The 8 Limbs of Raja Yoga

Raja yoga consists of eight ‘limbs’ or parts:

The first two, Yama and Niyama, denote, in general way, self-control. The discipline of Yama includes non-injury, truthfulness, non-covetousness, chastity, and non-receiving of gifts; all these bring about purity of mind, without which spiritual contemplation is not possible. Without self-control, the practice of Yoga can injure both the Yogi and others. A Sanskrit proverb says: ‘To feed a cobra with milk without first taking out its poisonous fangs is only to increase its venom.’ Niyama signifies certain habits and observances, such as austerity, study of the scriptures, contentment, purity of body and mind, and devotion to God.

The third limb of yoga is Asana, or posture. That posture which comes easiest to the student is recommended. Different postures are prescribed; but the general principle is to hold the spinal column free. The Yogi sits erect, holding his back, neck, and head in a straight line, and resting the whole weight of the upper body on the ribs. With the chest out, he finds it easy to relax the body and think deeply.

The fourth limb is Pranayama, generally called the control of the breath. According to Hindu philosophers, the universe consists of two primordial elements: Akasa and Prana, which are the sources of matter and energy respectively. Through their interaction all tangible objects come into existence. Prana, which pervades the universe, is manifest in the human body in the movement of the lungs; and this motion is related to the breath. By controlling the breath one can gradually control the whole physical system and even the cosmic energy. The breath is like a flywheel of a machine. In a large machine, first the flywheel moves, and then the motion is conveyed to the fine parts, until the most delicate mechanism is set in motion. The breath supplies the motive power to all parts of the body. When the breathing is regulated the whole physical system functions rhythmically. By the regulation of breathing, the Yogis can perform such supernatural feats as remaining buried alive for a number of days, lying on a bed of nails, curing diseases both in themselves and in others, generating gigantic will-power, and transmitting thoughts to others. But the regulation of the breath, and the other Yogic exercises, should be learnt from a competent teacher, or they will injure a man’s body, nerves, and mind.

Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Yoga, consists in training the mind to detach itself at will from a particular sense organ. We retain the impression of an object only when the mind is attached to it through a sense organ. Thus we may see, during the daytime, a thousand faces, but we remember at night only the face to which the mind felt attached. By means of Pratyahara, the Yogi can check the outward inclination of the mind and free it from the thralldom of the senses. The mind of the average person may be likened to a monkey which, restless by nature, has taken a deep draft of liquor, thus aggravating its restlessness. Further, the monkey has been stung by a scorpion, and finally has been possessed by a ghost. Just so, the naturally restless mind, after a deep dose of worldly pleasures, becomes intensely restless; it is, further, stung by jealousy, and finally possessed by the ghost of egotism. How is one to calm the excited monkey?

One method is to allow it to jump about until at last it becomes tired. Likewise, the aspirant may allow the mind to move in any way it likes, himself remaining relaxed, and witness its restless movements without trying to suppress his thoughts. Whether they are good or bad, he should let them come to the surface; thus he will be able to know his inner nature, and such knowledge is, in itself, a great gain. Gradually, as the mind grows tired, the thoughts become fewer. And then the mind can be brought under control and detached from any sense organ. Another method is to control mental restlessness by sheer power of will.

The sixth limb of yoga, Dharana, consists in holding the mind to a certain part of the body, making it feel that part alone, to the exclusion of all others. For instance, the yogi may remain aware only of the tip of his nose.

The seventh limb if yoga is called Dhyana, meditation. In this stage the mind acquires the power to think of an object uninterruptedly. The flow of the yogi’s mind to the object is unbroken, like the uninterrupted sound of a gong struck with a stick.

The eigth and last limb of yoga is called Samadhi, or total absorption, a state of mind in which the yogi rejects the external part- the name and the form- of the object of meditation, and contemplates only its essence. He thus comes face to face with the true nature of the object, ordinarily hidden behind the outer name and form, and is no longer deceived by appearances.

The last three limbs – Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi – taken together are called Samyama. The mind first concentrates on an object, then continues in that state for a length of time, and lastly, by continued concentration, is able to dwell on the essence of the object. Through the application of samyama with reference to various objects, the Yogi obtains supernatural powers. When by a supreme act of discrimination he rejects all the powers that come to him, regarding them as obstacles to liberation, and thus attains perfect desirelessness; the yogi achieves Kaivalya or isolation. Then he realises that the soul, completely separate from the body and mind, and untouched by time, space, and causation, is non-material. It is pure consciousness, unchanging and immortal. The yogi who has attained Kaivalya may be compared to a ripe nut in which the kernel is separate from the shell; he feels his soul, detached from his body, rattling inside it, as it were. An ordinary man is like a green nut: the kernel is attached to the shell.

According to the Sankhya philosophy, on which Raja Yoga is based, attachment to nature is the cause of the soul’s bondage, and detachment from nature is liberation.Yet she (nature) is not regarded as a man’s enemy in his quest to realise the ultimate goal; on the contrary, she is his helpmate. She has taken upon herself, as it were, the unselfish task of assisting him, entangled as he is in the world, to attain liberation; and with that end in view she makes him pass through various experiences in different bodies, higher and lower. At long last, when, becoming dissatisfied with these experiences, he isolates himself from nature and regains his lost glory, nature’s task with this particular self-forgetting soul is accomplished, and she comes to the rescue of another who has likewise lost his way in the trackless wilderness of life. Thus mother nature, man’s beneficent nurse, is ceaselessly at work, guiding one lost soul after another – through pleasure and pain, good and evil – to the haven of peace and freedom.

The Upanishads speak of the beginningless Prakriti, or nature, as consisting of three Gunas, namely, Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, which by their combination produce the various physical bodies and objects of enjoyment. ‘One birthless soul becomes attached to Prakriti for the purpose of enjoyment, when another birthless soul has left her after his enjoyment is completed.’ Both the Sankhya and Yoga philosophies postulate, as ultimate categories, an infinite number of Purushas, or souls, and one Prakriti, or Nature. The souls are conscious entities, whereas Prakriti is insentient.

