A Comparative, Critical and Synthetic Survey of The Philosophical Ideas of Vasistha as Presented in the Yoga-Vasistha Maha-Ramayana
B. L. Atreya, M.A., D.Litt.,
Retired Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology and Indian Philosophy and Religion.
Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi-5
THE CHARACTER OF THE LIBERATED LIVING MAN
We are already familiar with Vasistha’s conception of a liberated living man (Jivan mukta). He is the person who has realized the Absolute Experience, and has freed himself from the bond of karmas, and so his thoughts and actions no more promise a future world-experience for him. He is experiencing apparently a world and individual existence as a consequence of his previous desires and imagination. The thoughts and actions, after the moment of Self. realization, have become grilled, as it were, in the fire of knowledge and their essence, vasana (desire) which would have made them fructify into future world-experiences, is fully dried up.
How does such a man live in the world? How does he behave in life which is the last for him ? What is his attitude and conduct towards his fellow-beings ? What is his attitude towards the physical body? How does he act, how does he enjoy, and how does he feel in life ? These are some of the interesting questions which arise in this connection. In this chapter we propose to gather what Vasistha has said on these problems. We shall first study the character of the liberated living man in general and then under particular aspects. The following is a general description of the character of the liberated living man :
“Pleasures do not delight him, pains do not distress. There is no feeling of like or dislike produced in his mind, even in serious, violent and continued states of pleasure or pain. Although externally engaged in worldly actions, he has no particular attachment in his mind for any object whatsoever. All his activities are free from desire and attachment. He has neither love for any object, nor hatred for it. He moves amongst worldly things, but not as one who is in need of them. Although outwardly not appearing so, he is at his heart above gill cravings. He does not trouble anybody nor is he troubled by anybody. Evil qualities like covetousness and delusion lose their hold on him. He divines the hearts of others and behaves with them agreeably, and talks sweetly and nobly. He exercises his judgment very swiftly and makes right choice between two courses of conduct. His conduct does not annoy any body he behaves like a citizen and a friend of all. Outwardly he is very busy, but very calm and quiet at heart. He does not disregard what he gets, nor does he hanker after what he has not got. He is always at peace and undisturbed under all circumstances. In spite of his entirely being free from desires and wishes, he keeps himself engaged in the natural course of actions. And throughout his activities he remains untainted by them. Freed from the restrictions of caste, creed, stage of life (asrama), custom and scriptures, he comes out of the net of the world as a lion from a cage. He rests unagitated in the Supreme Bliss. He does not work to attain any result for himself. He is ever happy, never hanging his joy on anything else. His face is never found without the beauty of cheerfulness on it. He neither welcomes life nor shuns death. He never binds himself to anything. He always looks satisfied. He lives as freely as monarch. He is full-hearted, quiet and self respecting. He remains undisturbed even in the midst of enemies. Even in the midst of great changes of prosperity and misery, or enjoying festivities, he neither experiences joy nor sorrow. He is never afraid, feels never helpless, nor dejected. He remains firm and calm like a mountain.
He has nothing to do with supernormal powers, enjoyments, influence nor honour. He does not care for life or death. He behaves with other fellow beings as the occasion and (the status of ) the person require, without the least stain in his mind. In the company of devotees he is like a devotee. To the knave he is a knave. He plays a child in the company of children he is a youth among the young he acts as an old man in the company of the aged ones. He is full of courage in the company of courageous people, and shares the misery of the miserable ones. He has nothing to do with good acts, with sensual pleasures, with karmas or with renunciation of pleasures. There is nothing which he has to obtain. He therefore undertakes and gives up actions, without much concern, as children do. In spite of being occupied with actions in accordance with time, place and circumstances, he is not touched by the pleasures or pain arising from them. He never feels despondent, proud, agitated, cast down, troubled or elated. In spite of being surrounded by enemies, all around sometimes, he is full of mercy and magnanimity. He engages himself in actions thinking them to be cosmic movements isva-parispanda) to be carried on without any personal desire. He does not hanker after the pleasures that are not in his hand, but enjoys all those he has.
