Raja yoga meditation, or 'royal' yoga or 'king' yoga, has been described as the highest path to self-realization by Swami Vivekananda and in the ancient Hindu text the Bhagavad Geeta.
It utilizes the mind (king among the organs) to still the mind and look inwards to uncover the inner-self.
Mind is both the subject and the object of the meditation.
The Indian sage, Patanjali, propounded raja yoga as an eight-limbed (ashtanga) discipline for self-actualization. The eight limbs are:
Yama: self-restraint encompassing non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual abstinence unless procreating and non-covetousness
Niyama: commitment to practice (observance of purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to the divine)
Asana: steady, comfortable meditation posture in which you can be both relaxed and alert at the same time
Pranayama: regulation of breath or life-energy
Pratyahara: abstraction/withdrawal of senses from their objects
Dharana: concentration of mind
Samadhi: blissful awareness, super-conscious state, union with the divine
The practitioner is required to adhere to all the precepts listed above and can attain the final stage of samadhi only after mastering the previous seven stages.
You must have noticed that each stage prepares you for growth to the next spiritual level by progressively disciplining the body, mind and senses.
This type of meditation involving an elaborate process is best done under the supervision of a teacher, who can act as a guide taking you through the path of least resistance as well as a coach with whom you could discuss your spiritual experiences and get answers to your questions.
The real beauty of raja yoga meditation is that you don't have to be a believer to get started. Bring an open mind and only believe what you directly experience.
It is up to you to experience whether you have a soul or not, if a god exists, or whether there is existence beyond this life time.
The rigorous eight 'limbs' make raja yoga meditation look seriously daunting, and I for one, will find it hard to move even from stage 1 to stage 2.
Thankfully, an easier alternative in the form of Sahaj Marg is available.
Taught by Shri Rama Chandra (Babuji) of Shahjahanpur (India) in the second half of last century, Sahaj Marg makes available to a householder the same spiritual progress that can be attained through observing all the eight limbs of raja yoga by simply practicing meditation alone (only the seventh limb or stage).
The underlying philosophy of Sahaj Marg (easy or simple path) is that these eight stages (limbs) need not be observed independently and sequentially.
They are taken up automatically by the sincere practice of meditation.
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