Patanjali asserts that through Samadhi one becomes omniscient. The real source of knowledge is in the soul; the brain cells do not create knowledge but serve as channels for its outer expression. When it is said that by destroying part of the brain the knowledge of a man can be interrupted, what is really meant is that the channels for manifesting knowledge are blocked. The purpose of study or observation is to open up the cells; the greater the number of cells functioning in the brain, the greater is the availability of a man’s knowledge. While certain gross cells may be opened by means of ordinary education, certain other cells, subtler in nature, may be made to function by means of Yogic disciplines. It is said that in Samadhi all the cells in the brain begin to function; thus a perfected Yogi claims omniscience.

Samadhi is a superconscious state of the mind, in which ego is completely transcended. After experiencing it a man becomes a saint or a prophet. It is a higher state of mind, beyond both instinct and reason. In the realm of instinct, there is no I-consciousness, as for instance in animals, and very few mistakes are made; but the area of instinct is extremely limited. Reason functions in a wider area and is accompanied by I-consciousness. But one does not obtain certainty through reason. Furthermore, working through the data furnished by the senses, reason is incompetent to deal with the supramental experiences of God, the soul, and immortality. There is a vast area outside reason, which is the realm of super consciousness and which can be known only by a faculty higher than reason, called intuition, inspiration, or direct and immediate perception.

Through proper disciplines instinct can be transformed into reason, and reason into intuition or direct perception. All profound religious experiences are related to the area of the super conscious: it is from this that the seers and mystics draw their knowledge. The higher religions lay down disciplines for the attainment of the super conscious experience, but one can stumble upon it without going through the discipline. Generally such a person becomes dogmatic and makes fanatical claims of having found the truth. Or a person can become deranged if this exalted experience is forced upon him, just as a penniless beggar may lose his balance of mind through suddenly coming into a fortune, which he has never dreamt of. A spiritual experience, like ordinary wealth, can be enjoyed to a greater degree when it has been earned by a man’s own effort than when it is thrust upon him. The source of all spiritual experiences is beyond reason; reason takes a seeker of supramental truths as far as it can and then bows itself out. But although super conscious experiences are not directly obtained through reason, they must not conflict with reason. And again, when these supramental truths are presented to the world, the presentation must be couched in rational terms.

Samadhi can be attained, through proper steps, by all human beings. Each one of the steps has been reasoned and scientifically tested.

It is said that practice of Raja Yoga becomes easy for those who are born with natural inwardness of mind and the power of concentration. But for many who are not so fortunate, and who want to practise Raja Yoga, the disciplines of Hatha Yoga are first recommended. The two Yogas are closely connected. Hatha Yoga prepares the way for Raja yoga. As there exists a close relationship between the body and the mind, one finds it helpful and easy to control the mental states by certain physical exercises laid down in Hatha Yoga. For the practice of Hatha Yoga, a qualified teacher is absolutely necessary.

Two major disciplines of Hatha Yoga are posture and control of the breath. Eighty-four postures are prescribed; these make the body firm, light, and free from disease, and also help in the practice of concentration, the suppression of carnal desire, and the correction of the humours of the body. Next comes control of the breath. It is a matter of common observance that there is a close relationship between the breath and the mind: when the breathing is irregular, and the mind wanders, and when the breathing is controlled, the mind is calmer. One invites serious physical malady through incorrect practice of breath control. The teachers of this yoga also speak of various other exercises for the inner cleansing of the body. The main purpose of Hatha Yoga is to increase the strength, vitality, and digestive power, as well as to remove various physical ailments. A healthy body and long life are important factors in the realisation of the spiritual goal in the present life.

It appears from the study of the religious history of India that at different times different types of spiritual experience have been emphasized. Thus, for instance, happiness in heaven was prized during the early Vedic period, the realization of the non–dual Brahman (Supreme Reality) – through Vedantic disciplines – at the time of the Upanishads, and communion with the personal God – through love – at the time of the Puranas. This is, of course, a very general statement. During the nineteenth century Ramakrishna and his great disciple Vivekananda laid special emphasis on the manifestation of God in man. Ramakrishna experienced the highest fruit of all the Yogas and communed with God in various ways. But in the end he said that the manifestation of God in man appealed to him most. He asked his disciples to serve men as visible images of God and to alleviate their misery; but he derided the idea of showing them pity.

One day the young Vivekananda prayed to Ramakrishna for the boon that he might commune with God in Samadhi for several days at a time, opening his eyes once in a while to take a little physical nourishment.

Ramakrishna reproached him and said: ‘Why are you so eager to see God with eyes closed? Can’t you see Him with eyes open?’

He explained that the presence of God was felt not only when one shut the eyes; God could also be seen when one looked around. Service to the hungry, sick, and ignorant in the proper spirit was as effective as any other spiritual discipline. For several days before his passing away, Ramakrishna instructed the disciple as to how to minister to the spiritual needs of humanity. He also said many times that he himself would be willing to come back to earth even as a dog if given the privilege of serving others.

After the passing away of his master, Vivekananda practised intense austerities, following the time honoured disciplines of the monastic life, and several times resolved to end his days in meditation in a mountain cave; but each time he was thrown out, as it were, by an unseen power. At last he discovered that one of his missions was to serve the Indian masses by removing their poverty, sickness, and ignorance. He came to America to explore the possibilities of applying scientific and technological knowledge to achieve that purpose. Another mission was to serve Western men and women by bringing to them the message of Vedanta in order to deepen their spiritual consciousness and their religious outlook. Later he established the Ramakrishna Order of monks, whose members take the two vows of personal liberation and service to humanity.

The spiritual discipline of the monks of the Order alternates between worship and service.
At the conclusion of his poem ‘To a Friend’ Swami Vivekananda wrote:

Thy God is here before thee now,
Revealed in all these myriad forms:
Rejecting them, where seekest thou
His presence? He who freely shares
His love with every living thing
Proffers true service unto God.

