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The Science of Kriya Yoga and Contribution of
Sri Paramhansa Yogananda and other Yogoda Gurus
in propagating Kriya Yoga
Prof. Keshav Sharma,
M.A., B.Sc., M.Ed., M.Phil. (Edu.), Ph.D. (Edu.)
Professor of Education
International Centre for Distance Education and Open Learning,
Himachal Pradesh University,
Shimla-171 005, India
The Science of Kriya Yoga and Contribution of Sri Paramhansa Yogananda and other Yogoda Gurus in propagating Kriya Yoga
This paper discusses the science of Kriya Yoga as propagated by Yogoda Gurus. Mention of Kriya Yoga is
found twice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras ( Yoga Sutra II:1 and II:49) and Bhagawad Gita
(Bhagawad Gita IV:29, V:27-28). The author takes up discussion from the commentary on Bhagawad Gita by
Paramhansa Yogananda. Concepts of Prana and types of Pranas and Pranayama, classification of Pranayama,
importance Kriya Yoga, techniques of Kriya Yoga as taught by Lahiri Mahashaya and Paramhansa Yogananda
are discussed in details. This is followed by the concept of higher Kriyas and Paravastha of Kriya,
requirements for Kriya.
The greatest contribution of Sri Paramhansa Yogananda and other Yogoda Gurus namely Mahavatar Babaji,
Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya and Swami Sriyukteshwar Giri, to the modern world is the revival of
ancient science of Kriya Yoga, the same yoga which was given by Bhagwan Sri Krishna to Arjun long ago.
Over the passage of time, due to a number of reasons, this science became obscure and was not available
to ordinary mortals. It was revived and modified by immortal Mahavatar Babaji (still in body and helping
humanity). In 1861, he initiated Lahiri Mahashaya in Kriya Yoga and through the instrumentality of Lahiri
Mahashaya, this science became widely known. Later his disciples propagated Kriya Yoga and after the publication
of "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Sri Paramhansa Yogananda, Kriya Yoga became a household word.
In his tradition (Parampara) in order to keep the techniques of Kriya Yoga pure and accurate, only
officially authorised persons of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India and Self-Realization Fellowship
(both established by Sri Paramhansa Yogananda) can give initiation to the desirous devotees. The
author has quoted extensively from the original works of Yogoda Gurus in order to keep the purity
and accuracy of all the relevant Kriya Yoga techniques and concepts.
It may however be kept in mind that practice of Kriya Yoga should not be done after reading from books but the technique must be learnt from Guru or authorised Kriya Yogi. Guru-disciple relation is most important for attaining success in Kriya Yoga practice.
Mention of Kriya Yoga is found twice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras ( Yoga Sutra II:1 and II:49) and Bhagawad Gita (Bhagawad Gita IV:29, V:27-28).
Kriya Yoga in Bhagawad Gita
In his commentary on Bhagawad Gita, "God talks with Arjuna"; Sri Paramhansa Yogananda has explained Kriya Yoga in details. In Bhagawad Gita, Kriya Yoga is mentioned specifically by Bhagwan Krishna in Verse 29 of Chapter IV.
Other devotees offer as sacrifice the incoming breath of prana in the outgoing breath of apana, and the outgoing breath of apana in the incoming breath of prana, thus arresting the cause of inhalation and exhalation (rendering breath unnecessary) by intent practice of Pranayama (the life-control technique of Kriya Yoga)
Paramhansaji explains this stanza in following words:
By the concentrated practice of Kriya Yoga Pranayama-offering the inhaling breath into the exhaling breath (prana into apana) and offering the exhaling breath into the inhaling breath (apana into prana) -the yogi neutralizes these two life currents and their resulting mutations of decay and growth, the causative agents of breath and heart action and concomitant body consciousness. By recharging the blood and cells with life energy that has been distilled from breath and reinforced with the pure spiritualized life force in the spine and brain, the yogi stops bodily decay, thereby quieting the breath and heart by rendering their purifying actions unnecessary. The yogi thus attains conscious life-force control."
