Eight Levels of Raja Yoga
by Daniel Carr
The real power of Martial
Arts and Yoga as a systems of transformation lies in linking physical
training to meditation practices. Many adepts in the arts practice breathing
and concentration exercises, most of them receiving encouraging results
for their efforts. However, very few have an opportunity to participate
in what could be defined as a complete system of meditation.
Like Yoga students, Buddhists,
and other esoteric aspirants, many martial artists learn techniques
that increase awareness and energy development.
even the most serious and diligent practitioners of all these sacred
arts never achieve the higher levels, levels that are well within their
problem is in a lack of understanding of how their physical practice,
or "Asana", relates to their breathing exercises and
concentration techniques. Once this understanding is clear, all levels
of training can accelerate.
One complete Yoga system
reknowned as the "Royal Yoga", Raja
Yoga, breaks down the process into eight levels, which are referred
to as "The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga." These eight levels are traditionally
pursued after a sound basis in Hatha Yoga
The sort of meditation that
is talked about in Raja Yoga is done in lotus position, or some other
meditation posture that is equally as challenging,
for hours at a time.
It must be pain-free and energized by perfect concentration of the mind.
To have this sort of capacity, the a practitioner's body has to undergo
a rigorous regime of preparatory practices, i.e. Hatha Yoga.
Likewise, the mind has to
be naturally inclined to follow the philosophical principles that will
practitioner's behavior and psychological growth. This sort of change
of lifestyle in favor of simple, healthy, and spiritual living does
happen over night. A gradual change in attitude and understanding can
take place during the time of preparatory practices.
The eight levels of Raja
Yoga, clearly spelled out, are as follows:
Self restraint can be best
defined as the codes of behavior that keep the aspirant at peace with
the world he lives in, as well as with himself. By engaging in such "self-restraint,"
the aspirant is freed from the negative Karma that unwholesome behavior
Typically, this level of
practice in all of the esoteric traditions is to instill a sense of
righteous behavior in the aspirant. What many fail to realize is that
an absence of past indiscretions also frees the
mind in the present. Thus, a mind free from these concerns is
at peace and free to focus on meditation.
The Hindus have five precepts
for self-restraint, which are very similar to the Buddhists’ five. The
traditional prayer greeting of the Buddhists and Hindus is considered
a conscious recognition of these five principles, one for each finger,
by the exchangers of the sign. The precepts are:
- Non-killing/ "Ahimsa"
- Truthfulness/ "Satya"
- Sexual Continence/
build on the concepts of self-restraint, putting those principles into
action in daily life. Such natural extensions comprise this second level.
of self-development through classic treatises
honoring of a guru
of ego to the ultimate universal power
Much or most of this is
not possible for modern society without having heightened awareness
and psychological growth that could only come through some sort of preparatory
practice like Hatha Yoga.
Physical Practice/ "Asana"
all practical purposes, this is the level where most Martial Art and
Yoga practitioners start and end their practice. Although "physical
practice" is considered an absolute necessity to open up and develop
the muscular and central nervous systems in all of the traditions, it
is not enough.
practice" overdone creates an artificially low learning curve plateau
in the aspirant. This tends to be the norm in America.
In the Yoga tradition, physical
practice is most recognizable as the Yoga postures and exercises practiced
in a typical studio, everthing from Sun Salutations to headstands. The
majority of these exercises are stretching in character, but many "Asanas"
build incredible strength.
The Buddhist and Taoist
traditions have used martial arts and various qigongs that are marked
by intense, physical exertion that provide the body a foundation for
In the truest understanding
of Raja Yoga, though, asana relates to
the sitting meditation postures of padmasana/lotus pose, siddhasana/accomplished
pose for men, and siddha yoni asana/accomplished pose for women. To
be able to sit in these poses for hours at a time comfortably with perfect
concentration necessitates a high level of accomplishment in the asana
practice of Hatha Yoga.
