The story of Vasistha and Arundhati (shown) begins the text.
Yoga Vasistha (Sanskrit: योग-वासिष्ठ, IAST: Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha) is written by Valmiki,. The complete text contains over 29,000 verses. The short version of the text is called Laghu Yogavasistha and contains 6,000 verses. The exact century of its completion is unknown, but has been estimated to be somewhere between 6th-century to as late as 14th-century, but it is likely that a version of the text existed in the 1st millennium.
The text is named after sage Vasistha who is mentioned and revered in the seventh book of the Rigveda, and who was called as the first sage of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy by Adi Shankara. The text is structured as a discourse of sage Vasistha to Prince Rama. The text consists of six books. The first book presents Rama's frustration with the nature of life, human suffering and disdain for the world. The second describes, through the character of Rama, the desire for liberation and the nature of those who seek such liberation. The third and fourth books assert that liberation comes through a spiritual life, one that requires self-effort, and present cosmology and metaphysical theories of existence embedded in stories. These two books are known for emphasizing free will and human creative power. The fifth book discusses meditation and its powers in liberating the individual, while the last book describes the state of an enlightened and blissful Rama.
Yoga Vasistha teachings are structured as stories and fables, with a philosophical foundation similar to those found in Advaita Vedanta, is particularly associated with drsti-srsti subschool of Advaita which holds that the "whole world of things is the object of mind". The text is notable for expounding the principles of Maya and Brahman, as well as the principles of non-duality, and its discussion of Yoga. The short form of the text was translated into Persian by the 15th-century.
Yoga Vasistha is famous as one of the historically popular and influential texts of Hinduism. Other names of this text are Maha-Ramayana, Arsha Ramayana, Vasiṣṭha Ramayana, Yogavasistha-Ramayana and Jnanavasistha.
The name Vasistha in the title of the text refers to Rishi Vasistha. The term Yoga in the text refers to the underlying Yogic theme in its stories and dialogues, and the term is used in a generic sense to include all forms of yoga in the pursuit of liberation, in the style of Bhagavad Gita.
The long version of the text is called Brihat Yoga Vasistha, wherein Brihat means "great or large". The short version of the text is called Laghu Yoga Vasishta, wherein Laghu means "short or small". The longer version is also referred to simply as Yoga Vasistha and by numerous other names such as Vasiṣṭha Ramayana.
Human effort can be used for self-betterment and that there is no such thing as an external fate imposed by the gods.
—Yoga Vasistha philosophy, Christopher Chapple
The date or century of the text's composition or compilation is unknown, and variously estimated from the content and references it makes to other literature, other schools of Indian philosophies. Scholars agree that the surviving editions of the text were composed in the common era, but disagree whether it was completed in the first millennium or second. Estimates range, states Chapple, from "as early as the sixth or seventh century, to as late as the fourteenth century".
The surviving text mentions Vijnanavada and Madhyamika schools of Buddhism by name, suggesting that the corresponding sections were composed after those schools were established, or about 5th-century. The translation of a version of the text in 14th- to 15th-century into Persian, has been the basis the other limit, among scholars such as Farquhar in 1922.
Atreya in 1935 suggested that the text must have preceded Gaudapada and Adi Shankara, because it does not use their terminology, but does mention many Buddhist terms. Dasgupta, a contemporary of Atreya, states that the text includes verses of earlier text, such as its III.16.50 is identical to one found in Kalidasa's Kumarasambhava, thus the text must be placed after the 5th-century. Dasgupta adds that the philosophy and ideas presented in Yoga Vasistha mirror those of found in Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankara, but neither mention the other, which probably means that the author(s) of Yoga Vasistha were scholars who lived in the same century as Shankara, placing the text in about 7th- to early 8th-century. The shorter summary version of the text is attributed to the Kashmiri scholar Abhinanda, who has been variously dated to have lived in 9th- or 10th-century.
