by K. Narayanasvami Aiyar | 1896 | 137,618 words | ISBN-10: 818514141X | ISBN-13: 9788185141411

This is the English translation of the Laghu-yoga-Vasistha, an ancient Sanskrit treatise authored by the sage Valmiki. Like many of the Puranas, this text contains a fair dose of epic legendry. However, the philosophical aspect is connected with the Advaita-vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. The Laghu defines “small”, which refers to the fact tha...


IT is intended to give herein a short introduction to, and an analysis of, the Laghu-Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha. Of course the analysis can not be an exhaustive one, as it will then have to run through many pages and would form a book of its own. There are, as at present known to us, two works by the name of Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, the larger one going by the name of Bṛhad-Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha and the smaller one, Laghu-Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha. The term Bṛhad means great, while Laghu signifies small. Vāsiṣṭha is because of this work emanating from Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭha, as will be seen later on. Though the book is dubbed with the appellation, Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, it treats of Jñāna [Spiritual Knowledge] only through practical Yoga in two stories in this work. Even there it says that the pure Rāja Yoga is meant and not Haṭhā Yoga. Rather the word Yoga seems to have been used in the title of this work in its generic sense of including Jñāna Yoga and other Yogas as in the Bhagavad Gītā.

Of the two above mentioned works, the smaller one, is an abridgment of the bigger and contains about 6,000 Granthas[1], whereas the bigger contains 36,000. The commentary of the former has the same number of Granthas as the original, whereas that of the latter amounts to 74,000 Granthas which with its original is a lakh [100,000] on the whole. In the abridged text, almost all the words of the bigger one are reproduced verbatim; the work of the author being generally to clip its bigger of more expansive descriptions and so on; so that in the work before us, we have got the quintessence extracted. This work seems to have been undertaken by one Abhinanda, a great Pandit of Cashmere. The authorship or rather writership is attributed to Ṛṣi Vālmīki, the author of the Rāmāyaṇa, who is said to have related the whole of Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha to Ṛṣi Baradvāja as having actually taken place between Śrī Rāma and Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭha. But of this later on. The larger work seems to have been partially translated by a gentleman hailing from Bengal. But this one, though small, it is named, is yet big enough.[2]

This work is meant for ‘the few’ only. In the phraseology of this work, it is intended neither for those Ajñāni(n)s [not-knowers, or] the worldly-minded), who welter in the sea of Saṃsāra without being indifferent to the worldly things, nor for those higher spiritual personages who have reached a state of adeptship, so as to be above all advice. Hence it is written in the interests of those who have become indifferent to worldly things and crave for spirituality becoming a potent factor in their daily lives. Fancy a work like The Voice of Silence put into the hands of a worldly person of decidedly materialistic view and he will throw it away in sheer disgust. Similarly will this work appear to a person who has not caught a glimpse even of the higher life and principles. A person of true Vairāgya, should he wish to have not only some hints thrown on the nature of cosmos, Manas (mind) and Universal Spirit from the idealistic stand-point but also some rules of guidance in his daily practical life towards occult knowledge with the proper illustrations will herein find, in my opinion, a mine of knowledge to be guided by and to cogitate upon.

There are some peculiar traits in the feature of this work as contradistinguished from other spiritual works in the Sanskrit literature. As all know, the Vedas and the Upaniṣads are so mystic in their nature in many places that their real meaning is not grasped clearly and all persons except true occultists rare to find in this world interpret them in different ways, one holding that the Vedas inculcate nature worship, another putting upon them a diametrically opposed view and so on. Even in the Ten Upaniṣads, all the metaphysical leaving aside for the present, as impossible, the occult theories have not been worked out in a systematical manner except in the way of some clues vouchsafed thereupon. Taking the Purāṇas in their dead letter light, our Pandits generally have found them replete with indecent and absurd stories and thrown them into a corner; and hence the nick name of Purāṇas has been applied, in ordinary usage amongst us, to any thing that is a farrago of fictions and absurdities.

