The Greatness of True Knowledge
It is by performance of ritual duties and observance of prescribed rules that the demerits of former births are expunged. Upon removing former demerits, understanding turns of itself to become aware of spiritual matters, like the simultaneous flight of a crow towards a falling coconut. But those devoted only to ritual acts are like people plunged in an eddy in which they whirl up and down until they come to perceive the state of supreme (joy). Seeing this (illusory) state of the world, a man must shake off the delusion of his worldly-mindedness, just as the elephant breaks loose from his chains.
This spiritual knowledge was first given to princes, but afterwards it came to be known under the title of royal science (raja vidhya, kingly science). This royal science is of a hidden, esoteric nature. It is also the best kind of spiritual knowledge. Many kings have been set beyond the reach of calamity by knowledge of this science.
It is too intricate, O Rama, to understand the course of this boundless world. Not even the greatest of embodied beings can know it without true knowledge. Know, O support of Raghu’s race, that men of great understanding have passed over the unfordable ocean of the world by means of the raft of their knowledge and reason. Without the remedy of right reason, the unceasing excitement of the senses and the fears and miseries of the world will continually disturb the mind. There is nothing other than rational knowledge that can enable holy men to endure the afflictions of the opposite extremes of heat and cold and wind and rain. The constant cares and miseries which befall to men at every step sometimes serve to torment the ignorant mind like a flame of fire burns straw. But the troubles of this world cannot afflict a wise man who knows the knowable and discerns all things; just as it is impossible for the flame of fire to burn wood drenched by rain.
O best of the eloquent, you must not receive instruction from one unacquainted with truth. Whoever asks such a person anything is the greatest of fools. He is the basest of men who does not carefully attend to the words of the truth-telling teacher who is asked about anything. He is the best inquirer who seeks answers from a person who demonstrates by his actions whether he knows the knowable or not. A person who asks boyish questions without determining the teacher’s qualifications is reckoned a vile inquirer incapable of knowing great things.
When asked, a wise man will reply to him who is able to comprehend the former and later propositions, and who is possessed of a good understanding, but he should make no answer to a vile brutish being. The teacher who gives his lecture without examining the capacity of the inquirer to grasp his meaning is pronounced unwise by the learned.
It is said there are four guards who keep watch at the gate of liberation (moksha), namely: peace (equanimity, self-control), judgment (spirit of inquiry), contentment, and company of the good. At least one of them is to be sought with diligence, even at the expense of one’s life. Because by securing one of these a man can reconcile and gain all four.
The wise man is a receptacle of all scriptures, of all knowledge and austerity, and is a gem on earth, just like the sun is the receptacle of light. The dull understanding of a senseless man becomes as stiff as a block, and like water freezing as hard as stone.
The true light of things dawns only in the minds of the wise, just as the gentle moon appears only in a clear and cloudless sky. He is truly called a man who can judge (the truth) by the major and minor propositions, whose mind is expanded and filled with brilliant ingenuity.
Whatever business or investigation someone undertakes, it must be brought to a happy conclusion that tends towards his peace and tranquility. If men of good understanding did not have the solace of philosophy, what rational being could dare bear the misery that ignorance brings in this world? All the faculties of the mind are absorbed in contemplation of the Supreme, like solar heat dissolves the rocks of boundary mountains at the end of the world. The Supreme Soul of infinite manifestations exists by itself. It passes through and supports the whole in the form of void and understanding and as light to all living beings.
Rama, the intolerable stomach cramping pain caused by this venomous world is healed only by yoga meditation, just like the poison of a snakebite is removed by garda incantations. One obtains the capacity for yoga by discussing the scriptures in the company of good people, which alone can provide us with the great charm of spiritual knowledge.
It must be recognized that we lessen our sorrows by acting with reason. A reasoning man gets released from his worldly sickness. He quits his frame which is full of diseases just like a snake casts off his time-worn skin. He looks with a placid mind and calm composure upon the magic scenes of the world. Hence a fully wise man is not subject to the misery of the imperfectly wise.
Rama, look upon this assembly of great sages, rishis, brahmins and princes who have fortified themselves by the armor of wisdom and are liable to no pain or grief, yet they are engaged in the arduous affairs of this world with minds as placid as yours. Moreover, there are many of the best of men who with their spiritual light and pure understanding reside in this world like the gods Hari (Vishnu), Hara (Shiva) and Brahma above all concerns and fluctuating desires of life.
When serenity of the mind and calm repose of the heart are secured, all the senses are subjected to peace and everything is viewed in an equal light, and this knowledge of the truth gives delight to our journey in this world.
Excerpts from “Yoga Vasishta” by Sage Valmiki, translated by Vihari Lala Mitra