In Sanskrit texts, R?ja yoga was both the goal of yoga and a method to attain it. The term also became a modern name for the practice of yoga in the 19th-century when Swami Vivekananda gave his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in his book Raja Yoga. Since then, R?ja yoga has variously been called a?ga yoga, royal yoga, royal union, sahaja marg, and classical yoga.
R?ja (Sanskrit: ) means "chief, best of its kind" or "king". R?ja yoga thus refers to "chief, best of yoga".
The historical use of the term R?ja yoga is found in other contexts, quite different from its modern usage. In ancient and medieval Sanskrit texts, it meant the highest state of yoga practice (one reaching samadhi). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, states that Hatha yoga is one of the ways to achieve R?ja yoga.
R?ja yoga is discussed in the Yogatattva Upanishad. It is then mentioned in a 16th-century commentary on a specific step in the Yoga S?tras of Patañjali. The medieval era Tantric work Datt?treyayogastra explains in 334 shlokas the principles of four yogas: Mantra yoga, Hatha yoga, Laya yoga and Raja yoga. Alain Daniélou states that R?ja yoga was, in the historic literature of Hinduism, one of five known methods of yoga, with the other four being Hatha yoga, Mantra yoga, Laya yoga and Shiva yoga. Daniélou translates it as "Royal way to reintegration of Self with Universal Self (Brahman)".
The term became a modern retronym in the 19th-century when Swami Vivekananda equated raja yoga with the Yoga S?tras of Patañjali. This meaning is different from that in the Hatha Yoga Prad?pik?, a text of the Natha sampradaya.
Modern interpretations and literature that discuss Raja yoga often credit Patañjali's Yogas?tras as their textual source, but many neither adopt the teachings nor the philosophical foundations of the Yoga school of Hinduism. This mixing of concepts has led to confusion in understanding historical and modern Indian literature on Yoga.
The Shaiva Yoga text, Amanaska, dated from the 12th century CE or earlier, is a dialogue between Vamadeva and the deity Shiva. In the second chapter, the text mentions Raja yoga. It states that it is so named because it enables the yogin to reach the illustrious king within oneself, the supreme self. Raja yoga is declared as the goal where one experiences nothing but the bliss of the undisturbed, the natural state of calm, serenity, peace, communion within and contentment.
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Raja yoga, samadhi, unmani, manonmani, amaratva, laya, tatva, sunya, asunya, parama pada,
amanaska, advaita, niralamba, niranjana, jivanmukti, sahaja and turiya denote the same state of being.
Just as with salt dissolved in water becomes one with it, so the union of Atman and Manas (mind) is denominated samadhi,
When the breath becomes exhausted, and mind becomes Praliyate (still, reabsorbed), they fuse into union called samadhi.
This equality, this oneness of the two, the living self and the absolute self, when all Sankalpa (desire, cravings) end is called samadhi.-- Hath Yoga Pradipika, 4.3 - 4.7, 
Some medieval Indian texts on Yoga list Rajayoga as one of many types of yoga. For example, the 17th-century Sarvanga yoga pradipikå, a Braj-bhashya commentary by Sundardas, teaches three tetrads of Yogas. The first group is Bhakti yoga, Mantra yoga, Laya yoga, and Carcha yoga; the second is Hatha yoga, Raja yoga, Laksha yoga, and Ashtanga yoga; the third is Samkhya yoga, Jñana yoga, Brahma yoga, and Advaita yoga. Of the twelve, Sundardas states that Rajayoga is the best yoga.
One meaning of Raja yoga is as a modern retronym introduced by Swami Vivekananda, when he equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. After its circulation in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, many Indian scholars reviewed it, then published their Bhya (notes and commentary) on it. Together, they form a canon called the P?tañjalayogastra ("The Treatise on Yoga of Patañjali").
According to Axel Michaels, the Yoga Sutras are built upon fragments of texts and traditions from ancient India. According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (ashtanga yoga) and action yoga (kriya yoga). The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 verse 1-27, chapter 3 except verse 54, and chapter 4. The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 verse 28-55, and chapter 3 verse 3 and 54.
There are numerous parallels in the ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma schools of thought, particularly from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century AD, notes Larson. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras may be a synthesis of these three traditions. From the Samkhya school of Hinduism, Yoga Sutras adopt the "reflective discernment" (adhyavasaya) of prakrti and purusa (dualism), its metaphysical rationalism, and its three epistemic methods to gaining reliable knowledge. From Abhidharma Buddhism's idea of nirodhasamadhi, suggests Larson, Yoga Sutras adopt the pursuit of an altered state of awareness. However, unlike Buddhism, which believes that there is neither self nor soul, Yoga is physicalist and realist, like Samkhya, in believing that each individual has a self and soul. The third concept that Yoga Sutras synthesizes into its philosophy is the ancient ascetic traditions of isolation, meditation and introspection, as well as the yoga ideas from the 1st millennium BCE Indian texts such as Katha Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad and Maitri Upanishad.
In early 11th century, the Persian scholar Al Biruni visited India, lived among Hindus for 16 years, and with their help translated several significant Sanskrit works into Arabic and Persian. One was Patanjali's Yogasutras. Along with generally accurate translations, Al Biruni's text has significant differences from Yogasutra manuscripts discovered in India during the 19th century. Al Biruni's record has helped modern scholars establish that Patanjali's Yogasutras manuscript existed in India in many versions, each with multiple commentaries by Hindu scholars. Some of these versions and commentaries are either lost or undiscovered. Al Biruni's translation preserved many of the core themes of Yoga philosophy of Hinduism; however, certain sutras and analytical commentaries were restated, making them more consistent with Islamic monotheistic theology. Al Biruni's version of Yoga Sutras reached Persia and Arabian peninsula by about 1050 AD.
In Indian historical timeline, marking with the arrival of Islam in India in twelfth century, further development and literature on Yoga philosophy of Hinduism went into decline. By the sixteenth century, Patanjali's Yoga philosophy was nearly extinct. Yoga was preserved by sadhus (ascetics, sannyasis) of India. Some of the Hindu yoga elements were adopted by Sufi sect of Muslims in India. The Sufi Muslims at times adopted and protected the Yoga tradition of Hindus during the Islamic rule of India, and at other times helped the persecution and violence against those Hindus. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, known for his syncretic tolerance, was attracted to and patronized Yoga philosophy of Hinduism.
The yoga scholar Stephen Cope identifies the following similarities between Raja yoga and Buddhism. He notes that the two philosophies are not the same, but are strikingly similar, having shared a long period of interchange up to about 500 CE.
|Primary problems||Duhkha (suffering)|
Seeing reality clearly
|Problem-solving method 1:
Cultivate skilful behaviours
|Sila (ethical practices)|
|Problem-solving method 2:
Cultivate concentrated states
|Problem-solving method 3:
Use states to explore self
(i.e. dharana, dhyana, samadhi)
other insight practices
|View of ordinary reality||4 Erroneous Beliefs
-- reality of body,
-- that suffering is happiness,
-- that body/mind is true self
|3 Marks of Existence,|
obscured by error:
-- anicca (impermanence)
-- anatta (no-self)
-- duhkha (suffering)
|The end of suffering||Kaivalya (emancipation)||Nirvana ("unbinding"|
|Shared concepts||nirodha (cessation)|
prajna (intuitive wisdom)
samskara (unconscious pattern)
|Shared approaches||Direct investigation of reality (not metaphysics)|
using self-study, self-reliance, self-liberation