Evolving text theory
Mainkar states that Yoga Vasistha probably evolved over time. The first work, states Mainkar, was the original ancient work of Vasistha that was an Upanishad with Brahamanical ideas, a work that is lost. This text was, suggests Mainkar, was expanded into Moksopaya in or after 6th-century, which is now commonly known as Laghu-Yogavasistha. The Laghu (shorter) version was then expanded into the full editions, over time, in the centuries that followed the completion of Laghu-Yogavasistha. The syncretic incorporation of Buddhism and Hinduism ideas happened in the Laghu-Yogavasistha edition, states Mainkar, while ideas from Kashmiri Shaivism, particularly the Trika school, were added to the growing version by the 12th-century. Similar serial expansion, revisions and interpolation is typical in Indian literature. Peter Thomi has published additional evidence in support Mainkar's theory on Yoga Vasistha's chronology.
The oldest surviving manuscript of the Moksopaya (or Moksopaya Shastra) has been dated to have been composed in Srinagar in the 10th century AD.
The text is traditionally attributed to Valmiki, the author of Ramayana. Scholars seriously doubt the larger version of the text was authored by Valmiki, and consider the attribution as a mark of modest respect and reverence for him in the Hindu tradition by the actual unknown author(s) or compiler(s).
The author of the shorter version, the Laghu-Yogavasistha, is generally considered to be Abhinanda of Kashmir.
The text exists in many editions of manuscripts with varying number of verses, but similar message. The full editions contain over 29,000, to a few with 32,000 verses, and in some editions about 36,000 verses. An abridged version by Abhinanda of Kashmir (son of Jayanta Bhatta) is known as the Laghu ("Little") Yogavasistha and contains 6,000 verses.
The verses of Yoga Vasistha are structured in the genre of ancient Indian literature, called Grantha. In this genre, each Shloka (verse) in the text is designed to equal 32 syllables, while conveying its message. A Grantha can be sung and depending on its meter, set to specific Raga music. This genre is found in Bhakti movement literature, and Yoga Vasistha's Advaita theories and monism influenced the Grantha literature of Sikhism, whose primary scripture is called Guru Granth Sahib.
The Yoga-vasistha is throughout a philosophical work, in the form of popular lectures, and the same idea is often repeated again and again in various kinds of expressions and poetical imagery. But the writer seems to have been endowed with extraordinary poetical gifts. Almost every verse is full of finest poetical imagery; the choice of words is exceedingly pleasing to the ear.
|— Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Cambridge University Press
The Yoga Vasistha is a syncretic work, containing elements of Vedanta, Yoga, Samkhya, Saiva Siddhanta, Jainism and Mahayana Buddhism, thus making it, according to Chapple, "a Hindu text par excellence, including, as does Hinduism, a mosaic-style amalgam of diverse and sometimes opposing traditions".
The text consists of six books:
- Book 1: titled Vairagya-prakaranam (Exposition of dispassion), which opens with Rama frustrated with the nature of life, human suffering and disdain for the world.
- Book 2: titled Mumukshuvayahara-prakaranam (Exposition of the behavior of the seeker), which describes, through the character of Rama, the desire for liberation, the nature of those who seek such liberation, and the need for self-effort in all spiritual pursuits.
- Book 3: titled Utpatti-prakaranam (Exposition of the arising and birth), describes the birth of all creation as well as the birth of spiritual side of Rama.
- Book 4: titled Sthiti-prakaranam (Exposition of the existence and settling), describes the nature of world and many non-dualism ideas with numerous stories. It emphasizes free will and human creative power.
- Book 5: titled Upashama-prakaranam (Exposition of the patience and tranquility), discusses meditation to dissolution false dualism, to feel oneness and its powers in liberating the individual.
- Book 6: titled Nirvana-prakaranam (Exposition of the freedom and liberation), the last book describes the state of an enlightened and blissful Rama. The last book also has large sections on Yoga.
The Nirnaya Sagar version of Yoga Vasistha manuscript has 1146 verses in the first Book, 807 in second, 6304 verses in third, 2414 verses in the fourth book, 4322 in the fifth, while the last is longest with 14296 verses, for a cumulative total of 29,289 verses.
