Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kriya Yoga & Discipleship in the 21st Century

[My apologies in advance for the length of this article. These opinions are not those of any organization but are solely my own.]

I am a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (PY) and the line of preceptors who sent him. In this life, I did not know him as I was born in 1950 in northern California and he, PY, left his mortal frame in 1952 in Los Angeles.

I was greatly blessed to become a student and friend of Swami Kriyananda (SK) who lived with and was trained by PY in the last three and a half years of PY's life. Thus in a very real sense, I (and of course many hundreds, indeed, thousands) were blessed to receive PY's vibrations, wisdom, and joy through the channel of SK.

Commissioned and ordained by SK as a minister and, in 2009, as a kriyacharya (one authorized to initiate others into Kriya Yoga), I (and my wife, Padma) offer classes to prepare students to become disciples of PY and to receive kriya initiation (through the Ananda Center based in Bothell, near Seattle).

We do this twice a year and each time we see students struggle with the hurdle of taking discipleship as a prerequisite and a consequence of kriya initiation. In this training, we follow the pattern established by PY during his lifetime and given to us by SK.

During his very active and full lifetime of teaching, SK would regale us with stories of his time with PY. It was not to separate himself from us, as in, "lucky me," it was genuinely to help us understand what discipleship entailed and how important it is to achieving Self-realization. In turn, we share and train students in this same manner.

After SK's passing three years ago and during one of these classes, I was inspired to play an audio recording of SK speaking on the subject of discipleship. (SK gave many such talks during his lifetime.) I was shocked, however, when the students had no substantive reaction to the talk; they were not particularly inspired or touched. Listening to it with them in our living room (where we give these classes), I could feel that they were not able to connect to SK nor yet, more importantly, to either the precepts or the stories that SK shared with them.

It was then that my concerns arose and my thoughts have been evolving ever since.

Allow me to digress: PY's life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," (AY) describes Lahiri Mahasaya (the saint who brought the practice of kriya yoga back into public view) as giving kriya to all sincere seekers: Moslems, Christians and others (not just orthodox Hindus). Students sometimes ask us about this, especially with the hidden, unstated question of "Why, then, must we take discipleship vows?"

Yet in the AY, Lahiri is told by Babaji (who initiated Lahiri into kriya and commissioned him to spread kriya yoga) to quote from the Bhagavad Gita a particular stanza to all his "disciples" to whom he gives kriya. Thus Babaji states, without reservation, that those to whom Lahiri would give the kriya technique would be disciples.

I am not aware of PY doing this with any regularity but he was known to give kriya spontaneously and/or to those of other faiths. He quotes Lahiri's statements about the universality of kriya in AY, so he obviously accepted and approved it. However, notwithstanding his own example and teaching, I am told that in years after PY's passing, his own organization began to require students preparing for kriya to pledge their allegiance to that organization and to their discipleship to PY as being exclusive of other paths, gurus, etc. (I don't have the exact facts on this requirement but I've heard it repeatedly from others first hand.)

Returning to our subject, then, we are faced, here and now in the 21st century, with the simple fact that PY is NOT in the body; that kriya is being disseminated throughout the world through various lineages and organizations, and even in published book form; and that its worldwide spread was predicted and intended by this lineage. Yet, SK is no longer in body to guide us; and with both PY and most other direct disciples like SK, also gone from this earth, new potential disciples will not have the opportunity to have the blessing of PY's human presence, nor yet that of his direct disciples.

A variety of organizations and spiritual teachers, each of which claims transmission from the kriya lineage of Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar and/or Paramhansa Yogananda, offers training in the kriya technique. Each may have slightly different requirements in regards to training and/or initiation.

Even in following the training we have been given by Swami Kriyananda (the pattern follows the training PY employed), there are nuances in respect to the expectations and requirements that we hold out in respect to the meaning and form that discipleship should take.

Let's consider first a person of another faith? Can they receive kriya? Are they expected to be disciples of PY? At Ananda we've more or less considered that people of other faiths are eligible for kriya initiation on the assumption that their participation in that faith is for cultural, family and convenience reasons rather than as an act of deep faith. Is that, in fact, what the masters have intended? 

I, for one, have no reason to assume or believe that this assumption was intended by them. If such a one is loyal to his own faith, is he not a true disciple of PY? I think that such a person can be both loyal to his faith AND a disciple of PY (and this line of kriya masters). How can this be? "God is the guru" PY said often. If a person is sufficiently mature enough to not view his loyalty to his faith as being compromised by his discipleship to PY, and who views PY as an incarnation of God who has been sent to him for his spiritual growth, then why would PY have a conflict with that person's faith (and, if a true faith, why would he?)?

