Raja Yoga


Sri Swami Sivananda

The Philosophy of Yoga
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
States of the Mind
Obstacles in Meditation
Three Classes of Aspirants
Ashtanga Yoga
Further Reading

The Philosophy of Yoga

It is said that the original propounder of classical Yoga was Hiranyagarbha Himself. It is Patanjali Maharishi who formulated this science into a definite system under the name of Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. This forms one of the Shad-Darsananas or Classical Systems of Philosophy. Vyasa has explained the original aphorisms or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and this has been further elaborated through a gloss by a learned author named Vachaspati Mishra, and through the celebrated writings of Vijnana Bhikshu.

The Yoga, in allegiance to the Sankhya, holds that there is an eternal and omnipresent inert Prakriti and a plurality of omnipresent Conscious Purusha. The Yoga accepts a third principle, viz., Ishvara. The contact of the Purusha with Prakriti makes the latter evolve itself into its various effects. The Purusha, due to Aviveka (non-discrimination), feels that it is an individual on account of its identification with Prakriti and its modifications.

The Yoga concerns itself with the method of freeing the Purusha from this bondage through right effort. Yoga is, thus, more a practical way of attainment than a philosophical excursion into the realms of the Spirit. As a Darsana, it is Sa-Ishvara Sankhya, i.e., it sanctions the twenty-five Tattvas of the Sankhya and adds one more, Ishvara. In doing so, Yoga fulfills its own characteristic of being an utterly practical system of Sadhana. When covered over by the veil of ignorance (Aviveka), the Purusha imagines that He is imperfect, incomplete, and that fulfillment can be had only in His conjunction with Prakriti. The Purusha then, so to say, begins to gaze at Prakriti; and in the light of His consciousness, the inert Prakriti commences its kaleidoscopic display of objects. The Purusha, due to Prakriti-Samyoga, appears to desire for enjoyment of these objects. He acts, as it were. He seems to grasp the objects. Now bondage, though not e ssential to the Purusha, is complete and the vicious circle is kept up. Transmigration of the individual is the consequence of Aviveka and its effects. Yoga by its scientific processes cuts these three knots one by one and leads to Kaivalya Moksha which is the realization of the true Purusha as independent of Prakriti and its evolutes.

Deep within everyone there is an abiding faith in a Supreme Being, someone to whom a Sadhaka can look up for help and guidance, for protection and inspiration. But the ego does not allow this to happen. Disentanglement of the Purusha from the ego alone can lead to Its release from the snares of Prakriti. The ego can hardly be subdued by subjective analysis only; but it is easy to discriminate this ego as separate from the Purusha when it is voluntarily offered as a sacrifice at the altar of self-surrender to a Supreme Being, Ishvarapranidhana. This is the hypothesis of the Yoga, in addition to its exhortation to put forth effort (Sadhana-Marga).

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Raja Yoga is the king of Yogas. It concerns directly with the mind. In this Yoga there is no struggling with Prana or physical body. There are no Hatha Yogic Kriyas. The Yogi seats at ease, watches his mind and silences the bubbling thoughts. He stills the mind, restraints the thought-waves and enters into the thoughtless state or Asamprajnata Samadhi, Hence the name Raja Yoga. Though Raja Yoga is a dualistic philosophy and treats of Prakriti and Purusha, it helps the student in Advaitic Realization of oneness eventually. Though there is the mention of Purusha, ultimately the Purusha becomes identical with Highest Self or Purusha, or Brahman of Upanishads. Raja Yoga pushes the student to the highest rung of the spiritual ladder of Advaitic realization of Brahman.

Patanjali’s Yoga system is written in Sutras. A ‘Sutra’ is a terse verse. It is an aphoristic saying. It is pregnant with deep, hidden significance. Rishis of yore have expressed philosophical ideas and their realization in the form of Sutras only. It is very difficult to understand the meaning of the Sutras without the help of a commentary, a gloss or a teacher who is well-versed in Yoga. A Yogi with full realization can explain the Sutras beautifully. Literally, Sutra means a thread. Just as various kinds of flowers with different colours are nicely arranged in a string, to make a garland, just as rows of pearls are beautifully arranged in a string to form a necklace, so also Yogic ideas are well-arranged in Sutras. They are arranged into Chapters.

