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Books on Yoga Vasistha

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Yoga Vasistha

Yoga Vasistha is an extremely popular work, on Vedanta. It is an extensive philosophical poem spread over six prakaranas or chapters containing nearly 32,000 verses, (according to tradition) though the available versions contain much less (23,734 verses).

It is known by several other names such as Yogavasistharamayana, Maharamayana and Jnanavasistha also.

It has several commentaries. Some of them are: Vasistharamayanacandrika by Advayaranya; Tatparyaprakasa of Anandabodhendrasarasvati; Padacandrika by Madhavasarasvati.

A few summaries of the work are also available such as Laghu-Yoga-Vasistha of Gauda Abhinanda (9th century A. D.) and Vasisthasaragudhartha by Ramanandatirtha. These works again have their own commentaries written by scholars.

The work abounds in several interesting stories and analogies.

A few of them may be briefly set out here:

1. On the advice of his father, the sage Vyasa, Suka goes to the king Janaka to learn about Brahman. Though severely tested, he comes out successful and is taught by him.

2. There is a long and interesting story of the king Padma and his queen Lila in the Utpattiprakarana. The two were very much attached to each other. The queen Lila prays to the goddess Sarasvati and obtains the boon that when her husband dies, his soul should continue to live within her room. Even though the king Padma dies, his soul is confined to the room as promised by the goddess. His various experiences are seen mysteriously by the queen Lila. Ultimately the soul of the king renters his body. He is revived and lives happily.

3. In an allegorical story, the human mind is described as a mad man having a thousand hands and eyes. He constantly beats himself and wanders in a dense forest. This shows the self-torturing nature of the mind.

4. A magician hypnotises a king. The king then experiences a long series of events within a short period. This is just to show that all things in this world are relative, including time and space.

5. Through the story of the sage Sukracarya, it is shown how a jiva transmigrates due to intense desires and attachments.

6. Dasura was a sage who was upset by his father's death. He then tried to get peace of mind through austerities and performance of sacrifices but failed. Finally he got it by meditation on the atman or the Self.

7. Punya and Pavana were brothers. The former was an enlightened person whereas the latter was not. When their father died Pavana wept bitterly. Punya then revealed to him how he had had innumerable fathers in various births and hence how it was futile to sorrow like that.

8. The king Prahlada had neglected the duties of the State, by constantly immersing himself in samadhi. Lord Visnu awakened him and advised him to perform his duties which were equally important.

9. Gadhi was a brahmana devotee of god Visnu. He worshipped Visnu to know something about his Maya-power. Visnu granted the boon. Once, when this devotee, while bathing in a river, dipped his head in water, he had a vision of a wonderful series of events involving himself and taking several years. When he regained his normal state, he discovered through a traveller that all these incidents were true and took place in a distant country.

10. In the story of Kaka-bhusunda, the sage in the form of a crow, Vasistha is taught the science of pranayama by which one can live a very long life.

11. A vetala (the malevolent spirit of a dead man) used to put difficult questions to human beings he met and would devour them if they could not answer. He once met an enlightened king who answered all the questions properly. So, he could not harm him at all!

12. Bhagiratha was a king who renounced everything to realise Brahman. After realisation he was once requested by the people of another country whose king had died, to be their king. He accepted their offer and ruled wisely. This shows that a man of knowledge can also be a man of action!

13. The story of the king Sikhidhvaja of Malva and his queen Cudala is the longest of all. Hankering after true happiness and peace they start practising spiritual disciplines. Cudala, through discriminative knowledge, realises the Self first. Her husband Sikhidhvaja does not succeed even after severe austerities. Cudala, out of her love and compassion for him, succeeds in making him realise the Self by adopting some clever plans. She later tests him in various ways to find out whether his realisation is true and steady. When she finds him truly established in the highest knowledge of the Self, she brings him back to the kingdom to rule over it like a perfectly free and wise man.

14. There was a very poor woodcutter. He used to go to a forest in search of wood every day and supported his family by selling the wood thus collected. By constantly striving to better his earnings, he one day found the philosopher's stone. This solved his problem permanently. This story shows how constant efforts at perfection, done according to the instructions of the teacher and the scriptures, will surely succeed one day.

Incidentally, this wonderful work touches upon some other topics also. It is opined that vasanas are responsible to bring the soul back to other lives. Hence, sraddhas or obsequial ceremonies to the dead are not of much use.

As regards ritualistic worship, it is atmapuja or worship of the Self through bodha (understanding), samya (sense of equality towards all) and sama (calmness of mind) that really matters. Other ingredients which are helpful are: maitri (friendliness towards all); karuna (compassion towards the lowly and the suffering); mudita (delight towards those who are happy) and upeksa (conscious indifference towards the evildoers).

Murtipuja or image-worship is considered equal to balakrida or child-play.

On the whole, the Yogavasistha is a work that challenges the intellect by its uncompromising logic and is, at the same time, exhilarating by its beautiful poetry.