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Mokṣopāya

More than two decades have passed since Walter Slaje demonstrated the importance of the Kashmirian
recension or version of the text that was formerly known under the name Yogavāsiṣṭha. The
Mokṣopāya recension -- Mokṣopāya is the original name, which has remained in use only
in Kashmir -- was identified through search-tours for manuscripts and intensive studies of their
transmission and the first result of this was his monograph that showed that the Kashmirian
Mokṣopāya was the older version, and the Yogavāsiṣṭha a highly redacted recension,
conflated which the so-called Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha.

His work made possible the first step in producing a critical edition of the oldest Kashmirian
text, starting in 1999 with the third book (prakaraṇa). This could be expanded into a 12
year project of a critical edition, translation and commentary spanning all the 30000 verses of the
Mokṣopāya. The project is now nearing completion, but due to the vicissitudes of funding,
the perfect plan, namely to produce a critical edition, a complete translation and running
commentary could not be upheld. Within the next couple of years, we will have a complete edition of
the Sanskrit text and a translation of the larger part of the work. But there is a running
commentary merely on the fourth book, the Sthitiprakaraṇa, and since the post of the
commentator had to be discontinued due to cuts in funding, this must serve as a reminder of how
fruitful such an intensive study of all possible aspects of the text can be.

There are now quite a few works dealing with aspects of the Mokṣopāya and explaining the aim of the
project (see the bibliography), so only a few aspects shall be mentioned here.

One of the puzzling issues concerns the versions or recensions and their differences and character,
first and foremost, the relationship between the Mokṣopāya and the Yogavāsiṣṭha. To
put it bluntly: If both versions largely transmit the same text, what is all the fuzz about? Can we
not get a clear enough picture of the text even from the YV version? We might argue that some
scholars, with a wide experience in recognising textual corruption, have done astonishingly well
even with the printed YV, as for instance, Helmuth von Glasenapp, others have not. But their
results were invariably flawed in many respects. As we have argued repeatedly, if we assume one
variant dividing the Mokṣopāya and the YV per verse, we would arrive at 30000 variants, and
even if only a fraction is relevant, the differences add up to being quite considerable. Numbers
are of course not very telling here, all depends on the quality of difference. But a large
collection of documented cases can show the degree of change that has affected the text on its way
from the Kashmirian Mokṣopāya to the pan-Indian Yogavāsiṣṭha. For understanding the
original content one definitely has to read the Mokṣopāya.

Sanskritists have usually welcomed and made good use of the new edition, but in less philologically
inclined areas of studies, the new edition and accompanying studies did not make much of an
impact. One suspects that to scholars who in practical work relied on English translations and
summaries, changes in the Sanskrit text did not make much sense. For those able to read the German
translation the situation has now changed drastically, but those who have to rely on the English
versions, none of which are real translations, inevitably and sadly miss many of the finer points
of Mokṣopāya studies.

Philologically aware readers could not fail to note that the text of the Mokṣopāya often
makes perfect sense, where the Yogavāsiṣṭha, though being derived from it, has lost much of
the original's textual integrity.

In the experience of the editors the Mokṣopāya displays a unique and recognisable style, and
a number of noteworthy individual traits. Among the stories, the ākhyānas that exemplify the
philosophy, we find reinterpretations of well-known plots, as the Bhagavadgītā which is
transformed into an Arjunākhyāna, and there are some motives known from elsewhere. But a
number of highly inventive narratives remains that have no known parallels and must be regarded as
original material from the author of the Mokṣopāya. Some of these are, I would personally
argue, superb pieces of Indian story telling, in which narrative, poetry and Śāstra are fused in a
quality, not easily found elsewhere. This unique feature of the text, which has not survived the
reduction into the Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha and the other abbreviations, is distorted through the
lens of the Yogavāsiṣṭha.

