About the Book
The immediate experience of truth, Brahman, through determined discrimination, reflection, and deep contemplation, is the focus here... The Bengali text Yoga Vasistha Sarah, translated and with commentary by Swami Dhiresananda, is superb and unique. It specially features anvaya of the Sanskrit verses and the commentary of Mahidhara, along with the translation; and elaborate notes and explanations which present difficult-to-under-stand Vedanta doctrines and philosophies in a language both scholarly and understand-able to common readers. Swami Dhiresananda’s explanations, based on his own deep understanding and on what he heard from various highly illumined souls of the Himalayas, carry a charm which not only satisfies the intellect, but touches the heart... Swami Vivekananda, teaching at Thousand Island Park, said. “Obey the scriptures until you are strong enough to do without them; then go beyond them.”
The Yoga Vasistha has been the beloved text of so many of the sages... In this important book we now have access in English to an important contemporary commentary on the wisdom of the Yoga Vasistha. By showing the ever-changing nature of appearance through fables and spell-binding tales, the text brings us ever closer to an appreciation of the consciousness that observes and witnesses all things.
Writing in 1895 about religions’ search for unity, Swami Vivekananda states, “Some religions could not solve the problem beyond the finding of a duality of causes, one good, the other evil. Others went as far as finding an intelligent personal cause, a few went still further beyond intellect, beyond personality, and found an infinite being.” (Complete Works, vol. 9, pg 285). Undoubtedly, the Yoga Vasistha Sarah is a scripture belonging to this third class. It does not discuss rituals, nor engage in scholarly debate or argument. The immediate experience of truth, Brahman, through determined discrimination, reflection, and deep contemplation, is the focus here. This makes the text so special for seekers of truth.
It is interesting to note that the Yoga Vasistha, according to many scholars like Walter Slaje, Leslie Julia, and Christopher Chapple, is a syncretic work containing elements of Vedanta, Jainism, Yoga, Sankhya, Saiva Siddhanta, and Mahayana Buddhism.
The Bengali text Yoga Vasistha Sarah, translated and with commentary by Swami Dhiresananda, is superb and unique. It specially features anvaya of the Sanskrit verses and the commentary of Mahidhara, along with the translation and elaborate notes and explanations which present difficult-to-understand Vedanta doctrines and philosophies in a language both scholarly and understandable to common readers. Swami Dhiresananda’s explanations, based on his own deep understanding and on what he heard from various highly illumined souls of the Himalayas, carry a charm which not only satisfies the intellect, but also touches the heart.
This is a humble attempt to present this unique and profound Vedantic treasure (written by Swami Dhiresananda in Bengali) for the first time in English. Along with translation of the Sanskrit text, Mahidhara’s commentary, Swami Dhiresananda’s explanations, and anvaya of the Sanskrit verses, word-to-word meaning of each verse has been added here to make it more comprehensible.
Utmost care has been taken to be truthful to the original Bengali edition, resisting the temptation to polish and smooth the language at the cost of losing the meaning of Swami Dhiresananda’s original words. It was a tough job to be loyal to Swami Dhiresananda’s unique writing style, while at the same time remaining truthful to the original Sanskrit verses. In his explanations, the Swami has referred to many verses from other Vedantic texts, translating them to provide an insight into the philosophy of each of the verses of the Yoga Vasistha Sarah, As the Swami did not mention editions of the texts to which he referred, some discrepancies in verse or page numbers may be found. In every case, we have faithfully followed the Swami’s translation, rather than the original source text. For some terms we have provided additional, extended analysis in the footnotes.
The translation work was possible thanks to the selfless contributions of many monks and devotees. I express my gratitude to them all. I am grateful to Swami Swahananda for his blessings and encouragement for this translation. Swami Varadananda (Chicago) as also Bhakti (an American devotee of Hollywood) took immense care in going through the whole manuscript with its proofreading and editing. Swami Mahayogananda and Devadatta Kali guided me in many ways.
Though ambhasanarn Sanskrit website (spokensanskrit.de) was of much help, yet finally the suggestions and corrections of Dr. Krishna Mukherjee (Maryland) were indispensable for figuring out the word-to-word meaning of the Sanskrit verses. Online publications available from Sivananda Asrama of Hrsikesa, Ramana Asrama, and many other Vedantic schools were of much help. To prepare Sanskrit verses and their transliteration Itranslator 2003 software from Omkarananda Asrama was used. One of the anonymous volunteers assisted me towards the final preparation of the book using all these resources.
