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Rāja yoga

Rāja yoga () is a term with a variety of meanings depending on the context.[1] In Sanskrit texts Raja yoga refers to the goal of yoga (which is usually samadhi) and not a method of attaining it.[2] Classical tantric texts use the term raja yoga to refer to the consumption of sexual emissions in their practices.[3] The term also became a modern retronym, when in the 19th-century Swami Vivekananda equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[2][4][1][5]

Rāja yoga is sometimes branded as or referred to as "royal yoga", "royal union", "sahaj marg", "classical yoga" and "aṣṭānga yoga". Many of these are different practices from each other and from the historical concept of Raja yoga.[1]


  • Etymology and usage 1
  • History 2
    • Raja yoga as samadhi 2.1
    • Raja yoga as a type of yoga 2.2
    • Raja yoga as yoga system of Patanjali 2.3
    • Islamic period 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5
    • Printed sources 5.1
    • Web-sources 5.2
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Etymology and usage

Rāja (Sanskrit: राज) means "chief, best of its kind" or "king".[6] 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).[2] Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, refers to Hathayoga as 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 Patanjali's Yogasūtras.[1] 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.[7] Daniélou translates it as "Royal way to reintegration of Self with Universal Self (Brahman)". This version of Raja yoga has the same names for eight main steps, but each step is significantly different in details than either Hatha Yoga or those described in Yoga sutras of Patanjali.[8] The Hindu scholar Dattatreya, in his medieval era Tantric work named "Yogasastra", explains in 334 shlokas, principles of four yoga: Mantra yoga, Hatha yoga, Laya yoga and Raja yoga.[9]

The term also became a modern retronym, when in the 19th-century Swami Vivekananda equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[2][4][1][5] This sense of meaning is different from Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a text of the Natha sampradaya,[10] where it is a different practice.

Similarly, Brahma Kumaris, a recent religious movement, globally markets "Rāja yoga" that has very little to do with either the precepts of Hatha Yoga or Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.[1] Modern interpretations and literature that discusses Raja yoga often credits Yogasūtras as its textual source, but many neither adopt the teachings nor the philosophical foundations of the Yoga school of Hinduism.[11] Raja yoga is sometimes also branded as or referred to as "royal yoga", "royal union", "sahaj marg", "classical yoga" and "aṣṭānga yoga"; many of these, however, are different practices and have little to do with Yoga philosophy of Patanjali.[1]

In some modern literature, Raja yoga is considered one of the four paths[12] to spirituality within Yoga philosophy of Hinduism.[13] This mixing of concepts, has led to confusion in understanding historical and modern Indian literature on Yoga, particularly when the term Raja yoga is used.[2][10]


A statue of a man in yoga posture (Kashmir, India).

Raja yoga as samadhi

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.[14] Raja yoga is declared as the goal and a state of samadhi, where one experiences nothing but the bliss of the undisturbed, the natural state of calm, serenity, peace, communion within and contentment.[1]

The Raja yoga goal and state is synonymous with various terms, such as Amanaska, Unmani and Sahaj.[15] The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (literally, Little Lamp of Hatha Yoga) asserts this as follows,[16]

राजयोगः समाधिश्छ उन्मनी छ मनोन्मनी | अमरत्वं लयस्तत्त्वं शून्याशून्यं परं पदम || ३ ||
अमनस्कं तथाद्वैतं निरालम्बं निरञ्जनम | जीवन्मुक्तिश्छ सहजा तुर्या छेत्येक-वाछकाः || ४ ||
सलिले सैन्धवं यद्वत्साम्यं भजति योगतः | तथात्म-मनसोरैक्यं समाधिरभिधीयते || ५ ||
यदा संक्ष्हीयते पराणो मानसं छ परलीयते | तदा समरसत्वं छ समाधिरभिधीयते || ६ ||
तत-समं छ दवयोरैक्यं जीवात्म-परमात्मनोः | परनष्ह्ट-सर्व-सङ्कल्पः समाधिः सोअभिधीयते || 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, [16]

David White states that the above equating of Raja yoga with Samadhi, in Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmaraman, is like the ancient Yajnavalkya's Yoga, where there is the union or identity of the individual and the universal Soul.[17]

Raja yoga as a type of yoga

Some medieval era Indian texts on Yoga list Rajayoga as one of many types of yoga.[18] 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 Astanga yoga; the third is Samkhya yoga, Jñana yoga, Brahma yoga, and Advaita yoga. Of these twelve, Sundardas states that Rajayoga is the best yoga.[18]

