Yoga Vasistha [English], Volume 1-4

by Vihari-Lala Mitra | 1891 | 1,121,132 words | ISBN-10: 8171101519

The English translation of the Yoga-vasistha: a Hindu philosophical and spiritual text written by sage Valmiki from an Advaita-vedanta perspective. The book contains epic narratives similar to puranas and chronologically precedes the Ramayana. The Yoga-vasistha is believed by some Hindus to answer all the questions that arise in the human mind, an...

In this age of the cultivation of universal learning and its investigation into the deep recesses of the dead languages of antiquity, when the literati of both continents are so sedulously employed in exploring the rich and almost inexhaustible mines of the ancient literature of this country, it has given an impetus to the philanthropy of our wise and benign Government to the institution of a searching enquiry into the sacred language of this land. And when the restoration of the long lost works of its venerable sages and authors through the instrumentality of the greatest bibliomaniac savants and linguists in the several Presidencies,[1] has led the literary Asiatic Societies of the East and West to the publication of the rarest and most valuable Sanskrit Manuscripts, it cannot be deemed preposterous in me to presume, to lay before the Public a work of no less merit and sanctity than any hitherto published.

The Yoga Vasishtha is the earliest work on Yoga or Speculative and Abstruse philosophy delivered by the venerable Vedic sage Vasishtha to his royal pupil Rama; the victor of Ravana, and hero of the first Epic Ramayana, and written in the language of Valmiki, the prime bard in pure Sanskrit, the author of that popular Epic, and Homer of India. It embodies in itself the Loci Communes or common places relating to the science of Ontology, the knowledge of Sat—Real Entity, and Asat—Unreal Non-entity; the principles of Psychology or doctrines of the Passions and Feelings; the speculations of Metaphysics in dwelling upon our cognition, volition and other faculties of the Mind ( ~~) and the tenets, of Ethics and practical morality ( ~~).

Besides there are a great many precepts on Theology, and the nature of the Divinity ( ~~), and discourses on Spirituality and Theosophy ( ~~); all delivered in the form of Plato's Dialogues between the sages, and tending to the main enquiry concerning the true felicity, final beatitude or Summum bonum ( ~~) of all true philosophy.

These topics have singly and jointly contributed to the structure of several separate Systems of Science and Philosophy in succeeding ages, and have formed the subjects of study both with the juvenile and senile classes of people in former and present times, and I may say, almost among all nations in all countries throughout the civilized world.

It is felt at present to be a matter of the highest importance by the native community at large, to repress the growing ardour of our youth in political polemics and practical tactics, that are equally pernicious to and destructive of the felicity of their temporal and future lives, by a revival of the humble instructions of their peaceful preceptors of old, and reclaiming them to the simple mode of life led by their forefathers, from the perverted course now gaining ground among them under the influence of Western refinement. Outward peace ( ~~) with internal tranquility ( ~~) is the teaching of our Sastras, and these united with contentment ( ~~) and indifference to worldly pleasures ( ~~), were believed according to the tenets of Yoga doctrines, to form the perfect man,—a character which the Aryans have invariably preserved amidst the revolutions of ages and empires. It is the degeneracy of the rising generation, however, owing to their adoption of foreign habits and manners from an utter ignorance of their own moral code, which the publication of the present work is intended to obviate.

From the description of the Hindu mind given by Max Müller in his History of the Ancient Literature of India (p. 18) it will appear, that the esoteric faith of the Aryan Indian is of that realistic cast as the Platonic, whose theory of ontology viewed all existence, even that of the celestial bodies, with their movements among the precepta of sense, and marked them among the unreal phantoms ( ~~) or vain mirage, ( ~~) as the Hindu calls them, that are interesting in appearance but useless to observe. They may be the best of all precepta, but fall very short of that perfection, which the mental eye contemplates in its meditation-yoga. The Hindu Yogi views the visible world exactly in the same light as Plato has represented it in the simile commencing the seventh book of his Republic. He compares mankind to prisoners in a cave, chained in one particular attitude, so as to behold only an evervarying multiplicity of shadows, projected through the opening of the cave upon the wall before them, by certain unseen realities behind. The philosopher alone, who by training or inspiration is enabled to turn his face from these visions, and contemplate with his mind, that can see at-once the unchangeable reality amidst these transient shadows.

The first record that we have of Vasishtha is, that he was the author of the 7th Mandala of the Rig Veda (Ashtaka v. 15-118). He is next mentioned as Purohita or joint minister with Viswamitra to king Sudasa, and to have a violent contest with his rival for the ( ~~) or ministerial office (Müll. Hist. S. Lit. page 486, Web. Id. p. 38). He is said to have accompanied the army of Sudasa, when that king is said to have conquered the ten invading chiefs who had crossed over the river Parushni—(Hydroates or Ravi) to his dominions (Müll. Id. p. 486). Viswamitra accompanied Sudasa himself beyond Vipasa,—Hyphasis or Beah and Satadru—Hisaudras-Sutlej (Max Müller, Ancient Sanscrit literature page 486). These events are recorded to have occurred prior to Vasishtha's composition of the Mandala which passes under his name and in which they are recorded. (Müll. Id. p. 486).