Before his death Vivekananda said: ‘May I be born again and again and suffer thousands of miseries, so that I may worship the only God that exists and the only God that I believe in: the sum total of all souls.’

continue with part 3 

For Sri Ramana Maharshi’s views on the other aspects of Raja Yoga (such as morality, meditation and Samadhi) read the following pages:


Direct Path


Self- Atma


Consciousness-the three states

Freedom and Bondage

Raja Yoga by Swami Nikhilananda -Sri Ramakrishna Math,Mylapore

Raja Yoga: From The Teachings of Sri R. Maharshi

Question: Yoga means union. I wonder union of what with what?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Exactly. Yoga implies prior division and it means later union of one thing with another. But who is to be united and with whom? You are the seeker, seeking union with something. If you assume this then that something must be apart from you. But your Self is intimate to you and you are always aware of it. Seek it and be it. Then it will expand as the infinite and there will be no question of Yoga. Whose is the separation (viyoga)?

Questioner: I don’t know. Is there really separation?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Find out to whom is the viyoga. That is yoga. Yoga is common to all paths. Yoga is really nothing but ceasing to think that you are different from the Self or Reality. All the Yogas -Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Raja- are just different paths to suit different natures with different modes of evolution. They are all aimed at getting people out of the long-cherished notion that they are different from the Self. There is no question of union or yoga in the sense of going and joining something that is somewhere away from us or different from us, because you never were or could be separate from the Self.

Question: What is the difference between Yoga and enquiry?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yoga enjoins chitta-vrittti-nirodha (repression of thoughts) whereas I prescribe atmaniveshana (quest of oneself). This latter method is more practicable. The mind is repressed in swoon, or as the effect of fasting. But as soon as the cause is withdrawn the mind revives, that is, the thoughts begin to flow as before. There are just two ways of controlling the mind. Either seek its source, or surrender it to be struck down by the Supreme power. Surrender is the recognition of the existence of a higher overruling power. If the mind refuses to help in seeking the source, let it go and wait for its return; then turn it inwards. No one succeeds without patient perseverance.

Question: Is it necessary to control one’s breath?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Breath control is only an aid for diving deep within oneself. One may as well dive down by controlling the mind. When the mind is controlled, the breath is controlled automatically. One need not attempt breath control, mind control is enough. Breath control is only recommended for those who cannot control their minds straightaway.

Question: When should one do Pranayama and why is it effective?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: In the absence of enquiry and devotion, the natural sedative pranayama (breath regulation) may be tried. This is known as Yoga Marga (the path of yoga). If life is imperilled the whole interest centres round one point, the saving of life. If the breath is held the mind cannot afford to (and does not) jump at its pets- external objects. Thus there is rest for the mind so long as the breath is held. All attention being turned on breath or its regulation, other interests are lost.

The source of breath is the same as that of the mind. Therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to the subsidence of the other.

Question: Is the mind control induced by pranayama also temporary?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Quiescence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled. So it is transient. The goal is clearly not pranayama. It extends on to Pratyahara (withdrawal), Dharana (concentration of the mind), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi. Those stages deal with control of the mind. Such mind control becomes easier for a person who has earlier practised pranayama. Pranayama therefore leads one to the higher stages. Because these higher stages involve controlling the mind, one can say that mind control is the ultimate aim of Yoga.

A more advanced man will naturally go direct to control of mind without wasting his time in practising control of breath.

Question: Pranayama has three phases – exhalation, inhalation and retention. How should they be regulated?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Completely giving up identification with the body alone is exhalation (rechaka); merging within through the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ alone is inhalation (puraka); abiding as the one reality ‘I am That’ alone is retention (kumbhaka). This is the real pranayama.

Question: I find it said in Maha Yoga that in the beginning of meditation one may attend to the breath, that is, its inspiration and expiration, and that after a certain amount of stillness of mind is attained, one can dive into the Heart seeking the source of the mind. I have been badly in want of some such practical hint. Can I follow this method? Is it correct?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The thing is to kill the mind somehow. Those who have not the strength to follow the enquiry method are advised to adopt pranayama as a help to control the mind. This pranayama is of two kinds, controlling and regulating the breath, or simply watching the breath.

Question: For controlling the breath, is not the ratio 1:4:2 for inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling best?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: All those proportions, sometimes regulated not by counting but by uttering Mantras, are aids to controlling the mind. That is all. Watching the breath is also one form of pranayama. Inhaling, retaining and exhaling is more violent and may be harmful in some cases, for example when there is no proper Guru to guide the seeker at every step and stage. But merely watching the breath is easy and involves no risk.

Question: Hatha Yogic practices are said to banish diseases effectively and are therefore advocated as necessary preliminaries to Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge).

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Let those who advocate them use them. It has not been the experience here. All diseases will be effectively annihilated by continuous self-enquiry. If you proceed on the notion that health of body is necessary for health of mind, there will never be an end to the care of the body.

Question: Is not Hatha Yoga necessary for the enquiry into the Self?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Each one finds some one method suitable to himself, because of latent tendencies (purva sanskara).

Question: Can Hatha Yoga be accomplished at my age?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you think of all this? Because you think the Self is exterior to yourself you desire it and try for it. But do you not exist all along? Why do you leave yourself and go after something external?

Questioner: It is said in Aparoksha Anubhuti (by Sri Sankaracharya) that Hatha Yoga is a necessary aid for enquiry into the Self.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Hatha Yogis claim to keep the body fit so that the enquiry may be effected without obstacles. They also say that life must be prolonged so that the enquiry may be carried to a successful end. Furthermore there are those who use some medicines (kayakalpa) with that end in view. Their favourite example is that the screen must be perfect before the painting is begun. Yes, but which is the screen and which the painting? According to them the body is the screen and the enquiry into the Self is the painting. But is not the body itself a picture on the screen, the Self?

Questioner: But Hatha Yoga is so much spoken of as an aid.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Even great pandits (pundits) well versed in the Vedanta continue the practice of it. Otherwise their minds will not subside. So you may say it is useful for those who cannot otherwise still the mind.

Question: What are Asanas (postures or seats)? Are they necessary?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Many asanas with their effects are mentioned in the Yoga sastras. The seats are the tiger-skin, grass, etc. The postures are the ‘lotus posture’, the ‘easy posture’, and so on. Why all these only to know oneself? The truth is that from the Self the ego rises up, confuses itself with the body, mistakes the world to be real, and then, covered with egotistic conceit, it thinks wildly and looks for asanas (seats). Such a person does not understand that he himself is the centre of all and thus forms the basis for all.

