The clear distinction between Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, drawn by Mr. Judge in the Preface to his rendering of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, should set the student on the right path at the outset. He writes:
Patanjali's rules compel the student not only to acquire a right knowledge of what is and what is not real, but also to practise all virtues, and while results in the way of psychic development are not so immediately seen as in the case of the successful practitioner of Hatha Yoga, it is infinitely safer and is certainly spiritual, which Hatha Yoga is not....In Hatha Yoga practice...the result is psychic development at the delay or expense of the spiritual nature.
Mr. Judge, as well as H.P.B., has seriously warned against the dangers involved in Hatha-Yogic practices. The Raja Yogis, on the contrary, are said in a passage which he quotes in his Preface to "try to control the mind itself by following the rules laid down by the greatest of adepts."
Hatha Yoga has been defined by Mr. Judge in U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 18 as a "practical mortification of the body by means of which certain powers are developed." Undertaken without adequate guidance, Hatha-Yogic practices involve serious physical risks, not only to health but even to life, and moral risks as well. Explaining these risks in the same pamphlet, Mr. Judge says that they
consist in this, that while an undirected person is doing according to the rules of Hatha Yoga, he arouses about him influences that do him harm, and he also carries his natural functions to certain states now and then when he ought to stop for a while, but, having no knowledge of the matter, may go on beyond that and produce injurious effects.
It is in the light of the age-old rule that "what powers one gets he must himself acquire," and that only "when the materials are all prepared and ready, the architect shall appear," that is to be understood H.P.B.'s warning against the practice of blindly "transferring" and "receiving" powers. She says that this practice "is that of sorcerers, whether they are so consciously or unconsciously," and she adds in an Editor's Note appended to an article in The Theosophist:
Moreover, the ignorant practice of Hatha Yoga leads one invariably into that undesirable acquisition. The Hatha Yogi either becomes a sorcerer, or learns practically nothing; or more frequently yet, kills himself by such an unjudicious practice.
The Adept commands the elemental forces of nature through occult sounds, but it is foolhardy for the ignorant tyro to arouse these forces by a mantram while he lacks the knowledge and power to direct them. For, "although it is the intention that decides primarily whether white or black magic is exercised, yet the results even of involuntary, unconscious sorcery cannot fail to be productive of bad Karma." (Raja-Yoga or Occultism, second ed., p. 35)
At best, "practices of Hatha Yoga [are] conducive but of the production of physical phenomena—affording very rarely flashes of real clairvoyance, unless it be a kind of feverish state of artificial ecstasy." Since, moreover, Hatha Yoga "pertains to the material and semi-material man—roughly speaking, to the body...what is gained through it is lost at death." As stated in another Note in The Theosophist (November 1880):
Raja Yogins...have nothing to do with the physical training of the Hatha Yogins....The Raja Yogin trains but his mental and intellectual powers, leaving the physical alone, and making but little of the exercise of phenomena simply of a physical character. Hence it is the rarest thing in the world to find a real Yogi boasting of being one, or willing to exhibit such powers—though he does acquire them as well as the one practising Hatha Yoga, but through another and far more intellectual system.
"A gradual development of the mental and physical occult faculties is the method used by the true adept in studying the Raj-Yog," we are told by H.P.B. in The Theosophist for August 1882. Contrasting the nine degrees of Initiation of Raja Yoga, its "nine jewels," with "the minor eight degrees of Hatha Yoga, H.P.B." says that "in knowledge and powers, the latter stand in the same proportion to the former as rudiments of Arithmetic to the highest degrees of Mathematics."
To put the difference between Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga in another way, we may say that the practices of the former relate solely to the present personality, whereas Raja Yoga offers in its culture of concentration the means of attaining the "perfection of spiritual cultivation." Discarding physical motions, postures and recipes, it "directs the student to virtue and altruism as the basis from which to start." (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 18)
Madame Blavatsky explained in her Third Message to the American Theosophists in 1890 why "the Ethics of Theosophy are more important than any divulgement of psychic laws and facts."
The latter relate wholly to the material and evanescent part of the septenary man, but the Ethics sink into and take hold of the real man—the reincarnating Ego. We are outwardly creatures of but a day; within we are eternal.
Beware, O my son, of self-incense. It is the most dangerous, on account of its agreeable intoxication. Profit by thy own wisdom, but learn to respect the wisdom of thy fathers likewise. And remember, O my beloved, that the light of Alla's truth will often penetrate much easier an empty head, than one that is so crammed with learning that many a silver ray is crowded out for want of space.