The Essence of Raja Yoga


The Essence of Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga literally means “Royal Yoga,” because it presents a royal road to the integration of personality and attainment of Liberation. Being universal in nature, Raja Yoga gives a deep insight into the mind and its powers, and into the mystic art of controlling the mind by the practice of concentration, meditation and samadhi (superconsciousness).

According to tradition, the original exponent of Raja Yoga was Hiranyagarbha or the Deity presiding over the Cosmic Mind. It was Patanjali Maharshi who compiled and edited the Sutras of Raja Yoga, probably centuries before Christ. Sutra means “thread,” and the teachings of Raja Yoga are presented in many brief statements, or sutras, into which many thoughts are threaded.

The following is a simple outline of the profound mystic system of Raja Yoga, and a sincere aspirant should firmly implant these principles in his mind as a guideline for his spiritual sadhana.

An important term in Raja Yoga is chitta, which includes ego, intellect, mind (conscious mind) and the unconscious. The very second sutra defines the purpose of Raja Yoga in relation to the chitta : “Yogash chitta-vritti nirodhah” — “Yoga is the cessation of the thought-waves of the chitta.Chitta is compared to a lake. When waves agitate the lake, you cannot see the sky reflected in it; so too, as long as thought-waves continue to agitate the mind-stuff, you cannot discover the fact that you are essentially the Purusha, the Eternal Spirit or the Self, which is ever untouched by the chitta.

Further, chitta in every human being is a gateway to cosmic powers. Being a portion of the Cosmic Mind, when it is highly purified it tunes itself to the Cosmic Mind and thus begins to tap boundless energy from the cosmic source. Therefore, by adopting the techniques of Raja Yoga, an aspirant moves towards Cosmic Consciousness.

Mind is like an iceberg, with only a small portion revealed to you in your daily life. Even in one lifetime you are able to use only a fragment of the vast resources of your mind. But by the practice of Raja Yoga, you are able to understand the staggering mysteries of the chitta that lie hidden from your conscious mind.

The Five Vrittis of the Chitta

There are five types of Vrittis or thought-waves of the mind:

Pramana or right knowledge consists of those thought-waves that reveal the objects as they are from a normal point of view. In other words, a rope is seen as a rope.

Viparyaya or wrong knowledge results in those thought-waves that reveal the objects in an erroneous manner. For example, you see a snake instead of a rope.

Vikalpa or imagination consists of those thought-waves that create an imaginary object on the basis of mere words. For example, someone speaks about snakes, and you begin to imagine a snake even when there is no rope or any other basis.

Nidra or sleep consists of those thought-waves that reveal the absence of the perceptions of the world, as in deep sleep. However, a subtle form of sleep continues to operate even in waking life and is responsible for forgetfulness.

Finally, smriti or memory consists of those thought-waves that enable you to recollect past experiences (including those of sleep).

These vrittis constitute the fabric of your reality in daily life and are intermingled in every experience. When you see a rose, you are experiencing it directly (pramana). You may be wearing glasses that somewhat distort the image of the rose (viparyaya), and your mind may also imagine the rose gardens of Persia (vikalpa). At the same time, certain facts about the rose—its thorns, for example—may be held back from your perception because of nidra vritti, and further, you may also remember how you once enjoyed rose-essence or rose-preserves (smriti).

Further, these vrittis may be either klishta or aklishta (painful or not-painful). If the vrittis of the mind promote ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and fear of death they are called klishta. On the other hand, if they enable you to develop dispassion towards the objects of the world, leading you to the heights of spiritual evolution, they are called aklishta or not-painful.

The Five Kleshas

An aspirant endeavors to destroy the following five kleshas or afflictions:

  1. Avidya or ignorance implies that you are unaware of the fact that you are the Spirit, ever unaffected by Prakriti and its products (the world of matter). 
  2. Asmita or egoism expresses itself through such thoughts as “I am the doer of this action.” “This object is being enjoyed by me.” “I am the possessor of objects.” “I am this body.” And so forth. 
  3. Raga or attachment consists of impressions that are formed on the basis of pleasure, and 
  4. Dwesha or hatred consists of impressions that are formed on the basis of pain. 
  5. Backed up by the impressions of attachment and hatred, you develop karmic involvements and become so identified with the present embodiment that you begin to dread death; this is known as abhinivesha. These five basic kleshas give rise to numerous impurities such as anger, greed and violence.  

