Raja Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

People who say that raja yoga is meditation are incorrect. Raja yoga does not reflect any meditative state, rather it reflects an effort to balance and harmonize mental behaviour.

Mental behaviour

When one is born into this life, the mind comes endowed with certain characters and traits. These characters and traits make up an individual in the course of life. The traits that the mind comes with into this life are: kama, passions and desires; krodha, aggression and anger; lobha, greed; moha, infatuation, ego; mada, pride and arrogance; and matsarya, jealousy. These six traits of the mind manifest naturally during the course of life. These conditions of mind are recognized as tamasic, negative or conditioned. They do not allow the mind to develop and evolve. They contain and hold the mind in the world of senses and sense objects, giving birth to many desires and passions. They give birth to many behaviours of the mind, the hatred, jealousy, arrogance, greed and infatuation.

These emotions are expressed spontaneously, which is an indication that one's life is tamasic. One's life is not positive; it is always negative and destructive. Positivity in life has to be developed through the attainment of sattwa. The journey from tamas to sattwa defines the path of raja yoga. The movement or journey from the state of tamoguna, negativity, destructiveness and dissipation to purity, enlightenment and sattwa is the journey of raja yoga.

The root cause of tension

The difficulties, stress, tension, frustration, depression and elation that one faces in life, take their birth from the six characters of mind. When ambitions, desires and passions are unfulfilled, is the mind at peace? No. At that time, it is most disturbed; it is under tension.

When the tension comes from the workplace, then that is only a location where some part of tension is being triggered off. When the cause of tension is the family environment, then the family environment works as a trigger to release that experience of tension, stress and anxiety in life. However, the stress, tension, anxieties, frustrations, depression and elation are related to the fulfillment or unfulfilment of passions and desires. The corresponding behaviour comes when passions and desires are either fulfilled or not fulfilled. Elation comes when they are fulfilled. Depression and dejection comes when they are unfulfilled. They become the cause of stress, anxiety and tension on a day-to-day basis.

The workplace is blamed. One says, "There is a lot of tension at work." However, tension is created in the mind, not outside in the environment. This tension is created due to the behaviour of the mind.

Therefore, if one wants to deal with tension, stresses, the negative tendencies and destructive habits in life, then one should not deal with tension and stress at a superficial level; one should go to the cause, the root, which is passion, aggression, greed, infatuation, arrogance and jealousy. These are the six main behaviours that one expresses throughout life. When they are being expressed, the mind is disturbed.

Raja yoga is a system to manage these conditions of the mind and harmonize the mental activity. This begins after hatha yoga, when the body and prana are balanced and organized.

Moving forward step by step

When people study the literature on raja yoga, they realize that it has eight stages: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. They say, "Raja yoga is meditation. Yama and niyama are not for me. They are ethics and morality being taught by yoga." This is the wrong concept. Yama and niyama are not teachings on ethics and morality of yoga. They are tools to improve the behaviour of the mind. When people ignore yama and niyama, believing them to be ethics and morality, and jump straight into meditation, it indicates that these people have no concept, no idea and no understanding of the process of raja yoga.

Meditation is the second last stage in raja yoga, the seventh stage. How can one jump straight into seventh class, without going through the first and second class? That is where people fail. Until today, despite trying to meditate, they have not been able to manage the behaviour of their mind. People who have practised meditation for the last thirty years cannot control their insecurities, fears and aggressions. What is the use of meditating for thirty years when one is not able to manage the basic behaviour of the mind? The flaw does not lie in the practice; rather in the understanding and approach to realizing oneself.

Introducing the process

The first two aspects of yama and niyama are meant to change the quality of the mind. The mind is conditioned, defined and subject to habits. The mind is controlled and governed by habits. Can one change a habit?

Let us look at the word 'habit', how do you spell it? H, A, B, I, T. How do you change this habit? The problem is that you cannot change a habit. If you remove H, 'a bit' always remains. If you remove A, 'bit' always remains. If you remove B, 'it' always remains; and if you remove I, 'T' remains, and tea is addictive and 'T' again creates habits.

