The Raja Yoga Sutras - As related to one's own daily practice

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Zinal (Switzerland), September 7, 1981

The Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are divided into four chapters. One of the chapters is known as the Sadhana Pada. Sadhana is a Sanskrit word which means to perfect the imperfect mind. Even as you train a wild horse, in yoga you train the wild and crude mind.

In the course of evolution the mind has manifested in the form of human life, but by no means is this mind perfect and infallible. Though it is a gift of nature, the mind also has its limitations. It has to depend on the sensory channels for information and stimulation. Therefore, the Raja Yoga Sutras contend that this imperfect mind can be made more perfect and efficient through the practice of sadhana.

Now I will present to you the three keys which are most important in relation to perfecting the human mind. He who practises is known as a 'sadhaka'. What he practises is known as 'sadhana'. When the sadhana has matured and accomplished the results, these are known as 'siddhi'. Many times siddhi is interpreted as psychic accomplishments, but here we are talking only about the perfection of mind.

Practice of pranayama

In the Raja Yoga Sutras, Patanjali is suggesting different practices for our daily sadhana. He talks about asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana yoga as well. It is not sufficient to only present a philosophy before an aspirant. Philosophy is necessary to understand, but it is not sufficient for practice. Practice is a point where we start to perform something in a particular way.

Now, Patanjali talks about pranayama. Breathing in and breathing out comprises pranayama, but Patanjali is more explicit about the definition. He defines the gap between inhalation and exhalation as pranayama. This means that when you retain the breath, you are actually practising pranayama. As such, an aspirant must equip himself to practise retention of breath without any undesirable results.

When you practise breath retention, that is, kumbhaka, it influences the nervous system, brain, respiratory system and other systems of the body as well. This is what the scientists have been telling us for the last two decades, but Patanjali has a special reference to make here. He says that when you are able to succeed in pranayama, then the veil that hides the light is torn asunder.

Retention of breath is pranayama; this is the first definition. When you practise this pranayama, it affects the consciousness at once. When the consciousness is affected, then the veil is removed and the light is apprehended. This light is not the external light that you see now. This is the light in which you become free from all the sorrows of life, and this again is known as enlightenment. Therefore, in relation to our day to day practice, we have to remember that in pranayama retention should be perfected.

In the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali there is no direct mention of ratio and proportion, but in the other yoga texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Goraksha Samhita, Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, there are many references to the ratios of pranayama. These texts state clearly how pranayama should be practised. Pranayama is not merely the practice of inhaling oxygen; it is a systematic science which leads to enlightenment. In the Yoga Sutras the hint is clear that by pranayama the veil is torn asunder and the light is apprehended. Therefore, you will have to integrate the practices of hatha yoga into your practice of pranayama.

According to hatha yoga, the practice of pranayama should be integrated with the three bandhas: jalandhara bandha (the chin lock), uddiyana bandha (abdominal segregation) and moola bandha (contraction of the perineum). Along with this one has to learn the ratio and proportion that should be held in between each inhalation and exhalation. For a beginner the ratio is 1:1:2, then you proceed to 1:2:2 and then you advance to 1:4:2. When you have arrived at this ratio 1:4:2, then you add one more, 1:4:2:2. The last one is the ratio of external kumbhaka. By practising and maintaining this ratio in pranayama you can bring about the awakening of the pranic force within yourself.

Choices of concentration

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras much is said about the subject of concentration. When you are able to hold your mind on one point for a particular period of time, this is known as dharana, or concentration. If you are able to hold the concept of a flower in your mind for a period of time, then we say that your mind has accomplished dharana.

There is a clear difference between pratyahara and dharana. Pratyahara is that practice in which you are trying to isolate the mind from the sensory channels. Therefore, dharana becomes perfect and complete only if pratyahara has been practised well. When you are trying to isolate the mind from the sensory channels, at first there is a lot of distraction. Every time, the chitta vritti or mental patterns become disturbed because the senses affect the mind, and the mind has become so dependent on the senses that it goes on accepting these disturbances. Therefore, the practice of pranayama also becomes a practice of pratyahara. Besides this, Patanjali discusses many other practices of pratyahara. You can concentrate on any great saint, on any light, on any sound, on your own thought processes or on anything you like.

Here one thing becomes very clear. In the beginning of your spiritual practice, it is not necessary to select a religious symbol for concentration. Sometimes a thought which makes a greater impression on your mind can be used instead, because there is no use in fighting with the mind. During meditation you may be trying to think of a religious symbol, but the mind does not agree, because you have been brought up in certain circumstances and that is how the mind is conditioned. So, when you are trying to concentrate on something alien to this conditioning, the mind pulls itself out. When you think about very ordinary things in your day to day life, there is no distraction but when you try to concentrate on a religious symbol, the distraction comes and the confrontation begins It is very important to know that when you are practising sadhana, there should be minimal confrontation in the mind. There is no use fighting with your own mind. Who is fighting with whom? There are not two minds; consciousness is one, but for the sake of diversity, there are various vrittis, patterns or modifications. When you confront yourself, you are creating a quarrel between your own vrittis. And when this confrontation between your own vrittis becomes very keen and intense, then you have schizophrenic attacks. If you visit a mental hospital, you will see what I mean. I have interviewed hundreds of mental patients, and practically all of them were victims of their own minds.

Patanjali is very careful regarding this point, and he speaks about it in a beautiful sutra (Samadhi Pada: 39) which I quote, Yatha Abhimata Dhyanat Va, "If you are not able to concentrate by the suggested methods, then choose one of your own."

The important thing is that the symbol should be so impressive, that your mind becomes completely integrated with it. When you practise in this way, then you can enter into dhyana or meditation easily.