He does not feel that he has done anything. His heart does not cling to his acts, whether he does them or not. He looks upon his wife, children, friends and wealth as the consequences in his desires of previous life, but now as dream objects to him. Now be- does not cherish any desire for the world, women and wealth, for he has attained unique satisfaction, and, while living in the world, he is dead to it. The ideas of “I” and “mine”, of some things worthy of attainment and others of avoidance are lost within him. The lustre of his face never rises nor sees. It is uniformly present throughout, for he is ever satisfied with what he has. Although he seems to be acting in accordance with like or dislike, fear, etc., yet within him he enjoys an emptiness like that of the sky. In spite of his being engaged in all things, he is cool-headed and full-minded.”
Compare the Bhagavad Gita, how Prof. Radhakrsnan has described the mystics :
`The mystic does not recognize any difference between the secular and the sacred. Nothing is to be rejected everything is to be raised. … Feeling the unity of himself and the universe, the man who lives in spirit is no more a separate self-centred individual, but a vehicle of universal spirit. … He is able to face crisis in life with a mind full of serenity and joy, … They walk on thorns with a tread as light as View of Life, pp. 115 116.) These rare and precious souls, filled with the spirit of the whole, may be said to be world. conscious. They have the vision of the self in all existences and of all existences in the self. … Those who develop this large impersonality of the outlook delight in furthering the plan of the cosmos in doing the will of the Father. They are filled with love and friendliness to all humanity. We are called upon to love our enemies as ourselves, a rule more honoured with our lips than observed in our lives. To those dwelling in the spirit of God, it is the natural law of their being. They have an abiding realisation of the secret oneness which is the basis of universal love. … It (love) lasts even the night is dark and the stars arc hidden and man seems forsaken of all. It is the love that does not expect any reward, return or recompense. … They are … sovereigns over themselves. Theirs is a spontaneous growth and not a routine conformity. … They are not worried about the standardized conceptions of conduct. Naturally, the seers are free from dogmatism and breathe the spirit of large tolerance. … He continues to act. without the sense of the ego. (Ibid., p. 124.)
The liberated man has obtained all that was to be obtained by him, i. e., the Self. Now there remains nothing which he has to achieve or which he has to discard. There is nothing heya (to be avoided) or upadeya (to be obtained) for him now. And so he has nothing to do. Having nothing to do, he does everything that falls to his lot. Yet he keeps himself so free that he may give up any action, at any time; without the least affectation. All his actions, therefore, are free from binding effect upon him. “He, for whom. the ideas of heya (avoidable) and upadeya (desirable) are meaningless, has nothing to do with giving up activity or taking resort to it. For the liberated one there is nothing here troublesome and, therefore, to be avoided. Nor is there anything for him so attractive that he should make efforts to obtain it. No purpose of the wise man is served by any activity, nor by abstaining from activity. He, therefore, stays as occasion suits him. Even doing all sort’s of actions, the liberated ones are always in samadhi (intense concentration on the Reality). An ordinary man acts only to obtain a thing which is not in his possession already, but when the wise man has become one with the Self, other than whom nothing else exists anywhere, for what can he cherish any desire, what will he think of attaining, and so why should he engage himself in any purposive activity ? A desireless man would not, likewise, even desire inactivity.”
Similarly, we find in the Bhagavad-Gita : “But the man who rejoices in the Self, with the Self is satisfied, and is content in the Self, for him verily there is nothing to do for him there is no interest in things done, in this world, nor any in things not done, nor does any object of his depend on any being.”.