But for the timely resurrection of them by H. P. Blavatsky with the profound ray of light shed upon them by her, almost all of us should have unanimously buried, by this time, into oblivion all those savoring of Purāṇas. Even she has not thrown full light on them, as she probably was not privileged so to do. As regard the Itihāsa – the history – viz., the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, they are considered as so many stories only and as such are much in favor of our orthodox Pandits who do not care to go above worldly things. Vedānta soars high in the region of the Absolute with its theories and words; and our metaphysicians of the old school in India, carrying the notion of the physical world up there, try to solve the problem of the homogeneity or otherwise of the Infinite and are wrangling with one another as our Advaitins, Visiṣṭādvaitins and Dvaitins are doing in their every day lives, so much so that their arguments end in mental gymnastics only and with nothing practical in their lives. Here a curious instance occurs to me. One day an Advaita Pandit lectured in a certain place about Brahman being Nirguṇa (or without any attributes), and the only Reality and argued with great vehemence against his adversary. Next day seeing him, while I was passing by, circumambulate an idol in a temple. I asked him as to whom he was paying respects. The Pandit merely laughed over the affair without an answer. Thus are most of our Pandits, theorizing only with nothing practical about them and soaring into the region of the Absolute without a proper knowledge of the basic foundations of Vedānta.

But Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha has chalked out for itself a new and distinct path. At first, it enunciates a doctrine in its several bearings and then elucidates it with beautiful stories. Therein it gives also rules of guidance for the conduct of life in the daily world, these also finding their illustrations in the stories given out. As in the Purāṇas, we have not to rack our brains over with the slight hints thrown therein and to sometimes give up in despair the problems before us.

Secondly. This book serves as a ladder wherewith to scale from the Seśvara Sāṃkhya doctrine of Patañjali as given out in his Yoga-Sūtras to the Māyā conception of the Advaita pantheists and thus renders possible a reconciliation between them both. Through a study of Patañjali’s Yoga-sūtras, it is clear from Book III, Aphorism 17 that the cause of all pains is the conjunction of the seer with the visual or the subject with the object; the conception of ‘I’ having been brought about by the identification of the subject with the object. Through Sakṣātkāra Anubhava or direct realization, the Yogi(n) finds he is one with the subject and does not find then the reality of the object. It is this that is illustrated in the story of Śuka.

Thirdly. Some of the theories and facts, occult, metaphysical or otherwise, given out by H. P. B. find their corroborations in this work. I have got a deep-seated conviction in me which tells me that if Theosophical ideas are ever to gain a firm footing in India, it can only be by showing that it is H.P. Blavatsky’s explanations alone that can throw proper light upon and galvanize with life our old Āryan works. For this purpose, I think all the authorities, express or implied, which are found in a stray form in the Hindu works, should be ransacked, culled out and given to the world. As H. P. B. herself said, her business was to string the flowers found in India as well as in other places and make a nosegay out of the same.

Now I shall give out some illustrations therefore. They are:

(1) That Parabrahm, the Absolute is not the cause of the creation of Brahmā or the universe as creation implies some conditioned thought and space and as the Infinite is unconditioned and can therefore have no kind of causal relationship to that which is finite or conditioned, viz., the universe which manifests itself or is absorbed according to the Law of the Absolute (vide the story of Śikhidhvāja).

(2) Devas and Asuras are merely the opposite intelligential forces or poles in nature such as positive and negative. With the cessation of the one aspect, the other also ceases to exist. This statement is to be found in the story of Prahlāda.

(3) In The Secret Doctrine, it is stated that the Asuras, Rudras, etc., represent in one sense the egos of man; they being the active powers as opposed to Devas, the passive ones. This fact is exemplified in Śukra’s story as well as in the story of the 100 Rudras.

(4) The eking out of the double and the means through which such things are done, viz., through the mastery of Kuṇḍalinī Śakti are given out in the story of Śikhidhvaja.

(5) Being itself a work intended for occult students, this book gives out the seven states of Jñāna and Ajñāna (vide Utpatti and Nirvāṇa Prakaraṇas); the seven Ajñāna states are not given out in the works I have come across, though the former are.

(6) The relationship between an occult Guru and his Śiṣya or disciple (as appears from the story of Śikhidhvaja).