Samskaras and Vasanas

These kleshas exist in seed form known as samskaras (subtle impressions), and when they begin to sprout they are called vasanas (subtle desires). Your project is to change the nature of your vasanas and samskaras. Instead of storing the impressions of anger, hatred, greed, and others, you begin to store impressions of cosmic love, contentment, purity, and the experiences of samadhi (superconsciousness). Then as pure samskaras and vasanas begin to fill your unconscious, you advance on the path of Yoga.

Further, the samskaras (the impressions of afflictions) exist in five forms: 

  1. Prasupta (dormant) as in a child. 
  2. Tanu (thinned out) as in a practitioner of Yoga who has reduced the mental impurities. 
  3. Vichhinna (overpowered) as in most people of the world in whom one set of impressions are overpowered by another set. For example, since impressions of attachment are overpowered by those of hatred, you hate an object not knowing that in your act of hating there lies a hidden undercurrent of love as well; it is for this reason you are oftentimes thrown into turmoil by the deceptions caused by your own mind. 
  4. Udara (expanded) as in gross-minded people in whom anger, hatred, and greed continue to function in an unrestricted manner. 
  5. Dagdha (burned up) as in enlightened Sages, in whom the seeds of the kleshas are as if roasted by the fire of knowledge. Their samskaras still exist in order to sustain their life, but they do not create karmic entanglements.

The Three Karmas

There are three types of karmas (actions): vicious, virtuous and neutral: 

  1. Actions based upon anger, greed and hatred intensify the afflictions and are called vicious actions. 
  2. Actions based upon non-violence, purity, absence of greed and other virtues are called virtuous actions. 
  3. Actions performed by enlightened Sages are neither virtuous nor vicious, since they do not create karmic entanglements.

The Three Gunas

According to Raja Yoga, Prakriti is the material cause of this world, and consists of three modes: sattwa (purity and harmony), rajas (externalization and activity), tamas (dullness and inertia). These gunas constitute the basis of the unconscious, the mind, intellect, ego, senses, body and all the objects of the world. 

The oil in an oil-lamp exists in three stages: gross oil in the reservoir represents tamas in one’s personality (stagnant), oil travelling through the wick is symbolic of rajas (active), and the oil burning into flame is symbolic of sattva (illumination). This is also the plan of spiritual evolution: the tamas in your personality must be aroused from its dull state and converted into rajas, rajas must be sublimated into sattwa, and then, when the chitta becomes filled with sattwa, you attain the intuitional realization of the Self.


The Five States of the Chitta

In relation to the impressions and subtle desires (samskaras and vasanas), the chitta is subject to these five states:

  1. Mudha or dull: When the impressions of the afflictions become intense, one’s mind becomes very abnormal. It is filled with despondency, dullness and dark thoughts. There is a predominance of tamas or inertia in the mind.
  2. Kshipta  or distracted: When mind continues to run in random directions, it creates many virtuous as well as sinful karmas. It is predominated by rajas.
  3. Vikshipta (partially distracted): This state develops when there is a gradual increase of sattwa in the mind and one is therefore inclined to virtuous deeds. However, under provocative conditions, the mind may slip back to kshipta or mudha states.
  4. Ekagrata or one-pointed: This state belongs to those Yogis who have developed increasing sattwa in their personalities. In this state a Yogi advances in lower samadhi.
  5. Nirodha or controlled state: This state belongs to the highly advanced Yogi who has attained the highest samadhi and is perfected in the control of chitta.

The Importance of Abhyasa and Vairagya

Abhyasa (repeated practice of Yogic techniques) and vairagya (dispassion) are the two most effective methods of controlling the mind and advancing on the path of Yoga. Dispassion consists of a distaste for the pleasures of the senses that gives rise to an increasing sense of mastery over the objects. In the advanced state of vairagya you find yourself the master of the senses, mind, intellect, ego, and the chitta. Success in concentration, meditation and samadhi is directly related to your degree of vairagya as well as your sustained practice.

The Four Yogic Attitudes Towards Others

There are four attitudes that are helpful in advancing on the spiritual path of Yoga: maitri or friendliness towards those who are equals, mudita or cheerfulness towards those who are superiors, karuna or compassion towards those who are inferiors, and upeksha or indifference towards those who are gross-minded and very backward. By adopting these attitudes when dealing with others, you do not allow your mind to be affected by anger, hatred, jealousy and other vices. Thus you are able to progress steadily on the path.

