Rāja Yoga is the path of meditation, contemplation, and surrender. The goal of Rāja Yoga is to recognize through direct personal experience that our true nature as individuals is the same nature of the creator, and that this nature is one and the same. This is possible only when we are able to become self-aware by concentrating the mind on the internal world. The power of concentration when properly guided and directed toward the internal world will analyze the mind and illumine our thoughts.
According to Rāja Yoga, the external world is the gross form of the more subtle internal world, i.e., the external world is the effect and the internal world is the cause. The one who can discover and influence the internal world is the one who can influence the external world as well. A Rāja Yogi develops philosophical curiosity, begins to analyze with sensitivity, and places ideas and material goods in proper perspective.
The aphorisms compiled by the sage Patanjali over 2,000 years ago in Northern India have been the guiding light for seekers of Raja Yoga for generations. Originally oral teachings, these extremely brief maxims are known as the Yoga Sutras. They are considered to be of the highest authority on the Raja Yoga path. The word sutra means “thread” in Sanskrit and spun together, the Sutras weave a road map to the inner journey. The 195 Sutras are divided into four chapters: Samādi Pāda (on contemplation,) Sādhana Pāda (on practice,) Vibhuti Pāda (on powers,) and Kaivalya Pāda (on freedom.) Through the Sutras, the teachings of the complex subject of meditation are unfolded gradually and methodically.
Patanjali described Rāja Yoga as an eight-step process, each of which prepares the yogi for the succeeding steps, and culminates in Samādhi, a non-dualistic state of consciousness and the ultimate goal of any yogi.
- Yama – non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, non-attachment
- Niyama – cleanliness, contentment, devoted discipline, self-study, surrender to God
- Āsana – practice of physical postures to strengthen the body and maintain health
- Prānāyāma – expansion of the life force through controlling the breath
- Pratyāhāra – withdrawal of the senses
- Dhāranā – one-pointedness
- Dhyāna – meditation
- Samādhi – dissolution of the ego
Yama – The Yamas are five moral, social trainings that help purify the mind:
- Non-violence (Ahimsa): Never producing pain by thought, word, and deed in any living being
- Truthfulness (Satya): By truth we attain the fruits of work. Through truth everything is attained. In truth everything is established.
- Non-stealing (Asteya): Not taking or coveting the goods of others.
- Chastity (Brahmacharya): Purity in thought, word, and deed
- Non-attachment (Aparigraha): Freedom from greed. When we are attached to material goods or outcomes, we become bound and attached. This attachment poses an obstacle in living a truthful life.
Niyama – The Niyamas are five personal habits to observe with regularity that will help the yogi succeed
- Cleanliness (Saucha)
- Contentment (Santosha)
- Austerity, a devoted discipline as a process of transmutation, burning away imperfections (Tapas)
- Self-study (Svādhyāya)
- Surrender to God (Īshvara pranidhāna)
Āsana – Physical postures. The practice of Āsanas is to strengthen the body and maintain good health, it prepares the yogi for later stages of meditation. The effort, concentration and balance needed to perform Āsanas makes us live intensely in the moment. Through the practice of Āsanas the body’s immune system becomes stronger, warding off disease; negative and stagnant thoughts are released from the mind, and, according to BKS Iyengar, “at a very high level where perception and action become one,... [asana teaches]…us instantaneous correct action; that is to say, action that does not produce reaction.”
The yoga Āsanas have developed over thousands of years to train every muscle, nerve and organ. There are hundreds of Āsanas one can practice, and one can start at any age or level of ability. The ultimate goal is to calm the body and mind in order to be able to meditate. Though the physical benefits of asana are profound, their real value of lies in the way they train and discipline the mind. A more detailed explanation of Asana can be found in the Hatha Yoga section of this website.
Prānāyāma – The practice of controlling the Prāna. Prāna means the vital forces in one’s own body and Ayama is the practice of controlling them. Through breath control we can control the subtle forces of the body, the nerve currents that move throughout. This deliberate practice illumines the intelligence of the body and sharpens the mind, preparing one for meditation. Prānāyāma has three parts to it: inhalation, exhalation and retention. Caution is recommended in the practice of Prānāyāma as it rouses the unconscious mind. A stable Āsana practice is also a prerequisite. A more detailed explanation of Prānāyāma can be found in the Hatha Yoga section of this website.
Pratyāhāra – Withdrawal of the senses. As the attention starts to move inward, away from the outside world, the mind becomes more calm. We are constantly distracted by our experiences of touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. Pratyāhāra is meant to free us from being swept away and charmed by the senses and bring us deeper inward. The teaching does not suggest abstinence from sensory pleasures. In fact, as the senses are more and more refined, the more they will lead us inward. Until we bring these sensory perceptions to a highly refined state, we cannot focus our attention on a single object or phenomenon, which is the basis for further stages of meditation.
Dhāranā – One-pointedness, or steadiness of the mind. Fixing the mind on one spot and maintaining that state with a directed state of awareness. The object of concentration can be within the body or outside the body. The first step is not to disturb the mind, not to associate with persons whose ideas are disturbing. By fixing the mind in one spot, we create thought waves that are beneficial to our lives. As these thought waves become more prominent, negative thoughts recede. In this stage the mind is able to focus on one object but is still distracted.
Dhyāna – Meditation. Dhyāna is an extended state of Dhāranā, or one-pointed awareness. The activity of the mind becomes increasingly refined, while at the same time, a subtle awareness is achieved. It is said that if the mind can be fixed on the center for 12 seconds it will be Dhāranā, and twelve such Dhāranās will be a Dhyāna. From there, twelve such Dhyānas will be a Samādhi, which is the next and final stage.
Samādhi – In Samādhi, the yogi transcends the object of meditation and reflects only on its meaning. In this stage, the thinker, the thought and the object of thought all become one. The feeling of “I” disappears, and the ego is completely dissolved. The yogi sees himself in everything and sees everything in him. This is the true nature of the self. When we realize this we also know God because we are all ultimately one with God.
Please visit the Rāja Yoga section on this website for further information on this type of yoga.
- Swami Vivēkānada, Rāja Yoga: Conquering the Internal Nature (Kolkata, India: Advaita Ashrama, 2002)
- B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (San Francisco, CA: Thorsons, 1993)
- B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (New York, NY: Schoken Books, 1966)
- Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, (Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, 2003)
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