India – the land of Maharajas and Ancient Yogis. Who’s surprised to find Raja Yoga, the ‘king of all yogas’ too? …
India was a multi-cultured land with numerous regional chiefs bestowed with the titles ‘Raja’ or ‘Maharaja’. Rajput was even the name given to the ruling clans of the West desert region of Rajasthan, where men can still be seen today riding a camel adorned in traditional costume – a real throwback to medieval Afghanistan.
Raja means ‘royal’ or ‘highest’, and so this yoga is often called the ‘highest yoga’ or the ‘royal yoga’. What this refers to simply is a system of yoga which has as its singular aim the supreme attainment of consciousness, or the more recognizable term, ‘self-realization’.
What is this Highest Yoga?
The term Raja Yoga was originally coined to stress the higher status of the meditational yoga practices, which it primarily encompasses, over the physical practices of, say, hatha yoga.
But anyone who has ever studied yoga, or engaged in any ‘spiritual discipline’ for that matter, knows that it is difficult to simply jump into lofty, mental practices.… In fact, it’s nearly impossible, especially for the average person today.
And so this ‘royal yoga’ can better be seen as a complex, multi-layered system, where much preparation is needed before the higher aims can be reached. Therefore, although in the purest sense this yoga encompasses mainly the inner aspects of the 8-stage system of yoga – or in other words, the three final stages of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (mergence with the Divine), it has to also rely on the outer practices of hatha yoga in order for the practitioner to be properly prepared for these difficult, ‘inner practices’.
Hatha and Raja
Raja and hatha yoga then, although they are each defined with their own boundaries, are essentially two ends of the same pole. As the HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA states,
“There can be no Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga and no Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga. Hatha is the preparation for Raja and Raja is the [ultimate] goal of Hatha Yoga.”
This ‘highest yoga’ involves highly evolved mental practices, and so of all the different types of yoga, it can really be seen as the ‘mental yoga’… or even be rightly called the ‘yoga of the mind’ because at its highest stages, the body itself is transcended by the mind.
Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga
The 8 limbs of sage Patanjali’s classical ashtanga yoga, in its entirety, is often referred to as raja yoga as well. This makes quite good sense, because this graduated system of ashtanga yoga takes the practitioner not only through the very important preparatory stages of bodily purification and mental and emotional coonditioning, but also continues to guide the sadhaka through the realm of the higher mental stages of yoga. It is truly a complete system for the evolution of the consciousness to the ‘highest’ state of Self-realization.
So within this context this ‘royal yoga’ is often seen as the ‘one yoga’ within which many of the other branches of yoga exist. As you may have figured, all of these ‘subsets’, so-to-speak, function in various ways to prepare one for the ‘highest yoga’ of mergence with the Divine Oneness.
Some of the more specific branches of yoga that could be seen to fall within the traditional branch of raja yoga are: