17. Walking on the Royal Path – Raja Yoga
Very few of us see life as it really is. Most of us see things only as we are, looking at others through our own likes and dislikes, interests and fears. It is this separatist outlook that fragments unity in life – person against person, community against community, nation against nation. In fact no man is an island and he is bound to other persons from womb to tomb.
In order to see life as it is, one undivided whole, we have to shed all attachment to personal gain, power, prestige or ego. Otherwise we will be only looking at life through our individual conditioning, and we will see the world not as it is, but as conditioned by our likes and dislikes. Through many years of such conditioning, trying again and again to satisfy our ego, we have come to believe that this is our real personality. In reality it is just a mask of ego which we have merely forgotten how to take off. Beneath the mask is all the glory of our real Self; complete fearlessness, unconditional love, and abiding joy.
There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect. This happens only when he reduces himself to zero. A seeker after truth cannot afford to be an egoist. So long a man does not of his own freewill put himself last among his fellow-beings; there is no salvation for him. – Gandhiji
It is widely known that Gandhiji had practiced one form of meditation technique. When Gandhiji succeeded in taking off his mask and ‘making himself zero’ through many years of living for others rather than for himself, he found that what he had eliminated from his personality was only his separateness, his selfishness, his fears. What remained was the love and fearlessness that had been hidden there all the time.
Usually a person always resides in one of the below three states:
- Awakened state: Here a person is aware of his body and mind.
- Dream state: Here a person is aware of his mind but not body.
- Deep sleep: Here a person is aware of neither body nor mind. In that state a person is neither rich nor poor, neither ignorant nor wise, not a man or woman. He is not a Hindu or Christian or American or Chinese. He is, just he is, in true state – his true Self.
But a man cannot be aware of this true state in deep sleep. This state can be consciously experienced only in deep meditation. In meditation a person rises above the identities such as gender, religion, language, nationality and can see the universe with clear perception. Meditative experience also helps the seeker to easily understand the teachings of Upanishads.
There are many versions of meditations, chief among them being focusing on breath or an object, chanting a mantra repeatedly or occasionally, etc. We will use the last version in our practice in this book. It is advisable that meditation is practiced under the supervision of an able teacher. In the absence of such a teacher, the below method can be followed.
Pick any word of your choice, but small and easy enough to remember and pronounce. It can be Om, or Ram, or Moses or Jesus or Allah. There is nothing religious about meditation.
The word calms the mind and prepares it for meditation, which is the key to transformation of character and consciousness. Meditation is not a religion. It is a dynamic discipline independent of any belief, in which all one‘s powers of concentration are brought to bear upon one overriding ideal to drive it deep into every cell of the mind, until it gradually consumes all smaller ideals and goals.
Through this discipline one enters the deepest levels of consciousness, where the storms of deep seated conflicts rage continuously night and day. It is at these awesome depths, as Gandhiji put it, that love wrestles with anger and fear and ultimately gains mastery over all other feelings.
Prior to meditation, do not eat too much or too little, because such conditions are not suitable for meditation. You should be neither hungry nor too sleepy, with stomach full of food.
Switch off your phone, because even a small sound can be very alarming in deep state of meditation. Request others not to disturb you at least for 15-30 minutes and choose a secluded room or area.
Sit in a chair neither too high nor too low, so that you can feel comfortable with your feet touching the ground.
Hold your body, head and neck firmly in a straight line so that you don‘t slouch and keep your eyes closed.
You will notice that your mind constantly keeps changing between the below three states.
- In the first state, a new thought (about some object or idea) generates.
- The continuation of above thought is the second state.
- Suddenly above thought ends, and this is the third state.
Then again a new thought starts in mind and continues for some time and then ends. Thus the mind always switches between these three states of thought. Waves of thought are produced in a stream one after the other.
Do not indulge in stopping a current thought or starting a new thought or continuing the current thought. At constant time intervals (say 15 seconds apart), chant your word of choice, in mind, without opening lips. You should be able to do this meditation effortlessly, without much struggle.
Schedule 15-30 minutes for meditation and plan to come out of this meditative state after this duration.
Meditation experience includes being in a state which is neither wakefulness, nor sleeping nor dreaming, and becoming detached from physical self‘. Meditation also relieves stress and enables us to better focus our thoughts and energies.
Though our relationship with the world is impermanent, our relationship with God is eternal. To explain about our relationship with God, Truth, Consciousness sages have used two words – Atman and Brahman.
