After a glorious salutation to Sat, Cit and Ananda, the Real, the Luminous and the Ocean of Bliss, the story that is the Yoga Vasistha unfolds...
The setting for the entire work is set into motion with the very first question, asked to the ancient sage Agastya :
"Which of the two is conducive to liberation, work or knowledge?"
A classic dilemna given in many Indian texts.
Is freedom or liberation dependent on doing anything at all? Or is it just about a deeper level gnosis or knowledge? If freedom was dependent on doing something, wouldn't that imply that it could be taken away?
And what exactly does liberation mean anyway? The text will define it very soon but it is good to examine such lofty concepts ourselves directly.
When you ask your Self of selves what liberation is, what do YOU come up with?
And what do you feel in your heart of hearts is the answer to the question above?
I used to believe Shankaracarya in his Atmabodha, when he said that work can never lead to liberation, that liberation is beyond cause and effect. But then one of my yoga teachers argued otherwise. The Yajnavalkya Samhita, a classical hatha text agrees with the answer that Vasistha gives.
Which is this:
"Verily, birds are able to fly with their two wings: even so both work and knowledge together lead to the supreme goal of liberation... both of them together form the means."
The deeper answer to the why of this answer unfolds in a strange way like a Russian doll, its structure reminiscent of the layering of our own mind. A story is opened within a story within a story. Until we arrive at a layer involving the sage Valmiki, who then opens another layer, the main layer of the text. The story of the God Prince Rama of epic fame and the court guru Vasistha, and their dialogue.
Before we go there, lets sit longer with the answer of the two wings, Action and Knowledge, because this question forms a powerful container for the entire text to come. We might ask what action and knowledge are. I've seen them also translated differently but it doesn't really matter. Going back to the Sanskrit roots honestly doesn't even concern me here. What mostly matters is the intent of these words...
One involves the relative truth of Reality which is ever changing. The other involves something absolute which is constant.
Perhaps we are getting closer to the intent of these words action and knowledge?
What is the relationship between the changing and the constant? Are we able to recognize each of these aspects of Reality separately?
Back to the beginning for a moment....
Yoga Vasistha opens with a beautiful prayer to Sat, Cit and Ananda.
Sat, the Real is acknowledged first. The sum total of all. Everything.
Cit, the Consciousness/Luminosity is that very light that sees. This is constant, undying, unchanging.
Ananda, the Bliss. Moving, changing, experiencing, filled with life.
These are the three aspects that are saluted in the opening verses of Yoga Vasistha. Thus it is fitting that the question is asked very quickly as to whether work or knowledge is necessary. Regardless of what liberation actually is, are we aware, cognizant on some level of all of these three levels of our being?
'Work' or 'action' takes place through movement and change, even if that movement is somehow apparent.
The 'knowledge' described here is not head knowledge. It is direct and constant. It is the Light itself which illuminates, which sees, which knows.
Why is there not a third category to describe some sort of concept related to Sat, the Real? Because this is completely beyond all movement and non-movement. The Real is just the Real. Sat is Sat.
In understanding for ourselves the meaning of work and knowledge, the changing and the constant, we are going to come to a deeper wholeness. Perhaps this wholeness of our being is 'liberation' or freedom.
And thus the story unfolds as to how to remember this inherent wholeness of what we are in actuality...