The Vishnu Purana
Chapter VII - Descriptions of Brahma-yoga
Keśidhwaja describes the nature of ignorance, and the benefits of the Yoga, or contemplative devotion. Of the novice and the adept in the performance of the Yoga. How it is performed. The first stage, proficiency in acts of restraint and moral duty: the second, particular mode of sitting: the third, Prānāyāma, modes of breathing: the fourth, Pratyāhāra, restraint of thought: the fifth, apprehension of spirit: the sixth, retention of the idea. Meditation on the individual and universal forms of Viṣṇu. Acquirement of knowledge. Final liberation.
“BUT,” said Keśidhwaja, “why have you not asked of me my kingdom, now free from all annoyance? what else except dominion is acceptable to the warrior race?” “I will tell you,” replied Khāṇḍikya, “why I did not make such a demand, nor require that territory which is an object of ignorant ambition. It is the duty of the warrior to protect his subjects in peace, and to kill in fight the enemies of his sway. It is no fault that you should have taken my kingdom from one who was unable to defend it, to whom it was a bondage, and who was thus freed from the iñcumbrance of ignorance. My desire of dominion originated in my being born to possess it: the ambition of others, which proceeds from human frailties, is not compatible with virtue. To solicit gifts is not the duty of a prince and warrior: and for these reasons I have not asked for your kingdom, nor made a demand which ignorance alone would have suggested. Those only who are destitute of knowledge, whose minds are engrossed by selfishness, who are intoxicated with the inebriating beverage of self-sufficiency, desire kingdoms; not such as I am.”
When king Keśidhwaja heard these words, he was much pleased, and exclaimed, “It is well spoken!” Then addressing Khāṇḍikya affectionately, he said, “Listen to my words. Through desire of escaping death by the ignorance of works I exercise the regal power, celebrate various sacrifices, and enjoy pleasures subversive of purity. Fortunate is it for you that your mind has attached itself to the dominion of discrimination. Pride of your race! now listen to the real nature of ignorance. The (erroneous) notion that self consists in what is not self, and the opinion that property consists in what is not one's own, constitute the double seed of the tree of ignorance. The ill judging embodied being, bewildered by the darkness of fascination, situated in a body composed of the five elements, loudly asserts, ‘This is I:’ but who would ascribe spiritual individuality to a body in which soul is distinct from the ether, air, fire, water, and earth (of which that body is composed)? What man of understanding assigns to disembodied spirit corporeal fruition, or lands, houses, and the like, that it should say, ‘These are mine?’ What wise man entertains the idea of property in sous or grandsons begotten of the body after the spirit has abandoned it? Man performs all acts for the purpose of bodily fruition, and the consequence of such acts is another body; so that their result is nothing but confinement to bodily existence. In the same manner as a mansion of clay is plastered with clay and water, so the body, which is of earth, is perpetuated by earth and water (or by eating and drinking). The body, consisting of the five elements, is nouṛṣed by substances equally composed of those elements: but since this is the case, what is there in this life that man should be proud of? Travelling the path of the world for many thousands of births, man attains only the weariness of bewilderment, and is smothered by the dust of imagination. When that dust is washed away by the bland water of real knowledge, then the weariness of bewilderment sustained by the wayfarer through repeated births is removed. When that weariness is relieved, the internal man is at peace, and he obtains that supreme felicity which is unequalled and undisturbed. This soul is (of its own nature) pure, and composed of happiness and wisdom. The properties of pain, ignorance, and impurity, are those of nature (Prakriti), not of soul. There is no affinity between fire and water, but when the latter is placed over the former in a caldron it bubbles and boils, and exhibits the properties of fire. In like manner, when soul is associated with Prakriti it is vitiated by egotism and the rest, and assumes the qualities of grosser nature, although essentially distinct from them, and incorruptible. Such is the seed of ignorance, as I have explained it to you. There is but one cure of worldly sorrows, the practice of devotion; no other is known.”
“Then,” said Khāṇḍikya, “do you, who are the chief of those versed in contemplative devotion, explain to me what that is; for in the race of the descendants of Nimi you are best acquainted with the sacred writings in which it is taught.” “Hear,” replied Keśidhwaja, “the account of, the nature of contemplative devotion, which I impart to you, and by perfection in which the sage attains resolution into Brahma, and never suffers birth again. The mind of man is the cause both of his bondage and his liberation: its addiction to the objects of sense is the means of his bondage; its separation from objects of sense is the means of his freedom. The sage who is capable of discriminative knowledge must therefore restrain his mind from all the objects of sense, and therewith meditate upon the supreme being, who is one with spirit, in order to attain liberation; for that supreme spirit attracts to itself him who meditates upon it, and who is of the same nature, as the loadstone attracts the iron by the virtue which is common to itself and to its products.
