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Student ID 1020151128

March 27, 2016


Prof. Kranti Saran
Words: 981
Self-effort in Valmiki's Yga-Vsiha
In Part II of Vasista's Yoga, titled 'On the Behaviour of the Seeker', the author argues
that self-effort is the sole determinant of one's life path. According to the author, concepts like
fate and destiny are fictitious (Venkatesananda 25), or mere words that fools use to refer to
the consequences of their self-effort. Such a view can be seemingly easily contradicted by
events such as natural disasters. In this paper, I will argue that due to the author's definition of
self-effort, any and all events, even external forces, can be explained by the author's theory.
The text is a dialogue between Sage Vasista and his disciple Rama. Vasista imparts a
lesson to Rama about self-effort. He defines self-effort as the mental, verbal and physical
action which is in accordance with the instructions of a holy person well-versed in the
scriptures. (Venkatesananda 25) As apparent, the view of self-effort here is more
comprehensive than most. It is not just the physical actions we undertake, but also what we
speak and think. All must be focussed on the task; the combination of all three is true selfeffort. And above all that, one's self-effort must be directed at a task which is in accordance
with the scriptures. Along with this main definition, further addendums are provided in the
text:
1. Self-effort is of two categories: that of past births and that of this birth.
(Venkatesananda 25)
2. Self-effort which is not in accord with the scriptures is motivated by delusion.
(Venkatesananda 25)

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3. Self-effort is based on these threeknowledge of scriptures, instructions of the


preceptor and one's own effort. (Venkatesananda 27)
Addendums 2 and 3 are largely incidental to our argument here. However, addendum
1 is crucial to it, and so must be explained. Vasista does not argue for the existence of past
births; conforming to the culture of his time, he takes the transmigration/reincarnation of the
soul post mortem for granted. Vasista says that we carry forward two things from our past
births. First is our tendencies, which are of two kinds: pure and impure. (Venkatesananda 28)
As the names suggest, pure ones lead to a good life, while impure ones invite trouble
(Venkatesananda 28). A person is however not bound to these tendencies of one's past life1
(Venkatesananda 28). By acting on one's pure tendencies repeatedly, one strengthens them
while concurrently weakening the impure ones. (Venkatesananda 28)
Second, one carries forward the fruition of actions undertaken in past lives.
(Venkatesananda 25) This can manifest itself in two ways. One is a direct consequence. An
action undertaken in the past, whether in this life or the one prior, can affect one's present
self. The other way can best be expressed by the phrase, what goes around comes around.
This is evident in an example given by Vasista to Rama. In the example, a king has just died
without an heir, leaving the country distraught and uncertain. In accordance with scripture,
the state elephant is freed to roam around until it finds the next ruler of the country. The
elephant ends up choosing a simple beggar. (Venkatesananda 26) Vasista intimates that this is
not an act of fate or providence; presumably, the beggar was a good and righteous man in his
past life, and continues so in his present one despite his poverty. (Venkatesananda 26) The
example implies that the beggar did nothing direct to be chosen as the king, but generally
lived in accordance with the scriptures, and so was rewarded handsomely.
1

That would make one a slave to one's past lives, which is no better than being a slave to fate.

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This brings us to the question of natural disasters. The argument goes like this:
suppose a man lives a just life, engaging in mental, verbal and physical self-effort in accord
with the scriptures. He possesses few to no vices. Yet his house is struck by lightning and
burns down in an inferno, his ships are lost at sea, his family dies in a famine, and he suffers
every misfortune possible. Doesn't this justify fatalism? What good is self-effort when
humans are subject to the whims of greater forces? To this, Vasista would reply, as he did in
the previous example, that his misfortunes are nothing but the fruitions of the self-effort of
his past lives. The man was obviously a man who followed his impure tendencies in his past
lives, and is now suffering for it. Such a rebuttal cannot really be opposed, for one never
remembers one's past lives, and so one's actions then are unknowable. The only
counterargument one can pose is that the fact that the man lived a just life implied that he had
pure tendencies, which he would not possess had he lived an unjust past life. To this, Vasista
would answer that said man had weakened the impure tendencies carried forward from his
past life, and strengthened the pure ones through habituation. Perhaps he succeeded in
resisting them because he was born into a good family that nurtured him well, and he was
surrounded by good friends who subdued his worst impulses. Over time, his impure
tendencies became absorbed in the expression of the [pure] tendencies (Venkatesananda
29). Moreover, Vasista would reply that the way to overcome his misfortunes is to practice
greater self-effort now, since the present is infinitely more potent than the past.
(Venkatesananda 26)
So you see, the natural disaster argument does not effectively does not pose a putative
problem with Vasista's view of self-effort, mostly because of the way Vasista frames his
argument, giving it enough leeway so that any and all events can be explained by it.

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Works Cited

Yga-Vsiha. Valmiki. "On the Behaviour of the Seeker." Vasia's Yoga. Trans. Swami
Venkatesananda. Albany: State U of New York, 1993. 25-29. Print.

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