RAJA YOGA: Minding the Mind
… Rajayoga, operating with the mind, aims at a supernormal perfection and enlargement of the capacities of the mental life and goes beyond it into the domain of the spiritual existence.
Raja Yoga, literally the royal path of yoga, is also known as Patanjali’s yoga or ashtanga yoga. Patanjali (4th century A.D.) condensed the knowledge of yoga from his point of view in his 192 brief but densely packed verses, commonly called sutras. In these sutras, he divided yoga into eight limbs, and hence the name ashtanga (ashta, eight; anga, component) yoga. Yoga is a process of self-improvement affecting all parts of the being. Specialized schools of yoga lay emphasis on improvement of one or the other of these parts. In contrast with hatha yoga, which lays stress on improvement of the body, raja yoga is concerned primarily with improvement of mind.
Patanjali divided his sutras into four sections. The first section, samadhi, talks about concentration and its uses. The second section, sadhana, gives the method by which turbulence of the mind might be controlled, and concentration achieved. The third section, siddhi, describes the extraordinary powers which sadhana eventually leads to. The final section, kaivalya, deals with the true freedom that yoga confers, which cannot be reached if a person gets so enamoured with his extraordinary powers that he starts using them and demonstrating them.
The eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga, in that order, are yama (restraints), niyama (rules), asana (postures), pranayama (regulated breathing), pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (contemplation) andsamadhi (superconsciousness).
Yamas and nimayas are the dos and don’ts for a person on the path of yoga. The five yamas and five niyamas are a very comprehensive code for self-purification. The limbs asana through dhyana are an excellent guide for the process and technique of meditation. They include just about every strategy that anybody has ever thought of for silencing the surface activity of the mind.
Samadhi is the product of practicing the preceding seven limbs. Samadhi is a peak spiritual experience in which the consciousness is much higher, deeper and wider than what is ordinarily considered normal. One point to note is that yamas and niyamas precede the limbs that deal with the techniques of yoga. What it implies is that one should initiate the process of becoming a better person before going to specialized techniques.
It is no use trying to construct the edifice of asanas and meditation without laying the foundation of yamas and niyamas; and certainly one cannot unfurl the flag of samadhi before the foundation has been laid and the building constructed. However, the eight components of the ashtanga are limbs, not steps. If we treat them as steps, it would be impossible to climb the second step before finishing with the first. If we take that stand, hardly anyone would be qualified to go to the third limb, that is asana, because cultivating perfect observance of yamas and niyamas is itself more than a lifetime’s job.
Hence, parallel processing is permissible; one should start with yamas and niyamas; and while on them, one may also start with the specialized techniques such as asanas, pranayamas and meditation.