The asana is meant to make him sit firm. Where and how can he remain firm except in his own real state? This is the real asana.

Attaining the steadiness of not swerving from the knowledge that the base (asana) upon which the whole universe rests is only Self, which is the space of true knowledge, the illustrious ground, alone is the firm and motionless posture (asana) for excellent Samadhi.

Question: In what asana is Bhagavan (Sri Ramana) usually seated?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: In what asana? In the asana of the Heart. Wherever it is pleasant, there is my asana. That is called Sukhasana, the asana of happiness. That asana of the Heart is peaceful, and gives happiness.There is no need for any other asana for those who are seated in that one.

Question: Meditation is with mind. How can it kill the mind in order to reveal the Self?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation is sticking to one thought. That single thought keeps away other thoughts. Distraction of mind is a sign of its weakness. By constant meditation it gains strength, that is to say, the weakness of fugitive thought gives place to the enduring background free from thought. This expanse devoid of thought is the Self. Mind in purity is the Self.

Question: What is Dhyana (meditation)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is abiding as one’s Self without swerving in any way from one’s real nature and without feeling that one is meditating.

Question: What is the difference between Dyana and Samadhi?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Dyana is achieved through deliberate mental effort. In Samadhi there is no such effort.

Question: What are the factors to be kept in view in Dhyana

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is important for one who is established in his Self (atmanishtha) to see that he does not swerve in the least from this absorption. By swerving from his true nature he may see before him bright effulgences, or hear unusual sounds, or regard as real the visions of gods appearing within or outside himself. He should not be deceived by these and forget himself.

Question: How is meditation to be practised?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation is, truly speaking, atmanishtha (to be fixed as the Self). But when thoughts cross the mind and an effort is made to eliminate them the effort is usually termed meditation. Atmanishtha is your real nature. Remain as you are. That is the aim.

Question: But thoughts come up. Is our effort meant to eliminate thoughts only?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Meditation being on a single thought, the other thoughts are kept away. Meditation is only negative in effect in as much as thoughts are kept away.

Questioner: It is said ‘Atma samstham manah krtva’ (fixing the mind in the Self). But the Self is unthinkable.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you wish to meditate at all? Because you wish to do so you are told ‘atma samstham manah krtva’. Why do you not remain as you are without meditating? What is that ‘manah’ (mind)? When all thoughts are eliminated it becomes ‘atma samstha’ (fixed in the Self).

Questioner: If a form is given I can meditate on it and other thoughts are eliminated. But the Self is formless.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation on forms of concrete objects is said to be Dhyana, whereas the enquiry into the Self is Vichara or Nididhyasana (uninterrupted awareness of being).

Question: How is Dhyana practised- with eyes open or closed?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It may be done either way. The point is that the mind must be introverted and kept active in its pursuit. Sometimes it happens that when the eyes are closed the latent thoughts rush forth with great vigour. It may also be difficult to introvert the mind with the eyes open. It requires strength of mind to do so. The mind is contaminated when it takes in objects. Otherwise, it is pure. The main factors in Dhyana is to keep the mind active in its own pursuit without taking in external impressions or thinking of other matters.

Question: How do I prevent myself falling asleep in meditation?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If you try to prevent sleep it will mean thinking in meditation, which must be avoided. But if you slip into sleep while meditating, the meditation will continue even during and after sleep. Yet, being a thought, sleep must be got rid of, for the final natural state has to be obtained consciously in jagrat (the waking state) without the disturbing thought. Waking and sleeping are mere pictures on the screen of the native, thought-free state. Let them pass unnoticed.

Question: What is to be meditated upon?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Anything that you prefer.

Question: Siva, Vishnu and Gayatri are said to be equally efficacious. Which should I mediate upon?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Any one you like best. They are all equal in their effect. But you should stick to one.

Question: How do I meditate?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Concentrate on that one whom you like best. If a single thought prevails, all other thoughts are put off and finally eradicated. So long as diversity prevails there are bad thoughts. When the object of love prevails only good thoughts hold the field. Therefore hold on to one thought only. Dhyana is the chief practice.

Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight. This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation.

One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by Dhyana alone.

Question: What is the difference between Dhyana (meditation) and Vichara (investigation)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both amount to the same. Those unfit for investigation must practise meditation. In meditation the aspirant forgetting himself meditates ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am Siva’ and by this method holds on to Brahman or Siva. This will ultimately end with the residual awareness of Brahman or Siva as being. He will then realise that this is pure being, that is, the Self.

He who engages in investigation starts by holding on to himself, and by asking himself ‘Who am I?’ The Self becomes clear to him. Mentally imagining oneself to be the supreme reality, which shines as existence-consciousness-bliss, is meditation. Fixing the mind in the Self so that the unreal seed of delusion will die is enquiry.

Whoever meditates upon the Self in whatever bhava (mental image) attains it only in that image. Those peaceful ones who remain quiet without any such bhava attain the noble and unqualified state of Kaivalya, the formless state of the Self.

Questioner: Meditation is more direct than investigation because the former holds on to the truth whereas the latter sifts the truth from the untruth.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: For the beginner meditation on a form is more easy and agreeable. Practice of it leads to self-enquiry, which consists in sifting the reality from unreality.

What is the use of holding on to truth when you are filled with antagonistic factors?

Self-enquiry directly leads to realisation by removing the obstacles which make you think the self is not already realised.

Meditation differs according to the degree of advancement of the seeker. If one is fit for it one might directly hold on to the thinker, and the thinker will then automatically sink into his source, pure consciousness.

If one cannot directly hold on to the thinker one must meditate on God and in due course the same individual will have become sufficiently pure to hold on to the thinker and to sink into absolute being.

Meditation is possible only if the ego is kept up. There is the ego and the object meditated upon. The method is therefore indirect because the Self is only one. Seeking the ego, that is its source, the ego disappears. What is left over is the Self. This method is the direct one.

