The Science of Self-Knowledge and Self-Control
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
The fact is well-known that special techniques of Raja Yoga quickly develop some of the potentialities present in human consciousness.
Such a course of study, however, cannot be pursued in the magnetic atmosphere of a materialistic civilization. From a practical perspective, it is both harmful and unnecessary in present-day nations. It will only lead naïve students to self-deception and defeat. The fact does not mean that all of this Yoga should be avoided.
Raja Yoga is among the most sacred sources of learning, as far as sincerely altruistic pilgrims are concerned. It is the supreme or “royal” yoga. It transcends narrow, harmful aims like “individual” power. In fact, it does not include the idea of “personal” power. Psychic or occult potentialities can only be properly developed by someone who has fundamentally transcended the life of the lower self. In theosophical circles, the phrase “Raja Yogi” is sometimes used as a synonym to “Mahatma”.
Writing to a theosophist who wanted the esoteric movement to help people develop occult powers, a Master of Eastern Wisdom said:
“… Such an organization (…) is unthinkable among Europeans; and, it has become next to impossible even in India – unless you are prepared to climb to a height of 18,000 to 20,000 amidst the glaciers of the Himalayas.”
That is to say, one would have to live among the regular disciples of the Mahatmas, in secret places and secluded ashrams, in order to be able to learn some specific aspects of Raja Yoga. It would have to take place at a safe distance from the “zeitgeist”, the “spirit of the times”, the collective karma and aura of materialistic delusion.
The Master goes on in the letter, written by the end of 1880:  
“The greatest as well as most promising of such [occult] schools in Europe, the last attempt in this direction, – failed most signally some 20 years ago in London. It was the secret school for the practical teaching of magick, founded under the name of a club, by a dozen of enthusiasts under the leadership of Lord Lytton’s father. He had collected together for the purpose, the most ardent and enterprising as well as some of the most advanced scholars in mesmerism and ‘ceremonial magick’, such as Eliphas Levi, Regazzoni, and the Kopt Zergvan-Bey. And yet in the pestilent London atmosphere the ‘Club’ came to an untimely end. I visited it about half a dozen of times, and perceived from the first that there was and could be nothing in it. And this is also the reason why, the British T.S. [1] does not progress one step practically. They are of the Universal Brotherhood but in name, and gravitate at best towards Quietism – that utter paralysis of the Soul. They are intensely selfish in their aspirations and will get but the reward of their selfishness.” [2]
There are various reasons why Raja Yoga – if seen as a technical process of acquiring “occult   abilities” – is impossible to pursue in our civilization. One of them is indicated by Swami Vivekananda in his book “Raja Yoga”. The restriction includes Asia as well, as we have seen in the above quotation from a Mahatma. 
Vivekananda writes:
“There must be perfect chastity in thought, word and deed; without it the practice of Raja-Yoga is dangerous, and may lead to insanity.” [3]
Although such a requirement is difficult enough in materialistic civilizations, the rule of “absolute chastity” in thought, word and deed does not refer to sex only.
Chastity is purity in one’s viewpoint. It means liberty from one-sidedness and any blind personal desire. Such an emotional independence is inseparable from a firm and spontaneous unwillingness to look at any aspect of reality from a selfish point of view – a despicable inclination which leads to the distortion of truth.
Although having no significant personal life or blind attachments in the field of emotions is an essential condition to the development of psychic powers, it is not enough.
The practice of a “pure life” on the physical level is often associated to selfishness and personal pride, and these two factors block every progress along the path. Helena Blavatsky’s Master himself clarifies the point in the well-known Prayag Letter. [4]
The search for “powers” must be dethroned.
In the 21st century as in any other time, the personal intention to “develop psychic powers” is despicable in itself. It is also trivial and superficial. True Raja Yoga is not limited to the development of “psychic powers” in the conventional sense of the phrase. Far from it. [5]
Every pilgrim who seeks for universal truth has to come to terms with the need of self-knowledge, self-control, and renunciation to illusory images of oneself and others. Understanding the process of self-delusion provokes a gradual alchemy of liberation from ignorance. The real learning starts after one dedicates his whole life to a transcendent, long-standing goal.
In other words, whoever wants to learn from the Mahatmas or their teachings must face the probationary challenges belonging to Raja Yoga. A Master wrote, referring to the candidate to discipleship:
“His course of testing – in Europe and India – is that of Raja Yoga and its result is – as frequently explained – to develop every germ good and bad in him in his temperament. The rule is inflexible, and not one escapes whether he but writes to us a letter, or in the privacy of his own heart’s thought formulates a strong desire for occult communication and knowledge.”[6]
Raja Yoga teaches freedom from ignorance, from distortion of facts and from narrow-mindedness. It aims at the inner liberty and discernment necessary to work for the good of all beings. Yoga is that by which one qualifies himself to better help mankind. As the pilgrim benefits others in their own soul-development, he helps himself.  
In the Rules of the Esoteric School that Helena Blavatsky created in 1888, she recommended four main books to which students should “especially attend”, one of them being “Patanjali’s Yoga Philosophy”. She did not mention any specific edition or approach to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. [7]
There is, it seems, no single book or author whose text is enough to understand Raja Yoga from a theosophical perspective in the 21st century conditions. The situation was the same in the 19th century.
Each student must collect by self-devised efforts the fragments of teachings that are most useful to him, among the books available about this science. The interruption of breathing and other forms of vital energies manipulation should be firmly avoided. The versions of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are many and they transmit lessons of fundamental importance. Decisive information about Raja Yoga will be found in the Letters of the Masters and the writings of Helena Blavatsky.
It is clearly stated in the Mahatma Letters, for instance, that life expresses itself through magnetic processes. The first step to expand one’s creative energy is to stop wasting it. Through the production of self-control and by abandoning useless goals the individual becomes stronger in his consciousness. As the magnetic force of life ceases to be dissipated, it expands.
Every desire is a subtle form of electricity. It must be noble to be effective and productive. Some people gather their will force and seek for valuable, enduring objects. They know that self-discipline brings about inner strength. There is no need to be a victim of childish habits and mental dispersion. It is by adopting a universal view of the world that one can concentrate his higher magnetism and correctly use the energy belonging to each cycle of 24 hours.
While collecting and studying the tenets most suitable to the actual reality of our lives, we can interact in meaningful ways with the original teachings of theosophy. Thus we create an intelligent, effective, flexible discipline in daily life that will endure for more than one lifetime.
[1] T.S. – Theosophical Society.
[2] See Letter 28, pages 209-210 in the 1926 edition of “The Mahatma Letters”, published by T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., in London, UK, with 493 pages and Index. Number of page is the same in the TUP edition. The letter was initially thought as having been received in 1881. The Chronological edition indicates December 1880. It is letter 11 in the Chronological edition.
[3] “Raja Yoga, Conquering the Internal Nature”, Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, India, 1996, 287 pp., see p. 68 (by the end of chapter V).  
[5] Regarding psychic powers, see in our websites the article “How to Develop Occult Powers”.  
[6] The Mahatma Letters”, Letter LXV, pages 365-366.
[7] “Collected Writings”, Helena Blavatsky, TPH, USA, 1980, volume XII, p. 497.
An initial version of the above article was published in the form of one short note and one article at “The Aquarian Theosophist”, September 2018, pp. 1-5. The material had no indication as to the name of the author. The main title was “Raja Yoga: Good Sense in Approaching a Mystery”. On 23 December 2018, the texts were published in our associated websites as one independent article.