(7) The experiences of those persons (who are able to elevate themselves beyond their physical bodies) as a Jīva-Sūci or Nīvara-Śukam, either as a needle or the tail-end of paddy which is exemplified in the Story of Karkaṭī.

(8) Some of the secret meanings of Bṛghu, Vasiṣṭha, Kaśyapa, etc., as well as of the worship of God.

(9) The reality of thought as in the story of Gādhi.

(10) The emergence of all objects from the moon after a minor deluge.

Vairāgya prakaraṇa

Without multiplying more instances of this kind, I shall proceed to the contents of this work. The occasion which called it forth demands that the work was intended for those only who wish to practically travel on the higher path. Most of our readers will have been fully acquainted with the contents of our great Epic poem, the Rāmāyaṇa. We find therein that Ṛṣi Viśvāmitra turns upon the stage in the early years of Śrī Rāma. The Ṛṣi appears before his father, Daśaratha and demands of him his son Rāma to war with the Rākṣasas interfering with his sacrifice. Just before this time, Rāma goes on a pilgrimage to the many sacred places; and having visited the Āśramas (hermitages) of the wise, returns to his native place. On his return, he grows quite disgusted with his material life, spurns his wealth and other regal possessions and grows despondent without performing any of his daily duties. His attendants go and complain to the King his father of the grievous plight of their master. Thereupon the father sends for his son, seats him on his lap and enquires of him his state. But the son evades the question by simply laughing over the affair and gets away. At this juncture, Muni Viśvāmitra turns up and the King delighted with the arrival of such a distinguished and revered guest consents to execute any orders of the noble Muni. The Muni demands Rāma for his aid, at which Daśaratha is panic-struck. Yet rallying himself, he volunteers his own services in lieu of his eldest and dearly beloved boy begotten through dire Tapas. Immediately the Muni begins to curse Daśaratha for his vacillation in the fulfillment of his promises, when Vasiṣṭha interposes and pacifies the sage by making the King fulfill his promise. Then Rāma is sent for and his servants meanwhile relate to the Ṛṣis the pitiable present plight of their master disdaining to perform such actions as tasting food, drinking water, etc. At which Vasiṣṭha remarks that the Vairāgya (indifference) of the Prince is not akin to that produced by such momentary accidents as the loss of some dearly beloved relative or wealth but is one which is the premonitory symptom of a spiritual development in him after which development all his duties will be regularly performed by him. On Rāma’s arrival at the regal assembly, he is asked by one of the Ṛṣis as to the cause of his present sorrow. At which Rāma makes a long tirade against wealth, life, Ahaṃkāra, Manas (mind), desires, body and other material things and at last winds up by saying that he will rather expose himself to the torments of hell-fire than undergo the excruciating mental tortures, consuming him tittle by tittle through the above-mentioned causes. This concludes the chapter called Vairāgya Prakaraṇa or the section on in difference to worldly things.

Mumukṣu prakaraṇa

This work consists on the whole, of six Prakaraṇas or sections. Passing by the first, namely Vairāgya Prakaraṇa, which has appended to it the story of Śuka, the son of the present Vyāsa, we have five other Prakaraṇas, viz., Mumukṣu (longing after liberation), Utpatti (origin), Sthiti (preservation), Upaśānti (quiescence) and Nirvāṇa (absorption), the last. In these five chapters, Vasiṣṭha inculcates advice upon Rāma, gives him the reason why and how he should work in the world by tracing the origin of the universe and the ‘I’ in man to which are identical from the idealistic standpoint with the Original Cause or the Causeless Cause of all and devising means for their destruction and finally initiates him into the mysteries of Ātma(n).