Meaning of Pranayama
Word PRANAYAMA IS DERIVED from two Sanskrit words-prana (life) and ayama (control). Prana-yama is therefore life control and not "breath science of breath for control." According to Yogananda the broadest meaning of the word prana is force or energy. In this sense, the universe is filled with prana and all creation is nothing but simple a manifestation of this force (prana). He further explains that the universal prana is thus the Para-Prakriti (pure Nature), the immanent energy or force which is derived from the Infinite Spirit, and which permeates and sustains the universe. Prana is an intelligent force, but has no consciousness in the empirical, nor transcendental sense. It is the basis of the empirical consciousness, but soul is the conscious unit. Soul through ego dictates, and prana, its servant, obeys. Prana, neither grossly material nor purely spiritual, borrows from the soul its power of activating the body. It is the power lodged between soul and matter for the purpose of expressing the former and moving the latter.
Classification of Prana
Yogananda further explains the role of prana in building of complete body from a single cell. According to him, "specific prana enters the body with the soul (in the soul's astral encasement) at the time of conception. At the soul's command, the specific prana gradually builds from a primal single cell the body of the infant-according to that individual's astral karmic pattern-and continues to sustain that form throughout its lifetime. This bodily prana is continuously reinforced not only by gross sources such as food an, oxygen, but primarily by the universal prana,' the cosmic energy, which enters the body through the medulla ("the mouth of God") and is stored in the reservoir of life in the cerebrum, and in the centres of the spine whence it is distributed by the functions of the specific prana. Specific prana pervades the whole body and differs in its function in different parts. It can be classified into five different pranas according to these functions:
- prana (by preeminence), or the main power that brings all other functions into manifestation;
- apana, the power of excretion, the scavenger energy of the body by which bodily waste products are thrown out;
- v yana, or the power of circulation;
- samana, or assimilation, digestion, by which various foods are processed and assimilated for the nourishment of the body and for building new cells; and
- udana, or the power by which cells are differentiated in their functions (some growing hair, or skin, or muscle, and so on) by infinite disintegrations and integrations among themselves.
Prana and Apana
Paramhansa Yogananda further adds that this Gita verse deals with two specific functions of life force in its differentiations as prana and apana. As there is a "tug-of-war" the macrocosmic scale reflecting Spirit's projecting wish to create and His opposing attracting wish to bring the many back into the One, so does this same contest in duality take place on a microcosmic scale in man's body. One expression of this positive-negative duality involves the interaction between prana and apana. There are two main currents in the body. One, the apana current, flows from the point between the eyebrows to the coccyx. This downwardly flowing current distributes itself through the coccyx centre to the sensory and motor nerves and keeps the consciousness of man delusively tied to the body. The apana current is restless and engrosses man in sensory experiences.
The other main current is that of prana, which flows from the coccyx to the point between the eyebrows or the Kutastha . The nature of this life current is calm; it withdraws inwardly the devotee's attention during sleep and in the wakeful state, and in meditation unites the soul with Spirit in the Kutastha Centre in the brain.
There is thus an opposite pull exercised by the downwardly flowing current (apana) and the upwardly flowing current (prana). Human consciousness is pulled downward or upward by the tug-of-war between these two currents to bind or release the soul.
The vital current flowing outward from the brain and spine to the cells, tissues, and nerves becomes attached to and clogged up in matter. It is used up, like electricity, through bodily motor movements (voluntary and involuntary) and mental activity. As the life in the cells, tissues, and nerves begins to be exhausted by this motor and senseperceptive activity-especially through excessive, inharmonious, nonequilibrated actions-prana works to recharge them and keep them vitalized. In the process of consuming life energy, however, they give off waste products, "decay." One such product is carbon dioxide excreted by the cells into the blood stream; the immediate purifying action of prana becomes necessary to remove the accumulation of this "decay" or death would soon occur. The physiology of this exchange is breath.
