Kriya Yoga – to the depth of your nature
” The selection for stability plus the constant pumping by energy flow will lead to the largest degree of order.” ( Energy flow in biology by H.J. Morowitz)
Mind over matter, it is said – that the mind rules over matter – that thoughts can influence both our surroundings and ourselves, for good and for bad. It is, presumably, a common concept that this is the case. Within medical science, one speaks about the relationship between psyche and soma, between body and mind; where health, to a great extent, is dependent on a person’s ideas and moods.
But can you consciously overrule states of mind, thoughts, emotions and reactions – forces which human beings normally yield to? Can you learn to manage the mind, so you can more easily influence the body, events, relationships etc.? And if so, how?
How can one overcome habits and inhibitions? Often, it remains an effort, a matter of will power. You have to make a decision and force yourself to accomplish it, for example, to give up smoking. Within yoga, there is a branch called Raja Yoga. Here, ideals are set up concerning the ability to control the mind, linked together with strict demands for the conduct of life. Is it possible, in this connection, to avoid ending up with a sense of guilt, with neuroses and intolerance, isolated from other people? And if so, are there other possibilities to be found in the Tantric yoga tradition?
Can you, in any way, count on the mind, and with it the personality, as the innermost, governing principle in your life? Does the personality have the necessary perspective? Or does it not consist of habitual opinions and ideas to which it clings? A conformity which is far from free, but which is the cause of despondency and inertia, in fact even of illness, and which makes us ruthlessly dominate or be dominated by each other.
When we speak about liberation, isn’t it then being able to liberate ourselves from the ‘programmes’ which govern our lives, so we can make real choices and act with a consequence, which reaches beyond our habitual ideas of ourselves and of the world?
It is not enough to realise that one’s ideas and reactions are limited. It is not enough to evoke and live through old patterns of thought and emotion; that only makes you more self-centred and binds you even more strongly and more exclusively to the dimension of personality.
Through the mind, you can perhaps rule over matter, that is, if your mind is strong, and/or if you are able to use ordinary suggestions and visualisations. It is, however, better to liberate yourself from old programmes than to try to reprogramme the mind. The mind would like nothing better than to supply you with a thousand alibis: feelings, thoughts, hopes and beliefs in all kinds of things except in yourself. You imagine that you can manipulate with the mind, and thus you remain involved.
It is something else, however, to be able to overcome the limitations of your surroundings and of yourself, in the form of expectations of good and bad – to be able to overcome the fundamental which binds human beings to habits and certain ideas and be able to act directly and freely. For this to happen, you need both courage and energy – and an altered fundamental state which raises you above the limitations of the mind and personality.
“Kriya Yoga is a rite, a ceremony, a method, a sadhana. It is a method of refining one’s forces so that the individual awareness can penetrate the depth of one’s nature.” (Swami Satyananda)
Not the goal, but the path, is your life
The spiritual dimension does not directly have to do with the mind; it reaches further. You cannot use the mind to realise yourself, as the mind is only an instrument for the self in time and space.
“Know thy self,” was written at the entrance to the oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece. This realisation is probably as old in Europe as it is in India, as it was repeated by Heraclitus who lived some time before 500 BC. He was a mystic rather than a philosopher; for him, it was not just about thinking, but about experiencing. He describes two forms of experience: one is connected with the infinite, resting in itself and unchanging being. This is not something which is first experienced after death, but potentially behind or parallel to the second form of experience: the life we live – a constant diversification, a whirling rush of phenomena lacking any constancy, a change which he describes in the well-known quotation:
“Everything flows, the same person cannot bathe twice in the same river”.
By beholding the world from the infinite, on the other hand, you are not being carried away by illusions, but see more than the obvious, you grasp the unity of everything, and from this experience you can surrender to life with contentment – rather than always greedily rushing on towards the next thing.
A few generations later, Socrates makes the demand on his age: “Know thy self,” and by “self” he does not mean the personality or the mind, but rather, the soul. This is the reason why Socrates, by his simulated ignorance and examining questions in Plato’s dialogues, tears away the foundations of the cocksure opinions and ideas of his contemporaries. He speaks about knowing the whole of oneself, not only the many thoughts of the mind and the personality.