Contemplative devotion is the union with Brahma, effected by that condition of mind which has attained perfection through those exercises which complete the control of self: and he whose contemplative devotion is characterized by the property of such absolute perfection, is in truth a sage, expectant of final liberation from the world.
”The sage, or Yogi, when first applying himself to contemplative devotion is called the novice or practitioner (Yoga yuj); when he has attained spiritual union he is termed the adept, or he whose meditations are accomplished. Should the thoughts of the former be unvitiated by any obstructing imperfection, he will obtain freedom, after practising devotion through several lives. The latter speedily obtains liberation in that existence (in which he reaches perfection), all his acts being consumed by the fire of contemplative devotion. The sage who would bring his mind into a fit state for the performance of devout contemplation must be devoid of desire, and observe invariably continence, compassion, truth, honesty, and disinterestedness: he must fix his mind intently on the supreme Brahma, practising holy study, purification, contentment, penance, and self-control. These virtues, respectively termed the five acts of restraint (Yana), and five of obligation (Niyama), bestow excellent rewards when practised for the sake of reward, and eternal liberation when they are not prompted by desire (of transient benefits). Endowed with these merits, the sage self restrained should sit in one of the modes termed Bhadrāsana, &c., and engage in contemplation. Bringing his vital airs, called Prāṇā, under subjection, by frequent repetition, is thence called Prāṇāyāma, which is as it were a seed with a seed. In this the breath of expiration and that of inspiration are alternately obstructed, constituting the act twofold; and the suppression of both modes of breathing produces a third. The exercise of the Yogi, whilst endeavouring to bring before his thoughts the gross form of the eternal, is denominated Ālambana. He is then to perform the Pratyāhāra, which consists in restraining his organs of sense from susceptibility to outward impressions, and directing them entirely to mental perceptions. By these means the entire subjugation of the unsteady senses is effected; and if they are not controlled, the sage will not accomplish his devotions. When by the Prāṇāyāma the vital airs are restrained, and the senses are subjugated by the Pratyāhāra, then the sage will he able to keep his mind steady in its perfect asylum."
Khāṇḍikya then said to Keśidhwaja, “Illustrious sage, inform me what is that perfect asylum of the mind, resting on which it destroys all the products of (human) infirmity.” To this, Keśidhwaja replied, “The asylum of mind is spirit (Brahma), which of its own nature is twofold, as being with or without form; and each of these is supreme and secondary. Apprehension of spirit, again, is threefold. I will explain the different kinds to you: they are, that which is called Brahma, that which is named from works, and that which comprehends both. That mental apprehension which consists of Brahma is one; that which is formed of works is another; and that which comprehends both is the third: so that mental apprehension (of the object or asylum of the thoughts) is threefold. Sanandana and other (perfect sages) were endowed with apprehension of the nature of Brahma. The gods and others, whether animate or inanimate, are possessed of that which regards acts. The apprehension that comprehends both works and spirit exists in Hiraṇyagarbha and others, who are possessed of contemplative knowledge of their own nature, and who also exercise certain active functions, as creation and the rest. Until all acts, which are the causes of notions of individuality, are discontinued, spirit is one thing, and the universe is another, to those who contemplate objects as distinct and various; but that is called true knowledge, or knowledge of Brahma, which recognises no distinctions, which contemplates only simple existence, which is undefinable by words, and is to be discovered solely in one's own spirit. That is the supreme, unborn, imperishable form of Viṣṇu, who is without (sensible) form, and is characterised as a condition of the supreme soul, which is variously modified from the condition of universal form. But this condition cannot be contemplated by sages in their (early) devotions, and they must therefore direct their minds to the gross form of Hari, which is of universal perceptibility. They must meditate upon him as Hiraṇyagarbha, as the glorious Vāsava, as Prajāpati, as the winds, the Vasus, the Rudras, the suns, stars, planets, Gandharbas, Yakṣas, Daityas, all the gods and their progenitors, men, animals, mountains, oceans, rivers, trees, all beings, and all sources of beings, all modifications whatever of nature and its products, whether sentient or unconscious, one-footed, two-footed, or many-footed; all these are the sensible form of Hari, to be apprehended by the three kinds of apprehension. All this universal world, this world of moving and stationary beings, is pervaded by the energy of Viṣṇu, who is of the nature of the supreme Brahma. This energy is either supreme, or, when it is that of conscious embodied spirit, it is secondary. Ignorance, or that which is denominated from works, is a third energy; by which the omnipresent energy of embodied spirit is ever excited, and whence it suffers all the pains of repeated worldly existence. Obscured by that energy (of ignorance or illusion), the energy that is denominated from embodied spirit is characterised by different degrees of perfection in all created beings. In things without life it exists in a very small degree: it is more in things that have life, but are (without motion): in insects it is still more abundant, and still more in birds; it is more in wild animals, and in domestic animals the faculty is still greater: men have more of this (spiritual). faculty than animals, and thence arises their authority over them: the faculty exists in an ascending degree in Nāgas, Gandharbas, Yakṣas, gods, Śakra, Prajāpati, and Hiraṇyagarbha: and is above all predominant in that male (Viṣṇu) of whom all these various creatures are but the diversified forms, penetrated universally by his energy, as all-pervading as the ether.