Surrender to God

Surrender to God is the most important method for removing various obstacles on the path and entering into samadhi. By repeating Om (or whatever mantra you have been initiated into) with proper feeling and mental attitude, you advance in divine surrender. You develop a relaxed mental disposition towards the world and its happenings knowing that you are gently being led by God. You even come to realize that your apparent adverse circumstances are in reality meant to aid your spiritual evolution.

One who has attained profound surrender to God can enter into samadhi in a very short time. Those Yogis who are endowed with the impressions of Yoga from their past lives spontaneously enter meditation and samadhi. On the other hand, most practitioners must follow the eight steps of Yoga.


In order to control, discipline and culture the thought-waves of the mind, Raja Yoga has evolved the Eightfold Discipline, also known as the Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga. They are as follows:

1. Yama (ethical restraints): ahimsa (non-violence), satyam (truthfulness), brahmacharya (celibacy or sex-restraint), asteya (non-stealing), and aparigraha (non-covetousness).

2. Niyama (ethical observances): shaucha (physical and mental purity), santosh (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (study of scriptures and repetition of mantra), and Ishwara pranidhana (surrender to God). 

The above yamas  and niyamas are similar to the ten commandments of the Bible. Furthermore, they exist in every religion in some form or other.

3. Asana (physical poses): This discipline is meant to give stability to the body, so that one may sit in meditation for a long duration.

4. Pranayama (control over the vital forces): This consists of various breathing exercises that are designed to harmonize and control the pranas (vital forces) of the body.

The above two disciplines are the special concern of Hatha Yoga, which is considered a branch of Raja Yoga consisting of many evolved physical poses and breathing exercises geared to promote the fitness of the body and mind.

5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses): This is accomplished in two ways: Firstly, by controlling the pranas, you are able to withdraw your senses from the sense objects at will. Secondly, by controlling the mind, the senses come under the control of your reason and are spontaneously withdrawn through understanding. (This second form of pratyahara is the more mature and advanced form of pratyahara, and is the ideal toward which to strive.) Endowed with pratyahara, you can enjoy the serene atmosphere of a cave even while living in a busy city. On the other hand, if pratyahara is lacking you will always have something disturbing your mind. Even in a peaceful cave, you will find numerous causes for your mental distraction.

These first five steps constitute the external or indirect means to Yoga (the final state of Liberation), while the following three steps are called the internal or direct means to Yoga.

6. Dharana (concentration or one-pointedness): Equipped with moral purity, and physical and mental stability, you enter into the advanced steps of Yoga beginning with the practice of concentration. It consists of training the mind to focus itself on any point (on any object—whether concrete, such as a rose, or abstract, such as bliss).

7. Dhyana (meditation): When the one-pointed state of the mind is maintained without any interruption, with a sense of ease and spontaneity, it is called meditation.

8. Samadhi (superconsciousness): When the mind continues to stay in the state of dhyana, you lose the consciousness of triad—“I am meditating. This is the object of meditation. This is the degree (practice) of meditation.” Consequently, there emerges a mystic consciousness in which your normal consciousness is lost for the time being, and that mystic consciousness transforms your inner nature. Ascending the various states of samadhi, you finally attain Kaivalya or freedom from the world-process.

Samyama – The Key to Unlock Psychic Powers

It is difficult to say where concentration stops and meditation begins, or where meditation stops and samadhi supervenes. Every time you sit to practice meditation, these three go together. Thus, these three together are given a special name, samyama. By the practice of samyama on different objects, one acquires a mystic light (prajna or the light of intuition) that enables you to explore the mysteries of objects, the gross elements, the subtle elements, the individual mind, and the Cosmic Mind.

By practicing certain forms of samyama, you can acquire various psychic powers such as materialization and dematerialization of the body, levitation, thought-reading, extra-sensory perception, invisibility of the body, and many miraculous powers that are inconceivable to the normal mind.

However, if you become interested in these psychic powers, or siddhis, you deviate from the path leading to Liberation. Further, if you lack vairagya or dispassion, you may become vain and deluded because of your psychic powers. And then, by the misuse of psychic powers, you fall from the lofty ideals of Yoga.

Patanjali Maharshi says, “These siddhis are obstacles to the attainment of the highest samadhi, because they continue to externalize the mind.” (Raja Yoga 3/37). On the other hand, when samyama is directed towards the Self, one ascends the heights of samadhi and ultimately attains Liberation.

Aids to Samadhi

1. Ishwara pranidhana: It has been already mentioned that surrender to God is the most effective aid for attaining success in samadhi. This includes meditation on the Divine Self along with repetition of Om or any mantra.

