PART ONE: CHRISTIAN RAJA YOGA
PART TWO: RAJA YOGA FROM INDIA
THE PATH OF MEDITATION
In Christian Yoga the path of Christian Raja Yoga emphasizes meditation and contemplation. Christian Raja Yoga includes all eight members of Patanjali’s classical yoga, plus one additional member. The first member is yamas, ethical restrictions, such as harmlessness, truthfulness, lack of covetousness, and sexual purity. The second member is niyamas, ethical observances, which would include contentment, moderation, asceticism as guided by the Spirit, study of scripture or spiritual writing, individual and/or group forms of prayer and worship, and surrendering to God’s Will in all areas of your life.
Both of these first members would fall into the general category of “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” and developing purity of heart. These two members require your careful attention throughout your spiritual journey. It would be a mistake to leave these members behind because of advancing to the other members, since these members form a foundation for spiritual progress. In particular as you make progress from one member to another, there is a tendency in accomplishing these steps to also acquire a certain degree of pride in your achievements. Consequently, it is essential to be aware of the need for humility, which is a requirement for developing purity of heart. If you notice pride emerging at times, you can just observe it without encouragement and without self-condemnation. Like letting go of stray thoughts in meditation, sometimes negative attributes tend to fall away by themselves, if you do not cling to them and do not try to push them away.
The third and fourth members, asanas and pranayama, are the body postures and breathing practices that are included in hatha yoga, which also may include deep relaxation. These hatha yoga body postures and the breathing practices are important ways of preparing the body for making progress in meditation and contemplation.
The fifth member is pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects. This practice restricts outward desires and turns the awareness toward inner desires that reflect seeking the divine.
The sixth member is dharana, concentration, which is intermittent mental focusing. The seventh member would be dhyana, meditation, which is continuous mental focusing. This is the holding of one thought in the mind continuously. The idea of contemplation as the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that creates an inner absorption is not included in classical yoga. In contrast to meditation in which there is the holding of one thought in the mind, such as a sacred word, contemplation is the releasing of all thought in wordless attunement. Because meditation and Christian contemplation are distinctly different, contemplation needs to be considered a separate member of Christian Raja Yoga. Consequently, the eighth member of Christian Raja Yoga is contemplation. The ninth member of Christian Raja Yoga is the experience of divine union, including other spiritual experiences leading toward divine union. This member would be similar to, but not the same as, the eighth member of classical yoga, samadhi. The term “samadhi” is sometimes interpreted as “ecstasy,” but it refers to many different kinds and levels of spiritual experiences. In the typical interpretation of the classical yoga of Patanjali, the highest samadhi is divine union in which the soul loses its individual identity, becomes dissolved in God (Brahman), and is free by escaping from this world. Christian Raja Yoga would not include this idea of the soul “dissolving into God” and losing its individual identity. The highest form of divine union in this life is referred to by St. John of the Cross as the illumination of glory.(1) In this state of illumination, the soul joins with God and temporarily becomes God by participation in God. However, the soul does not lose its individuality, but finds its true Self in God in a transformed consciousness.
Furthermore, St. Symeon the New Theologian sets the example of the soul who experiences divine union while still in this world and who allows all the lower faculties to be filled with the divine light. This is similar to the ideal of Tantric Yoga , which the attainment of the exalted state of becoming a jivanmukta—the seeker who is freed while still living in this world. This is the goal of Christian Yoga, the total integration of the physical, emotional, mental, and intuitive perfectly joined and under the influence of your true spiritual nature. However, divine union does not have to be accomplished in this life in order to be successful in your practice of Christian Raja Yoga. If your life is spent seeking divine union, your seeking will prepare you to awaken to your true nature in God when this life is completed.
