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    What is Raj Yoga? Author: Elizabeth Denley (Australian Yoga Life, Issue 8 - 2004, pp.45-48, published by Judith Clements, www.ayl.com.au) Raja yoga literally
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 29, 2005
      What is Raj Yoga?

      Author: Elizabeth Denley
      (Australian Yoga Life, Issue 8 - 2004, pp.45-48, published by Judith
      Clements, www.ayl.com.au)
      'Raja yoga' literally means the king of yogas. This is a very grand title for a
      branch of yoga that is not as popular or as well-known as others, and that
      sometimes appears quite obscure. This article aims to demystify raja yoga,
      exploring the underlying philosophy, and most importantly its relevance for us
      in today's world.

      The origins of raja yoga
      Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to yoke or unite. This
      union describes the goal of yoga, to unite us with the Ultimate consciousness,
      which is sometimes called the Absolute, the Self, God, or the Creator. Raja
      means king, and this form of yoga is called raja yoga because the mind is
      supposed to be the king among the organs. Its origins go back long before
      any written texts. It is the old system or science followed by the great rishis
      (seers) to help them in realising the Self or God through meditation and
      associated practices. It was first introduced by a rishi who lived thousands of
      years ago. He discovered a practical method so people could evolve to their
      highest nature. He then started to train others1. Later, around 2000 years ago,
      the ancient practices of yoga were compiled and summarised by Patanjali2,
      in his Yoga Sutras. While raja yoga encompasses all eight steps of Patanjali's
      yoga – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and
      samadhi – the focus is on the last two steps: the mind, meditation and diving
      into the inner universe. Over the centuries, and up to the present day, raja
      yoga has continued to evolve, thanks to the practical experience of great

      Perception, and the mind as our instrument of perception
      In raja yoga the mind is the instrument for looking inwards and uncovering the
      inner self. Reading a description from ancient yogic philosophy of how our
      minds perceive the world, we could be forgiven for thinking we are in a
      modern biology or medical class, except for mention of the soul.

      The way our minds perceive is described in the steps3 (see diagram right).
      The mind is simply an instrument through which the soul interacts with the
      world, including the physical body. This internal mental instrument, which
      includes all the processes described (see right), is called in yoga the chitta.
      The chitta is often described as a lake, and in this mind-lake, waves of thought
      rise up and fall away as a result of the impressions we take in from the
      external world, so that sometimes the mind is restless and disturbed, and
      sometimes it is calm, just like the surface of a lake. When the surface of the
      mind-lake is very disturbed, because many thoughts are rising up as waves,
      we cannot see the bottom of the lake. We only glimpse the bottom when the
      waves have subsided and the lake is calm. Think of the bottom of the lake as
      the inner Self, the spiritual centre. In raja yoga, in order to uncover the Self,
      we have to calm the waves of thought in the mind-lake. When we put our
      attention outwards to the external world, the sense organs draw it out and
      impressions are continually formed, creating waves of thought through the
      mind-lake, resulting in disturbance. So the first step in raja yoga is to regulate
      the mind: to check the outward tendency and allow some of the mind's
      attention to turn inwards.

      Turning the attention of the mind inwards
      All the great prophets, sages and yogis have found divinity and wisdom
      through inner experience, and raja yoga teaches us to uncover those
      experiences by observing the internal states through the daily practice of
      meditation. The instrument is the mind itself. The mind studies the mind and
      illuminates it. From our childhood onwards we have been taught to pay
      attention to the external world. Most of us have little awareness of our inner
      world, but the process is not complicated, as the same methods of
      observation are needed for understanding the inner world as for the outer,
      external world. In raja yoga, we rely on observation, use discrimination, and
      learn from experience, as in any other science. It is like sunlight shining into
      the caverns of the mind which have been kept in darkness – illumination
      comes. There is nothing secret or mysterious in this. In fact, Swami
      Vivekananda writes: "Anything that is secret and mysterious in this system of
      Yoga should be at once rejected. The best guide in life is strength. In
      spirituality, as in all other matters, discard everything that weakens you. Have
      nothing to do with it. Mystery-mongering weakens the human brain. It has
      wellnigh destroyed Yoga, one of the grandest of sciences."4

      In raja yoga we do not need to believe anything, because everything is based
      on practical experience. We start to perceive for ourselves whether or not we
      have souls, whether life lasts only as long as the physical body, or goes
      beyond, and whether or not there is a God: all through direct experience. We
      learn many things, but this knowledge is not an end in itself. The goal is to find
      oneness with the absolute ultimate – yoga. As this is the goal, the object of
      meditation must also be the formless, absolute ultimate.