He is therefore not an idle man, nor is he an active man in the ordinary sense. He is a transcendental actor, a maha-karta (great doer). The conception of a Maha-karta is, according to Vasistha, the following : “He is a maha-karta, who acts as occasion requires it, without any consideration as to whether his action. according to the conventional standard, is right or wrong who acts without any anxiety, egoistic feeling, pride or impurity of heart whose mired is not attached to good or bad acts, to a right or wrong course of action who indifferently engages himself in any activity or gives it up, and is uniformly calm at heart in either case who is in his temperament calm, and who never loses his balance of mind, and is never changed while engaged in actions good or bad whose mind is uniformly the same in the circumstances of origin, existence, and decay, or rise and fall of anything around him.”
The bustle and activity of the world which he may be engaged. or in the midst of which he may be living, are not at all any source of disturbance or annoyance to the liberated man, Even attained the highest state of experience, is not at all affected when he rules over the city of his body, as a man rides on a machine. The body does not cause him any pain. It is for him an organ of freedom and enjoyment (bhoga). For the wise man his body is a pleasure garden. The body is a source of innumerable pains and sufferings to the ignorant only. But for the wise it is a means of all kinds of enjoyments and pleasures. To the wise the body is always a source of pleasure. It is to him what Amaravan (the city of gods) is to Indra. The wise man never obstructs his senses from enjoying what is present before him, nor does he provide for them what he has not yet got. They are not philosophers but fools, who do not allow their organs of action to go on with their proper functions, themselves remaining calm at heart. It is only the foolish and ignorant who run away forcibly from the natural functions of their body. As long as sesamum seed exists, so long is its oil in it in the same way, so long as the body exists, it must have its natural functions. He, who does not allow the body to have the exercise of its proper functions, would cut the sky with a sword, in which he cannot succeed. The proper way of escaping from the physical functions of ,the body is not by mortifying the senses, but by raising one’s mind above the body into the state of evenness acquired by Yoga. It is desirable that, as long as the body lasts, one should undergo all natural and proper states of the body physically, but not mentally. There is no harm in doing all that is natural.”
“He is equally at peace whether he is living in the solitude of a forest or in his home with a big family around him. “There is no difference between the enlightened one who resides in a forest and one who is actively engaged in the world. Both are equally Self. realized. The mind of the latter is free from action in spite of its activity, for there is scarcely any desire in it. The activity of such a man is like the listening of a man to a lecture when his mind is absent, The freedom of mind from activity is the best samadhi (concentration on the Self.) The home itself of those householders whose mind is set fully on the Self, and who are free from the evils consequent on ego, is a solitary forest. For such people forest and home are equally the same. He is ever in samadhi who always looks upon the: Self either as be) and all affirmations or immanent in all affirmations. He is in samadhi who sees the Self in all things, and so is ever in peace of mind, neither thinking of anything else nor anxious, for it. Such a man who has become free from attachment to objectivity, and whose mind has become highly purified, does not become anything, does not do anything, is not defiled by anything like gold in mud, whether he stays. at home in the midst of all kinds of pleasures and surrounded by, a big family, or he retires into a big forest where no object of enjoyment is near by or even if he dances, intoxicated with wine, and is mad with, love, or when, having given up all, he goes to live on a mountain whether he besmears his body with all kinds of fragrant pastes, or casts himself into the fire whether he commits horrible sins, or highly virtuous acts are per. formed by him whether he dies today or after millions of years”.
“The liberated one has no need to run away from the pleasures, of the world, nor does he run after them. He enjoys all pleasures that fall on his lot and craves for none that are away from him, He is not a cynic, he is not a puritan, he is not an ascetic nor is he a pleasure seeker, a man whose happiness hangs on the enjoyment of any pleasure, a passionate lover of enjoyments. He is something above and different from both these types. He is a transcendental enjoyer of all kinds of pleasures as well as the their consequent pains, “All the pleasures of the world are to be enjoyed as the ocean enjoys the rivers running into it. They should neither be desired nor shunned, but should be enjoyed as they themselves fall to our share in accordance with our fate. The wise man enjoys all the pleasures that come to him without any effort for them on his part, in a sportful and detached manner, in the same manner as the eyes enjoy a scene before them. The wise man is not pleased or displeased while enjoying the pleasures of life that accidentally (i. e., unsought) fall to his lot. It is a peculiar trait of the wise man that he does not desire the pleasures that he has not, got nor does be discard from enjoyment the pleasures that he has. He enjoys what he has.”
