No study of raja yoga is meaningful without the discussion concerning yama-niyama – self-discipline. If you turn to jnana yoga, the same factors appear in the guise of ‘sadhana-chatustaya’ (the four means). Even karma yoga and bhakti yoga cannot really be practised without ethical foundation.
But self-discipline cannot be imposed by another. All the scriptures of the world contain stories to illustrate this. God and His incarnations have power over the elements, but the human being defies them! Adam disobeyed God Himself. One of the disciples of Lord Jesus turned against Him. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had enemies. Lord Buddha’s own cousin plotted against Him. Man refuses to be influenced. He has to discipline himself. And he even resents the suggestion of an external imposition contained in the words ‘has to’!
Krishna revealed a great truth in the Bhagavad Gita: “You are your own friend and your own enemy. If you lead a life of self-control you are your friend. If you lack self-control, you are your own enemy.” There is no compulsion here, but an indication of a truth.
Self-discipline in yoga has to be discovered by the student himself, not by struggling to cultivate the virtues listed under yama- niyama. The very fact that there is need to cultivate them indicates that they are not there already and that perhaps their opposite qualities exist! Any effort at such cultivation depletes energy spent in the inner battle. Hence the master suggests that while you practise the asanas, observe the behaviour of the body. Regardless of what yoga posture you are doing, the whole body participates, the inner intelligence restores the balance and comfort. The whole body acts as one unit, though it appears to have many parts. It is one. In meditation, similarly, you will discover the intelligence beyond the limitations of the body and mind (thoughts and emotions) and the limitations of the individuality. That which is beyond these is pure intelligence or consciousness which is indivisible. The intelligence that functions in the body is undivided; even so, the intelligence in the universe is undivided.
When this truth is realised directly, yama-niyama and all the rest of self-discipline follow effortlessly. It is like this: when you want the baby’s face to smile, you tickle the foot, not pull its cheeks apart. When you realise your oneness with all life, virtue or self-discipline is natural.