Raja yoga translates as raja, meaning "royal" and yoga, meaning "union." This concept refers to the individual uniting with the divine. In Hindu philosophy, raja yoga is considered classical yoga and one of the six astika (orthodox) schools of yoga.
The great sage Patanjali introduced the eight limbs of raja yoga in his Yoga Sutras. This regal discipline aims to establish the student in an experience of oneness with God. The yoga sutra techniques are a progressive thread that weaves the student through a path to enlightenment.
These techniques involve personal conduct (yama), devotion (niyama), integration between the body and mind through physical yoga positions (asana), body and mind integration through the regulation of the breath (pranayama), the disruption of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), inner focus of meditation (dhyana), and finally, the transcendence of thought, body and emotions or pure awareness (samadhi).
The biggest obstacle in understanding raja yoga is that the student learns and tries to comprehend it intellectually, yet attainment is strictly experienced subjectively. According to Hindu philosophy, only when the student has a direct experience of raja yoga can his true understanding and cognition of it be complete and fully realized.
Hindu philosophy stems from the Vedas and explains the universe and the laws of nature as gods, or personifications of particular aspects of nature. A specific deity is the result of every natural influence and governs that realm of existence. These verbal traditions were passed down from master to disciple in the form of stories and analogies that could easily be remembered and become part of one's life.
The difficulty with all forms of yoga is that the mind will wander and be unable to establish itself in the state of being or pure awareness. This is because of impurities in the body and mind. Every emotional and physical experience that we have is capable of causing a slight modification, distorting and influencing the pure mind, or pure state of being. This in turn keeps the mind moving from thought to thought, craving and searching for some unrecognized need and prevents the mind from settling to a quieter state.
There are many systems taught in modern times that call themselves raja yoga, yet rarely is it seen in its pure form. Meditation is the primary key to attaining this state of perfect union with God and the knowledge of the universe.
By purifying the body and mind through the Yoga Sutra techniques, the mind is capable of settling down to a state of pure awareness or being. In this state, the student can experience the self without identification with any thoughts or emotions of the outside world.
With meditation, the student reverses the thinking process and explores the inward direction of a thought until it reaches the source of thought. In this reservoir of energy and intelligence, the student understands and experiences the universe in its pure form and is capable of comprehending a much purer concept of God.