First comes the story of Śuka in the first Prakaraṇa. Śuka was not satisfied with all the explanations his father, Vyāsa, gave of Māyā and hence resorted to Janaka for aid who, by Aparokṣa or direct realization within himself, showed the end. Then comes the second Prakaraṇa called Mumukṣu. Of the fourfold qualifications necessary to a disciple on the path, viz., the discrimination of Ātma(n) and non-Ātma(n), etc., Rāma having developed the first three is asked by Vasiṣṭha to concentrate his mind upon the attainment of Mokṣa. For this purpose, Vasiṣṭha expatiates in Mumukṣu Prakaraṇa upon the preliminary qualifications necessary for the attainment of Mokṣa or liberation. Here the author says that the four sentinels posted at the gate of Mokṣa are Śānti (quiescence of mind), Vicāra (the enquiry after Ātma), Saṃtoṣa (contentment of mind) and Sādhu-Saṅga (association with the wise) and will have to be befriended by one wishing to attain Mokṣa. Should one of them at least be befriended, he will introduce the aspirant to his companion sentinels. Then the author goes on to explain that Mokṣa does not mean the physical separation from all worldly affairs but only a state of the mind bereft of all impure Vāsanās or clingings towards, but yet working as usual amidst worldly things. The difference between Vāsanās, pure and impure is well defined in this chapter.

Having thus given out the nature of the goal towards which all egos are gravitating, Vasiṣṭha, in order to relieve Rāma from the mental despair and anguish in which he was placed, then traces the origin of ‘I’, its growth and its quiescence and then that state from which the above three states can be viewed as one. For this purpose, he gives out its relationship with the one Reality and the universe. This is precisely the position in which Arjuna was placed when he was instructed by Śrī Kṛṣṇa as in the Bhagavad-Gītā and when also he was told the relationship existing between the Universal Spirit, the ego and the cosmos; the difference being that the detailed instructions in this work are not given in a veritable battlefield, but in that of the mind and are illustrated by a series of stories wherein the different stages of the mind are worked out to suit a disciple on the path. Now taking his stand on the pantheistic conception of Brahman being the one Reality and the universe and Jīva as his aspect or manifestation, Vasiṣṭha begins the Utpatti Prakaraṇa with the statement that the Jīva or ego in man and the universe in their innate condition are Brahman only and this phenomenal universe is but an outcome of the Divine Will seeming to be real through the workings of the mind. In the technical phraseology of this work, the ideation reflected in the Līlā-Saṃkalpa of Brahman is the origin of the world; its manifestation, the preservation of the world; and its disappearance, the destruction of the world. These are the three aspects that are dilated upon in the second, third and fourth Prakaraṇas. In other words, the old Hindu philosophers held that the universe is but states or modes of consciousness reflected through the Saṃkalpa or will of Parabrahm which is said through its Law to evolve the universe out itself for its Līlā or sport. The word Saṃkalpa is rather a difficult word to translate. Originally it is the Divine Will in manifestation and in man in his present stage becomes the will-thought pertaining to his Antaḥkaraṇa or the lower mind. It is through the Saṃkalpa of our Manas that the universe appears to be and it is this Saṃkalpa that is asked to be given up by one who wishes to soar to the one Reality beyond this universe. The author of this work defines, in one chapter, Saṃkalpa to mean the ideation of Aham or ‘I’ which arises in the relationship of subject to object when conditionedness is brought about.