For someone who cannot simply make a leap into that which is expected to be unknown – although it is oneself and nothing else – but who wishes to walk the path step by step, there are tools for moving through an inevitable process of liberation in the midst of daily life, in the midst of a life which can then be lived more and more fully and more and more in accordance with oneself.
Can I learn to watch my mind, my thoughts and my emotions with all that tears and pulls at me, and when I do this consciously, am I then able to be aloof of these experiences – and remain myself? Is it simple, or is something else needed? Well, an ordinary everyday consciousness cannot manage this; it will hold on to that with which the personality identifies, that which it regards as possible and impossible. Another state of consciousness is necessary, one which rests in itself – symbolised by the Eagle – that, we gain in the meditation.
But consciousness and sensitivity can be of greater or lesser intensity. When you expand the consciousness, energy and strength must follow suit. A higher energy level – symbolised by the Snake – supports the expansion of consciousness and gives the necessary strength to reach beyond both matter and mind. It becomes easier to maintain perspective and to experience the whole, instead of getting stuck in particular emotions or thoughts. In the first part of this series of articles on Kriya Yoga, Kriya Yoga – a bridge between the inner and the outer world, we dealt with the eagle and the snake, two fundamental functions or principles behind life, liberation and spiritual growth.
Tantric Kriya Yoga generally contains three groups of tools, which are all linked together in a meditation ritual with inevitable effect. They consist of:
- Symbols, forms and diagrams – concentrated visions, which are keys for opening the mind and breaking its limitations, so that it can come into accordance with the whole. The use of these keys is called Dharana.
- Breathing techniques, meditations and mudras which utilise, cleanse and influence the flows of energy. These re-establish the original form of the body’s energy field, which otherwise is limited by the attitudes one has towards oneself and towards other people and life in general. As the energy is strengthened in this manner, the level of consciousness is raised to the level of the soul.
- The ability to experience the mind as an observer, to be oneself behind all experiences: In Tibet, this is called Maha Mudra (the greatest of all attitudes you can have towards life, not to be confused with Maha Mudra in Kriya Yoga) and in India, in the Tantric Tradition, Antar Mauna (the Inner Silence, the dimension behind the experiences, your true identity) or Kaivalya in Raja Yoga (the free state where nothing sticks or hangs on, but where you remain yourself, tolerant and experiencing in all situations).
…and in daily life
This certainly lends some great perspectives. You can, for instance, stop a limiting state of mind or body by changing your energy level. But I will give an everyday example from my study.
When teaching takes most of my time, my desk easily overflows with work waiting to be done: administration, letters to be written, articles to be finished, things to be tidied up. To get to the bottom of these many different tasks, I use my willpower to keep myself going. I decide what I should do from one task to the other, and laboriously dig my way through the tasks.
After Kriya Yoga, on the other hand, I can raise myself above hesitation and reluctant attitudes; my energy level has been changed, so I overcome these bonds and gain perspective. The first and best task I spot, I finish spontaneously, and then…., yes, then I catch sight of something else, which then gets done. I do not ask myself: What should I do next, and how? I set to work on it and, through that, the enthusiasm and inspiration grow even more. Often, what is most urgent, I see and start with first, without having to force myself or put myself under stress. Spontaneously, I go on to the next task when the previous one is resolved.
The impulsive actions and whims of the unaware, the untrained and undisciplined are frequently mistaken for spontaneity. These actions are, however, random and often built upon self-centred wishes and habitual actions or somewhat rigid opinions; it is without connection to the whole. Creative spontaneity, on the other hand, is fully conscious; one who is capable of surrendering to the conscious spontaneous action, follows the inspiration.
Intuition does not consist of unconscious ideas or dreams, nor of wishes or ideals. Intuition is made possible through (silent) awareness, an awareness which reads signals in the inner and outer whole, without the mind getting a chance to explain and state a reason why.
Intuition of this kind in daily life creates actions so unbelievably rational, that they fit into the whole, regardless of custom and expectations – the intuition does not explain itself, but guides the one who is able to surrender to conscious spontaneous action – action for which you are responsible yourself, no matter what happens, no matter how you are understood.
Where does Kriya Yoga come from?