“The liberated one”, according to Vasistha, is, therefore, a mahabhokta Great enjoyer. “He is called a maha bhokta who does not shun anything, nor banker after anything, but enjoys, all that. is natural who remains looking upon the activities of life as an impartial witness. without attachment or desire who, even enjoying anything, does not enjoy it (in the same way as others enjoy it who finds equal pleasure in old age, death, misery, poverty and ruling over an empire who receives equally all great pains or pleasures, like all waters received by the ocean who eats with equal gusto the eatables of all tastes (sweet, bitter, etc.). of ordinary or superior quality to whom everything is equally good whether it is tasteful or tasteless, extremely pleasant or unpleasant and who enjoys with uniform mind all prosperity and misery, the pleasures of the world or those beyond it, and even a delusion.”
The liberated one is not an ascetic who would torture his physical body. The body is not an evil or an enemy to the wise man. It is a production of his previous willing (samkalpa) and will continue to exist as long as the force of the samkalpa is not exhausted. It is not anything imposed on him from without. There is no war between the body and the spirit in his case. It is no longer something that limits his Consciousness. Now, it is rather a temple of Divinity. The wise man has control over all its functions, because he has control over his mind and consequently over his vital currents (prangs) and sense-organs. The body is now a kingdom to him over which he rules without any danger of disobedience or revolt from any side of it. The wise man rules over the kingdom of his body in the same detached manner as he would rule over an empire. He enjoys his body in the same manner as he would enjoy anything else. He does not make his body abstain from its natural functions but allows them legitimately free scope. He does not paralyze any of the natural instincts of body for want of proper exercise. For he knows that he does not gain anything in doing that. Nor has he to gain anything from bodily functions or pleasures.
There is no difference between the external conduct of wise man and that of an ordinary man. The difference does not lie between the activities of life (vyavahara) it lies in the mentality of the two, in their attitude towards the activities in which they are engaged in apparently the same manner. “In the activities of life, the liberated one is the same as the ignorant. The difference, however, consists in the presence of desire in the cause of the latter, which is totally absent in the former. The wise ones, who are free from clinging to the states of the body, externally appear to undergo, in the same way as the ignorant man does, the pleasures and pains of the body accordance with the states of the body.” The whole difference is mental.
The mind of a liberated man is not a mind in the ordinary sense. The emotions of a liberated man are also different from the emotions of ordinary people. Even if the liberated man seems to have some desires, they are not desires (that bind), really speaking. They are automatic and reflex activities. They do not originate from the deeper layer of his ego or individuality. They have no warmth of feeling. They will, therefore, not bind him. “The ignorant mind is called mind. The enlightened mind is called sattvarn (being). Mind experiences another birth, but the sattva does not. The mind of the knower of the Self comes to utter negation. It is transmuted into the turya (fourth state of experience). It has melted as ice melts in heat. Desire in the liberated ones is called sattva. It has not to fructify into any future experience, like a fried seed.” According to the Mundaka Upanisad also, the desires of a man of Self-realization do not promise a future existence as in the case of those of an ordinary man : “He who broods on and longs for objects of desire, is born according to his desires. But in the case of one who has realized the Self and so has attained all his desires (finally), the desires end here in this life.”
Liberation, says Vasistha, should not be confused with the attainment of supernormal powers. The liberated man has nothing to do with them. He may possess them or may not, The supernormal powers, as we have already seen, can be obtained by any one who applies himself to obtain them, whether he is a liberated man or not. Their possession is not a mark of liberation, nor does liberation necessarily lead to such powers. “The supernormal powers like flying in the sky, etc., can be attained by appropriate means and efforts, by any man, whether he is a knower of Reality or not. But he who has realized the Self, and has become free from desire, is above such ideas. He has nothing to do with flying in the air, with powers, pleasures, influence, honours, life or death. If a realized man also, wishes to have any supernormal power, he, too, can have them by proper methods.”