Utpatti prakaraṇa

In beginning with Utpatti Prakaraṇa, the author gives out a story to illustrate Parabrahm manifesting itself as Brahmā, the creator with the conception of ‘I’ through its own Saṃkalpa. Instead of giving out, as in the Purāṇas, that the creator, Brahmā, arose out of the navel of Nārāyaṇa with four hands, etc., this work states that, out of the one vast Ākāśa of Jñāna or the one Plenum of Abstract Intelligence, a Brahmin, the primeval ego called Ākāśa was born who lived for a long time when Kāla (time) wanted to get at him and bring him under his clutches, but was unable to do so through the radiant Tejas (luster) that shone about his person. Then Kāla consulted with Yama (Death) who also is the personification of Time, but in the lower or Rūpa planes and advised the former to go in quest, of any of the past Karma(n)s of the Brahmin which were found to be nil. Thereupon Yama is said to have remarked to Kāla that the Brahmin was no other than Brahmā himself; though performing Karmas, Brahmā had nothing clinging to him, as he did not perform them for any selfish purposes of his own. From this, it will be clear that, ere creation began, there was one vast space or Ākāśa with no activity in it or in the noumenal state of Parabrahm. When evolution began, three kinds or states of Ākāśa are said to have evolved, viz., Jñāna-Ākāśa, Chid-ākāśa and Bhūta-ākāśa. The last is the elemental Ākāśa compounded of the quintuplicated five elements, Ākāśa, Vāyu, etc., whereas Cidākāśa corresponds to the plane of the lower mind. Jñānākāśa corresponds to the third body or plane. The first ego of Brahmā which is differentiated into many is then, in the story of Līlā, traced in its workings in the three Ākāśa above-mentioned. The three pairs introduced therein are (i) Līlā and Padma, (2) Arundhatī and Vasiṣṭha, (3) Vidūratha and his spouse. In the story of Karkaṭī we come to the lowest stage, whether of the man or world. The intelligence or Puruṣa that pervades the physical body is described in this story. In the Upaniṣads and other books, the Puruṣa in this stage is likened to a thread or the tail-end of paddy. As stated in this work further on, the normal experience of humanity now is their being no other than the physical body, though some may, in theory, hold that they are different from the body; the second experience is the direct perception of their being like a thread-like substance in the gross body and being different from the gross one. In the third state, they rise to a direct experience of their being the universe. The Rākṣasī Karkaṭī having a voracious stomach was unable to fully gratify her appetite and hence got a boon from Brahmā to enter as a Jīva-Sūci or living needle into all human beings, with the power of troubling those of lower desires, but becoming the slaves of those who are conquerors of them. It is this Rākṣasī that is at the bottom of all our pains and that can be made to minister to our wants, if we will only make up our minds to lord over our desires.

The story of Aindhava brings some corroborations to the occult doctrine. The author, after describing that the universe is no other than the aspect of the Brahmic intelligence, now proceeds to the enumeration of the worlds that exist. At the beginning of a creation, Brahmā is said to have asked the resplendent orb of the sun to describe its origin. The sun and its nine brother suns are said to have been born out of Indhu since according to the Hindu or occult doctrine all things merge into the moon during Pralaya the son of Kaśyapa, and to be ruling over the ten worlds created by their own Saṃkalpa as if they were Brahmās themselves. Hence arose the ten worlds out of their minds. These ten worlds may refer to either the ten solar systems or the ten worlds which are subtler and subtler than one another and existing in space. Besides the seven worlds as ordinarily known, there are said to be at first three other worlds which have arisen out of the one. Out of the one arises at first the three lokas of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rudra who originate and work in the seven worlds, Bhū(r), Bhuvar, etc., up to Satya. Then are introduced the stories of the wily Indra, Chitta and a lad to exemplify the illusory nature of the universe. In the story of Śāmbarika, the Siddha, the illusory nature of time is also illustrated. Thus eight stories conclude this chapter wherein is traced the initial stage of the origin of ‘I’; wherein is exemplified the fact that the universe arises out of the mere Saṃkalpa of the original creator, both the universe and Jīva, the intelligence arising as the illusory aspect of the one Substratum.

