Raja Yoga begins with the practice of stilling the body and mind through concentration of the mind on a single thought or sensory experience, i.e. sight, sound, scent, touch or taste. Through this concentration the mind becomes stilled to a single point. As your ability to concentrate expands you can then concentrate on the very building blocks of creation.
Ultimately, to attain liberation, you must focus first on your image of God and then on God as beyond image and form. Concentration and meditation form the essence of Raja Yoga.
It is generally taught that there are eight stages, or steps, in yoga. By reviewing these we can better understand the place and significance of meditation. Spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy offers insight into the steps of Yoga:
“What is Yoga? Yoga is self-conquest. Self-conquest is God-realisation. He who practises Yoga does two things with one stroke: he simplifies his whole life and he gets a free access to the Divine.
In the field of Yoga we can never pretend. Our aspiration must ring true. Our whole life must ring true. Nothing is impossible for an ardent aspirant. A higher Power guides his steps. God’s adamantine Will is his safest protection.
No matter how long or how many times he blunders, he has every right to come back to his own spiritual home. His aspiration is a climbing flame. It has no smoke, it needs no fuel. It is the breath of his inner life. It leads him to the shores of the Golden Beyond. The aspirant, with the wings of his aspiration, soars into the realms of the Transcendental.
God is infinite and God is Omnipresent. To a genuine aspirant, this is more than mere belief. It is the Reality without a second.
Now let us focus our attention on the spiritual life. It is a mistaken idea that the spiritual life is a life of austerity and a bed of thorns. No, never! We came from the Blissful. To the Blissful we shall return with the spontaneous joy of life. It seems difficult because we cater to our ego. It looks unnatural because we cherish our doubts.
The realisation of God is the goal of our life. It is also our noblest heritage. God is at once our Father and our Mother. As our Father He observes; as our Mother He creates. Like a child, we shall never give up demanding of our Mother, so that we can win our Mother’s Love and Grace. How long can a mother go on unheeding her child’s cry? Let us not forget that if there is anybody on earth on whom all human beings have a full claim, it is the Mother aspect of the Divine. She is the only strength of our dependence; she is the only strength of our independence. Her Heart, the home of infinitude, is eternally open to each individual.
We should now become acquainted with the eight significant strides that lead a seeker to his destination. These strides are: Yama, self control and moral abstinence; Viyama, strict observance of conduct and character; Asana, various body postures which help us enter into a higher consciousness; Pranayama, systematic breathing to hold a rein on the mind; Pratyahara, withdrawal from the sense life; Dharana, the fixation of our consciousness on God, joined by all parts of the body; Dhyana, meditation, the untiring express train speeding toward the Goal; and Samadhi, trance, the end of Nature’s dance, the total merging of our individual consciousness into the infinite Consciousness of the Transcendental Supreme.
Yoga is our union with Truth. There are three unfolding stages of this union. In the first stage man has to feel that God needs him as much as he needs God. In the second stage man has to feel that, without him, God does not exist even for a second. In the third and ultimate stage man has to realise that he and God are not only eternally One, but also equal, all pervading and all fulfilling.”
Yama means control and signifies the seeker’s acceptance of, and adherence to, the basic moral commandments. These are universal: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-covetousness. Continence, in thought, word and deed is necessary if one is to transcend all sense impressions, master the thought process and merge into pure spirit. Continence is, of course, possible only at certain stages of a person’s life, yet it has been put forward by genuine spiritual teachers as a necessary step towards total liberation.
Niyama involves the cultivation of virtues. This is the next step in the process of yoga whereby we actively change and mold our character towards a higher ideal. The virtues include simplicity, sincerity, purity, contentment and wisdom. The last of these is attained through the study of the sacred scriptures which form the basis of humankind’s religions.
Asana is a term which denotes a physical stance or posture. Asanas are most familiar in the West as the postures of hatha yoga. Here the seeker attempts to bring steadiness, strength and stillness to the very essence of our earth-existence: the body and nervous system. This is achieved through the practice of various postures and movements.
Pranayama means the control of life-force. Pranayama should not be attempted until one has developed the necessary strength and discipline through the various asanas. In pranayama the process of breathing is slowed, controlled and altered in order to develop a calm and steady mind and the willpower that comes through discipline. Mind and breath are linked. By controlling breath we control mind.
Pratyahara is the first step in the practice often thought of as meditation. This involves bringing the mind and senses under control. We then direct our perceptions inward towards God. This is the great moment when the seeker turns from absorption in the outer world and begins to become aware of the inner world which is beyond form, time and space.
Dharana is the seeker’s effort to gather up all of the latent powers of mind through the practice of concentration. By disciplining the mind to focus on a single point we bring the power and force of concentration into our consciousness. By anchoring our mind upon a single point we create a deep stillness in our awareness. This focus opens the door to meditation.
Dhyana is meditation proper. True meditation is the result of long periods of concentration. Meditation is the experience of the potential awareness which lies beyond the realm of mind. Meditation is experienced in two primary forms. The first is when the object of concentration is let go and the mind expands limitlessly. The second is when the force of concentration is applied to the awakening of the spiritual heart wherein exists our conscious oneness with all of creation and the unity of the individual soul with the universal soul.
