The Mokṣopāya, the unrevised Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha

By David Reigle on April 13, 2012 at 3:21 am

The value of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha has long been known to students of Theosophy. Already in 1936 the classic study of this text, The Philosophy of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha by Sanskrit scholar B. L. Atreya, was published by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, India. As I had noted elsewhere, the distinctive terms used by the Advaita Vedāntin Theosophist T. Subba Row, cid-ākāśa and also cit-śakti, do not come from the standard treatises on Advaita Vedānta, but rather come from the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha.

In the early 1990s an extraordinary discovery was made. In the process of assembling manuscripts from which to prepare a critical edition of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, Indologist Walter Slaje found an entirely distinct, unrevised recension of this text that called itself the Mokṣopāya, the “Means to Liberation.” It is equally huge, about 30,000 verses, but it preserves a considerably more original version of the text.

Walter Slaje wrote about this in full detail in his 1994 German language book, Vom Mokṣopāya-Śāstra zum Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha-Mahārāmāyaṇa (“From the Mokṣopāya-Śāstra to the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha-Mahārāmāyaṇa”). This major find led to the Mokṣopāya Project, with government and university funding to prepare a critical edition of this large and important text. A brief account of this in English by Slaje, titled “The Mokṣopāya Project,” was published in Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 77, 1996, pp. 209-221 (attached).

In the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, a pervasive layer of Vedānta ideas has been added to the advaita or non-dual teachings of the Mokṣopāya. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is the well-known fact that Advaita Vedānta takes the authority of scripture as the only truly valid means of higher knowledge, thereby discounting the role of reasoning in reaching higher knowledge. The Mokṣopāya does just the opposite, taking reasoning as the valid means of higher knowledge, and entirely discounting the authority of scripture. Another difference is that terminology now found primarily in Buddhist texts has been systematically replaced. In this, and in its emphasis on pure advaita or non-dualism, the Mokṣopāya is very reminiscent of Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā. Slaje describes some of the “willful changes” that were made in the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha in the above-mentioned article, p. 212, including:

“an attempt to ‘vedānticize’ the text, which—though it does teach monism (advaita)—has nothing in common with the particularities of Śaṅkara’s Vedānta, but indeed very much with Gauḍapāda’s Kārikās and the Laṅkāvatārasūtra of the Mahāyāna.”

In Gauḍapāda’s text we had only a small example of these teachings, about 200 verses. Now we have a massive source of these teachings in its unrevised and more original form. It promises to be a fundamental resource for students of Theosophy.

The Mokṣopāya project has been underway for about two decades now, and the long-awaited results of this painstaking research are now seeing the light of day. In the 1990s three small volumes of the fragmentary commentary Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā were published, followed by a fourth in 2002, giving a taste of what this unrevised text has to offer. In 2011 the first two volumes of the critical edition of the Mokṣopāya itself were published, and the third volume in 2012. They were published in Germany by Harrassowitz (, and are expensive. I have not yet seen them. Of particular interest for Book of Dzyan research is the large third chapter, the utpatti-prakaraṇa or section on cosmogony, published as volume 2 of the now available volumes.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 5 comments

  • David Reigle says:

    According to the sources I have, there is no reference to the Mokṣopāya in Abhinava-gupta’s Tantrāloka. I do not know why. In Navjivan Rastogi’s 1987 book, Introduction to the Tantrāloka, in Appendix 1 titled “Texts referred to by name in the Tantrāloka,” it is not listed. Likewise, in Kanti Chandra Pandey’s revised and enlarged 1963 second edition of his book, Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study, in Appendix B titled “Authorities referred to in the available works of Abhinava,” it is not listed. Nonetheless, in Pandey’s Chapter II, titled “His Works,” after the “List of his known works,” a few more are listed, including (p. 29): “His commentary on the Yogavāsiṣṭha. We have no other source of information about it than a tradition current among Kashmirian Pandits.”

  • Capt. Anand Kumar says:

    David, is there any reference to Moksopaya in the Tantraloka of Abhinav Gupta? It appears quite curious to me that Shiv Sutras will give Sambhavopaya, Saktopaya and Anavopaya but not Moksopaya. Since both Yoga Vasishtha and Shiv Sutras are based on Advait Vedanta, can there be a link? Thanks.

  • Nicholas Weeks says:

    In that case, it is up to David to give us a precis, in English, of the Sanskrit in these 3 sections of the work.

  • David Reigle says:

    Actually, they are in Sanskrit. These volumes are the critical edition of the Sanskrit text. The German translation is scheduled for later. The aim is to complete the Moksopaya Project by 2018.

  • Nicholas Weeks says:

    No only expensive, but all 3 vols are in German.

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