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The Roots of Sahaj Marg

Author: Rama Devagupta
This article was published in Constant Remembrance, April 2001 and July 2001.


In a 1994 Roper poll, 6 million Americans claimed to practice some form of yoga, with 1.86 million claiming to practice regularly, and another 17 million respondents expressed interest in yoga although they had not yet tried to practice it. Currently, the Yoga Journal estimates that there are approximately 20 million yoga practitioners in America, although the Yoga Research Center more conservatively places this number at 10-15 million[f1].

While these numbers are conjectural, one thing is clear: a general interest in yoga is on the rise — and accordingly, the number of people coming to Sahaj Marg with a previous background in some system of yoga is also on the rise. To ensure that all preceptors are able to give a proper explanation of Sahaj Marg to both abhyasis and the general public, we must develop a basic understanding of yoga, its main branches, and the pertinent roots of Sahaj Marg.

The word "yoga" comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Derived from the verbal root yuj, yoga fundamentally means "union", "to yoke", a "joining together". Yoga is related to words with shared meanings in other Indo-European languages, e.g., yoke in English, Joch in German, and iugum in Latin. Yoga also embraces a wide range of extended meanings, including, for example, "team","constellation", and "conjunction".

However, the principal and relevant meanings of yoga within the spiritual context are "union" and "discipline", and whenever yoga is used in this context, both these connotations are inherently present. For our purposes, then, yoga can be defined as the union of the individual soul with the Divine through the discipline of meditation.


"Samatvam yoga uchyate." — Bhagavad Gita, II.48
Evenness of mind is called Yoga.

"Yogah karmashu kaushalam." — Bhagavad Gita, II.50
Yoga is skill in the performance of actions.

"Yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah." —Patanjali, Yoga-Sutras,I.2
Yoga is restraint of mental modifications.

Patanjali's aphorism above may alternatively be translated as: yoga means to restrain the "mind-stuff" (chitta) from taking various forms (vrittis), wherein chitta refers to the combination of:


manas — mind, as the receiver of impressions
buddhi — intellect, as the discriminative faculty, and
ahankar — ego, as the lower self.


Recognizing that human beings have different temperaments, different personalities and different needs, the masters of yoga have designed various methods by which one could approach the spiritual path. While at least forty branches of yoga have been traditionally identified, the eight major branches are listed below.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti means "love and devotion". Also known as the Path of Love-Devotion, Bhakti Yoga is a spiritual approach that stresses all-surrendering love and devotion as the principal means of union with God.

Bhakti should not be confused with common emotional and sentimental demonstrations of "love" and "devotion". Babuji writes: "As regards bhakti, so far as my inner reading goes, I can safely say that what people generally think to be bhakti is only flattery in the real sense. In fact, real bhakti is widely different from flattery. It is simple attachment, strong and irrevocable attachment, to the Divine."

Hatha Yoga

Hatha means "force", or "forceful". Known as the Path of Inner Power, this refers to the practice of yoga that is primarily concerned with purification and strengthening of the physical body. Hatha Yoga has become synonymous with yoga in today's world, especially in the West. Essentially, it deals with asana (body posture) and pranayama (breath control) — steps 3 and 4 of Ashtanga yoga — and must be practiced under the guidance of an adept teacher.

According to Babuji: "Hatha Yoga lays down mostly physical practices to effect cleaning, some of which are too hard and tedious for all and sundry, while under the system of Sahaj Marg, it is accomplished by easy mental practices, aided by the power transmitted by the teacher." Babuji adds that because Hatha Yoga deals primarily with the body, it increases one's body- and ego-consciousness, and leads to increased solidity instead of lightness; even after the most diligent practice, it leads an aspirant up to the Ajna Chakra — only point 6 in Sahaj Marg.

Jnana (Gyana, Gnana) Yoga

Jnana means "knowledge" or "wisdom". This is the path that leads to union with God through the intellect. Also known as the Path of Wisdom, it uses the discriminative faculties of the mind to distinguish the real from the unreal, and thereby uncovers the true Self. It is considered to be the most difficult of all yogic paths.

Regarding true spiritual knowledge, Babuji clarifies: "Gnana in the real sense refers to the inner condition of the mind which an abhyasi develops during the course of his pursuit, while passing through different spiritual states at different knots or granthis. Gnana is in fact the realization of the conditions prevailing at each knot."

