Raja yoga is in practice an exploration and training of the mind. Ultimately this leads to complete mastery and understanding of the mind. Hatha Yoga was designed to prepare and help with the practice of Raja Yoga. Therefore both these forms of yoga can be practiced alongside each other. The source of Raja Yoga is contained in a volume called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (refer to wikipedia). There are many translations, some with commentary and some without. Originally written in Sanskrit, you can verify different translations if they include the original sanskrit, the sanskrit part will be the same. All quotes unless stated otherwise are taken from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda 2007 edition. Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita looks at meditation.
“The practice of meditation frees one from all affliction. This is the path of yoga. Follow it with determination and sustained enthusiasm. Renouncing wholeheartedly all selfish desires and expectations, use your will to control the senses. Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the self.“
Taken from the chapter on meditation in “The Bhagavad Gita” by Eknath Easwaran page 142 (chapter 6 v23,24+25)
The yoga sutras which explain Raja Yoga are like a map and a practical guide. To quote Satchidananda, “Every time you pick it up you can absorb more for your growth”. The focus of Raja Yoga is the mind, and the essence of Raja Yoga is; “namely, the science, understanding, and complete mastery over the mind.” (Satchidananda)
A sutra is a short book which tells us the very crux of something— ideas tied tight together, with a stitch of thread. The Yoga Sutra is the mother book of all yoga. It was written about two thousand years ago, by Master Patanjali.
In this modern world though, we have become accustomed to speed, quickness and getting things done. That is not the approach that will produce results with the yoga sutras. When I first read this book of 196 terse nuggets of gold I hardly understood any of it. The rest merely opened up questions and paths for exploration in my mind. Even the ones I now know much better have plenty of scope for me to grow more with. Take your time, and if at first the sutras seem alien and disconnected from you and your life, take a break, but do return. The sutras couldn’t be more connected to your life than your head is connected to your body.
The word sutra means thread (refer to wikipedia), so the Yoga Sutras are the thread of yoga. I like to see them as a thread with 196 knots on. Each knot can be teased open an expanded upon to reveal a hidden truth or nugget of wisdom. The sutras are split into 4 chapters each one has roughly 50 sutras, some slightly more or less.
The incisive language of the Yoga Sutra cannot be preserved in translation. An extraordinary feature of the Yoga Sutra is the avoidance of direct commandments, dogmatic assertions and the use of active voice.
The yoga sutras are 196 nuggets of wisdom organised into 4 chapters.
Chapter 1 – Portion on Contemplation. Explains the essence of Raja yoga, introduces the key concepts. Exploration of these concepts can lead to a shift in your outlook and understanding. This can be healing and trans-formative.
Chapter 2 – Portion on Practice. Less conceptual and more practical than chapter 1. Initially it is a good place to spend most of your time and effort.
Chapter 3 – Portion on Accomplishments – Generally a chapter to explore as your understanding of chapter 1 and 2 become more internalized. You also require a certain depth in your meditation practice before this information becomes of benefit and use. In addition an advanced expert or guru in yoga may well be required to understand the sutras in this section
Chapter 4 – Portion on Absoluteness – This section shouldn’t be taken too literally and might be best left until chapters 1,2 and 3 have been more fully understood. It deals with abstract higher level concepts that may seem unbelievable. With the guidance of a guru or very advanced yoga expert, the more advanced meditator will find this section useful when explained to them by someone with the relevant understanding and experience. Therefore this chapter is best understood through the mind of some one like a Guru, or Swami who has the appropriate level of understanding.
Luckily for the earnest student, Yoga has always been a living Science in the East and it has had an unbroken succession of living experts who continually verify by their own experiments and experiences the basic truths of this Science. This has helped not only to keep the traditions of Yogic culture alive and pure but to maintain the meanings of the technical words used in this Science in a fairly exact and clearly de-fined form.
Please do remember as it states in chapter 1 that yoga is not just philosphy as explained:-
The Yoga Sutra, is not a philosophy book to be studied with the intellect or ordinary mind, but rather it is an experiential workbook that is revealed by an open heart. Wisdom is by its nature, trans-rational and transconceptual — broader than any manmade conception or constructed thought wave, and Patanjali everywhere confirms that hypothesis. Wisdom as well as intellect comes from an innate sourceless intelligence of the universal boundless mind.