According to Paramhansa Yogananda, from the opposite pulls of the prana and apana currents in the spine, the inhalations and exhalations of breath are born. When the prana current goes upward, it pulls the vital breath laden with oxygen into the lungs. There prana quickly distils a quantity of necessary life force from the electronic and lifetronic composition of the oxygen atoms. (It takes a longer time for prana to distil life force from the grosser liquid and solid foods present in the stomach.) That refined energy is sent by the prana current to all bodily cells. Without such replenishment of pure life force, the cells would be powerless to carry on their many physiological functions; they would die. The life energy distilled from the oxygen also helps to reinforce the life-force centres in the spine and at the point between the eyebrows, and the main reservoir of life energy in the cerebrum. The surplus oxygen from the inhaled breath carried by the blood throughout the body, where it is utilised by the five vital pranas in various physiological processes.
Yogananda states that respiration, activated by the dual currents of prana and apana, accomplished physiologically through a series of complex nervous reflexes-chemical and mechanical-involving primarily the medulla oblongata and the sympathetic, or involuntary, nervous system. The intricate sympathetic system, in turn, is empowered by the prana and apana currents working through the vital branches of astral life current that correspond to the physical sympathetic nervous system-the main branches of which are called ida and pingala. Inspiration and expiration go on largely involuntarily through one's life. So long as the life current (prana) pulls the inhaling breath into the lungs, man lives; whenever the downwardly flowing current (apana) in the exhalation becomes more powerful, man dies. The apana current then pulls the astral body out of the physical body. When the final breath leaves the body through the action of the outgoing current apana, the astral body follows it to an astral world.
It is thus accepted that the human breath is responsible for tying the knots between soul and the body. It is the process of breathing resulting from the two opposite spinal currents that gives man perception of the external world According to Paramhansaji these sensations also produce body consciousness and duality and thus obliterate the unified soul consciousness.
Importance of Kriya Yoga
Bhagavad Gita advocates Pranayama as the most effective scientific technique for releasing his soul from the bondage of breath.
The Gita states: "The yogi is greater than body-disciplining ascetics (hath-yogi), greater even than the followers of the path of wisdom or of the path of action; be thou a yogi!" (VI:46). Paramhansa Yogananda explains this verse in these words: "It is Kriya Pranayama that is referred to is evidenced not only in this verse IV:29, but also in V:27-28: "That meditation expert (muni) becomes eternally free who, seeking the Supreme Goal, is able to withdraw from external phenomena by fixing his gaze within the midspot of the eyebrows and by neutralizing the even currents of prana and apana [that flow] within the nostrils and lungs. The ancient sage Patanjali, foremost exponent of yoga, also extols Kriya Yoga Pranayama: "Liberation can be attained by that Pranayama which is accomplished by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration" (Yoga Sutras II:49)."
In sleep, breath, lungs, heart slow down but they are not completely stilled. But by Kriya Yoga the breath is gradually quieted and the movements in the lungs and the body stilled. When motion leaves the entire body, owing to lack of agitation and to complete physical and mental stillness, venous blood ceases to accumulate. Venous blood is ordinarily pumped by the heart into the lungs for purification. Freed from this constant work of blood purification, the heart and the lungs are quieted. Breath ceases to go in and out of the lungs by the mechanical action of the diaphragm.
Yogananda clarifies that the Kriya Yoga Pranayama stops the bodily decay associated with apana, manifest in the exhaling breath, by fresh oblations of life force or prana, distilled from the inhaling breath. This practice enables the devotee to dispel the illusion of growth and decay of the body as flesh; he then realizes it as made of lifetrons .
