Yoga Vasishta Sara is the essence of Brihat (the great) Yoga Vasishta attributed to Sage Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana. Brihat Yoga Vasishta, also known as Yoga Vasishta Maha Ramayana, is a spiritual conversation between Sage Vasishta and Sri Rama which unfolds the philosophy of Advaita in the purest form of ajatavada i.e. the theory of non-origination. The dialogue expounds the philosophy of Advaita, the doctrine of non-duality via various illustrative stories.
As per the records, few centuries ago a Kashmiri scholar named Abhinanda Pandita abridged Yoga Vasishta from 32,000 verses to 6,000 couplets called Laghu Yoga Vasishta. Further compression was done by an unknown author who turned it into 230 couplets split up into 10 chapters and named it Yoga Vasishta Sara (Essence of Yoga Vasishta). The below mentioned paragraphs define the essence of Yoga Vasishta based on these 230 couplets.
Dispassion – The Real Wisdom
It is only through infinite spiritual effulgence that one can experience pure Consciousness. The non-dualistic theory is for those who have the urge to become free from all sort of desires and boundaries.
It is impossible to find the right scripture or guru without blessings of the Supreme Divine. But, once one gets the assistance of great souls, crossing the intertwined ocean of samsara (worldly life) becomes possible. One needs to peep into his inner-self to know his position in this samsara. Great souls have the power to convert adversity in one’s life into prosperity and death into mortality.
What is real wisdom?
Yoga Vasishta stresses on the fact that the real and comprehensive wisdom can only be achieved when a dispassionate attitude towards life is gained by the disciple. Irrespective of any mode or method of teaching, be it via a guru or a sacred text, it is only through one’s pure and clear awareness the real wisdom is achieved.
How to attain an imperishable bliss?
It is extremely unfortunate for a person if he is unable to raise himself above sensory objects in life. Even after knowing everything the person who indulges in sensory pleasures is a real fool. The imperishable bliss is achieved when a person experiences it, devoid of all materialistic objects.
Eternity and Spiritual Freedom
One should raise himself above the ideas of acceptance and rejection to realise the pure Consciousness that rests in the innermost heart. Being a spectator and not being a part of this world one can get detached from material forces to attain spiritual freedom. Just as the empty space within the pot becomes infinite once the pot is broken, the Self becomes free after death. In the similar manner, the soul becomes detached once out of body.
Everything on this earth is illusion. Nothing or no one is ever born or dies, the Brahman takes the illusionary form of this whole universe. Nothing ends or starts, nothing exists or departs, and most importantly all this is transitory. Ignorance is considered more harmful than poverty, and rather than running after materialistic life one should learn how to be spiritually contented and realise one’s inner-self which is far more extensive than the space.
Unreality of the World
Maya and Samsara (the material world) are the two biggest unrealities of the world and these two go hand in hand.
As mentioned in legends, when Mandara Mountian (with which the demons and gods churned the ocean of milk) comes to standstill, the great ocean of milk also becomes still. Thus, when the mind achieves tranquillity, samsara also comes to standstill. As mentioned in the scriptures, a controlled breath keeps the mind still and checks our latent desires i.e. vasanas.
Samsara is born via false imagination; the moment truth is understood samsara ceases to exist, in spite of its continuous appearance. Samsara is the creation of the deluded mind and it is only when the inscrutable maya is relinquished, this delusion comes to an end. Maya deludes the entire world like a mirage or the mythical city of Gandharva (fata morgana). Whatever we see around doesn’t truly exist and only the unseen is eternal. The unseen is pure Self but owing to maya this Self cannot be perceived.
Living beings assume superficial bondage to be real as they are intertwined in the enjoyments and desires of life. As and when this superfluous thing starts vanishing, slowly and steadily the bondage also subdues. But until this stage is realized, the world continuous to seem real and sufferings persist. In the absolute stage, the world which is objective is the subject itself and is one with the Self; this stage brings ultimate bliss.
Everything is an impression of the past experience. The following examples will help a person to become a nirvikalpa, an undifferentiating man who understands that nothing is real or unreal and everything is Self
- A wave rises and merges back in the sea. The whole (sea) is Consciousness; the wave (world) which seems to be different in the middle is also a part of the Consciousness.
- Each and every part of a tree, including fruit, flowers, branches, leaves, creepers, roots and twigs, comes out of the seed (Brahman).
- Just like the pot merges with mud, waves with water, ornaments with gold; the world which emerges from the Self finally merges with the Self.
- Our forgetfulness of the invisible Self leads us to believe that it is a rope instead of a snake.
The Signs of a Liberated Person (Jivan Mukta)
Liberation or Samadhi is achieved when the fire (Self) burns the grass (desire) and the Supreme knowledge of the Self is attained. One is always protected by the armour of the Brahman if he is a liberated man with a conscience that this universe itself is Consciousness. The Upanishads teaches one not to get tormented by this samsara as it will only bring more frustration into life.