The First Chapter is Samadhi-pada. It deals with different kinds of Samadhi. It contains 51 Sutras. Obstacles in meditation, five kinds of Vritti and their control, three kinds of Vairagya, nature of Ishvara, various methods to enter into Samadhi and the way to acquire peace of mind by developing virtues are described here.

The Second Chapter is Sadhana-pada. It contains 55 Sutras. It treats of Kriya Yoga, viz., Tapas, study and self-surrender to God, the five Kleshas or afflictions, the methods to destroy these afflictions which stand in the way of getting Samadhi, Yama and Niyama and their fruits, practice of Asana and its benefits, Pratyahara and its advantage, etc.

The Third Chapter is Vibhuti-pada. It contains 56 Sutras. It treats of Dharana, Dhyana and various kinds of Samyama on external objects, mind, internal Chakras and on several objects, to acquire various Siddhis.

The Fourth Chapter is Kaivalya-pada or Independence. It contains 34 Sutras. It treats of the independence of a full-blown Yogi who has perfect discrimination between Prakriti and Purusha, and who has separated himself from the three Guna. It also deals with mind and its nature. Dharmamegha Samadhi also is described here.

States of the Mind

Raja Yoga is mainly concerned with the mind, its modifications and its control. There are five states of the mind – Kshipta, Mudha, Vikshipta, Ekagra and Niruddha. Usually the mind is running in various directions; its rays are scattered. This is the Kshipta state. Sometimes it is self-forgetful, it is full of foolishness (Mudha). When you try to practice concentration, the mind seems to get concentrated but gets distracted often. This is Vikshipta. But with prolonged and repeated practice of concentration again and again, and repeating Lord’s Name, it becomes one-pointed. This is called the Ekagra state. Later on, it is fully controlled (Niruddha). It is ready to be dissolved in the Supreme Purusha, when you get Asamprajnata Samadhi.

To have peace of mind, you will have to cultivate the four great virtues – Maitri, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha. Maitri (friendliness), you should have towards equals. You should have Karuna (compassion) for those who are in distress. You should have Mudita (complacency) towards those who are superior to you. Complacency will destroy jealousy. All are your brothers. If a man is placed in a better position, feel happy over it. When you come across wicked people, be indifferent to them. This is Upeksha (indifference). By these methods, you will have peace of mind.


The five kinds of afflictions are: Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga (attraction), Dvesha (aversion) and Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life). Samadhi destroys all this. Raga and Dvesha have five states – Udara (fully manifest), Vicchinna (hidden), Tanu (thinned out), Prasupta (dormant) and Dagdha (burnt). In worldly-minded people who are sunk in worldliness, Raga and Dvesha assume an Udara Avastha; they are in an expanded state i.e., they have a full and unhampered play. Vicchinna Avastha is that state in which Raga and Dvesha are hidden. The husband and wife sometimes quarrel; then love is temporarily hidden. Again she smiles; then love comes back. This is Vicchinna Avastha. Some people do a little bit of Pranayama, Kirtan and Japa. In them Raga and Dvesha become thinned out (Tanu Avastha). Sometimes, on account of unsuitable conditions, they lie dormant (Prasupta Avastha). In Samadhi they are burnt – Dagdha. Raga and Dvesha constitute this Samsara. They constitute the mind. Mind is a force which has no real entity but appears to be for the time being, and deludes the Jivas. It is superior to Prana. It is superior to matter. But, above the mind there is discrimination. Discrimination can control the mind; enquiry into your real nature or Atma-Vichara can control the mind. If you destroy the Raga-Dvesha through meditation and Samadhi, the mind will be annihilated. Your effort should be daily to practice concentration, even for five or ten minutes; then you will be able to control the mind and enter into Samadhi.