Question: Is the practice of concentration between the eyebrows advisable?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The final result of the practice of any kind of Dhyana is that the object on which the seeker fixes his mind ceases to exist as distinct and separate from the subject. They, the subject and object, become the one Self, and that is the Heart.

Question: Why does not Sri Bhagavan (Sri Ramana) direct us to practise concentration on some particular centre or Chakra?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yoga Sastra says that the sahasrara (the Chakra located in the brain) or the brain is the seat of the Self. Purusha Sukta declares that the Heart is its seat. To enable the sadhaka to steer clear of possible doubt, I tell him to take up the thread or the clue of ‘I’-ness or ‘I am’ ness and follow it up to its source. Because, firstly, it is impossible for anybody to entertain any doubt about this ‘I’ notion. Secondly, whatever be the means adopted, the final goal is the realisation of the source of ‘I am’-ness, which is the primary datum of your experience.

If you therefore practice self-enquiry, you will reach the Heart, which is the Self.

Question: I practise Hatha Yoga and I also meditate ‘I am Brahman’. After a few moments of this meditation, a blank prevails, the brain gets heated and a fear of death arises. What should I do?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘I am Brahman’ is only a thought. Who says it? Brahman itself does not say so. What need is there for it to say it? Nor can the real ‘I’ say so. For ‘I’ always abides as Brahman. To be saying it is only a thought. Whose thought is it? All thoughts are from the unreal ‘I’, that is the ‘I’-thought. Remain without thinking. So long as there is thought there will be fear.

Questioner: As I go on thinking of it there is forgetfulness, the brain becomes heated and I am afraid.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, the mind is concentrated in the brain and hence you get a hot sensation there. It is because of the ‘I’-thought. When the ‘I’-thought arises fear of death arises simultaneously. With regard to forgetfulness, so long as there is thought there will be forgetfulness. First there is the thought ‘I am Brahman’, then forgetfulness supervenes. Forgetfulness and thought are for the ‘I’-thought only. Hold on to it and it will disappear like a phantom. What remains over is the real ‘I’ and that is the Self.

‘I am Brahman’ is an aid to concentration since it keeps off other thoughts. When that one thought alone persists, see whose thought it is. It will be found to be from ‘I’. From where is the ‘I’-thought? Probe into it, the ‘I’-thought will vanish, and the Supreme Self will shine forth of itself. No further effort is needed.

When the one real ‘I’ remains alone, it will not be saying ‘I am Brahman’. Does a man go on repeating ‘I am a man’? Unless he is challenged, why should he declare himself a man? Does anyone mistake himself for an animal that he should say, .’No, I am not an animal, I am a man’? Similarly, Brahman or ‘I’ being the only existing reality, there is no one there to challenge it and so there is no need to be repeating ‘I am Brahman’.

Question: Why should one adopt this self-hypnotism by thinking on the unthinkable point? Why not adopt other methods like gazing into light, holding the breath, hearing music, hearing internal sounds, repetition of the sacred syllable Om or other Mantras?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Light-gazing stupefies the mind and produces catalepsy of the will for the time being, but it secures no permanent benefit. Breath control temporarily benumbs the will but it is not permanent. It is the same with listening to sounds, unless the Mantra is sacred and secures the help of a higher power to purify and raise the thoughts.

Question: We are advised to concentrate on the spot in the forehead between the eyebrows. Is this right?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Everyone is aware- ‘I am’. Leaving aside that awareness one goes about in search of God. What is the use of fixing one’s attention between the eyebrows? It is mere folly to say that God is between the eyebrows. The aim of such advice is to help the mind to concentrate. It is one of the forcible methods to check the mind and prevent its dissipation. It is forcibly directed into one channel. It is a help to concentration.

But the best means of realisation is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ The present trouble is to the mind and it must be removed by the mind only.

Question: I do not always concentrate on the same centre in the body. Sometimes I find it easier to concentrate on one centre and sometimes on another. And sometimes when I concentrate on one centre the thought of its own accord goes and fixes itself in another. Why is that?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It may be because of past practices of yours. But in any case it is immaterial on which centre you concentrate since the real Heart is in every centre and even outside the body. On whatever part of the body you may concentrate or on whatever external object, the Heart is there.

Question: Can one concentrate at one time on one centre and at another time on another or should one concentrate always consistently on the same centres?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: As I have just said, there can be no harm wherever you concentrate, because concentration is only a means of giving up thoughts. Whatever the centre or object on which you concentrate, he who concentrates is always the same.

Questioner: Some say that one should practise meditation on gross objects only. It may be disastrous if one constantly seeks to kill the mind.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: For who is it disastrous? Can there be disaster apart from the Self?

Unbroken ‘I, I’ is the infinite ocean. The ego, the ‘I’-thought, remains only a bubble on it and is called Jiva or individual soul. The bubble too is water for when it bursts it only mixes in the ocean. When it remains a bubble it is still a part of the ocean. Ignorant of this simple truth, innumerable methods under different denominations, such as Yoga, Bhakti, Karma, each again with many modifications, are being taught with great skill and in intricate detail only to entice the seekers and confuse their minds. So also there are religions and sects and dogmas. What are they all for? Only for knowing the Self. They are aids and practices required for knowing the Self.

Objects perceived by the senses are spoken of as immediate knowledge (pratyaksha). Can anything be as direct as the Self- always experienced without the aid of the senses? Sense-perceptions can only be indirect knowledge, and not direct knowledge. Only one’s own awareness is direct knowledge, and that is the common experience of one and all. No aids are needed to know one’s own Self.

For Sri Ramana Maharshi’s views on the other aspects of Raja Yoga (such as morality, meditation and Samadhi) read the following pages:


Direct Path


Self- Atma


Consciousness-the three states

Freedom and Bondage

The Jnana Yoga of Sri R.Maharshi

The path to the heart has been sought by aspirants for thousands of years. It is as if we all know that there is a place — associated with the heart — where consciousness becomes filled with love, compassion and a sense of one’s unity with all things. However, finding one’s way to this sacred place is no easy matter. Focusing one’s attention there may help, but the one who focuses the attention, the separate self, remains as the center of the problem it is trying to fix. Another means must exist, and one of the greatest sages of recent times, Ramana Maharshi, has offered just such a path.

