The Royal Path is known by a number of names including Raja Yoga, The Eightfold Path or Astanga. It is a system divided into eight steps. The eight steps are sometimes described as rungs of a ladder and as understanding of each rung increases, one climbs to the panoramic view of the beauty that is around you and that is you.
The rungs are:
Yama: Restraints; Ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacarya, aparigrahah,
Niyama: Observances; Sauca, santosha, tapah, svadhyah, isvara pranidhanani
Pranayama: Control of breath
Pratyahara: Withdrawal, relaxation
Dharana: Act of holding (concentration)
Dhyana: Meditation; the continuous act of holding
The eight rungs systematically move awareness from the manifest gross to the subtle. The 8th rung, “Samadhi”, is the experience of complete absorption and ultimately, it is the experience with that which exists beyond the fluctuations of the Mind. “Samadhi” is the inherent subliminal consequence of the previous seven rungs. “Samadhi”, is complete absorption where awareness becomes aware of itself and then loses itself into itself. Even remnants of samskaras disappear and the playground of the field of intuition itself, no longer provides an identity.
The 7th rung, “dyana”, is translated as the continuous act of holding focus. Holding focus on a specific task or ideal also accords with the dictionary definition of meditation.
The focus for the Mind during meditation is subject of the 6th rung known as “dharana”, and includes yantra, mantra and breath. Yantra is a visual focus, Mantra is sound articulated in such a way that its vibration has subtle effects in the space that is you and around you. And breath, at a more subtle level than providing oxygen and eliminating gases, is the bridge between the external and the internal. Breath is the direct link to the Mind and by becoming aware of it, one begins to know Mind.
“Pratyahara” is the fifth rung and is translated as sense withdrawal, a moving from the external and beginning the inward journey. Deep relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra fall within this rung where Mind, body and breath quieten and align in preparation for the remaining climb. Pratyahara is the disassociating of the Mind from the senses and the beginning of the Mind to know it’s own qualities.
Rung four, “Pranayama” relates to breath. More precisely, by becoming aware of breath, one becomes aware of one’s own vital life force. Pranayama is the control of Prana. The breath has a direct relationship with the Mind. When breath is disturbed, the Mind is disturbed. When the Mind is disturbed, the breath is disturbed. Control of breath leads to control of Mind. Breath is a bridge that can be consciously manipulated to calm, focus and understand Mind and it is suffused with a force that also suffuses the Mind. This is the connection between breath and Mind.
Each rung is a spiritual discipline in itself. An example of this is rung three, “asana”, now also known as hatha yoga or for that matter, dyana, where Zen meditation, finds its roots.
Rungs one and two, the Yamas and Niyamas, provide guidance on relationships; The relationship with yourself , with others and with the world. The understanding of the Yamas and Niyamas continue to deepen in this journey, where one realises there is no real distinction between the qualitative external with the subtle internal.
The eight rungs of Raja Yoga are explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The rungs are not ordered by priority but rather, in a way the Mind can cognize their relevance. The Royal Path in its linear or logical understanding is a progression from the gross to the subtle but with practical experience, one learns they are different facets of the same because of the profound interconnectedness between them.
If it is the management of stress that one seeks or one seeks an inner journey or insights into fundamental questions such as what is truth, who am I, what is the reason for my existence then this systematic approach will hold your hand in this endeavour.
I was told that the precursor to being a good Hindu, Christian, Muslim or whatever is to be a balanced human being. If thinking is unbalanced then whatever you do will be unbalanced. Meditation will open you up to yourself, to both the perceived negative and positive grooves of the Mind and allow one to see beyond them.
Going beyond the fluctuations of the mind and learning to abide in that which remains is the gift of meditation. It is a source of strength, joy, compassion and love. It gives perspective, insight and illumination to life.
It literally allows one to experience “being” and gives insight to the idea of a “deva” – a being of light. Illumination brings light and removes the darkness of fear and self-doubt.
This is the Royal Path, illuminate the Mind and Shine.