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Understanding Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Enlightenment

By Scott Shaw

The sight of an individual with their legs interlocked and the mind lost deep in the realms of meditation is one of the most common illustrations of Yoga. Meditation has been laid down as one of primary methods of mental refinement since the dawn of humanity. In ancient India the techniques of meditation were believed to be the highest path to spiritual realization. They were named Raja Yoga.

Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga is translated as, “The King’s Yoga.” This terminology is not to imply that only those of aristocratic decent can practice this form of Yoga. Instead, it delineates that Raja Yoga is the royal or high path to unification with Supreme Consciousness.
Raja Yoga is a mental pathway. The techniques of Raja Yoga teach the aspirant to silence the mind in order to come into union with the divine.
Defining Human Consciousness

In Raja Yoga it is detailed that there are five states of human consciousness: Kshipta, Mudha, Vikshipta, Ekagra, and Niruddha. Each of these states defines how an individual behaves while they are dwelling at a certain level of human awareness.

1) Kshipta defines the state of mental consciousness that the average person possesses. At this level the mind is running unhindered from one thought onto the next, the emotions are dominated by desires and influenced by sensory perception, and the individual has difficultly focusing upon anything but momentary carvings.

2) Mudha is the first level that the neophyte Yogi encounters when he becomes exposed to the mystical disciplines. At this level he understands that there is something more to human existence than simply momentary gratification. At this stage the neophyte Yogi is attempting to focus his mind to the degree where he may delve into deeper knowledge. Many beginning Yogis are never able to rise above this level of consciousness and, at this point, fall from the path.

3) Vikshipta is the level when the Yogi formally begins to tame his mind. It is at this point, in the ever-ongoing evolution of consciousness that he comes to fully understand that he must come into control of his mind, through meditation, in order to ascend to the higher levels of cosmic understanding. At this stage the Yogi’s concentration is still quickly lost, as desires are still the dominant force in his life. Thus, he is quickly distracted.

4) Ekagra exists when, through prolonged concentration and meditation, the Yogi reaches a state where he becomes one-pointed and focused upon his meditation—knowing that transcendence to the spiritual plane is the only ambition.

5) Niruddha is the state where the Yogi merges with Cosmic Consciousness.

Astanga Yoga
During the second century C.E. there lived a great Sage named Patanjali. Though very little historic knowledge is factually known about the historic figure, his writings, none-the-less, refined Raja Yoga to a much more refined discipline, whereby the Raja Yogi can follow a step by step pathway in order to obtain illumination.

The teachings of Patanjali are known as Astanga Yoga. Astanga is the, “Eightfold Path of Yoga.”

The Eightfold Path
Patanjali’s Eightfold path of Astanga Yoga precisely defines the steps a Yogi must pass through in order to obtain enlightenment. The eight stages are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

Yama
Yama is the formal vows a Yogi takes when he consciously enters upon the Spiritual Path. This is the first mindful step which is taken when he decides to leave behind the constraints of Maya, “This illusionary world,” purify his mind, and move towards spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, Yama is the very necessary first rung of the eightfold ladder which once ascended must never be forgotten.

There are five formal vows of Yama. These moral observances are known as Maha Vrata, “Great Vows.” They are: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahamcharya, and Aparigraha.

1) Ahimsa means, “Non-violence.” This understanding is elemental to the aspirant’s movements towards enlightenment as it teaches the Yogi to love all things and refrain from confrontation at all levels. The Yogi must not allow himself to be drawn into meaningless battle—be it physical, mental, or verbal, as confrontation only leads to further confrontation.

2) Satya means, “Truth.” Not only must the Yogi embrace truth in the spoken word but he must embrace truth on a metaphysical level, as well.

Many people falsely believe that simply because they believe something to be true, it is true. This type of truth is based on personal perception—which is dominated by society, culture, and desire. This is not truth. Truth is what remains when all of the temporary illusionary stimuli are removed from one’s individual perception and the understanding of divine consciousness is embraced.

3) Asteya means, “Non-stealing.” Much more than simply not being a thief, Asteya teaches the Yogi that all actions possess consequences. If you ask a person for a favor, Karma is created. If you go to someone for assistance, Karma is created. If you go to somebody expecting to learn, Karma is created.

Karma is a very subtle element of human existence that must be fully comprehended before you can go to another human being expecting to gain something. To this end, the understanding of Asteya teaches that you never seek out assistance from others for less than absolute spiritual reasons. When you truly need help, help will arrive, without your asking.