In the words of Paramhansa Yogananda, the body of the Kriya Yogi is recharged with extra energy distilled from breath and reinforced by the tremendous dynamo of energy generated in the spine; the decay of bodily tissues decreases. This lessens and ultimately makes unnecessary the blood-cleansing function of the heart. When the pulsating life of the heart pump becomes quiet, owing to non-pumping of venous blood, exhalation and inhalation are no longer needed. The life force, which was dissipated in cellular, nervous, respiratory, and heart action, withdraws from the external senses and organs and unites with the current in the spine. The Kriya Yogi then learns how to commingle the upwardly flowing life current (prana) into the downwardly flowing current (apana) and commingle the downwardly flowing current (apana) into the upwardly flowing current (prana). He thus neutralizes the dual movement, and by will power withdraws both currents into one revealing sphere of spiritual light at the point between the eyebrows. This light of pure life energy scintillates from the cerebrospinal centres directly to all the bodily cells, magnetizing them, arresting decay and growth, and making them vitally self-sustained, independent of breath or any external source of life.
Kriya Yoga Pranayama, the scientific method of neutralization of breath, has nothing in common with the foolish practice of trying to control life current by forcible retention of breath in the lungs-an unscientific, unnatural, and harmful practice. Anyone holding the breath for a few minutes in the lungs feels pain, suffocation and heart strain. This adverse bodily effect should be sufficient proof that yogis would not recommend such unnatural practices. Certain teachers do advice unscientific, not to say impossible, long retention of breath in the lungs-a practice completely tabooed by God-enlightened yogis.
True kumbhaka, or the retention of the breath mentioned in enlightened yoga treatises, refers not to the forcible holding of the breath in the lungs, but to the natural breathlessness brought about by scientific Pranayama, which renders breathing unnecessary.
Impact of Kriya Yoga
WHEN BY KRIYA YOGA the mortal breath disappears from the lungs, the yogi consciously experiences, without dying, the death process by which energy is switched off from the senses (causing the disappearance of the body consciousness and the simultaneous appearance of the soul consciousness). Unlike the ordinary man, the transcendent yogi realises that his life is not conditioned by exhalation and inhalation, but that the steady life force in the brain is continuously reinforced through the medulla from the omnipresent cosmic current. Even mortal man, during the nightly state of sleep, rises psychologically above the consciousness of breath; his life force then partially becomes still and reveals a glimpse of the soul as the deep joy of sleep. The breathless yogi, however, realises the state of conscious "death" as a far deeper and more blessed state than that bestowed by the deepest blissful semi-superconscious sleep. When breath ceases in the Kriya Yogi, he is suffused with an incomparable bliss. He realises then that it is the storm of human breath that is responsible for the action of the dream wave of the human body and its sensations; it is breath that causes body consciousness.
When, with cessation of breath and the quieting of the heart, life force is switched off from the senses, the mind becomes detached and interiorized, able at last to perceive consciously the inner worlds and supernal spheres of divine consciousness.
In the first stages of ecstasy by Kriya Yoga, the yogi perceives soul blessedness. By higher ecstasies that come as a result of complete mastery of the breathless state, he realizes the physical body to be made of lifetrons that are surrounded by a halo of grosser electroatomic cells. The yogi perceives the illusion of the body dream dematerialize into the reality of God. By experiencing the reality of the body as lifetrons, controlled by the thought of God, the yogi becomes one with Him. With that divine consciousness the yogi is able to create, preserve, or dematerialize the dream atoms of his body or of any other object in creation. Attaining this power, the yogi has the option of leaving his physical dream body on earth to gradually disintegrate into cosmic atoms; or he can keep his dream body on earth indefinitely like Babaji; or, like Elijah, he can dematerialize its dream atoms into the Divine Fire. Elisha witnessed the body of Elijah become etheric, ascending in a chariot of fiery atoms and lifetrons commingled with the cosmic light of God. His luminous physical and astral ream bodies and his causal body and soul merged into Cosmic Consciousness.
