The most systematic method of attaining states of meditation is Raja Yoga. Raja yoga is explained in the Yoga Sutras, written by the ancient yogi Patanjali. It is worth discussing this system in some detail, for it throws much light on the obstacles that must be overcome before successful meditation can be attained. The first stages have little direct connection with meditation but are of the utmost importance, for they prepare the practitioner’s mind and body for the higher stages. Without some practice of the first five stages few people will have success in meditation. Raja Yoga is for every person, whatever his or her nature. It starts with the very basic requirements for higher spiritual life. It begins by moulding a person’s character in the way necessary for spiritual progress.
Stages of Raja Yoga
Yamas (social code)
Niyamas (personal code)
Asana (postures, states of being)
Pranayama (control of prana, life-force, cosmic energy)
Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
Samadhi (transcendental consciousness)
The inner and higher practices become easier to perform when the external and preliminary practices have been developed to a reasonable degree of perfection. Though the first five stages have been systematically explained in other books on this subject, we will briefly deal with them here.
Yamas or self-restraints
These are five in number are closely connected with higher yoga. Patanjali actually was an idealist and intended the practices of Raja Yoga for people who devoted their life to seeking realization and who probably isolated themselves from society. This becomes obvious when he writes in one of his sutras (verses) that they are inviolable and should be followed no matter what circumstances arise, even if the result is serious injury to oneself or others. This, of course, is not practical for the modern person in society, for sexual relations are a natural part of life, and sometimes one needs to tell a lie under certain circumstances, perhaps to safeguard another person from undesirable knowledge.
The five yamas are as follows:
Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Brahmacharya (sexual control), Asteya (non-stealing), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
What is the relationship between sex and meditation?
The need for sexual intercourse is nothing but the build-up of energy, vital energy. When one completes the sexual act the body is drained of this vital force. Energy can manifest in different ways, and sexual energy is no exception to the rule. If this energy is redirected towards spiritual or meditational experiences, they will be highlighted and expanded. The reader must, however, find this out for himself.
Niyamas or observances
These, like the yamas, are five in number. They are more concerned with the personal discipline of the practitioner. They are intended to prepare the spiritual aspirant for the arduous yogic path that lies ahead. Like the Yamas (which are ethically inclined), the Niyamas reduce mental and emotional conflicts and render the individual’s mind tranquil for concentration and meditation.
Shaucha (purity): This rule needs little explanation. One should keep the body as pure as possible by regular bathing and also by eating food that is as pure and nutritious as possible. If you don’t, then you will be more susceptible to diseases both internal and external and this is a great hindrance to meditational practices, for how is it possible to direct the mind inwards to the deeper realms when one’s attention is continually distracted by indigestion or any other ailment?
There is also another factor. One’s meditational capacity is related very much to the type of food one eats. If one eats impure and coarse food, then the mind is unlikely to be sensitive enough to respond to the subtle vibrations and experiences of meditation. The subtle states of meditation need a clear and pure mind in which to manifest. This rule also applies to the purification of the mind from disturbing thoughts and emotions. Since this is the whole reason for the Yamas and Niyamas, it implies that Yamas and Niyamas must be practised.
Santosha (contentment): It is essential to develop the ability to withstand daily problems without being deeply affected, to be contented no matter what circumstances beset one. Most people have a continually changing mood because of the ups and downs of life. One moment they are happy, then something occurs and they suddenly become very unhappy. A mind that is continually fluctuating in this way is not suitable for meditation. For this reason contentment is of the utmost importance. Not external contentment to impress other people, but inner contentment. Easier said than done, you might say. This is true, but by continual development of the other Yamas and Niyamas and a conscious effort to accept what comes to you, no matter what, this contentment will surely come.
Tapas (austerity): This is intended to strengthen the willpower, by undergoing small austerities such as fasting, maintaining a vow of silence for a few hours and so on. This can help to discipline the mind. This tapas should not, however, involve suppression of the mind for this can do more harm than good. Willpower is absolutely necessary in yoga, for the mind is like a kitten which wanders here and there without purpose. It will try to make you do things you don’t want to do.
Swadhyaya (Introspection) - Have awareness of your own mind!
5. Ishwara Pranidhana (Surrender) - There is tremendous misinterpretation regarding this Niyama. This does not refer to surrendering to God but to a higher form of yourself.