Knowledge alone can turn a person into a true Yogi who is as calm and serene as a moon. Liberation is not far for those who have learnt how to get rid of superfluous activities which only pile up one’s frustration and lead to disappointments. It is impossible for the knower of Brahman to bring any sort of evil though in his mind just as it is impossible for the birds and beasts to take refuge on a mountain of fire.
It is true that achieving a complete state of indifference is not easily possible and it takes time before one completely realises the difference between a snake and a rope. But, it is also the fact that once this realization is achieved the person becomes that crystal which remains unaffected by its reflection (here the results of his deeds). He remains untarnished as the world where he exists is a dream and all he perceives is the theory of non-duality.
In the stage of Consciousness, it becomes irrelevant where a person stays and where he lives or dies. He becomes that pot which is full in water and empty amidst air. He becomes free from all knots and doubts of worldly confusions and does not even require an object for meditation as he remains in the state of tranquillity and his mind is above the object of perception. In the theory of non-duality, a liberated man is thus the Supreme Lord Himself. Intellect, mind, nescience, and even the individual soul (jiva) are imagined in the Brahman.
Dissolution of Mind
When the Consciousness is wrapped and contaminated with desires, the mind comes into existence. A mind which cannot feel or understand omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotent considers the whole world as distinguished objects. It is through account of forgetfulness the mind comes into existence which is completely an imaginary concept. The mind which is born through imagination is dissolved through imagination. The mind has this tendency to consider illusion as real and the thinking thus arises gives birth to the concepts like ‘I’, ‘He’, ‘She’, ‘It’, ‘We’, etc.
The mind is always engulfed with latent impressions i.e. vasana. Mind is also called an individual or purusha which leads to the materialist phenomena like acceptations, rejections and bondages. All these hindrances produce an object of perception and creation of the three worlds. With the dissolution of the mind, the three worlds also cease to exist.
How to conquer illusion?
Just like a patch of cloud stains the moon, the evil spirit of desires stains the conscience of a man. One may overcome illusions and dissolute mind by donating all the three perceived worlds, symbolically defined as dried grass, as part of oblations into the sacrificial fire of knowledge.
The mind has three states and all three portray three different characteristics. It is –
- Terrible in ghoram (wakening state),
- Gentle in santam (dream state) and,
- Dull in mudham (sleep state).
The body activates mind to form samsara. The blessed ones are indeed unperturbed by the activities of samsara. To conquer mind one must get associated with spiritual masters to abandon latent impressions (vasanas). Meditation and controlled breathing techniques also help one to defeat the delusionary mind. When everything which is single or dual is dissolved the state of real Consciousness is achieved. Such a human being overcomes death by experiencing the Supreme joy of non-dualism.
Destruction of Latent Impressions (Vasana)
The enquiry about one’s existence into the truth of Self helps one gain knowledge by solving all matters of existence. One must not look outward but look inward in the process and submit oneself to the holy trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh – as means of compassion. Just as the one who raises himself above the imaginary water-object of mirage, also raises himself from all types of ignorance to come clear of latent impressions and realise Brahman in everything. When one relinquishes all superfluous thoughts his mind no longer exists as only mind.
Participating in spiritual discourses of great sages and reading sacred scriptures help one discard all thoughts linked to samsara and realise that this body is a temporary object which has to die one day. When one discards the thought of ‘I-am-the-body’, one understands that the body itself is not real and unsubstantial (space like). One needs to maintain tranquillity or else the latent impressions might force him to imagine this world as haven for fulfilling his vasanas. The term ‘I’ germinates all kind of vasanas and it is only by realising the unity of things one enables himself to think like a sadhu who only perceives Brahman.
Meditation Upon the ‘Self’
Concentrating upon the ‘Self’ helps one reflect on the non-dualistic nature of ‘Brahman’. Following are the points to be focussed on while meditating on the Self.
- I am a Consciousness which is pure, stainless, infinite and beyond maya
- I look upon this body as body of another being
- Mind, senses, intellect are nothing but lack of insight
- I live without the ideas of existence and non-existence, free from all sorts of misery; free from adversity
- I am desire-free, inactive, tranquil, clear in the sky, everlasting, formless, free, still and non-longing
- The three worlds, five elements, and I myself are pure Consciousness
- I am omnipresent, above everything, like a space, like the one that indeed exists
- I am the ocean of infinite Consciousness and the wave may rise and fall, however there is no decrease or increase in me
- It is inside me the individual souls in the form of waves of jivas rise, exist and then merge into its nature again
- I see this world as the Supreme bliss of Consciousness
- The world created by my ignorant mind has been dissolved equally into me
- I am within all beings, at the same time I am all free, Self surviving Supreme inner Consciousness.
Method of Purification
This chapter says how one should only perform the gross matters outwardly without affecting one’s inward ‘Self’. Following are the points to focus on –
- Outwardly – Active; Inwardly – Inactive
- Outwardly – Doer; Inwardly – Non-doer
- Outwardly – Desirous; Inwardly – Non-desirous
With divine wisdom and mental stability, it is possible for one to do away with all sort of latent impressions. Any object of contemplation should be abandoned for gaining an all-inclusive view of one’s innate Self. One may live a liberated life (jivan-mukta) even while alive by playing an outward life but living in his inner Self.