The enmity and implacable hatred of the two families of Vasishthas and Viswamitras for generations, form subjects prominent throughout the Vedic antiquity, and preserved in the tradition of ages (Mull. Id. p. 486, Web. Id. p. 37). Another cause of it was that, Harischandra, King of Ayodhya, was cursed by Vasishtha, whereupon he made Viswamitra his priest to the annoyance of Vasishtha, although the office of Brahmana was held by him (Müller Id. page 408 Web. pp. 31-37). In the Brahmana period we find Vasishtha forming a family title for the whole Vasishtha race still continuing as a Gotra name, and that these Vasishthas continued as hereditary Gurus and purohitas to the kings of the solar race from generation to generation under the same title. The Vasishthas were always the Brahmanas or High priests in every ceremony, which could not be held by other Brahmanas according to the Sata patha Brahmana (Müll. Id. page 92); and particularly the Indra ceremony had always to be performed by a Vasishtha, because it was revealed to their ancestor the sage Vasishtha only (Web. Ind. Lit. p. 123); and as the Satapatha Brahmana-Taittiriya Sanhita mentions it.

 ~~  ~~

"The Rishis do not see Indra clearly, but Vasishtha saw him. Indra said, I will tell you, O Brahman, so that all men who are born, will have a Vasishtha for his Purohita" (Max Müll. Ans. Sans. Lit. p. 92. Web. Id. p. 123). This will show that the Sloka works, which are attributed to Vasishtha, Yajnavalkya or any other Vedic Rishi, could not be the composition of the old Rishis, but of some one of their posterity; though they might have been propounded by the eldest sages, and then put to writing by oral communication or successive tradition by a distant descendant or disciple of the primitive Rishis. Thus we see the Drahyayana Sutras of the Sama Veda is also called the Vasishtha Sutras, from the author's family name of Vasishtha (Web. Id. p. 79). The asvalayana Grihya Sutra assigns some other works to Vasishtha, viz., the Vasishtha pragatha, probably Vasishtha Hymni of Bopp; the Pavamanya, Kshudra sukta, Mahasukta &c. written in the vedic style. There are two other works attributed to Vasishtha, the Vasishtha Sanhita on Astronomy (Web. Id. p. 258) and the Vasishtha Smriti on Law (Web. Id. p. 320), which from their compositions in Sanscrit slokas, could not be the language or work of the Vedic Rishi, but of some one late member of that family. Thus our work of Yoga Vasishtha has no claim or pretension to its being the composition of the Vedic sage; but as one propounded by the sage, and written by Valmiki in his modern Sanskrit. Here the question is whether Vasishtha the preceptor of Rama, was the Vedic Vasishtha or one of his descendants, I must leave for others to determine.

Again in the later Aranyaka period we have an account of a theologian Vasishtha given in the Arshik-opanishad, as holding a dialogue on the nature of atma or soul between the sages, Viswamitra, Jamadagni, Bharadwaja, Gautama and himself; when Vasishtha appealing to the opinion of Kapila obtained their assent (Weber Id. p. 162). This appears very probably to be the theological author of our yoga, and eminent above his contemporaries in his knowledge of the Kapila yoga sastra which was then current, from this sage's having been a contemporary with king Sagara, a predecessor of Rama.

In the latest Sutra period we find a passage in the Grihya-Sutra-parisishta, about the distinctive mark of the Vasishtha Family from those of the other parishads or classes of the priesthood. It says,

 ~~  ~~

"The Vasishthas wear a braid (lock of hair) on the right side, the Atreyas wear three braids, the Angiras have five braids, the Bhrigus are bald, and all others have a single crest," (Müller Id. p. 53). The Karma pradipa says, "the Vasishthas exclude meat from their sacrifice;  ~~ (Müller A. S. Lit. p. 54), and the colour of their dress was white (Id. p. 483). Many Vasishthas are named in different works as;  ~~  ~~  ~~, and some others, bearing no other connection with our author, than that of their having been members of the same family (Müller's A. S. Lit. p. 44).

Without dilating any longer with further accounts relating to the sage Vasishtha of which many more might be gathered from various sastras, I shall add in the conclusion the following notice which is taken of this work by Professor Monier Williams in his work on Indian Wisdom p. 370.

"There is", says he, "a remarkable work called Vasishtha Ramayana or Yoga Vasishtha or Vasishtha Maharamayana in the form of an exhortation, with illustrative narratives addressed by Vasishtha to his pupil the youthful Rama, on the best means of attaining true happiness, and considered to have been composed as an appendage to the Ramayana by Valmiki himself. There is another work of the same nature called the Adhyatma Ramayana which is attributed to Vyasa, and treat of the moral and theological subjects connected with the life and acts of that great hero of Indian history. Many other works are extant in the vernacular dialects having the same theme for their subject which it is needless to notice in this place."

Vasishtha, known as the wisest of sages, like Solomon the wisest of men, and Aurelius the wisest of emperors, puts forth in the first part and in the mouth of Rama the great question of the vanity of the world, which is shown synthetically to a great length from the state of all living existences, the instinct, inclinations, and passions of men, the nature of their aims and objects, with some discussions about destiny, necessity, activity and the state of the soul and spirit. The second part embraces various directions for the union of the individual with the universal Abstract Existence—the Supreme Spirit—the subjective and the objective truth—and the common topics of all speculative philosophy.

Thus says Milton: "The end of learning is to know God".

So the Persian adage, "Akhiral ilm buad ilmi Khoda."

Such also the Sanskrit, "Savidya tan matir yaya." And the sruti says, "Yad jnatwa naparan jnanam."

i. e. "It is that which being known, there is nothing else required to be known."

Footnotes and references:


Dr. Rajendra Lala Mitra in Bengal, Benares and Orissa; Dr. Buhler in Guzrat; Dr. Keilhorn in the Central Provinces; Dr. Burnell and other Collectors of Sanskrit manuscripts in the Presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Oudh, whose notices and catalogues have highly contributed to bring the hidden treasures of the literature of this country to light.