James Allen, an English writer of fame, says : “The Kingdom of Heaven being established in the heart, the obtaining of the material necessities of life is no more considered, for, having found the Highest, all these things are added as effects to cause the struggle for existence has ceased and the spiritual, mental and material needs are daily supplied from the Universal Abundance.” (A Book of Meditations, May 22 )
Similarly, Vasistha thinks with regard to the prosperity and protection of the liberated living man. “All miseries leave him who puts on the world a value equal to that of a straw, as snakes leave their old skin (slough). Him, from whose heart emanates purity all around, the guardian-angels of the world (Lokesas) protect and support, as they do the entire Cosmos. “He, “who does not seek anything particular, gets the Self and everything in perfection and entirety.” In IX, 22 of the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna also says that He Himself looks after the worldly needs of His devotees.
In fact, this life, the life of Liberation is the real life. It is the best way of living. It is the happiest life on the earth. He whose mind sever gives up the vision of reality, “His is really the beautiful and happiest life who sees things rightly who never feels that be has done anything whose mind is never attached to anything who is even under all circumstances who looks upon the world with the eye of a witness, free from likes or dislikes, and at peace in the heart who has directed his mind within, after having come to know everything rightly, and having given up all ideas of desirable and avoidable who, having acquired the standpoint of Truth, sportfully performs all worldly actions, although he has, no desire for them who, moving in the world, is neither. annoyed nor elated from whom good qualities emanate all around, as white swans fly all around from a pure lake having seen whom, having heard about whom, having met with whom and having remembered whom, all creatures feel joy. As the beauty of a tree increases immensely in the spring season, so also the strength, the intellect and the lustre or beauty of a man increases when he knows the Truth. All enjoyments of life multiply in proportion with the increase of detachment, as trees multiply in the rainy season.”
Having lived this kind of free, active peaceful and happy earthly life as long as the physical body lasted, the liberated individual acquires, after the death of the physical body, the states of “Disembodied Freedom” (videha-mukti). Now he is not bound to be reborn. He enjoys conscious identity with the Absolute in a bodiless existence, and as such, he is the Brahman. So Vasistha says : “As a gust of wind enters the motionless air, so, after the physical body has been overtaken by death, the liberated person enters the state of disembodied, Liberated one. The disembodied liberated knows no rising nor setting nor extinction. He is neither being nor non being neither self nor not-self. He is not far off from anything. This state is called Mukti, Brahman and Nirvana. It is the most Perfect state of Existence.”
A question now may arise, does the disembodied, freed person totally cease to be an individual or does he continue to exist as such?
According to the Advaitavada of Samkara, which is based on the Upanisads, there occurs total emergence of the liberated individual into the Absolute Brahman after the death of the physical body. Vasistha, on the other hand, does not regard total mergence as a necessary mark of Liberation or Nirvana. The kernel of Liberation, according to him is conscious realization of complete oneness with the Brahman. It makes little difference whether this occurs in an embodied state or in a disembodied one. It is not necessary or compulsory that the liberated individual should totally cease to continue as an individual. He may or may not do so. Some freed sages continue to exist as individuals, of their own accord, and take part in the Cosmic activities, disseminate knowledge and help other individuals in working out their Liberation. Vasistha. Krsna and Buddha are some examples. Speaking about the disembodied sage, therefore, Vasistha says:
having become a Visnu, he protects them,
having become a Rudra, he destroys them;
having become a Sun, he supplies heat to them.
Having become Space, be holds the atmosphere with all the gods, demons and sages within it
having become the Earth, he supports the creatures
having become Flora, he supplies fruits to all beings
having become Fire, he burns
having become Water, he flows rapidly
having become a Moon, he scatters nectar;
having become Poison, he kills
having become the Ocean, he surrounds the earth
having become the Greatest Sun, he illuminates steadily all the worlds and the particles composing it.”