There is no way one can escape or change habits. Meditation is not the means to change a habit, for the purpose of meditation is to focus the mind and reorganize the mind. To change the mental behaviour guided by passion and aggression, one has to follow the path of yama and niyama. One has to counteract the negative with the positive and create a balance. Yamas and niyamas represent an internal discipline.

When Sage Patanjali was writing his thesis on the subject of raja yoga, a question was put to him by his disciple, "What is yoga?" He said, "Yoga is a form of discipline." A second question was asked, "What is the attainment of this discipline?" He said, "With this discipline you can modify the behaviour of the mind." Then he was asked again, "What is the result of having modified the mind?" Sage Patanjali replied, "Then you will realize your true nature." These are the first three sutras, the first three sentences, of the Yoga Sutras, the raja yoga darshan:

Atha yogaanushaasanam.
Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah.
Tadaa drashtuh swaroope avasthaanam.

Purpose of yamas

Defining the mental arrangement and mental process, Sage Patanjali says that through discipline one modifies the behaviour of the mind which is guided by the six friends. To modify the negative traits of these six, one cultivates the positive aspects of one's life, which are the yamas and niyamas.

In yoga, there are forty yamas, out of which Patanjali selected five and placed them in raja yoga: ahimsa, satya, asteya, aparigraha and brahmacharya. Similarly, there are fifty niyamas, yet out of fifty, Patanjali chose five: shaucha, santosha, tapas, swadhyaya and ishwara pranidhana. People say that these are ethics and morality taught by yoga. These principles are to compensate for the negative, limiting, confining and destructive aspect of the mind. The negative, limiting, confining state is the tamasic state. To transform the tamasic condition into a luminous state of life is the role of the yama: by cultivating truthfulness; by eradicating the violent nature of thought, behaviour and performance; by attaining harmony; by overcoming the desire to accumulate; by overcoming the desire to gain and rob; and by establishing one's nature in higher consciousness. This is the yama.

Brahmacharya does not mean celibacy. Brahmacharya means one who is established in the higher identity and knowledge. Brahmacharya means to establish oneself in the higher nature. Celibacy is part of it, yet it is not the definition of brahmacharya. The five yamas constitute an effort to transform the negative tendency of mind and cultivate the positivity of mind. By cultivating positivity, the effect, influence and attraction of one's passions, aggressions, desires, greed, ego, hatred and jealousies, are reduced and the mind finds peace. That is the purpose of yamas.

True meaning of niyama

The next disciplines to be followed are: shaucha, santosha, tapas, swadhyaya, Ishwara pranidhana. Shaucha means cleanliness, elimination, or purity. The uninitiated think shaucha means to take a bath and to remain clean physically, however, the initiates, people who know yoga, know that shaucha means purity of the senses, of thought, of intention, and of emotion. This purity becomes shaucha when the pure nature manifests.

When the pure nature manifests, it moves into the second niyama, santosha, contentment. Desires and passions are the cause of discontentment. When one is free from desires and passions or when one has transcended, overcome and regulated them, then one attains internal contentment and happiness, the sense of 'I am fulfilled'.

Tapas is not austerity, rather an effort to transform one's life. Swadhaya is not the study of scriptures, it is self-awareness, self-reflection, self-introspection and self-observation.

Ishwara pranidhana is having faith in a higher power. Everyone is controlled by some higher power; no one is controlling their own destiny. No one can control their own reactions and responses. No one can control their basic behaviour in life. So how can one say that one is the master of one's own life? There is someone else, there is some other power which is the cause of growth, development and evolution in life. No one is the cause of their own evolution. The undecaying, unchanging principle is Ishwara. The permanent principle is Ishwara, of which everyone is an integrated part.

Development of awareness and adherence to these disciplines improves the quality of life and of one's mental behaviour.

