Hatha Yoga, is wholly devoted to the control of the functions of the body and to the mastery of the physical forces, its ideal being a sound constitution, well-fitted to overcome those physical and environmental conditions which stand as obstacles in the path of spiritual progress. Râja Yoga, on the contrary, deals entirely with the mind and psychic power and may be called the science of applied psychology. Its aim is to remove all mental obstructions and to gain a perfectly controlled, healthy mind. The main purpose of its training is to develop and strengthen the will as well as the power of concentration, and to lead the seeker after Truth through the path of concentration and meditation to the ultimate goal of all religion.
This path is called Râja Yoga or the Royal method (Râja means “king”) because the power of concentration and will-power are not only greater than any physical force, but are essential to the acquisition of all other powers. The man who possesses a vigorous mind controlled by a well-developed will, with strong power of concentration, can easily become the master of physical nature and in a short time attain the realization of Truth; and it is the special province of Râja Yoga to teach how this can be accomplished. Its study has been encouraged by all those who have come in contact with the Râja Yogis of India either in ancient or modern times. It was extolled by Pythagoras, by Plato and the Neo-Platonists like Plotinus and Proclus, by the Gnostics and the Christian mystics of the middle ages; and even to-day it is in some measure practiced by some of the Roman Catholic monks and nuns of the higher orders. Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, spoke in praise of it, declaring its object to be the unravelling of the mystery of the nature of the human soul and the enfoldment of the latent powers existing in each individual. It has been proved by the living example of Yogis that through its practice that power can be acquired by which all other forces in the universe may be controlled; and Râja Yoga claims that whoever has gained mastery over his mind, can govern all the phenomena of nature.
It teaches that mind is the sovereign power of the universe, and that when its forces are properly concentrated upon any particular object, the true nature of that object will be revealed. Instead of using an instrument, if we properly utilize the mental powers which we already possess, and focus them absolutely upon one point, we can easily know all the particulars regarding the thing upon which they are directed. This object may be physical, mental, or spiritual. The concentrated mind of a Yogi may be compared to an electric search-light. By throwing the converged rays of his mind toward a distant object, whether gross or subtile, all the details of that object are illumined and made known to him. The vision of ordinary persons is not so penetrating because their mental forces are dissipated like the scattered rays of an ordinary light In the same way, if the mind can be concentrated upon internal objects or upon truths that exist in the realm of the universal, perfect knowledge of those things can be acquired.
Thus it becomes evident that the power, of concentration is greater than sense-power, or than that which can be gained by the help of instruments. If we can develop it by controlling our mental faculties, by making the mind introspective, and by checking all distractions which draw the mind outside; and can direct our concentrated mental energy toward our higher Self, the true nature of the individual ego will be revealed, and we shall realize that our immutable Self is the Soul of all, and that it is the same as the ultimate Reality of the universe. We shall then perceive that the Divine Being, whom in ignorance we worship as separate from ourselves, is not far from us, is not dwelling outside of us, but is our own omnipotent Self residing within us. We shall also recognize that the same Spirit is one and all-pervading, and that it is the Absolute Truth underlying the name and form of every phenomenal object. This knowledge will emancipate the soul from the bondage of ignorance.
Râja Yoga maintains that the outer world exists only in relation to the inner nature of each individual. What mind is to itself, the phenomenal world of sense-perception is to the mind. The external is only the reflection of the internal; that which we gain, that which we receive, is only the likeness or reflection of that which we have already given. Mental phenomena are merely the effects of invisible forces, which cannot be discovered by the senses or by any instrument which the human mind can invent. We may try forever to know these finer forces through the medium of our sense-perceptions, but we shall never arrive at any satisfactory result. A Râja Yogi understands this and therefore attaches little value to instruments.
He does not depend upon his sense-powers, but endeavors to gain all knowledge through the power of concentration. The science of Râja Yoga gives the various steps which lead to the attainment of this ideal. It explains clearly and scientifically the processes and methods by which concentration can be developed. It does not, however, ask the student to accept anything on hearsay, or to believe anything on the mere authority of scriptures or of writers. But it states certain facts, requests the student to experiment, experience the results, and draw his own conclusions.