Sthiti prakaraṇa

This section deals with the Sthithi character or the preservative aspect of the mind or the universe. In the first story of Śukra, the ego is made to pass after its origin through a series of births in a time appearing very short to his father Bhṛgu who was then engaged in Nirvikalpa Samādhi near his son and hence was existing in higher planes. Students of esoteric literature know full well that, of all the planets, Śukra or Venus corresponds to our ego or the higher Manas. This higher Manas and the ray of Ātma or Buddhi pass through the different forms of humanity as well as the lower ones. Having traced thus, the author next proceeds to give out the curious story of Dāma and two others to illustrate how the ‘I’ in man concretes itself in him after innumerable births with the Ahaṃkāra we find in him now. Once upon a time, there raged a war between the Devas and the Asuras. The latter, finding themselves worsted in it, created through the Māyāvic power of their leader three men without Ahaṃkāra or the conception of ‘I’ in them to fight with their opponents; since one without Ahaṃkāra will be able to face his enemy without any the least fear, and regardless of the consequences of his actions. The Devas, finding their enemy too tough for them to deal with, applied to the higher powers for help. Viṣṇu advised them to adopt a rather queer plan. That was of again and again pretending to make war with their opponents and of again and again retiring from the field, when their enemy made onslaughts against them. Through this process, they were told by Viṣṇu that the ‘I’ in the Māyāvic personages would be provoked and hardened and that those personages would grow terribly afraid of the results of the war and be discomfited through the generation of ‘I’ in them. This procedure was adopted and the Devas gained the day. After this was over, three others of true Jñāna and hence without Ahaṃkāra were created afresh by the Asuras and sent against the Devas, Finding them too hard to combat with, the passive powers of Devas again implored Viṣṇu for aid. In this instance, Viṣṇu came directly to the field of battle and took the three Māyāvic personages away, as men of true Jñāna find their asylum in Him alone. Thus we find that the desires in the external world which have at first no hold on the subtle ‘I’ in this world get a hold over it and concrete it through, as it were, a play of spiral game with it. It thus takes a long time ere the evil desires take possession of the heart. Likewise many births are required for their eradication. Both these stages are necessary to a progressing ego. The ego should first get into desires and be tinged with Ahaṃkāra, so that, through such a course, it may learn the lessons at their hands and after the lessons are learnt it no longer needs the desires and gets out of them. This is the reason why, in that, valuable work called The Light on the Path[3], it says thus: “Seek in the heart the source of evil and expunge it. It lives fruitfully in the heart of the devoted disciple as well as in the heart of the man of desire. Only the strong can kill it out. The weak must wait for its growth, its fruition, its death. And it is a plant that lives and increases throughout the ages. It flowers when the man has accumulated unto himself innumerable existences.”

Then this Prakaraṇa, having in all five stories, ends with those of Dāśūra and Kacha wherein it is sought to explain the position that, though the universe appears to be real in itself in this stage, it is nothing but Ātmic Saṃkalpa or a mode of the consciousness of Ātma. It is in this Prakaraṇa that the three modes of Ahaṃkāra engendered are mentioned. The first is the stage where the man identifies himself with the physical body which is the lowest of Ahaṃkāras and ought to be shunned. The second is where one identifies himself with a thread-like small wire. In the third stage, he finds he is all this universe. These three stages correspond to the gross, subtle and causal bodies of man and are the intelligences presiding over them. Beyond these is Turya, the 4th stage where one is above the universe and identifies himself with the Spirit itself.

Upaśānti or upaṣama prakaraṇa

This is the section which deals with the quiescence of the mind after its sport in the universe. This Prakaraṇa rejoices in nine stories wherein it is stated that the quiescence of mind can be obtained only after many births. To develop this state, many means are given out, such as the Lord’s grace through Bhakti or devotion, the direct knowledge of Māyā, Yoga, Ātma-vicāra or Ātmic enquiry, and Chitta- Nirodha or the control of mind, Prāṇayāma, etc. King Janaka sees all as Cidānanda and reaches a higher state. Puṇya and Pāvana reach the goal after the lapse of many births. Bali of the Trivikrama Avatāra did his actions in a Niṣkāma manner without reference to their fruits. Prahlāda was ever worshipping the lotus feet of Īśvara. Gādhi, the father of Viśvāmitra had a direct perception of Māyā and thence of God, since the Absolute cannot be seen without overcoming Māyā. Ātma-vicāra or Ātmic enquiry was the ceaseless means adopted by Uddālaka and Suraghu. Bhāsa and Vilāsa put an end to all their pains through the same course. Vīthahavya resorted to Prāṇayāma or the control of breath for the subjugation of his mind.

