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Teachings of Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

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Hatha Yoga, RajaYoga and Their Correlation:
Control Prana, Transform the Mind

Translation of Shri Mahayogi’s words during a satsangha in New York
August 21, 2010

Q: Please speak about how hatha yoga is included in raja yoga, and also the purpose of raja yoga and hatha yoga.

Master: Yoga is divided into four main approaches. One is raja yoga. [The rest are] jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga. Among them, raja yoga centralizes its entire practice and discipline on purifying the mind. Jnana yoga is to realize thoroughly that only Atman exists and that the mind, the body and the world are nothing but maya, Which is the illusion. Bhakti yoga’s approach is to love God and to become one with God. Karma yoga attains the supreme existence through selfless service to others.

Now then, our true essence is called Atman, True Existence. In other words, it is called God. In experiences of ordinary daily life, it is difficult to realize this truth and, instead, people often suffer. Temporary pleasure or happiness may become unhappiness the very next day. The body and the mind are constantly changing. Human relationships constantly change also. The result is suffering. In addition, getting sick, growing older and dying are the greatest suffering. These are inevitable. So then, is life something to be pessimistic about even though everyone wants happiness? Suffering arises out of wrong views.

Things change, and this can lead to happiness or unhappiness, but these are just experiences that result from various conditions. Whether the mind is happy or unhappy, there is within everyone a consciousness that knows it. Well, you can probably understand it from your own experiences. There is where the very pure Atman, the True Self, abides. Unfortunately, this Atman is caught up in the mind’s activities and loses itself, or because the mind covers the Atman, suffering comes. Also, the cause of actions—in other words—the cause of the manifestation of thoughts and deeds, is karma and its underlying factors, which are memories or sanskaras. If you trace back the cause of karma, it is based in ignorance.

There are four main pillars of ignorance: seeing this world as eternal; seeing displeasure as pleasure or not knowing that seeking pleasure in this world results in suffering; mistakenly seeing the mind as the True Self; seeing the imperfect as perfect or, in other words, seeking perfection in this world and in the mind, which are not pure or perfect. Those four kinds of ignorance or ideas generate various likes and dislikes in individuals’ minds and become karma. In order to realize the Truth, one must eradicate this ignorance. This ignorance is quite tough since it has been accumulated in tens and hundreds of past lives (laughing). Yoga was established as a way to get rid of this well [of ignorance], and that is raja yoga. When one perfects raja yoga, then one’s true master, the True Self, is realized. Raja means master or king (smiling). The True Self is the master, and the body and the mind are its servant or tool. [For attainment], it is required that one correct this relationship. Intellectual understanding of this cannot help its attainment. That is why raja yoga includes practices and disciplines that tangibly use the physical body.

The mind is likened to the wind (gesturing). It is very difficult to catch the wind. The breath is likened to water. You need a vessel in order to hold water. The body is ice. Everything is H2O. (laughter from attendees) First, tackle the body, which is the easiest to hold. Then the body becomes the ideal channel for prana, or breath, to pass through. If the breath changes—that is, if the breath quiets down, the mind also quiets down. In your daily life, when your emotions get overwrought, your breathing gets disturbed also. When you are in bliss, your breathing is calm, as though you are unaware of the breath. Considering this, a method of controlling the body developed, and that is called hatha yoga. Hatha yoga includes methods such as asana, pranayama, kundalini yoga and mantra yoga. Therefore, hatha yoga is included in raja yoga as one part of it. As one practices the disciplines [of raja yoga,] one will come to recognize the transformation of one’s own mind. When the mind quiets down, the power of concentration heightens. Also, analytical abilities, the power of discrimination, and things like that, are tuned up. Then, intuition comes. Intuition is the power to discern and control the essence of things simply by concentrating on the objects, just how sensory organs grasp objects instantly. This process is done within meditation. Raja yoga is very systematic and also involves a psychological approach. Of course, one must study the Truth everyday. It is important to heighten your passion to eradicate suffering and to seek only the Truth. That is the very simple but whole picture of Yoga (opening his arms). It is an extremely vital issue for everyone (smiling).