Swami Vivekananda, teaching at Thousand Island Park, said, “Obey the scriptures until you are strong enough to do without them; then go beyond them. Books are not an end-all. Verification is the only proof of religious truth. Each must verify for himself.” (CW, vol. 7, pg 9). I hope and pray that this humble offering will inspire us all to reach this goal.
The Yoga-Vasistha is a highly favored book of great souls who are engaged in the practice of Vedanta. It is a book that they hear recited frequently and reflect on with deep reverence.
Once a North Indian monk, nearly a hundred years old, introspective by nature and continually engrossed in Vedantic discrimination (viveka), observed, “The essential teachings are given in the Yoga Vasistha. According to the aspirant’s level of understanding, this book will appear suitable for listening (sravana), for reasoned reflection (manana), for meditation (nididhyasana), or for absorption into the Self (samadhi). “
To a yearning soul, the Yoga Vasistha is like a book of instruction (Sravana); to a person of discrimination, the Yoga Vasistha is like a book of reflection (manana), to one who practices meditation, the Yoga- Vasistha is like a book of contemplation (nididhyasana); and to a knower of Truth, the Yoga Vasistha is like Self-absorption (samadhi).
The sage Vasistha said, ‘The one who can reflect on this book three times with a one-pointed mind will surely attain the knowledge of Brahman’. That is why this text is so dear to renunciates (sadhus)!’
The creation of this universe comes about only through the will of Brahma, and so long as that resolution remains, the creation will continue. How many ways of describing the creation are found in this book! This happened, that happened, so many things happened,” but, we are told that in reality nothing happened. How very strange indeed! There was a monk who used to read from the Yoga Vasistha every day to Swami Vijnanananda, the guru of the king of Tihiri. Vijnanananda would listen, sometimes sitting, sometimes lying down, as he wished. Sometimes the monk would enter into a contemplative mood and remain for a while with eyes closed, following a passage such as this: ‘O Ramji! In reality there is no such thing as the universe of past, present and future (trikala). Only the Atman, which is of the nature of eternal consciousness and devoid of any change, abides forever in its own glory’. After a while the monk would begin reading again. The swami used to remark” ‘This sadhus reading is exactly as it should be. His mind touches the ground of reality-Atman, the Self. That is why I like his reading so much.” So should one read and reflect on the Yoga Vasistha, withdrawn from worldly activities and with the mind focused inward. Only then does it reveal its true meaning.
The visible universe is a vast appearance or a mere reflection without lasting reality; it is also Brahman, pure consciousness ever-existing in all forms and in its own majesty. This is the essential message of the Yoga Vasistha. That truth, beyond speech and mind, cannot be understood by the misleading imagination of the mind or expressed in language. The truth can be known by a tranquil mind alone. Human attempts to express that experience in words only give rise to many different doctrines and dogmas and fuel endless disputation. As soon as one tries to convey the experience in words, distortions appear. Just as between the two sides of a drum there is a gap or an empty space, so too a gap exists between each word and every drum beat. A great soul once put it this way:
Bol sabahin dol baraabar,
pol sabahin me poora.
Abol tatwa ko samjhaaota nahin,
jo samjhaaota so koora.
Words and drumbeats are alike. Both exist within a greater void. No one can express the truth that lies beyond words, and that which is expressed by words is (ultimately) untrue. Vedanta focuses on direct realization of the atman and on total liberation (moksa). It is necessary to ask what ‘direct realization of the atman ‘ means. Atman is not an object of sensory knowledge. Atman is self-luminous (svaprakasa). By definition svaprakasa is ‘not (something) illuminated by anything else, but that which illuminates all other objects’ (anyan-avabhasyate sati svavyatirikta sarva-prakasakatvam). Then how is the direct experience of the Atman possible? The reply is: the Atman is devoid of any sense of objectivity and beyond the ordinary kind of knowledge or experience that arises from mental modifications. What it truly is can never be stated clearly. That is why some say that the Self is insentient (jada), others say it is void (Sunya), still others say that it is nonexistent (asat). In Vedanta also, to try to make it understandable, various words, such as knowledge of the Self (Atma-jnana), knowledge of Brahman (Brahma-jnana), and so forth, are employed, but no one can say clearly that ‘Brahman is surely like that’.