The story of Gādhi is worthy of being reproduced here. Having been daily engaged in meditation in water, he one day wished to know the nature of Māyā and was blessed by Viṣṇu, the Higher Self, here represented as a dark blue cloud with the boon of seeing Māyā directly and of overcoming it. Some days after, as he was passing to the waters of a tank, his mind recurred to the boon of Viṣṇu; and when he stepped into the tank, he was entranced and vividly remembered, in his normal state, all the lives he had led during his Samādhi, as a Brahmin and as a Caṇḍāla (out-caste). Not knowing the reason why these visions arose, he returned home where he met with a guest who uttered some words which went to prove that his dream in the tank was a reality. So in order to verify the same, he went to the many places pointed out by the guest and found all the events of his dream realized as an actuality in the waking state. This story illustrates the fact that the many lives we are going through in our present state of Ajñāna are like so many dream lives which, though they may appear as true like our waking states, are yet not so, when a high stage of spiritual development arises. In the story of Vīthahavya with which this Prakaraṇa winds up, the different stages of his development on the uttering of the sacred word, Prāṇava, are described. To produce a control of the mind, two things are essential, Prāṇa-Nirodha and Saṅga-Tyāga, viz., the control of Prāṇa and renunciation of Saṅga or association. By the latter is meant not disassociation with the world, but only with the longing after, or the attraction towards, the objects of the world. By Prāṇa-Nirodha, the author expressly states that he does not mean it in the Haṭha-Yogic form but only in the Rāja-Yogic way.

Nlrvāṇa prakaraṇa

This last section has 14 stories in it. The ego in this stage reaches the Turya or fourth state, after the developed one has crossed “the three Halls” and is able to have a commanding view of the lower stages. This Prakaraṇa begins with the story of Bhuśuṇḍa, the great Yogi. Bhuśuṇḍa, meaning a crow, typifies a great spiritual power existing from a very remote period through marvelous Yoga strength and, according to his own version, had witnessed Vasiṣṭhas birth eight times, Hiraṅyakshas diving with the earth down into Pātāla thrice, Dakṣa, the Prājapati losing the sacrifice twice and other mysteries. Then comes the story of Deva-Pūjā. Here is stated the true rationale of the Pūjā or worship of God now conducted by the Hindus. All the form worships are intended for the men in the lower stages alone. Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Rudra, etc., are developed entities only. Jñāna alone is the true God and the flowers, etc., with which God has to be worshiped are equal vision over all, contentment of mind, spiritual wisdom, etc. Of course this is likely to disturb the equilibrium of our orthodox men; but facts cannot be gainsaid and should be given out. After some stories are passed, the story of Arjuna comes in where in Karmas are asked to be performed without caring for their fruits. But the best story of all in this Prakaraṇa is the story of Śikhidhvaja. Some years ago it came out in The Theosophist in a series of articles. The author impresses, through this story upon a disciple, the necessity of a Guru, an adept and not an ordinary teacher in order to lead him on into the higher pursuits of occult mysteries. Otherwise the disciple will only be, like the blind led by the blind. He is asked to place implicit faith in the words of such a Guru. The Master can truly impress his thoughts upon the student’s mind only when it is rendered passive to that of the teacher, otherwise no real progress in occultism in possible. But the Hindus of modern days have degraded it to such an extent as to exact the same kind of obedience from an ordinary student towards an ordinary teacher. Then some other points have also to be noticed in this story. True renunciation lies not in immuring oneself in a closet or going to a forest, but in performing one’s Karmas with a mental abnegation. One should neither court fresh Karmas nor shirk the old ones that are peculiarly his. This should be the position of a true Jñāni(n). True renunciation or Sannyāsa is finely illustrated in this story. King Śikhidhvaja after leaving his kingdom, retires into the forest. There his wife, herself an adept, visits him in her Māyāvi Rūpa or double, assuming a male physical form and passing by the name of Kumbha-Muni. When the king found that this supposed Muni was a personage of great powers, he took him up as his Guru; he consenting to the two conditions imposed upon him as in other cases of initiation, viz., implicit faith in, and acting up to, the words of the Guru and repeated efforts to be made for the entire control of the mind. Then the Muni remarks that the King’s pains were caused by want of true Sannyāsa or renunciation in him. The King replies that he gave up his kingdom, wealth, wife, etc., and retired into the forest and wishes to know if that is not true renunciation. No, the Muni replies. Then the King gives up his love for the forest in which he is and asks if that does not constitute true renunciation. Again did the same negative word come out of the lips of the Muni. Then the King consigns the bowl, cloth, etc., which alone he has, into the fire and wishes to know if that is not Sannyāsa. Again was the same negative reply given out. Then the King ruminates over his situation; it is sin on his part to gainsay his Master’s words and hence he dives into himself and finds that the last cumbrance in him is his body which he wants to dispose of by ascending a high cliff and precipitating it down the same, when the Muni prevents him from doing so and remarks that true renunciation lies in the mind and not in the external things such as body, etc. Then the Muni sets the King aright by going into the origin of pains.