I have previously dealt with the origin of yoga, without really giving a definitive answer to where it came from in a distant past, but by showing the use of yoga in various earlier cultures all over the globe. And in the first part of these articles, I suggested something of this in the form of a ‘story’ with special reference to Kriya Yoga. In the following passage, I will deal with Kriya Yoga in relation to ‘recent’ Indian history and at the same time mention that there are related methods in China and Tibet.
In the last three millennia, India has been an exporter of spiritual knowledge and religion, where Buddhism has probably appeared as the most visible. Buddha himself was not a Buddhist, but a Hindu who wanted to reform Hinduism. This was an inspiration for a period, and India experienced a high point under King Ashoka. But then Buddhism disappeared from India as a popular religion; one could say it moved abroad, where it gained crucial significance in many countries in Eastern Asia.
Beneath the surface in these countries, yoga or meditation can be found as a detached mystic tradition. Simultaneously, pieces of this Tantric tradition became part of the local religions – in Hinduism in India, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Taoism in China, in Zen in Japan and, to a certain extent, in Buddhism as such in the whole area. Whether yoga has been in use in China just as long as in India, I cannot say, but there are indications, just as yoga was a part of other cultures on Earth earlier, as previously mentioned regarding the Olmec/Maya and Zapotec cultures in Mexico, and also the Tumaco and Qimbaya cultures in Columbia and in the ancient culture of the Celts.
(See also my book Yoga, Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life, and articles to come in this ‘reading room’.)
At the end of the Sixties, a book called The Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda was published in the West – at the time, an unusually inspiring book for anyone in search of oriental teachings. But at the same time, it was so fantastic in certain passages that it may have made others back off completely. I benefited from reading it, as it put me on the track of Kriya Yoga and I began to look for a teacher who could teach me this kind of meditation. That teacher turned out to be Swami Satyananda, who visited Copenhagen and gave a lecture at The National Museum. In the lecture hall, he had placed some modest-looking brochures about a course he held in India, including, among other things, Kriya Yoga. That was, for me, the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship. After I had learnt Kriya Yoga, I stayed in India and underwent deep reaching training in Swamiji’s ashram – one result being that he inspired me to teach what he had taught me.
Along the way, I was cured of a couple of ideals in favour of a clearer experience of reality. This training was not based at all on books or dogma,
but on direct contact among people in the daily life of an ashram. And dreams were replaced with genuine experiences.
According to Swami Satyananda, Kriya Yoga today comes from a group of swamis who have kept it secret and used it from generation to generation. Initially, he says, it can be traced back to Sri Shankaracharya in the eighth century A.D. Sri Shankaracharya was, apart from being an enlightened being, a great reformer and organiser. The founding of the swami order is attributed to him.
Those who used and passed on this esoteric knowledge prior to that time have been lost to anonymity. In the centuries following Sri Shankaracharya, the swamis did not pass this knowledge on to anyone from the outside; it was reserved exclusively for themselves, the initiates. As Swami Satyananda once said to me:
“We use it for our own sake, on the spiritual path and to be better able to help others, but it hasn’t been widely revealed. I learnt it from my guru Swami Sivananda, when I lived with him (for 12 years) in Rishikesh.”
That made me ask:
“But why do none of the other well known Swamis, who also come from Swami Sivananda, for example, Swami Vishnudevananda in Canada, Swami Chidananda in Rishikesh and Swami Satchidananda in the USA, teach this? All in all, they don’t teach anything but Raja Yoga, Mantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga?”
I knew that Swami Satyananda, both before and after his long stay with Swami Sivananda, had been in contact with Tantrics. With them, he learnt a part of what he advanced and revealed to the world. And Kriya Yoga is certainly a Tantric meditation. Swamiji gave me an answer which at first surprised me, but which I, based on the experience I have gained during the past 25 years, must admit, sounds likely:
“Back then in the 1950’s” he said, “not everybody was interested in a more deep-reaching yoga, so I was one of a few who learnt it directly from Swami Sivananda; the others didn’t have that motivation.”
