BY SUSHANT PANDEY
Raja yoga is understood as one of the classical branches of the yoga tradition. Literally, the term ‘Raja Yoga’ connotes, the culmination or highest state of yoga. Raja means royal; it is so named because it enables the yogin to reach the illustrious king within oneself, the supreme self or atman. In various texts or scriptures of yoga, this term is used in different context as well. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika; one of the most popular traditional Hatha yoga texts; it is mentioned that ‘the knowledge of Hatha yoga is only for Raja Yoga’. (Verse 2/chapter 1).
The term Raja Yoga used here stands for highest state or culmination of yoga i.e. Samadhi or the state of transcendence. Here most scholars and aspirants get confused that purpose of Hatha Yoga is to prepare one for Patanjali’s Raja Yoga. But here in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the author (swami Swatmarama) is referring to attaining the state of Samadhi through Hatha yoga. Raja Yoga, therefore, refers to the highest state of yoga practice i.e. practices leading to the state of Samadhi.
Classical Ashtanga Yoga (Eight Fold Path)
In the modern context of the term, Raja Yoga is often associated with Patanjali Yoga also known as Ashtanga Yoga (the Eight-Fold Path). But Patanjali didn’t call his system Raja Yoga anywhere in his teachings. Rather the better approach is if we study Patanjali Yoga as a specific system within the wider framework of Raja Yoga.
The term Ashtanga literally refers to eight limbs. Here in Patanjali Yoga Sutra, eight limbs stand for eight different aspects of the yogic discipline. Eight limbs in Patanjali Yoga Sutras are-
- Yama (Social codes of conduct),
- Niyama (Personal codes of conduct),
- Asana (Posture)
- Pranayama (Breath-work)
- Pratyahara (Withdrawal of mind from senses)
- Dharana (One-pointedness)
- Dhyana (Deep contemplation)
- Samadhi (Deep absorption)
Raja yoga has been further divided into two stages. The first four steps from yama to pranayama are both auxiliary and preliminary to the last four stages of Raja yoga. The first four steps are also known as bahiranga (external limb) because they deal with the grosser or external expressions of life. They are known as external yoga because they harmonize the one’s thinking, behaviour and actions in relation to the interactions in the world. So the first four initial stages of Raja yoga are the external aspects through which we are able to control the vrittis or mental patterns which are affected by the external stimulation and environment. These practices are of a preparatory nature and are meant to make the practitioners fit for the higher stages of sadhana (spiritual process).
The antaranga (internal limb) comprises the steps from pratyahara to Samadhi, it deals with one’s inner expressions. In antaranga yoga one works with the mind directly and experiences the mind in totality. It is a process of detached witnessing, reflection, contemplation and realization of one’s innermost essence. The various techniques falling under this category aim to deepen the awareness, developing the understanding of one’s own self and awakening the hidden potentials.
Yama (Social Codes of Conduct)
There are five Yamas, which harmonizes the external expressions of the individual in relation to his social interactions in the society. Therefore they are known as the social codes of conduct.
Ahimsa or non-violence is described in Patanjali Yoga sutras as the abandonment of hostility from one’s vicinity i.e. mind, body, actions and emotions. Patanjali here is not talking about suppression of such thoughts which create violence. Rather he is advocating about establishing oneself in the state of consciousness where there is a complete absence of such thoughts. In preceding sutra, he suggests that in case of violent and dissipating thoughts one should reinforce Pratipaksha Bhavana; which is opposite mental patterns. Violence begets violence; therefore a compassionate and clear thinking can only help one to overcome the inner upheavals and confusions caused by violence.
Satya or truthfulness here refers to complete synchronicity between one’s thinking, feeling and actions. It is a virtue which abstains one from falsehood. Satya is freedom from any discrepancies between one’s thinking and behaviour.
Asteya means abstaining from stealing. It is explained in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that having being established in Asteya; all kinds of gems present themselves before the yogi. Here the gem does not represent precious stone rather, all the inner treasures of spiritual sadhana. Establishing in Asteya means curbing the tendencies to misappropriate or grasp things. Reinforcing this unsatiated urge leads to unsettling mind and emotions and eventually one loses peace of mind and inner harmony.
Brahmacharya is translated as celibacy. The verse referring to Brahmacharya states that on being firmly established in sexual abstinence one gain vigour (Virya). Most of the spiritual disciplines advocates of sublimating and transmute one’s sexual energy for higher spiritual experiences.
Literally understood as conquering one’s tendency or instinct of possessiveness. It is an ability which takes one away from the desires to become dependent on the comforts of objects and material possessions. These desires are binding in nature and create a cycle of samskaras (latent seed of actions) which does not allow to experience the reality beyond cause and effect.
Niyama (Personal Codes of Conduct)
Shaucha or cleanliness is all about removing the layers of physical and mental impurities. It is a process which brings more clarity and inner poise within the practitioners. It is mentioned in Patanjali Yoga Sutras that from mental purity arises the purity of sattva, a content state of mind, one-pointedness, control over senses and ability to have an inner vision of the self.
Santosha in Yoga Sutra is defined as contentment and cultivating santosha leads to an unparalleled and pristine state of happiness. In most of the spiritual traditions, factors that lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life are uncontrolled cravings and desires. Santosha is to find source of inner contentment and peace within.
Tapas means austerity. Austerity in sadhana brings purity of body and mind. The term tapas comes from the root which means heat. Therefore Tapas also stands for spiritual fervour which results in generating spiritual heat and inner purification.
Swadhyaya is self-study. It is the process of inner reflection and analysis which leads to the knowledge of the self. Swadhyaya connects one with one’s desired deity or one’s own conception of higher reality.
Ishvara Pranidhana is resignation to higher principle or reality. Ishwara or God is eternal principle in Indian spirituality. Surrendering to eternal principle as god or atman leads to realization of Samadhi according to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Sushant embarked on a journey of yoga in 1997 as a postgraduate student of Yoga Psychology from Bihar Yoga Bharati (Deemed University); known worldwide for its authentic and systematic teachings of the yogic discipline. After completing his Post Graduation in Yoga Psychology; he was involved as an intern in various projects/studies in prisons, army, hospitals and corporate for one and half years. After an internship; he was appointed a lecturer in the Department of Yoga Psychology at Bihar Yoga Bharati until 2005, which provided him ample opportunities to explore the theoretical as well as practical dimensions of yogic knowledge.
Today he is an independent yoga teacher and co-founder of Rishikesh Yogis Yogshala and is currently living in Russia & India. He conducts retreats and workshops on Yoga philosophy, meditations and Kriya Yoga. Connect with him on Facebook.