Raja Yoga (lit. Royal Yoga) is the system of yoga outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It is also sometimes referred to as Ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend. Raja yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation to further one's acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation.
Raja-Yoga is so-called because it is primarily concerned with the mind. The mind is traditionally conceived as the 'king' of the psycho-physical structure which does its bidding (whether or not one has realized this). Because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the body must be first 'tamed' through self-discipline and purified by various means (see Hatha Yoga). A good level of overall health and psychological integration must be attained before the deeper aspects of yoga can be pursued. Humans have all sorts of addictions and obsessions and these preclude the attainment of tranquil abiding (meditation). Through restraint (yama) such as celibacy, abstaining from drugs and alcohol and careful attention to one's actions of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes fit to practise meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself is another meaning of the word yoga.
"Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self." - Swami Satchidananda
Raja Yoga is an exact science. It aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. While a Hatha Yogi starts his Sadhana with Asanas (postures) and Pranayama, a Raja Yogi starts his Sadhana with the mind, although a certain minimum of asanas and pranayamas are usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration.
Eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:
- Yama - Code of conduct - self-restraint
- Niyama - religious observances - commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
- Āsana - integration of mind and body through physical activity
- Pranayama - regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
- Pratyahara - abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
- Dharana - concentration, one-pointedness of mind
- Dhyana - meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
- Samadhi - the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state
Yama consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness and positive love also. This removes the brutal nature in man and strengthens the will.
Niyama is observance of five canons: Saucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (Sanskrit) (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship).
He who practises meditation without ethical perfection, without the practice of Yama-Niyama cannot obtain the fruits of meditation. Purify your mind first through the practice of Yama-Niyama. Then practise regular meditation. Then you will attain illumination.
Any easy, steady, comfortable pose is Asana. Asanas steady the body. Posture is mastered by releasing tension and meditation on the unlimited.
Pranayama checks the outgoing tendencies of the mind.
Pratyahara gives inner spiritual strength. It removes all sorts of distractions. It develops will-power.
Real Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in Samadhi. Retention of breath, Brahmacharya, Satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, Satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentrate on Trikuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.
Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not walk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. Substitute divine thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.
The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.
By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes an adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practises Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time and gets detailed knowledge of an object.
Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice which steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion.
Meditation on OM with Bhava and its meaning removes obstacles in Sadhana and helps to attain Samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi.
Samadhi is of two kinds:
- Savikalpa, Samprajnata or Sabija; and
- Nirvikalpa, Asamprajnata or Nirbija.
In Savikalpa or Sabija, there is Triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). The Samskaras are not burnt or fried. Savitarka, Nirvitarka, Savichara, Nirvichara, Sasmita and Saananda are the different forms of Savikalpa Samadhi. In Nirbija Samadhi or Asamprajnata Samadhi there is no triad.
A Bhakta gets Bhava-Samadhi, a Jnani gets Badha-Samadhi, a Raja Yogi gets Nirodha Samadhi.
Practice of these precepts is said to result in a state in which one's behavior spontaneously follows the five ethical precepts (Yamas):
- Ahimsa - refraining from injury (non-life supporting action)
- satya - truthfulness
- asteya - freedom from stealing
- bramacharya - living within the Self (moderation; abstinence)
- aparigraha - freedom from attachment to possessions