By Kimaya Singh
The Yoga Vasistha is regarded to be one of the most important and influential Indian teaching stories about the practice of Yoga. The Yoga Vasistha was written between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. It is comprised of over 30,000 lines, known as shlokas in Sanskrit. The Yoga Vasistha is fundamentally a series of teaching stories that illustrates the Hindu philosophy of non-dualism through the unfolding of a conversation between Vasistha and a young disillusioned prince by the name of Rama. As the story unfolds, Vasistha explains to Rama the creation of the world, the nature of the soul, how our perceptions create our experience of the world, the existence of multiple universes in the world, and the ultimate liberation of the human soul. It is a profound set of teachings that encompasses many of the different aspects of non-dual philosophy as found in Advaita Vedanta.
Just like the Buddha, Prince Rama returns from one of his first ventures into the world and returns to his palace very disillusioned by what he has seen and experienced. Prince Rama’s father, King Dasaratha, becomes very distraught at his son’s distress, so he hires the renowned sage Vasistha to explain the real meaning of life to his son. Vasistha tells King Dasaratha that his son’s melancholy or dispassion is actually a sign of spiritual readiness for receiving the profound teachings of non-dualism. The Yoga Vasistha is the transcript of the entire dialogue between Vasistha and Rama that occurred in the court of King Dasaratha over the course of the next several days.
Many Indian scriptural texts are structured in this manner with a Yoga student receiving instructions and clarification from a sage, saint, God or Goddess about the ultimate underlying reality of the universe. It is believed that reading and contemplating the great teaching stories of the Yoga Vasistha can lead a devotee to enlightenment. This text is one of the most beloved scriptures in Hinduism because it offers a Yoga practitioner a very rationale and grounded way to incorporate spirituality into everyday life.
The Yoga Vasistha also offers a Yogi or Yogini advice on how to act in accordance with the divine laws of Vedantic philosophy while living in the world. The Yoga Vasistha is viewed as a manual for living a dharmic, divine and uplifting life outside of an ashram, monastery or Himalayan cave. In other words, as a “house-holder.” The teaching stories, didactic exchanges between Vasistha and Rama, parables and subtle exposition of Yogic philosophy can bear great fruit in the life and practice of a Yoga student.
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