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After Valmikiwrote the epic
Ramayaņa, called in full, Poorva Ramayaņa, he was approached by Brahma, the creatorof the world,
to write a book that would free humans of worldly misery and make them
eternally blissful. Thus, was born the scripture known variously
as Uttara Ramayaņa, Maharamayaņa, Arsha-Ramayaņa, Gyananavasishtha, Vasishtharamayaņa, more popularly called the Yogavasishtha .
The two most important
questions we can ask concern how to live a good life, and how to attain supreme
bliss. One is about ‘ought’ and the other about knowing the
‘self’. In the Ramayaņa, Valmikishowed how one
ought to live a good life, how a king ought to rule, and how a husband, a wife,
a brother, and friends ought to be.
By learning the ‘oughts’ of
life, we can lead a good life, but this does not make us
free of suffering. Even a so-called ‘good’ person maybe plagued with troubles
such as anger, envy, jealousy, disease and old age and, ultimately, death.Being a good person is not enough; something
more is required. It is to teach this ‘something more’ that Valmiki wrote
the Yogavasishtha. In fact, one can properly
understand the popular Ramayaņaonly by reading the Yogavasishtha
Although the Yogavasishtha
is voluminous, its central message can be expressed in a few statements:
Nothing exists except absolute consciousness (also called
universal consciousness or Brahman), and the world is the imagination of this
universal consciousness. The universal consciousness is absolute and perfect.
All change happens in the phenomenal world, (which has no independent
existence, as it is just an imagination of absolute consciousness). All the
beings of the world are no different from the universal consciousness, as they
emerged out of it. All the misery that is experienced by individual beings
happens because they mistakenly identify themselves with their body and forget
that they are essentially the same as the universal consciousness, Brahman.
Since misery arises out of ignorance of the self, it ends with knowledge of the
Ever since humans began to think and wonder, they have asked many questions. If we examine all these questions, we realise there are ultimately no more than a dozen fundamental questions. Such questions would arise in any thinking person all over the world in every age. They are perennial questions, and throughout the Yogavasishtha, these questions have been asked several times by Rama or some other disciple: What is this ever-changing world? Why is it there? Who created this worldand why? What was there before the creation of the world, and what will remain after it is destroyed? Why do we see so much misery around us? What is man? Where do all beings come from and where do they go? What is mind, and how is it quietened? How is illusion (maya) created, and how does one break this illusion and see the absolute truth? How does ignorance arise in pure consciousness?
Most of these questions, however, have no answers as they are beyond the scope of the intellect. When we try to answer these questions, we only get into further mess, and that is why the wise have called them ultimate questions, atiprshnas. One must, therefore, not waste time trying to solve these eternal questions, but find ways of quietening the mind and becoming blissful.
Nearly at the end of the Yogavasishtha, Vasişţha tells Rama about a dialogue between him and King Prajnapti. The king puts twenty questions to Vasishtha, and the latter answers them in five chapters. If we read just this section properly, we would understand everything that is discussed in the Yogavasishtha.
Throughout the Yogavasishtha, Vasishtha answers Rama’s questions so thoroughly and repeatedly that at the end of it even a stone would get liberated. He says many things, and gives many proofs and arguments, but ultimately all these boil down to just one thing: how to quieten the mind and realise our intrinsic blissful nature.