Karma Yoga

Karma means "duty" or "action". Also known as the Path of Selfless Action, Karma Yoga is the path to God through ego-detached action and service. By selfless service, by giving the fruit of one's actions to God, and by seeing God as the sole doer, the devotee becomes free of ego and experiences God.

In Sahaj Marg, the abhyasi's primary focus is on the performance of actions while being in a state of constant remembrance, which in due course of time promotes a natural state of "non-attached attachment".

Kriya Yoga

Kriya means "ritual action". Known as the Yoga of Ritual Action, Kriya Yoga is union with the Infinite through a certain action or rite, and consists of the preliminary steps of the ashtanga yoga — austerity (tapas), study (swadhayaya), and dedication of one's works to God (ishwara-pranidhana). Mentioned by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, this system of yoga was introduced to the West in the 1920s by Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the well-known Autobiography of a Yogi.

Laya Yoga

Laya means "absorption" or "dissolution". Also known as the yoga of dissolution, this system deals with the psycho-energetic centers (chakras) of the subtle body that run parallel to the spinal cord. Although there is no mention of the chakras in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, they are frequently mentioned in Hatha, Tantra, and Kundalini yoga. Not surprisingly, therefore, when the well-read seekers initially come to Sahaj Marg they often want to know more about them.

The principal chakras (illustrated in In His Footsteps, Vol. 1, p. 64) are:


Mulaadhaara chakra — situated at the sacro-coccygeal plexus
Svaadhishthana chakra — situated at the sacral plexus near the 4th vertebra
Manipuraka chakra — located at the navel
Anahata chakra — situated at the heart
Vishuddhi chakra — situated at the throat (corresponds to point 5 in Sahaj Marg)
Ajna chakra — located between the eyebrows (as it is associated with power, we do not touch upon it directly in Sahaj Marg), and
Sahasrara dal kamal — situated at the crown of the head.

Figure 1. Psycho-Energetic Centers (Chakras) of the Subtle Body


In Sahaj Marg, we meditate on the heart-center at the point where one can feel the beat of the physical heart, and not directly on the anahata chakra. Nor do we deal with any of the other chakras individually; rather, they are purified and developed automatically. Finally, unlike in Laya Yoga and other forms, in Sahaj Marg we are not concerned with the importance of the awakening of the kundalini.

In Efficacy of Raja Yoga, Babuji writes that all the chakras (figuratively called "lotuses") are set within the limits of the heart region, which extends almost from the top of the head to the foot. By meditation on the heart, the surroundings of the heart region begin to expand, extending to all the chakras (lotuses) within the body; all chakras begin to glow automatically as a result. As we proceed above these to the mind region, the chakras are all gone and the condition is different.

Mantra Yoga

Mantra Yoga aims to achieve divine communion through devotional, concentrated repetition (japa) of root-word sounds (e.g., Aum) that have a spiritually beneficial vibratory potency. It is also known as the Path of Sacred Sound. A prime example of Mantra Yoga is transcendental meditation, introduced to the West in the late 1960s by Mahesh Yogi.

Contrary to popular opinion, the verbal, mechanical repetition of a mantra — the sound — in itself serves no purpose. By contemplation one has to discover the inner meaning of the chosen mantra and get absorbed in its essence.

Raja Yoga

According to Swami Vivekanada and the Bhagavad Gita, this is the "royal path", or highest path, to God-union. Raja Yoga teaches meditation as the ultimate means for realizing God, and incorporates the highest essentials from all other forms of yoga. Also known as "Classical Yoga", the "King of Yogas", or "Yoga of the Mind", Raja Yoga is the noblest of all yogas and can be practiced systematically by anyone, regardless of current spiritual status or type of personality.

Chariji says that because the mind is "kingly" in the human being, we use the mind to regulate the mind and thereby, to transform the heart, the "landing ground" of all thoughts: "In Raja Yoga, it is the mind that we use, it is the mind that we master, and it is the mind that we apply."

According to Babuji, "It is Raja Yoga and Raja Yoga alone that can lead you to the Ultimate Goal, or the highest point of human approach. No other practice can bring forth such results. It is, therefore, essential to have recourse to this science if you aim at the highest point."

Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali

Also known as the Eight-Fold Path of Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga is synonymous with Raja Yoga and is a complete science in itself. As codified by Sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (consisting of 195 sutras or aphorisms), the principles of this yogic path are systematically outlined and divided into the following eight (ashta) limbs (anga):

1. YAMA (Self-restraint): Moral and ethical proscriptions that describe the code of personal conduct.

  •    Non-violence (ahimsa)
  •    Truthfulness (satya)
  •    Non-stealing (asteya)
  •    Chastity (brahmacharya)
  •    Greedlessness (aparigraha)

2. NIYAMA (Binding Observances): While yama deals with our attitudes toward our environment, niyama deals with our attitude towards ourselves. To develop self-discipline, niyama stresses that the following moral and spiritual precepts should be observed:

  •     Purity or cleanliness (shaucha) — both internal and external
  •     Contentment (santosha)
  •     Asceticism or austerity (tapas)
  •     Self-study (swadhyaya)
  •     Devotion to God (ishwara-pranidhana)

3. ASANA (Bodily Posture): Meditation posture through which one learns to still the body and mind because where motion ceases, there begins the perception of God. Sage Patanjali clarifies that the asana should be a steady, comfortable posture; in other words, it can be any posture in which the aspirant can be both alert and relaxed at the same time.

4. PRANAYAMA (Breath Control): This is control of the vital life force (prana) beneficial to both body and mind, by regulating the movements of inhalation and exhalation.

5. PRATYAHARA (Sense-withdrawal): Interiorization of the mind by consciously turning the five senses inwards until there are no physical distractions.

6. DHARANA (Concentration): Concentrating mentally on a single focal point — place, object, or idea — with steadfastness.

7. DHYANA (Meditation on the Divine): Focusing attention on the divine until one is absorbed. It can be also defined as the continuous, uninterrupted flow of consciousness towards the chosen object. (We begin directly with dhyana in Sahaj Marg.)

8. SAMADHI (Union with the Divine): The state in which the yogi is completely merged with his higher Self and the mind is no longer involved in the process. (In Sahaj Marg, it is the return to the original condition, that which reigned in the beginning.)


Whether we are giving introductory seminars or doing Sahaj Marg Open House presentations, whether we are talking to new abhyasis trying to give them a basic understanding of what Sahaj Marg is, or whether we are talking about our spiritual practice to somebody outside the Mission, one of the most common expressions we use is: "Sahaj Marg is a modified and simplified system of Raja Yoga."

But what exactly does "modified and simplified" mean? Even more importantly, is it really necessary to know these concepts? The answer for the last question is, "Yes."

Sahaj Marg as a remodeled and simplified system of Raja Yoga begins directly from the seventh step of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.

Although Raja Yoga by itself is considered to be the most effective of all paths, it suffers from an obvious disadvantage: Even with one hundred percent sincerity, the aspirant has to start from the first step and devote enormous amounts of time, effort, and practice to reach the state of samadhi. In today's world, such rigorous practice is impossible for the average person, except for those who are willing to live in seclusion.

The Sahaj Marg system has evolved an easily practicable yogic method designed for the average man — whatever be his education, whatever be his racial antecedents, whatever be his profession, and without differences of sex — so that the ultimate goal is brought nearer to the whole of mankind. It is not restricted as it was in the past to a few members of the elite society.

The Sahaj Marg system is unique among Indian yogic systems because it is a system specially developed for the average householder. My Master believes that the normalization of all functions leads to saintliness. Every faculty in-built in man has its legitimate function, and must be used in the performance of that function. Sahaj Marg therefore does not teach or prescribe celibacy but it does teach that a normalization of the generative function is essential. Master teaches that it is in the world of the family that almost all human qualities are perfected, including such diverse ones as the capacity for love, the capacity for renunciation, the capacity for taking on responsibility, the capacity for social function in a group, and so on.

According to Babuji:

Under the Sahaj Marg system of training we start from Dhyana, the seventh step of [Ashtanga] Yoga, fixing our mind on the point in order to practise meditation. The previous steps are not taken separately but they automatically come into practice as we proceed on with meditation. Thus, much of our time and labor is saved by this means (CW I, p. 100, 101).

