Raja yoga is the way of meditation, that is, of being able to remove one's own consciousness from its awareness of this world of maya (illusion) and to focus only on the ultimate reality of the cosmos' unity. The ultimate goal if raja yoga is to attain a state of union with the Absolute. This state is known as samadhi.
The best known description of this type of yoga was formulated by Patanjali, a spiritual leader who lived in the second century BCE. Patanjali's techniques presuppose and build on an ancient philosophical system known as samhkya. As we have seen, this philosophy, the world is made up of two substances: matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). Human suffering is the result of the eternal (spiritual) being entangled with matter. Human beings are in essence spiritual beings trapped in matter. Our problem is that we do not see our true nature. As long as we do not fully realize our true nature, we are destined to remain trapped in matter. The question is, "How can one fully know and experience his/her true nature?"
Patanjali's yoga techniques were meant to enable one to directly experience one's true nature and thus lead to liberation. The yoga devised by Patanjali consisted of eight steps (which are to be taken in order):
Ethical Values (these are preparatory and must be undertaken before one can use meditation effectively):
- Moral self-restraint: the yogi (practitioner) chooses a life that rejects sexual immorality, violence, lying, etc.
- Moral commitments: the yogi commits to self-disciplines, dedication to God, etc.
Physical Practices (these practices are necessary to minimize distractions from one's senses)
- Postures: the yogi master various postures so that consciousness is not disturbed by the body.
- Disciplined Breathing: through control of breathing, the yogi controls the energy of the mind and body
- Withdrawal of senses: in this stage the practitioner seeks to eliminate all mental distractions from external objects
Cultivation of Consciousness
- Concentration: through intense focus on a single object, the yogi puts the mind at rest
- Meditation: during this stage the yogi is neither conscious nor unconscious; rather the mind is stabilized in an uninterrupted state of concentration. At this point, however, the yogi is still vulnerable to distractions; that is, his meditation could be interrupted by external stimuli.
- Samadhi: This is the ultimate goal. In this state the consciousness of the individual is fully absorbed into the limitless reality. This is the individual as he/she truly is: experiencing absolute freedom and liberation from matter (prakriti). This state is sometimes called a "meditation trance," it is more of a super consciousness of ultimate reality.
It should be noted that it may take many years of practice before one fully reaches the stage of samadhi. Once an individual reaches samadhi, he/she is transformed by direct knowledge of his/her true nature. According to the Bhagavad-Gita (6:20-21),
When the mind disciplined by the practice of meditation becomes steady, one becomes content in the Self by beholding Him with (purified) intellect.
One feels infinite bliss that is perceivable only through the intellect, and is beyond the reach of the senses. After realizing Brahman, one is never separated from absolute reality.
One can infer from the words of the Bhagavad-Gita that once samadhi is attained there is an ongoing union with the Divine even when one is not the the state of samadhi. This ongoing union transcends the law of karma since one fully realizes that his or her true nature is eternal and thus beyond the reach of karma. At death, the one who has experienced samadhi realizes moksha.