You should either through yourself, or the aid of the exalted ones
, be ceaselessly engaged in the pursuit of this gentle enquiry,
Who am I? What is this universe?
It is this true enquiry alone that generates Jnana
—Yoga Vasistha 
This is one of the longest Hindu texts in Sanskrit after the Mahabharata, and an important text of Yoga. It consists of numerous short stories and anecdotes used to help illustrate its ideas and message. The text shows the influence of Advaita Vedanta and Saivite Trika school. In terms of Hindu mythology, the conversation in the Yoga Vasishta is placed chronologically before the Ramayana.
The traditional belief is that reading this book leads to spiritual liberation. The conversation between Vasistha and Prince Rama is that between a great, enlightened sage and a seeker of liberation. The text discusses consciousness, cosmology, nature of the universe and consciousness, the ultimate dissolution of body, the liberation of the soul and the non-dual nature of existence.
On who is ready for spiritual knowledge
The Yoga Vasistha states that there are four characteristics that mark someone who is ready for spiritual journey:
- Senses the difference between atman (soul) and non-atman
- Is past cravings for anyone or anything, is indifferent to the enjoyments of objects in this world or after
- Is virtuous and ethical with Sama (equality), Dama (self-restraint, temperance), Uparati (quietism), Titiksha (patience, endurance), Sandhana (uniting, peace) and Sraddha (faith, trust)
- Has Mumukshatawa, that is longing for meaning in life and liberation
On the process of spiritual knowledge
Yoga Vasistha teachings are divided into six parts: dispassion, qualifications of the seeker, creation, existence, dissolution and liberation. It sums up the spiritual process in the seven Bhoomikas:
- Śubhecchā (longing for the Truth): The yogi (or sādhaka) rightly distinguishes between permanent and impermanent; cultivates dislike for worldly pleasures; acquires mastery over his physical and mental organism; and feels a deep yearning to be free from Saṃsāra.
- Vicāraṇa (right inquiry): The yogi has pondered over what he or she has read and heard, and has realized it in his or her life.
- Tanumānasa (attenuation – or thinning out – of mental activities): The mind abandons the many, and remains fixed on the One.
- Sattvāpatti (attainment of sattva, "reality"): The Yogi, at this stage, is called Brahmavid ("knower of Brahman"). In the previous four stages, the yogi is subject to sañcita, Prārabdha and Āgamī forms of karma. He or she has been practicing Samprajñāta Samādhi (contemplation), in which the consciousness of duality still exists.
- Asaṃsakti (unaffected by anything): The yogi (now called Brahmavidvara) performs his or her necessary duties, without a sense of involvement.
- Padārtha abhāvana (sees Brahman everywhere): External things do not appear to exist to the yogi (now called Brahmavidvarīyas); in essence there is a non-cognition of 'objects' as the separation between subject and a distinct object is dissolved; and tasks get performed without any sense of agency (doership). Sañcita and Āgamī karma are now destroyed; only a small amount of Prārabdha karma remains.
- Turīya (perpetual samādhi): The yogi is known as Brahmavidvariṣṭha and does not perform activities, either by his will or the promptings of others.
In Chapter 2 of Book VI, titled as The story of Iksvaku, the text explains the state of nirvana (liberation) as follows, "Liberation is peace. Liberation is extinction of all conditioning. Liberation is freedom from every kind of physical, psychological and psychic distress. This world is not seen by the ignorant and the wise in the same light. To one who has attained self-knowledge, this world does not appear as samsara, but as the one infinite and indivisible consciousness".
The Yoga Vasistha describes the Jivanmukta, or liberated person, as follows (abridged from the 1896 translation by KN Aiyer):
- He associates with the wise. He has reached the state of mind, which sees happiness everywhere. To him, neither sacrificial fires, nor Tapas, nor bounteous gifts nor holy waters have any meaning. He is replete with wisdom and friendly to all.
