8 Limbs of Yoga- The Raja Yoga of MahaRishi Patanjali
Updated: Nov 30
Patanjali, one of the great unkown masters of ancient Indian sciences and languages, was no longer human when he transmitted the aphorisms that came later to be recorded and popularised as Raja Yoga, or the 8 limbs of Yoga.
The very essence of the 8 Limbs of Yoga or Raja Yoga lies in the understanding of what it means to be human and how, given that understanding, one can wilfully transcend unto higher states. Having then transcended to beyond where there is no more transcendence, the thing that remains is not a human, in fact it is not even a thing. It is simply a happening-an undefinable, separately defined by each observer as per his/ her capacity. Patanjali was communicating from the plane of this undefinable, in non-human language, through 'telepathy’ as per the ancient record, with the students he had chosen as recepients for the Yoga Sutras, the aphorisms of Yoga. The 8 limb Yoga system is also called Ashtanga, which translates to 8 limbs ashta(eight) & anga(limbs).
What it means to be human is what the mind conceives it to be. It is nothing more or less than a conception. Based on the conception, we form frames of reference based on our upbringing and learning experiences. From this frame of reference arises the character, the fully formed ego and way, unique to each one of us, of experiencing the world around us. Patanjalis revolutionary teaching is to take this whole lot and dump it at one go. To detach the conceived world from its source of projection with one fell stroke. These, then are the 8 Limbs of Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, divided into four sections, that make up the millenia old teaching of Integral Yoga, the royal path of Raja Yoga.
Yoga Sutras – 8 Limbs of Yoga
Let us start to explore the individual parts of this mystic 8 Limbs of Yoga:
Yama – Control Factors
Niyama-Code of being
Pranayama- Controlled expansion of Life force
Pratyahara-Internalisation of externally terminated senses
Samadhi-All as One Consciousness
Yama or Control factors –
The first limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, are the ways of perceiving and reacting which are to be refrained from, for the reason that indulgence in these proscribed actions and thoughts will lead to scattering and diluting of the power of consciousness. A diluted and scattered consciousness is incapable of perceiving rationally, and behaving skilfully, and therefore is likely to bring misfortunes upon its own head, through misguided actions and thoughts.
Niyamas are the prescribed ways of being are thoughts and actions, the second limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, which being regularly activated, lead to the support state of consciousness necessary for attaining one-pointed concentration, and full-spread awareness powers. Without these powers of higher concentration and higher awareness, progress on the yogic path of self-willed evolution is impossible.
The third limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is a bodily posture of ease and stability. There are planes of consciousness extant in the human body that are composed of the collections of animal and mineral-vegatable levels of being and instinct. These are the levels we have all evolved through in the cellular journey from the mineral world, through the vegetable world and onto the animal realms, finally peaking at the Human level. The collections of all these lower levels of being are stored within our very RNA and DNA.
In order to prevent these lower levels of consciousness from impeding upon the Human level consciousness, we cross the legs in the Asana.
The simple act of crossing the legs under us while assuming the Asana prevents the activation of the Centres or Chakras associated with the lower levels of sentience.
The 4th limb of the 8 Limb Yoga is the controlled expansion of Life force. Prana is mind and mind is Prana. Therefore controlled expansion of Prana is controlled expansion of the mind itself. The energy based body acts as the blueprint and the deep process upon which depends the formation and functioning of the mass based body. Reaching down to the energy level and making changes there leads to follow on changes rapidly in the physical body. In other words, bodily processes can be adjusted by mere mental suggestion having the power of concentrated prana.
The 5th limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is the internalization of senses whose outward movements have been terminated. Our senses, whether the eyes, the ears , the nose, the skin or the tongue are always directed outside. In fact so much are the senses directed outwards that in normal cases they feel and perceive nothing of the actual body which they are part of. In order to illustrate this paradox, we can take a simple example or two. When we open our eyes we see everything outside but try as we might we cannot see anything within the body. Similarly when we hear with the ears, we can hear things outside but are unable to hear the obvious and ever present beating of our own hearts. In the practice of Pratyahara, the senses are drawn within from without and it starts with visualization practices and the auto generation of sense phonemes within. With time and familiarization, the senses start to actually see, hear and taste internally extant objects without any auto generation at all. At this stage the mind becomes still, absolutely wonder-struck at the awesome sensations felt while perceiving objects that are beyond all previously experienced object types. The internal reference frame gets broken and we get released, free to experience the wonder of every moment, within and without. The control of senses to such an extent further generates its own unparalled joy.
Dharana or Assumption –
The 6th limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, is the assuming of an identity beyond all normal reference frames. This mystic process has three branches-the technique based, the view based and the immediate. Technique based dharana methods are a step by step, regulated practice that is safe and ensures consistent, if slow progress. View based dharanas are immediate in their results but the View based processes are hard to apply as the mind has to be used to overcome the mind consciously in this processs. The risks are intemediate in this path. Immediate level practices are for those with indomitable courage and intense will power. The results are immediate as in the View based methods with the additional advantage that the processes of Immediate level practices are easily applied. The risks in this path are the greatest and this path must never be chosen if not under the direct guidance of an experienced Guru.
Dhyana or Stream Consciousness –
It is the 7th limb of the 8 Limb Yoga -from this stage onwards there is absolutely no effort and whatever happens, does so by its own natural course. Fully concentrated consciousness in the stage of dharana, having completely assumed the identity or form of the self-generated internal object, now moves through that very identity, using it as a gateway, to enter the state of unbroken 'stream’ consciousness. The experiences from this stage onwards are not possible to define in words.
The 8th limb of 8 Limbs of Yoga is the Singularity consciousness, where through stream entry or Dhyana, using the object of dharana as the gateway, the entire universe and all directions of time are seen as One- indivisible, constantly changing on the manifest level, permanently unchanging in its non-manifest aspect. There are different levels of Samadhi, starting from the Samadhi obtained through Object based dhyana to the ultimate level of supportless or object-less Samadhi. At these levels of consciousness, there are no limitations as we normally know them. Time, causality, mass and space lose their relevance to a consciousness
cognising beyond reference frames. From such a high station, the world as we normally see it does indeed seem to be the dream-reality of the greatest Magi-our own minds.
And so, the 8 Limbs of Yoga , also known as the Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga system as taught by the Siddha Yogi Patanajali, abides as the most direct access route to the highest levels of self-willed human evolution. The ineffable path of Anuttara Yoga Tantra is lit radiant by the ever discerning vision granted by the practice of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
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