The Path of Raja-Yoga

India is famous for its yogis, and today there is a good deal of talk in the West about Hatha-Yoga and Raja-Yoga, and even some vague notion that there is a distinction between these two, but comparatively few understand the real difference between them. Even the word common to both, Yoga itself, has been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Yoga is translated Union—Union between man and Deity, which really means betwen the individualized man and his divine impersonal Self. As a process leading to unification, Yoga is Discipline; it is called the means of salvation whereby the human Soul frees itself from the continuous round of birth and death. However, its less well known but higher and truer goal, which is the Renunciation of that freedom of salvation for the sake of the sorrow-laden men and women of this earth gives to Yoga a new value. Yoga is then seen not only as the yoke of discipline for gaining Soul-enlightenment, but also as that highest and noblest of all yokes, one by which an emancipated Soul sacrifices his emancipation for helping humanity, uses his acquired Wisdom to lighten the darkness of men's minds, and dedicates his perfection on the altar of service to bring to his younger brethren the radiance of eternal love.

Hatha-Yoga has its own range—from bodily exercises which keep the corpus fit, to very complicated breathing and other practices which lead to psychic development. Numerous are the modes and methods employed by this school of many branches. All of them, however, may be defined in a general way thus: Hatha-Yoga uses physical and material means for purposes of self-development. But Indian mystical philosophy includes in the material more than that which ordinarily is known as matter, i.e., physical matter; it includes in matter that also which it calls subtle substance, sukshma padartha, of which the electronic particles and waves of physics are perhaps the grossest constituents. Therefore people in general, and especially Westerners, fail to see that many forms of mental exercises belong to the Hatha-Yoga school. There are many, many Indian sects and schools—Tantrik and other—and some of these, even though they disregard the physical body and follow mental practices, are Hatha-Yogic all the same. The highest branch of Hatha-Yoga was brought to perfection, it is said, in ancient Egypt, Khem, the name from which, as is commonly known, such terms as Alchemy and Chemistry are derived.

Raja-Yoga, on the other hand, means the Kingly Science, the Royal Discipline. This discipline elevates the human Soul to a truly royal state. It is the king of sciences and its knowledge enables a person to control all the forces of Nature, so that the Adept of that Science is able to perform at his own will what are called miracles. Round about a Hatha-Yogi "miracles" happen, but it is otherwise with the Raja-Yogi; he controls all potencies in the whole of Nature. In reality, there are no miracles in Nature; there is only the operation of the laws of Nature, most of which remain still to be discovered by modern science, but some of the aspects and effects of which, like gravitation and rotation of the earth, are recognized. Hatha-Yogis, like Spiritistic mediums and psychic sensitives, become, unconsciously to themselves, channels of invisible forces, while the Raja-Yogi consciously and deliberately uses those forces to benefit mankind.

Raja-Yoga may be defined as the true system of developing the higher psychic and spiritual powers (Siddhis) and achieving union with one's own Higher Self, or, as the profane express it, with the Supreme Spirit. It is primarily the Discipline by which the Soul controls and educates the mind, and with its aid purifies and elevates the personal man. Many Hatha-Yogic teachers call their own doctrines Raja-Yoga, just as so many mediums denounce "controls" and messages other than their own; and as in Hatha-Yoga, so too in the Kingly Science, a wide range of practices is included. But removal of all the accretions which have formed through the ages will reveal the discipline of Raja-Yoga as a single and indivisible one, consisting of two sections—the exoteric, or that known to the public, and the esoteric, known as Gupta-Vidya. This Discipline is not a Hindu speciality, though in the public world of today its Hindu form is the best known.

The exoteric and esoteric divisions are not arbitrary; they are only a legitimate device adopted by the high proficients in the art of Pure Living. These proficients are Adepts of the Good Law who assume the solemn responsibility of instructing those who are willing to learn. To facilitate Their work, They have kept alive in the world the exoteric knowledge of the Divine Discipline. When the learner has, by his own efforts, progressed sufficiently in controlling his senses and organs and in impersonalizing his emotions by a preliminary educating of the mind, he finds the truth of the stgatement that when the Chela is ready the Master appears. Both the Hatha- and the Raja-Yogis recognize the place of the Guru or the Teacher, but here, as in other matters, they differ in reference to the functions, etc., of such guides. Thus, the teacher of Hatha-Yoga has to be found by the pupil, and when found he requires the pupil to adopt practices, bodily and mental, without question, and often without understanding.