Breathing exercises develop
the connection between the cultivation of energy/"Prana" and the breath
of the aspirant. Various techniques are used in Yoga, from alternating
nostrils to forced exhalations to timed inhalations and exhalations. It
is at this point where the production of "Prana"/ "Chi" really accelerates
and where the luckier aspirants of Martial Arts and Yoga typically end
An advanced aspirant learns
some which trace the sensation of the breath up and down certain limbs
or energy lines. Energy develops, and the aspirant presupposes that,
in the energy felt, the ultimate goal of his exploration into meditation
has been realized- the ability to feel energy travel through limbs or
The usual goal of such
aspirants in Martial Arts is the ability to execute more powerful martial
techniques, and the sensation of energy moving through the body provides
for them verification that the ultimate goal has been achieved. Punches,
kicks, and throws all improve dramatically, and the diligent martial
artist surpasses the normal person in strength and fighting skill.
The irony of this is that
the sincere aspirant misses out on further development because of a
preoccupation with these first gains.
withdrawal is the pulling of the five senses back into the mind and
the detaching from the various sense stimuli that the surrounding environment
is generating. This level is considered to be the last level of the
foundation necessary to be successful in the pursuit of a true a spiritual
experience in meditation.
"The excited senses of
even a wise man, though he may be strong, impetuously carry away
his mind. The practice demands considerable patience and perseverance.
It is a trying discipline of the senses."
-Swami Sivananda, "Fourteen Lessons on Raja Yoga"
is also where the techniques of Hatha Yoga end and the techniques of
the more advanced Yogas begin.
is possible once sense withdrawal has begun. The refocusing of the senses
on a single concentration point continues the inward turning of the
the practice of Trataka, seeing an image with the eyes closed at the
eyebrow center is one example of such a concentration technique. When
one focuses the mind like this, it is akin to all of the light being
generated by a light bulb condensing into one point- a light bulb can
light a room, whereas a laser can cut through metal. You are training
your mind to be like a laser.
Raja Yoga has it that if
one can inwardly focus on such a point in this way for 12 seconds without
interruption, it is considered a "Dharana." This is much harder
than it sounds. Most people's minds will interrupt such an endeavor
often, aspirants' minds are interrupted from this task by either physical
or emotional considerations. Worldly matters force their way into the
mind just as a "Dharana" is achieved, necessitating a restart in Pratayahara.
Re-examining one's "Yama" and "Niyama" practices is a continuing process
for anyone pushing forward to "Dhyana".
is the unbroken flow of the mind on a single point for an extended period.
In practice, it can be measured by counting the numbers of breaths in
one's focus on a concentration point, with or without a mantra.
Each attempt, however successful,
strengthens the aspirant. One teacher explained that it was like doing
pushups. The first time you try, you can only do a couple and your muscles
ache. Years down the road, if you practice hard, doing a couple hundred
can be quite an invigorating round of exercise.
Superconciousness is the
state of "union" that word Yoga directly refers to. The union achieved
is described as:
the meditator loses his individuality and becomes identical with the
Supreme Self. Just as the river joins the ocean, the individual soul
joins the Supreme Soul, the ocean of absolute consciousness."
"Fourteen Lesson on Raja Yoga"
It is at this level that
the aspirant reaches a peak in his/her evolution. Very few aspirantst
reach this level of development. It is really not worth talking about,
since words fail to convey the experience adequately to any one who
has not experienced this directly. All we can do is to continue our
exploration with diligence and intelligence.
is said that this incarnation as a human is an incredible gift for development
and evolution. Most people squander this opportunity willfully, while
other who are seeking the higher spiritual experience do not have access
to the sort of techniques and information necessary to help them realize
sharpening our discrimination and aesthetic criteria with respect to
the task at hand, we can guide our developments in such a way that we
have access to the material that is necessary for success. Then, the
real question becomes whether or not we possess the will power to develop
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