Introduction to Kriya Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Harlow, England. 12.2.83

In the science of yoga there are various systems: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, gyana yoga. Apart from these four yogas, there is laya yoga, mantra yoga, and a very important form of yoga called kriya yoga. If you make a careful study of these yogas, you will find that each and every path is intended to effect a reorientation or perfection in some part of your being.

Karma yoga helps you to unburden the load of karma which you carry all the time in your mind, so that, with a lighter mind, you can have inner experiences. Bhakti yoga helps you to adjust the surplus emotions on account of which you do not enjoy life, but suffer throughout. When the emotions are properly adjusted, there is automatic concentration of mind and dissipations come to an end. Raja yoga teaches you how to control the mind, how to control the mental force, and bring it to one central point.

Like this, there are various forms of yoga which train the different aspects of your existence. These yoga paths should be practised side by side, because you are a human being, a blending or a combination of body, emotion, psyche and intellect- head, heart and hand, let us say. If you follow a lopsided path, practising only gyana yoga or hatha yoga or bhakti yoga, and no other yoga, professing that this yoga is supreme, then you are making a great mistake insofar as evolution is concerned. You may become an authority on that particular system of yoga, but as far as the development or progress of your inner self is concerned, it will be lopsided. In order to avoid unbalanced development, it is very necessary to make a synthesis, a happy blending, of yoga practices. Man is dynamic by nature (rajasic), He is also emotional, psychic and rational. Some people are predominantly rational, others are predominantly psychic, emotional or dynamic. According to the prominence of your qualities, one type of yoga should be selected as the main yoga. This means that you may be a raja yogi, a bhakti yogi, or a karma yogi, but that side by side with this yoga you are practising other forms of yoga also.

However, when all the yoga paths are practised and you come to a point where you find that, although concentration has been achieved, inner peace has been experienced, and you are able to maintain total quietness of body, mind and spirit for a prolonged period, but still something is lacking, then there is definitely an important path for you called kriya yoga.

Expansion of mind and liberation of energy

Peace of mind, tranquillity, proper understanding, relaxation, etc., represent the positive accomplishments of man's spiritual life, but they are not an end in themselves. The important aim for which you practise yoga, and for which people have been practising yoga for thousands of years, is a change in the quality of experience, in the quality of mind and in the quality of perception. This is the ultimate purpose of the practices of yoga.

All yogas definitely lead you progressively from one point to another. They bring about a great change in the order of your life. They help you to discipline your senses and your mind, and help to create a balance in the hormonal, endocrinal and emotional structure of your personality, but there is something which remains to be achieved. That is known as expansion of mind and liberation of energy. These are the twofold objectives which the yoga you are practising must ultimately fulfil. If you fail to fulfil these twofold objectives, then what you are practising is something other than yoga, or else it is a very preliminary aspect of yoga. So remember the expression, 'expansion of mind and liberation of energy'.

The quality of mind which you have is responsible for the quality of experience. You see a flower as a flower, a candle as a candle, an animal as an animal, but this experience is dependent on the mind and not on the nature of the object. This is the conclusion arrived at by modern science. Your experience of an object, whatever the object may be, is perceptible through the senses and designated by the mind. That quality of mind must change so that the quality of experience can also change.

If you read the stories of saints and sages, you will find that their values, their approach to problems, their deductions and conclusions, their ideas and predictions, were entirely different. Why, because they were mad? No, because their minds had crossed over the border of the senses, and when you go beyond that barrier, it is called expansion of mind.

Ordinarily your eyes see a banana or an orange and this knowledge is transferred to the mind. The mind then recognises that object as an orange or a banana. That is the border and that is the limit. Mind has to depend on the knowledge which is received through the senses. If you completely eliminate the senses as the middleman and as the medium of information, and let your mind function directly, then you will find that the quality of your experience is not the same as it was previously. This expansion of mind is the objective of yoga.

Now, when we speak about expansion of mind and liberation of energy, it is necessary to explain a little bit about tantra, because this is a science which is not understood by modern man. Tantra is a science which has evolved with the advent of man, and if you ask me how old it is, I would say it; is as old as man himself. Even then man had psychic abilities and with the dawning of awareness, he began to take notice of them. Of course, proper explanations were not given and wrong interpretations were presented even in those days. Often a person who was a clairvoyant, a telepath or a spiritual healer, was said to be possessed by a spirit. Later they found that these faculties were not the result of a spirit, of madness or of a drug. They were the consequence of an expanded state of mind which certain individuals had spontaneously developed as a result of their evolution.