- He is desireless and in his eyes there is nothing supernatural. His state is indescribable and yet he will move in the world like anybody else. His mind will not be bound by any longings after Karmas. He will be indifferent to joy or pains arising from good or bad results. He will preserve a pleasant position in the happy enjoyment of whatever he obtains.
- He is never affected by anything, whether he is in a state of Jiva consciousness or state of Shiva devoid of the Jiva consciousness.
- He is same whether he moves in a family or is a solitary recluse.
- He feels unbound by the delusions of Srutis and Smritis.
- Nothing matters to him, he is unaffected by griefs or pleasures. He is distant, he is close, he in the one Reality of Atman. He is neither clingy nor arrogant.
- He has no fear of anyone, no anger against anyone.
- When the attraction towards external objects ceases, then there yet remains the internal craving which is called Trishna (thirst). The Jivanmukta is beyond Trishna. He is, not becoming. He does not even long for salvation. He is content.
- A Jivanmukta will always transact his present duties, but neither longs for things in the future, nor ruminates upon things of the past.
- He is a child amongst children; as old men amongst the old; as the puissant amongst the puissant; as a youth amongst the young, compassionate and understanding with the grieved.
- In him is found nobleness, benevolence, love, clearness of intellect.
On Samsara and reality
There are three benefits derived from the study of books, from lectures of a preceptor, and from one's own industry, all of which are attendant on our exertions and not destiny.
This is the long and short of all the Shastras
, that diligence preserves our minds from all evils, by employing them to whatever is good and right.
To apply with diligence to whatever is excellent, not low nor mean and not liable to loss or decay, is the precept of parents and preceptors to their sons and pupils.
I get the immediate fruit of my labor in proportion to my exertion, hence I say, I enjoy the fruit of my labor and not of fortune.
Activity gives us success and it is this that elevates the intelligent.
—Yoga Vasistha 2.7.11-2.7.15 
The Yoga Vasistha describes samsara and reality as follows:
- Samsara is mundane existence with rebirths.
- The universe is full of Samsara driven by Moha (delusion), bondage, Tamas (destructive, chaotic behaviors), Mala (impurity), Avidya and Maya.
- Ignorance feeds samsara, self-knowledge liberates.
- Samsara is ephemeral and unreal. With birth, death is inevitable.
The following traditional Sanskrit commentaries on the Yoga Vasistha are extant:
- Vāsiṣṭha-rāmāyaṇa-candrikā by Advayāraṇya (son of Narahari)
- Tātparya prakāśa by ānanda Bodhendra Sarasvatī
- Bhāṣya by Gaṅgādharendra
- Pada candrikā by Mādhava Sarasvatī
Yoga Vasistha is considered one of the most important texts of the Vedantic philosophy.
The text, states David Gordon White, has served as a reference on Yoga for medieval era Advaita Vedanta scholars. The Yoga Vasistha, adds White, was one of the popular texts on Yoga that dominated the Indian Yoga culture scene before the 12th-century.
Indian freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has praised Yoga Vasistha. Quotes from his Autobiography "My Transportation For Life":
- "All of a sudden I fell upon the Yoga Vashistha, and I found it of such absorbing interest that I have come to regard it ever since as the best work on the Vedanta Philosophy. The propositions were so logical, the verse is so beautiful, and the exposition is so thorough and penetrating that the soul loses itself in raptures over it. Such a fine combination of philosophy and poetry is a gift reserved only for Sanskrit poets"
- "When I used to be lost in the reading of the Yoga Vashistha, the coil of rope I was weaving dropped automatically from my hands; and, for hours on end I lost the sense of possessing the body and the senses associated with that body. My foot would not move and my hand was at a stand still. I felt the deeper yearning to surrender it all. All propaganda, all work seemed such a worthless task, a sheer waste of life. At last the mind and the matter asserted their sway over the body and swung it back to work again"
The practice of atma-vichara, "self-enquiry," described in the Yoga Vasistha, has been popularised due to the influence of Ramana Maharshi, who was strongly influenced by this text.
