Saturday, January 8, 2011

What is Kriya Yoga?

[Tuesday, Jan 11 at East West Bookshop, and Thursday, Jan 13, Bothell, WA a free class on this subject will be given by Padma and I....see for details.]

Paramhansa Yogananda made the meditation technique known as Kriya Yoga popular through his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." In chapter 26 of his autobiography he gives an explanation of how it works and why it can greatly accelerate one's spiritual evolution. (You can read this online at

Yogananda is a very good "salesman" and indeed the practice of kriya yoga has spread around the world. The term itself is generic. "Kri" comes from the Sanskrit root which includes the term "karma" and which indicates a kind of action. Thus "kriya" is a specific act or meditation technique. In the tradition of raja yoga there are many "kriyas." One such, also taught by Yogananda, and given in the book "Awaken to Superconsciousness" by his direct disciple (and founder of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda (See Crystal Clarity Publishers) is called "navi kriya."

Lahiri Mahasaya was Yogananda's guru's guru and received the kriya technique directly from the Himalayan master known simply as Babaji. Not only are there many "babaji's" (for the named is really an honorific, "revered father") but there are, as I said above, many "kriyas." I've been told, for example, that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (the popular Indian teacher) teaches a technique called Sudarshan Kriya.

Thus there can be many different techniques with the name "kriya." Even in the direct lineage of Babaji-Lahiri Mahasaya-Swami Sri Yukteswar-Paramhansa Yogananda you will find at least slight variations and more so as the different branches from each guru go off in different directions. In a talk Yogananda gave, he commented that this kriya technique he taught had been simplified to its vital essence by each of the gurus in the Self-realization line.

Since Yogananda gives an excellent description of the technique (without revealing it!) in his Chapter 26, I won't repeat why he says kriya yoga accelerates our spiritual evolution and why it is both an advanced meditation technique and an essential technique. Essential here does not mean one can't do without it so much as it works on our essential psycho-physiological structure at its core. Kriya is a breath control (pranayama) technique but more than breath it puts us in touch with the very energy ("prana") at our center in the subtle spine of the astral body. Hence, it works with the essence of our incarnate consciousness and the seeds of ego ignorance. This Life Force sits at the inner doorway to higher consciousness which leads to soul freedom in God. Reversing its direction from its outward flow through the senses to the world to the inner and higher world of Spirit is the path to God.

The question most frequently encountered beyond the technique and its mechanics is "Why does one take initiation as a disciple of Yogananda in receiving the technique? A simple question with many answers shining like facets on the diamond of truth. Some people object to this, seemingly offended that they should have pay homage to any guru, or limit their loyalties or other practices in any way. Some point to the "Autobiography of a Yogi" itself where Lahiri Mahasaya is described as giving the technique to people of all (and no) faiths.

In human relations, a gift from a friend is a token, a symbol of that friendship. An adult would be deemed immature to only focus on enjoying the gift without recognizing its symbolic value. This value often exceeds any monetary or functional value of the gift itself. Each time I see or use the gift, I will think of the giver of the gift.

Traditionally, upon pledging one's obedience and loyalty to a true guru, he is given a mantra, personal instruction, or a meditation technique as just such a gift: a key to one's own salvation. The power of the gift lies only somewhat in the value of using the gift (practicing the mantra, e.g.). At least as much of its efficacy lies in the gift's capacity to transmit the guru's gift of God-consciousness. The technique becomes a sacred "object" or in archetypal terms, the magic ring. This sounds fanciful until you try it.

Meditation is not easy. Achieving superconsciousness does not come for simply repeating a mantra or huffing and puffing through breathing exercises. Much more is needed. When the technique is used as a means of "summoning" (with devotion and humility) the guru's presence (whether in vision, actual, or as love, peace, wisdom, joy etc.), it begins to "glow" just like the ring in the Lord of the Rings when it was worn and its powers invoked.

What I see more often than not, is that a person simply doesn't yet understand who the guru is, what the guru offers, and why a guru is needed to achieve enlightenment. A simple blog as this isn't about to explore such a deep subject satisfactorily. Deep not only for its meaning but for the fact our relationship to the guru is our relationship to infinity. In the guru, Infinity has been condensed into human form so that we can even begin to relate to it. Each relationship is not only unique (as each of our souls are) but is infinite as well and defies simple explanation.

But the idea that one is subservient or lesser or negated in any way is as far from the truth as it can be. God invites us toward our own highest potential! Only ignorance and the ego posits discipleship to be an imposition. The guru has nothing to gain and needs nothing from the disciple; yet, the guru has the power to give the greatest gift imaginable: perfect bliss, eternal freedom!

But this article is about kriya, not the guru. So why not just print up the instructions for kriya and put it on a website? Why not let people use it and see where it takes them? Yogananda himself claimed "Give me ten boys of the worst type, I will teach them kriya, and if they practice as I teach them, they will become saints." So the question (and what amounts to an objection to the requirement of taking discipleship) is, in fact, a good one.

Years of teaching these techniques and answering this question from all sides has left me as unsatisfied as those who ask it. Well, ok, maybe not entirely! I cannot, however, give an "answer" beyond saying, “Well, this is how Yogananda instructed his own teachers to do it.” Thus Swami Kriyananda who is my teacher and who initiated me as a kriyacharya (authorized to teach the sacred technique of kriya to others) enjoined me and the kriyacharyas of Ananda to do so likewise.

Ours is not a high age of consciousness and our American (western) culture is not deeply attuned to the idea and need for a guru. I have seen that those who come to Ananda to learn kriya but who never either intend or ever connect with Yogananda as the guru tend to become "lapsed kriyabans." Further, I been told by some who received the technique from a few other kriya teachers who dispense it freely that few of those to whom they give it stick with it.

Our culture and at this time in history we suffer from what Swami Kriyananda once called "toolism." A form of materialism and rationalism, we have a distinct bias toward believing we know something if we can comprehend it intellectually. We also prize objects more than people; quantity over quality; money over inner peace. In short, we still live under the cloud of a lower age that sees only the outer form of things, and not the spirit that animates life.

I believe, therefore, that, for now, kriya yoga must be given in the context of discipleship or it will die out (again). A person must practice with clear and heartfelt understanding of how it really works and not have what amounts to a kind of reverse superstition that merely breathing will bring us to God. I say “reverse” because to most people in our age, a loving relationship with a disincarnate guru would be the essence of superstition. How opposite is the truth of it! But that's my point. The gift serves to bring to mind the Giver.

Many great saints have lived who didn't necessarily practice kriya yoga. (Though Yogananda claimed in his autobiography that Jesus taught his disciples "kriya, or a similar technique" and pointed as proof to St. Paul's statement that "I die daily" in Christ....meaning he had life force control as to enter the breathless state: the goal of kriya). What all saints possess, however, inter alia, is devotion. What our age needs is more heart quality: seeing God in nature, in one another, and seeking God in inner silence, in the essence of our very own Life Force.

This, therefore, is why I believe kriya yoga is given in the context of discipleship.While this undoubtedly slows the spread of kriya yoga, it will help maintain the depth and purity of kriya until such time comes when people generally understand that discipleship to a true guru is not at odds with any outward faith, dogma or ritual, or none at all.

Blessings, Nayaswami Hrimananda.