Furthermore, Asteya teaches to always travel with gifts. These gifts are not necessarily material, as there are various untold ways to give something to someone. In doing this, if you receive something, you have something to give in return. Thus, Karma is not created

4) Brahamcharya, translated from the Sanskrit means, “Brahmaic (God-like) conduct.” This term commonly refers to abstinence from sex—as this practice has traditionally shown that an individual is not lost in the gratification of his senses.

Brahamcharya is much more than celibacy, however. Brahamcharya is the state where the Yogi consciously leaves behind the desires of material existence. This process does not happen instantaneously. What occurs through the continued clarifying of the mind via Sadhana is that a gradual falling away of the various desires which once dominated your mind takes place—leaving you experiencing fulfillment in much more substantial stimuli that the temporal satisfaction of material objects and physical conquests.

When an individual begins to embrace the practices of Yoga and forces himself to accept the constraints of the celibacy thought to solely define Brahamcharya, his mind often times becomes rebellious and he is at constant odds with himself, feeling guilty over any mental desires he may be experiencing.

Brahamcharya does not mean that you are expected to instantaneously be free of desire. Simply work on clarifying your mind through the practices of Yoga and you will find that you pass through each step of spiritual evolution at your own rate. Each of your desires will fall away when it is their time to leave you.

5) Aparigraha is the, “Renunciation of greed.” Greed is one of the most damning factors of human existence. Greed for power, money, possessions, and sex dominate many people’s entire lives. The uncontrolled desire for spiritual enlightenment is also a form of greed. And, though the individual believes that he is walking the path of God realization, he is, in fact, doing just the opposite. For this reason, the true Yogi renounces desire and greed at all levels. Though he walks on the path of spiritual realization, he does not become lost in personal desires—what he may gain from Samadhi is not his motivator.

Niyama
Niyama means, “Restraint.” This is the second stage of Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga. As with Yama, Niyama possesses five prescribed practices which a Yogi should embrace to continue on his evolution towards enlightenment: Shauca, Samtosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana.

1) Shauca means, “Purity.” To the modern Yogi the practice of Shauca dictates that you avoid negative people, negative environments, negative food and drink, and consciously attempt to embrace righteous behavior in all of your actions.

Purity is not an external image. It is not the clothing that you wear or the external image which you project. It is, however, what you say, what you do, and how you behave when interacting with all entities of this world—be they alive or simply seeming bits of matter, such as rocks or sand.

How you behave is your choice. How you react to the way others behave towards you is also your choice. You can choose to be kind and positive no matter how negative any person or situation may seem to be. With this, you radiate positive, pure energy to all that you encounter.

2) Samtosha is, “Contentment.” Contentment means that you do not desire anything more than what you already possess; be it physical, material, emotional, or spiritual. With this mindset you instantly embrace the higher essence of Yoga and spirituality. Lacking desire, you are free. Thus, union with God occurs naturally.

Most people unconsciously separate themselves from Samtosha. They believe they must look a certain way or behave in a specific fashion to suit the people they are attempting to gain love, respect, or acceptance from. This type of false behavior is not solely lost to the material world, it is very common in spiritual communities, as well.

This type of conduct, though very common, is one of the root causes of unhappiness—no matter how hard you try you can not make anyone else happy as long as you are not being true to yourself.

Embrace Samtosha and simply be. Stop attempting to please others. Stop judging yourself by comparison with others. Allow your body to be your body, your mind to be your mind, and you to be you. Walk the Spiritual Path as purely as you can. Without desire you become free.

3) Tapas, literally translated from Sanskrit, means, “Heat or Glow.” Tapas, also called Tapasia, when referring to spiritual practices details austerities or asceticism.

It is understood that for a person to enter the Spiritual Path of Yoga he must change the way he commonly interacts with the world—desires must be left behind in order that a new being can emerge. To accomplish this, an individual needs to focus his attentions solely on the spiritual. This oftentimes causes turmoil, for the mind has been allowed to think what it has wanted to think and the body allowed to consume and partake of what it has craved. Thus, to many individuals, simply stepping on the Spiritual Path is Tapasia.

There have been holy men for thousands of years who have put their bodies and minds to the ultimate test in the name of Tapasia. There are many who forgo the wearing of clothing, or give up talking. Others, vow to stand on one leg for the rest of their lives. Many retreat to caves, never to interact with other humans again. All of these are extreme examples of Tapasia.

