The Path of Self-Reliance
by Nicholas Weeks
[An abridged rendition of some parts (II, 4-9; V, 43) of an ancient work, the Yoga Vasishta, dealing with spiritual self-reliance. Based on Vasistha's Yoga pp. 25-29, 256-58; translated by Swami Venkatesananda; the Sree Yoga Vasishtha translated by Vidvan Bulusu Venkateswarulu, Vol. 1 pp. 106-22, Vol. 5 pp. 143-46; and Yoga Vasistha translated by Swami Jyotirmayananda, Vol. 1 pp. 114-34, Vol. 3 pp. 107-08.]
All you can do is to prepare the intellect: the impulse toward "soul-culture" must be furnished by the individual. Thrice fortunate they who can break through the vicious circle of modern influence and come up above the vapours! ... We have one word for all aspirants: try. [Mahatma Koot Hoomi in Mahatma Letters, #35.]
II 4 O Rama, listen to what I [Vasishtha] am about to say, which instruction is sure to remove the darkness of ignorance.
In this world, whatever is gained is gained only by self-effort; where failure is encountered it is seen that there has been slackness in the effort. By effort one can attain knowledge which leads to salvation. This is obvious; but what is called God, destiny or fate is fictitious and is not seen. The dull and the ignorant created God, who is none other than self-effort of a past incarnation affecting one.
Self-effort, Rama, is that mental, verbal and physical action which is in accordance with the instructions of a holy person well versed in the scriptures. This will reveal the moon of spiritual bliss beyond the dark clouds of mental impurities. Such effort, continuous and constant, gives good results, all the rest is sheer madness.
It is only by such effort that Indra became king of heaven, that Brahmaa became the creator, and Vishnu and Shiva earned their place.
II 5 Self-effort is of two categories: that of past births and that of this present birth. Past efforts can be counteracted by current labors. There is constant conflict, like battling rams, between these two in this incarnation. That which is more powerful triumphs. Men of self-effort, by firm and long practice, can undo the past effort.
Self-effort which is not in accord with the scriptures is motivated by delusion. To go against scriptural injunctions will lead to disasters. Mental desire alone, without the needed action, is pure lunacy. It will not only be useless, but it will lead to further delusions.
There is no power greater than right action in the present. Hence, one should take recourse to self-effort, gritting one's teeth, and one should overcome evil by good and destiny by present effort. Even obstructions presented by the devas are due to bad actions in past lives.
The lazy man is worse than a donkey. One should never yield to laziness but strive to attain liberation, seeing that life is ebbing away every moment. Everyday one must think of the impermanent body and struggle to conquer the animal nature. He must take recourse to association with good and virtuous people. One should not revel in the filth known as sense-pleasures, even as a worm revels in pus. By good deeds, good will return to you; by bad deeds, bad will return. Nowhere is there any God, fortune or fate. One who ignores his present ability for self-effort for fear of his past bad actions, might as well fear his own two arms, thinking them dangling vipers.
One who thinks that fate or God is directing him, is brainless and the goddess of fortune abandons him. Hence, by self-effort, discrimination, good association and study of the scriptures, acquire wisdom. Then realise that self-effort will end — in the direct realisation of the truth. But ignoring, or going against the traditional injunctions, will not work. One should not try to create a gemstone from a ordinary pebble. Those who do not believe in the long practiced and experienced truths of the wise, but depend upon God, luck or destiny, are fools called the "living dead." If lazy dullness, this dreadful source of evil, were not found on this earth, who would ever be illiterate or poor? It is because lazy ones rely, life after life, on God or fortune that this earth is full of people who live like animals, miserable and poverty-stricken.
[Vasishtha continues the following morning:]
II 6 The only God or fortune is previous action. As is the effort so is the fruit, O Rama: this is the meaning of self-effort, and it is also known as fate. What is called fate or divine will is nothing other than the action or self-effort of the past. The present is infinitely more potent than the past. Just as a man can govern a boy, vigorous present actions can control past karma. The evils of yesterday can be remedied by the good actions of today. There is no need to rely on destiny, luck or God. They indeed are fools who are complacent about the bitter fruits of their past actions (which they regard as divine will) and do not engage themselves in self-effort now. A weak and dull-witted man can only see the hand of providence when he is confronted by a powerful adversary and succumbs to him.
If you see that the present self-effort is sometimes thwarted by fortune (or divine will), you should understand that the present self-effort is weak. Even the apparent experience of defeat sings the glory of one's own past self-effort.
Sometimes it happens that, without effort, someone receives a great gain. This is certainly not an accident nor some kind of divine act, but the fruit of self-effort in a past birth.
The wise man should of course know what is capable of attainment by self-effort and what is not. For what we cannot conquer, such as death, there must be no weeping.
One who does not dispel bad karma by strong effort is the same as a beast. He will always be coming and going to heaven or hell. He is ever dependent; never independent. He has no salvation. It is ignorance to attribute all this to an outside agency and to think that God sends one to heaven or hell or that an outside agency makes one do this or that — such an ignorant person should be shunned.
One should free oneself from likes and dislikes and engage oneself in righteous self-effort and reach the supreme truth, knowing that self-effort alone is another name for divine will. That alone is self-effort which springs from right understanding which manifests in one's heart which has been exposed to the teachings of the scriptures and the conduct of Holy ones. The wise shun the ignorant method of dualism and enjoy the delight of equanimity. They realize that oneness is the goal of life.