Obstacles in Meditation

There are several obstacles to meditation. Vedanta describes the obstacles to be Laya, Vikshepa, Kashaya and Rasasvada. Patanjali says: “Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, worldly-mindedness, illusion, missing the point, unstability – these are obstacles in Yoga.” Grief, melancholy, tremor of the body, inhalation and exhalation are auxiliaries to these main obstacles. You will have to remove all these obstacles. During meditation, if you are overpowered by sleep, stand up, dash cold water on the face, practice a few Asanas and Pranayama. Sleep will go. Another age-old practice is, for those who have a ‘choti’ (tuft of hair), to tie the tuft to a nail of wall by means of a thread – if you doze during meditation, the nail on the wall will pull you up. Take light food at night. Abhyasa and Vairagya are the best means of avoiding obstacles. Vairagya is not running away from the world. Vairagya is a mental state. Analyze your thoughts. Scrutinize your motives. Give up the objects that your mind likes most, at least for some time. When the craving for them has vanished, then you can take them, as a master.

Three Classes of Aspirants

Raja Yoga is the royal road to freedom from misery. It treats of the four great principles: misery, its cause, freedom from misery and the means. The practice of the methods prescribed in Raja Yoga leads to the cessation of all miseries and attainment of eternal bliss. Practice from today. Never miss a day. Remember each day brings you nearer to the end of earthly existence as human being. You have wasted many days, many months and many years. You do not realize it because you have drunk the liquor of Moha. Therefore, you do not understand the real cause of the miseries of this earthly life.

The cause of this misery is Avidya. When the sun of discrimination arises within, the Purusha realizes that He is distinct from Prakriti, that He is independent and unaffected. Raja Yoga gives you a most practical method of bringing about this exalted state.

According to Raja Yoga, there are three types of aspirants – Uttama, Madhyama and Adhama Adhikaris. To three classes of aspirants Raja Yoga prescribes three kinds of Sadhana. To the Uttama Adhikari (first-class aspirant) Raja Yoga prescribes Abhyasa and Vairagya. He practices meditation on the Self; he practices Chitta-Vritti-Nirodha (restraining the modification of the mind-stuff) and soon enters into Samadhi. This is practice (Abhyasa) sustained by Vairagya. To the Madhyama Adhikari (middling aspirant) Raja Yoga prescribes the Kriya Yoga – Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana. Tapas is austerity. Egolessness and selfless service are the greatest forms of Tapas. Humility and desirelessness are the greatest forms of austerity. Practice these through ceaseless, untiring, selfless service. Practice the three kinds of Tapas mentioned in the Gita. Disciplinary practices like fasting, etc., also come under Tapas. Svadhyaya is study of spiritual literature and also Japa of your Ishta Mantra. Ishvarapranidhana is self-surrender to the Lord and doing all actions as Ishvararpana, as offering unto the Lord. These three form the Sadhanas of the Madhyama Adhikari who enters into deep meditation very soon and attains Kaivalya Moksha. To the Adhama Adhikari, lowest kind of aspirant, Raja Yoga prescribes Ashtanga Yoga or the eightfold Sadhana – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Ashtanga Yoga

Patanjali’s Raja Yoga is generally termed the Ashtanga Yoga or the Yoga of Eight Limbs, through the practice of which freedom is achieved. These eight limbs are:

  1. Yama
  2. or Eternal Vows:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truth)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (continence) and
  • Aparigraha (non-avariciousness);

  • Niyama
  • or Observances:

    • Saucha (purity)
    • Santosha (contentment)
    • Tapas (austerities)
    • Svadhyaya (study) and
    • Ishvarapranidhana (surrender to God);

  • Asana
  • (firm, comfortable meditative posture);

  • Pranayama
  • (the regulation of the Vital Force);

  • Pratyahara
  • (abstraction of the senses and mind from objects);

  • Dharana
  • (concentration);

  • Dhyana
  • (meditation); and

  • Samadhi
  • (superconscious state or trance)

    These eight limbs have been scientifically arranged and dealt with. They are the natural steps in the ladder which takes man from his human to the real divine nature. From the gross to the subtle, all the chords that bind the Purusha to Prakriti are cut asunder. This snapping of the ties releases the Purusha to enjoy his Independence, Kaivalya Moksha. This is the goal of Raja Yoga.

