Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga is one of the four major Yogic paths of Hinduism, the others being Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga.
Raja Yoga involves psycho-physical meditational techniques which attain experiences of the truth and finally achieve liberation, described in Hindu thought as moksha. (liberation from the cycle of rebirth). Raja Yoga is also known as Ashtanga Yoga. The term Ashtanga means eight limbs, thus Ashtanga Yoga refers to the eight limbs of yoga. It is the classical Indian system of Hindu philosophy and practice (composed by Patanjali perhaps ca. 200 BCE)
Sri Swami Sivananda said:
... the original propounder of classical Yoga was Hiranyagarbha Himself. It is Patanjali Maharishi who formulated this science into a definite system under the name of Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. This forms one of the Shad-Darsananas or Classical Systems of Philosophy. Vyasa has explained the original aphorisms or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and this has been further elaborated through a gloss by a learned author named Vachaspati Mishra, and through the celebrated writings of Vijnana Bhikshu.
"Raja Yoga is a practical guide for gaining control over the mind. The second sutra (of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras - Ed.) states, "Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah," or, "The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga." Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self." - Sri Swami Satchidananda
Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga or the Yoga with eight limbs as found in the Amrita Gita from a work by Sri Swami Sivananda:
• Raja Yoga is an exact science. It aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications.
• Where Hatha Yoga ends, there Raja Yoga begins.
• Hatha Yogi starts his Sadhana (spiritual exercise) with his body and Prana (subtle energy). He practises Asanas (postures) and Pranayama and through control of Prana, tries to control the mind.
• A Raja Yogi starts his Sadhana with the mind. He starts meditation and tries to control the mind.
• You must practise Yoga steadily with great patience and zeal. Then alone will you attain perfection.
• Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship) constitute Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga purifies the heart quickly.
Yama consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyam (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness and positive love also. This removes the brutal nature in man and strengthens the will. The practice of Yama is a Mahavrata, universal vow. It must be observed by all.
Niyama is observance of five canons: Saucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship).
He who practises meditation without ethical perfection, without the practice of Yama-Niyama cannot obtain the fruits of meditation. Purify your mind first through the practice of Yama-Niyama. Then practise regular meditation. Then you will attain illumination.
Any easy, steady, comfortable pose is Asana. Asanas steady the body. Posture is mastered by releasing tension and meditation on the unlimited.
Pranayama checks the outgoing tendencies of the mind.
Pratyahara gives inner spiritual strength. It removes all sorts of distractions. It develops will-power.
Real Raja Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in Samadhi. Retention of breath, Brahmacharya, Satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, Satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentrate on Trikuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.
Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not walk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. Substitute divine thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.
The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.
By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes an adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practises Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time and gets detailed knowledge of an object.
Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice which steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion.
Meditation on OM with Bhava and its meaning removes obstacles in Sadhana and helps to attain Samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi.
Samadhi is of two kinds:
• Savikalpa, Samprajnata or Sabija;
• Nirvikalpa, Asamprajnata or Nirbija.
In Savikalpa or Sabija, there is Triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). The Samskaras are not burnt or fried. Savitarka, Nirvitarka, Savichara, Nirvichara, Sasmita and Saananda are the different forms of Savikalpa Samadhi. In Nirbija Samadhi or Asamprajnata Samadhi there is no triad. The impressions are fried in toto.
A Bhakta gets Bhava-Samadhi, a Jnani gets Badha-Samadhi, a Raja Yogi gets Nirodha Samadhi.
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