There is nothing mysterious in the system of Râja Yoga. On the contrary, it points out the laws which govern so-called mysteries and explains under what conditions the phenomena of mysteries are produced. It shows that so long as the real cause of an event is unknown it appears mysterious to us. Standing upon the solid ground of logic and reason, the science of Râja Yoga unravels the riddles of the universe and directs the individual soul toward the attainment of the final end of all religions. Its principles are highly moral and uplifting. It helps the student to understand the true purpose of life and describes the way by which it may be fulfilled here and now. Râja Yoga tells us that we should not think so much of what will happen after death, but that we should make the best use of the present and unfold the latent powers which we already possess, while it reminds us again and again of the fact that the advancement made in this life will be the foundation of future progress. If we gain or develop certain powers before we die, those powers will not be lost, but will remain with us wherever we go after death; while external possessions, we know, cannot accompany us in the grave. The only things that we can carry out of life are our character, our experience and the knowledge gained therefrom. They are our real possessions; and it is these which Râja Yoga will help us to develop; since its chief object is to mould the character and lead the student to the knowledge of the divine nature of the soul. The methods which it teaches can be practiced without joining any secret organization, but merely by following the directions of a true Râja Yogi, who is pure and simple, whose mind is free from doubts, and who is unattached to the objects of the phenomenal plane.
The practice of Râja Yoga is divided into eight steps. The first four are the same as those of Hatha Yoga. The first and second, Yama and Niyama, include all the ethical laws that govern our moral nature. The strict observance of these laws is necessary to the practice of the other steps of Râja Yoga. All the fundamental principles of ethics expounded by Buddha and all the truths proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount are contained in these first two steps. A beginner in the practice of Râja Yoga should live a strictly moral and pure life, otherwise he will not advance in this path, nor will he reach the highest Truth or realize the Divinity that dwells within him. A neophyte must remember that purity, chastity, and morality are the very cornerstones of the structure of the Science of Yoga. In the requirements of the first step we find non-killing, non-stealing, truthfulness, continence, forgivingness, firmness of character, kindness to all living creatures, simplicity, moderation in diet, and cleanliness. Non-killing must be in thought, word, and deed, so with truthfulness and non-stealing. The character must be firm, for the student must persist in the face of all obstacles until spiritual perfection is reached. He must not take up the study as a passing fad, only to satisfy his momentary curiosity, but must continue with patience and perseverance until the highest ideal is realized.
The second step includes austerities, forbearance, contentment, faith in the Supreme Being, charity, study, and self-surrender to the Divine will. All the physical exercises necessary for keeping the body in perfect condition are to be found in the third step. 1 Health is essential to the attainment of the highest knowledge. Those who are suffering from disease cannot make their mind steady, cannot fix their attention upon truths existing on the spiritual plane, because naturally their minds will be centered on the diseased parts of the body. A beginner, who possesses a healthy body and a well-balanced mind, should choose any Asâna or posture of the body in which he can sit firmly for a long time without feeling pain in the limbs. In the practice of Râja Yoga, however, one need not be so particular regarding the posture of the body. The student should simply observe that the spinal column is kept perfectly straight while practicing breathing lessons in a sitting posture.
Prânâyâma, or breathing exercises, constitute the fourth step. The practice of certain breathing exercises will remove many obstacles like dullness, laziness, and bodily weakness, and will be helpful for gaining control over the senses, sense organs, and nerve centers, as also in quieting the restlessness of the mind. Anyone who will practice such breathing exercises regularly, will acquire wonderful power over both his mind and his body. He who suffers from worry, anxiety, nervousness, or insomnia, can obtain excellent results even in a few days by the practice of proper breathing exercises. Those who have studied the science of breathing will know what these results are; but the main object of the Prânâyâma in Râja Yoga is to develop the power of concentration.
