In the second section of The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo takes up the Yoga of Knowledge, Jnana Yoga. This path traditionally has focused on the systematic stilling of desire and the movement of the ego towards gratification and fulfillment in the outer world of mind, life and body. The attainment of union with the Divine is the supreme focus and goal of Jnana Yoga, and the systematic practice of discrimination between the illusory rewards of life in the world and the eternal and infinite result of Oneness with the Divine, is the recommended method.

The Yoga of Knowledge is considered an austere path, and it relies heavily on renunciation of the outer life, meditation leading to the completely indrawn state of awareness known as Samadhi, and eventually the integration of the consciousness in that larger divine consciousness which is able to manifest when the mind and senses become quiet and receptive to the higher powers of awareness.

The integral Yoga, while it insists upon the necessity of achieving this status of Oneness with the Divine, does not become fixated on abandonment and renunciation; rather it takes up the dual dicta of the Upanishads when the great call of the renunciate “One without a second” is balanced by the equally important recognition that “All this is the Brahman”.

Sri Aurobindo’s method in The Synthesis of Yoga is to first, examine each of the primary traditional paths of Yoga, the Yoga of Divine Works, the Yoga of Knowledge and the Yoga of Love and Devotion and then to integrate the goals and insights pertaining to each in the Integral Yoga, the Yoga of Self Perfection. Having now covered the Yoga of Divine Works and Yoga of Knowledge, he next turns his attention to the Yoga of Love and Devotion.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge

The Integral Yoga and the Methods and Goals of Hatha and Raja Yoga

The integral Yoga has as its goal the transformation of all life through the evolution of consciousness. The practitioners of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga utilize psycho-physical means to achieve higher states of consciousness and achieve unity with the Divine. Such methods can be powerful aids at certain stages of spiritual development, even for those who are focused on the practice of integral Yoga; however, the practitioner of the integral Yoga is neither bound within the framework of the psycho-physical practices nor limited by them. Stages may arise, particularly when it is necessary to bring the physical body, nervous sheath and the mental being into focus and overcome their limitations and uplift their capacities. At such times, the specific techniques of Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga may provide invaluable insight and assistance to the practitioner.

The major point of divergence will come when the integral Yoga asks the practitioner to not become so fixated on these practices that they substitute them for the spiritual methods native to the integral Yoga. All aspects of existence must be taken up and reworked in the integral path. Thus, there will be potentially occasions for the use of the tools provided by Hatha and Raja Yoga, yet also times where the practices themselves may become obstacles and must be set aside.

Sri Aurobindo concludes: “On the whole, for an integral Yoga the special methods of Rajayoga and Hathayoga may be useful at times in certain stages of the progress, but are not indispensable. It is true that their principal aims must be included in the integrality of the Yoga; but they can be brought about by other means. For the methods of the integral Yoga must be mainly spiritual, and dependence on physical methods or fixed psychic or psycho-physical processes on a large scale would be the substitution of a lower for a higher action.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pg. 520

Raja Yoga and the Development of Psychic Powers

In whatever field of activity one focuses, an individual gains various forms of knowledge and power of action. This is true in the physical world, with athletic performance, the world of art, music, science, philosophy or business. It is true in terms of inter-relations between people, governmental relations, child-rearing and education. So it should be no surprise that those who focus on gaining an inner psychological mastery through the practice of Raja Yoga will also acquire forms of knowledge and power that are not generally known or accessible to those who do not specialize in this field.

The texts on Raja Yoga, including the seminal work by Patanjali, as well as commentaries such as the famous series of lectures by Swami Vivekananda, describe a number of occult powers, known as Siddhis, that can arise during the practice of Raja Yoga. These powers may include things such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, levitation, traveling out of the body and observing phenomena while having the out of body experience, telepathic powers, and many others that occasionally are exhibited in a non-practicing individual here or there, since these are latent powers of evolving humanity. Of course, they make it clear that these can (and are) distractions from the main goal, but they feel obliged to describe them and advise the student of this science of what may take place as the practice advances.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “These powers and experiences belong, first, to the vital and mental planes above this physical in which we live, and are natural to the soul in the subtle body; as the dependence on the physical body decreases, these abnormal activities become possible and even manifest themselves without being sought for. They can be acquired and fixed by processes which the science gives, and their use then becomes subject to the will; or they can be allowed to develop of themselves and used only when they come, or when the Divine within moves us to use them; or else, even though thus naturally developing and acting, they may be rejected in a single-minded devotion to the one supreme goal of the Yoga. Secondly, there are fuller, greater powers belonging to the supramental planes which are the very powers of the Divine in his spiritual and supramentally ideative being. These cannot be acquired at all securely or integrally by personal effort, but can only come from above, or else can become natural to the man if and when he ascends beyond mind and lives in the spiritual being, power, consciousness and ideation. They then become, not abnormal and laboriously acquired Siddhis, but simply the very nature and method of his action, if he still continues to be active in the world existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 519-520

