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Rāja yoga ("royal yoga", "royal union", also known as classical yoga and aṣṭānga yoga) is one of the six schools of dharmic (astika) Hindu philosophy. Its principal text is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Raja yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the viewer's (ṛṣih) mind using a succession of steps, such as meditation (dhyāna, dhyana) and contemplation (samādhi, samadhi). Its object is to further one's acquaintance with reality (viveka), achieve awakening (moksha) and eventually enlightenment, kaivalya.
Rāja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (aṣṭānga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, and is part of the Samkhya tradition. As a result, it has also been known as sesvara samkhya, and Patanjali samkhya.
In the context of Hindu philosophy, rāja yoga is known simply as yoga. The term rāja yoga is a retronym, introduced in the 19th-century by Swami Vivekananda  The prior use of the term rāja yoga in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika refers to the highest form of yoga, laya yoga, described in this text. The HYP is a text of the Natha sampradaya and is not concerned with the yoga taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Rāja yoga is concerned with the mind (citta) and its fluctuations (vṛttis, vortexes, variations) and how to quiet or master the mind's fluctuations. Humans have all sorts of addictions and obsessions and these preclude the attainment of tranquil abiding (meditation). Through restraint (yama) such as celibacy, abstaining from intoxicants, and careful attention to one's actions (niyama) of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes more fit to practice meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself (discipline) is another meaning of the word yoga.
Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self.
Rāja yoga is traditionally referred to as aṣṭānga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend.
Patañjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (1.2), "Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind". They go on to detail the ways in which mind can create false ideations, and advocate arduous, dedicated meditation on real objects or subjects. This process, it is said, leads to a state of quiet detachment, vairāgya, in which there is mastery over the thirst (tṛṣṇā, taṇhā) of the senses.
Practices that serve to maintain for the individual the ability to access this state may be considered rāja yoga practices. Thus rāja yoga encompasses and differentiates itself from other forms of yoga by encouraging the mind to avoid the sort of absorption in obsessional practice (including some traditional practices) that can create false mental objects.
In this sense rāja yoga is called the "king among yogas": all honest yogic practices are seen as tools in the quest to cleanse karma and obtain mokṣa, nirvāṇa or kaivalya. Historically, schools of yoga that label themselves "rāja" offer students a structure of yogic practices and a solid viewpoint on dharma.
Kṛṣṇa describes the yogi as follows: "A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogi" (Bg. 6.46).
Rāja yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. A rāja yogi starts his sādhanā with the mind as well as a certain minimum of āsana and prāṇāyāma usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration. In Samādhi Pada I,27 it is stated that the word of Īśvara is Om, the praṇava. Through the sounding of the word and through reflection upon its meaning, the way is found.
In the jangama dhyana technique of rāja yoga, the yogi concentrates the mind and sight between the eyebrows. According to Patanjali, this is one method of achieving the initial concentration (dharana: Yoga Sutras, III: 1) necessary for the mind to go introverted in meditation (dhyana: Yoga Sutras, III: 2). In deeper practice of the Jangama dhyana technique, the mind concentrated between the eyebrows begins to automatically lose all location and focus on the watching itself. Eventually, the meditator experiences only the consciousness of existence and achieves Self-realization. In his classic Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes the process in the following way:
When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samādhi.
Eight limbs of ashtanga yoga
The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga are:
- Yama – code of conduct, self-restraint
- Niyama – religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
- Āsana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
- Prāṇāyāma – regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
- Pratyāhāra – abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
- Dhāraṇā – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
- Dhyāna – meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
- Samādhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious(?) state. Attained when yogi constantly sees Paramatma in his (jivaatma) heart.
They are sometimes divided into the lower and the upper four limbs, the lower ones—from yama to pranayama—being parallel to the lower limbs of hatha yoga, while the upper ones—from pratyahara to samadhi—being specific for the rāja yoga. The upper three limbs practiced simultaneously constitute the samyama.
Yama (restraints) consists of five parts: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual abstinence), and aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness, as well as positive love. The five directives of yama lay down behavioral norms as prerequisites for elimination of fear, and contribute to a tranquil mind.
Niyama is observance of five canons: shaucha (internal and external purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of mantras), and ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God and his worship). Niyama, unlike uama, prescribes mental exercises to train the mind to control emotions.
Asana in the sense of a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed and with normal (calm) breathing (or, as some sources say, "without effort").
In English, the Sanskrit word asana means "seat", the place where one sits; or posture, position of the body (any position). Asanas (in the sense of Yoga "posture") are said to derive from the various positions of animals' bodies (whence are derived most of the names of the positions). 84 asanas are considered to be the main postures, of which the highest are Shirshasan (headstand) and Padmasan (lotus).
