The three volumes under review together constitute a major philological and historical study of a little-understood and, until recently,(1) much-ignored Indian philosophical/religious text, the Yogavasistha-Maharamayana (= Y; better known as simply the Yogavasistha), which, in spite of the fact that it has attracted little scholarly attention, is a central text in the medieval development of the Advaita tradition.
The textual history of the Y has been mired in obscurity. Many versions of the work, for example, the Brhat-Y. and the Laghu-Y., have been presented in editions and translations without any critical apparatus and without any attempt to examine the history of these versions. Slaje's work represents the first serious attempt in this direction.
Using thirty-two manuscripts in Nagari, Sarada, Grantha, and Telugu scripts, Slaje, in the Vom Moksopaya-Sastra (= VMY), has subjected the textual structure of all the versions to meticulous examination. This first careful analysis of the manuscript tradition is possibly the single most important contribution of the VMY. Slaje concludes, first, that the so-called Laghu-Yoga-Vasistha is not an earlier version of the Y but rather a late abstract of the Brhat version,(2) and that the early name of the abbreviated version was Moksopayasara. The Y itself, according to Slaje, consists of five layers surrounding a nucleus, each outer layer enclosing each inner layer both at the beginning and at the end, in a way similar to that of frame stories that enclose a series of sub-stories in the katha literature. The nucleus, unlike the other layers, has no mythical associations, and it teaches a straightforward subjective idealism and a spiritual monism. In all likelihood this nucleus originally consisted of just two prakaranas, as opposed to the six in the vulgate editions, and the primitive text bore the name Moksopayasastra. The text probably originated in the Kashmir region.
In the current scholarly atmosphere that distrusts the use of philology for historical purposes, Slaje's arguments may appear dubious to some. Whether the picture Slaje has drawn of the internal structure of the Y and, more especially, of the historical. sequence of the layers, is accepted or not, his close scrutiny of both the text and especially the manuscript tradition has to be the starting point for all...