This one dialog is a very interesting piece which details out the core of Maharishi Vasistha’s philosophy. It is so radical and refreshing that it does not seem to be as old as it possibly is. This kind of thinking is one reason why I consider Yoga Vasistha to be the most profound text ever written.
Holy Sir, you said that Prahlada attained enlightenment by the grace of Lord Vishnu. If everything is achieved by self effort, why was he not able to attain enlightenment without Vishnu’s grace?
Surely, whatever Prahlada attained was through self effort, O Rama, not otherwise. Vishnu is the self and the self is Vishnu: the distinction is verbal. It was the self of Prahlada that generated in itself devotion to Vishnu. Prahlada obtained from Vishnu, who was his own self, the boon of self inquiry; and through such enquiry attained self-knowledge. At times one attains self-knowledge through self enquiry undertaken through self-effort; at times this self-effort manifests as devotion to Vishnu who is also the self, and thus one attains enlightnment.
Even if one worships Vishnu for a long time with great devotion, he does not bestow enlightenment on one who is not wise with self-knowledge. Thus, the foremost means for self-knowledge is self-enquiry; grace and such other factors are secondary means. Hence, attain mastery over the senses and by whole-souled spiritual practice lead the mind along the path of self-enquiry. Resort to self-effort and cross this ocean of world appearance and reach the other shore.
If you think that lord Vishnu can be seen without self-effort, why do the birds and beasts not get uplifted by him? If it is true that the guru can spiritually uplift one without the need for self-effort, then why does the guru not so uplift a camel or a bull. No, nothing whatsoever is gained with the help of god or guru or wealth or other means, but only by self-effort at a complete mastery of the mind. What cannot be attained by the resolute practice of self-mastery coupled with uncoloredness (freedom from every form of mental conditioning) cannot be attained by any other means in the three worlds.
Hence, adore the self by the self, and be firmly established by the self in the self. The cult of devotion to Vishnu has been founded with the intention of possibly inducing those people who have turned away from the study of scriptures, from self effort and from self enquiry, to do something good. Determined and persistent self effort is considered the best: in its absence, other forms of worship are prescribed. If there is complete mastery of the senses, of what use is worship; and if there is no mastery of senses, of what use is worship? Without self-enquiry and the consequent inner tranquility, neither devotion to lord Vishnu nor self knowledge is possible. Hence, resort to self enquiry and the practice of cessation of distraction and thus adore the self: if you are successful in this, you have attained perfection; if not, you are no more than a wild donkey.