2. Yoga Vashisht, How The Wise Should Live

Shiva and Parvati

by Vashista and Singh Grewal

Chapter 1 | Chapter 3


Since soon the days of mortals end,
How ought the wise their lives to spend?
What course should I, to duty true,
My sire, from youth to age pursue?


Begin thy course with study; store
The mind with holy Vedic lore.
That stage completed,—seek a wife,
And gain the fruit of wedded life,
A race of sons, by rites to seal,
When thou art gone, thy spirit's weal.
Then light the sacred fires, and bring
The gods a fitting offering.
When age draws nigh, the world forsake,
Thy chosen home the forest make;
And there a calm, ascetic sage,
A war against thy passions wage,
That, cleansed from every earthly stain,
Thou may’st supreme perfection gain.


And art thou then, my father, wise,
When thou dost such a life advise?
What wise or thoughtful man delights
In formal studies, empty rites?
Should such pursuits and thoughts engage
A mortal more than half his age?
The world is ever vexed, distressed;
The noiseless robbers never rest.


Tell how the world is vexed, distressed;
What noiseless robbers never rest?
What means thy dark, alarming speech?
In plainer words thy meaning teach.


The world is vexed by death; decay
The frames of mortals wears away.
Dost thou not note the circling flight
Of those still robbers, day and night,
With stealthy tread which hurrying past,
Steal all our lives away at last?
When well I know how death infests
This world of woe, and never rests,
How can I still, in thoughtless mood,
Confide in future earthly good?
Since life with every night that goes,
Still shorter, and yet shorter grows,
Must not the wise perceive how vain
Are all their days that yet remain?
We, whom life's narrow bounds confine,
Like fish in shallow water, pine.
While men on other thoughts are bent,—
Like those on gathering flowers intent,—
As lambs by wolves are snatched away,—
They fall to death a sudden prey,
Before they yet the good have gained
For which they every nerve had strained.
No moment lose; in serious mood
Begin at once to practice good;
To-morrow's task to-day conclude;
The evening's work complete at noon:—
No duty can be done too soon.
Who knows whom death may seize to-night,
And who shall see the morning light?
And death will never stop to ask,
If thou hast done, or not, thy task.
While yet a youth, from folly cease;
Through virtue seek for calm and peace.
So shalt thou here attain renown,
And future bliss thy lot shall crown.
Death interrupts the futile dreams
Of men who, plunged in various schemes,
Are thinking: "This or that is done;
This still to do; that just begun."
As torrents undermine the ranks
Of stately trees that crown their banks,
And sweep them downwards to the main,
Death tears from earth those dreamers vain.
While some are all on traffic bent,
And some on household cares intent,
Are fighting hard with pressing need,
And struggling wives and babes to feed,
Or with some other ills of life
Are waging an incessant strife;
Death these hard toiling men uproots,
Before they yet have reaped the fruits
Of all their labour, all their thought,
Of all the battles they have fought.
Death spares no class, no rank, nor age;
He carries off the fool, the sage,
The knave, the saint, the young, the old,
The weak, the strong, the faint, the bold.
As soon as men are born, decay
And death begin to haunt their way.
How can’st thou, thoughtless, careless, rest,
When endless woes thy life infest;
When pains and pangs thy strength consume—
Thy frame to dissolution doom?
Forsake the busy haunts of men,
For there has death his favourite den.
In lonely forests seek thy home,
For there the gods delight to roam.
Fast bound by old attachment's spell,
Men love amid their kin to dwell.
This bond the sage asunder tears;
The fool to rend it never cares.
Thou dost advise that I should please
With sacrifice the deities.
Such rites I disregard as vain;
Through these can none perfection gain.
Why sate the gods, at cruel feasts,
With flesh and blood of slaughtered beasts?
Far other sacrifices I
Will offer unremittingly;
The sacrifice of calm, of truth,
The sacrifice of peace, of ruth,
Of life serenely, purely, spent,
Of thought profound on Brahma bent.
Who offers these, may death defy,
And hope for immortality.
And then should say’st that I should wed,
And sons should gain to tend me, dead,
By offering pious gifts, to seal,
When I am gone, my spirit's weal.
But I shall ask no pious zeal
Of sons to guard my future weal.
No child of mine shall ever boast
His rites have saved his father's ghost.
Of my own bliss I'll pay the price,
And be myself my sacrifice.
From Mahabharata xii. 6526 ff. (– 9932 ff.); 8307 ff.

Suggestions for Further Reading

(From Metrical Translations, Page 28, by J. Muir, C. I. E., D. C. L., LL. D., Ph. D.)

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