The idea of pure Consciousness should supersede the false idea of duality. One should realise himself as ‘I am Consciousness’ rather than ‘I am the body’. It is not supremely tough to consider this world as a whole and discard attachment with all those things which is non-Self. One must try achieving the constant nature i.e. the Self, which is beyond the states of dreaming, sleeping, walking, etc.
It is quite essential to break the age-old barriers and get freedom from mental concepts like understanding something or being understood by someone or something. Sharpening one’s mind with Indian Scriptures helps eliminating one concept (in mind) by another and following the Self. The fact is the body is an inert and dumb entity made up of flesh, blood, and bones, one’s aim of living in this world is striving towards abandoning the body and recognising one’s Consciousness and merge with the Self.
It is quite unfortunate that forgetting the real Brahman one is continuously striving towards nescience (avidhya) and selfishness. Just as a crystal reflects the objects without getting affected by any of them, being in this world one should keep on working without getting much distracted by anything. No spiritual inclination is possible without first rejecting the idea of duality and accepting anything and everything as Brahman.
Propitiating the ’Self’
The Self is the Brahman itself and the spiritual effulgence lies within the Self and nowhere else. The way one recognises sound, taste, smell, form, etc. realising the Self is equally simple and all one needs to do is look inward instead of finding that spiritual bliss outward. Knowledge and the known both are inseparable to the Self.
The knowledge imparted by the Supreme knowledgeable – Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva) – is not separate from the Self. The Supreme Self is imperishable, indivisible, and immutable and it does not have any past or future as it is tranquil, all-knowing and eternal. The concept of ‘I’ or ‘You’ is highly delusionary and the sense of perceiver and perceived is all common for the beings in material form, except for those who have discovered the Self.
Expounding the ‘Self’
One needs to note down few points while expounding and understanding the concept of ‘Self’.
- Ignorance leads to the idea of ‘I am’ and this jiva or ego come from the combination of body, mind, senses, intellect, etc.
- Jiva ceases to exist and becomes a lamp without oil when Consciousness is achieved through understanding that everything is space-like.
- Owing to the delusion, Jiva (ego) separates from itself and creates the body which is unreal
- The body has been superimposed by an ignorant man through which he carries on his activities
- Both misery and its cause diminish the concept of Jiva and the way it is understood
- Self is one and pure, everything that springs from the Self merges into Self itself
- Multiplicity in the surroundings force one to overlook non-duality and find duality in the form of moving and unmoving objects
- Pure Self is stained and soiled by various qualities of maya
- Just as Rahu becomes visible when it is seized by the moon, thus the Self is only known by knowing objects of perception
- Just as water and fire acquire each others’ qualities when come in contact, similarly the Self and the body get reflected in each other when together
- Self residing inside the body gets separated with great effort, just like iron from stones, butter from a cow, sugar from the sugarcane, oil from sesame seeds and fire from wood
- The reflection of the Self illumines in mirror and unbroken crystal, similarly it reflect and spreads everywhere but remains one and united
- The Self is infinite, without starting and end, immutable, omnipresent, pure awareness, undecaying, eternal, self-effulgent higher than the highest
- Self is free from acceptance and rejections; above any kind of bondage and liberation; everything is Brahman; everything is Self and Consciousness
Nirvana is the final stage and after that the Self merges with the Self to become one and the same. Actually it was always one and the same, but this time the one’s realisation and perception has come into the picture. Without the acceptance or rejection of the outer or inner world, the pure state that lies amid the existence and the non-existence is attained. The Self ‘holds on’ this stage in eternity.
During the point of attaining Nirvana, the concepts of seer, seen and the sight are completely abandoned along with the latent impressions (vasnas) of the past. In between the idea of existence and non-existence rests the eternal Self which is light of the lights and upon which one meditates for attaining Nirvana or moksha from the gruelling cycle of birth and death.
On close contact between the seer and the seen, the state of Supreme bliss is achieved and one meditates on that Self which is immutable and real. Meditation is the practice of Self Enquiry (jnana), the practice like this is known as samprajnata samadhi (meditation with concepts). One experiences undecaying bliss by meditating upon the state which rests between the waking and sleeping states. This state is neither waking nor sleeping as it is rock-like where the thoughts are tranquil. Here, the Brahman and the space become quite alike owing to their invisibility, invincibility, and all-pervasiveness; however, Brahman is the one which is Consciousness. All that is Brahman is Ataman. Brahman is neither ‘void’ nor ‘into being’ as it is neither ‘included’ nor ‘excluded’ from the world. Hence, meditation is important to become aware of the Self and Supreme Being which is pure Consciousness and Brahman.
Based on the translation of Yoga Vasishta Sara (The Essence of Yoga Vasishta) – An English Translation from the Sanskrit Original
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