Imagine that this person, say, a Christian, is given personal instruction in his faith by a wise and spiritually mature or advanced minister, teacher or friend. Let's say this person is his spiritual guide. Is that a conflict with his discipleship to Christ? Of course not! The Kriya masters make it clear in their lives and teachings that they represent "Sanaatan Dharma," the eternal religion. Not some new sect! 

True, you might object, saying, "But this mentor is not the sat guru!" True, but how can any one of us know whether PY or any of the others are our sat guru? I don't think we will know until we are much closer to enlightenment. Even PY's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, was a "proxy," he explained, for his sat guru, Babaji! We should know the teaching and the precepts but their application to our individual lives is necessarily directional and relative.

Would a self-professed atheist be eligible for kriya? I don't see how. Profession of atheism is as dogmatic as any narrow-eyed religious dogma. A sincere agnostic, on the other hand, who simply professes not to know whether God exists but otherwise is open, could certainly be. At first, his "discipleship" would be the commitment to practice kriya and study the teachings; in time, the descent of divine consciousness will baptism him in true faith and intuitive gnosis. Sri Yukteswar told his disciple, PY, that "joy is the proof of God's existence! (And His adequate response to our every need.)"

Can one who has taken a vow of discipleship to another guru and lineage take kriya? Hmmm, that hits closer to home, doesn't it? I'd say generally, "it depends." If that guru offers no kriya equivalent, is in all other respects compatible in the teachings, and the disciple mature and sincere.......Maybe? After all, the line between this circumstance and the situation of being of another faith can become a very thin line. Besides, PY's lineage is compatible both vibrationally and historically with a number of other saints. So, this is too close to call, at least for me. The issue of having only one guru has two aspects: practicality and principle. Practicality has to do with the admixture of vibration, teachings and techniques that potentially confuses the devotee; principle has to do both with the importance of loyalty (which PY emphasized as "the first law of God") and the principle of the sat (sad) guru: that instrument through which our salvation is destined to come. 

I know numerous devotees whose personal altar contains many true saints. What is the significance of this and the person's inner attunement and relationship to each saint? I generally have no idea. Why should I be the judge? Sincerity and maturity linked with intensity of effort, common sense and intelligence, are the magnets that attract the power of grace. 

Not everyone can integrate this bifurcation of loyalty and commitment so readily. In fact, and in general, our planetary human consciousness is not very evolved this way. We tend toward "either-or," rather than "both-and." One sees more genuine examples of this universality and integration in a culture like India than in the West. 

The downside can, however, be a lack of discernment and an eclectic approach for which no deep roots are nurtured. Nonetheless, we are not here to judge others even if, we must, by the requirements of our role, fulfill some degree of our own discernment of a person's readiness to take kriya and to accept discipleship.

As one trained and commissioned by Swami Kriyananda, I am committed to following the instructions and training he has given to us. My priority is to serve and build the work of Ananda rather than to be a vending machine for kriya. We could not offer kriya if there were not a committed group of disciples operating through genuine attunement to the guru(s) to support this work of kriya.

Yet, as I encounter students seeking kriya for whom very little personal connection, if any, exists in respect to PY (owing at least in part to the passage of time and the disappearance of direct disciples), I must wonder whether our description and training in discipleship which is wholly based on the example of PY and his own direct disciples, is unnecessarily too high a bar; too irrelevant to the daily lives of sincerely seeking men and women living in this conflicted world of ours; people for whom kriya was intended to uplift. How can kriya spread if every potential disciple is expected to accept and have the kind of relationship that direct disciples had with PY, or even what some of us had with PY through SK as our teacher (and who was a direct disciple)?

Is it, then, possible to reconcile these aspects of discipleship in regards to kriya initiation?

I believe it is. I believe we must consider the reality of discipleship for an ever widening circle of sincere souls. Few of these will become members of organizations founded to serve Yogananda's work; fewer still will live in a monastic life, or in Ananda Communities, or become ministers, acharyas, or reunciates or in any other way adopt the outer forms of discipleship and renunciation. Indeed, PY's teachings and Lahiri's own commission from Babaji clearly anticipate kriya for the common (but sincere) "man."

I believe that the simplest resolution of these questions lies in viewing the practice of kriya itself as the primary instrument of discipleship. Kriya, in effect, becomes the guru. Kriya (and its attendant practices like Energization, Aum, and Hong Sau) become the channels through which, by the disciple's sincere effort based on his or her training, inspiration and guidance from the guru comes. Yes the touch (and guidance) of the disciples is the primary vehicle of transmission but by and of itself it is, like the kriya initiation ceremony itself, it is only a beginning. So PY has taught us.