Methods for Quieting and Focusing the Mind in Raja Yoga

Sri Aurobindo describes the traditional practices recommended in Raja Yoga for attaining the one-pointed indrawn, concentrated status called “Samadhi”: “Rajayogic concentration is divided into four stages; it commences with the drawing both of the mind and senses from outward things, proceeds to the holding of the one object of concentration to the exclusion of all other ideas and mental activities, then to the prolonged absorption of the mind in this object, finally, to the complete ingoing of the consciousness by which it is lost to all outward mental activity in the oneness of Samadhi.” This step-by-step progression of the movement of the awareness inward is intended to separate the mind from the outer, transitory details of existence and focus it on a status of divine realization.

For a being based in the outer world of the senses and the active, interactive life, the end-result does not come immediately or without some intervening steps. In order to pull the mind away from the sense impressions and reactions, Raja Yoga utilizes one or more techniques, including the use of Mantra, which creates its own “master wave” within the mind-stuff, drowning out all the smaller waves of sense-impressions, emotions, desires, reactions, and thoughts. There are of course other techniques available such as Tratak (concentration on one point of light) or, as we see in some of the Buddhist systems, an elaborate visualization schema that occupies the mind and fills it with one image at the end, held in exquisite detail, and thus, superseding every other form or movement. “By this concentration on the idea the mind enters from the idea into its reality, into which it sinks silent, absorbed, unified.”

Sri Aurobindo observes that there are alternative methods which, although not generally taught in classical Raja Yoga, nevertheless have a similar basis and result: “Some of them are directed rather to the quiescence of the mind than to its immediate absorption, as the discipline by which the mind is simply watched and allowed to exhaust its habit of vagrant thought in a purposeless running from which it feels all sanction, purpose and interest withdrawn, and that, more strenuous and rapidly effective, by which all outward-going thought is excluded and the mind forced to sink into itself where in its absolute quietude it can only reflect the pure Being or pass away into its superconscient existence.”

Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo has described his own experience of achieving what he called the “silent mind”. The method described there more or less fits into the description of excluding the outward-going thought and forcing the mind into a state of pure, silent awareness of Being.

Each of these methods has its adherents, based on the individual development and capacities of the seeker. The specific method is not as important as the end result, obviously.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 518-519

The Method of Raja Yoga Practice

The quieting of the mind-stuff, and the elimination of the waves of desire, attraction and repulsion and egoistic reactions prepares the seeker for the liberating practices that open up the being to higher energies and capacities. Without that preparation, the ultimate aims of Raja Yoga cannot be achieved, but they remain preliminary. The next stage integrates Asana, Pranayama and Mantra. Asana in Raja Yoga is simplified down to its basic elements: a comfortable and secure posture that allows the head and neck to be aligned in a straight line, and which can be held unmoving for a sustained period of time without discomfort or pain. Whereas in Hatha Yoga, the use of Asana is a central practice with numerous different poses coming into play, Raja Yoga moves quickly to the essential point of allowing the psycho-physical energies to come into play, be held and circulated, and to do so in a stable mental, emotional, nervous and physical body. It is really the action of Pranayama combined with Mantra that represents the core method of Raja Yoga that can lead to the results of the forms of meditation, concentration and Samadhi that represent the next and final stages of the practice.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In order to bring about this manifestation the present nodus of the vital and physical body with the mental being has to be loosened and the way made clear for the ascent through the greater psychic being to the union with the superconscient Purusha. This can be done by Pranayama.”

“The Rajayogic Pranayama purifies and clears the nervous system; it enables us to circulate the vital energy equally through the body and direct it also where we will according to need, and thus maintain a perfect health and soundness of the body and the vital being; it gives us control of all the five habitual operations of the vital energy in the system and at the same time breaks down the habitual divisions by which only the ordinary mechanical processes of the vitality are possible to the normal life. It opens entirely the six centres of the psycho-physical system and brings into the waking consciousness the power of the awakened Shakti and the light of the unveiled Purusha on each of the ascending planes. Coupled with the use of the Mantra it brings the divine energy into the body and prepares for and facilitates that concentration in Samadhi which is the crown of the Rajayogic method.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 517-518

The Preliminary Practices of Yama and Niyama in Raja Yoga

Sri Aurobindo observes that people frequently try to start Yogic practice with Asana and Pranayama without observing the preliminary foundations set forth as requirements for the practice of Raja Yoga: “In modern India people attracted to Yoga, but picking up its processes from books or from persons only slightly acquainted with the matter, often plunge straight into Pranayama of Rajayoga, frequently with disastrous results. Only the very strong in spirit can afford to make mistakes in this path.”