To the modern practitioner, seeking illumination on the Spiritual Path, this level of excessive Tapasia is not elementally required. It must be firmly reiterated that we humans already possess the spark of enlightenment within our beings. We must simply embrace this knowledge once again. To this end, Tapasia to the modern practitioner is based more upon dismissing the emotional and material excesses which your life has commonly come to embrace. For many, to stop drinking soft drinks or coffee is an intense austerity. To others, simply sitting in meditation two times a day is excessive Tapas. Therefore, Tapas must be defined by the individual and not measured by what others have previously chosen as their individual practice in this required level of mental and physical discipline.

4) Svadhyaya means, “Spiritual study.”

Many individuals falsely believe that they already know all that there is to know. This is based upon personal ego, psychological insecurity, and the desire for a person to believe that he or she is more than they truly are.

Over the centuries, many people have walked the Spiritual Path. From them, we can gain great knowledge and wisdom. Each of the obstacles we individually run up against have been encountered by others who have eventually overcome them. From their paths we can learn how to more quickly bypass these obstacles and realign and rebalance our lives. To this end, Svadhyaya is essential.

5) Ishvara Pranidhana: Ishvara means “God Consciousness or Supreme Consciousness.” Pranidhan means “Surrender to.” Thus, Ishvara Pranidhana means, “Surrendering to God.”

Many modern individuals choose to not believe in the existence of God or a supreme consciousness. They consider this system of belief superstition—believing that all that happens in this world is simply random chaos set in motion by some not yet defined scientific causation. It is certainly not the objective of this book to attempt to alter anyone’s beliefs. Thus, if that is what you believe—that is what you believe. From ancient cultures forward, however, there has existed the belief in a supreme entity. This being or energy has been called untold names and has been assigned a multitude of images. If you believe in a supreme being, by what ever name or form, this is what you surrender your ego, desires, and thinking mind onto.

Perfect Interaction
If we step outside of ourselves for a moment and stop believing that we are the center of the universe, we witness that there is an extremely vast plethora of energies, life forms, and so many perfectly timed cosmic interactions going on, that there must be some source of supreme knowledge which has orchestrated this divine melodrama. Certainly, we as individuals may not like everything that is taking place on this physical plane. But, if we move beyond our own limited perceptions for a second we see that the constant movement of the waves, the flowing of the rivers to the sea, the ever changing seasons, the construction and destruction of surface by the elements of nature is overwhelmingly amazing and it all happens with such a perfection that there must be a cosmic maestro.

You are an individual participant of this divine perfection. You have a purpose to serve or you would not be here. If you choose to be unhappy, you can be unhappy. If you choose to pursue enlightenment, you can. It is all your choice, defined only by the placement you have received in this cosmic theater. Surrender to it and you are free. You do what you do, seeing all action as your pathway to closer connection to God. From this belief, you no longer resist and make yourself uncomfortable and miserable. Instead, you become a conscious player in this grandiose theater of life.

Asana
Asana is the third level of Pantajali’s Astanga Yoga. Asana, translated from the Sanskrit, means “Seat or Throne.” In the modern era this word is commonly used to describe the physical postures practiced in Hatha Yoga. In classic Yoga, however, this word describes a firm meditative posture whereby the Yogi could sit for long periods of time and meditate undisturbed by the external world.

The classic posture for seated meditation is Padma Asana or the Lotus Pose. This is where the practitioner sits cross-legged on the ground. There are three variations of this posture. The first and most basic is Sukh Asana. This is where the legs are naturally crossed and the feet touch the ground underneath the thighs. The second, Arddha Padma Asana, “Half Lotus,” is where the top of one foot is brought up and placed on the thigh of the opposite leg. The third, Padma Asana, “Full Lotus,” is where the right foot is placed on the left thigh and the left foot is placed upon the right thigh.

For centuries it has been taught that Padma Asana is the most beneficial posture to assume while meditating and practicing Pranayama, “Breath Control” and Meditation. It is stated in ancient texts that this pose naturally stimulates the spinal nerves, which activates Kundalini.

Though this is the traditional posture for meditation, it is unduly uncomfortable for many individuals. If this discomfort is based upon your lack of desire to sit on the floor in this position, then you should make the practice of this posture one of your Tapasia and master the pose. If, on the other hand, you cannot sit in this pose comfortably due to arthritis in your hips or knees, then you should sit in whatever position you can comfortably maintain for an extended period of time, with your spine straight, as you practice Pranayama and meditation.