The life story of Sri Ramana Maharshi is remarkable. At a young age he experienced his own death. He did not actually die, but had a fully conscious experience of death of the body, which included awareness of himself as something other than the body, an eternal stream of energy. From that day forth he was no longer an average village boy. Despite his family’’s best efforts to keep him in a somewhat normal life, he left home with just a few rupees, heading for a sacred mountain he had heard about from an uncle. That mountain, Mount Arunachala, was revered by Hindus as the actual body of the god Shiva. It rises above the ancient temple city of Tiruvanamali in the heart of southern India. It is saturated with power — certainly with energies that were anchored there long ago, and probably further enhanced by the life of the great sage who first arrived at the age of 16.

When Ramana arrived at Tiruvanamali, no one knew what to do with him, but that really didn’t matter because all he wanted to do was lose himself into union with the Self. It is said that he meditated in the temple basement for months at a time, taking food only rarely and allowing rodents to gnaw at his shrinking body. Somehow he survived and emerged from the temple, taking up residence in a cave on the mountain. By this time devotees were aware of him and supplied meager food for the blessing of being in his presence. He was silent for most of the 23 years he spent on the mountain before being persuaded to come down into a modest ashram that was taking shape to accommodate those who wanted to be near him.

Once in the ashram, his ‘teaching’ began. He preferred to teach through the mere power of the silence that surrounded him. Devotees would sit for hours soaking up the peace and awareness that seemed to emanate from him. But of course many were insensitive to this form of learning and brought their questions to him. He responded with a teaching that sprang directly from his experience and cut to the heart of the most basic questions of the spiritual path.

The fundamental issue from Ramana Maharshi’s perspective is “Who am I?” Sri Ramana explains that the eternal is always present — our natural state —but we miss it because we are captives of the mind. To escape the grasp of the mind one needs to turn attention inward toward the mind: to see the mind for what it really is — a charlatan, something that appears much more substantial than it really is. The technique he offered was simply to continually trace thoughts back to their origin — to see from where they actually arise. This search brings one eventually to the ‘I thought’, the thought that ‘I’ exist as an entity separate from God and all creation. It is natural enough that such a thought should arise, but Ramana encouraged his followers to try to get to the root of this thought. From where did it come? From where does it come minute to minute? Looking for this one finds first that there is no mind as a substantial entity that creates all thought. Rather there is just a stream of thought and every thought can end once its essential reality is questioned.

To see this in the simplest terms, think of a simple thought such as “I need to go to the store this afternoon.” Such a thought can seem very real — a true fact of life. But then with just a slight switch in perspective, that very same thought can appear to be nothing more than a self-created fantasy based on a bunch of other thoughts that are equally insubstantial. It is easy to see that “I need to go to the store” is “just a thought” — meaning something not particularly real.

The same process of insight can be applied to all thoughts. When one thinks: “I am afraid,” the question can be asked: “Who is afraid?” Looking at that, one soon realizes that thought is afraid, nothing more. Again, the fear is “just a thought”. The ubiquitous process of thought eventually comes to be seen as a prison in which we encase ourselves. Thought rules everything. We are our thoughts — at however a conscious or unconscious level they may be operating. But again, Sri Ramana would have us look at these thoughts and see their transient, insubstantial, unreal nature. One by one they can be eliminated, or one can look to the root of them all, the ‘I thought’.

It seems far harder to see the falsity of the ‘I thought’ than all the other thoughts that spring from it. It is as if all thoughts could be seen as a tree. The little thoughts (“I need to go to the store”) are the twigs and they can be easily cut off with just a little awareness. Bigger thoughts (“I’m afraid”) are like the branches and they require more awareness to see though them. The biggest thought of all, the ‘I thought’, is the trunk of the tree and it requires tremendous, sustained awareness to perceive its non-reality.

One of the all-time great journals of a spiritual quest is Paul Brunton’s A Search in Secret India. Brunton was very much an ‘ordinary guy’ — though admittedly one possessed with a fascination with India. His book chronicles an amazing string of encounters with individuals with various powers or states of awareness. Some offer to instruct him, but he pushes on relentlessly, searching for someone who can really meet his mind’s high standards for a true teacher. In light of his ultimate discovery, it is noteworthy that one of the teachers he cannot bring himself to stay with is Ramana Maharshi. However, his description of his first encounter with the sage bears repeating. Arriving from an overnight train journey and lengthy ride in a bullock cart, Brunton enters a shaded hall to find a semi-circle of 20 or 30 seated around the sage. He writes:

“There is something in this man which holds my attention as steel filings are held by a magnet. I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being totally ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly. But it is not until the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change which is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I have prepared on the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away. For it does not now seem to matter whether they are asked or not, and it does not seem to matter whether I solve the problems which have hitherto troubled me. I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest.”

Unfortunately for Brunton, that “thought-tortured brain” is roused back into activity all too soon. The meditation ends, and after a week his quest draws him on, elsewhere. He travels for months until, like the above mentioned iron filings, he is drawn once again to the powerful magnet at the foot of Mount Arunachala. Then, finally, when physically sick and with time and money running out, through his own intense effort and surely the grace of Ramana Maharshi, Brunton finds his way into the real. It is exactly as Ramana had described: once the origin of thought is perceived, it loses its hold on consciousness and awareness is absorbed into the true Self.

To those wanting to take the journey today, the way is no less open than it was when Ramana Maharshi was still physically on the planet. As his passing out of the body approached, he said to his disciples: “You say I am going, but where could I go?” The fact is that Ramana Maharshi is no more the body that lived and died in southern India than God is merely the physical objects of the universe. Sri Ramana’s spirit lives on undeterred and seems to remain available to those who align to it. Similarly, his teachings remain completely available to us — perhaps more available than they were years ago.

