Yoga Vasishtha - A Treasure House of Philosophy

Contents of the Text
The Yoga Vasishtha consists of six Prakaranas or sections Viz,
1. Vairagya Prakarana (on dispassion or indifference)
2. Mumukshu Prakarana (on longing for liberation)
3. Utpatti Prakarana (on creation or origin of the world)
4. Sthiti Prakarana (on preservation or sustenance of the world)
5. Upasanti Prakarana (on dissolution of the world) and
6. Nirvana Prakarana (on liberation).

    An attempt to project this unique and colossal treatise before the modern educated generation has been made in this essay. It is been done by merely stating very briefly the focal points of its teachings avoiding all discussions and explanations  solely with a view to generate awareness and  interest among the readers and not as an exposition of the original.

    Dispassion or Indifference
    The first section called Vairagya Prakarana describes the vairagya or intensedispassion or indifference of Rama due to disenchantment with transmigratory nature of the world.  Some of the statements made by Rama before the assembly of the learned sages in the council hall of Dasaratha on account of his disillusionment with life are given below.  

    Rama said “During my travels, after Gurukula training, I saw that everyone is suffering – the rich, the poor, the young and the old. Everything in this world is perishing. There is nothing permanent. All pleasures are meaning less and full of pain. Man is proud of his possessions and runs after fleeting objects of desire, day in and day out. I see no purpose to life. Who am I? What is the nature of the world? What is the purpose of the human existence? I refuse to do anything till I get answers to these questions. My mind is unprepared to make any decisions or undertake any actions.

    Wealth is transitory; it is a source of misery; it is never steady; it cannot give happiness; it tempts people like a mirage; it causes pride in man and makes him forget God.

    This life is like a bubble, full of miseries, sorrows and tribulations which is subject to disease and death and yet the foolish man clings to it.

    Egoism or ahamkara is the source of all evils, deluding people. It is born out of ignorance, thrives in conceit and fostered by vanity. It has its seat in mind and destroys its peace. This enemy has created various enchantments in the form of sense-objects whose spell is extremely hard to break.

    This mischievous mind is ever restless, always running after sensual enjoyments. It is of vacillating character and impossible to control its nature. All pains are generated through this mind only. If this mind is annihilated through discrimination and enquiry into the nature of the Self, all pains along with this world will vanish.

    Desire is the enemy of peace. It is like an owl that flies about in the region of our minds under the darkness of our affections and attachments in the night of our greed, entrapping us in the mesh of yearnings. Desire is the cause for transmigratory life.

    This body consisting of flesh, fat, bones, nerves and blood is the abode of diseases. It is full of impurities. Egoism lives on this body as a master with avarice as a mistress. Mind is the servant. The body is like a bubble; it may burst at any time. Shame on them who mistake this body for the immortal soul and rely on it for their happiness and peace.

    Time is the rat that cuts off the thread of life in the universe. Time spares nobody and nothing can stop its course. Time expands preserves and finally destroys all things in the world.

    Childhood is a state of helplessness. Youth is the period of arrogance and slavery to lust. Lust is nothing but an illusion cast by the aging, soiled flesh of women. Old age is treated with contempt even by the family members and it is powerless to gratify its insatiable yearnings. One day it falls off like a ripe pumpkin. Enjoyments are as unsteady as lightning. The pleasures of youth are evanescent.

    O Venerable Teacher! What is the good of this miserable mundane life which is subject to decay and death? Teach me that by which I may soon become devoid of grief and worldly troubles, pains and weakness, doubt and delusion and may have the Light of Truth. Show me the way to attain everlasting peace, eternal bliss and immortality. Lead me O Sage, to that state of life which is unassociated with the troubles incidental to birth and death.”

    Then, addressing the assembly of sages, Visvamitra said: “Whatever Rama has come to know by intuition requires to be confirmed by the sage Vasishtha for the peace of his mind. Let the venerable sage clarify all the doubts of Rama and make him peaceful and happy.” All the other sages in the assembly praised Visvamitra for his noble gesture.
    Vasishtha accepted the command and started narrating to Rama the pure wisdom of Self Knowledge adding several stories in order to free the seeker from the rounds of birth and death and showing him the state of supreme peace and eternal bliss. The Yoga Vasishtha is thus meant for people who are so keenly alive to the trials and trammels of life and so eager to know the secret of freeing it from them.

    Longing for Liberation
    In this section Rama was told that disillusionment with the world should lead to the dawn of wisdom. Here the sage Vasishtha stresses the importance of (purushartha), self-effort, which can help overcome even the effect of past Karmas.

    In the Yoga Vasishtha no elaborate scheme of preliminary requirements like sadhana chatushtaya of the aspirant has been prescribed as in the Sankara school in the later period. However, there is only a statement of four qualifications required by one who wants to be liberated which the author calls it as “The four gate keepers of Liberation.” Viz. sama - tranquility of mind, vichara - rational investigation into the problems such as who am I? Why I am here? Where am I going? etc., santosha - contentment, being satisfied with what one has got and quite unaffected with what one does not possess and sadhusangama - the company of the wise which removes the darkness of the heart and leads one on the right way to wisdom. Vasishtha thereafter told Rama several stories which illustrate these principles.

    The cause of all suffering is trsna or desire for worldly objects. It stings one like a venomous snake, cuts like a sword, pierces like a spear, binds like a rope, burns like fire, blinds like a dark night and grinds down its helpless victim like a heavy stone. It destroys his wisdom and upsets the equanimity of his mind and throws him into the deep abyss of infatuation.

    Our longing for the worldly objects is due to our ignorance of the true nature of ourselves and the world. The root cause of all suffering is ignorance; the fountainhead of all evils is the lack of knowledge.

    The best and the most effective remedy for all the sufferings is the attainment of knowledge - Jnana. Sorrows cannot touch a man who has come to know what has to be known. True knowledge can be attained only by making efforts for its achievement. It does not come to us by itself nor can any other agency like ‘destiny’ bring it to us because our previous actions alone constitute our destiny. We have to make ceaseless and earnest efforts to acquire knowledge. There is no other way of ending the miseries than one’s own efforts (purushartha). Every one is his own friend or his own enemy; if one does not save himself, nobody else can save him. Every one should exert himself to completely eradicate the evil implications of the previous actions. There is hardly any doubt that the evils which are the legacies of the past can be absolutely destroyed by efforts in the living present.

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