Raja yoga as yoga system of Patanjali

Raja yoga is a modern retronym introduced by Swami Vivekananda when he equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[2][4][1][5] During the colonial era, particularly the 19th century, a period of sustained rediscovery and study led to the re-emergence of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vivekananda, Helena Blavatsky and others played a key role in its growth.[19] In 20th century, this text has become the most celebrated text on Yoga.[20] 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").[21][22]

According to Axel Michaels, the Yoga Sutras are built upon fragments of texts and traditions from ancient India.[23] According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (ashtanga yoga) and action yoga (kriya yoga).[24] The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 verse 1-27, chapter 3 except verse 54, and chapter 4.[24] The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 verse 28-55, and chapter 3 verse 3 and 54.[24]

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.[25] 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.[25] 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.[25] 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.[25]

Islamic period

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.[26][27][28] 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.[26] 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.[26][29] 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.[30] By the sixteenth century, Patanjali's Yoga philosophy was nearly extinct.[31] Yoga was preserved by sadhus (ascetics, sannyasis) of India. Some of the Hindu yoga elements were adopted by Sufi sect of Muslims in India.[32][33] 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.[34] The Mughal Emperor Akbar, known for his syncretic tolerance, was attracted to and patronized Yoga philosophy of Hinduism.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, pages 401–444
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mallinson-1 2011.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c White 2014, pp. 109-110.
  5. ^ a b c Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, ISBN 978-1500746940
  6. ^ rAja Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  7. ^ Alain Daniélou (1991), Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, ISBN 978-0892813018, Chapters 1-12
  8. ^ Alain Daniélou (1991), Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, ISBN 978-0892813018, pages 90-96
  9. ^ Antonio Rigopoulos (1998), Dattatreya: The Immortal Guru, Yogin, and Avatara, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791436967, page 62
  10. ^ a b Mallinson-2 2011.
  11. ^ Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, page 404-406
  12. ^ The other three are: Jnana yoga, Karma yoga and Bhakti yoga. See: Yoga in Hinduism - Ways to the Goal
  13. ^ Yoga in Hinduism - Ways to the Goal Oriental Philosophy, Lander University (2011)
  14. ^ Jason Birch (2013), The Amanaska: King of All Yogas, Ph.D. Dissertation, Oxford University
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ a b 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
  17. ^ White 2014, p. 115.
  18. ^ a b Jason Birch (2013), Råjayoga: The Reincarnations of the King of All Yogas, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Volume 17, Issue 3, pages 415-416
  19. ^ White 2011, p. 20-21.
  20. ^ White 2014, p. xvi.
  21. ^ Maas 2006.
  22. ^ Larson, p. 21–22.
  23. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 267.
  24. ^ a b c Feuerstein 1978, p. 108.
  25. ^ a b c d Larson, pp. 43-45
  26. ^ a b c S Pines and T Gelblum (Translators from Arabic to English, 1966), Al-Bīrūni (Translator from Sanskrit to Arabic, ~ 1035 AD), and Patañjali, YogasūtraAl-Bīrūnī's Arabic Version of Patañjali's , Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1966), pages 302-325
  27. ^ David White (2014), - A BiographyYoga Sutra of PatanjaliThe , Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-1-4008-5005-1
  28. ^ Hellmut Ritter, Yoga-Sūtra des Patañjalial-Bīrūnī's übersetzung des , Oriens, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Dec. 31, 1956), pages 165-200 (in German)
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ White 2014, pp. 6-9.
  31. ^ White 2014, pp. 6-16.
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ Jean Filliozat (1991), Religion, Philosophy, Yoga: A Selection of Articles, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120807181, pages 215-230, 293-303
  34. ^ Jamal Malik (2008), Islam in South Asia: A Short History, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004168596, pages 185-186
  35. ^ David White (2014), - A BiographyYoga Sutra of PatanjaliThe , Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-1-4008-5005-1, pages 146-152


Printed sources


Further reading

  • Alain Daniélou (1991), Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, ISBN 978-0892813018, Appendix D: Main Sanskrit Treatises on Yoga

External links

  • Yoga exercises THAI JOURNAL OF PHYSIOLOGICAL SCIENCES (compares Raja yoga to other yogas)
  • Raja Yoga at Brahma Kumaris (difference between BK Raja yoga and Traditional Raja yoga)
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