Another description of the source of Kriya Yoga
Swami Yogananda writes in his auto-biography that Kriya Yoga is consistently given to every new generation by an almost immortal yogi called Babaji. Now, there are countless people in India called Babaji, as the name, Baba, means father, and Babaji, honoured father – just as it can mean grandfather. The word is used to address holy men or priests, as we do in the west with the word ‘father’. Quite a few yogis have used this as a name after it became known through Yogananda’s book which Swami Satyananda once described as an “American novel written by a ghost-writer” when I mentioned it to him. He realised that I lived on dreams inspired by this book, and that these dreams prevented me from being present and experiencing the outer and the inner life, without expectations and ideals. Still, I must say that the book was once a great impetus for me to go on from ordinary yoga, which I had known for years at that time, to the more advanced yoga and Tantric meditation. So, surely, it was an inspiration.
That a person like Babaji can live for several thousands of years, both in a physical body and on the astral plane and create possibilities there for the spiritual development of his disciples, may be a trifle too strong for many. Especially if one experiences life from a ‘normal’ limited perception of reality. My teacher’s warning at the time was, therefore, justified: I should not live by such ideas, regardless of whether they are true or not, but act myself and go on with my life.
And despite the fact that the yoga literature describes so-called siddhas, people who have achieved great spiritual power and therefore also certain abilities (siddhis), abilities which are different from one individual to the other. One of these abilities is to be able to recreate one’s body from time to time. Here I quote the recently deceased Dr. Swami Gitananda from Pondicherry. He comments on the yoga scriptures’ descriptions of various abilities of this kind:
“The ability to dematerialize the body or to make a new body. Many stories exist of Siddhas who are hundreds of years of age. A popular story persists in India today of a Siddha who is many thousands of years old, who dematerializes and rematerializes at will, often appearing younger after the latest materialization. A Siddha is able to recreate a physical body of any sex, state or condition, as required for a higher spiritual mission. These bodies are ‘real bodies’ and not ectoplasmic, incomplete forms as manifested by an occult or psychic medium. These forms are not ‘conjured up’ by external forces, but rather at the command of internal will.”
Babaji is supposed to have made contact with a few people in every generation who were ready to receive Kriya Yoga from him. Lahiri Mahasaya is one of these yogis, the teacher of Yogananda’s teacher, Sri Yukteswar. Likewise, Babaji is supposed to have contacted Sri Shankaracharya in the eighth century.
Sri Shankaracharya subsequently passed Kriya Yoga on to his successors, so that it became a part of the swami institution. Since that time, Kriya Yoga has exclusively been passed on by those, who themselves have learned it in the living tradition and who have received the initiation into the swami order.
How can Kriya Yoga be kept for the future
When a culture is at it’s height, as the cultures mentioned in the previous article, the people of that culture possess an integral world view. Not belief in something separate, not dogmas about something else, nor techniques or magic regarding a third thing, but a whole reality, within which all these categories exist – there is nothing to question, this is how it is. When the culture declines, when it goes down hill and a new beginning is seen on the horizon, then other rules apply: things fall apart and are divided into art, into religion, into science, into philosophy, into medicine and psychology or, among the alternative people, into therapy, into healing, into belief or yearning for something which is not here, extraterrestrial beings, other planes, etc.
But human beings are not divided into parts; human beings are whole, and our growth and maturing move us towards this whole, to be a whole being.
Tradition is often passed on out of sheer habit; from time to time beliefs shift. Here in the North, from what we can make out, we have the Vanes, after that the Ases (= those who came from Asia), then Catholicism, then the Reformation, then the Age of Enlightenment, then science, then atheism and finally the political and economic world view.
What about yoga, and the deeper spiritual values, the spiritual search and genuine tradition? Yes, mystics (initiates) have always been there; either they have worked in public and have given something valuable to their society, or they have worked secretly in order to enable a few people to maintain contact with the spiritual, so that the tradition does not die on its way to the times when people once more will understand how to gain from it.
Earlier in Tibet, for example, families always sent at least one son to the monastery to become a monk and preserve the spiritual tradition; nowadays only every twentieth family contribute. When did the glow die out? When was a reality with power and light forgotten? When does it become a duty and a habit? And, can we in any way compare mysticism with movements which turn into religions and mainly build their faith on outer authorities, as has surely happened in Tibet?
When is a society harmonious and when is it oppressive? Who can distinguish between a real, living whole, and the segregated, which consists of doctrines, learning by rote, programming, and ‘faith’ (as something one talks about, flaunts and also demands of others)?
