Behavioural Raja Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Raja yoga is not only practice and experience. You can practise yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and hope to experience dhyana and samadhi. However, after practising them, what is the result? Is meditation and samadhi the result or is improvement of mind the result? Meditation and samadhi cannot be the result as people think. In fact, you should remove the word ‘meditation’ from your vocabulary, as you give a wrong understanding of the idea.

When you look at the system of raja yoga, you see techniques and the possible experiences, and the outcome of those techniques and experiences is balance of mind. That is the aim of raja yoga. Therefore, let us aim to experience this goal. If we can do that, then we become yogis. Chitta vritti nirodhah is the objective, and the medium are the six angas: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana. They are practices leading to the last two angas: dhyana and samadhi, which are experiences. The deepening of that experience is modification in behaviour: as you connect with harmony and happiness, then everything changes in your interactions and relationships. This is the behavioural outcome of raja yoga as stated in the Yoga Sutras (1:33):


In relation to happiness, misery, virtue and vice, by cultivating the attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively, the mind becomes purified and peaceful.

Four ideas are given here. The first is: friendliness towards those who are happy. When you encounter or see somebody happy, you are automatically attracted to them, “Oh that person is really happy, I like that person.” Although you have not spoken to the person, their happiness has motivated you to say good things about them. If the person had a frown on the face, you would say, “Oh, that person is frowning. I don’t think I want to talk to that person.” There is a natural tendency to appreciate happiness and also to become part of it. That is the statement in this sutra: sukha and maitri, happiness and friendliness, go together.

The second idea is recognition of suffering, dukha, and the mental behaviour or attitude towards suffering, that of compassion. This attitude will motivate you to act in a manner that will help the other person. It is not sympathy where you are saying “Oh, you poor little thing.” It is not even empathy. Compassion is different from sympathy or empathy. Compassion means you are involved with helping the other person overcome their difficulties. You are not just doing lip-service, “Oh, you poor little thing.” Lip-service is sympathy. If you feel the pain of another person, people call it empathy. However, that is transference of a condition to another person. Someone’s feeling of pain is transferred to you, and you also begin to feel the pain. Someone’s suffering is transferred to you, and you also begin to feel the suffering. How do you clear that? How do you clear those impressions? Very difficult.

For this reason, yoga does not use any word denoting sympathy or empathy. The word used is karuna, and karuna, in the bigger sense, is your participation in the alleviation of someone else’s problem. Whether that is objective or subjective is up to you and your own head-trips. If it is your child, you will become subjective; if it is somebody else, you will remain objective. Nevertheless, the quality that has to be cultivated is compassion.

The third idea is: be happy on seeing someone virtuous. To become bubbly and happy on seeing somebody virtuous, pious and good is an expression of the positive nature. There is also a natural magnetic energy around the virtuous. When people used to go to Swami Sivananda, before they even entered the ashram they would start bubbling over. That was the influence. They would begin to feel a change in their mental and emotional states, and suddenly feel uplifted, although they were not in front of him. When people used to come for darshan of Sri Swamiji, their heart would begin to beat fast: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and they were all bubbly. No expectation, but anticipation. This is the combination of punya and mudita, goodness and joy; the result of the goodness is inner joy.

The fourth idea is to ignore the wicked. Some people have a moral conflict with this statement. “How can we ignore the crooked? We should try to help them. We should try to improve them.” They talk like reformists. Yoga does not believe in reforming the outer world; yoga believes in managing the inner world. If you wish to reform somebody, that is your inclination, but be clear that yoga does not seek to reform anybody.

The nature of a barking dog is to bark. The postman goes to deliver letters and the dog goes on barking. The postman takes precautions and ignores the dog. That is what is meant here. When dogs bark at you, ignore them. Buddha used to ignore them. All masters have ignored people who barked at them. There is a saying in Hindi: Hathi chale bajaar, kutta bhounke hajaar - “When an elephant walks to the market, a thousand dogs will bark but the elephant will not bother.” The elephant will ignore them all. Only another dog will recognize what is being said, as that is dog language. If a dog barks and you react, it means you are also a dog who can understand the barking. Khag jaane khag ki bhasha. Only birds know the language of birds. Only dogs know the language of dogs.

If you react to the wicked, you will be disturbed. Your intention may be good, but the other person’s intentions are not good. You may want to give butter, but the other person has a knife that can easily cut through butter. Your softness is nothing compared to the hardness of the other person. Your gentleness, sympathy or compassion is not strong enough to deal with the hardness of the wicked.

If you want to control an elephant, you have to apply a strength which is greater than the elephant’s. If you want to control a horse, you have to apply a strength which is greater than the horse’s strength. If you want to control a dog, you have to apply a strength which is greater than the dog’s strength. Therefore, if you want to modify the wicked, you have to be ten times stronger than the wicked to influence them in a positive manner. If you are at the same level, you won’t have a chance. They have the sword and you have the flower. Who will win? The sword will win, unless you are ten times stronger.

The idea is that to counter a force, you need to have a stronger force. This strength can be cultivated with positive inputs. The sutra is indicative of that. If you can cultivate and strengthen a positive state of mind and being, then outer behaviour need not be worried about; the appropriate expression will take place naturally. If you see a scorpion while walking at night, you will definitely give a wide berth to it. If you see a snake, you will give a wide berth to it. If you see a terrorist, you will give a wide berth to him. In any kind of damaging or destructive environment, it is the natural tendency to give a wide berth to the danger to be safe.

People think that in order to be spiritual they have to help everybody, and common sense is thrown to the wind. The wicked are as dangerous as the snake or the scorpion in the grass, and you don’t have the strength to counter that negative force. Therefore, avoid it. Would you go running and bash your head against a wall? No. You know that nothing will happen to the wall but you will crack your head. There is an awareness of what is hard and what is soft.

Wickedness represents the hardness of life, not the human softness. It is like the raw potato, which you cannot eat. In order to eat that hard potato, you have to boil it and make it soft, then you can enjoy it and swallow it. Similarly, there is no use trying to melt the mental hardness, for you are not strong enough to deal with the negatives of the mind. You cannot even deal with the hardness of your own mind, the negativity of your own mind, forget another person. Therefore, just focus on cultivating the positive within yourself; maintain your balance, be the observer, and hold the mind in control. That is raja yoga.

—26 October 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger, Raja Yoga Training - Module 1 (Extract)