In meditation, sages discovered a core of consciousness beyond time and space. Even though a person‘s body and mind experience changes in time such as childhood, youth and old age, there is an identity that remains changeless and stands witness to the changes happening to the body and mind. This core of consciousness is also beyond space in the sense that it is not confined to one particular limb or organ, and there is no beginning, middle or end points to this core. The sages referred to this core of consciousness as individual soul or Atman, Inner Witness, the Divine Self (referring God as the in-dweller in each individual).
In profound meditation, the sages also discovered that there is an indivisible unity, Truth, Consciousness pervading the entire universe. They called it Brahman. Brahman is the Supreme Godhead, Who is the cause of creation, preservation and dissolution of universe. Brahman is also referring God as transcendent in endless universe (beyond the perception of our senses and thinking). Brahman is one and infinite. There cannot be two or more infinites because that means they end by limiting each other.
Brahman is also described with the word ‘Sat-chit-ananda’ meaning Sat (ever existing), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (blissful). The word Satya (Truth) is derived from ‘Sat’ which means ‘Being’. But there is no real separation between Atman and Brahman. Brahman is the mighty ocean whereas individual Atman is a tiny drop of water. God as Truth is inherent in both Atman and Brahman.
We may not be God, but we are of God, even as a little drop of water is the ocean. Imagine it torn away from the ocean and flung millions of miles away. It becomes helpless, and cannot feel the might and majesty of the ocean. But if someone could point out to it that it is the ocean (and teach it to realize it), its faith would revive, it would dance with joy and the whole might and majesty of the ocean would be reflected in it.-Gandhiji
Thus Truth is present in each one of us as Atman, Inner Witness, Divine Self, and at the same time present as Brahman pervading the endless universe. Truth is subtler than the subtlest and mightier than the mightiest. An atheist deluded by tamasic or rajasic arrogance cannot find God anywhere whereas a theist can find God everywhere. If we are evil, there is no place, either inside of us or outside of us, where we can run away and hide from Truth or overpower it. Truth is Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent and Eternal.
There is no place, either inside or outside of us, where Truth can be hid, contained, in this world or anywhere in this endless universe. As all seeing four lions in Indian national emblem declare ‘Truth alone Triumphs’.
In deep meditation every trace of separateness (‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘my’) disappears and life seems an undivided whole. A man experiences a state that is beyond three states of awakedness, dream and deep sleep. This is called Turiya state, the fourth dimensional. In this state of mind, time freezes and there is no past, present or future.
Once this vast and vivid experience of One Self has dawned, there will be a tremendous surge of true love in a person for the whole world around. He finds his fulfilment only in recognizing the same divinity in every form, and his satisfaction in serving all names and forms as God‘s own forms. To him the world of names and forms is all a fabulous entertainment.
That was the occasion of ‘Vishwa Roopa Sandarshanam (Cosmic Vision)‘ when Arjuna found in deep meditation, in the fourth dimensional state of Turiya, that he was not separate from Krishna, Truth, Consciousness, Who is Omni pervasive and has many forms and names.
But a person cannot remain in Turiya state of fourth dimension for a long time. After a while, awareness of body and mind returns, and then the conventional world of multiplicity rushes in again.
One may wonder, ‘what is it that makes Truth appear to be a world of separate transient objects’
It is because of maya constituting Sattva, Rajas and Tamas that makes us believe that we are the body rather than Atman and perceive the world in fragments. One way to overcome maya is practising raja yoga.
Generally people refer to yoga as Hatha Yoga, which is a combination of physical postures that give strength and fitness to the practitioner. However the true meaning of ‘Yoga’ is ‘Union’. It refers to union or oneness with God. Tantra Yoga involves union of male and female with an intention to conserve vital energy. This path is paved with many dangers and not suitable for ordinary people. Hence only Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Gnana Yoga are explained in this book.
We know that the globe can be divided into imaginary lines such as latitude, longitude, equator, tropic of cancer and Capricorn. Similarly a person‘s spiritual body can be divided into seven chakras starting from Mooladhara Chakra at the bottom to Sahasrara at the top. His spiritual energy lies coiled down as a serpent near Mooladhara Chakra. When awakened with spiritual practices, this energy reaches Sahasrara and this rising up is called ‘Kundalini awakening’.