One of the best books on Ramana Maharshi’s teachings is probably Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi edited by David Godman, who has done a remarkable job in drawing together the sage’s teachings from a wide range of sources and then arranging them topically. Each chapter begins with Godman’s clear introduction to Sri Ramana’s ideas on a particular aspect of the path. This is followed by questions and answers arranged to read almost like one extended conversation on that topic.

No single passage does justice to the power and joy of the teachings but, to conclude, the following captures something of the spirit of this great teacher and his teaching.

“Question: When a man realizes the self, what will he see?

Answer: There is no seeing. Seeing is only being. The state of Self-realization, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is that you give up your realization of the not-true as true. All of us are regarding as real that which is not real. We have only to give up this practice on our part. Then we shall realize the Self as Self; in other words, ‘Be the Self’.”


by George Catlin 


Freedom from Bondage

From The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman

Liberation is our very nature. We are that. The very fact that we wish for liberation shows that freedom from all bondage is our real nature. It is not to be freshly acquired. All that is necessary is to get rid of the false notion that we are bound. When we achieve that, there will be no desire or thought of any sort. So long as one desires liberation, so long, you may take it, one is in bondage.

It is false to speak of realisation. What is there to realise? The real is as it is always. We are not creating anything new or achieving something which we did not have before. The illustration given in books is this. We dig a well and create a huge pit. The space in the pit or well has not been created by us. We have just removed the earth which was filling the space there. The space was there then and is also there now. Similarly we have simply to throw out all the age-long samskaras (innate tendencies) which are inside us. When all of them have been given up, the Self will shine alone.

Question: As the bodies and the selves animating them are everywhere actually observed to be innumerable how can it be said that the Self is only one?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If the idea ‘I am the body’ is accepted, the selves are multiple. The state in which this idea vanishes is the Self since in that state there are no other objects. It is for this reason that the Self is regarded as one only.

Since the body itself does not exist in the natural outlook of the real Self, but only in the extroverted outlook of the mind which is deluded by the power of illusion, to call Self, the space of consciousness, dehi (the possessor of the body) is wrong.

The world does not exist without the body, the body never exists without the mind, the mind never exists without consciousness and consciousness never exists without the reality.

For the wise one who has known Self by divining within himself, there is nothing other than Self to be known. Why? Because since the ego which identifies the form of a body as ‘I’ has perished, he (the wise one) is the formless existence-consciousness.

The jnani (one who has realised the Self) knows he is the Self and that nothing, neither his body nor anything else, exists but the Self. To such a one what difference could the presence or absence of a body make?

Realisation is nothing to be gained afresh; it is already there. All that is necessary is to get rid of the thought ‘I have not realised’.

[Note: Comments by David Godman: Sri Raman Maharshi occasionally indicated that there were three classes of spiritual aspirants. The most advanced realise the Self as soon as they are told about its real nature. Those in the second class need to reflect on it for some time before Self-awareness becomes firmly established. Those in the third category are less fortunate since they usually need many years of intensive spiritual practice to achieve the goal of Self-realisation. Sri Ramana sometimes used a metaphor of combustion to describe the three levels; gunpowder ignites with a single spark, charcoal needs the application of heat for a short time, and wet coal needs to dry out and heat up over a long period of time before it will begin to burn.

For the benefit of those in the top two categories Sri Ramana taught that the Self alone exists and that it can be directly and consciously experienced merely by ceasing to pay attention to the wrong ideas we have about ourselves. These wrong ideas he collectively called ‘not-Self ‘ since they are an imaginary accretion of wrong notions and misperceptions which effectively veil the true experience of the real Self. The principal misperception is the idea that the Self is limited to the body and the mind. As soon as one ceases to imagine that one is an individual person, inhabiting a particular body, the whole superstructure of wrong ideas collapse and is replaced by a conscious and permanent awareness of the real Self.

At this level of the teaching, there is no question of effort or practice. All that is required is an understanding that the Self is not a goal to be attained, it is merely the awareness that prevails when all the limiting ideas about the not-Self have been discarded.]

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Stillness or peace is realisation. There is no moment when the Self is not. So long as there is doubt or the feeling of non-realisation, the attempt should be made to rid oneself of these thoughts. They are due to the identification of the Self with the not-Self. When the not-Self disappears, the Self alone remains. To make room, it is enough that objects be removed. Room is not brought in from elsewhere.

Question: How shall I reach the Self?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now, and it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is not worth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self, you are already that.

The fact is, you are ignorant of your blissful state. Ignorance supervenes and draws a veil over the pure Self which is bliss. Attempts are directed only to remove this veil of ignorance which is merely wrong knowledge. The wrong knowledge is the false identification of the Self with the body and the mind. This false identification must go, and then the Self alone remains.

Therefore, realisation is for everyone; realisation makes no difference between the aspirants. This very doubt, whether you can realise, and the notion ‘I have not realised’ are themselves the obstacles. Be free from these obstacles also.

Question: How long does it take to reach mukti (liberation or freedom)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Mukti(liberation) is not to be gained in the future. It is there forever, here and now.

Questioner: I agree, but I do not experience it.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The experience is here and now. One cannot deny one’s own Self.

Questioner: That means existence and not happiness.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Existence is the same as happiness and happiness is the same as being. The word mukti (liberation or freedom) is so provoking. Why should one seek it? One believes that there is bondage and therefore seeks liberation. But the fact is that there is no bondage but only liberation. Why call it by a name and seek it?

Questioner: True – but we are ignorant.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Only remove ignorance. That is all there is to be done.

All questions relating to mukti(liberation) are inadmissible. Mukti means release from bondage. There is no bondage and therefore no mukti either.

Question: Of what nature is the realisation of westerners who relate that they have had flashes of cosmic consciousness?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It came as a flash and disappeared as such. That which has a beginning must also end. Only when the ever-present consciousness is realised will it be permanent. Consciousness is indeed always with us. Everyone knows ‘I am’. No one can deny his own being. The man in deep sleep is not aware; while awake he seems to be aware. But it is the same person. There is no change in the one who slept and the one who is now awake. In deep sleep he was not aware of his body and so there was no body-consciousness. Therefore the difference lies in the emergence of body-consciousness and not in any change in the real consciousness.