Herein is also given out the dual nature of Manas, the mind, the pure one being purely Sāttvic in nature and the impure one being full of Rajas and Tamas. The author says clearly that the non-dual Reality which exists amidst the many heterogeneous things of the world can be cognized through one’s self-cognition only and not by any amount of words or logic or thought. Therefore if a person as a Jīvanmukta cognizes through Samādhi the absolute identity of all things, and yet moves as usual in this world, then he will in course of time reach a state called Videhamukti, when he will throw aside all shackles of bodies and merge into the Absolute font of Bliss. As, at the end of every Prakaraṇa in this work, there is a chapter which summarizes the subjects dealt with in it, this Prakaraṇa closes with a chapter called Nirvāṇa Prakaraṇa, wherein are described the seven states of Jñāna, the seven states of Ajñāna having been given out in a previous chapter.

As regards the age of this work, we leave it to competent authorities to theorize as best as they may. The events recorded herein should have occurred in Tretāyuga, when Rāma incarnated. But in the initiation of Rāma by Vasiṣṭha as recorded in this work, we find the story of Arjuna introduced herein. Is it not an anachronism, some may ask? We shall find this objection will vanish into thin air if we bear in our mind the fact that nature is cycling round and round and is not a sealed book to our ancients. Every recurrence of the Yugas brings with it its own Vyāsas, Rāmas and others. Therefore before the divine vision of our omniscient Ṛṣis, all the events, past as well as future, march in one procession as recorded in the tablets of Chitragupta. This is the very objection which many Orientalists have taken without understanding exactly the views of the Hindus as regards the book of nature. This reply to the objection made is one that has been urged by some of our medieval commentators.

Whether Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha is considered as an authority or not, it is a matter of perfect indifference, so far as enquiring minds who are thirsting after real knowledge are concerned. We judge every work on its own merits and according to that canon of interpretation, we leave this work to the public to be judged. There are many repetitions in this work which are inevitable in a Hindu religious book treating of the most abstruse questions of philosophy and occultism. This work may well be given the title of an amplified versin of The Voice of Silence, dressed in the Hindu garb. We launch out this translation of Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha with the conviction that full justice has not been done to the original.

It will be found that in many places in this work the translation is free and many Sanskrit words have been left untranslated. Of course in a work like this teeming with stories, a literal translation will but mar the original. There are two reasons which induced me to retain the Sanskrit words themselves in this work. Some of the terms used herein have no proper English equivalents and hence do require periphrastic expressions to express rightly the underlying ideas. Many of the terms have become commonly known to readers of Vedāntic literature. To understand this work fully, its predecessor Vasudeva-Manana or ‘The meditations of Vasudeva,’ a compendium of Adwaita philosophy published by us will be of great help. One new feature of the present translation is the summary given for every chapter or story.

In this effort of mine, I was greatly assisted by my late lamented co-worker R. Sundareswara Sastri. My thanks are especially due to Mr. Bertram Keightley, M. A, the General Secretary of the Indian Section, The Theosophical Society, for the great help he rendered me in revising my MSS.; as also to Messrs, N. Rāmanujacarriar B. A. and B. S. Raghuthmacarriar B. A. for their kindly suggestions and aid during the progress of this work.


Kumbakonam, 1896

Footnotes and references:


A Grantha (section or verse), equals 32 syllables.


The total or Bṛhad-Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha is now available in four volumes as Yoga Vāsiṣṭha of Vālmikī (Sanskrit text and English translation), published by Motilal Banarsidass Pvt.Ltd., ISBN 8171101519.


Mabel Collins: The Light on the Path

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