The person who plans to walk the Path of Raja-Yoga, on the contrary, does so after acquiring a theoretical knowledge of the Discipline, and fully understanding, therefore, what he is about and what is expected of him. With full confidence born of clear intellectual perception, he knows that Gurus of the Secret Wisdom exist and that he will get to know them when as a chela he has become ready. This "becoming ready" is a self-chosen task, a self-chosen discipline, and the practitioner knows what are the qualifications that he must strive to unfold. The very first test of his discrimination consists in the selection of the particular scheme, among several which exist. As we are making use of Hindu terminology, we will mention that among such schemes are those outlined in the Bhagavad-Gita, in the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, in the Viveka-Chudamani of Shankara, etc. These three are mentioned as the most reliable of Hindu texts. Their study, if dispassionately carried on, will bring insight, and then only can the practical exercises begin on a sound and safe basis. There are many in India and many more abroad who read these treatises, so to speak, upside down and bring discredit upon themselves through failure and worse.

We shall very briefly consider in outline the exercises advocated in these texts, culling from them not their metaphysical and philosophical teachings, but only those which pertain to our subject.

To begin with Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Wisdom: The practitioner is assumed to possess sufficient theoretical knowledge of the Science of the Spirit, so that the exercises he undertakes are intelligently practised. Four are the qualifications to be acquired: Viveka, Vairagya, Shat-Sampatti, and Mumukshuta. Let us define these very concisely:

  1. Viveka is discrimination—discernment between the Eternal and the non-eternal. These two are not distant, somewhere far away, but here, near at hand. Both the Eternal and the non-eternal envelop everything, and we have to discriminate between them in eating and drinking, in waking and sleeping, in all the affairs of life.

  2. Vairagya is dispassion or desirelessness, and freedom from self-indulgence. When we indulge the self of sense we follow the non-eternal; when we free ourselves from the senses it is because the Eternal has been glimpsed, however dimly.

  3. Shat-Sampatti are the six virtues: (a) Sama: Quietude in holding the mind steadily on the object of attention. (b) Dama: Control—mastering of the powers of perception and of action, holding them from running away. (c) Uparati: Cessation from leaning on outer things and external objects. (d) Titiksha: Endurance of afflictions without rebelling against them and without lamentation or grumbling. (e) Shraddha: Faith or firm conviction of the truth about the soul, the science of the soul and the Teachers of that science. (f) Samadhana: Self-settledness in the Pure Eternal in an increasing measure till permanency therein is attained.

  4. Mumukshuta is aspiration and ardent longing to realize the real nature of the Divine Self.

Turning next to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we find that eight steps are given there: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Roughly, their meaning is as follows:

  1. Yama are vices to be overcome and they are violence (Himsa), falsehood, theft, incontinence and greed.

  2. Niyama are observances to be practised in a sustained manner so that the integration of the whole being becomes a certainty; they are purity, contentment, direction of one's thoughts to the realization of spiritual aspirations, study, resignation to the Lord in the Temple of the body.

    These ten practices, five of Yama and five of Niyama, make up the first two steps; they are the initial steps. People rush into practising the third and the fourth steps before proper and adequate mastery of these two; hence occur not only many failures, but also numerous breakdowns in bodily and in mental health. We are not detailing here what the significance of these terms is; they are fully explained in the text.

  3. Asana, the posture to be assumed for meditation, should be steady or firm and easy or without strain. The poise of the Soul will find its natural reflection in right posture for the body; that Soul-poise comes from the practice of the first two steps. Without that practice, postures are assumed which, being false, prove dangerous. it is said that Right Posture prevents attacks from all the pairs of opposites—a statement neither understood nor taken into serious account.