Samyama: perfection in mind

In raja yoga there are three steps which culminate in illumination: dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Dharana is the capacity of the mind to hold a concept; dhyana means total unfluctuating awareness of the mind in that concept. For example, you are concentrating on a flower, and you are able to hold that flower in your mind for a particular period of time, but you are not able to forget yourself. You are still aware of time and space, That is called dharana or concentration.

When you are able to hold the concept of the flower in your mind, and you are no longer aware of yourself, or of the process, then that is called dhyana or meditation. When you are able to hold the concept of the lower in your mind, and the flower within you becomes a living experience, so that no difference is felt between an external flower and the flower of experience, when both flowers look alike, that is called samadhi. All these three, practised at once, are known as samyama.

Dharana, dhyana and samadhi when accomplished at one stretch is samyama. When you are able to practise these three altogether, then your mind becomes creative, constructive and competent. It is able to hold any idea in itself with greater force, and there is no barrier or limitation to its capacities.

A perfect mind which is capable of thinking of a flower can also think about the sun. When you have accomplished samyama, then you can apply it to the different symbols. You can practise samyama on the sun, on the thoughts of others, on your kurma nadi situated near the thyroid gland, on your reflection, or on the heaviness or lightness of your body. Since your mind has become very capable and efficient, it can now practise on any object.

When the mind has achieved perfection in samyama then it attains siddhi. Siddhi means perfection. Therefore, in daily practice, one has to integrate these things accordingly and systematically.

Yantra, mantra and mandala

For many years I have been thinking about the symbols for concentration, and I have realised that there are millions and millions of symbols. All the symbols are actually related to our own archetypes. We have our own samskaras, our own mental composition. Our mind is composed of millions and billions of archetypes. Now, these archetypes may not be influenced just by religious symbols. In my opinion, they can best be influenced by the tantric symbols, through yantra, mantra and mandala.

For example, try to concentrate on mooladhara chakra and the yantra and bija mantra of mooladhara chakra. If that does not work, concentrate on swadhisthana chakra and its yantra and mantra. If that does not work, go to manipura, anahata, vishuddhi or ajna chakra. Of course, some of the chakras will fail to respond, because we are all evolving human beings. If your evolution has taken you beyond manipura, but you are trying to concentrate on mooladhara, then you are not going to have success. Therefore, the guru, who has awakened inner knowledge of the various chakras and their yantras and bija mantras, must come to your aid.

The karmic block

Everybody is sincere, everybody is working hard, but still for most people success does not seem to be in view. Where is the block? That is what we have never thought about. What will happen if you light a candle inside and then open all the windows and turn on a few fans? The flame will never remain steady. Do what you may, it will soon be blown out. That is what is happening to all of us in the course of daily life. There is light within, but it is constantly flickering and going out. Due to so many storms in life, the inner light does not burn steadily. What does the wise man do then? He switches off the fans and closes all the windows, so there will be steadiness of light.

The block is really very easy to understand. It is created by our own personality which is an effect of the samskaras, and these are the effects of our karma. First of all these samskaras have to be cleansed, but you cannot exhaust your karma by any ordinary method. You may practise charity, but your karma will not be affected. You may serve the poor, but it will not affect your destiny. Do anything that you consider to be good, philanthropic and altruistic; this is all external painting. Nothing you do can penetrate deep into your inner life.

Life is a very mysterious substance. I am sometimes perplexed. Whichever way I look, I find limitlessness. Even the habit of smoking is not easy to get out of. I have met many wonderful social workers who chain smoke. When I ask them why they don't break that habit, they say, 'We cannot, we don't know the way.' Therefore you reach a point where you have to use the practices of tantra. By lighting a small fire, heaps of cotton can be burned in a trice. Similarly, the tantric practices help free your mind and rectify your personality. By rectifying your personality, you are indirectly helping to develop samyama.

Once I was practising samyama. Suddenly I remembered someone whom I liked very much. My samyama broke completely. I had gone so high and suddenly I came down to the earth. Why? Because I had not fixed that samskara in my mind, and at the height of samyama, it came up. When that happened, I decided to fix up that samskara properly. So I followed the pattern of tantric meditation.

Therefore, in our daily practice of yoga sadhana, we have to keep two points in mind: first, how to contact the mind through the valleys and alleys, and second, how to remove the obstacles from the path. Therefore, Patanjali has suggested one beautiful idea: 'You must attain peace of mind.' The peace of mind in raja yoga is known as chitta prasadam.

When mental peace is attained, then your sadhana gains momentum. Peace of mind can be gained through the practice of vairagya. Vairagya does not mean renunciation; it means control over the past reflections, pleasant or otherwise.

The internal experience

This has been a presentation of the practices of raja yoga in relation to your own daily sadhana. Finally, I have to give you one clue. What you see outside, you can also see inside. In order to see outside, you need the sensory channels. But to see inside, you don't need any sensory medium. That capacity has to be attained. Don't worry about the quality or the virtue of the practices. Be sure that the practice you are doing is so powerful that you can see the object inside clearly, as though it were real.

If your practice cannot give you a living experience, then it is necessary for you to review it once again. There is no difference between the external and the internal experience, both appear to be alike, but when you are able to have the inner experience without the dependency of your senses, then your mind becomes very powerful. You can influence your destiny and career; you can change the circumstances of your life. There is nothing which you cannot change. That is the ultimate point in yoga which we all have to reach. That state of mind, that quality of experience, is known as super mind. Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry used to refer to it in terms of a psychic race, superhuman race, super mental race. That super mental race is a product of the yoga practices. It is a race of men whose minds can create living experiences of anything they think about.