The Jnana Sankalini Tantra (verse 52) declares:
ucchistam sarva-sastrani sarva-vidya mukhe mukhe,
nocchistam brahmano jnanam-avyakta-cetana-mayam.
All scriptures and all knowledge uttered by the lips have been defiled; but Brahman, which is un-manifest and of the nature of Consciousness and (true) Knowledge, has never been defiled.
In other words, Brahman is inexpressible.
Similarly, liberation (moksa) is also beyond the range of words. It has been said that moksa is the state of attaining the supreme bliss. Properly understood, it is not the gaining of a vast amount of joy from somewhere else. To be released from all types of suffering is truly called liberation. What that experience is cannot be said. The purpose of all the Vedanta texts, in reality the goal of all scriptures, is to help people turn their attention away from the visible universe. The Mimamsaka does this by enticing us toward heaven; the Vedanta does it by discussing liberation. No one can say what the essential point is. The commentator Sri Sankaracarya also said, ‘The purpose of sravana, manana and nididhyasana in Vedanta is to help the spiritual practitioner to withdraw the mind from those things that are non-Self. This Self, which is self-luminous, cannot be expressed. In reality, everyone is the ever-free Atman only. Bondage to this world and freedom from it are, in truth, the imaginings of the mind.
Every enlightened soul has the same awakening, but attempts to express it give rise only to dogmas and disputes. The Vedanta conveys the same message of freedom to all. In reality every single being is free. Visible objects, births and deaths, this world and the other, actions and the results of the actions, rebirth, and so on-all are mere dreamlike reveries. This is what the Yoga Vasistha prodaims. To let go of the habit of superimposing false imagination on the truth and to attempt always to abide in one-pointed love of the Atman is spiritual practice.
In the Yoga Vasistha, the seer Vasistha elucidates this essential truth through various stories and instructions. The teacher is Vasistha, his student is Ramacandra, the supreme renouncer and crest-jewel of the Raghu dynasty.
In this book the translator’s preface is also an introduction. I hope that all readers will study attentively the facts that are collected here and the comments that are expressed. The translator (Swami Dhiresananda) is not merely the translator but also the commentator. He has made his elucidation very rational by adding quotes from many authoritative texts on Advaita Vedanta. The original text, the Yoga Vasistha, is more appropriate for (interior) contemplation (nididhyasana) than for (intellectual) reflection (manana). As has been said in the translator’s preface, an aspirant can easily attain Self-knowledge by reading this (present) book with utmost faith and devotion. Such is the extraordinary grandeur and insightfulness of its language. This book is highly suitable for reflection and discrimination because of the added elucidations. Therefore, the resources that are needed for the aspirant following the path of Knowledge are present here and plentifully so. The reader need only be willing to benefit from them.
This introduction comes in response to a request for presenting the philosophical view of the Yoga Vasistha Sarah, but it is a difficult task to separate a doctrine (vada) from its essence. In this case it is impossible, because the objective of the compiler is to help the spiritual aspirant toward Self- realization through meditative assimilation (nididhyasana). That is why we have to go back to the original Yoga Vasistha, which is endless and unfathomable, like a vast ocean. This ocean is very perilous. If some trail-blazer, who labored all through his life, had not appeared before us, it would have been impossible (for us) to overcome the pitfalls and collect the gems that are scattered here and there. That person is the esteemed professor Vikhan Lal Atreya. All future writers on the Yoga Vasistha must acknowledge their indebtedness to this honorable scholar. The present translator and the writer of this introduction likewise acknowledge their indebtedness to him.
Before entering into the doctrine it is necessary to show the logical consistency among the chapters. This will make clear that the original author (of the Yoga Vasistha), the compiler (of the Yoga Vasistha Sarah), and the present interpreter are proceeding in exactly the same direction.