In order to practice Christian Raja Yoga you will have to choose a form of meditation and/or contemplation that best meets your individual needs. Christian Yoga Meditation is a good choice because this combination of six techniques integrates well with the other aspects of Christian Yoga. In the first technique of Christian Yoga Meditation, focusing on the navel center is related to the physical body, which is the vehicle for expressing dedicated action in Christ karma yoga. In the second technique of Christian Yoga Meditation, focusing on the heart center is related to emotions and specifically to love, which is important for expressing devotion in Christian Bhakti Yoga. In the third technique of Christian Yoga Meditation, focusing on the brow center is related to the mind, which is the means for expressing the intellectual discernment needed to practice Christian Jnana Yoga. The final three techniques of Christian Yoga Meditation involve the activation of the crown center and are related to awakening universal awareness. The awakening and integration of this higher awareness are the purposes of Christian Raja Yoga. The full explanation of how to practice Christian Yoga Meditation and detailed descriptions of other Christian meditation practices are provided in the book titled Christian Meditation Inspired by Yoga and “A Course in Miracles”: Opening to Divine Love in Contemplation. This book offers methods of attunement for students of A Course in Miracles in five of its chapters, but the majority of the book is for any Christian seeker who wants to practice Christian meditation. An excerpt from this book can be found at the very bottom of this web page. Whatever method of meditation or contemplation that you choose will probably change as you make progress. To be effective meditation requires consistency of practice at regular times every day because the results are cumulative. If you want to know more about how to practice the various different techniques of Christian meditation, you can visit the Christian Meditation website. This website is a companion website of the website you are reading now. To go to the Christian Meditation website, you can click on the link below:
If you want to know more about combining Christian Yoga with A Course in Miracles, you can explore the website for Miracle Yoga. This is a companion website to the website you are reading now. There is much overlapping information in both websites, but the Miracle Yoga website is geared specifically to those who want to know how the Course spiritual principles can be applied to yoga and following Christ. If you are interested in learning more, you can click on the Miracle Yoga website link below:
RAJA YOGA FROM INDIA:
THE PATH OF MEDITATION
Having already discussed Christian Raja Yoga above, this section addresses its origins in classical Raja Yoga from India. Those individual seekers who find they are drawn to introspection and inner attunement will be attracted to the path of Raja Yoga. In the Hindu tradition, classical Raja Yoga is the path of meditation, including many steps similar to Jnana Yoga that lead toward meditation. Raja means “royal” and so this is the royal path in yoga, meaning it is the most all-inclusive individual path requiring a balanced approach to seeking God. Raja Yoga, sometimes called ashtanga yoga, is a combination of eight aspects of spiritual growth that lead toward union with God.
The roots of Raja Yoga go back to the Vedic times, between 2000 and 3000 BC, and to the mythical Hiranyagarba, who is accurately considered the “father of yoga.” Patanjali often receives the credit for being the originator of yoga, but instead he was in fact the codifier of yoga. Patanjali’s systematic codification of yoga dates back to the third century BC and was documented in his famous Yoga Sutras. These sutras describe Raja Yoga as having “eight members” (ashtanga), which are listed below:
1. yamas — ethical restrictions
2. niyamas — ethical observances
3. asanas — body postures
4. pranayama — breath control
5. pratyahara — withdrawal of senses from sense objects
6. dharana — concentration of the mind, not continuous
7. dhyana — meditation, continuous focusing of the mind
— transcendent awareness
The beginning members of this system of yoga are easier to practice and more related to the world than the later members. The first member is the yamas.(2) These are similar to the abstinences contained in the Ten Commandments in that these indicate the things that must not be done in order to maintain proper moral conduct. The yamas are the following restrictions:
1. not harming anyone
2. not lying
3. not stealing
4. not indulging in sexual impurity
The second member is the niyamas.(3) These are observances of a positive nature that must be fulfilled in order to maintain proper moral conduct. The niyamas are, as follows:
surrendering to God
The third member of Raja Yoga is asanas, body postures. The fourth member of Raja Yoga is pranayama, breathing practices. The asanas and pranayama are components of hatha yoga, basically the yoga of the physical body. Gaining control over the body and the breath are a preparation for gaining control over the mind, which in turn leads directly toward being receptive to mystical experience.
The fifth member of Raja Yoga is pratyahara, which is the withdrawing of your senses from sense objects. Reducing outer stimulation by preventing the senses from going outwardly to the sense objects helps to keep the mind directed inwardly. Two examples of pratyahara that prepare you for meditation are closing your eyes to withdraw the sense of sight from seeing outer objects and holding the body motionless to withdraw the sense of touch from being activated. This withdrawal of the senses of sight and touch helps you to maintain an inward focus.
