The Vanity of the World
O sage! This seemingly pleasing but actually unpleasant world has nothing in it that produces anything that can afford tranquility to the soul.
Those who do not yield to grief during troubles, who are not elated with prosperity or smitten at heart by women, are rare in this world. Those who fight boldly in battlefields and withstand war elephants are not so very brave, in my opinion, as those who withstand the surges of the mind amidst the streams of carnal appetites. I see no deeds in the world that endure to the final liberation of men. Actions proceeding from a fool’s desire for results serve only for their restlessness on earth.
Men who have filled the corners of the world with their fame and valor, who have filled their houses with true riches acquired by honest means and an unwavering patience, are rare in the world.
Our sons and riches are mere objects of delight to us. To expect them to be of any good to us in the end is as false as to expect any benefit from distilling poison.
To the worldly minded, all wealth — whether forthcoming or unattainable, whether gotten by labor or given by fortune — is as deceitful as the flooding of a river, swelling only to subside.
Whatever we see in the world, living or inert, are all as impermanent as things seen in a dream. What today is a mountain reaching the sky covered with extensive forests is in course of time leveled to the ground, and afterwards is dug into a pit. The man who is very powerful today and presides over principalities, in a few days is reduced to a heap of ashes. Water becomes land and land becomes water. Thus the world with all its contents composed of wood, grass and water becomes something else in course of time.
Our lives in this world are as unsteady as the flame of a lamp placed by the draft of an open window. The splendor of all objects in the three worlds is as flickering as the flash of lightning.
As a granary stored with heaps of grains is exhausted by its continued waste, so is the stock of life spent away by its repeated respirations.
The minds of man are as fluctuating as a flag waving in the air. They are filled with the dust of sin, indicating their wavering between the paths of heaven and hell.
Many things are decaying and renewing day by day. In this ever changing world there is no end to this accursed course of events. Men degenerate into lower animals, and those again rise to humanity. Gods become no-gods. There is nothing that remains the same.
We have prosperity at one moment, succeeded by adversity at another. We have health at one time, followed by sickness soon after. What intelligent being is there who is not misled by these delusions of the world which show things other than what they are and serve to bewilder the mind?
Who is there so sedate and firm that he is not terrified at these sudden appearances and disappearances, at the momentary durations and final dissolution of worldly things? What is the nature of this world in which we are overtaken by adversity at one moment and elated by prosperity at another, where one is born at one time and dies at another?
A pot is made of clay, and cloth is made of cotton, and they are still the same dull materials of which they are composed. Thus there is nothing new in this world that was not seen or known before. There is nothing that does not change its form. The acts of creation and destruction, of diffusion, production and preservation follow one another like the revolutions of day and night appear to man.Sometimes it happens that a weak man slays a hero, or one individual kills hundreds. So also a commoner becomes a noble man. Thus everything is changeful in this varying world. These bodies of men are always changing their states and are like bodies of waters rising and falling in waves whipped by the motion of winds.
The actions of producing and harvesting, of feeding and destroying, come by turns to mankind like the rotation of day and night. Neither adversity nor prosperity is of long duration with worldly people. They are ever subject to appearance and disappearance by turns.
Excerpts from “Yoga Vasishta” by Sage Valmiki, translated by Vihari Lala Mitra