Making the mind introspective is the fifth step. It is called Pratyâhâra. If we can withdraw the mind from external objects, fix it on some inner object, and bring it under the control of the will, we shall accomplish all that is required in this step. Pratyâhâra is preparatory to concentration. Before the student is able to concentrate on any particular object he must learn to gather up his scattered mental powers. This process of collecting the powers of the mind and of restraining it from going out to external objects is what the Yogis designate as Pratyâhâra.
Concentration follows next. After going through the five preliminary steps, if one takes up concentration, the results achieved will be extraordinary. Those, however, who have not practiced the introductory steps will find this one extremely difficult, for the ground must be prepared before good results can be gained.
Meditation is the seventh stage, 1 and through it one passes into Samâdhi or the state of superconsciousness, which is the
eighth and last step. In this state the sixth sense of finer perception is developed, the spiritual eye is opened, and one comes face to face with the Divine Being dwelling within. In it the student realizes that his true Self is one with the universal Spirit, and he receives all the revelation and all the inspiration that can possibly come to the human soul. It may be thought by many that revelation proceeds from some external source, either through the favor of some angel or bright spirit or the extra-cosmic personal God, but a Yogi knows that revelation or inspiration is the disclosure of the higher Self within, and that the realization of spiritual truths comes to that soul which has reached the eighth step of Râja Yoga. Ceaseless effort, persistence, and perseverance in practice are necessary to attain to the state of superconsciousness. That which is realized in it cannot be revealed by
intellect or by any other mental faculty; therefore it is said that Truth cannot be attained by reading books or Scriptures, or by intellect or sense-perception, but by reaching the state of superconsciousness. Those who are longing to know the Truth, who are searching for the ultimate Reality of the universe, and are not satisfied with the knowledge gained through the senses or through the aid of instruments, should struggle hard to go into Samâdhi, because through it alone will they discover their ideal and reach the abode of happiness. Before, however, they can arrive at this state, they will have to follow faithfully the different steps already enumerated and with patience and perseverance overcome all the obstacles which beset the way.
There are many obstructions to Samâdhi, such as grief, disease, mental laziness, doubt, cessation of the struggle to attain Samâdhi, heaviness of body and mind, thirst for worldly things, false knowledge, non-attaining concentration, falling away from the state once attained, irregular breathing, etc. They can be easily avoided by regular practice under the guidance of a Yogi teacher. If a student try to practice by himself any of the exercises as given in Râja Yoga, 1 he may have some unpleasant experiences which may disturb his mind or nervous system; but if he have an experienced Râja Yogi to direct him, then he will have no difficulty in conquering all the obstacles and dangers, and in reaching the right destination. Some of the powers generated by these practices are too dangerous to be handled by an inexperienced student; they may not only injure him but may even drive him to insanity. There have, indeed, been many such cases among those who have tried to practice without the help of a well-qualified Guru or spiritual teacher.
Having removed all obstructions in this path, the student should be confident that he is approaching the final goal of Râja Yoga. When the superconscious realization is acquired all doubts will cease forever, all questions concerning the nature of the soul will be answered, the search after Truth will stop, the mind will become tranquil, and the soul will be emancipated from the bondage of ignorance and self-delusion. The Yogi will never again fall a victim to the attractions of the world or be distracted by objects of sense. The whole universe will appear to him as the play-ground of the Divine Being; and he will constantly feel that his body and mind are like instruments moving under the direction of the Almighty Will which is manifesting through all forms. Thus, having gained spiritual strength and illumination, he will become the conqueror of himself and the master of nature even in this life.
“He alone has reached happiness on this earth, he alone has conquered the world, who has gained perfect control over his mind and body, whose soul rests in tranquillity, and whose eyes behold Divinity in everything and everything in that Eternal Being, which is the Infinite Abode of existence, knowledge, and bliss absolute.” (Excerpts from the Teachings of Swami Abhedananda)