Sincere students should of course study the lives of direct disciples; they should learn the value of serving the guru's work; the importance of devotion; right attitude; the concepts of the teachings of the guru; and so much else. Sharing these essential elements of the spiritual path is important; but, as these students are fresh and new to this, and as the training we and others offer is generally less than one year, we cannot expect them to manifest these qualities overnight! Attunement takes time and practice. Nor, in fact, have we done otherwise, all these years. 

What we've done to-date, however, is to describe discipleship in such a way as hold aloft a high bar of expectations which lies beyond the current reach of understanding and experience of an increasing tide of otherwise sincere and potentially qualified kriyaban-disciples. As discipleship is unfamiliar to westerners and triggers doubt, fear, and confusion, I think we need a broader brush to meet them where they are.

I think, therefore, we should add to our training an emphasis that with right attitude and devotion, kriya itself can be an instrument through which attunement to the guru can grow naturally. It's not the only way, obviously, but as kriya spreads and as more and more come seeking kriya for whom service and satsang may not be accessible or of immediate and obvious appeal, this can be their legitimate starting point and as a starting point, it can be their guide.

I'd like to share some quotes from an unpublished course in discipleship that SK created for training the monks at Mt. Washington back in the 1950's:

In the West, the importance of the guru-disciple relationship is over-looked; one great reason being that it is not understood. Even the more familiar word disciple is not understood. Who were the disciples of Jesus, for instance? Those who followed the discipline of Jesus. There are several references in the Christian Bible to this relationship as a necessity for communion with God. Paramhansaji frequently explained that a disciple is one that follows discipline. Whose discipline? Certainly the blind cannot lead the blind. Neither can a human being steeped in delusion go on alone,as many think to be able to do. One cannot become a surgeon without studying under experts in surgery; no one can become a pianist without studying under a pianist. The same principle is involved in one’s quest for God. Without the discipline of following a true guru one may not find God.

......    Note: In all cases, in the ultimate sense, it is God who is the Guru: First,through His Law; second through books and teachers; third, through the most direct channel possible, a guru. Lesser teachers turn one to themselves. A guru’s wish is only to turn devotees to God; to lift them up to his own stature of spiritual realization.....

The practice of the techniques is essential. Many times I have heard our beloved Master say to a disciple, “Practice your techniques. It is through the techniques that I can help you.”  He has given us these great techniques, but it is up to us to use them for our own salvation."  

When you read the AY and its frequent references to kriya, and the writings and lectures and lessons written by PY, it is abundantly clear that the principal, and most visible and objective legacy he has given the world is KRIYA YOGA. It seems inescapable to me that PY intended kriya to be the instrument of attunement for future generations and centuries, when little else other than books and a relatively few number of dedicated and attuned disciples exist to carry on the work.

The only other choice, apart from just printing the technique (as has been done) in a book, is to require commitment to an organization to receive the requisite training and support in satsang and service. This is precisely what PY's own organization apparently has done. 

It is understandable. I, too, find sometimes frustrating the mercenary and ignorant impulse in some seekers to come for our training, take the kriya, and "run." They do not understand the importance of satsang (fellowship), devotion, and seva (service) to the guru's work. Yet, SK has made it clear that we do not require membership or service to Ananda as a requirement of kriya initiation.

Nonetheless, when I survey some Ananda members who outwardly fulfill all of these things I don't always see true devotees, either. It takes time to grow our attunement to the truth. We who might be privileged to train and initiate others and therefore act somewhat as gatekeepers, must be careful not to create hurdles that are inappropriate or skewed by our loyalty to the organization we serve in our guru's name. 

Today's seekers have little exposure and sometimes a great deal of ignorance, misunderstanding or wariness regarding the meaning of discipleship. We can share what we've been taught; share what we have learned. But we must not impose either the ideals or our own experience on souls whose karmic pattern of unfoldment is uniquely their own. 

So long as they are sincere and are open to learning about the precepts of discipleship, I believe it is up each to approach and express their discipleship uniquely (so long as other requirements, namely, learning and practicing the other techniques that are part of the kriya path are fulfilled). One who goes to the altar of matrimony may be confident or have secret reservations but so long as they are sincere, the outcome must await the unfoldment of the resuls of their efforts and their karma. 

Let us make kriya yoga available for all who are sincere!

Swami Hrimananda