Technique of Kriya Yoga
Four different levels of Kriya initiation are explained in the following pages. These were taught by Sri Shayama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya to his disciples and are religiously kept in pure form by his line of disciples. Here various techniques forming the basis of Kriya Yoga are also explained, though many secret explanations of these techniques can not be included in this paper. These techniques are best learnt from a Kriya Yogi, who has been duly authorised to give this initiation. Without the grace of a true Guru, the practice of these techniques can be harmful to the body and mind.
The First Initiation (The First Kriya)
The Kriya Yoga contains four initiations. The first Kriya leads to perfection in the Khechari Mudra (see Talabhya Kriya below). After the second and third initiations, the yogi recognizes the infinite Self. At the fourth initiation, the highest level, the yogi learns to dissolve his Self by projecting his prana out through the sahasrara chakra (crown center of the body), thus ending the eternal cycle of life and death.
The first level of Kriya Yoga (First Kriya) contains the following techniques to be followed in the order given below:
Talabhya Kriya : This technique is preparatory for Khechari mudraas it helps to lengthen one’s tongue and make it flexible.
Nabhi Kriya: The yogi mentally chants 'Om' a certain number of times, placing the chin against the throat cavity and concentrating on the navel. The chin is raised and the head is thrown backward. Simultaneously, the mind concentrates on the spinal point behind the navel. 'Om' is chanted a number of times in this position.
MahaMudra: Legs are stretched out, hands hold the feet. At the end of each inhalation of the Kriya Pranayama, the forehead touches the knees.
Mental Pranayama: The mind is allowed to go up and down the spine, uttering 'Om' at each of the spinal centers.
Pranayama: Breathing is reduced through gradual practice to 1/10th its normal rate. The mind ascends the spine while breathing in and descends on exhalation. The tongue will be in Khechari Mudra and the mouth will be closed. This results in cessation of breathing. With practice, the body cells are automatically oxygenated and decarbonized.
Yoni Mudra or Jyoti Mudra: ( The original name is Yoni Mudra, but Paramhansa Yogananda used the term Jyoti Mudra which also aptly denotes this technique) The mind is placed at a point between the eyebrows. 'Om' is chanted at that point. Thumbs block the ear. The index finger holds the eyeball steady to create stillness. The middle finger closes the nostril. Breath is held as long as comfortable. With time, the Inner Light is seen at the third eye. The light condenses into a golden ring with a blue sphere at the center of which a five-pointed Silver Star emerges. The yogi is now supposed to pierce this star to have a glimpse of other dimensions.
Talabhya Kriya: The practice ends by performing the Talabhya Kriya again. Throughout this, the tongue should remain in Khechari Mudra.
MahaMudra: Legs are stretched out, hands hold the feet. At the end of each inhalation of the Kriya Pranayama, the forehead touches the knees.
Paramhansa Yogananda propagated one version of the Kriya Yoga techniques. His line of disciples practice:
Increasing the practice of Kriya, doing all works without expectations for the results thereof, the path aims at achieving Tranquility, observing everything which is revealed in Yoni Mudra (Beatific Inner Revelation Kriya), and terminating all desired expectations, renouncing every desire before it originates, being freed from all thoughts.
- Energisation exercises which help the kriya yogi in relaxing the muscles of the body.
- Hong-Sa (Hansa) Technique: The Kriya Yogi watches the breath for calming the mind.
- Om technique: In this technique, Kriya Yogi listens to the creative sound of Pranav.
- Maha Mudra: This is done as explained earlier. Maha Mudra helps in preparing the body for Kriya Yoga Pranayama. The author was told by Dr. Prafulla Kumar Hazara, disciple of Swami Sriyukteshwar Giri (And whose name appears in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda), that even at the age of nearly 87 years, he is completely fit due to the practice of Maha Mudra. Many other senior Kriya Yogis have also confirmed this view.
- Kriya Pranayama: The practitioner does Kriya Pranayama as learnt from an authorised Kriya Yogi of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India or Self-Realization Fellowship, both established by Paramhansa Yogananda.
- Jyoti Mudra: This is practiced a few times to see the Third Eye at the Kuthastha.