The body and body-consciousness arise together and sink together. All this amounts to saying that there are no limitations in deep sleep, whereas there are limitations in the waking state. These limitations are the bondage. The feeling ‘The body is I’ is the error. This false sense of ‘I’ must go. The real ‘I’ is always there. It is here and now. It never appears anew and disappears again. That which is must also persist for ever. That appears anew will also be lost. Compare deep sleep and waking. The body appears in one state but not in the other. Therefore the body will be lost. The consciousness was pre-existent and will survive the body.

There is no one who does not say ‘I am’. The wrong knowledge of ‘I am the body’ is the cause of all the mischief. This wrong knowledge must go. That is realisation. Realisation is not acquisition of anything new nor is it new faculty. It is only removal of all camouflage.

The ultimate truth is so simple. It is nothing more than being in the pristine state. This is all that need be said.

Question: Is one nearer to pure consciousness in deep sleep than in the waking state?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The sleep, dream and waking states are mere phenomena appearing on the Self which itself is stationary. It is also a state of simple awareness. Can anyone remain away from the Self at any moment? This question can arise only if that were possible.

Question: Is it not often said that one is nearer pure consciousness in deep sleep than in the waking state?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The question may as well be ‘Am I nearer to myself in my sleep than in my waking state?’

The Self is pure consciousness. No one can ever be away from the Self. The question is possible only if there is duality. But there is no duality in the state of pure consciousness.

The same person sleeps, dreams and wakes up. The waking state is considered to be full of beautiful and interesting things. The absence of such experience makes one say that the sleep state is dull. Before we proceed further let us make this point clear. Do you not admit that you exist in your sleep?

Questioner: Yes I do.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: You are the same person that is now awake. Is it not so? So there is a continuity in the sleep and the waking states. What is that continuity? It is only the state of pure being.

There is a difference in the two states. What is that difference? The incidents, namely, the body, the world and objects appear in the waking state but they disappear in sleep.

Questioner: But I am not aware in my sleep.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: True, there is no awareness of the body or of the world. But you must exist in your sleep in order to say now ‘I was not aware in my sleep’. Who says so now? It is the wakeful person. The sleeper cannot say so. That is to say, the individual who is now identifying the Self with the body says that such awareness did not exist in sleep.

Because you identify yourself with the body, you see the world around you and say that the waking state is filled with beautiful and interesting things. The sleep state appears dull because you were not there as an individual and therefore these things were not. But what is the fact? There is the continuity of being in all the three states, but no continuity of the individual and the objects.

That which is continuous is also enduring, that is permanent. That which is discontinuous is transitory. Therefore the state of being is permanent and the body and the world are not. They are fleeting phenomena passing on the screen of being-consciousness which is eternal and stationary.

Question:What prevents the infinite, undifferentiated light of consciousness arising from the Heart from revealing itself to the ajnani (ignorant)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Just as water in a pot reflects the enormous sun within the narrow limits of the pot, even so the vasanas or latent tendencies of the mind of the individual, acting as the reflecting medium, catch the all-pervading, infinite light of consciousness arising from the Heart. The form of this reflection is the phenomena called the mind. Seeing only this reflection, the ajnani (the ignorant) is deluded into the belief that he is the finite being, the jiva, the individual self.

Question: What are the obstacles which hinder realisation of the Self?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: They are habits of mind (Vasanas).

Question: How to overcome the mental habits (Vasnas)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: By realising the Self. It is the ego which raises such difficulties, creating obstacles and then suffering from the perplexity of apparent paradoxes. Find out who makes the enquiries and the Self will be found.

Question: Why is this mental bondage so persistent?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The nature of bondage is merely the rising, ruinous thought ‘I am different from the reality’. Since one surely cannot remain separate from the reality, reject that thought whenever it rises.

Question: There are said to be Sadeha Mukta(liberated while still in the body) and Videha Mukta(liberated at the time of death).

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is no liberation, and where are muktas?

Question: Do not Hindu scriptures speak of mukti (liberation)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Mukti is synonymous with the Self. Jivan mukti (liberated while still in the body) and videh mukti are all for the ignorant. The jnani(self-realised) is not conscious of mukti or bandha (bondage). Bondage, liberation and orders of mukti are all said for an ajnani (ignorant) in order that ignorance might be shaken off. There is only mukti or liberation and nothing else.

Question: If there is neither bondage nor liberation, what is the reason for the actual experience of joys and sorrows?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: They appear to be real only when one turns aside from one’s real nature. They do not really exist.

Question: Is the world created for happiness or misery?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Creation is neither good nor bad; it is as it is. It is the human mind which puts all sorts of constructions on it, seeing things from its own angle and interpreting them to suit its own interests. A woman is just a woman, but one mind calls her ‘‘mother’’ another ‘‘sister’’ and still another ‘‘aunt’ and so on. Men love women, hate snakes, and are indifferent to the grass and stones by the roadside. These value-judgements are the cause of all the misery in the world. Creation is like a peepul tree; birds come and eat its fruit, or take shelter under its branches, men cool themselves in its shade, but some may hang themselves on it. Yet the tree continues to lead its quiet life, unconcerned with and unaware of all the uses it is put to.

It is the human mind that creates its own difficulties and then cries for help. Is God so partial as to give peace to one person and sorrow to another? In creation there is room for everything, but man refuses to see the good, the healthy and the beautiful. Instead, he goes on whining, like the hungry man who sits besides the tasty dish and who, instead of stretching out his hand to satisfy his hunger, goes on lamenting, ‘Whose fault is it, God’s or man’s?’

It is true that we are not bound and that the real Self has no bondage. It is true that you will eventually go back to your source. But meanwhile, if you commit sins, as you call them, you will have to face the consequences of such sins. You cannot escape them. If a man beats you, then, can you say, ‘‘I am free, I am not bound by these beatings and I don’t feel any pain. Let him beat on’? If you can feel like that, you can go on doing what you like. What is the use of merely saying with your lips ‘I am free’?

Raja Yoga

  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:


Direct Path


Self- Atma


Consciousness-the three states

Freedom and Bondage

Raja Yoga by Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore