Understanding The Yoga Vasistha: 7 Key Ideas From The Sacred Text

One of the most influential texts, if you practice yoga, it's a must read!

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Yoga Vasishta is a text which systematizes yogic philosophy and traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is one of the most important texts of Advaita Vedanta (non-duality), Samkhya, Yoga, Jainism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Pratyabhijña.

It is an amazing read if you want to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonduality or go back to the basics of yoga. 

A scene from the Yoga Vasistha

What Is The Yoga Vasistha

Originating in India, the full name of Yoga Vasishtha is Vasishta Yoga Samhita (Sanskrit: योगवासिष्ठम्), and it is also known as Arsha Ramayana, Maha Ramayana, Arsha Ramayana, Vasiṣṭha Ramayana, Yogavasistha-Ramayana and Jnana Vasistha.

It is one of the most influential texts of yoga, Hinduism, and Indian hindu religions, and some attribute it to Maharishi Valmiki, but it is not certain.

It is named after the seer Vasishta who is also mentioned in Rigveda1 Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Rigveda. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigveda., and who is considered to be the first sage of the Vedanta philosophical system. The text is written much like the puranas as a conversation between him and Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. 

The text consists of 29,000 verses and 6 books.

The teachings are presented as stories and basic philosophical ideas similar to Advaita Vedanta – believing that the whole world is the object of the mind. In this way, it speaks of Maya, material illusion, as well as non-duality and yoga. 

The text is compiled sometime between the 9th and 12th Centuries, but it was first known as Mokṣopāya. A summarized variation of the text, called Laghu Yoga Vasistha is more used among scholars. 

Yoga Vasistha has been translated into English by a number of scholars including Swami Jyotirmayananda, Swami Venkatesananda, Vidvan Bulusu Venkateswaraulu, and Vihari Lal Mitra. K. Naryanaswami Aiyer.

A Yoga Vasistha quote with a background of the universe

The Yoga Vasistha Gets To The Foundation Of Yoga

It sometimes seems we were much closer to the “truth” of life, our own existence, and the world when we first asked the questions of who am I and what is reality? 

Then, we entered into the world of yoga, divine knowledge, and spiritual search, where we encountered many concepts and had many experiences. 

However, although there are many great teachers today, in a world where every person can make and quickly publish a piece of content, there are also many self-proclaimed yogis and masters.

Many things go under the title of yoga, and sometimes, it can be helpful to get back to the root. 

Yoga Vasistha is one of those roots of yoga, texts which present the foundations. It does that through interesting stories and tales, hiding an important message in each verse.

I believe it is one of the core foundational texts if you are interested in yoga and the nature of reality and human life. 

A Yoga Vasistha quote with a background of a face outline

The Yoga Vāsiṣṭha Storyline

At the beginning of the text, Prince Rama2 Wikipedia. (2023). Prince Rama. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Rama [Accessed 12 Feb. 2024]. realizes he is unable to find satisfaction in this world, and he meets the sage Vasistha. 

Yoga Vasistha is divided into 6 parts: dispassion, qualifications of the seeker, creation, existence, dissolution and liberation.

Book 1: Vairagya-prakaranam: The first section of the book has 33 chapters and it unfolds the problems of Rama and his frustration. It talks about the transient nature of the world. But it also speaks our lives are crucial for understanding reality. 

Book 2: Mumukshuvayahara-prakaranam: Through its 20 chapters speaks about rightful conduct, the sage Vasistha explains how one should act to reach liberation. 

Book 3: Utpatti-prakaranam: The third section has 122 chapters and features many interesting stories, through which it also reveals important ideas about the illusory nature of life. It shows these stories and their characters as simply manifestations of pure consciousness. 

Book 4: Sthiti-prakaranam: In the fourth section, which has 62 chapters, there are also many stories, and the philosophy behind it explains the nature of the mind and the different states of consciousness

Book 5: Upashama-prakaranam: The fifth section with its 93 chapters, talks about controlling the senses.

Book 6: Nirvana-prakaranam: In the final, sixth section of Yoga Vasistha, which has 242 chapters, there are many stories and conversations about liberation, and how enlightened beings themselves perceive it. 

The entirety of the text does not speak of yoga as a physical practice that we often focus on today, it rather begins with frustration and concludes with realization or enlightenment

A Yoga Vasistha quote with a background of the moon and stars

7 Key Ideas In The Yoga Vasistha

1.  The universe does not exist

The text teaches that the world itself is an illusion, and does not exist.

Interestingly, modern physics has come to a similar conclusion, saying that matter and anti-matter in the universe are symmetrical. The idea is that the anti-matter should have canceled the matter, suggesting it does not exist. 

But it is difficult to think that way – we eat, walk and breathe. Some say we can view it as a dream, knowing that the past and future don’t exist, only the now. This fleeting nature of time also points to the same idea.  

In the book itself, after Lord Rama asks him about the final days of the world, the sage Vasistha says:

“The creation of the world has no cause, and therefore it has no beginning. It does not exist even now; how can it reach destruction?”

2. The mind creates the world

Close to the previous idea, the book states our minds create the world.

In Yoga Vasistha, we can find this quote:

“The mind alone is the creator of the world; the mind alone is the supreme person. What is done by the mind is action, and what is done by the body is not action.”

When we think about our lives, we can see the truth of this. All that we do, our relationships, and our work are all a result of our thoughts. It might have been subconscious thoughts or those we had a long time ago.

Sometimes we are more aware of it, sometimes less, but if we become observant of this, we can find our thoughts directly impact reality – and the same is true for everyone else in the world. 

A Yoga Vasistha quote with a background of a blue head

3. Time is not absolute

Einstein wasn’t the first to note time is relative – this idea has been a part of yogic philosophy since ancient times.

In the Yoga Vasistha, sage Vasistha explained this concept through a story of a queen who is led through her past lives by Goddess Saraswati.

The Goddes tells her it has been only 8 days since her husband died in this past life, yet he is already full grown man in this one. 

The queen didn’t understand how this is possible, then the Goddess responded:

“Just as the world and its creation are mere appearances, a moment and an epoch are also imaginary, not real. Even as in a dream, there is birth, death, and relationship all happening in a very short time, and even as a lover feels that a single night without his beloved is an epoch, the jiva (soul)  thinks experienced and non-experienced objects in the twinkling of an eye.” 

4. There are other universes

As a society, we always wondered about extraterrestrial life, and whether life outside our planet exists. 

Rishi Vasistha doesn’t only say life on other planets exists but goes beyond saying there are other universes.

In them, there are other beings, that are similar to us but live in different bodies, more suited for those universes. 

5. The mind is dead

The sage Vasistha says that the mind is dead. Yet, we allow this dead entity to disturb us every day, moment to moment.

He expresses how bizarre it is that an entity that is dead, not real, influences us so much. It only exists when we have form, but since we are beyond form, it should not have such a hold on us.  

He says:

“The mind has no self, nobody, no support and no form; yet by this mind, everything is consumed in this world. This is indeed a great mystery. To say that one can be hurt by the mind which is inert, dumb and blind is like saying that one is roasted by the heat of the full moon!”

A Yoga Vasistha quote with a background of  a woman meditating in front of a fountain

6. To overcome fear, you need to understand the nature of the mind

To continue on the previous ideas – our suffering is the result of the mind.

However, we don’t realize, that the mind cannot perceive the world as it is. It is built on conceptions, and constantly projects and makes quick assumptions. 

This builds fear in us, fear which leads to trust issues and problems in al aspects of our lives. 

Rishi Vasistha says: 

“He who is unable to understand the true nature of mind is unfit for being instructed in the truth expounded in the scriptures. Such a mind is full of fear. (…) The ignorant man is completely overcome by his own deluded mind.”

7. Fate Does Not Exist

We often attribute life events to fate.

However, sage Vasistha says the idea of fate is only a convention, something we repeatedly said is true, so it became true for us. 

“The one who says, fate is directing me to do this, is brainless and the goddess of fortune abandons him.”

However, he questions, if everything is ordained, what is the meaning of action and free will? Everything alive is active and makes decisions. What happens later, is a result of that activity.

“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


Yoga Vasistha is a huge body of work, and we only scraped the surface with the teachings we presented here. 

If you feel called to it is ideas, it can be a life-changing text. It will take some time and energy, but combined with meditation practice, it might deepen your understanding of reality and who you are.

If these teachings have sparked your interest, you can find the entire book here.

Otherwise, learn about other sacred texts through one of the guides below:

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Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

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