Samadhi is traditionally considered the goal of yoga. Samadhi is the attainment of infinite peace. The Buddhist term for samadhi is nirvana. The Christian would term samadhi the “Heaven within.” Samadhi is attained through long periods of meditation. The attainment of samadhi traditionally marked the end of the seeker’s journey. Released from the duality, pain and suffering of earthly life the seeker sought eternal release in the bliss of samadhi. This retreat from life is not the only possibility. There are various degrees of samadhi-the highest being sahaja samadhi. Here the seeker brings the bliss of infinite peace into the earth arena through a continuation and acceptance of life. The ultimate aim being a transformation of, and not retreat from, the finite, fleeting world.
The practice of meditation is central to Raja Yoga. Sri Chinmoy offers a clear explanation of meditation in this essay:
“Meditation is the eye that sees the Truth, the heart that feels the Truth and the soul that realises the Truth.
Through meditation the soul becomes fully aware of its evolution in its eternal journey. Through meditation we see the form evolve into the Formless, the finite into the Infinite; and we see the Formless evolve into the form, the Infinite into the finite.
Meditation speaks. It speaks in silence. It reveals. It reveals to the aspirant that matter and spirit are one, quantity and quality are one, the immanent and the transcendent are one. It reveals that life can never be the mere existence of seventy or eighty years between birth and death, but is, rather, Eternity itself. Our birth is a significant incident in God’s own existence. And so is our death. In our birth, life lives in the body. In our death, life lives in the spirit.
Meditation: Individual and collective. As the individual and the collective are in essence one, even so are meditation individual and collective. We are all children of God. Our body says that we are human. Our soul says that we are divine.
No matter whether we are human or divine, we are one, inevitably and eternally. We are the inseparable parts of the whole. We complete the whole.
Vast is the ocean. You see a part of it. He sees a part of it. I see a part of it. But the full expanse of the ocean is far beyond our gaze. Our vision is limited. But the portion that each of us sees is not and cannot be separated from the entire ocean.
What does an orchestra produce? It produces a symphonic unity. Different notes from different instruments form the symphony. As each instrument plays its own notes, so each individual may meditate in his own way. But ultimately all will arrive at the same goal and the basic realisation of oneness. And this realisation is nothing other than liberation-liberation from bondage, ignorance and death.
Tat twam asi “That Thou art.” This is indeed the secret that can be revealed in meditation. This “Thou” is not the outer man. This “Thou” is our soul, our divinity within. Our unlit and undivine nature tries to make us feel that the body is everything. Our illumined and divine nature makes us feel that our soul, which has no beginning and no ending, is everything. Indeed, it is the soul that is the breath of our existence both in Heaven and on earth.
Self knowledge and universal Knowledge are not two different things. Everything in the universe becomes ours the moment we realise our Self. And what is this universe? It is the outer expression of our inner achievements. We are our own Saviours. Within us is our salvation. It is we who have to work for our salvation. We are our own fate makers. To blame others for the unfavourable conditions of our lives is beneath our dignity. Unfortunately, this act of blaming others is one of man’s oldest diseases. Adam blamed Eve for his temptation. Poor Eve, what could she do? She also blamed another. No, we must not do that. If action is ours, responsibility is also ours. To try to escape the consequences of our actions is simply absurd. But to be free from committing blunders is wisdom; it is the real illumination. Trials and tribulations are within us and without us. We simply have to ignore them. If this act of ignoring is not effective, we must face them. If that, too, is not enough, we have to conquer them here and now. The paramount problem is how to conquer the trials and tribulations. We can conquer them only by our constant aspiration and meditation. There is no substitute, no alternative.
From meditation, when it is deep and one-pointed, we get spiritual knowledge and pure devotion, which act not only simultaneously but also harmoniously. The path of Bhakti, devotion, and the path of Jnana, knowledge, lead us ultimately to the same goal. Devotion is not blind faith. It is not an absurd adherence to our inner feeling. It is a matchless process of spiritual unfoldment. Knowledge is not something dry. Neither is it an aggressive power. Knowledge is the food that energises our earthly and heavenly existence. Devotion is Delight. Knowledge is Peace. Our heart needs Delight and our mind needs Peace, just as God needs us to manifest Himself and we need God to fulfil ourselves.
Meditation: Individual and collective. It is easy to meditate individually. The aspirant is fortunate, for no third person stands between him and God’s Grace. It is easy to meditate collectively A student naturally gets joy while he is studying with others in the class. Here also the aspirant is fortunate, for the sincere aspiration of other seekers may inspire him.
True, there are difficulties in meditating individually, for laziness can plague the aspirant. True, there are difficulties in meditating collectively, because there is every possibility that the ignorance and weaknesses of others may unconsciously attack the aspirant’s body, mind and heart.
Whether we meditate individually or collectively, there is one thing we absolutely must do: we have to meditate consciously. Making an unconscious effort is like forcing oneself to play football in spite of one’s utmost unwillingness. One plays, but gets no joy. Conscious effort is like playing football most willingly. One gets real joy. Similarly, conscious meditation gives us inner Delight from the soul.
Finally, each human being must have the Spirit of a divine hero. If he is left alone in the thickest forest, he must have the inner strength to meditate without fear. If he is asked to meditate in Times Square amid crowds of people, he must have the inner strength to meditate without being disturbed in the least. Whether alone or with others, the aspirant must dwell in his meditation unshaken and unafraid.”
In order to safely practise Raja Yoga one must not neglect any of the stages of the Yoga. Moral and ethical purity is essential for success in the later stages. There are no short cuts in this Yoga. Taking shortcuts is playing with fire.
by Sri Chinmoy