Let us consider the spiritual discipline prescribed in Raja Yoga, which devotes itself to the study of the mind and it’s control. In the Yoga-sutras, these disciplines have been systematised by the ancient Hindu philosopher and seer Patanjali. The method of Raja Yoga, practical and rational, has been tested again and again by Indian Yogis. Its technique can be followed in varying degrees by all, irrespective of their religion, in their practice of meditation and concentration.
The study of the mind is more difficult than the study of the external world, because the states of the mind constantly change. Furthermore, in this Yoga the observer, the object, and the instrument of observation are all different states of the mind. Still another difficulty arises from the fact that most of us have been trained from childhood to observe and analyze only outer world of nature and not the inner world of the mind. In the West the systematic study of physics and astronomy began much earlier than that of psychology. What we are now to deal with is the phenomenon of the mind studying itself through the mind. The powers of the mind are generally scattered; but they can be concentrated and thus be made to become a powerful searchlight to illumine the whole of a man’s inner self.
Patanjali has defined Yoga as the restraining of the mind from taking various forms (vrittis). Let us try to form a general idea of the mind according to Hindu philosophers and psychologists. Consisting of subtle material elements, the mind is the inner organ of appreciation, as opposed to the outer organs by which the objects of the external world are perceived. It functions in four different ways and is given names appropriate to its functions, such as Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (mind-stuff), and Aham (ego).
The Upanishads give the following functions of the inner organ: desire, determination, doubt, lack of faith, steadfastness, lack of steadfastness, shame, intelligence, and fear. According to Hindu psychologists, the inner and outer organs, as also physical objects, are not essentially different from one another, because they all consist of gross or subtle matter. The insentient sense organs and mind derive the power of illumining objects from atman, or the inner spirit, which is the source of all light.
How does a perception arise? The sense organs, through the nerves, carry the sensations of external objects to the brain centres, where they are presented to the inner organ. One aspect of the inner organ, the Manas or mind, creates doubt regarding the nature of these sensations; the Buddhi or the intellect, comes to a decision by comparing them with the sensations stored up in the Chitta, or mind-stuff; then the Aham or the ego, plays its part. Thus it is that one says: ‘I see a cow,’ or ‘I hear a bus.’ But, as already stated, the inner organ, which by nature is material and non-intelligent, cannot function unless activated by the light of atman (soul).
The nature of mental states is influenced by the three gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – which constitute the mind as well as all material objects, gross or subtle.That is why the same object can create different feelings in different minds. A beautiful woman, for instance, may be regarded either with pain or with joy by the disappointed or successful suitor in whom Rajas prevails, and with calmness by a saint whose mind has a preponderance of Sattva; she hardly evokes any sentiment in a mind full of Tamas.
One does not generally see what lies deep in the mind, because its surface is constantly agitated by impressions from the outside world. If the water of a lake is muddy or disturbed, one does not see the bottom. But when the mud settles and the ripples subside, an object lying in the depths is plainly visible. As the water is clear by nature, mud being extraneous to it, so the mind is by nature translucent and capable of revealing the true nature of atman (soul). But it appears to have lost its clarity on account of an excess of Rajas and Tamas, which may be controlled through proper spiritual disciplines. The uncontrolled sense organs, coming in contact with physical objects, constantly draw the mind outward and create waves. It is the aim of Yoga to detach the mind from the sense organs and check its outward tendencies. Only then can it reflect the true nature of atman.
The ordinary states of the mind are ‘darkened’ or ‘scattered’. The darkened mind, filled with Tamas, is dull and passive. The scattered mind, with an excess of Rajas, is restless. No higher perceptions are possible through either of these states. By the disciplines of Yoga the darkened mind and the scattered mind can be ‘gathered’ and made ‘one-pointed’. Then alone does the Yogi attain total absorption, or samadhi, and realise the true nature of his self, as when the waves subside, one sees the bottom of the lake. But an ordinary man identifies himself with one or another state of the mind and experiences grief, fear or happiness.
According to Raja-Yoga, the waves of the mind can be controlled by practice and non-attachment. The unceasing struggle to keep the mind perfectly restrained is called practice. Though at first difficult, it becomes easy through protracted effort accompanied by intense love for the goal. Non-attachment means the control of yearning for any object unrelated to the goal the Yogi has set out to realize. This goal is the freedom of the soul, and non-attachment thus means the repression of desire for all such material objects of the phenomenal universe as one experiences on earth, and also for those which are realised in the heavenly worlds, about which one reads in the scriptures. Both kinds of objects are impermanent, being subject to time, space, and the law of causation.
