By Swami Harshananda
The Yogavāsistha is also known as Yogavāsistha Rāmāyana. It is a well-known standard treatise dealing with Advaita Vedānta of an uncompromising type. It is a voluminous work of 23,734 verses in six prakaraṇas or sections. It has been summarized by several writers.
The Laghuyogavasistha is one such work more well-known than the others . It is attributed to Abhinanda of 9th century CE. He was a brāhmaṇa from Kāśmīra (Kashmir). It has six prakaraṇas or sections containing 5000 verses. These sections are:
- Mumuksuvyavahara Prakaraṅa
It has 3 chapters comprising of 359 verses. The work begins in a dramatic setting. Śrī Rāma goes on a pilgrimage with the permission of his father Daśaratha. After returning back, he becomes a little dejected and develops intense vairāgya or the spirit of renunciation. As a result he loses all interest in life. Seeing this, the sages who had gathered there under the leadership of Viśvāmitra, request Vasiṣtha to tackle the problem. Then ensues a long dialogue between him and Śrī Rāma. It continues till the end of the work.
The gist of this section centers around the evanescent nature of the world. It can be briefed as follows:
- Pleasures of life are temporary which ultimately lead to sufferings.
- Everything in this world is destructible.
- Attachment to the world leads to sansāra or transmigration.
- Mind is subject to vāsanās or past impressions.
- Attempts should be made to destroy these vāsanās and attain freedom.
It has one chapter which has 110 verses. This section concentrates on the subject of conquest of vāsanās or the deep impressions in the mind carried over from past lives. The moral of this section is as below:
- The mind can be compared to a river flowing in two parallel streams:
- Śubhavāsanās - good impressions
- Aśubhavāsanās - bad impressions
- The mumukṣu or seeker of liberation should try to increase the good impressions and attenuate or destroy the bad impressions. It is possible only if there is puruṣaprayatna or self effort.
- Mokṣa or liberation is compared to a mansion with four entrances, each being guarded by a sentry. They are:
- Śama - internal peace
- Viveka - discrimination
- Sādhusaṅga - company of holy persons
- Santoṣa - contentment
- Out of all these, sādhusaṅga is the easiest and the most effective.
It has 9 chapters which has 1008 verses. This section mainly propagates the advaitic doctrine known as ‘dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi- vāda’. The gist of this section is as follows:
- The whole world is a creation of the mind.
- If the mind is stilled, the world that binds also disappears.
- There are some interesting upākhyānas (stories) to illustrate the important teachings such as :
- Saptabhumikās, seven stages of knowledge from śubhecchā upto turyagā, have also been described.
It has 5 chapters which has 541 verses. Sthiti or sustenance of this world is also an imagination of the mind like utpatti or creation. This is the important teaching of this section. The teachings of this section is as follows:
- A person, identified with the body- mind-complex thinks he is the doer and enjoyer. Hence he gets bound.
- He can free himself by cultivating one of these two attitudes:
‘I am not the doer,’ ‘I am not the body’; ‘I do everything’, ‘I am every-thing’.
- The sādhaka can also free himself by constantly thinking that he is subtler than the subtlest.
- There are five interesting stories in this section also.
It has 10 chapters comprising of 1124 verses. The main topic of this section is how to quieten the mind and lead it to dissolution. The points covered in this section can be described as belows:
- It is due to the mind that we have the sense of 'I', ‘you’ and ‘this’. This can be dissolved by dissolving the mind. It is called as manonāśa here.
- At first one has to cultivate good vāsanās or tendencies such as:
- Maitrī - friendly attitude towards all beings
- Karuṇā - compassion
- Then one has to transcend even these as the mind gets dissolved.
- This leads to a direct awareness of the ātman or the Self.
- This section too contains several upākhyānas or stories like those of:
It has 18 chapters comprised of 1859 verses. This long section deals with nirvāṇa or mokṣa (liberation) and the nature of a liberated soul. The gist of this section can be denoted as follows:
- The sādhaka gradually destroys all vāsanās and realizes his essential nature as Brahman through self-effort.
- This can be attained only by the pure buddhi or intellect.
- Though śāstra (the scriptures), guru (spiritual teacher) and their teachings are a help, they have no direct role to play.
- There are references to Jainism, Buddhism and the Bhagavadgītā.
- There are plenty of stories to illustrate the teachings given in the section. It has stories of:
- On the whole, it is an extremely interesting work and can serve as an introduction to the study of the bigger work named as the Yogavāsistha Rāmāyana.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore