In the modern world, the word “yoga” is most often understood as the so-called hatha yoga, i.e., methods of working with the physical body: asanas, pranayamas, less often – shatkarma, mantras, and other practices. And most often, at work with your physical body, the whole yoga ends.
But in fact, the physical body’s preparation is only the initial step of yoga, so to speak, the foreword, laying the foundation. And the goal of yoga is not to lose weight, a healthy spine, or a bliss state that you can feel after a good practice of pranayama.
What is raja yoga?
Speaking about the ultimate goal of yoga, we should consider such a concept as raja yoga. Raja yoga means ‘royal yoga’ in Sanskrit. Why the king’s yoga? Maybe because it is available only to kings and not to ordinary mortals? Not at all. The thing is that raja yoga involves working with your mind.
And the mind, we can say, is the primary driving mechanism of our personality, and everything else – body and psyche – already obey it. Raja yoga is named so because it allows us to gain full control over our mind and, therefore, our personality. And on the whole – on your life.
Thus, the primary tool of raja yoga is dhyana, the highest form of meditation. There is a widespread misconception among yogis that the dhyana is the goal of raja yoga.
But here, it is essential to separate such concepts as “instrument” and “purpose”. It is the same as with hatha yoga – if a person perceives the health of the body as an end in itself, then his path in yoga will lead him nowhere.
To set health as a higher goal (even hatha yoga) is a big mistake because this practice will lead to the fact that a person will spend all his time maintaining his health in perfect condition, and life in the meantime will pass by. Therefore, a healthy body is only a tool for a useful life.
Same situation with raja yoga. Dhyana is just a tool to improve your personality. Imagine a belt to sharpen a dangerous razor. So the belt is our meditation practice; with its help, we improve and sharpen our troubled mind.
The razor is our very mind, which becomes even more perfect every day in the process of “editing”. Now think – is the process of sharpening the razor an end in itself? It would never occur to anyone to sharpen a razor day after day and put it on a shelf, admiring its perfect sharpness.
The razor is sharpened to use it. It is the same with our mind – we improve it with the help of meditation practice, not to stay in the serene bliss and enjoy the calmness of our mind. It’s the same as sharpening a razor, putting it in front of you, and enjoying its glitter.
What does the practice give, and what is its purpose
So, we came to the most important question: what is the purpose of raja yoga. If calmness of mind, as it turned out, is not an end in itself of raja yoga, then in what direction to move along this path?
The traditional definition of raja yoga and its purpose as “yogas citta vritti nirodhah” (“yoga is the end of mind’s anxiety”) – it certainly sounds beautiful, but it cannot be an end in itself. Imagine a person who is in a deep comatose state – the calmness of mind is just perfect.
But is such a person a yogi? The question is rhetorical. Thus, the ultimate goal of raja yoga is service. In modern society, the word “ministry” usually causes negative associations and is synonymous with the word “slavery” or something similar.
In fact, the ministry is the highest goal not only of yoga, but of human life in general. To serve people and the world – it means to fulfill your purpose on earth or, in terms of yoga, your dharma.
It is important to understand that not every activity is an adequate form of service. In today’s world, everything is so turned upside down that the generally accepted concept of good may well turn into evil. There is practically no activity in modern society that does not harm either people or animals, or at least the environment.
Almost all human move is aimed at producing goods and services and increasing their consumption. What is the most appropriate form of service?
The most honorable form of ministry is the dissemination of knowledge. Satisfying any desire, in one way or another, eventually leads to suffering. And only the wish for liberation from everything that limits us, the thirst for truth, for knowledge – this is what frees us.
So the best thing we can do for this world is to spread knowledge. There is an old saying that it makes no sense to feed a man with fish; it is better to give him a fishing rod. You should not take this proverb literally; here we are talking about the fact that there is no point in eliminating people’s suffering – we need to eliminate the causes of this suffering.
Dissemination of knowledge
So, the best form of service is to spread knowledge. What kind of knowledge are we talking about? We are talking about the knowledge that leads a person to freedom from suffering and causes of suffering.
Therefore, the knowledge that needs to be disseminated is knowledge about yoga, self-improvement, sanity, a healthy lifestyle, etc. Think for yourself – objectively speaking, yoga changes lives for the better. You can see for yourself how yoga can change the quality of life and eliminate many suffering. And if you have seen it from personal experience, why not share it with others? This will be the most adequate ministry.
One of the best ways to spread knowledge is to become a yoga teacher. It will help not to look for ways to spread the knowledge and people who really need it. It often happens that a person inspired by the success in yoga tries to “catch up and do good to everybody”.
He starts to impose his truth on everybody, thinking that he really helps people. In fact, the effect is often the opposite – people start to think that a person has lost his mind or got into a sect. As a result, they begin to feel only disgust to yoga and various philosophical concepts that a person tries to impose on people.
And to prevent this from happening, if there is a desire to spread knowledge, it is better to become a yoga teacher. This will allow not to impose your knowledge on those who do not need it but to work directly with people who have come for knowledge themselves. And this will be the highest form of ministry.
In rajah yoga, sometimes there is such an interpretation of ministry as serving God, higher powers, the Absolute, or some specific gods. And often, it all ends with singing the names of God, mantra, songs, some strange rituals, eating the Prasad 24 hours a day, and so on, strange things, to put it mildly. As observations show, there is no practical benefit to either the person or the world around him from this form of service. If we talk about serving God, many religions say that every living being is a manifestation of God. And the ability to see the Divine in everyone is the highest skill. And the service to God is first of all the service to people. The desire to awaken in each person his divine origin – this is the highest form of service to God.
Everyone coming into this world has its purpose. No one is born for no reason or in order to devote his life to entertainment. Each of us has its karmic connections and even karmic disciples, whom only we can “awaken”.
So to realize your destiny and turn it into a real ministry that will change the world for the better is the highest goal of raja yoga.
And working with your mind and its improvement is only a tool for cultivating the main qualities: compassion for all living beings and wisdom that will allow us to serve this world as effectively as possible. And if this is understood, everything else follows from this. This is what the Way of Raja Yoga should lead us to.