Various disciplines are prescribed by Patanjali to quiet the mind. Here is one: A student of Yoga should cultivate an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, mercy toward those who are unhappy, gladness toward the good, and indifference toward the evil.
A Yogi still struggling for perfection does not become a social reformer. Jesus said to a disciple: ‘Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. Come and follow me,’ or ‘For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.’ A Yogi tries to redress evils happening before his eyes, if he sees them, but he certainly does not create new distractions by going out to seek them. He devotes himself to the spiritual welfare of others after he has attained illumination. The mind can also be quieted by regulated breathing, or through concentration on light, or on a pleasant dream or on any delectable object.
A further discipline for quieting the mind is devotion to Isvara, or God. Isvara is defined by Patanjali as ‘a special Person, untouched by misery, actions and their results, and desires.’ Omniscient and not limited by time, ‘He is the teacher of even the ancient teachers.’
The word that signifies God is AUM. By repeating it and meditating on its meaning, the aspirant develops introspection and overcomes such obstructions to the spiritual life as ‘disease, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, lethargy, clinging to sense-enjoyments, false perception, non-attaining of concentration, and falling away from concentration when attained.’ Since AUM has been given a prominent place in the Hindu scriptures, a brief interpretation of the word will be appropriate.
Aum, often written Om (to rhyme with home), is the most sacred word in the Gayatri Mantra, which contains the essence of the Vedic philosophy. Hindus regard this word as an effective symbol of Brahman, and give the following reason.
Every thought has a counterpart in a word or sound; the word and the thought are inseparable. The external part of a thing is the word and the internal part of the same thing is what we may call the thought. The same thought may be expressed by different words of sounds. Though the sounds vary, yet the relation between the sounds and the thoughts is a natural one. This relation is effective only if there is a real connection between the thing signified and the signifying symbol; otherwise the symbol will never be universally accepted. When that natural connection exists, the symbol, when it is used, recalls the thing signified.
According to Patanjali, there is a unique relation between the Godhead and the word Aum. Though there are hundreds of words to signify the Godhead and each of them may be regarded as a symbol, Hindu philosophers regard Aum as the most generalised sound, the substratum and common ground of all sounds. The three letters A, U, and M, pronounced in combination as Aum, are the generalised symbols of all possible sounds. ‘A’ (pronounced ‘aw’ as in dawn) is the root sound, the key, pronounced without the tongue’s touching any part of the palate; it is the least differentiated of all sounds. Again, all articulate sounds are produced in the space between the root of the tongue and the lips; the throat sound is A, and M is the final sound produced by the closing of the lips. U represents the rolling forward of the impulse that begins at the root of the tongue and ends at the lips. When properly pronounced, Aum represents the whole gamut of sound production as no other word can. It is therefore the matrix of all sounds, and thus the fittest symbol of the Godhead; it is the word, which, according to St. John, was in the beginning, was with God, and was God.
In Hinduism, Aum has been used to denote all the various ideas about reality, and has been retained through all the stages of India’s religious growth.Dualists, qualified non-dualists, absolute non-dualists, and all other schools of Hinduism use Aum, one way or another, to denote ultimate reality. Even the Buddhists and Jainas, who repudiate the authority of the Vedas, have accepted the sanctity of Aum. This word, the material of all words, can be used as a sacred symbol for reality by non-Hindus as well. It is recognised by the Hindu scriptures as the symbol of both the personal God and Impersonal Reality, or pure consciousness.
The Personal God has been defined as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe. The three aspects of creation, preservation, and destruction are expressed by the three letters of Aum. ‘A’ signifies the creative aspect of the Deity because A is the beginning of all sounds. U signifies the preservative aspect because the sound that is produced in the throat is preserved, as it were, by U, while rolling through the mouth. Finally, M is the symbol of the destructive aspect of the Deity because all sounds come to an end when the lips are closed. There is also an undifferentiated sound which comes at the end of the utterance of Aum and which is the symbol of pure consciousness, or the attributeless Brahman. Both the symbol and the entity signified by it are without parts or relationships. The undifferentiated sound finally merges in silence, which also is the final experience of the mystics.