      Balancing the spiritual and material life
      Turning the attention of the mind inwards does not mean we have to give up
      on the world, which is a common misconception about raja yoga. It is true that
      the ancient rishis renounced normal life to dedicate their lives solely to their
      spiritual pursuit. The rishis meditated day and night, and their focus was
      totally on the spiritual.

      But this is as unbalanced as a life in which the focus is totally on the material
      world, ignoring the spiritual. The lack of balance in both extremes is explained
      by Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, the current living guru of the Sahaj Marg
      system of raja yoga in the diagram (left).

      Raja yoga has evolved to be accessible to everyday people, who contribute
      to family life and community, while wanting to attain a spiritual goal. The
      teachers of Sahaj Marg raja yoga say that spiritual growth comes with
      normalising all functions of a human being. For example, unlike some earlier
      raja yoga systems, procreation is seen as a natural function of Nature, so
      celibacy is not prescribed. Instead, spiritual practice leads to the natural
      purpose and function of procreation being normalised. All three in the
      succession of teachers in Sahaj Marg have been family men with children.
      They teach that it is in the world of the family that almost all human qualities
      are perfected, including the capacities to love, to renounce, to take
      responsibility, to function in a group, to tolerate, to sacrifice and surrender.
      Without this humanness, the spiritual practice of raja yoga can become
      austere and dry. Spirituality without humanity and character development is
      again very unbalanced. After all, we still have to lead everyday lives, and it is
      through the interaction with the world that we have a mirror to reflect the inner

      To only study the old texts and practices of raja yoga does not give any idea
      of the evolution that has occurred in this science, especially during the last
      150 years. It would be like taking an astronomy text from the time of Ptolemy,
      and expecting to understand modern astronomy. It would not be adequate.
      The only way to know about raja yoga as it is practised today is to go to the
      teachings of the current masters of raja yoga, and understand it in today's
      world. This shows no disrespect to the ancients, whose knowledge and
      wisdom was vast. It simply acknowledges that evolution has occurred.

      What is thought? What is prana?
      "What is thought?" The simple answer is that thought is a force.5 What does
      this mean? According to the ancient philosophies of India, the universe is
      composed of two natural principles: akasha and prana.

      Akasha is often translated as `space'. Everything that has form is created out
      of space. Before the creation of a universe, there is only space. At the end of a
      universe, all matter dissolves back into space again, and the next creation
      again comes out of space, which is the infinite, omnipresent material of this

      Prana is the vital force of this universe, and is often translated as `energy',
      `force', or `power'. At the end of a universe, all the forces in the universe
      dissolve back into prana; they quieten down and become potential – what we
      call potential energy. At the beginning of the next cycle, everything that we
      call in physics energy or force evolves out of this prana. The energy stirs,
      energises space, and matter is formed. As matter and space change, prana
      also changes into different types of energy. It is prana that expresses as
      motion, as gravitation, as magnetism, as heat, and as light. It is prana that
      expresses as the actions of the body, as the nerve currents, and as thought.

      This vital life force is in every being. Without it, we would not be alive for even
      a billionth of a second. Prana can be expressed in either more forceful or
      more subtle forms of energy, just as a person can be more forceful or subtle in
      their way of acting. Thought is a more subtle expression of prana than the
      physical energies in our bodies. Within the realm of thought, there are also
      different degrees of subtlety. First there is what we call instinct, subconscious
      or unconscious thought, including all reflex actions of the body. Then there is
      conscious thought, where we reason, think and analyse. The mind also
      functions on a still higher plane, the superconscious state, where it goes
      beyond the limits of reason and doubt, into the realm of intuition and wonder.
      In raja yoga, the mind is taken up to the subtle states of superconsciousness.

      The conscious working of the mind, the realm of reason, is a narrow circle. Yet
      it is beyond the circle of reason that we find answers to the profound
      questions of human existence: whether there is an immortal soul; whether
      there is a God; whether there is any supreme intelligence guiding this
      universe. Our ethical theories, our moral attitudes, much that we value in
      human nature, have come from beyond the conscious mind. Babuji writes: "If
      a thing is seen through the intuitional insight without the unnecessary medium
      of reason it will be visible in its original form without error or defect."6

      The great prophets and saints of religion claim and artists also receive their
      inspiration and creative insight from beyond the realm of normal
      consciousness, when the mind is relaxed and open.7 When the mind is in a
      superconscious state, higher wisdom comes. great sages and prophets
      have agreed that it is in the
      heart of the human being
      that God can be found. We all know this from moments when we find
      inspiration. The practice of raja yoga brings us to finer and finer
      superconscious states, till we eventually come to the most subtle of all, the
      true Self. This journey through the inner universe to the Self is called the
      spiritual journey.

