruction of the Vāsanā is described.This leads to the destruction of the tendencies in the mind to rise in the form of mental waves. Knowledge of the self is the chief technique.The last chapter is Nirvana prakarana. Nirvana or liberation is the realization of the identity of the self with the absolute-Brahman.Since bondage appears by the false identification of the self with the body, only its reversal through a critical inquiry leads to liberation. Liberation is possible for everyone here and now. The Jīvanmukta (liberated man) continues to live in this world and fulfill all his duties, but remains equanimous under all circumstances of life and never attached to anything.There is great stress on the self-effort (Purusha).Pranayama or control of the life force is also dealt with as prana is essentially in the form of a vibration.Seven stages of spiritual progress are described. This are1.Prathama Bhoomika2.Vichaarana3. Asanga Bhaavana4. Vilaapanee5. Shuddha samvit maaya Ananda roopa6.Sushuptaa sadrusha sthithi and7. Turyaatheetha.Yoga Vaasishta advises the aspirant to study the right kind of scriptures and cleanse the mind by getting rid of rāga, dvEsha, tamas, krodha, madaa and matsara.The most important point to be noted is that the yagavaasishta emphasizes a joint operation of karmā and jñana to reach the goal.This is however against the concept taught by Shankara who considers that jñana alone leads to Jīvanmukti.Great emphasis is laid on Vāsanā kshaya and manOnaasha with the help of tattvajñana.There are several interesting stories also in the work.SOME CONTRADICTORY MATTER: It is said that it is only the Vāsanā that bring the soul back to other lives and hence obsequies or shraaddhaas are not of much use.Worship of the self through bodha(understanding), Saamya (calmness of mind), Maitri (friendliness to all), KaruNa (compassion), Mudita(delight), UpEksha( indifference towards evildoers) is advocated.Moorthipooja is considered as a baalakreeda or child’s play.On the whole, Yogavaasishta challenges the intellect with its uncompromising logic and it is exhilarating and beautiful poetry.The work, on the whole, is an Advaita version of the understanding of our tradition and is not for very ordinary people who are at the stages of moorthi poojas and religious rituals.IN BRIEF: Yogavasishta is traditionally attributed to Valmiki. It ranks along with Ramayana, Bhagavata, Bhagavadgita, and the Upanisads. In fact, many later Upanisads are directly influenced by Yogavasishta, and many of them have either quoted extensively or have completely borrowed from it. Yogavasishta is also directly influenced by Bhagavadgita.Yogavasishta does not attempt to reject any system of thought but takes the view that every viewpoint incorporates perception of reality in certain conditions, and every doctrine expresses that perception and concludes that ultimately the end of every religious and spiritual quest is the same. The point here is that the approach to life responsible for spiritual progress should not be abandoned in search of high ideals as it would not be beneficial to do so.Yogavasishta tries to lead the seeker whatever may be his level to the goal of human life.Yogavasishta expounds subtle spiritual truths by illustrating them through ingenious stories. Vasishta instructed Rama for understanding the ultimate nature of reality, knowing which Rama became a Jīvanmukta, like a lotus floating on water. The discourse between Rama and Vasishta forms the subject matter of the theYogavasishta.It has been implied that liberation(moksha) is not attainable solely by knowledge (jñana) or by action (karmā) and both must be combined incoordination like the two wings of a bird. So, the synthesis of karmā and jñana is the main theme of Yogavasista. Moksha signifies the advent of higher consciousness in man and transforms his egocentric activity into action unhindered by desire and attachment.What is aspired here is a means of living the life of a Jīvanmukta as the ultimate end of human existence. However, a Jīvanmukta is not averse to the world of everyday affairs. He, however, participates init this without getting involved in any way. He preserves the unity in diversity in his life.Yogavasista introduces philosophical truths to the common people who are Adhikari (persons with the requisite qualifications) to such knowledge. It penetrates the consciousness by grabbing attention through effective stories. It would be very useful to all of us to read something from this great work.
Author: Shivashankar Rao (Bangalore, India)