The Foundations of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga has become the most identifiable branch of Yoga, particularly in the Western World. This is the limb of Yoga where the participants perform exacting physical movements in order to enhance health, longevity, mental and physical balance.

Hatha Yoga literally translates from Sanskrit as, “Force Yoga.” Hatha Yoga is more properly referred to as Hatha Vidya, however. Which means, “The Science of Hatha.”
The roots of Hatha Vidya can be traced to the ancient Tantric cult of Kaya Siddhi. Within this sect it was taught that through the practice of precise physical postures, magical powers or Siddhi would come to be possessed by its practitioners. A varying form of Hatha Vidya gained additional merit, in the ancient period, from the Shaivits—worshipers of the Hindu God Shiva. This group used Hatha Vidya to not only gain mystical powers but to refine their bodies to the degree where they could personally commune with Shiva.

The individual who is credited with formalizing Hatha Vidya is the legendary, Gorakshanatha. He is believed to have been a ninth century C.E. sage from the Punjab region of India.

From a historic perspective, it must be understood that Hatha Vidya was considered, and is still considered by some, to be a degenerative form of Yoga. This is because of the fact that it emphasizes a Yogi place his focus upon the physical body. The physical body is something that most schools of Yoga have attempted to transcend. None-the-less, as the centuries have progressed Hatha Vidya has come to play an integral role in the overall dissemination of the Yogic philosophy. In fact, Hatha Vidya historically became integrated into several limbs of the more established branches of Yoga. This occurrence was in no small part due to the works composed by the great Indian Saint, Patanjali.

Patanjali
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it is detailed that Hatha Vidya is an integral element of Raja Yoga. As Raja Yoga is a limb of Yoga focusing predominately upon meditation, the techniques of Hatha Vidya are commonly performed prior to formal seated mediation—as they bring the body and mind of the practitioner into harmony with one another. Thus, the ability to enter into a meditative mindset is substantially heightened.

Many modern individuals enter into the practice of Hatha Vidya because they are told by their doctors that their blood pressure is too high or that their heart rate is accelerated due to the toll which is being placed upon them by the stressful conditions which they are encountering in their daily lives. Others are guided to Hatha Vidya because they are experiencing the ravages of aging and wish to realign themselves with a more youthful and energetic body. Whatever the reasoning, any individual who becomes involved with Hatha Vidya will come away with not only a reenergized body but a calmer mind, as well.

It must be understood, however, that though the physical and mental benefits of Hatha Vidya are self evident to anyone who becomes a practitioner, the intended purpose of Hatha Vidya is not simply physical wellbeing. Hatha Vidya is designed to purify the body of the practitioner to the degree that it may become a suitable vehicle for Self Realization.

Pranayama
Modern science teaches us that every element of this universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest planet is vibrating with an energy. In Sanskrit, that energy is known as Prana, which means, “Vital Force.”

Your human form continually pulsates with Prana. Those individuals who have large amount of Prana are energetic, happy, and vital. Those with low amounts of Prana are lethargic, sad, and depressed.

Prana is regulated in your body by your breath. Therefore, excess amounts of Prana can be brought into your body through precise breath control techniques. These techniques are known as Pranayama. Through the practice of Pranayama your physical and emotional being is enhanced as well as your mind can be guided into meditative states.

Pratyahara
Pratyahara is the fifth level of Astanga Yoga. It details that the Yogi should withdraw his senses from the external world and embrace, “Non-being.”

Non-being is an abstract consciousness. In the modern world we have all been programed to identify ourselves with the thought of, “I.” “I am a human being.” “I look like this.” “I feel this way at this particular moment.” “I think this about that.” “I want that, right now.” and so on. Though this is what we have been trained to accept as normal consciousness, the Yogi attempts to step past this limited perception of life.

Desire and Non-Being
How many times have you gone outside and desired an object so much that you completely lost your peace due to the fact that you began to obsess about how you could come to acquire it? How many times have you been outside and you saw a beautiful person that you physically or emotionally wished that you could come to know? How many times have you been watching television or reading a magazine and realized that you truly wished to live the life of a specific person? Why did this desire arise? Because you saw them. If you had not, you would not even know that they existed and you would be one step closer to ultimate peace.

The physical world is infamous for dragging you into desire. This has been the case since the dawn of humanity. Pratyahara instructs that you must move away from the distracting influences of the physical world to truly be able to embrace divine consciousness.