”The second state of him who is called Viṣṇu, and which is to be meditated upon by the (advanced) sage, is that imperceptible, shapeless form of Brahma, which is called by the wise, ‘That which is,’ and in which all the before described energies reside. Thence proceeds the form of the universal form, the other great form of Hari, which is the origin of those manifested forms (or incarnations) that are endowed with every kind of energy, and which, whether the forms of gods, animals, or men, are assumed by him (Hari) in his sport. This active interposition of the undefinable god, all-comprehending and irresistible, is for the purpose of benefiting the world, and is not the necessary consequence of works. This form of the universal form is to be meditated upon by the sage for the object of purification, as it destroys all sin. In the same manner as fire, blazing in the wind, burns dry grass, so Viṣṇu, seated in the heart, consumes the sins of the sage; and therefore let him resolutely effect the fixation of his mind upon that receptacle of all the three energies (Viṣṇu), for that is the operation of the mind which is called perfect Dhāranā: and thus the perfect asylum of individual as well as universal spirit, that which is beyond the three modes of apprehension, is attained, for the eternal emancipation of the sage. The minds of other beings, which are not fixed upon that asylum, are altogether impure, and are all the gods and the rest, who spring from acts. The retention or apprehension by the mind of that visible form of Viṣṇu, without regard to subsidiary forms, is thence called Dhāranā; and I will describe to you the perceptible form of Hari, which no mental retention will manifest, except in a mind that is fit to become the receptacle of the idea. The meditating sage must think (he beholds internally the figure) of Viṣṇu, as having a pleased and lovely countenance, with eyes like the leaf of the lotus, smooth cheeks, and a broad and brilliant forehead; ears of equal size, the lobes of which are decorated with splendid pendants; a painted neck, and a broad breast, on which shines the Srivatsa mark; a belly falling in graceful folds, with a deep-seated navel; eight long arms, or else four; and firm and well-knit thighs and legs, with well-formed feet and toes. Let him, with well-governed thoughts, contemplate, as long as he can persevere in unremitting attention, Hari as clad in a yellow robe, wearing a rich diadem on his head, and brilliant armlets and bracelets on his arms, and bearing in his hands the bow, the shell, the mace, the sword, the discus, the rosary, the lotus, and the arrow. When this image never departs from his mind, whether he be going or standing, or be engaged in any other voluntary act, then he may believe his retention to be perfect. The sage may then meditate upon the form of Viṣṇu without his arms, as the shell, mace, discus, and bow; and as placid, and bearing only his rosary. When the idea of this image is firmly retained, then he may meditate on Viṣṇu without his diadem, bracelets, or other ornaments. He may next contemplate him as having but one single limb, and may then fix his whole thoughts upon the body to which the limbs belong. This process of forming a lively image in the mind, exclusive of all other objects, constitutes Dhyāna, or meditation, which is perfected by six stages; and when an accurate knowledge of self, free from all distinction, is attained by this mental meditation, that is termed Samādhi.