The past effort which took one to heaven and follows one to this birth is called God. We do not blame God or luck, which are delusions. We blame only those dolts who give up self-effort and rely on God or providence. They are sure to destroy themselves.
II 7 O Rama, one should, with a body free from illness and mind free from distress, pursue self-knowledge so that he is not born again here. One who tries with his best self-effort to destroy the ideas of God and providence, fulfills his aspirations both here and hereafter. Those who rely on fortune or God and ignore effort are self-destroyers. Self-effort is rooted in an inner vibration that awakens an urge for realization in one's consciousness, then a decision in the mind, and then physical action. The process of self-exertion embraces every part of the individual — spirit, intellect, mind, senses and body.
Self-effort consists of these three — knowledge of the scriptures, learning from one's Guru and your own holy striving. Providence or God's dispensation does not enter here. Hence, he who desires salvation should divert impure mind to pure endeavor by persistent effort — this is the very essence of all scriptures. The Holy ones emphasise persistently treading the path that leads to the eternal good. And the wise seeker knows that the fruit of my endeavours will be commensurate with the intensity of my self-effort and neither fate nor any God can ordain it otherwise. Indeed, such self-effort alone is responsible for whatever man gets. Only to console blockheads at the time of sorrows or difficulties is the word God used. No one has seen such a God, but everyone has experienced how an action (good or evil) leads to a result (good or evil). Hence, from one's childhood, one should endeavour to promote one's true good by a penetrating study of the scriptures; keeping company with the Holy ones and by right self-effort.
II 8 Fortune or God is merely a convention which has come to be regarded as truth by being repeatedly declared to be true. If this God or fate is truly the ordainer of everything in this world, of what meaning is any action? The simpleminded who believe in God might well jump into a fire, trusting in God's grace to keep them safe. God will make us bathe, give to the poor and do our spiritual practices. What is the use of the exhortations of the scriptures if God will do everything? In this world, excepting a corpse, everything is active and such activity yields its appropriate result. In this world no one sees God, but we do see mind and intelligence. There are not two things, intelligence and God. Only intelligence is. If between two people of the same intelligence one fails and the other succeeds, God is not the cause, but laziness and effort are. If one thinks God is the director and doer of all things, let this whole world sleep, God will do everything. This may be a consoling outlook, but in truth, there is no God. It was foolish ones who created God. The followers of God will perish. The sages became so by individual effort. Please tell me why the heroic men of valor, the wise and the learned should wait for God? If astrologers predict that a certain man will become wise and he does so without ever studying - - then I will accept that God is great.
Rama, this sage Vishvamitra became a Brahma-Rishi by self-effort; all of us Rishis have attained self-knowledge by self-effort alone. Hence, renounce the chimera of God's providence and apply yourself to self-effort.
II 9 Rama asked:
Lord, you are indeed the knower of truth; is God (daivam) real or unreal? You say there is no God, but also say that past Karma is God. Does God really exist? Please clarify.
Rama, self-effort alone is real; it does everything. The fruition of self-effort by which one experiences the good and evil results of past action is called fate or God by people. People also regard that as fortune or God which characterises the good and evil nature of such results. When you see that "this plant grows out of this seed", it is unwisely regarded as an act of God. God is a mere figment of the imagination. For I feel that God is only a word for one's effort and the effect of one's effort, in this life or a past one.
Rama, listen carefully and you will understand that God is only a myth. In the mind of man are numerous latent desires or tendencies (vasanas), and these tendencies give rise, in this life or another, to various actions — physical, verbal and mental. Surely, one's actions are in strict accordance with these tendencies, it cannot be otherwise. Actions or karma are nothing but those latent desires manifested. Action is not different from the most potent latent tendencies, and these tendencies are not different from the mind and the man is not different from the mind! God is nothing but karma; karma is nothing but the mind. Therefore, there is nothing other than self-effort (purushartha); God is a fantasy. All results are achieved by self-effort and not by providence or God.
Rama asked again:
Holy sir, if the latent tendencies brought forward from the previous birth impel me to act in the present, where is the freedom of action?
Rama, your tendencies brought forward from past incarnations are of two kinds — pure and impure. The pure ones lead you towards liberation, and the impure ones invite trouble. You are indeed consciousness itself, not inert physical matter. You are not impelled to action by anything other than yourself. You are in fact the real Supreme Being. Hence you are free to strengthen the pure latent tendencies in preference to the impure ones. The impure ones have to be abandoned gradually and the mind turned away from them little by little, lest there should be violent reaction. By encouraging the good tendencies to act repeatedly, you strengthen them. The impure ones will weaken by disuse. You will soon become absorbed in the _expression of the good tendencies, in good actions. When thus you have overcome the force of the evil tendencies, you will then experience the supreme truth with the wisdom that rises from the good tendencies.
Therefore, follow this blessed path of goodness followed since olden times by the wise. Always increase you good tendencies (vasanas); understand and become the reality, Brahman.
V 43 The foremost means for self-knowledge is self-enquiry; grace and such other factors are secondary means. Nothing whatsoever is gained with the help of God or guru or wealth or other means, but only by self-effort aimed at complete mastery of the mind. Hence, adore the atman with the atman, serve the atman with the atman, behold the atman with the atman, and be firmly established with the atman in the atman. Just as you perform worship of the Lord, why do you not worship your own self?
No one in the universe, not even the devas or the trinity of Brahmaa, Vishnu and Shiva, can save a man from the torments of a wayward mind.