    Yama and Niyama purify the individual’s actions and make them more Sattvic. Tamas and Rajas which are the pillars of Samsara are pulled down through the practice of the Ten Canons of Yama and Niyama. Inner purity is increased. The individual’s nature itself is made Sattvic. Asana gives the individual control over the Rajasic impulses; and at the same time it forms the foundation of the grand structure of Antaranga Sadhana, or the Inner Yoga-process. Pranayama brings the aspirant face to face with the Life-Principle. Control of this Life-Principle gives him an insight into its motive force. He is made aware of the fact that it is desire that sustains the life-force. Desire is the cause of externalization of the mind. Desire is the bed of Vrittis. Vrittis together form the mind, and it is the mind that links Purusha with Prakriti. The mind or the Chitta is the subtlest form of Prakriti’s manifestations. If mind is to be destroyed, Vrittis are to be eradicated. If Vrittis are to be eradicated, desire is to be rooted out. The Yogi than rapidly withdraws all the rays of the mind from their external propulsion (Pratyahara). To find the root of the mind, the Seed-Desire, he needs the light of the whole mind. At the same time, prevention of the externalization of the mind breaks the vicious circle, as desire is deprived of its active manifestation. This concentrated beam of light is then directed towards the root of the mind itself (Dharana); and the mind is held in check. Now the consciousness which had so long been flowing outward collects itself and flows back into its source – the Purusha within, which is Dhyana. The link with Prakriti is gone. The Purusha experiences the transcendental state of independence – Kaivalya – in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Now ignorance is destroyed. The Purusha realizes that it was only His consciousness that gave Prakriti its power to please Him, to give Him joy, to delude Him, and to bind Him. He enjoys the bliss of His own nature and remains for ever independent and blissful. All thought ceases once for all in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. The seeds of Desire and Vasanas and Samskaras are fried in toto; this is Nirbija Samadhi. The Yogi in this supreme state loses all external consciousness, all awareness of duality and multiplicity; he loses even the I-idea (Asmita) in Asamprajnata Samadhi. That is the Supreme State where the Seer (Purusha) is established in His own Svarupa.

    Do not imagine that you are an Uttama Adhikari and that you have only to sit in meditation and enter into Samadhi. You will have a terrible downfall. Even after years of practice you will find you have not progressed an inch forward, because there are deep within you lurking desires and cravings, evil Vrittis which are far beyond your reach. Be humble. Make a searching analysis of your heart and mind. Even if you are really a first-class aspirant, think you are an aspirant of the lowest class and practice the eightfold Sadhana prescribed by Raja Yoga. The more time you spend in the first two steps, viz., Yama and Niyama, the less will be the time needed to attain perfection in meditation. It is the preparation that takes very long. But do not wait for perfection in Yama and Niyama, in order to take up the higher practices of Asana, Pranayama and meditation. Try to get established in Yama and Niyama, and at the same time practice Asana, Pranayama and meditation as much as you can. The two must go hand in hand. Then success will be rapid. You will soon enter into Nirvikalpa Samadhi and attain Kaivalya Moksha. What that supreme state is no one has described, and no words can describe. Practice, O bold aspirant, and realize it for yourself. May you shine as a Yogi in this very birth!

    Further Reading

      Raja Yoga Text, Word-To-Word Meaning, Translation And Commentary of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Maharshi by Swami Sivananda.
      TheYoga Sutras of Patanjali with commentary by Swami Venkatesananda.

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