Whenever we think of Raja-yoga we think of eight-limbed (ashtanga) path mentioned in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras in Samkhya tradition. Samkhya Philosophy advocates dualism of two ultimate realities: Prakriti , matter and Purusha, self (spirit). Samkhya represents the theory and Yoga represents the application or the practical aspects. Many consider Raja-Yoga of Patañjali’s to be mostly about only about mental and physical disciples and consider and consider Patañjali as an inventor of the Yoga teachings.
The original Yoga tradition is not the Patanjali tradition but the Hiranyagarbha tradition. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is only referred to as a compiler. Older scriptures portray Hiranyagarbha as the original teacher of Yoga. Hiranyagarbha tradition gives Brahman (Pure Consciousness or the Absolute) its central place in practice of yoga while Patanjali emphasizes the Purusha rather than Brahman.
Most of us know Sri Adi Sankaracharya as the greatest exponent of the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta but we should remember that he was a great Raja Yogi as well. Sri Adi Sankaracharya discusses all the important aspects of Raja Yoga in his different books. A burning desire to know Brahman or free is called Mumukshutva. This desire is the starting point of Self-inquiry also knows as Raja-Yoga. He explained Raja-Yoga in the context of Vedanta in The Aparokshanubhuti – here it is:
Yama -The restraint of all the senses by means of such knowledge as “All this is Brahman” is rightly called Yama, which should be practiced again and again.
Niyama – The continuous flow of only one kind of thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts is called Niyama, which is verily the supreme bliss and is regularly practiced by the wise.
Asans (posture) – One should known that as real posture in which the meditation on Brahman flows spontaneously and unceasingly and not any other that destroys one’s happiness.
Pratyahara – The absorption of the mind in the Supreme Consciousness by realizing Atman in all objects is known as Pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind) which should be practiced by the seekers after liberation.
Pranayama– The restraint of all modifications of the mind by regarding all mental states like the Chitta (subconscious mind) as Brahman alone, is called Pranayama.
The negation of the phenomenal world is known as Rechaka (breathing out), the thought, “I am verily Brahman,” is called Puraka (breathing in), and the steadiness of that thought thereafter is called Kumbhaka (restraining the breath). This is the real course of Pranayama for the enlightened, whereas the ignorant only torture the nose.
Dharana – The steadiness of the mind through realization of Brahman wherever the mind goes, is known as the supreme Dharana (concentration).
Dhyana – Remaining independent of everything as a result of the unassailable thought, “I am verily Brahman”, is well known by the word Dhyana (meditation), and is productive of supreme bliss.
Samadhi – The complete forgetfulness of all thought by first making it changeless and then identifying it with Brahman is called Samadhi known also as knowledge
Sri Adi Sankaracharya explanation is same as older integral Yoga-Vedanta. It was this Yoga-Vedanta that was taught by great modern Yoga gurus of India like Vivekananda, Shivananda, and others.
Note: Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras also has references to Kriya Yoga that was popularized in the west by Sri Paramahansa Yogananda.
Adi Sankaracharya’s APAROKSHANUBHUTI [SELF-REALISATION]
Translated by Swami Vimuktananda
Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta
The Fifteen fold Non-dualistic Raja Yoga of Shankaracharya By David Frawley
The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha By David Frawley
APAROKSHANUBHUTI Translated by Swami Vimuktananda Commentary by James Swartz