  4. Pranayama, literally translated, means breathing exercises. In reality it means the right guidance of the life-breaths or the vital currents. Inhalation and exhalation do not, in the final analysis, bring enlightenment and immortality. Right ideation is necessary to harmonize the psychical and the physiological breathing. Gross ignorance prevails and people who undertake breathing exercises ruin their bodily health and endanger their mental balance. Warnings have been given before, but novices rush in where chelas themselves fear to tread. Occidentals who want quick results run after claimants who teach for a fee, and then they blame the Eastern Science of Yoga for the disastrous results that only too frequently follow. Let us repeat—Pranayama is an inner psychic practice and not merely an outer bodily exercise; outer breathing follows naturally the course of mental breathing.

    The above four may be described as preparatory to the direct dealing with the mind with which the remaining four steps are concerned.

  5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the mind from all external objects and from all internal images. The senses make contact with the external objects; fancy creates internal images. The mind must withdraw from these and refuse to be affected by any of them. This implies the mind's withdrawal from the power of the senses and its freeing itself from its previous involvement in the fancy-pictures with which it had connected itself. This withdrawal does not call for mental vacancy; it is not a passive condition, for it is but a preliminary to the setting up of the Idea on which the mind has to be placed. The goal or the object of contemplation is Ishwara, the Spiritual Lord in the Temple of the body.

  6. Dharana is the attentive holding on to the subject-object-goal to which the mind is directed, that is, Ishwara. By this exercise the wandering nature of the mind is transformed into the steady nature. This is the practice of Concentration.

  7. Dhyana is contemplation on the nature of Ishwara in a prolonged state of Dharana. Dhyana is prolonged Dharana in which the mind perceives and absorbs Ishwara. The human mind-soul sees the Spirit-Being, and contemplating on the latter, becomes like it. That becoming results in—

  8. Samadhi, unification, in which the two, the contemplator and the object contemplated upon, become one. Man becomes God and his mind-soul experiences God-realization.

The reader of this article will please bear in mind that the above is but a most succinct outline and meant only to afford him a glimpse of the scheme. The Yoga School of Philosophy of which Patanjali is the Master is one of the six schools of Indian Philosophy, and the Yoga-Sutras form the textbook of that School.

Turning to the Bhagavad-Gita, the first fact to note is that it is only in the sixth chapter that some hints at "sitting for meditation" are given, and that these are in a form generally misjudged and therefore misapplied. Yoga, or the Divine Discipline of the Golden Mean, culminates in the sixth chapter, and in practising what is given, two facts should be borne in mind. In chapters two to six of the Gita, Krishna, the Synthesizer, examines and reviews the teachings of the various schools of thought then prevailing, and to his analysis of each he adds his own teaching. If the Yoga method of the Gita is to be understood we should remember that in the sixth chapter Krishna reviews—rejecting or accepting—certain ideas and forthwith proceeds to give his own instruction, including the teaching of Reincarnation—that more than one life is necessary for the fulfilment of Yoga, which begins with the control of the mind, "restless as the wind." Secondly, what is given in the twelfth and the eighteenth chapters corresponds to the teachings of the sixth on a higher spiral, and furthermore the preceding teachings in chapters two to five form the background for the Yoga of the sixth chapter. We say all this because people, especially Westerners, err in picking and choosing the Gita teachings according to their own inclinations. They fail in consequence and bring discredit on the School represented by the Gita.

The discipline of Yoga, we may summarize, consists in:

  1. Purification and withdrawal of the thinking mind from desires—attachments and repulsions.

  2. Control and purification of the senses and the organs which are the windows of the soul.

  3. Right performance of Duty without any interest in the results which might accrue, which injunction also implies that one should not run away from the world.

  4. Turning the mind inwards towards the Spirit—the real Actor—and contemplation upon its nature, till the thinker becomes what the Divine Actor is.

This is a difficult task and a serious enterprise, not to be lightly undertaken, and certainly any kind of practice should follow a full theoretical understanding of what is to be attempted. Study of the philosophy of Yoga is absolutely essential before any practice is taken up. Greater and graver dangers surround the earnest aspirant than he himself suspects. A clean life and an altruistic motive will reveal the correct method. Without those two prerequisites, ignominious failure and worse awaits the rash practitioner.

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