The tale of Vasistha and Vishvamitra in the Ramayana tells of the dynamic tension in spiritual life between the ease that arises from contentment and the spiritual depth that can result from struggle and effort. Vasisthawas an enlightened spiritual sage who established a peaceful, self-governing, cooperative society where all were happy. He had a “cow of plenty” named Nandini with the power to grant him whatever he wanted.
The powerful ruler of a neighboring kingdom, Vishvamitra, was curious about Vasistha’ssociety and went to visit with his army. Vishvamitra was impressed with Vashistha’s cow and tried to take her away by force, but Vasistha’sspiritual power—his tolerance and mastery of emotion—was too great for the many weapons that Vishvamitra used against him. In an epic battle between Vishvamitra and Vasistha, a hundred of Vishvamitra’s sons were incinerated by Vasistha’s breath. Vishvamitra eventually abdicated and committed himself to a simple ascetic life in pursuit of spiritual strength. Showing little hope for spiritual achievement, the very difficulty of his spiritual path led him to become a great sage himself, and Vasistha was among those who would come to pay homage to Vishvamitra.
While the asanas named for these two sages are both difficult, Vishvamitrasana is considerably more challenging, requiring a deeper level of commitment, strength, and surrender.