However, pratyahara is not just a selective inwardness that assists meditation, it is a general practice that helps turn the direction of the mind in everyday life away from the finite and toward the infinite. The withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects requires the same kind of discrimination (ability to distinguish between the finite and infinite), detachment (letting go of the desire for sense pleasures), and self-control (regulating of the sense organs) that is necessary to practice Jnana Yoga. Pratyahara can be practiced by directing your mind inwardly even while being involved with outward activities. Pratyahara may correspond somewhat to Christian recollection, which is the maintaining of an inward spiritual focus while being active in the world.
The first five members of Raja Yoga are external practices and are considered prerequisites to moving on to the last three members of Raja Yoga. These last three members are collectively called samyama, the “inner members.” These inner members are related to the mind being turned inwardly. The goal of Raja Yoga is to control the vrittis, thought-waves, for the purpose of directly experiencing the true Self.
Each thought-wave produces a mental impression that leaves a mark or groove in the mind. This mental groove is called a samskara.(4) This groove remains fixed in the mind. There will be only a faint groove if there is only a single thought-wave. But the repeating of the same thoughts and same actions produces a much deeper groove, a stronger samskara. Positive thoughts and actions produce positive samskaras; negative thoughts and actions produce negative samskaras. The individual’s character is the totality of all the samskaras. Once samskaras have been established through habit, these grooves in the mind become behavior patterns that become very hard to change.
Even though the individual has created these samskaras by his choice of thoughts and actions, it can seem to the individual that he has no power to resist these imbedded grooves in the mind. Samskaras can become an irresistible force so that the individual continually repeats the same thoughts, desires, and actions. This is most noticeable in addictive behaviors, but actually everyone is subject to this same tendency.
The mind with strong samskaras may be compared with an object in motion. This object in motion seems to be like a train on a track that can only move in the direction of the groove of the train tracks. However, the mind only appears like a train that cannot change direction. If the mind with its samskaras is compared to an object in motion, it follows the scientific principle of inertia. According to this principle the objects that are at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force. The mind with all of its samskaras is like an object in motion that will continue to stay in motion unless acted upon by some other force. Raja Yoga maintains that you can introduce some “other force” to counteract the inertia of the mind.
Raja Yoga says that you must choose one steady and calm thought that is repeated so many times that it produces one gigantic groove, samskara, in the mind. Even though the thought itself is a peaceful thought, its repetition creates a very powerful force. This is the “other force” that counteracts the inertia of the mind and changes its direction. This calm thought is an unwavering thought directed toward God. This one thought, one groove, becomes so great that it swallows up all the other thoughts. This stops the hurricane of the mind and reveals the hidden eye of the hurricane, which is the peaceful divine place within.
The sixth member of Raja Yoga (the first of the three inner members) is dharana, concentration, which is the holding of one thought, but not continuously. The seventh member is dhyana, meditation (the second of the three inner members), which is the holding of one thought in the mind continuously.
As the groove, samskara, of the one thought directed toward God becomes stronger, the irresistible power of the other samskaras becomes weaker. The seeker gains the power to change and become a new person with a new sense of freedom. Old negative patterns, old negative samskaras, can be set aside and new positive ones established. Old desires may come into the mind, but instead of acting these out, the individual can let these thoughts pass by without acting them out. As old desires are allowed to pass by without acting upon them, these old samskaras become fainter.
However, the samskaras cannot normally be obliterated, unless there is the deepest spiritual experience. This spiritual experience is called samadhi and is the eighth member of Raja Yoga (the third of the three inner members). There are different levels of samadhi, the transcendental experience of the divine. One kind of samadhi is savikalpa samadhi, in which the knower, the known, and the knowing are joined, but appear distinctly separate. Savikalpa samadhi is the spiritual experience in which the seeker is still in the body and these may be considered indirect experiences of Reality being expressed within the level of form and duality. There is also the deepest level of samadhi, called nirvikalpa samadhi, in which the seeker’s soul is drawn out of the body beyond form and the whole universe disappears as the seeker meets Reality face to face in a nondual experience of Oneness.
In this deepest spiritual experience the samskaras become like seeds that are burnt, losing the power to sprout again. This experience of nirvikalpa samadhi is the ultimate goal of Raja Yoga, but the ongoing objective of Raja Yoga is to weaken the samskaras. Weakening the power of samskaras allows the mind to be loosened from the grip of karma and helps to produce an integration between the body, mind, and spirit. But this integration is only a preparation for moksha, liberation from this world. In the yoga system of Patanjali liberation can be obtained through nirvikalpa samadhi, but not all systems of yoga believe that moksha, liberation from this world, is the highest form of attainment.