Intense spiritual practices enable a practitioner to obtain super natural powers, called ‘siddhis’. That could become the path of sever penance where a meditator wants to reach God, but overcome by selfish desires, wants to become God himself, and finally brings his own demise.
Our aim in meditation is just to realize our relationship with God, Truth, and Consciousness. We should not run after siddhis (supernatural powers), but stick to our main goal which is liberation. So instead of dwelling too much in Raja Yoga, we should practice Gnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga too.
Raja Yoga is also called Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control). Sage Patanjali compiled the below eight limbs in Yoga Sutras as progressive steps which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the aspirant to enlightenment.
- Yamas: These are below five moral restraints (Don’ts) that should be practiced in thought, word and deed.
- Ahiṃsa: Non-violence, non-harming other beings
- Satya: Non-falsehood or Truthfulness,
- Asteya: Non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: Chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint. Bramhacharya, as commonly believed, does not mean abstaining from sex or staying unmarried. It should be noted that Krishna and Arjuna had wives and obtained children. It is nature’s design that life procreates and multiplies. True brahmacharya means being conscious of the fact that one is Atman which is not separate from Brahman.
- Aparigraha: Non-possession
- Niyamas: These include virtuous habits and behaviours (Do‘s) as below
- Saucha: purity and cleanliness of mind and body
- Santoṣha: contentment, optimism, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them,
- Tapas: austerity
- Swadhyaya: study of sacred texts
- Ishvara praṇidhana: contemplation of Ishvara (surrender to God’s Will)
- Asanas: Asana is a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed, steady, comfortable and motionless. Patanjali did not list any specific asana, except the suggestion, ‘Sthiram Shukhasanam (posture one can hold with comfort and motionlessness)’. The posture that causes pain or restlessness is not a yogic posture.
Later yoga scholars developed and recommended numerous postures such as Padmasana (lotus), Savasana (corpse), Vajrasana (heroic), Bhujangasana (serpent) etc. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the technique of 84 asanas, stating four of these as most important: Padmasana (lotus), Bhadrasana (decent), Simhasana (lion), and Siddhasana (accomplished). Asanas also help a practitioner to attain physical fitness.
- Prāṇāyāma: It is a combination of two Sanskrit words prāṇa (breath) and ayāma (restraining). It is the practice of consciously regulating breath (through inhalation and exhalation). This is done for instance, inhaling and then holding breath for a period (Kumbhaka), exhaling and then holding breath for a period (Rechaka), and repeating these cycles. Prāṇāyāma helps a person to be of good health by proper supply of oxygen to various organs.
- Pratyāhāra: It is a combination of two Sanskrit words prati (towards) and ahāra (fetch). It is a process of withdrawing one’s senses from external objects, persons, and situations. It is turning one’s attention inwards to one’s true Self, examining and experiencing Self.
Pratyahara marks the transition of yoga from first four limbs of external forms to last three limbs of inner state, from outer sphere of body to inner sphere of spirit.
- Dhāraṇā: It means concentration and one-pointedness of mind. The mind is fixed on a mantra or object or one’s breath without jumping from one thought to another.
- Dhyāna: It means “meditation or contemplation”. Dhyana is contemplating on whatever Dharana has focussed on. Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana the process of mind. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus. If in Dharana a meditator focussed on a personal deity, Dhyana is its contemplation.
Adi Shankara gives the example of a yogi in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit; the yogi in dhyana state contemplates on sun’s orbit alone for example, without being interrupted by its color, brilliance or other related ideas.
- Samādhi: It is the state of ecstasy where one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity. There is no distinction between the meditator, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. There is only oneness, Samadhi or union.
It is of below two kinds:
- Savikalpa or Samprajnata Samadhi (with difference or separation from God): It is meditation with support of an object such as the image of a deity or the tip of the nose. Here conceptualization (vikalpa) still takes place, in the form of perception, the word and the knowledge of the object of meditation. The individual is conscious only of the God within; he is not conscious of creation without (the exterior world).
Nirvikalpa or Asamprajnata Samadhi (without difference or separation from God): It is meditation without an object, which leads to knowledge of Consciousness, the subtlest element. The individual no longer sees himself as a “Mr. A”. He realizes that the ocean of God has become not only the wave of Mr. A within but also the waves of all creation without (external world). He communes with God in his ordinary waking consciousness even without bodily fixation and even in the midst of worldly duties.