The practice of asanas affects the following aspects or planes of the human being:
- Physical (blood circulation, inner organs, glands, muscles, joints and nerve system)
- Psychological (developing emotional balance and stability, harmony)
- Mental (improved ability to concentrate, memory)
- Consciousness (purifying and clarifying consciousness/awareness)
From the rāja yoga perspective, it is considered that the physical postures and pranayama serve to prepare the body and mind for the following steps: pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samādhi (withdrawal of the senses, contemplation, meditation, and state of expanded or transcendental consciousness, where the activity of the mind ceases and "The Knower and The Object of Knowledge Become One").
Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words (prāṇa = life energy; ayāma = control or modification). Breathing is the medium used to achieve this goal. The mind and life force are correlated to the breath. Through regulating the breathing and practicing awareness on it, one learns to control prana.
According to Rāja yoga, there are three main types (phases, units, stadia) of pranayama:
- Purak (inhalation)
- Rechak (exhalation)
- Kumbhak (holding the breath); which appears as:
- Antara kumbhak (withholding the breath after inhalation)
- Bahar kumbhak (withholding the breath after exhalation)
- Keval kumbhak (spontaneous withholding of the breath)
There are numerous techniques of pranayama, each with their specific goals. The main techniques are:
- Surya Bhedana
- Candra Bhedana
- Nadi Shodhana (anuloma viloma)
- Plavini (bhujangini)
All pranayama practice ultimately works toward purification of the nadis (energy channels) and the awakening of kundalini shakti at the muladhara chakra. The awakening of kundalini energy (also described as the awakening of divine consciousness or wisdom), and its ascent to the crown chakra is the final goal of rāja yoga.
Pratyahara is bringing the awareness to reside deep within oneself, free from the senses and external world. The Goal of Pratyahara is not to disrupt the communication from the sense organ to the brain. The awareness is far removed from the five senses. Pratyahara cannot be achieved without achievement of the preceding limbs (pranayama, niyama, etc.). The awareness comes to rest deep in the inner space, and during this time the yogi's breath will be temporarily suspended. Pratyahara should not just be likened to concentration or meditation, etc. It is a yogic practice that takes on adequacy with the prior 4 limbs as prerequisites.
Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in samadhi. Retention of breath, brahmacharya, satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentration on bhrakuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can thus be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.[clarification needed]
||This section contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (October 2013)|
Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.
The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.
By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practices Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time.Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice that steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion.—Swami Sivananda from Amrita Gita
Meditation on Om with bhava removes obstacles in sadhana and helps to attain samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga-dvesha (likes and dislikes), abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five kleshas or afflictions.
Samadhi is of two kinds:
- Savikalpa, samprajnata or sabija; and
- Nirvikalpa, asamprajnata or nirbija.
In savikalpa or sabija, there is triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). Savitarka, nirvitarka, savichara, nirvichara, sasmita and saananda are the different forms of savikalpa samadhi. In nirvikalpa samadhi, nirbija samadhi or asamprajnata samadhi there is no triad.
- K A Jacobsen & G J Larson Theory And Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson, p. 4.
- P. 142 A Dictionary of Theosophy By Theodore Besterman
- James Mallinson Hatha Yoga An entry on haṭhayoga for the Brill Encylopedia of Hinduism Vol.3 (2011)
- James Mallinson Nāth Sampradāya An entry for the Brill Encylopedia of Hinduism Vol.3 (2011)
- "The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali - a translation and commentary by Yogacharya Shivaji Mizner"
- See Swami Vivekenanda on dhyana and samādhi in rāja yoga here.[clarification needed]
- Swami Kriyananda, J. Donald Walters, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, p.100
- Reender Kranenborg (1999). "Brahma Kumaris: A New Religion?". Center for Studies on New Religions. Retrieved 2007-07-27. "A preliminary version of a paper presented at CESNUR 99"
- Akhilananda, Swami; Gordon W. Allport (1999). Hindu Psychology. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-00266-7.
- Feuerstein, Georg; Ken Wilber (2002). "The Wheel of Yoga". The Yoga Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 978-81-208-1923-8.
- Prabhavananda, Swami; Christopher Isherwood. How to Know God. Vedanta Press & Bookshop. ISBN 978-0-87481-041-7.
- Sen, Amiya P. (2006). "Raja Yoga: The Science of Self-Realization". The Indispensable Vivekananda. Orient Blackswan. pp. 219–227. ISBN 978-81-7824-130-2.
- Vivekananda, Swami (1980). Raja Yoga. Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. ISBN 0-911206-23-X.
- Wood, Ernest (1951). Practical Yoga, Ancient and Modern, Being a New, Independent Translation of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms. Rider and Company.
- Raja Yoga Sutras, Three translations of the Yoga Sutras (one of the core Raja Yoga texts), with cross referencing, word for word and index for easy study.