With expansion of mind comes liberation of energy. When your mind is expanding by practices or by itself, then a certain type of energy is released. In yoga and tantra that energy is called kundalini shakti. Shakti and kundalini are the two terms used to denote this force which has to be liberated as you liberate butter from milk. Here I amusing me word liberation, but not in the religious sense. You know how butter is released from milk by a certain process. In the same way, the force or energy can be liberated from matter, because matter contains energy, or matter is a state of energy, and by a certain process you can extract that force. Beyond the body are the senses. Beyond the senses is the mind. Beyond the mind is the intellect. Beyond the intellect is the psyche. Beyond the psyche is the self, and beyond the self is the universe or the cosmos. This is how you have to extract the force from within this body and this person, and that shakti is known as kundalini.

Something about this force is known by most yoga teachers and practitioners, because nowadays people are talking about it and a lot of books have been written in India, America and everywhere concerning it. If you have not studied this subject, as an aspirant of yoga, I request you to do so, because kundalini is not a myth or a metaphorical poem. It is a force which is lying dormant underneath man's animal instinct. This force is supposed to be the evolutionary energy in man, but how do we tackle it?

Kriya yoga and kundalini

In tantra there are many methods which awaken kundalini, and out of them all, the practice of kriya yoga is considered to be most powerful. In India the science of kriya yoga was not known for many years, because it was never published. It was handed down traditionally from guru to disciple. Disciples, both householder and monastic, practised this kriya yoga and they found that through this practice, awakening of kundalini became a real and living experience.

You know that in this physical body you have six main chakras, or junctures of energy situated within the framework of the spine. The first centre is at the root of the tailbone. (I am talking about the physiology.) The sixth centre is at the top, at the terminating point of the spine. In between these two, there are lour other centres, one in the sacral region, another in the solar plexus, another in the cardiac plexus and another in the cervical plexus.

These six centres are linked by three pathways of energy, which emanate from the first centre below the tail bone. They are known as pingala - the pathway for prana; ida- the pathway for mind and consciousness, and sushumna - the pathway for higher consciousness, that is, the Self. The purpose of kriya yoga is therefore to create awakening in these chakras, to purify these pathways, and finally, to awaken the kundalini shakti, the evolutionary force in man.

There are many kriyas, many practices, but out of all these, a combination of seventeen is considered to be most powerful and effective. These seventeen practices are divided into two groups. One group is to be done with the eyes open and the other with the eyes closed. You may have come across a reference to this theme in the New Testament of the Bible, which speaks of a ladder from earth to heaven, divided into seven rungs. And in the practice of kriya yoga you climb half these steps with the eyes open and the other half with the eyes closed.

What does this mean? It means that out of these seventeen practices, you should do nine with the eyes open. Do not close your eyes during the first nine practices; that is the central instruction of kriya yoga. When I taught kriya yoga I found that people have a general tendency to close their eyes because it feels more relaxed, but again and again we keep reminding them, 'No, do not close your eyes.' You may blink, you may rest your eyes, but every practice up to the tenth has to be done with eyes open. That is point number one and it is very important.

Point number two: if you feel uncomfortable and you want to change your posture during the practice of kriya yoga, you can change it. You do not need to maintain the same posture, if it is uncomfortable. Point number three: you do not waste time in trying to control the mind during these practices. This is considered to be the most important point in kriya yoga and in tantra.

A friendly mind is your best ally

Through and through the tantric practices, (not only in kriya yoga), the first instruction the guru gives you is, 'Do not quarrel with your mind. Do not try to control your mind.' What is this control? Whenever you sit for meditation, what do you do? You quarrel with your mind, with yourself. This seems to be a very revolutionary idea for those who believe in the conventional system of meditation. Those who follow a traditional system of practices say, 'Everybody is telling us to control the mind.' But if you think about this, you will realise that you are definitely making some sort of mental error.

In the Bhagavad Gita, there is a statement made by Krishna to his disciple Arjuna, "O Arjuna, whenever your mind becomes restless and unsteady, then and there you must control this tendency and bring the mind under your subjugation." Of course, this seems to contradict our previous statement, but here you must remember that, according to Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, the calibre of Arjuna was very high. So, what Krishna said to Arjuna was right insofar as Arjuna is concerned. If any one of us is like Arjuna, then let him also control the mind whenever it becomes restless or unsteady.

