As the name suggests, Raja Yoga is a Royal path of will-power, self-discipline, and practice. This path assists one to refine the desires, emotions, and thoughts, as well as the subtle impressions that lie dormant in the unconscious mind. Raja yoga guides us to experience the inner reality by means of an eight-rung ladder or eight steps. The ultimate goal is to attain the Moksha or the ultimate reality.

From childhood, we have all been directed towards the knowledge of the external world and its existence for which there exist hundreds of instruments. Later or never, we realize that the external world is a very gross form of existence that is perishable and can never lead us to the truth or the real Knowledge.

The only possible way to acquire real knowledge is by traveling inward or knowing the internal world and the only instrument to achieve this is the “Mind”. The power of Mind is like the dissipated rays of light, when rightly guided and concentrated, it illuminates everything. Through this self-realization, one can attain a state of perfect bliss (no misery state). But to navigate the mind inside, stop it from going outside, and then to concentrate all its powers, and throw them upon the mind itself, in order to know its own nature and analyze itself, is very hard work. One of the ways to attain this state is through Raja yoga.

Etymology

The word Raja Yoga is derived from the 9th chapter of Bhagavad Gita- “Raja vidya Raja guhya Yoga”, meaning- “Royal Knowledge, Royal secret”. In this chapter Shree Krishna declares to Arjuna that it is the most secret knowledge that can be acquainted only by direct experience. This secret knowledge can be spoken about to only those who are longing for the Supreme Brahman. It is considered ‘secret’ because it is utterly incomprehensible, hidden to a consciousness that is not awakened and already purified to a marked degree. Shree Krishna states: “This is royal knowledge, a royal secret, a supreme purifier, plainly intelligible, righteous, easy to practice and imperishable. This knowledge is royal because, one who acquires it becomes enthroned in the highest consciousness. 

A PRECISE AISLE FOR THE MODERN ERA

Sage Patanjali has built a very systematic approach through an eight-fold scheme to create an orderly process of self-transformation, beginning at the physical body level, and eventually into the subtler states of human existence. Hence, it is also called as “Ashtanga Yoga” This is a revolutionary holistic system as it can be followed by people with any backgrounds and temperaments, and it involves physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. In today’s reality, where scientific apprehension is so prevalent, this path of Yoga is the prime choice as its methods can be scientifically verified and can easily be practised in our daily lives on and off the mat. Below mentioned are the eight limbs of the Ashtanga yoga:

  1. YAMA- the social-discipline:

This is the first limb which deals with the social conduct or behaviour. It guides our relationship and interaction with the other beings in the world. There are five Yamas explained by Sage Patanjali, viz;

  1. Ahimsa- verbal, mental and physical non-violence
  2. Satya- truthfulness in thought, deeds and speech
  3. Astheya- non stealing, not acquiring anything which is not ours
  4. Brahmacharya- celibacy or continence
  5. Aparigraha- non hoarding or not taking possessions of things
  1. NIYAMA- the self-discipline

Niyama which literally means “rules” or can also be called as moral observances. This second limb of Ashtanga Yoga deals with the 5 self-disciplinary practices that serves the inward journey of the mind by withdrawing it from the material world.

Saucha- cleanliness or personal hygiene with purity of thoughts and emotions 

Santosha- absolute contentment

Tapas- austerity or strict discipline

Swadhyaya- self engagement in the study of sacred texts

Ishwara pranidhana- surrendering to the Supreme by renouncing the fruits of action

3. ASANA- the physical posture

Patanjali says- “Asana is a steady and comfortable pose”. This seems to be a simple statement; but its not! Its hard to achieve both steadiness and comfort at the same time. This is possible only when the body and mind are in tune with each other or in a state of mental equilibrium. Only practice can lead us to this state. So, Patanjali in his next sutra says- “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached”. Instead of focusing on performing challenging bodily postures, one should draw the mind back into the body, and anchor our awareness in the inner self; only then perfection can be achieved.

In the next sutra Patanjali says- “Thereafter, one is no longer troubled by the dualities of sense-experience”. Perfection of Asanas promotes us to a state of “non-dualism”- where one is not affected by the dualism of senses i.e. heat and cold; joy and sorrow; good and bad; etc.

  1. PRANAYAMA- regulation of breath

Prana is the subtle vital force that indicates Life. Breath is considered to be the gross manifestation of Prana. It is the bridge between the body and mind. Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions that, “when breath moves, the mind moves; when breath is still, so the mind; hence one has to regulate the breath in order to control the mind”.  Patanjali says- “pranayama is the regulation of inhalation and exhalation with retention of breath; which is practised only after attaining perfection of asanas”.

  1. PRATYAHARA- withdrawal and control of senses

Pratyahara can superficially be explained as gaining control over external influences; like a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Patanjali in his sutra says “drawing the senses and mind from contact with external objects into the seer”. It also includes withdrawing oneself from negative impressions. Just as healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a heathy mind resists negative sensory influences around it.  

  1. DHARANA- effortful focusing of the mind

Dharana is a preparatory practice for Dhyana; it is effortful intense focusing of thoughts on a specific point. There are many objects that one can focus on like an image of OM, any sound, tip of nose etc. it is a state of single thought over an object.

  1. DHYANA- meditation or defocusing of the mind

Dhyana is not process but it is a state which is attained or that which happens on its own. When Dharana becomes effortless, it is the state of Dhyana or meditation. 

RAJA YOGA MEDITATION

Meditation is an extensively used terminology in today’s stressful world; and most commonly, Raja yoga meditation. It is the form of meditation that is explained in the 9th chapter of Bhagavad Gita- Dhyana Yoga. Subsequently, it was popularised by Swami Vivekananda in the 19th century. As it aims at gaining king-like qualities of awareness, confidence and independence, it is called as Raja yoga meditation. Meditation is a power that enables us to resist our slavery to the external world. It is not a process, but is a state attained after Dharana. When the mind is trained to intensely focus at an internal or external location, there comes to it the power of unbroken current flowing towards that point. This state is called Meditation or Dhyana. When this power of Dhyana has been so much intensified as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part. 

These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First there is the external vibration, second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind, third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reaction. In Yoga these three are called Sabdha (sound) Artha (meaning), and Jnana (knowledge). In the language of physiology, they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these causes; we only perceive the effect of these three, which effect we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish between them. 

The meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer, then to finer and finer, until it has become objectless. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, it will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside, by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself. The complete suppression of the waves in the ocean of the mind; then the glory of the soul, untrammelled by the distractions of the mind, or the motions of his body, will shine in its full effulgence.

8.    SAMADHI- the superconscious state of tranquillity or bliss

Samadhi is the eighth step or ultimate goal of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. It is a state of oneness and complete absorption. The meditator becomes one with the object of meditation, where there is absolutely zero thought and experiences immense bliss. It can also be called a “no-mind state”. Samadhi is considered being the state in which individual and universal consciousness unite. If any of the eight limbs is practised with utmost sincerity and established perfection in the same, he can reach the state of Samadhi. This is the ultimate objective of Raja yoga.

 References: 

  • Chinmayananda, S. (Ed.). (1976). The Holy Geeta. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
  • Muktibodhananda, S. (2012). Hatha yoga pradipika . Yoga publication trust.
  • Taimni, I. K. (1961). The science of yoga. Quest Books.
  • Vivekananda, S. (2020). Raja yoga or conquering the internal nature. Read Books Ltd.

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