Another trait of the text that in combination with its style makes it fairly recognisable, is its
philosophical outlook. It teaches an absolute illusionism, according to which nothing can ever
exist. This position is more extreme than the ideas that the ontological status of the world cannot
be expressed, or that the world does not exist as an object, but still as a thought. The status of
the world according to the Mokṣopāya is one of atyantābhāva, absolute non-existence,
not as in the famous example of the rope that is mistaken as a snake. Here the world of illusion
that frightens us is surely our own imagination, but there is at least a rope. In the
Mokṣopāya the world of transmigration is not a wrong perception of something else: it is
like the ``son of a barren woman'' – it cannot logically exist. What is, is consciousness itself,
which perceives its own gleaming as the world. The existence of objects is fundamentally
impossible. Only few philosophers in Hindu or Buddhist schools go this far. Complementary to this
the Mokṣopāya also flatly refuses to subscribe to any philosophical position or religious
creed. As was to be expected, the clear references to the effect that the Veda has no validity and
other impieties were edited out, when conservative Vedāntins started using, redacting, or
rephrasing the work.

The consistency of these features, we have argued, are best explained by assuming a single
idiosyncratic author, an author that occasionally seems to make his appearence in this work. No
historical information is available for the author behind the pen name Vasiṣṭha, but it seemed
obvious to the Kashmirian commentator Bhāskarakaṇṭha that not the \d{Rṣi Vasiṣṭha, but a human
author. However, he suggested keeping this a secret, perhaps not to upset---as one would today
say---any religious feelings.

Of course, whether all 30000 verses are really by one author is a question that cannot be
confidently answered. What we can say is that we do find the typical language, style, and
philosophy throughout most of the work. But we also find verses that clearly or probably do not
display the sophistication of the rest. Also the macro-structure of the work with its six
prakaraṇas on the one hand, and the intersecting structure of days on the other, may in part be due
to a later redaction. And the introductory verses of each prakaraṇa seem too plain and repetitive
to be by our author. But it is extremely difficult if not impossible to be absolutely sure. There
are no manuscripts that would allow us to reconstruct an older form of the Mokṣopāya.

At the same time indications of a prehistory of the Mokṣopāya are not lacking: the author
seems to have originally preached to a larger audience, not just to Rāma, and this audience cannot
have been the congregation, in which the conversation takes place.

Probably soon after its composition in the tenth century, the history of reception continued with
the production of an abbreviated version, called and cited mostly as vāsiṣṭham, which more
or less coincides with the version of the text that has been printed under the name of
Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha. I tread cautiously here, because this text is not edited critically, and
there might be an unknown variation in manuscripts. The problem is complicated by the fact that
this version is sometimes called Jñānavāsiṣṭha in the mss.

With its roughly 5000 verses, this shorter version reduces the text to perhaps one fifth of the
original size. All known sources break off in the middle of the Nirvāṇaprakaraṇa, and this
torso is supplied by a variety of concluding chapters. Some are Śaiva in outlook, others deal with
Rāma-bhakti, both of which are quite foreign to the work. Researchers have jumped at these few
passages to locate the work in intellectual history without knowing that these are insertions. Much
thought has also gone into the supposed author of the work, usually named as the Kashmirian Pandit
Abhinanda, but without any solid result.

The next step in the history of reception would be the Yogavāsiṣṭha, the text printed first
in 1880 with a Vedāntic commentary. This text was redacted by using the Mokṣopāya as well as
the Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha, for it inserts the concluding Sargas of the
Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha's Nirvāṇaprakaraṇa into the text. Then, after concluding the story, the
redactors added the rest of the Nirvāṇaprakaraṇa, and thus started a second part
(uttarārdha). This, by the way, is a corruption that confused even Glasenapp who says that
after this first conclusion of the text the loquacious Vasiṣṭha needs another 7000 verses – this is
what the LYV is missing – to come to the end. The original had no break at this point.

The explanation for all this is not difficult, when we look at the actual material basis for all of
our studies, the manuscript culture, in which the text was transmitted before the 1880s. Now that
we have a clearer idea of the earliest version and can start to untangle the complicated Mokṣopāya
literature and further history of reception that followed, a substantial multidisciplinary
collaboration is needed, which is underway in the conferences and workshops held by the Mokṣopāya
study group and organized jointly by Srilata Raman (Toronto) and Jürgen Hanneder (Marburg).