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  • Writer's pictureRev. Ani

Raja Yoga: The Path of Systematic Practice

an introduction for Christians

photo by Conscious Design on

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

Yoga means to yoke up or join with the higher consciousness of Love. For Christians, this Love is Christ. Raja yoga is the path of yoking to Christ through systematic practice. On the path of raja yoga, the journey proceeds in eight steps:

Step 1 (yama)

To abstain from five impediments (violence, lying, stealing, hoarding, and promiscuity);

Step 2 (niyama)

To commit to five beneficial practices (purity in all that is consumed mentally, physically, and spiritually, contentment in every circumstance, embracing the events of life as opportunities to offer love, the study of sacred scripture, and surrender to God at all times);

Step 3 (asana)

To maintain a healthy body that can sit comfortably in meditative prayer;

Step 4 (pranayama)

To consciously meter the breath in order to calm the mind and body;

Step 5 (pratyahara)

To draw the senses inward in preparation for meditation;

Step 6 (dharana)

To practice steady concentration;

Step 7 (dhyana)

To abide in meditation; and

Step 8 (samadhi)

To be absorbed in the realization of Christ.

Teresa of Avila, 15th century mystic, elucidated systematic practice as the prayer of recollection, the prayer of quiet, and the prayer of union. She described pratyahara/sensory withdrawal as the prayer of recollection and wrote, “The soul becomes acutely aware of a gentle withdrawal inside herself. I think I read somewhere a comparison with a hedgehog curling up or a turtle drawing into its shell.” (The Interior Castle, Fourth dwelling, Chapter 3)

Teresa described dhyana/meditation as the prayer of quiet and stated, “God wants the soul to do nothing more than rest in the garden and enjoy the sublime fragrance beginning to emanate from the flowers.” (The Book of My Life, Chapter 17)

Finally, Teresa described samadhi/absorption as the prayer of union and affirmed, “In a state of union, the soul sees nothing and hears nothing and comprehends nothing. . . God presses himself so fully against the inside of the soul that when she returns to herself the soul has no doubt whatsoever that God was in her and she was in God. This truth remains with her forever.” (The Interior Castle, Fifth dwelling, Chapter 1)

In his book, One Minute Wisdom, Anthony de Mello, shared a parable about vigilant practice. He wrote,

The student asks the teacher,

“Is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”

“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”

The journey of raja yoga is especially suited for those who enjoy an ordered approach to the spiritual life. Each of the practices outlined in this path is geared toward stripping away the nonessentials and promoting mindfulness. Jesus told the story of ten bridesmaids who went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were prepared with enough oil to sustain their lamps and five of them were not. When the bridegroom came at midnight, the unprepared bridesmaids missed him because they went out to buy more oil. The systematic spiritual practitioner is like the wise bridesmaid who has prepared herself to meet her bridegroom. May you also keep awake and alert, for the kingdom of God is here now.

Namaste (Christ in me greets Christ in you)

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