From asana to dharana

Asana is the third stage of raja yoga. The definitions of asana and pranayama by Patanjali are not the same as in hatha yoga. Asana defined by Patanjali represents the posture which allows one to go inside; it is a meditative posture.

According to Sage Patanjali, asana is sthiram sukham asanam, 'a posture in which one is comfortable and steady for an extended period of time', thereby representing a meditative dimension. Similarly, there are the three pranayamas defined by Patanjali: inhalation is one, exhalation is one, and retention is the third pranayama. Patanjali does not speak of any other pranayama, except inhalation, exhalation and retention, representing the attainment of balance between the positive and negatives poles of life, or ida and pingala.

These first four steps of Patanjali – yama, niyama, asana and pranayama – represent the actual modification of human behaviour.

The next two stages, pratyahara and dharana, represent the effort to relax and bring the mind into a state of peace and harmony. Pratyahara begins with relaxation of the senses and mind. Yoga nidra is the first practice of pratyahara. There are many other practices of pratyahara, like antar mouna, inner silence, which involves the observance of thoughts, elimination of negative thoughts, and coming to a state of positive thinking; ajapa japa, gathering the dissipated energies and focusing them on a mantra and a particular point, to attain introspection and deepen one's meditative awareness.

In this way, pratyahara gradually prepares the mind and leads one to the state of dharana, which is unwavering concentration. Dharana is maintaining the one-pointed state of the mind. When concentration becomes unwavering and fixed, meditation begins. Meditation is not a practice; it is a state attained after the perfection of pratyahara and dharana. Deepening this meditative condition leads to samadhi, which is also a state of experience and not a practice.

Therefore, in Patanjali's ashtanga yoga, the practices are only six: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana. The remaining two stages, dhyana and samadhi, represent the attainment or the perfection of the first six.

Attainment of raja yoga

When the mind is completely absorbed in the one-pointed state of dharana, then dhyana, meditation, begins. Dhyana is not a sadhana, not a process or a practice that needs to be done. It is a state that one attains naturally. Nobody teaches dhyana. Whatever is being practised is limited to pratyahara and dharana, however, the results lead into dhyana, which leads into samadhi.

Samadhi is not the last stage. Even after samadhi the process of improving life continues. One has to keep improving and becoming better. Samadhi is not moksha, liberation, self-realization. Samadhi is a balanced and organized state of the mind. In the philosophy of yoga it is clearly mentioned that there are different kinds of samadhi, such as savikalpa, nirbija and sabija. It is clear proof that samadhi is not moksha and not the state of self-realization, rather a calm, awakened and deeply absorbed state of mind. In this state one has absolutely no idea about place, time, condition, situation, and so on. Place, time, condition and situation do not bind. In the yogic scriptures it is stated that dhyana and samadhi are achievements, not sadhana.

Beginning the spiritual journey

When the state of dhyana is attained, one may conclude that the journey from the conditioned tamasic state to the luminous sattwic state has begun. As far as concentration is concerned, it is the most important aspect of raja yoga. How much does one concentrate? How long can one hold one's concentration? For little time. While practising mantra japa even for just one mala, one discovers that after ten or fifteen repetitions or beads, the mind goes somewhere else. Where is the concentration? Mechanically one moves the fingers and the mala beads, yet the mind is thinking of something else.

My guru, Sri Swami Satyananda, told me, "Niranjan, when you can practise one mala without breaking the concentration of your mind, you will know that you have attained the state of dharana." This means that for 108 repetitions the mind becomes fixed and does not waver. That is dharana. Concentration is the most difficult thing. It is not easy. If concentration is difficult, one can just imagine how difficult meditation would be.

Raja yoga is the yoga for developing and harmonizing the mind. It releases the stresses, caused by the six ingredients, which give the taste and colour to the mind. When with the practice of raja yoga one comes to a state of internal peace, fullness and internal harmony, then raja yoga is over and the spiritual journey begins.

5 June 2014, Kathmandu, Nepal