The problems that arise are due to the influx of new powers and energies into a mental, vital and physical framework that is simply unprepared to deal with them, and thus, the practitioner can be easily thrown out of balance and aggrandize the ego, the desire-soul and the greed for powers distracts the seeker from the true higher goals with which he started.

Raja Yoga insists that the starting point is what are called “Yamas” and “Niyamas”. Sri Aurobindo describes them thus: “The first are rules of moral self-control in conduct such as truth-speaking, abstinence from injury or killing, from theft, etc.; but in reality these must be regarded as merely certain main indications of the general need of moral self-control and purity. Yama is, more largely, any self-discipline by which the rajasic egoism and its passions and desires in the human being are conquered and quieted into perfect cessation. The object is to create a moral calm, a void of the passions, and so prepare for the death of egoism in the rajasic human being. The Niyamas are equally a discipline of the mind by regular practices of which the highest is meditation on the divine Being, and their object is to create a sattwic calm, purity and preparation for concentration upon which the secure pursuance of the rest of the Yoga can be founded.”

There is a deeper occult significance to these practices and they are not simply preliminary, but necessary from the viewpoint of the actual focus of the path of Raja Yoga. One of the primary stages of Raja Yoga is the ability to view the “mind-stuff” (“chitta”) and to bring it to a state of absolute unmoving quiet, without waves. This is the basis for the ability to enter into states of meditation (dhyana), concentration (dharana) and Samadhi. Every sense impression creates such waves, and every feeling of desire or attraction, hatred or anger obviously creates large waves which overwhelm the mind’s foundation of calm in the practice. Thus, when new energies come into the being through the later practices of Pranayama, for instance, if there is not this solid basis of non-attachment, and the mind is still able to be thrown up in waves, the entire focus of the Raja Yoga is simply destroyed. From this viewpoint, Yama and Niyama, in the expanded sense described by Sri Aurobindo, are some of the most important aspects of the practice of this path of Yoga. Without them, success in this path is essentially impossible.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 516-517

Overview of the Psycho-Physical Practices for Opening the Centers of Consciousness

Scientists of consciousness have existed for millennia in India. In the West, the science of psychology is still considered to be an “infant” science. While Western psychology has generally looked at the processes of consciousness from outside and tried to interpret what this may mean, Yogis, Rishis and Sages in India have tried to achieve inner awareness that provides them real knowledge, not inferential knowledge, through a process of realizing or achieving states of consciousness not normally or always accessible to most individuals.

The various paths of Yoga use a variety of specific methods to achieve these inner states. In general, however, many of them utilize quite similar techniques, including Asana, Pranayama and Mantra.

Sri Aurobindo provides an overview of the psychological processes and the methods used to achieve results: “…the real energy of our being is lying asleep and inconscient in the depths of our vital system, and is awakened by the practice of Pranayama. In its expansion it opens up all the centres of our psychological being in which reside the powers and the consciousness of what would now be called perhaps our subliminal self; therefore as each centre of power and consciousness is opened up, we get access to successive psychological planes and are able to put ourselves in communication with the worlds or cosmic states of being which correspond to them; all the psychic powers abnormal to physical man, but natural to the soul develop in us. Finally, at the summit of the ascension, this arising and expanding energy meets with the superconscient self which sits concealed behind and above our physical and mental existence; this meeting leads to a profound Samadhi of union in which our waking consciousness loses itself in the superconscient.”

Hatha Yoga relies primarily on Asana and Pranayama with the aid of the Mantra. The power of this combination, whether Asana takes the lead (as in Hatha Yoga) or the Pranayama and Mantra take the lead, as in some of the other systems, is one of the secrets of psychology uncovered by the Yogis and codified in systems such as the Tantra. “This secret of the power of the Mantra, the six Chakras and the Kundalini Shakti is one of the central truths of all that complex psycho-physical science and practice of which the Tantric philosophy claims to give us a rationale and the most complete compendium of methods. All religions and disciplines in India which use largely the psycho-physical method, depend more or less upon it for their practices.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pg. 516