- This is followed by silent meditation using other techniques.
It is meditating on the thoughtless state of Consciousness, especially holding that state of Consciousness where there is no sun, moon, light of fire; still everything is seen eternally.
One bright, dazzling star of Consciousness is seen very secretly in between the eyebrows, and the unmanifested state of Consciousness is revealed.
When all the three qualities are harmoniously together in one rhythm inside the Spinal Cord, then the supreme Being is revealed, going beyond the sentiments of discrimination between good and bad.
"Some say that Lahiri Mahashaya taught as many as 108 kinds of Kriya directed towards achieving powers and beatitudes laid down in all the various Yoga Shastras. However, for attainment of spiritual bliss and supreme elevation about half a dozen are deemed sufficient. For higher Kriyas, the First, the Second, the Third and Fourth Kriyas have to be obtained from the Guru or in his absence from one who has been authorised by the Guru. These first four are the Guru given Kriyas. The remainder of the Kriyas can be divined out by the Kriya Yogi himself, as the principle underlying these are mastered after successfully completing the first four Kriyas."
"One of the pre-requisites for receiving higher Kriyas apart from acquiring penetration into "inner" realizations, is the particular physical ability of being able to perform Khechari Mudra, another Tantra feature. Kechari lies in the capacity to push one's tongue through the septum behind the uvula upwards. This is an essential prerequisite without which higher Kriyas cannot be performed successfully. In the traditional system taught by Lahiri Mahashaya, the second Kriya can only be done by performing Khechari Mudra."
"The second Kriya is known as the "Thokar Kriya," the nick-name coming from the "Thokar" or jerk that is introduced in the course of this Kriya. Mastering this Kriya gives one deeper penetration and finer and finer subtle experiences; experiencing "inner light" and "inner sound" become easy."
"The Third Kriya is known as "Omkar Kriya" coming from the fact that with diligent performance of this Kriya, the revelation of the Pranava sound (the Omkar) becomes a reality."
"The Third and Fourth Kriyas are said to be extensions of the Second Kriya. They cannot be performed, however, without being taught. The various principles and step by step principles must be shown in initiation. The Fourth Kriya is difficult; in fact, impossible to perform unless one has mastered the art of the Third due to the supreme level of breath mastery which is required to perform the technique. It requires mastery of the Third before stepping into the Fourth." (From the book Kashi, Light of Kriya Yoga, copyright 2004, Yoga Niketan Inc. and DasGupta, Sri Sailendra Bejoy, Kriya Yoga and Shri Yukteshvar, copyright 2004, Yoga Niketan Inc.)
Paravastha of Kriya
These are the four steps the yogi passes through in the passage towards ultimate success. In the course of Kriya Yoga the Yogi attains different spiritual heights. Complete samadhi occurs when the yogi is completely concentrated at the Ajna Chakra between the eyebrows. Lahiri Mahashaya had called this stage the "Paravastha of Kriya"; the ecstatic stage which is reached after the perfect performance of Kriya technique.
Requirements for Kriya
It is very important that the person desirous of practicing Kriya Yoga must fulfill a number of very stringent requirements. Some of the requirements as stated by Swami Sriyukteshwar Giri are:
1. The person must be honest and not a liar.
2. The person should not smoke and drink.
3. The person should read some portion of the Bhagawad Gita every day. 4. The person should lose self-importance to curb the ego, and keep it in its place.
5. He should treat all women as his mother, except his wife, and she should treat all men as her father, except her husband.
6. The person should sit a little lower than his or her Gurudev or Master's seat and offer everything to him.
7. The person should practice Kriyas every day in strict accordance with the instructions personally received from his or her Gurudev. This point cannot be over-emphasised.
- Patanjali. Yoga Sutra. Pune: International Academy of Ayurveda, 1988.
- Yogananda P. Autobiography of a Yogi. Ranchi: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, 1986.
- Yogananda P. God Talks with Arjuna. Los Angelas , CA: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1999.
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