Originally written in Sanskrit, the Yoga Vasistha has been translated into many Indian languages, and the stories are told to children in various forms.
- Complete translation
- Vasishtha Rama Samvaadam, Sri Yeleswarapu Hanuma Ramakrishna.
- Yogavasishtha hridayamu in seven Parts by Kuppa Venkata Krishnamurthy, also rendered into English by Vemuri Ramesam.
- Yoga Vasistha Ratnakaram, Sri Vidya Prakasananda Giri Swamy
- Copies of the Telugu and English versions were also published by Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore 570025, India
- Vasishtasudha - Yogavasishtasaram is a translation and commentary in Malayalam by Professor G Balakrishnan Nair
A painting from the Persian translation of Yoga Vasistha manuscript, 1602
During the Mughal Dynasty the text was translated into Persian several times, as ordered by Akbar, Jahangir and Darah Shikuh. One of these translations was undertaken by Nizam al-Din Panipati in the late sixteenth century AD. This translation, known as the Jug-Basisht, which has since became popular in Persia among intellectuals interested in Indo-Persian culture. The Safavid-era mystic Mir Findiriski (d. 1641) commented on selected passages of Jug-Basisht.
The unabridged text is currently being translated into Russian and published by Swamini Vidyananda Saraswati, first five books are completed by 2017.
Yoga Vasistha was translated into English by Swami Jyotirmayananda, Swami Venkatesananda, Vidvan Bulusu Venkateswaraulu and Vihari Lal Mitra. K. Naryanaswami Aiyer translated the well-known abridged version, Laghu-Yoga-Vasistha. In 2009, Swami Tejomayananda's Yoga Vasistha Sara Sangrah was published by the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. In this version the Laghu-Yoga-Vasistha has been condensed to 86 verses, arranged into seven chapters.
- 1) Complete translation
- 2) Abbreviated versions
- Vālmīki (1896). Yoga-Vâsishta: Laghu, the Smaller. trans. K Nārāyaṇaswāmi Aiyar. Madras: Thompson and Co. p. 346 pages. OCLC 989105.
- Venkatesananda, Swami (1993). Vasiṣṭha's Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 768. ISBN 0-585-06801-1. OCLC 43475324. Abbreviated to about one-third of the original work.
- Venkatesananda, Swami (1984). The Concise Yoga Vāsiṣṭha. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 430. ISBN 0-87395-955-8. OCLC 11044869. A shorter version of the above.
- The Essence of Yogavaasishtha [Sri Vasishthasangraha]. Compiled by Sri Jnanananda Bharati. Translated by Samvid. Samata Books 1982, 2002. ISBN 81-85208-14-X. Printed in India. 344 pp.
- Yoga Vasishta Sara (The Essence of Yoga Vasishta). An English Translation from the Sanskrit Original. Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, 1973, 2005. ISBN 81-88018-45-7. 36 pp.
- The Essence of Yogavaasishtha. Compiled by Sri Jnanananda Bharati. Translated by Samvid. Samata Books 1982, 2002. ISBN 81-85208-14-X. 344 pp.
- Tejomayananda, Swami: Yoga Vasishta Sara Sangraha. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai 1998
- Jyotirmayananda, Swami: Yoga Vasistha. Vol. 1–5. Yoga Research Foundation, Miami 1977. http://www.yrf.org
- Abhinanda, Pandita (2003). The Yoga Vasishta (Abridged Version). trans. K.N. Subramanian. Chennai: Sura Books. p. 588 pages.
- Vālmīki (1930). Yoga Vashisht or Heaven Found. trans. Rishi Singh Gherwal. Santa Barbara, USA: Author. p. 185 pages.
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- ^ Venkatesananda, S (Translator) (1984). The Concise Yoga Vāsiṣṭha. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 51, 77, 87, 121, 147, 180, 188, 306, 315, 354, 410. ISBN 0-87395-955-8.
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