Mysticism does not change from one time to another, as belief systems and mythologies do. The mystic experience stays the same from one culture to the next, from age to age, all over the earth. It is based on a search, on a few effective methods and on genuine experience.
Ritual or meditation?
If you ask different people what Tantra is, the Indian pandit (= learned one) says that Tantra is the source of all knowledge on Mantra, i.e. on the influence of sounds and syllables on the mind and thereby, our reality. Some yogis will describe Tantra as the yoga of rituals. And yet others will speak of Yantra, certain forms for evoking and canalizing cosmic energy, and about Chakra (mentioned in the first part of the article). Then, there are those who are a little more superficially and sensationally inclined, who will say that Tantra only involves sex; however, sex is only a small part of Tantra. Because different people at different times (among them, our time) have neurotic relationships to sex, then this 1/64 part of Tantra is magnified to fill the whole horizon. No matter how valuable the sexual rituals may be (see Yoga, Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life, page 76 to 81), this is only one possibility among many, for those people who wish to make use of it. And, finally, if you ask me and some other yogis, then Tantra contains yoga and meditation, when it is more than just a little gymnastics to be fit and beautiful.
Hypnosis or an inner higher reality
Rituals are important in all religions and secret societies, but are they necessary for the spiritual seekers? It happens that yogis, who at one point were very active in their sadhana (their practice and their work with themselves), later return to the rituals of their tradition. When I was younger, I considered rituals to be of two kinds, the one for keeping the sheep in the fold, for inspiring them to maintain and reinforce the religious view of the world, and the other, solely for the purpose of opening the mind and expanding consciousness. Now I am not so sure about the difference, if I want to show the highest respect for my fellow human beings and their experience of reality.
And even though I, for my part, do not want all kinds of rituals to dominate my life, and even though I cannot see a purpose for them in my life, I must recognise their importance in the following little account: When the Vietnam war was over, and the soldiers returned to the USA, many tragedies followed. The veterans were physically and mentally broken and a frighteningly large number never recovered from the injuries they had sustained in the war. However, one group freed themselves from the after effects entirely, using ancient means. They were returning Native American Indians, who had also served as soldiers. When they returned, they participated in the traditional dances and rituals which have been used for centuries for returning warriors, and in that way they closed that chapter in their lives in accordance with the sky and the earth.
Ritual and meditation!
Naturally, one can do a little yoga just as a daily exercise and have an effect from it. The Headstand, for example, works, no matter which ideas you have or how you are disposed. That also applies to all other exercises and meditations in this tradition. And still, the harmony that arises in body and mind seems to create a broader view of life for anyone using them.
The Russian communists, already during the nineteen-thirties, studied the breathing exercises of yoga, and maintained an interest in the effects of yoga, for instance in connection with the cosmonauts in their space travel programme. But they also found that it was not so easy to keep the people who used yoga (in this case, especially breathing exercises) adhering to a frozen picture of the world based on the narrow dogma of materialism. In other words, from this research, there arose a fear among those in power that people should discover the spiritual perspectives.
Thus, someone who knows of Kriya Yoga, and treats it merely as a composition of advanced yoga and meditation exercises, can gain so much more from it – this applies both in respect to strength and energy and to deep harmony – if he or she understands how to use these wonderful meditations as a ritual. But one has to understand the concept of ritual in the Tantric sense. These are not rituals meant to keep people within a conventional bourgeois or religious framework; they comprise of an action one takes to expand and liberate the consciousness. The word Tan-tra indicates this: Tanoti means expand and trayate to liberate.
The ritual must be used – as a Tantric ritual is performed – in such a way that it uninterruptedly occupies the whole of your being, including both body and mind, and also what you reach at the end of the meditation, that which extends beyond body and mind, the soul, if you will – the self.
The subject has not been exhausted here, and probably will not be in this series of articles, as Kriya Yoga, first of all, is a practical matter – something you do and experience. Nevertheless, I will continue this series with subjects such as: Conditions for the learning and use of Kriya Yoga. The balance between the inner and the outer. More about, what is Kriya Yoga? The role and the background of the initiation and the teacher. Yoga as science and mystical spiritual tradition.