In Sanskrit texts, Rāja yoga (/ /) was both the goal of yoga and a method of attaining it. The term also became a modern name for the practice of yoga, when in the 19th-century Swami Vivekananda gave his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in his book Raja Yoga. Since then, Rāja yoga has variously been called aṣṭāṅga yoga, royal yoga, royal union, sahaja marg, and classical yoga.
Etymology and usage
Rāja (Sanskrit: राज) means "chief, best of its kind" or "king". Rāja yoga thus refers to "chief, best of yoga".
The historical use of the term Rāja yoga is found in other contexts, quite different than its modern usage. In ancient and medieval Sanskrit texts, it meant the highest state of yoga practice (one reaching samadhi). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, states that Hatha yoga is one of the ways to achieve Rāja yoga.
The first known use of the phrase "Rāja yoga" occurs in a 16th-century commentary on a specific step in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. The medieval era Tantric work the Dattātreyayogaśāstra explains in 334 shlokas the principles of four yogas: Mantra yoga, Hatha yoga, Laya yoga and Raja yoga. Alain Daniélou states that Rāja yoga was, in the historic literature of Hinduism, one of five known methods of yoga, with the other four being Hatha yoga, Mantra yoga, Laya yoga and Shiva yoga. Daniélou translates it as "Royal way to reintegration of Self with Universal Self (Brahman)".
The term became a modern retronym when in the 19th-century Swami Vivekananda equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. This meaning is different from that in the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, a text of the Natha sampradaya.
Modern interpretations and literature that discusses Raja yoga often credit Patañjali's Yogasūtras as its textual source, but many neither adopt the teachings nor the philosophical foundations of the Yoga school of Hinduism. This mixing of concepts has led to confusion in understanding historical and modern Indian literature on Yoga.
The Shaiva Yoga text, Amanaska, dated to be from the 12th century CE or earlier, is a dialogue between Vamadeva and deity Shiva. In the second chapter, the text mentions Raja yoga, and explains why it is called so. It states that it is so named because it enables the yogin to reach the illustrious king within oneself, the supreme self. Raja yoga is declared as the goal where one experiences nothing but the bliss of the undisturbed, the natural state of calm, serenity, peace, communion within and contentment.
राजयोगः समाधिश्च उन्मनी च मनोन्मनी | अमरत्वं लयस्तत्त्वं शून्याशून्यं परं पदम || ३ ||
अमनस्कं तथाद्वैतं निरालम्बं निरञ्जनम | जीवन्मुक्तिश्च सहजा तुर्या चेत्येक-वाचकाः || ४ ||
सलिले सैन्धवं यद्वत्साम्यं भजति योगतः | तथात्म-मनसोरैक्यं समाधिरभिधीयते || ५ ||
यदा संक्ष्हीयते पराणो मानसं च परलीयते | तदा समरसत्वं च समाधिरभिधीयते || ६ ||
तत-समं च दवयोरैक्यं जीवात्म-परमात्मनोः | परनष्ह्ट-सर्व-सङ्कल्पः समाधिः सोऽभिधीयते || ७ ||
Raja yoga, samadhi, unmani, manonmani, amaratva, laya, tatva, sunya, asunya, parama pada,
amanaska, advaita, niralamba, niranjana, jivanmukti, sahaja and turiya denote the same state of being.
Just as with salt dissolved in water becomes one with it, so the union of Atman and Manas (mind) is denominated samadhi,
When the breath becomes exhausted, and mind becomes Praliyate (still, reabsorbed), they fuse into union called samadhi.
This equality, this oneness of the two, the living self and the absolute self, when all Sankalpa (desire, cravings) end is called samadhi.— Hath Yoga Pradipika, 4.3 - 4.7, 
As a type of yoga
Some medieval era Indian texts on Yoga list Rajayoga as one of many types of yoga. For example, the Sarvanga yoga pradipikå, a Braj-bhashya commentary by Sundardas, from the 17th-century, teach three tetrads of Yogas. The first group is Bhakti yoga, Mantra yoga, Laya yoga, and Carcha yoga; the second group is Hatha yoga, Raja yoga, Laksha yoga, and Ashtanga yoga; the third is Samkhya yoga, Jñana yoga, Brahma yoga, and Advaita yoga. Of these twelve, Sundardas states that Rajayoga is the best yoga.
