Arjuna’s predicament of fighting and killing his own kinsmen and gurus in the Mahabharata War, and Lord Krsna’s advice and thus the former’s enlightenment are well known. Moving away from the traditional Mahabharata narration, Yoga-Vasistha presents a different narrative approach by the Vedic seer, Vasistha – about the Krsna-Arjun dialogue –to his pupil Rama as if it would happen eventually in the remote future.
While the Bhagavad-Gita accounts for Krsna’s teaching of eighteen forms of yoga in 700 verses, Vasistha narrates sixty stories in more than 28,000 verses, making Yoga-Vasistha as one of the lengthier and most lyrical philosophical discourses in the world. In the course of the narrative, Vasistha summarizes how to attain liberation, the essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, in seven chapters.
This lucid translation of Moksopaya, a section of the Yoga-Vasistha, encapsulates the message of Krsna, through the poetic narration of Vasistha. Arjuna experiences the dissolution of his ignorance, overcomes his attachments and arrives at a point of freedom. The author, by choosing to highlight the story of Arjuna from two sources, has melded together the wisdom of two great epics-Bhagavad-Gita and Yoga-Vasistha-providing the reader with unparalleled access to the great truths and insights of yoga and liberation.
Mahamandaleshwar Swami Veda Bharati (D. Litt.), Chancellor, HIHT University, Dehru Dun is a world visionary, having been known to recite and teach the system of Indian philosophy, language, literature and scriptures from the age of nine. A graduate from the London University, Swamiji is a D.Litt. from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. In one of his sojourns in the US, as professor of Sanskrit at the University of Minnesota, Swamiji met Sri Swami Rama of the Himalayas his Gurudeva. Swami Rama, recognizing the potential of Swamiji, initiated him to the highest path of dhyana-yoga.
For the last sixty-eight years, Swamiji has been lecturing on meditation and Yoga, worldwide, and establishing meditation centres across the globe. He has authored numerous books and articles. His two ashrams in Rishikesh are well recognized as the authentic seats for learning the depths of meditation in the tradition of Himalayan masters.
The Bhagavad-Gita is one of the most beloved works of India’s religious traditions. It employs one of the most central human activities-receiving advice from a cherished friend-as a literary device to teach a profound path through which one may negotiate life’s tremendous challenges and difficulties. Arjuna, tortured by the prospect of a looming yet unavoidable war against his own relatives, freezes on the battlefield. He sees no good reason to carry on with the inevitable killing of his teachers, cousins, friends, and other relatives. He seeks counsel from a trusted friend and cousin, Krsna, whom he has chosen to serve as his charioteer in battle. Through Krsna’s sound advice, he learns the ways of knowledge, action, and devotion. Through these forms of yoga he regains his stability and sets forth with new resolve to re-engage with the world and perform the necessary deeds. Arjuna’s struggle serves as a paradigm for effective decision-making. He embodies the archetype of the sensitive hero, a warrior who plunges into battle not due to anger or greed but due to an abiding sense of duty and responsibility. He engages selflessly, beyond ego, after a long period of discernment and insight.
In the traditional Mahabharata narration of this encounter, Krsna overwhelms Arjuna’s petty faintheartedness and selfish obsessiveness by demonstrating to Arjuna that all things in the world are not only inseparable from God, but that God, in the form of time, will render all forms formless. All manifestations are fleeting. Not only all soldiers, but all people eventually perish. By showing Arjuna the evanescent nature of life and by revealing himself, Krsna, to be the warp and woof of all reality, Arjuna comes to his senses and rejoins the fray.
The yoga-Vasistha presents a slightly different narrative approach to the education of Arjuna. Vasistha, one of the original seven Vedic seers (rsis), tells his version of the story to his pupil Rama as if it would happen eventually in the remote future. We know from the first book of the Yoga-Vasistha, titled Vairagyam (dispassion),that Rama has a moment very similar to that of Arjuna in the Mahabharata. Rama is a teenager who has fallen into a state of deep melancholy. The sage Visvamitra praises Rama’s insights into the ephemeral nature of worldly concerns, and knows that the young prince would benefit from deeper philosophical training. At his urging, Vasistha, another great sage, begins to teach him through telling a series of stories that undermine any attachment to the fixity of things-as they-appear. Just as Krsna helped broaden and deepen Arjuna’s understanding, Vasistha instructs Rama.
The book known as the Moksopaya or the Yoga-Vasistha consists of more than sixty stories told by Vasistha to Rama to help stabilize his mind and eventually prepare him for adult responsibilities. Whereas Krsna teaches eighteen forms of yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita in 700 verses, Vasistha tells these stories over the course of more than 28,000 verses, one of the world’s most lengthy philosophical discourses. Toward the end of the narrative, Vasistha summarizes the Bhagavad-Gita over the course of seven chapters, hoping that the lesson learned by Arjuna can also be instructive for his pupil, Rama.
Though many verses in these chapters are directly quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita, some pronounced differences must be noted. True to his enduring theme throughout the Yoga-Vasistha, the author urges that the universe be seen as inseparable from pure consciousness, equating this state as the union of atman and Brahman. Rather than naming Krsna as supreme, he emphasizes that God must be seen in all things and that the only path to achieve this knowledge is to renounce all sense of separation, all sense of ego. Vasistha beautifully describes the path to liberation as requiring purposeful purification. He urges the exertion of human will over the deleterious effects of past karam (Vasanas). With profoundly poetic language, Krsna, as narrated by Vasistha, instructs Arjuna on how to overcome his attachments, to see through the changes, beyond the drama, to the core reality of existence. All things arise in the mind due to the conditioning of the mind. With a purified mind, all things are possible. Arjuna arrives at this point of freedom, announcing:
With his ignorance dissolved, Arjuna takes up action once again on the battlefield of life.
This rendering by Swami Veda Bharati brings to light this important and unique version of the encounter between Krsna and Arjuna. In the philosophy of the Yoga-Vasistha, the ultimate is portrayed as universal and omnipresent. Rather than emphasizing the divine personhood of Krsna, Vasistha teaches that all things in the universe must be seen as markers around an inclusive spaciousness rendered meaningful by consciousness. Swami Veda’s delicate translation brings to the reader a sense of freedom, the space of pure consciousness (cid-akssa). Just as Arjuna learns of his true nature from this dialogue with Krsna, so also the reader of this new translation will catch a glimpse of the beauty and the soaring possibilities of freedom. Freedom is to be discovered not by rejecting the world, but in the words of Krsna, by knowing that the true self neither is born nor does it die (52.36), allowing the eye to see, the ear to hear, the skin to touch, the tongue to taste in a state free from attachment (53.6), ready and willing to act within the world in accord with dharma.
Swami Veda’s lucid translation evcapsulates the message of Krsna (and Vasistha) as follows: unrelenting thoughts (vrtii) prevent the soul from seeing its true nature and sully the soul’s perception of the world. By overcoming all past conditioning (vasana) and realizing the all-pervasive nature of pure consciousness, one can find freedom to act in a manner free from attachment, for the betterment of one’s self as well as the world. By choosing to highlight the story of Arjuna from two sources, Swami Veda has melded together the wisdom of two great literary epics, the Gita and the Yoga-Vasistha, providing the reader with unparalleled access to the great truths and insights of yoga.
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