Yoga Vasishtha: An Overview

The Rabbit's Horns are an illusion

The amazing Yoga text The Yoga Vasishtha is introduced. 

The Yoga Vasishtha is part of the great Indian epic Ramayana. The Ramayana tells the tale of Lord Rama, rightful heir to the throne of Ayodhya, who is forced into a fourteen year exile in the jungle.

The sage Vasishtha is preceptor and spiritual guide of Lord Rama. The Yoga Vasishtha is a fascinating dialogue between Lord Rama and his spiritual guide Vasishtha. Vasishtha answers the questions of the young Prince Rama, who has been on travels through his kingdom and returns weary and disinterested in life. Prince Rama asks about human existence, the fleeting nature of life and relationships. He asks deep and direct questions regarding the creation of the universe, the nature of existence and the Self.

Vasishtha, master of the Self, responds with mind boggling tales and direct insights. Cutting through all frills and fancies, Vasishtha gets to the heart of the matter. The Self only Is, all else is ignorance and illusion.

Essence of the Yoga Vasishtha

Stories within stories within stories, make this text unique. The complex structure of story telling combined with the highest philosophical truths leaves the readers' minds paralysed. The truth then presents itself in its raw form, absolute, unadulterated and pure. Thus, it is said even the reading of this text would help the sadhaka (practitioner) reach the state of enlightenment.

The Yoga Vasishtha is not just a philosophical text of the ordinary kind. It appears to have been written with the purpose of creating a firm conviction in the mind of the readers by repeating the same idea in various ways and using stories and rich poetical imagery such as the world is like the barren woman's son or the hare's horn.

One of the finest gnostic teachings to emerge out of the Hindu spiritual tradition of Vedanta, the Yoga Vasishtha is considered by many to have a strong Buddhist influence. Due to the strong resemblance to the philosophy of Shankara and the idealistic Vijnanavada school of Buddhism eminent Indologist and historian Surendranath Dasgupta dates this text around seventh or eight century A.D.

The Yoga Vasishtha is a Yoga text for those who seek liberation from the cycle of life and death. Filled with mind boggling stories and characterised by a unique style, this scripture consists of 32,000 couplets and is divided in to 6 sections. 

  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 1: Dealing with Dispassion
  • This section imparts knowledge of the true nature of life in this world. It consists of 1500 couplets  and the qualifications of a seeker are described.
  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 2: Dealing with the Behaviour of a Seeker
  • This sections consists of 1000 couplets and is a practical guide for seekers of liberation.
  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 3: Dealing with Creation
  • This section consists of 7000 couplets. In it are found many inspiring stories which illustrate the great truth: On account of the interplay of the false ideas of "this" and "I", the universe which has never truly been created, appears to be. 
  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 4: Dealing with Existence
  • This section consists of 3000 couplets. With the help of stories the truth concerning the existence of the world and its substratum is revealed.
  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 5: Dealing with Dissolution 
  • This section consists of 5000 couplets and by listening to this the deluded perception of the world comes to an end, leaving only a trace of ignorance.
  • Yoga Vasishtha Section 6: Dealing with Liberation
  • The last and largest section consists of 14,500 couplets. The study of this section will destroy one's fundamental ignorance.

The Philosophy of the Yoga Vasishtha

The core philosophy of this amazing gnostic text can be summed up as follows: The world never existed in the past, nor exists now, nor will exist hereafter.

The essence of the teachings is often repeated in the following verse:

This world appearance is a confusion, even as the

Blueness of the sky is an optical illusion, I think it is

Better not to let the mind dwell on it, but to ignore it. (I.3.2)

Another oft appearing expression is "kakataliya". A crow alights on a coconut tree and in that very moment a ripe coconut falls. The two unrelated events seem to be related though there is no causal relationship. Such is life. Thus, the universe was just an "accident."

Vedantic Practice Vichara

One of the practices that is highly recommended and often mentioned in the Yoga Vasishtha is Vichara. This vedantic practice is a contemplation practice on the opposites. When suffering from ignorance due to the firm belief that this world is real, comtemplate on the opposite: All is illusion.

The Mahavakyas or Great Truths are recommended for contemplation to the sincere student. These are:

  • Brahma satyam jagan mithya - The world is unreal; Brahman is real.
  • Ekam evadvitiyam brahma - The is only one Brahman.
  • Sarvam khalvidam brahma - All this is Brahman.

Vichara, translated as inquiry, in a slightly modified form is also the only practice recommended by the great master Jnana Yogi Raman Maharshi and Vedantin Nisargadatta Maharaj. In this method vichara is practiced by holding on to the question, "Who am I?"

Yoga Vasishtha and Modern Science

Amazing about this text is that the ancients knew much about the nature of the universe intuitively showing us the similarities between Quantum Physics and Yoga Philosophy. For example, this text clearly states that time is not a constant and the only constant is light. This was a revolutionary idea for science and it took the genius of Einstein and his Theory of Relativity to make this idea popular.

Other discoveries that a modern reader would make upon reading the Yoga Vasishtha, is that the author already knew about disease causing virus. The cholera virus is mentioned and even accurately described.

Translation of the Yoga Vasistha

One of the finest and most popular modern translations of this ancient venerable scripture is Swami Venkatesananda's The Supreme Yoga. This is also available in concise form.

 

Book Recommendation

The Concise Yoga Vasistha

The Supreme Yoga: A New Translation Of The Yoga Vasistha (2 volume)

Ramayana

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Comments:

SaiGo from Hyderabad, India:
Thank you for the summary. I chanced upon the Yoga Vashista - an English translation of some introductory text by Sri. PN Rao. For some reason, I presumed that the book was in its entirety. Later, as I approached the end of this particular book, I noticed Sri Vashista muni referring to multiple books. This got me confused. I thought that the book was just the illustration of the mtg between a seeker and a saint. But, as I google and find your explanation and also other explanations, I am now realizing that Yoga Vashista is huge collection of material. The subject is very facinating and of great interest to me. You have done a great service by summarizing it for people like me. I thank you for that.


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