Introduction to Vasishta-Gita

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The Brihat (great) Yoga Vasista or the Yoga Vasista Maha Ramayana, as it is also called, contains over 29,000 verses in Sanskrit. It is ostensibly attributed to Valmiki, author of Ramayana. This is probably a case of modesty on the part of the actual author(s) or compiler(s) attributing it to a great sage.

Based on internal references in the text of the Yoga Vasista, it has been dated as early as the sixth century A.D. and as late as the fourteenth century. The study made by T.G. Mainkar claims that the work went through three major phases. In the beginning there was, now lost, the original work of Vasista. It was expanded into the Laghu Yoga Vasista into about 6,000 verses, and finally into the substantially larger form of the Yoga Vasista Maha Ramayana. According to him, the original work was an Upanisadic text.

When the original work was expanded into the Laghu Yoga Vasista, Buddhist ideas were incorporated. When the final phase came into being, it reflected the influence of the Saivite Trika School, also known as Kashmiri Saivism.
The principal figures of the Yoga Vasista are Rama and Vasista. While Rama is known as the chief character of the great Ramayana epic, Vasista is a more ancient figure to whom the seventh mandala of the Rig-Veda is attributed. Sankara, in his commentary on Bhagavad-Gita, refers to Vasista as the first sage of the Vedanta school based on his contribution to Rig-Veda.

The Yoga Vasista consists of spiritual instruction given to Rama by the sage Vasista. The whole text chronicles progressively the states which Rama undergoes in his search for enlightenment, ultimately leading to meditation and its culmination in Nirvana. However, Rama's enlightenment does not require the rejection of his responsibility as the ruler, but allows him to rule in the light of his newly acquired knowledge.

The language and style of the Yoga Vasista is elegant and poetic. The text abounds with metaphorical descriptions, tales of fantasy and philosophical discourses, all within the context of dialogue between Rama and Vasista. It appeals to both intellect and imagination.


Essentially, the text is syncretic, is affirmative of concepts, symbols and religious traditions by a process of selection and reconciliation. It is an affirmation of Monism. Threads of Vedanta, Jainism, Yoga, Samkhya, Saivism, Mahayana-Buddhism, etc are intricately woven into the text, only to emphasize Monism.

The chief characteristic of the Yoga Vasista Maha Ramayana is its emphasis on the doctrine of ‘mind-only'. This is similar to the ‘mind-only' tradition of the Yogacara-Budhism as enunciated in the Lankavatara Sutra. Both describe mind (manas) as a creative force. Both negate the reality of the world, claiming that all appearances proceed from the mind. Both assert that through the purification of past impressions, by human effort, enlightenment is achieved. Both emphasize that meditation is the means to this end.

The Yoga Vasista holds that the highest human achievement is to become liberated in life, to achieve the state of Jivanmukta.

The present work is based on a condensation of the Laghu Yoga Vasista, by way of choice, into about 230 Sanskrit verses, by an unknown compiler, titled as Yoga Vasista
Sara - the essence of Yoga Vasista. This is titled the Vasista-Gita as it is, philosophically, the essence of the teaching of Vasista in Yoga Vasista Maha Ramayana. This compilation includes only a few slokas (verses) of the Yoga Vasista relating to self-effort for realization of the Divine Self. This philosophy of self (human) effort is in fact traced to its origin to the Anusasanaparva of the Mahabharata wherein Brahma imparts to Vasista the knowledge that human effort is the key to enlightenment and that there is no such thing as external fate. This philosophy runs counter to the concept of fatalism, which is wrongly propagated to have permeated the Indian thought in the past.

The brief commentary on the liberal translation of each of the slokas of the Yoga Vasista Sara is followed by an appendix containing a brief account of the role of self-effort for enlightenment as stated in the main text of Yoga Vasista Maha Ramayana.

 

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