Pratyahara teaches that you must remove yourself from the false precipice motivated by external visual and sensory stimuli in order that you may embrace the non-being nature of divine consciousness. To achieve this, you must retreat from the world.

To some, this has meant escaping to live in caves or monasteries. Pratyahara does not have to be that extreme, however.

To practice Pratyahara, within the constraints of modern society, you can do something as simple as setting aside a certain portion of home where you consciously will not allow desires or desire stimulating objects to enter. This location does not have to be grandiose. It can be a small designated corner of your home. Upon its designation, every day you will go to this quiet location and consciously withdraw your senses from desire.

The path of Pratyahara is not instantaneous. As is the case with all forms of meditation, it must be practiced. As such, it is important to keep in mind that when you go to this location you will not instantly fall deeply into desireless meditation simply because you have entered the space and have sat down. Entering this area, however, will certainly be a motivating precursor to the falling away of desire and meditation.

Pratyahara Practice
Once you have seated yourself in this location, you will quiet your mind by consciously removing your thoughts from the luring aspects of the material world. Mentally see all the desires you possess fall away. Witness the sensation of your body and mind not desiring anything. Without desire, witness your mind merge into the oneness of the cosmic whole. See yourself as a non-entity, pure energy.

Dharana
Dharana means, “Concentration.” This is the first step of meditation—for without the ability to acutely focus your thinking mind you will not possess the capability to truly meditate.

The practice of Dharana teaches you to guide your mind into a one-pointedness not known to the average individual. Dharana teaches you to not let passing thoughts control you—leading to desires, emotions, and anxieties about situations which are not existent in the present moment. Dharana refines your mind to the degree that when you sit to meditate, you sit to meditate and will not be frustrated by a lack of focus.

Dhyana
Dhyana means, “Meditation.” Meditation has long been understood to be the primary component to refining a human being and linking them with divine consciousness.

Meditation is much more than simple concentration. Meditation witnesses you, very consciously, placing your one-pointed focus upon an image, object, or an energy that represents the supreme being or ultimate reality. To achieve this, as a Christian you may focus upon a mental image of Jesus. As a Hindu, you may visualize an incarnation of Vishnu, or perhaps the god Shiva, Kali, Hanuman, or Ganesha. If you are a Buddhist, the focus of your meditation may be upon the essence of Siddhartha Guatama, the Sakyamuni Buddha. If you are an individual who believes that God is an undefined source of pure energy and knowledge, your attention may be placed upon a mental image of pure white light or very consciously watching your breath, as it enters and exits your body—as this is what links your human body to this physical life. Therefore, this presents you with the opportunity to advance your spiritual being to the higher planes of consciousness. In whatever format, what sets meditation apart from concentration is focus.

Samadhi
Samadhi literally means, “Ecstasy” in Sanskrit. It is the supreme level of Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga. Samadhi defines the final step in human consciousness where the individual merges with the divine in a state of all knowing Self Realization and awareness—enlightenment.

There are three primary levels of Samadhi. The first is Savikalpa Samadhi. This is the stage of enlightenment where the individual has focused his attention upon an image of the divine and has merged and become one with this deity or energy. At this level, the person is still aware of his human form, yet he is not identified with the constrains of personality or worldly desires.

The second level of Samadhi is known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi. This level of enlightenment witnesses the individual devoid of self—all levels of bodily consciousness have been replaced by the ecstasy of complete and total divine interaction—Cosmic Consciousness.

There is one final type of Samadhi, commonly understood to come to the Yogi on the path to Self Realization. This is known as Sahaja Samadhi. This is the instantaneous enlightenment that the Zen Buddhists have named Satori. This is enlightenment which simply happens—occurs in an instant of divine insight where the individual self falls away and supreme knowledge is understood. The individual who achieves this is known as a Jivamukta, “The living liberated.”

Samadhi is the end result of the practice of Yoga. The paradoxical problem which exists in this mentality is that, as long as you set your sights on a goal, be it a new house, new car, new job, new lover, or enlightenment, you are bound to the constraints of material existence by that desire.

Desire itself, no matter how seemingly holy, keeps you from Self Realization and Cosmic Consciousness. Therefore, practice Yoga, seek nothing but what comes naturally from each step, and you will not be restrained by the controlling hands of desire. Thus, you will be free and wholly on your pathway to Samadhi.

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