There are ten chapters or prakaranas in the Yoga Vasistha Sarah. The first chapter is “Detachment” (Vairagya-prakarana), wherein the spiritual practices for acquiring the knowledge of Brahman are described, after ascertaining the competence of the practitioner. The practices are three: service to the sadguru, holy company and discrimination (vicara). Enormous emphasis is placed on the discriminative acumen of the disciple. In a nutshell, proper discernment reveals that the ignorance of the individual soul, or forgetfulness of the true Self due to misunderstanding, leads to bondage. Both (bondage and ignorance) are eradicated by Knowledge that ‘the world is false (mithya)’ and ‘the Self (atman) alone is true (satya)’. Even if one knows that everything in this world is momentary and impermanent, the world does not seem to be unreal. The desire for enjoyment is its cause. Enjoyment is for happiness; but to a person of discernment (worldly existence) is suffering (duhkha) before enjoyment, after enjoyment and even at the time of enjoyment. Duhkha is present in acquiring the object of enjoyment and in protecting the object of enjoyment, as well as in depression, separation, and disease. (Conversely), at the beginning, middle and end, there is bliss and bliss alone in the knowledge and contemplation of sat-chit-iinanda atman. This joy is inseparable because it is my real nature. That is why the first chapter is said to contain ‘the essence (sara) of the essence (sara).’
In the second chapter, ‘Falsity of the Universe’ (Jagat mithyatva prakarana), the deceptiveness of the world is elucidated.’ Why is the world mithya? For this reason: with the dissolution of mind, it vanishes. That is to say, the creative ideation of the mind-the single imaginative power centered in the mind and known as maya (illusion)-conceptualizes the non dual Brahman-Self in the forms of various objects (that appear) as perceivers and the perceived. The root cause of this is vibration (spandana). As soon as the vibrations of the mind are stopped, the mind is dissolved, and with the dissolution of the mind the world also dissolves. This imaginative power is extremely strange: ‘It is expert in making the impossible possible’ (aghatana-ghatana-patiyasa). It causes to appear that which is not there, and it causes forgetfulness of that which is eternally there, the real nature of all. But in this mind there is a special stream of vibration, which is called discrimination (vicara). For maya, this is the deadly weapon for her own destruction. By applying this weapon, one brings about the destruction of all visible objects (gross, subtle and causal) and gains knowledge of the Self and establishment in that true Self. The world appears because of ignorance concerning the atman, the world is destroyed by the knowledge of the Self. Mithya means that which is not absolutely true (sat), yet it can be seen Cat one moment) and then ceases to exist.
The third chapter is ‘Self-knowledge’ (Tattva-iiuina-prakarana). The knowledge of the Self should have been elaborated in this chapter, but instead the compiler has described the signs of a jivan-mukta, one who is liberated while living. The objective is to bestow the knowledge of the Self first by showing the ideal and then by making clear the goal. Thereafter the next three chapters are entitled ‘Dissolution of the Mind’ (Manolaya-prakarana), ‘Destruction of Latent Impressions’ (Vasana-upasama-prakarana), and ‘Contemplation of the Self’ (atma-manana-prakararana).
The seventh chapter is ‘Ascertaining the Means of Purification’ (Suddhi-nirupana-prakararana). This is a supremely lyrical chapter in the music that Yoga-Vasistha is. As by reading other books on Advaita, one desires to retire to the forest to practice spiritual discipline, in the same manner, after reading this book, one desires to stay in the world and in society, remaining untouched in the knowledge of the Self. In this chapter the great sage teaches his disciple Ramacandra to roam about, grounded firmly in the knowledge of the Self-established in his own Self beyond the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep, remaining outwardly active and inwardly tranquil, being a doer outwardly and a non-doer inwardly.
Devanagari Pronunciation Guide
Introduction of the Bengali Edition (1968)
Foreword to the Bengali Edition (1968)
Gurubhyoh Namah: Salutations to all the gurus
The Grandeur of the Yoga Vasistha
The Unreal Nature of the Universe (Jagat-mithyatva-prakarana)
Self- Knowledge (Tattva-jnana-prakarana)
Dissolution of the Mind (Manolaya-prakarana)
Destruction of Latent Impressions (Vasana-upasama-prakarana)
Contemplation of the Self (atma-manana-prakarana)
Ascertaining the Means of Purification (Suddhi-nirupana-prakarana)
Adoration of the Self (Atma-archana-prakarana)
Exposition of the meaning of the Self (Atma-nirupana-prakarana)
The State of Emptiness and Non-emptiness (Sunya-asunya-pada-prakarana)
Index of verses (with chapter and verse number)
Index of explanatory notes (with chapter-verse-note numbers)
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