The Upanishads describe Aum as the symbol of the atman, or individual soul, in its various aspects. Thus A is the symbol of the atman experiencing the gross world in the waking state through the gross body; U of the atman experiencing the subtle or mental world in the dream state through the subtle or dream body; and M of the atman experiencing the causal world in deep sleep through the causal body when the physical body, the senses, and the mind are at rest. Thus Aum represents the totality of the atman’s experiences in the relative world. The undifferentiated sound that follows the particular sounds A, U, and M, signifies the atman free from the experiences of the relative world, which is known as Turiya, or pure consciousness.
The word Aum was not invented by any man. It is the primordial and uncreated sound, which is heard by mystics absorbed in contemplation, when their minds and senses are withdrawn from the world. Through this word is revealed to them the eternal process of creation, preservation, and destruction.
Ramakrishna, describing Aum both in its relative and in its transcendental aspect, said: “I give the illustration of the sound of a gong: “tom,” t-o-m. It is the merging of the relative in the absolute: the gross, the subtle, and the causal; waking, dream, and deep sleep, merge in Turiya, or pure consciousness. The striking of the gong is like the falling of a heavy weight into a big ocean. Waves begin to rise: the relative rises from the Absolute; the causal, subtle, and gross bodies rise out of the Great Cause; from Turiya emerge the states of deep sleep, dream, and waking. These waves arising from the Great Ocean merge again in the Great Ocean- from the Absolute to the relative, and from the relative to the Absolute. Therefore I give the illustration of gong, “t-o-m.” I have clearly seen all these things. It has been revealed to me that there exists an ocean of consciousness without limit. From it are projected all things of the relative plane and in it they merge again. Millions of universes rise in the pure consciousness within the heart of man and merge in it. All this has been revealed to me; I don’t know much about what your books say.’
Patanjali states that there are different kinds of concentration. One can concentrate on the external, gross elements and thus learn their true nature. By means of such concentration a Yogi obtains knowledge of the subtle properties of material objects, and through this knowledge he acquires what are generally known as supernatural powers, which if abused are not only lost but also bring about suffering. The concentration practised by scientists may be said to belong to this category. Through deep concentration they have discovered the inner nature of the atom and released the energy locked in it. According to Patanjali, the power acquired through such concentration enables one to obtain mastery over physical objects and enjoy material happiness. The powers released from matter may be used for both constructive purposes, depending upon the characters of the persons handling them.
When used by people emotionally on the level of children and intellectually on the level of primitives, powers acquired from matter can spell disaster for humanity and bring about the downfall of physical science. Other forms of concentration, directed toward different material objects, produce corresponding results. Every Yogi is required to eradicate his selfish tendencies by the practice of ethical disciplines. A genuine Yogi is not interested in the enjoyment of powers, which are obstacles to the attainment of self-knowledge.
By means of concentration, the mind of a Yogi acquires such unique powers that it can contemplate all objects, whether minute as an atom or huge as the solar system. Thus it can function either like a heavy scales in a warehouse or like a delicate balance in a chemical factory. Through the power of concentration, the Yogi can withdraw his mind from all extraneous objects and identify himself solely with one object of thought. His mind becomes like a crystal, which, when placed near an object, such as a flower, identifies itself with it. The mind has now acquired one-pointedness and can penetrate deeply into the nature of the self. Thus it obtains knowledge which is far more profound than that acquired through the senses, inference, or the testimony of others. This is what is meant by direct and immediate experience, or knowledge by acquaintance; such knowledge is different from ordinary empirical knowledge coloured by the state of the senses and the mind.
The mind of a Yogi practising concentration is disturbed, at the beginning, by many distractions, as is the surface of a lake by waves. But through persistent practice of concentration, these distractions become attenuated. Intense concentration on the nature of the self creates a powerful wave, which gradually swallows up, as it were, all other waves created by past impressions. Finally, by utter non-attachment and a supreme act of will, the last wave can be made to burst and the mind becomes free from all distractions. It acquires its natural state of purity and reflects the true nature of the inner spirit or soul.
continue with the part 2
For Sri Ramana Maharshi’s views on the other aspects of Raja Yoga (such as morality, meditation and Samadhi) read the following pages:
Raja Yoga by Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore