The Kingly or Royal Path
Raja literally means king. Raja yoga is one of the four main paths of yoga. The premise of raja yoga is that our mind creates our world. Our whole life, with its pleasures and pains, is nothing but our mind's creation. If the mind is unsteady, it will waver with each and every distraction, obstacle or event happening in its environment.
The yogi who has achieved mind control is the true king of this world. He has controlled all his desires and enjoys absolute peace and contentment which constitute true happiness. The king on the other hand, experiences many pleasures of the world. He also has a lot of control over other people. But if he does not have inner control, mastery of his own mind, all his riches and honors and the respect and fear he receives from his subjects is to no avail. He is never content, his mind gets upset every time he does not get what he wants - and even a king has many unfulfilled desires. His lot is pitiful.
In that sense the raja yogi is a true king, even though he may be a beggar, having renounced all possessions, while many kings are truly beggars.
Please note that there are very few kings left in the modern world but, in our modern society, politicians and business people find themselves in a similar situation of power and enjoyment.
The Mind is Like a Lake
In the basic theory of raja yoga, the mind is compared to a lake. Owing to the wind and under-currents, the lake gets agitated and some waves are created. These waves are modifications of the state of the lake. The wind is an external factor and the under-currents are internal factors.
Similarly owing to external distractions, or sensorial perceptions of the outside world (eg. sight and smell of the most delicious chocolate cake), and internal distractions, such as memories (smrittis) and latent tendencies of the mind (samskaras), modifications take place at the surface of the conscious mind.
These modifications, thoughts and emotions, are called vrittis in raja yoga terminology and are best translated as thought waves.
If, deprived of a mirror, you want to see your reflection in the water, a lake with many waves will offer no reflection or a very distorted version of your likeness. Upon cessation of wind, gradually the waves will subside and the reflection of your face will become closer and closer to its true form.
Likewise, trying to look within and find your own true Self, your soul, the purusha, is impossible when the mind is agitated. All you see are the waves that stand in the way of finding your inner self. Only once the mind is perfectly still, in the state of samadhi, can one identify with one's true nature, the purusha.
Calmness through Control and Inner Psychology
Embarking on the path of raja yoga involves practicing techniques that lead to inner control. Control of the body, the energy or prana, the senses or indriyas, and the mind (emotions and thoughts).
The chief practice is meditation but other techniques exist as well. Among them are the asanas or postures, and pranayamas or breathing techniques.
However in order to achieve success in the practice of meditation, one must deal with the resistance of one's own mind and here lies the true difficulty of raja yoga. More often than not the mind will not cooperate, even rebel against the practice and discipline. In order to overcome each obstacle as they come, one must gain a keen understanding of the functioning of the mind and this is done through the learning of the yogic psychology.
Where do I Start?
Yogis are very pragmatic and by the time you have reached this paragraph, you are probably very keen to start practicing mind control.
The first thing to do is to get acquained with the eight limbs (ashtanga) of raja yoga and start developing the yamas and niyamas.
Please visit our ashtanga page.