      We receive unimaginable assistance with this journey from the teacher.
      People often ask, especially in the West, if it is possible to practise raja yoga
      without a teacher. It is like learning the flute or a foreign language. It is always
      possible to try alone, but a teacher can share their experience with us. A
      teacher can show us something with one gesture that may take years to learn
      alone. A teacher can also correct us when we have gone off track. Even great
      sportsmen and sportswomen have coaches. They may be top in their field, but
      they recognise the need for a teacher to support them while striving to master
      their chosen discipline. We accept the need for a teacher in many worldly
      disciplines, so why not in spirituality?

      In raja yoga the teacher also helps us in another way. When a yogi has
      control over prana, it can be brought to the highest state of vibration and
      transmitted to another person, arousing in them a similar vibration. The great
      they transmit their own spiritual condition to others as pranahuti (offering of
      the life force). The higher the teacher's own spiritual state, the higher the state
      from which they transmit, and the more effective the transmission in bringing
      about transformation in the student. It is for this reason that the teacher is so
      vital in raja yoga. The teacher is there to serve, to work for humanity, and
      there is no thought of being revered or worshipped. In fact spiritual teachers
      behave with humility rarely seen among human beings.

      Babuji said: "Meditation is the foundation of spirituality. If you meditate having
      your real goal before you, you are sure to arrive at the destination."8 Some
      ancient yoga systems taught meditation on points like the nose, between the
      eyebrows, and the forehead, but the Vedic and Upanishadic texts recommend
      only the heart for spirituality. Babuji also prescribes meditation on the heart in
      Sahaj Marg for three important reasons.9 First, the heart is the seat of life, so
      when we meditate on the heart we meditate on the source of life itself.
      Second, circulation starts from the heart, so if the heart is purified as
      samskaras (mental impressions of the past) are removed, the purity will
      extend throughout the human system. Third, great sages and prophets have
      agreed that it is in the heart of the human being that God can be found. Some
      say that meditation in raja yoga should great sages and prophets have
      agreed that it is in the heart of the human being that God can be found.

      Some say that meditation in raja yoga should only be taken up after a number
      of other practices have been mastered. These are the six prior steps of
      Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara
      and dharana.10 But Babuji has advised, as a result of his own research, that
      the earlier stages do not need to be done independently. They can be taken
      up through the sincere practice of meditation. As the body becomes tranquil,
      so posture is established naturally (asana) and breathing slows and assumes
      a natural cycle during meditation (pranayama). As the human system is
      cleaned of impressions (samskaras) by the teacher, with the active
      cooperation of the student in moulding character, yama and niyama naturally
      unfold. The mind becomes accustomed to turning inwards and thinking about
      one thing, so focus and concentration also naturally develop (pratyahara and

      In meditation, we gather ourselves at one point, our minds cease wandering,
      and we return to our own centre, the Self. To support this, the teacher directs
      the flow of Divine current towards the heart as pranahuti, awakening and
      nurturing our spiritual growth. We have only to prepare ourselves to receive it.
      Swami Vivekananda writes: "The power that can transform life in a moment
      can be found only in living illuminated souls, those shining souls who appear
      among us from time to time. They alone are fit to be gurus. … The guru is the
      bright mask which God wears in order to come to us. As we look steadily on
      him, gradually the mask falls off and God is revealed."12 What required such
      labour and hardship for the ancient rishis can be achieved now so simply,
      thanks to the service of the teacher, who lies at the heart of raja yoga.

      1. Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Volume 1, Ram Chandra, 1989, Shri
      Ram Chandra Mission, USA
      2. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali ,translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda, 1978,
      Integral Yoga Publications, Virginia, USA
      3, 4 5. Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda, 1982, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
      Centre, New York
      6. Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Volume 1, Ram Chandra, 1989, Shri
      Ram Chandra Mission, USA
      7. The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler, 1970, MacMillan Publishing
      8. Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Volume 1, Ram Chandra, 1989, Shri
      Ram Chandra Mission, USA
      9. Combined Works of Chariji, Volume 1, Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari,
      2002, Shri Ram Chandra Mission, India
      10. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda,
      1978, Integral Yoga Publications, Virginia, USA
      11. Combined Works of Chariji, Volume 1, Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari,
      2002, Shri Ram Chandra Mission, India
      12. Raja yoga, Swami Vivekananda, 1982, Ramakrishna- Vivekananda
      Centre, New York

      Elizabeth has been practising the Sahaj Marg system of raja yoga for almost
      14 years. She lives on the Central Coast, north of Sydney, has a PhD in
      natural sciences, and is interested in communicating the deep philosophy
      and science of Nature found in yoga to modern-day audiences. She is a
      member of the international faculty of the Sahaj Marg Research and Training
      Institute of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission. For more information on the
      system: www.srcm.org

      Taken from an article originally published in Australian Yoga Life, Issue 8 -
      2004, pp.45-48, published by Judith Clements, www.ayl.com.au

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