"(When the Yogi has accomplished this stage, he acquires) discriminative knowledge, which is the means of enabling living soul, when all the three kinds of apprehension are destroyed, to attain the attainable supreme Brahma. Embodied spirit is the user of the instrument, which instrument is true knowledge; and by it that (identification) of the former (with Brahma) is attained. Liberation, which is the object to be effected, being accomplished, discriminative knowledge ceases. When endowed with the apprehension of the nature of the object of inquiry, then, there is no difference between it (individual and) supreme spirit: difference is the consequence of the absence of (true) knowledge. When that ignorance which is the cause of the difference between individual and universal spirit is destroyed finally and for ever, who shall ever make that distinction between them which does not exist? Thus have I, Khāṇḍikya, in reply to your question, explained to you what is meant by contemplative devotion, both fully and summarily. What else do you wish to hear?"
Khāṇḍikya replied to Keśidhwaja, and said, “The explanation which you have given me of the real nature of contemplative devotion has fulfilled all my wishes, and removed all impurity from my mind. The expression ‘mine,’ which I have been accustomed to use, is untruth, and cannot be otherwise declared by those who know what is to be known. The words ‘I’ and ‘mine’ constitute ignorance; but practice is influenced by ignorance. Supreme truth cannot be defined, for it is not to be explained by words. Depart therefore, Keśidhwaja; you have done all that is necessary for my real happiness, in teaching me contemplative devotion, the inexhaustible bestower of liberation from existence.”
Accordingly king Keśidhwaja, after receiving suitable homage from Khāṇḍikya, returned to his city. Khāṇḍikya, having nominated his son Rājā, retired to the woods to accomplish his devotions, his whole mind being intent upon Govinda: there his entire thoughts being engrossed upon one only object, and being purified by practices of restraint, self-control, and the rest, he obtained absorption into the pure and perfect spirit which is termed Viṣṇu. Keśidhwaja also, in order to attain liberation, became averse from his own perishable works, and lived amidst objects of sense (without regarding them), and instituted religious rites without expecting therefrom any advantages to himself. Thus by pure and auspicious fruition, being cleansed from all sin, the also obtained that perfection which assuages all affliction for ever.
Footnotes and references:
The text is somewhat obscure, but it is in some degree cleared up by the next illustration. No one would think of applying the property of self—the idea of possession or personality—to soul, separated from body: but the objection is equally applicable to soul in the body; for whilst there it is as distinct in its nature from the materials of body as if it was disembodied, and quite as incapable of individual personal fruition.
That is, in the race of princes of Mithilā.
The term Yoga, which is that used in the text, in its literal acceptation signifies ‘union,’ ‘junction,’ from ### ‘to join:’ in a spiritual sense it denotes ‘union of separated with universal soul; and with some latitude of expression it comes to signify the means by which such union is affected. In the Bhagavad Gītā it is variously applied, but ordinarily denotes the performance of religious ceremonies as a duty, and not for interested purposes. Thus Kṛṣṇa says to Arjuna, “Engaging in Yoga, perform rites, Dhanañjaya, being indifferent to success or failure: such indifference is called Yoga.” II. v. 48. It is elsewhere defined, ’exemption from the contact of pain:' VI. v. 23. The word has been accordingly rendered ‘devotion’ by Wilkins, and ‘devotio’ by Schlegel, in their translations of the Gītā. In this place, however, it is used in a less general sense, and signifies, as is subsequently explained, reunion with spirit through the exercises necessary to perfect abstraction as they are taught and practised by the followers of Patañjali.
This illustration is however only to a p. 652 limited extent, explanatory of the nature of Yoga; for though the loadstone and iron unite, by virtue of a community of kind, yet the union that takes place is only that of contiguity, Samyoga not that of identification or unity, Tadaikyam. Some further explanation therefore is required.
The first stage is the Ātma prayatna, the practice of moral and religious restraint, Yama, Niyama, &c. When the novice is perfect in these, then he is fit to attain the perfectibility of an adept, through the especial practices which treatises on the Yoga prescribe. When the mind has attained the state which can alone be attained through them, then the union with Brahma, which is the consequence, is called Yoga: ###. The Ātma prayatna is defined to be that which has Yama, &c. for its object. The next phrase is explained, ‘depending upon, or relating to, such control.’ ### is the same as ### condition or state of mind which is ### perfected: of that state of mind, union with Brahma, is Yoga. Union with Brahma is the abstraction that proposes the identity of the living with the supreme spirit of the Jīvātma, with Brahma; and Yoga is understanding of the identity of the contemplator and the object contemplated. A text of Yajñyawalkya is quoted to this effect: ‘Know holy wisdom to be the same with Yoga, (the practice of) which has eight divisions. That which is termed Yoga is union of the living with the supreme soul.’
