Raja Yoga


Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga, the "royal" or sovereign approach to yoga, is associated with yoga as a philosophical school. Indian philosophy is traditionally classified into six "orthodox" darshanas (schools, or points of view) - "orthodox" meaning here a point of view which regards the Vedas as an authoritative source. That Vedic orientation distinguishes the yoga school from other schools of philosophy, such as the Buddhist and Jain traditions, even while agreeing with those schools on numerous points. The Yoga darshana is generally paired with the older Samkhya darshana, a dualistic and non-theistic school of thought whose views of the universe and its workings provide the theoretical framework of Ayurveda, making Yoga and Ayurveda "sister disciplines" with slightly different, but complementary, approaches to the problem of relieving human suffering.

The major texts of Raja Yoga are the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, with Swami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika – though not usually considered a Raja Yoga text – deserving mention.

  • The Bhagavad-Gita is a section of the epic Mahabharata. It outlines three main types of yoga: jnana, the knowledge of knowledge or wisdom; karma, the yoga of works and action; and bhakti, the yoga of devotion. The aim of all three paths is the cultivation of a life of selfless action, that is, the performance of duty (dharma) without attachment to personal gain. The Gita identifies Yoga with Samkhya, and emphasizes the importance of understanding the nature and function of the gunas, the three foundational energies of the physical universe (prakriti).
  • The Yoga Sutra (3rd century BCE - 2nd century CE) is the first systematic compilation of yoga techniques and theory. Its compiler/editor/author, Patanjali, is regarded in some circles as a divine incarnation. Its metaphysics are similar to Samkhya. The goal of the Yoga Sutra is the escape from suffering occasioned by the mistaken identification of the individual purusha (soul, consciousness) with prakriti. This deliverance is accomplished through the dismantling of false identification through two related schemes. The first, kriya yoga, the yoga of action, involving the practice of ascetic discipline (tapas), self-cultivation (svadhyaya), and devotion to the Lord (isvara-pranidhana) – a threefold scheme reminiscent of the one in the Gita. The second, known as ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga, is devoted to the practice of a series of mahavratas, great universal vows or practices, which Patanjali says are applicable to all people, at all times and in all conditions. These are the famous yamas and niyamas.
  • The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (14th – 15th century CE) is attributed to the legendary sage Goraknatha (9-10th century CE?), who founded the school of Hatha ("forceful") Yoga for the benefit of those unable to aspire to Raja Yoga. (Hatha Yoga Pradipika I.I.3). This text places far more emphasis on asana than does the Yoga Sutra, and emphasizes physical practices - conceived of both as psychophysiological and as symbolically devotional in nature – which are designed to awaken and channel energies within the body.



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