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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Yoga Vashista--Renunciation vs. Worldly Obligations 

Glimpses of the Yoga Vashishta

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Denmark, 26.4.82

(from "Yoga Magazine")

The excerpt contains a discussion of an important issue--whether one should renounce worldly obligations and devote oneself totally to one's spiritual practice or else try to maintain a balance between the two.  It is a question that is relevant today.

"Yoga Vashishta is the name of one of the most ancient and famous scriptures of India. The name literally means "the Yoga of Sage Vashishta", Vashishta being the name of a great rishi or seer. He was the guru of Rama, a great emperor, and he was also the family guru (kula guru) of a ruling dynasty of ancient India called the solar dynasty.

The scripture takes the form of a dialogue between Rama and Vashishta in which the question is raised as to whether karma (duty and work) or renunciation is most conducive to spiritual illumination. Vashishta says that both duty and renunciation are necessary. A bird needs two wings in order to fly, and in the same way, for the spiritual flight, also the two wings of fulfilment of one's own duty and inner renunciation are required.

The dialogue concerns the dilemma of Rama in his relationship with life. When he was young he was sent to live with his guru for twelve years. When he returned he began to neglect his daily duties and did not participate in the family affairs. He became depressed and did not take interest in his family and friends. He used to sit in his room and brood, and led a very undisciplined life.

Rama's argument

His father Dasharatha became perturbed and summoned Rama and confronted him. He said, 'My son, you have lived with your guru for twelve years and When you came back, we expected you to fulfil your commitments, obligations and responsibilities. What has happened to you that you are completely withdrawn and disinterested in life?'

Rama replied, 'I am not interested in this world because here everything is evanescent. Every pleasure is temporary. I see no fun in relating myself to the frivolities of life. Why should I participate in life when it is so transitory? What is the use of pursuing the affairs of life if they are to come to an end? Life is so short and uncertain that one doesn't know whether one will live for another second. The more one does karma, the more one develops samskaras (mental impressions); and the more one develops samskaras, the more one has pains; the more the pains, the greater the anxieties and worries, and the more one gets entangled in life and death, life and death. This endless circle will never come to an end. So I am withdrawing myself.'

Karma or meditation

His father got worried and requested Sage Vashishta to set his son's philosophy in order, and this dialogue is the text of the Yoga Vashishta. Vashishta tells of the secrets of spiritual life and the relationship between karma and realisation. He explains that it is not at all necessary to renounce karma and only do meditation. Many people are misguided and they think that they have to leave work because by work they accumulate more work and more samskaras. They think that by doing karma they become impure and contaminated. And for this reason they retire from the active arena of life. Vashishta makes it clear that this is not at all necessary. What is important is that one should aspire towards spiritual life, whilst continuing to live in the world.

(image from internet)

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