Viniṣpannasamādhi is the expression of the text, which can scarcely be regarded as an appellative. The commentator terms the adept Brahmajñāni, ‘He who knows Brahma.’
After three lives, according to the Vāyu Sanhitā, as quoted in the comment.
There are various postures in which the Yogi is directed to sit when he engages in meditation. In the Bhadrāsana he is directed to cross his legs underneath him, and to lay hold of his feet on each side with his hands.
It is itself figuratively the seed of the fruit, which is meditation; but it is to be accompanied with what is also technically called Bīja, or seed, inaudible repetition of certain prayers, and meditation on the visible form of the deity, termed likewise Ālambana, and presently mentioned.
Prāṇāyāma is performed by three modifications of breathing: the first act is expiration, which is performed through the right nostril, whilst the left is closed with the fingers of the right hand; this is called Rechaka: the thumb is then placed upon the right nostril, and the fingers raised from the left, through which breath is inhaled; this is called Pūraka: in the third act both nostrils are closed, and breathing suspended; this is Kumbhaka: and a succession of these operations is the practice of Prāṇāyāma.
Ālambana is the silent repetition of prayer.
The Brahma that is without form (Amūrtta) may be Para or Apara. Supreme formless spirit is, without attributes of any kind. Secondary formless spirit is invested with the attributes of power, glory, truth, perfection. Spirit embodied, or with form in his highest state, is, according to our text, Viṣṇu, and his manifestations. Spirit in an inferior or secondary series of bodily forms is Brahmā and all other living beings.
The term is Bhāvanā, defined to be, ‘function to be engendered by knowledge;’ the mental impression or apprehension following upon knowledge.' Here it implies in particular the formation of a fixed idea by the Yogi of the object of his contemplations. It is also termed Bhāva-bhāvanā, ‘apprehension of the being, the existence, or substantiality, of the object; the thing contemplated.’
The term used throughout is Śakti, power,' ‘ability,’ ‘energy’ By the first kind, or Parā, is understood knowledge able to appreciate abstract truth, or the nature of universal soul; by the second, ability to understand the nature of embodied soul; and by the third, inability to discern one's own nature, and reliance on moral or ceremonial merit. These different kinds are called energies, because they are the energies or faculties of the supreme spirit, or, according to the Vaiṣṇavas, of Viṣṇu, accompanying soul in all its various conditions of existence.
The first, which has been intended to be described in the foregoing passages, was the universal, visible form of Viṣṇu; the second is his formless or imperceptible condition.
Sat ‘what is being.’
Retention, or holding of the image or idea formed in the mind by contemplation: from Dhri, ‘to hold,’ literally or figuratively.
The explanation of Dhāraṇā given in the text is rendered unnecessarily perplexed by the double doctrine here taught, and the attempt to combine the abstractions of Yoga theism with the sectarian worship of Viṣṇu.
The two last implements are from the comment; the text specifies only six.
They are, 1. Yama &c., acts of restraint and obligation; 2. Āsana, sitting in particular postures; 3. Praṇāyāma, modes of breathing; 4. Pratyāhāra, exclusion of all external ideas; 5. Bhāvanā, apprehension of internal ideas; 6. Dhāraṇā, fixation or retention of those ideas.
The result of the Dhyāna or Samādhi is the absence of all idea of individuality, when the meditator, the meditation, and p. 658 the thing or object meditated upon, are all considered to be but one. According to the text of Patañjali: ‘Restraint of the body, retention of the mind, and meditation, which thence is exclusively confined to one object, is Dhyāna: the idea of identification with the object of such meditation, so as if devoid of individual nature, is Samādhi.’
The expressions of the text are somewhat obscure, nor does the commentator make them much more intelligible, until he cuts the matter short by stating the meaning to be, that ‘discriminative knowledge enables the living spirit to attain Brahma.’
The text is very elliptical and obscure. Having stated that embodied spirit (Kṣetrajña) is the Karaṇin, the possessor or user of the Karana, which is knowledge, it adds, ### literally, ‘by that, of that, that;’ i. e. Tat, 'that which is; and Brahma, or supreme spirit, is the attainment of that spirit which abides in body by that instrument, or discriminative knowledge, of which it has become possessed through perfect meditation.
The commentator, in order to explain how Khāṇḍikya should have given what he did not possess, states that it is to be understood that Keśidhwaja relinquished to him the kingdom; or the term Rājā may denote merely, master of, or acquainted with, mystic prayers, or Mantras.