Q: Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that hatha yoga is a step toward raja yoga and also, if I am not mistaken, includes raja yoga as part of hatha yoga itself. In other words, it seems that raja yoga is both the goal and a means to itself. Is that correct?

Master: There are eight steps in raja yoga: yama and niyama, which include such observances as non-violence and non-stealing. These are commandments of conduct. Third is asana. The forth is pranayama. The fifth is pratyahara, which is the withdrawal of the sense organs. Then dharana, which is concentration. There is meditation or dhyana, and lastly, there is samadhi— the state in which one becomes one with the object [of meditation.] The Yoga Sutras, which is the scripture of raja yoga, states that “Asana must be steady and comfortable.” What that indicates is this asana (gesturing with his hands to indicate siddhasana, the posture in which he is sitting). But it is very difficult for anyone to sit like this for a long time in the beginning. (attendees laugh) That is why many different poses were devised in order to strengthen and control the body. There are probably at least 200 in number. And there are around ten kinds of pranayamas, or control of prana. These two methods, [asana and pranayama], were particularly well developed in the middle ages and were later named hatha yoga. In this way, you can see that hatha yoga is a form that developed from a part of raja yoga that had existed since ancient times. Perhaps people in the modern age, whose bodies have weakened significantly, may need hatha yoga practices [much more.] However, it is better to complete the practice promptly. Of course, [the aim and import is] to meditate and then realize the Truth quickly. Because Atman or the Truth is already within all of you, you must renounce whatever is hindering you from realizing it swiftly.

Q: So then what about the part about Hatha Yoga Pradipika?

Master: Hatha Yoga Pradipika was created around 13th century. It is considered the most authoritative scripture of hatha yoga. In the first verse of the first chapter, it says, “Hatha yoga is a wonderful stairway to raja yoga.” In the end of the fourth chapter, Satori is mentioned as the completion of raja yoga.

Q: This is in hatha yoga.

Master: Completion of hatha yoga is described from the perspective of prana. In the Yoga Sutras, which is the scripture of raja yoga, it is stated that “Yoga is the extinction of the mind’s activity. At that time, the seer—the True self—abides in itself. In other times, the True Self seems to be entangled in the mind’s condition.” Like this, raja yoga describes many of its own components from the perspective of the mind. It further explains the many kinds of samadhi, and finally proceeds to the realization of the True Self. However, Hatha Yoga Pradipika does not discuss much about the mind; it describes the systems of prana. One of the well-known phrases in this scripture states, “When the mind moves the prana moves; when the prana moves the mind moves.” In hatha yoga, the practice is about stopping and controlling the prana. It may be a bit technical, but the workings of the cells, the movements of the heart, as well as the movement of the mind, all are generated by the activities of prana. In order to control the prana, through pranayama and asana, one will raise up the prana through the sushumna, a tube located within the spine. Inside the sushumna, the tube located in the center of the spine, there are seven chakras. It is considered that there is a cave that exists near the chakra in the crown of the head into which the prana flows. Although it has not been discovered in modern anatomy yet (Shri Mahayogi and some attendees laugh.), yogis have verified this through many thousands of years. From my own experience, [I can say that] surely when the prana rises up and enters the cave, the work of prana ends. That is about all Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes. It only describes technical methods.

Q: Shri Mahayogi, how does bhakti yoga stimulate or control the prana?

Master: As I said earlier, prana follows where the mind goes. In bhakti, one directs the mind’s thoughts or passions, including the emotions, maximally toward God. And the prana follows it.

Q: Scientifically, it has the same effect as what you were describing with the chakras, and prana going into the cave?

Master: The same thing occurs. (after some pause) So, all of you should take the easiest methods for yourself and proceed much further.

Q: If you practice bhakti, is it not important to do the hatha or the asana?

Master: It is not important. Unnecessary. (after a pause) Yoga is not something that is difficult. (Everyone laughs in response to Shri Mahayogi’s reaction.) Really…it is returning to your naked Self. Without protesting, purely seek only That. Come closer and closer to That, and realize That.