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Raja Yoga

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Yogi Sage

The saying goes that all paths lead to Rome. You could say that all Yoga Margas lead to Raja Yoga or Royal Yoga. It is the highest form of Yoga, one that can only be reached by the very happy few. Few indeed, both in the East and in the West, are inclined to adapt their lives to its adamant requirements. In all probability there is only one in a million who can be called a true adept in Raya Yoga. But that's not a good enough reason for any of us not to try.

Raya Yoga ultimately leads to a state of total and perfect inner peace, a state in which one is totally free from all worldly ties, shackles and fetters and what not. In a way you are no longer from this world.

We owe it to Maharshi Patanjali to have collected the different forms of Yoga practices and diverse ideas and to have grafted them all on the Samkhya metaphysics and to have written the Yoga Sutras or Yoga Darshana. Though he is called the Father of Yoga, he is certainly not the founder of Yoga. His Yoga Darshana is a masterly and systematic compilation, supplemented by fitting contributions, of all the materials already in existence. Patanjali only systematized them. Although we find four chapters in the Yoga Sutras, the doctrines of Yoga are described in the first three only. The fourth chapter is a subsequent addition by a hand other than that of Patanjali.

Since there are eight parts in the Yoga Sutras, they are also called Ashtanga Yoga. Do not be surprised to find out some aspects are more emphasized than others. Bear in mind, however, this implies you will have to look elsewhere to supplement the missing parts. You will readily understand this, in all probability, will take several lifetimes - unless you belong to these extremely few people who go all out...

What is Ashtanga Yoga all about?

  • Yama, moral qualities or rules of conduct that tell us what not to do. They all originate in one's mind. It is not because there is no so-called deed, that you do not break these rules. All deeds and all words begin in the mind. Thoughts can be lethal weapons.
    • Ahimsa, no violence. It refers to love and respect for all that has been created, based on the knowledge that in essence All is One.
    • Satya, truthfulness at any time, wherever you are.
    • Asteya, abstaining from misappropriation of all kinds.
    • Brahmacharya, sexual continence, freedom from craving for all kinds of sensual enjoyments.
    • Aparigraha, non-possessiveness, non-acquisitiveness.

  • Niyama, disciplinal rules of conduct that tell us how we should organize our life. They involve practices which have to be gone through regularly, day after day, whatever the circumstances in which the sadhaka is placed.
    • Shaucha, purity. Purification for the sadhaka means specifically the maintenance and transformation of all his so-called vehicles (mind, body).
    • Santosha, the cultivation of perfect contentment, the result of which is tranquillity and equanimity of the mind under all circumstances.
    • Tapa, austerity (there is really no exact English equivalent).
    • Svadhyaya, thorough and detailed study of Yogic literature and constant reflection over it so as to prepare the mind for the reception of real knowledge from within.
    • Ishvara-pranidhana, self-surrender to God. It begins with the mental assertion "Not my will but Thy Will be done", but it does not end there...

  • Asana, posture. It should be steady and comfortable and maintained for a considerable period of time. All movements of any kind whatsoever should be eliminated. Rigidity is definitely wrong. What should be aimed at is the ideal combination of immovability with relaxation. The very definition of Asana (posture) rules out gymnastics.
    In Hatha Yoga books it is said that a particular Asana is considered to be mastered when the sadhaka can maintain it steadily and easily for four hours and twenty minutes. But this has really no important significance. It gives merely an approximative idea of the length of time for which practice may be undertaken for gaining mastery.
    Since the Asana-anga is part of seven angas, physical exercises are not an end in themselves.

  • Pranayama, control of subtle energy. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the so-called "breathing exercises". Breathing is only an aspect of it. The practice of real Pranayama cannot be undertaken until and unless one of the asanas has been mastered. The advanced practice of Pranayama arouses the Kundalini sooner or later.

  • Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses of the mind from their objects.

  • Dharana, confining of the mind within a limited mental area. Call it "concentration" if you like.

  • Dhyana, uninterrupted flow of the mind towards the object chosen for meditation. It is an advanced stage of Dharana. Never say or think you can "go and do some meditation". That's mere nonsense. Look at all these previous stages, and you will readily understand Dhyana is a process of growth. You cannot force it. Some invent it, though. They haven't the slightest notion of what they are talking about. Sorry if this sounds a bit rude, but we were talking about Dhyana, right?

  • Samadhi, contemplation when there is consciousness only of the object of meditation and not of itself (the mind). Samadhi is merely an advanced phase of Dhyana and not a new technique. The only difference is the absence of the mental self-awareness.

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Last modified: April 06, 2011