As the yoga system of Patanjali
One meaning of Raja yoga is as a modern retronym introduced by Swami Vivekananda, when he equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. After its circulation in the first half of 1st millennium CE, many Indian scholars reviewed it, then published their Bhāṣya (notes and commentary) on it, which together form a canon of texts called the Pātañjalayogaśāstra ("The Treatise on Yoga of Patañjali").
According to Axel Michaels, the Yoga Sutras are built upon fragments of texts and traditions from ancient India. According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (ashtanga yoga) and action yoga (kriya yoga). The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 verse 1-27, chapter 3 except verse 54, and chapter 4. The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 verse 28-55, and chapter 3 verse 3 and 54.
There are numerous parallels in the concepts in ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma schools of thought, particularly from 2nd century BCE to 1st century AD, notes Larson. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras may be a synthesis of these three traditions. From Samkhya school of Hinduism, Yoga Sutras adopt the "reflective discernment" (adhyavasaya) of prakrti and purusa (dualism), its metaphysical rationalism, as well its three epistemic methods to gaining reliable knowledge. From Abhidharma Buddhism's idea of nirodhasamadhi, suggests Larson, Yoga Sutras adopt the pursuit of altered state of awareness, but unlike Buddhism which believes that there is neither self nor soul, Yoga is physicalist and realist like Samkhya in believing that each individual has a self and soul. The third concept Yoga Sutras synthesize into its philosophy is the ancient ascetic traditions of isolation, meditation and introspection, as well as the yoga ideas from the 1st millennium BCE Indian texts such as Katha Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad and Maitri Upanishad.
In early 11th century, the Persian scholar Al Biruni visited India, lived with Hindus for 16 years, and with their help translated several significant Sanskrit works into Arabic and Persian languages. One of these was Patanjali's Yogasutras. Along with generally accurate translations, Al Biruni's text has significant differences than Yogasutra manuscripts discovered in India, during the 19th century. Al Biruni's record has helped modern scholars establish that Patanjali's Yogasutras manuscript existed in India in many versions, each with multiple commentaries by Hindu scholars. Some of these versions and commentaries have been lost or yet to be found. Al Biruni's translation preserved many of the core themes of Yoga philosophy of Hinduism, but certain sutras and analytical commentaries were restated making it more consistent with Islamic monotheistic theology. Al Biruni's version of Yoga Sutras reached Persia and Arabian peninsula by about 1050 AD.
In Indian historical timeline, marking with the arrival of Islam in India in twelfth century, further development and literature on Yoga philosophy of Hinduism went into decline. By the sixteenth century, Patanjali's Yoga philosophy was nearly extinct. Yoga was preserved by sadhus (ascetics, sannyasis) of India. Some of the Hindu yoga elements were adopted by Sufi sect of Muslims in India. The Sufi Muslims at times adopted and protected the Yoga tradition of Hindus during the Islamic rule of India, and at other times helped the persecution and violence against those Hindus. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, known for his syncretic tolerance, was attracted to and patronized Yoga philosophy of Hinduism.
Comparison with Buddhism
The yoga scholar Stephen Cope identifies the following similarities between Raja yoga and Buddhism. He notes that the two philosophies are not the same, but are strikingly similar, having shared a long period of interchange up to about 500 CE.
|Primary problems||Duhkha (suffering)|
Seeing reality clearly
|Problem-solving method 1:
Cultivate skilful behaviours
|Sila (ethical practices)|
|Problem-solving method 2:
Cultivate concentrated states
|Problem-solving method 3:
Use states to explore self
(i.e. dharana, dhyana, samadhi)
other insight practices
|View of ordinary reality||4 Erroneous Beliefs
— reality of body,
— that suffering is happiness,
— that body/mind is true self
|3 Marks of Existence,|
obscured by error:
— anicca (impermanence)
— anatta (no-self)
— duhkha (suffering)
|The end of suffering||Kaivalya (emancipation)||Nirvana ("unbinding"|
|Shared concepts||nirodha (cessation)|
prajna (intuitive wisdom)
samskara (unconscious pattern)
|Shared approaches||Direct investigation of reality (not metaphysics)|
using self-study, self-reliance, self-liberation
- Hatha yoga
- Kriya Yoga
- Kundalini yoga
- Bhakti yoga
- Jnana yoga
- Karma yoga
- Shinshin-tōitsu-dō, Japanese yoga
- Samyama, the combined practice of concentration, meditation, and union
- Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, pages 401–444
- Mallinson-1 2011.
- Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, ISBN 978-1500746940
- rAja Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
- Antonio Rigopoulos (1998), Dattatreya: The Immortal Guru, Yogin, and Avatara, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791436967, page 62
- Alain Daniélou (1991), Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, ISBN 978-0892813018, Chapters 1-12
- Mallinson-2 2011.
- Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, page 404-406
- Jason Birch (2013), The Amanaska: King of All Yogas, Ph.D. Dissertation, Oxford University
- Gerald James Larson and Karl H. Potter (2011), The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Yoga: India's philosophy of meditation, Volume XII, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120833494, pages 364, 366
- Sanskrit and English: Hath Yoga Pradipika, Pancham Singh (Translator), OCLC 897482, pages 154-155;
Modern Translation (English): GW Briggs (2009), Gorakhnāth and the Kānphaṭa Yogīs, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120805644, page 343
- Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, pages 415-416
- Maas 2006.
- Larson, p. 21–22.
- Michaels 2004, p. 267.
- Feuerstein 1978, p. 108.
- Larson, pp. 43-45
- S Pines and T Gelblum (Translators from Arabic to English, 1966), Al-Bīrūni (Translator from Sanskrit to Arabic, ~ 1035 AD), and Patañjali, Al-Bīrūnī's Arabic Version of Patañjali's Yogasūtra, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1966), pages 302-325
- White 2014.
- Hellmut Ritter, al-Bīrūnī's übersetzung des Yoga-Sūtra des Patañjali, Oriens, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Dec. 31, 1956), pages 165-200 (in German)
- Philipp Maas (2013), A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy, in Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy (Editor: Eli Franco), Sammlung de Nobili, Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde der Universität Wien, ISBN 978-3900271435, pages 53-90, OCLC 858797956
- White 2014, pp. 6-9.
- White 2014, pp. 6-16.
- Bonnie G. Smith et al (2012), Crossroads and Cultures, Volume I: To 1450: A History of the World's Peoples, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0312442132, page 428
- Jean Filliozat (1991), Religion, Philosophy, Yoga: A Selection of Articles, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120807181, pages 215-230, 293-303
- Jamal Malik (2008), Islam in South Asia: A Short History, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004168596, pages 185-186
- David White (2014), The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali - A Biography, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-1-4008-5005-1, pages 146-152
- Cope, Stephen (2006). The wisdom of yoga : a seeker's guide to extraordinary living. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 276-278. ISBN 978-0-553-38054-5. OCLC 64098584.
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
- Maas, Philipp A. (2006), Samādhipāda: das erste Kapitel des Pātañjalayogaśāstra zum ersten Mal kritisch ediert, Aachen: Shaker, ISBN 3-8322-4987-7
- White, David Gordon (2014), The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography, Princeton University Press
- Wood, Ernest (1951). Practical Yoga, Ancient and Modern, Being a New, Independent Translation of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms. Rider and Company.
- Treatises on Yoga
- Alain Daniélou (1991), Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, ISBN 978-0892813018, Appendix D: Main Sanskrit Treatises on Yoga
- White, David Gordon (2011), Yoga, Brief History of an Idea (Chapter 1 of "Yoga in practice") (PDF), Princeton University Press
- Philosophy and practice
- Feuerstein, Georg (1978), Handboek voor Yoga (Dutch translation; English title Textbook of Yoga, Ankh-Hermes
- Larson, Gerald James (1998), Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning, London: Motilal Banarasidass, ISBN 81-208-0503-8
- Larson, Gerald James (2008), The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Yoga: India's philosophy of meditation, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-81-208-3349-4
- Maehle, Gregor (2007), Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, New World Library
- Mallinson-1, James (2011), "Hatha Yoga", Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol.3, BRILL
- Mallinson-2, James (2011), "Nāth Sampradāya", Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol.3, BRILL
- Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08952-3.
- Whicher, Ian (1998), The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga, SUNY Press