1. St. John
of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel,
edited by E. Allison Peers (New York, New York: Image Books,
Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1958), p. 304. This book was published by
with the copyright holder and original publisher, Newman Press, which
absorbed by Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey.
2. Haridas Chaudhuri, Integral Yoga (Wheaton, Illinois; Madras, India; London, England: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1981), p. 55.
3. The Sivananda Yoga Center, Foreword by Swami Vishnu, The Sivananda Companion to Yoga (New York, London, Sidney, Singapore: A Fireside Book; Simon and Schuster, 2000), p. 19.
4. Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (New York, New York: Bell Publishing Company, Inc., a division of Crown Publishing, Inc.), Copyright 1960, by the Julian Press, Inc., p. 309.
Christian Bhakti Yoga : Love
Christian Karma Yoga : Service
Christian Jnana Yoga : Understanding
MEDITATION AS INNER FORGIVENESS
As you read about the five specific aspects of Christian Yoga on this website, you will see that every one of them employs the process of “looking and overlooking.” This always involves “looking” for the divine and “overlooking” everything that is not divine. In Christian Raja Yoga, this looking and overlooking applies to your practice of inner attunement, regardless of what specific technique you may be using. In your inner attunement, you are “looking” for some aspect of the divine within, whether that aspect is Christ, God, or an attribute of God, such as light, peace, or love. In order to focus entirely on the divine within, your meditation practice must likewise include “overlooking” of what is not divine. You must overlook all the passing thoughts in the mind that would distract you from your divine goal.
The book Christian Meditation Inspired by Yoga and “A Course in Miracles” is recommended for the practice of Christian Raja Yoga. The first nineteen chapters of this book are for Christians who are open to the influence of yoga in their practice of meditation used as a means of following Christ. However, the final five chapters are written for those who are also open to the principles of A Course in Miracles, which has influenced the information on this website you are reading now. The idea of “looking and overlooking” is a way of describing true forgiveness in which you look for the divine in the person you forgive. True forgiveness also requires that you overlook his outer form and outer actions that would divert you from seeing God within him. Below is an excerpt from Christian Meditation Inspired by Yoga and “A Course in Miracles” in which meditation is described in a unique way—as a form of inner forgiveness.
Forgiveness and meditation are normally considered to be separate and very different ideas. Forgiveness seems to be about giving others a gift of your mercy, rather than being a means of internal healing of your own mind. Yet the Course sees forgiveness as a way of turning your mind toward oneness. Meditation appears to be a solitary activity of seeking God. A section below [of this book not this website] is titled “Meditation is a Collaborative Venture” to explain how meditation is not in fact a solitary practice. Meditation in the Course is a way of training your mind to join with your brothers and sisters and to move together in the direction of oneness.
Thus both forgiveness and meditation help you grow toward the common goal of oneness, but are they really distinctly different ways of seeking oneness? No, they seek oneness in the same way. Forgiveness is meditation applied outwardly toward others. Meditation is the mental holding of one thought of the divine in the mind and the letting go all other distracting thoughts. In practicing forgiveness, just as in practicing meditation, you are letting go of distracting thoughts by overlooking all your judgments against the person you are forgiving. Likewise, you are holding the one thought of looking for the divine in the person you are forgiving, similar to the way you hold on to the one thought of seeing the divine within yourself in practicing meditation.
Forgiveness and meditation have a reciprocal relationship. Since forgiveness is meditation applied outwardly, the inverse is equally true: Meditation is forgiveness applied inwardly toward yourself. When you forgive your brother by letting go of your grievances, you are helping your brother to heal his mind and simultaneously helping to heal your own mind. Your forgiveness of others is really a means of forgiving yourself. Yet this process of forgiving yourself can also be done directly by the inner practices of meditation. After all, when you go within you are letting go of distracting thoughts and judgments. You are attempting to go past these distractions, which are inner grievances that you are holding against yourself. These grievances hide your true nature. Just as you can see the divine in your brother by letting go of grievances, you can apply forgiveness toward yourself by looking past your inner grievances to find the divine within.
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