The various successive steps of yoga laid down in Patanjali's system are all included in the one routine process under the system of Sahaj Marg and are covered by the abhyasi without undergoing each one separately. But since that is possible only through the help of [the Master's] Pranahuti, I wish more and more abhyasis to come up to it and be profited thereby (CW II, p. 99).

Question: By starting with the seventh step of meditation directly in Sahaj Marg, are we ignoring the first six steps of the ashtanga yoga which were considered essential in the past?

No. By starting directly with dhyana, we are focusing on the most important feature of Ashtanga Yoga: Sahaj Marg does not impose any artificial and strict regimentation on the individual's life, though there are some basic and absolutely natural rules to be followed. Master states very categorically that the purification of the human system must begin with the mind, and once the mind is purified, the physical aspects of man's existence cannot help being purified because right thinking must lead to right conduct. Thus all the prescribed norms of human behavior become not only possible but are naturally established in the individual's life. The conflicts and travails that normally attend on the practice of yoga under the earlier systems are therefore absent in Sahaj Marg.

In our Sahaj Marg system, all that you are asked to do is to sit comfortably, close your eyes and do this meditation. My Master states that as one progresses in meditation, the body acquires for itself a posture of repose and tranquility which it can hold for the length of time necessary, and therefore, asana becomes established in a natural manner. Similarly, as meditation progresses, our experience testifies to the fact that breathing slows down and assumes a natural cycle, natural to that state of existence, and so pranayama becomes established.

Under my Master's direction, as the pupil progresses in meditation, purification of the heart proceeds automatically and mental processes are purified, which in turn results in pure action, and therefore yama and niyama, the first two stages of Patanjali's yoga, also become established naturally.

As yet another result of meditation, the mind becomes used to thinking about one fixed thing, and as the mind's capacity grows, the power of concentration becomes established, and this capacity grows so that it results finally in a stage where concentration becomes natural, and thus pratyahara and dharana aspects of yoga also become established.

Thus by commencing at the seventh stage of Patanjalis' ashtanga yoga under the guidance of an able Master (i.e., one who can transmit and remove even the deepest of impressions), the earlier six stages become naturally established without any undue physical or mental effort on the part of the practicant being necessary.

In Sahaj Marg, an aspirant does not have much to do with the eighth stage, samadhi, as it follows automatically. Samadhi is a state where the human consciousness may be said to have lapsed into total quiescence. Here, a state of existence called Sahaj samadhi, or natural samadhi, is offered where, while the individual exists at a stage of consciousness which may be said to be superhuman, or non-human if you prefer it, the lower mind or the normal human mind also continues to be aware of all that is going on around it, but without being affected by the environment in any way. There is therefore no exclusion of the external world, but there is an all-enveloping samadhi which embraces everything in the world or universe, while being himself (the practicant) entirely absorbed in Himself, and also simultaneously aware of the cosmic totality. My Master states that this is a higher stage of existence than the state of samadhi as traditionally taught.


Though Sahaj Marg is essentially a system of Raja Yoga, its practice has been designed in such a way that as the abhyasi progresses with the help of the transmitted power of a worthy Master, a complete integration of one's personality results, and there exists a co-working of bhakti (love and devotion), karma (duty or action), and jnana (knowledge or wisdom) — the three main branches of yoga (see Figure 2).

Babuji writes that some people approach through the practice of karma (action), others through bhakti (devotion), still others set aside either of these and proceed through the medium of gnana (knowledge). In fact, however, the stages of karma, upasana (devotional practice), and gnana are not essentially different from one another, but are rather closely interrelated and exist together in one and the same state. In Sahaj Marg, they are taken up together most efficiently, creating automatically the state of Viveka (discrimination) and Vairagya (renunciation) in the true sense.

Figure 2. The Integrative Approach of Sahaj Marg

[f1] In an Oct. 2000 article, Houston Chronicle listed the number of yoga practitioners in the US as 19 million. 



  1. Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vols. 1 and 2

  2. In His Footsteps, Vol. 1

  3. Principles of Sahaj Marg, Set 1, Vol. 1

  4. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 1

  5. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

  6. Principles of Sahaj Marg, Set 1, Vol. 1, Ch. 2.

  7. Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vol. 1, pp. 101-02