The Principles Underlying Kundalini Yoga

The Chakras are subtle energy centers found in the subtle body, also known as the psychic body, but there are correspondences for their action in the gross physical body. For most people the corresponding physical centres of energy are closed and they do not have immediate, complete and direct access to the force that is available to them when the chakras open. Yogic practices, however, can open these chakras, move the energy from the lowest center to the highest and awaken the practitioner into a state of superconscious awareness in Samadhi.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process briefly: “These Chakras or lotuses, however, are in physical man closed or only partly open, with the consequence that only such powers and only so much of them are active in him as are sufficient for his ordinary physical life, and so much mind and soul only is at play as will accord with its needs….The whole energy of the soul is not at play in the physical body and life, the secret powers of mind are not awake in it, the bodily and nervous energies predominate. But all the while the supreme energy is there, asleep; it is said to be coiled up and slumbering like a snake,–therefore it is called the kundalini sakti,–in the lowest of the Chakras, in the muladhara. When by Pranayama the division between the upper and lower Prana currents in the body is dissolved, this Kundalini is struck and awakened, it uncoils itself and begins to rise upward like a fiery serpent breaking open each lotus as it ascents until the Shakti meets the Purusha in the brahmarandhra in a deep Samadhi if union.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 515-516

The Action of Prana at the Level of the Subtle Body

The Yogis of ancient India took a somewhat different approach toward understanding the physical world than we have seen in the West. Western scientists have generally started from the most external physical forms and from there, systematically moved inward toward more and more subtle understanding. The Yogis quickly recognized that the physical form is the outer, grossest expression and could not possibly be the ultimate cause, and that therefore, something else must be building, creating and operating the outer world and all its forms. The Taittiriya Upanishad, indeed, started from the outer physical and moved toward the vital, mental, knowledge and ultimately the spiritual levels of existence, with each one more subtle than the prior, and having a causative action on the former level.

These Yogis, when they looked at the interaction between the subtle inner levels and the gross physical forms, developed a detailed understanding of the principles of action of the vital force, which they called Prana. Sri Aurobindo describes briefly this view: “This mental or psychical body, which the soul keeps even after death, has also a subtle pranic force in it corresponding to its own subtle nature and substance,–for wherever there is life of any kind, there must be the pranic energy and a substance in which it can work,–and this force is directed through a system of numerous channels, called nadi,–the subtle nervous organisation of the psychic body,–which are gathered up into six (or really seven) centres called technically lotuses or circles, cakra, and which rise in an ascending scale to the summit where there is the thousand-petalled lotus from which all the mental and vital energy flows. Each of these lotuses is the centre and the storing-house of its own particular system of psychological powers, energies and operations,–each system corresponding to a plane of our psychological existence,–and these flow out and return in the stream of the pranic energies as they course through the Nadis.”

With this understanding, the practitioners of Yoga are able to understand how they can open to and utilize the energies flowing through or focused within any of these chakras and apply that energy to spiritual growth and realization, inner mental, emotional and vital development, interactions and relations with the outer world, and physical strength and well-being of the physical body.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 514-515

Introduction to the Concept Behind the Science of Raja Yoga

The science of Raja Yoga utilizes Asana and Pranayama, but simplifies both of these down from the complexity and intensity practiced in Hatha Yoga. The goal of Raja Yoga is to gain control over the mind and what is called the “mind-stuff” (chitta) to bring it to a state of unmoving tranquil calm, such that the mind is totally detached from the physical body and the material world and is thereby able to achieve spiritual realization. Just as the practitioner of Hatha Yoga works to bring the power of immobility to the body, the practitioner of Raja Yoga wants to do the same for the Mind. The practitioner of Raja Yoga recognizes that there is a link, a continuity and a relationship between the mind and the body, and thus, utilizes Asana and Pranayama to ensure the body and nervous system are under control. Other elements of Raja Yoga are then added to focus, train and concentrate the mental power, and then exercise mastery over the nervous sheath and the physical sheath.

Historically, Western scientists have had difficulty accepting the reality of the mind or the soul. Sri Aurobindo observes: “Modern Science and psychology have … tried to establish that there is no separate entity as mind or soul and that all mental operations are in reality physical functionings.” More recently, with the rise of disciplines such as Quantum Physics, there has been a serious change in the standpoint of Western researchers, who now are not only willing to recognize a link between mind and body, but are even ready to declare that it is consciousness that is the reality that creates energy, which then creates physical being. Thus, we are beginning to see a convergence between modern day scientists in the West and the ancient seers and sages who practiced Yoga, and in particular Raja Yoga. Of course, for the vast majority of people, the dependence of the mind on the body is the “reality” and there are few who experience the separateness and dominance of the mind over the body. To the extent that people ordinarily do this, they in many cases talk about the power of suggestion, the power of prayer, the power of positive thought and emotion to make things happen both on the individual level and in the world. In the abstract there is truth in these assertions, but for most people, who have not undertaken the discipline to actually focus and concentrate the mental or spiritual power, the actual impact remains small.

The practice of Raja Yoga provides a scientific methodology to achieve this real power and exercise mastery over the body, life and mental processes, such that spiritual realisations can occur.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pg. 514