The Yoga Vasistha

Translated by Swami Venkatesananda
State University of New York Press, 1984
adapted by Pankaj Seth

         CREDIT: PANKAJ SETH, 2009

The 7 stars comprising the ‘Big Dipper’ are considered the self-reflexive eyes of the 7 seers of the Vedas. In Sanskrit, this cluster of stars is called Rksa (Protection). Sage Vasistha is a legendary, mythic figure who has been visioned and heard by mystics, and in a shamanic culture such as India this is not unusual. The Yoga Vasistha is a very important text in the sacred tradition of India and has been part of its vibrant oral history for a very long time. The teaching of Yoga by Sage Vasistha is considered by historians to have been set to writing around 500 CE. What follows are two brief selections from the voluminous Yoga Vasistha - Freedom and Pranayama.

Attachment is that which makes the conditioning of the mind more dense, by repeatedly causing the experiences of pleasure and pain in relation to the existence and the non-existence of the objects of pleasure, thus confirming such association as inevitable and bringing about an intense attachment to the objects of pleasure.

This dense conditioning which exists in the unwise is itself known as attachment. If you abandon this attachment, which causes perverse notions in you, the actions that you may spontaneously perform here will not affect you.

If you strive to destroy the conditioning (concepts, notions, habits), then in a moment all your errors and illnesses will vanish. However, until the mind is free from the spontaneous movement of thoughts, cessation of conditioning is difficult, and vice versa. And unless the truth is realized, the mind does not cease its spontaneous movement, and vice versa. Yet again, until the conditioning ceases, the unconditioned truth is not realized, and vice versa. Since realization of truth, cessation of the movement of thoughts and the ending of conditioning are interwoven, it is extremely difficult to deal with them individually and separately.

Wise ones declare that the abandonment of conditioning and the restraint of prana are of equal effect: hence, one should practice them simultaneously. Prana is restrained by the practice of pranayama and the Yoga asana, as taught by the guru, or by other means. When desires, aversions and cravings do not arise in the mind even though their objects are in view, then it is to be inferred that mental conditioning has weakened; thence wisdom arises, further weakening the conditioning. Then the mind ceases its spontaneous and aimless activity.

It is not possible to restrain and train the mind without proper methods. Knowledge of the self, company of holy beings, the abandonment of conditioning and the restraint of prana are the means to overcome the mind. Ignoring these and resorting to practices like Hatha Yoga, austerities, pilgrimages, rites and rituals in a blind and forceful way is an error. Self-knowledge alone bestows delight on you. A person of self-knowledge alone lives. Hence, gain self-knowledge.

Live here as a liberated sage. Such a being lives conjoined with inner harmony, without pride or vanity, without jealousy and with his senses fully under his control. Even when all the objects of the world are spread out before him, the liberated sage, who is free from cravings, is not tempted by them, but engages himself in mere natural actions. Whatever is inevitable, appropriate and creates peace, he does. His joy and delight he derives from within; thus he is freed from this world-display.

Prana is indistinguishably united with the mind. In fact, the consciousness which tends towards thinking, on account of the movement of Prana, is known as mind. Mind and movement of thought are inseparable; the cessation of one is the cessation of both. The wise ones declare that the mind is caused by the movement of prana; and hence, by the restraint of prana, the mind becomes quiescent. There are two ways by which this quiescence can be achieved. One is the way of Yoga, which involves restraint of the movement of thought, and the other is the way of knowledge, which involves the right knowledge of truth.

The movement of Prana is arrested at the moment when all hopes and desires come to an end in one's heart through the earnest practice of the precepts of the sacred texts and sages, by the cultivation of equanimity and by the practice of contemplation and meditation such that truth is known.

The movement of prana is also arrested by the effortless practice of breathing, without strain, in seclusion, or the repetition of the sacred Om with the experience of its meaning, and when consciousness reaches the state of deep sleep.

The practice of exhalation, when the prana roams in space without touching the limbs of the body, of inhalation, leading to a peaceful movement of prana, and of retention, bringing it to a standstill for a long time, all lead to the arrest of the flow of prana. Likewise the closure of the posterior nares by the tip of the tongue as prana moves towards the crown of the head, the practice of meditation where there is no movement of thought, the holding of consciousness steadily at a point twelve inches from the tip of the nose, the entering of prana into the forehead through the palate and upper aperture, the fixing of the prana at the eyebrow center, the sudden cessation of the movement of thought, or cessation of all mental conditioning through meditation on the space in the heart-center over a long period of time, all these lead the arrest of the flow of prana. Here, "heart" does not mean the organ in the chest, but consciousness which alone is the heart of all beings.

By any of these methods, propounded by various teachers, the movement of prana can be restrained. These Yoga methods bring about the desired results only if they are practiced without violence or force. When one is firmly established in such practices with simultaneous growth of equanimity, and when the mental conditioning comes under perfect restraint, there is fruition of the restraint of the movement of Prana.

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