2. Control of prana: By controlling the pranas or vital forces, you bring about control of vasanas or subtle desires of the unconscious. Prana and vasanas are interdependent, and you practice meditation along with certain breathing exercises to harmonize the two.

3. Meditation on sorrow-less minds: By meditating upon Buddha, Jesus or other enlightened personalities, you lead your mind to increasing states of sattwa or purity.

Ascending States of Samadhi

Every object chosen for meditation has four aspects: gross (its physical form), subtle (its constituent elements), subtler (the cosmic mentation underlying the object), and subtlest (the universal Prakriti or Nature). Accordingly, from a broad point of view, samadhi is of four types:

1. Savitarka and nirvitarka: When the mind is able to commune with the gross form of the object, initially the samadhi is called savitarka (with argumentation), and in its intense state it is called nirvitarka (without argumentation).

2. Savichara and nirvichara: When the mind enters the subtle constituent elements, the samadhi is called savichara (with reflection), and when intensified, nirvichara (without reflection).

3. Sananda (blissful): When the mind enters into communion with the Cosmic Mind, you experience a unique sense of joy—as if you have thrown away the burden of your karmas and the goal of unending bliss is within your sight.

4. Sasmita (with “I-am-ness”): Gradually the mind enters into that lofty state from where you can see the origin of your ego-sense. It is the state where chitta (the mind-stuff) and Purusha (the Self) blend like the ocean and the sky during the hours of sunrise.

These four stages of superconsciousness are called lower samadhi, compared to the following that is the highest state of samadhi.

5. Asamprajnata samadhi: By the perfection of lower samadhi, you attain viveka khyati, or intuitional knowledge that reveals the fact that the mind-stuff is ever detached from the Spirit or the Self. Then you begin to develop detachment towards the mind-stuff itself. This is termed as para vairagya, or supreme dispassion. 

In this stage, you plunge yourself in the universal expansion of your own innermost Self. You are no longer dependent upon the various layers of “matter,” and therefore, this samadhi is called niralamba, or “without support.” And since the seeds of karmas are burned up during this samadhi, it is called nirbija, or “without seed.” In this state you attain Self-Realization and become free of the world-process.

 Experiences in Samadhi

To convey the profound experiences of samadhi, Raja Yoga uses highly poetic terms, which are as follows:

Ritambhara prajna (truth-filled vision): When you advance in lower samadhi, your intellect becomes filled with the vision of truth.

Prashanta vahit (peaceful flow of mind): When you begin to enter into asamprajnata and your vision of knowledge continues to be unobstructed, you experience a stream of boundless peace flowing in the depths of your heart.

Dharma megha (the cloud of virtue): With the increasing impressions of your cosmic expansion during lower and higher samadhi, you develop a state of mystic saturation. These impressions (like luminous clouds of the highest virtue) gather in your heart and begin to shower the nectar of immortality (the vision of freedom).

Kaivalya or Liberation

A Yogi who has attained Enlightenment experiences the following:

1. The feeling that all that was to be known has been known.

2. The awareness that all that was to be abandoned (including ignorance) has been abandoned.

3. The realization that all that is to be attained (including the highest attainment—the intuitional knowledge of the Self) has been attained.

4. The experience that there is an absolute cessation of pain, and the goal of one’s existence has been realized; one is Liberated.

5. The knowledge that there is no more need for the chitta, which has accomplished its two-fold purpose of bhoga (to bring experiences of pleasure and pain) and apavarga (to bring about spiritual evolution culminating in Liberation). As long as you have not attained Liberation, you need the chitta as well as your material vehicle—the body—in order to experience the pleasure and pain through which you continue evolving until the highest state of Liberation is attained.

6. Freedom from the gunas. The gunas or modes of Nature that continue to flow on in order to nourish and sustain your mind, intellect, senses, and body, now enter into a process of involution. Like rocks falling from a mountain top, they continue to fall into the boundless ocean of Prakriti or Nature.

7. Establishment in the Self: You become a Jivanmukta or one liberated in life. Though performing your duties, you are ever rooted in the Self. In the state of ignorance, your spirit continued to experience pleasure and pain due to its identification with the various thought-waves of the mind; but now, freed of the chitta and its thought-waves, you abide in your innermost Self.

Author’s Note: This has been a simple outline of the profound mystic system of Raja Yoga, and an aspirant must study the Sutras of Raja Yoga for more insight into various key points that have been presented here.


With deep gratitude to, and permission from, Swami Jyotirmayananda

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