"Do not permit the events of your daily life to bind you, but never withdraw from them. Only by acting thus can you attain the title of 'A Liberated One.'"
(Zen Master, 842 C.E.)
Yoga is perhaps the oldest and most diverse of spiritual practices, covering more than 4,000 years of history. One of the most substantive writings on Raja yoga can be found in the school of Patanjali, itself more than 2,000 years old (see Georg Feuerstein’s translation and commentary on The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali).
It has been said that Raja (or "royal") yoga was originally designed by rishis in ancient India for those with empowered positions in society. In this way, one could practice meditation amidst activity in the world.
What specific meditation did the Patanjali school prescribe? In the second aphorism of the Yoga-Sutra four Sanskrit words are used to define the general parameters of this highly codified and complex system—yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodha. Feuerstein condenses his English translation into nine potent words: “Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.” The initial goal is to attain through steady practice an experience of “root consciousness” (purusha), also meaning, one’s “core being” or “Higher Self.”
Essentially, any meditation that helps to discriminate between the real (consciousness as such) and the unreal (perceived phenomena) could be said to be a form of raja yoga.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, sent to America by his teacher to introduce Western students to meditation, conveyed that his practice of transcendental meditation ™ was a form of raja yoga not meant for the recluse on the mountaintop or in the forest or desert, but for the householder in the midst of the city.
Unless one has direct experience of watching the crazed machinations of the ego, all of this will sound like trumped up nonsense with little conceivable purpose. Nonetheless, whatever spiritual discipline one might practice from whatever tradition or culture, most are in agreement that the ultimate goal of any and every yoga is transcendence of the limited self whose endgame is union (or reunion) with the higher Self who is ishvara, the Inmost Teacher within.
Rather than emphasize the union of the soul with the realized Self, the school of Patanjali emphasized the need for the aspirant to first receive training in how to implement the disunion between the Self-aware soul and the false self. This required dedication and daily, moment-by-moment reinforcement along an eightfold pathway that involves the ongoing practice of:
1) non-possessiveness (yama)
2) study and devotion to the Inmost Teacher (niyama)
3) correct posture for proper energy flow (asana)
4) breath control for expansion of consciousness (pranayama)
5) cultivation of inwardness (pratyahara)
6) detached observation of inner thoughts (dharana)
7) one-pointed awareness of infinite Mind (dhyana), until absorption in the ocean of infinite Mind (samadhi) is temporarily experienced. Samadhi is far from the end as many have incorrectly assumed. The end is nirvikalp samadhi, which is absorption in Infinite Consciousness continuously without a pause or break. (see Vivekananda’s “Raja Yoga in Brief” in Raja-Yoga, pp.87-93)
What might we find if we signed up for just a few minutes every morning to just watching the wild mind? After many years of meditation and employment of other self-awareness techniques in the domains of psychotherapy and psychology I have discerned that three selves live within every human being— the localized self, the injured self and the timeless self or soul.
The localized self is the most concrete and immediately recognized being we meet on the path. This person receives a name, a parent or two or three or four, a street address, a body type, a racial imprint, and immediate indoctrination into an inherited belief system for or against religion that includes or excludes a notion of a an originator of the universe.
The localized self is often that dimension of being that most persons will “see” most frequently their entire life no matter how many times they look in the mirror or at others around them or through the lens of the digital phone, computer, television or theater screen. The localized self is simply, the false self, the self that the ego mistakes for its core being.
A cognitive error of great consequence.
However, a person doesn’t have to be on the planet long to be introduced to a second being within: that messy, ugly, and unloved creature— the injured self. No need to give a detailed list of the all-too-human dance of those moments when we have been both the oppressor and dominator, predator and victim, winner and loser of that long, thrilling and terrible boat ride called “heaven and hell on earth.”
Many of us manage quite well to cover up our losses and openly display our gains. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram await the next post or selfie in this or that pose, attending this or that temporary paradise until we return once again to home and work, where the real labor of the soul is either taken up or delayed. Others of us seem more content to play the one card of martyrdom, sinned against or miserable judge of the fallen world.
Regardless of how well the injured self is hidden or revealed to outsiders, late at night in the early morning hours a thread of dim light from some tiny hole in our cave illuminates the scribble on our walls, the seed of useful doubt that wonders if this life is all some cooked up video game of the gods—a matrix, that unless we figure it out we will never “level up.” But level up to where? To what? And to whom?
The key to any upward movement demands a mini-awakening.
That awakening involves an experience of one’s core self, one’s soul that has eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to discern meanings behind events. The soul begins to see that its manifold injuries, which have been acquired over a period of time on earth, are actually, initiations, tests and trials that the soul signed up for long before it took its human breath.
There are obstacle courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced souls. Beginners will usually hang out for quite a while with the same hard lessons that repeat themselves because they are mostly unconscious and have identified with their localized, false self. Mediocrity and boredom assail these unconscious ones who sentimentalize the past and fear their unforeseen future.
The Intermediates will reach out rather quickly for mentors and teachers to assist in their growth. Having acquired witnessing consciousness at some point in a given lifetime, these souls begin to see their experiences of agony and ecstasy, attachments and avoidances, sufferings and joys, losses and wins as temporary roles they are playing in the great theater of life.
The Advanced will do the same, but often engage in more complex tasks and align themselves more readily in spiritual practices that cultivate more regular familiarity and intimacy with the Inmost Teacher within the heart. These have acquired some level of mastery of that duality of the soul’s being in the world of fleeting phenomena but not of that world. They recognize that any glimpse or taste of their Inmost Teacher is paradoxically an earned grace and that only the preconditions of a greater awakening can be established on their own.
The door may be opened or closed to their deepest Nature like a game of hide and seek, but these souls remain ever-vigilant for a peek and grateful for a few breaths in that timeless sanctuary that is but the threshold of higher worlds as multiple as the already known and still undiscovered universes.
[Postscript: The subset category of the ancient raja yoga tradition that predates the Patanjali school is called Kriya yoga. In aphorism I.2, the “triple means” of Kriya is renunciation, the examination of the self and devotion to the Inmost Teacher, the Lord within the self; in Feuerstein, p. 60]