“mano matramjagat, mano kalpitam jagat” - The world is as the mind perceives it.
The world is as the mind thinks of it.
The Yoga Vasishtha is an extremely admired treatise and considered as one of the elaborate classics expounding the Advaita Vedanta Philosophy. The date of its composition is still a matter of debate among intellectuals. However, tradition assigns it to the sage Valmiki, the author of Ramayana. The word Yoga means uniting - uniting with Reality. Hence ‘Yoga Vasishtha’ means teaching of Yoga as expounded by Sage Vasishtha to Sri Rama.
However, the Ramayana, either by Valmiki or Goswami Tulsidas, does not make any reference to these teachings of Vasishtha to Rama or the circumstances that led to the dialogue between them. We get an idea about both of these from the Yoga Vasishtha itself.
Although the Yoga Vasishtha is a scripture of great importance it is perhaps not as widely known as, for instance, the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali Yoga Sutras most probably because of its voluminous nature and abstruse content as also due to a limited number of translations in English available suitable for the modern generation.
The original text of Yoga Vasishtha runs into 32,000 couplets, It is called Brihat (the Great) Yoga Vasishtha or Yoga Vasishtha Maha Ramayana. It is also known by the name Jnana Vasishtham.
This vast work was summarized some centuries ago by Gauda Abhinanda, a Kashmiri scholar, into 6,000 couplets, which go by the name of Laghu Yoga Vasishtha. Another abridgment by the name Vasishthasaragudartha was done by Ramananda Tirtha. One more condensation of this work was made long ago, by an unknown author, reducing it into about 230 couplets, divided into ten chapters, as Yoga Vasishtha Sara (Essence of Yoga Vasishtha). The Yoga Vasishtha has also got several other abridgements and commentaries written by various scholars.
Although the Yoga Vasishtha is a conversation between Sage Vasishtha and Sri Rama, it has been written, not as a straight dialogue between them but in the form of stories within stories during which Advaita (the doctrine of nonduality) in its pure form is expounded. These stories are very beautiful and interesting to illustrate the principles.
“The Yoga Vasishtha has been a favorite book of spiritual seekers in India all these several centuries. Its special appeal lies in its thoroughly rational approach and in its presentation of Vedanta as a philosophy which dares, like the Bhagavad Gita, to bridge the gulf between the secular and the sacred, action and contemplation, in human life, through a comprehensive, rational, practical and lofty spirituality. It is in this spirituality that man in the modern age needs to rescue himself from the stagnation of worldliness and put him on the high road of creative living and fulfillment.” - Swami Ranganathananda.
An oft recurring expression in this scripture is ‘kakataliya’ - a crow alights on the coconut palm tree and that very moment a coconut falls. These two incidents do not have any inter-connection or relationship between them. However, we perceive that event as related or connected to each other in time and space and come to a conclusion that the coconut had fallen because of the crow landing on it though there is no causal relationship between the two happenings.
Such is life. Such is ‘creation’. Such is the nature of our mind caught up in its own trap of queries and presumptions ignoring the inconvenient questions of pure reasoning of an intelligent mind. Sage Vasishtha’s analysis of these observations of the mind, its motion, its notions, its reasoning, its assumptions and presumptions, the assumed cause and the projected result, the observer, the observed and the observation and the realization of their indivisible unity as infinite consciousness is the uniqueness of this scripture.
The text abounds in many rational statements highlighting the importance of reason. A few examples are:
“The remark of even a child is to be accepted, if it is in accordance with reason; but the remark of even Brahma Himself, the creator of the world, is to be rejected like the piece of straw if it does not accord with reason.”
“This world-appearance is 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.”
Stressing the importance of the contents of teaching over the book or a teacher it says “If one thinks it is not authoritative because it is of human origin, one can resort to the study of any other scripture dealing with Self-Knowledge and final liberation.”
Purport of the Text
Most of our problems revolve around the questions: What is our life? What am I? What must I do? Why am I here? Where I will be going? 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.” Then there arises inevitable despair and frustration. The response to this human despondency is the teaching contained in this scripture.
The text itself clarifies for what kind of readers this work is meant? It tells us that he is the proper person to study this work who has become aware of his bondage and longs to be free; he who is no longer in utter ignorance, but has not yet attained wisdom. It means the philosophy of this work is meant for those on whom reflective consciousness has dawned and who are convinced that life, as it is lived, is characterized by bondage, evil and suffering. The author has depicted such a person’s psychology in the mentality of Rama, the pupil of Vasishtha.
Background of Yoga VASISHTHA
Upon his completion of stay at Gururkula Sri Rama along with his brothers undertook a tour of all pilgrimage centers of India. On his return Rama became withdrawn and an introvert. He became silent, preferred to be alone and was not participating in any palace or social activities expected of him. Naturally his father King Dasaratha started worrying about Rama’s nature. About this time Sage Visvamitra came to the King Dasaratha with a view to take Rama along with him to the forest for protecting his yajnas from the Rakshasas. Rama was called to the assembly wherein all the wise sages including Vasishtha and Visvamitra and the King Dasaratha were present. When Rama was instructed to accompany Visvamitra to the forest, he refused to act on account of his confused mind and melancholy. At the request of the King Dasaratha, the sage Vasishtha tries to enlighten him. This is the setting of the entire work.