In Gita itself it is said that all people involved in yoga are not yogis. Some of them aspire to walk on the path, they are called aspirants. Some are already walking on the path, they are called sadhakas or practitioners, and some have achieved the goal, the end of the path, they are called yogis. These are the three categories of people in yoga.

Now, this technique of instant control as soon as the mind goes out of gear, applies to the second category of sadhakas who are already steadfast in the practices of yoga and who have overcome the effects of passion. For one who has over come the effects of anxiety, depression, elation, whose moods do not fluctuate from east to west like ft pendulum, this theory of mind control is applicable. But for one whole mind is constantly oscillating, who is smashed from side to side by his own passions and ignorance, the most important tiling is not to have any animosity towards his own personality. Otherwise, he will land in a mental hospital.

In every aspect of life, in every religious belief or philosophy, then; is a conflict between opposing forces, and both are a part of yourself. Wherever you go, people are always in conflict, in family life and in spiritual life there are conflicts, because this is a quality of the mind. A tussle between the ego and the superego is going on all the time. In kriya yoga you do not create this atmosphere of fighting between the ego and superego. Why create conflict at all? Even if these conflicts have some truth in them, even if they are necessary, drop them!

So in kriya yoga the third important instruction is : do not control the mind, just go on with your practice. If it is a practice of breathing, do it. If it is contraction of the perineum, do it. If it is contracting your abdomen, just do that, and if your mind is running riot, let it go, because sooner or later the mind can be controlled by the changes that take place in the body through the practices of kriya yoga.

The main contention of kriya yoga

All the fluctuations which take place in your mind are not necessarily caused by psychological factors. Your mind may be jumping because your hormones are imbalanced. You may be emotional today because this is your cycle. Or you may be depressed due to a little deficiency in the chemical proportion of the endocrine secretions. Why take it so seriously? Why not consider your mental behaviour as an effect of a physiological imbalance? That is exactly what we seem to ignore, and what kriya yoga deals with.

The first practice in kriya yoga is called vipareeta karani mudra. Vipareeta means reverse, karani means action. Your car has a reverse gear hasn't it? What happens when you drive in reverse gear? The car goes back to the same point from which it has come. If you drive your car out of the garage and then you put it in reverse gear, it will go back into the garage, not forward to burn up its petrol on the road.

In Hatha Yoga Pradipika and in the tantric texts, there is a wonderful statement regarding this reverse action: "From the moon the nectar emanates. When the sun consumes the nectar, the yogi becomes old. His body decays and he dies. Therefore, by constant practice, the yogi should try to reverse the process. The nectar which is flowing towards the sun should be reversed and sent back to the higher centres." What will happen then? In Hatha Yoga Pradipika it says further: "When you are able to reverse the flow of amrita or nectar, it will not be consumed by the sun. It will be assimilated by your pure body."

When your body has been purified by hatha yoga, pranayama and a pure diet, this nectar is assimilated by the body, and as a result, you experience a high mental state. When the nectar returns to its source in the higher centres of the brain, and is not consumed by the sun, you begin to feel a sort of quietness. What is this quietness? It is a result of the assimilation of the particular secretion which this physical body produces. In yoga and in tantra, this particular secretion is known as 'amrita'. The word amrita comes from the Sanskrit root 'amar', meaning 'deathless'. That is the literal meaning, but amrita is translated as nectar or ambrosia which gives immortality. The point from which this nectar emanates is bindu. Bindu means 'drop' and its location is at the junction point of the inferior and the superior brain. It is exactly at that point where the Aryans and Hindus used to keep a lull of hair. They no longer do so because they consider it unnecessary.

It is from bindu, this cranial passage, that the drop comes. The cranial passage is like a very small piece of grass and it has a depression. Within that depression there is a tiny amount of fluid. It is so small I do not think it would even contain one drop. It is that particular drop of fluid which is known as amrita in yoga. Therefore, in tantra, the name of this centre is 'bindu visarga'. Bindu means 'drop' and visarga means 'falling'. So bindu visarga is the centre from which the drop of nectar falls.

Now, the effects of this nectar on the body, if it is not wasted, are two. One effect is that you become virile and produce children. I am a product of that and so are you. Other effects can be experienced also if you can stop the drop from falling and being consumed by the solar plexus. This is achieved through the practice of vipareeta karani mudra. The solar plexus which is in the navel, is the centre of the sun, of heat. In yoga it is the meeting point of two important forces in the body- prana and apana, the up-going force and the down-going force. If these two forces can be reversed, they are brought together, and the coalition takes place in the navel centre. Then the, effects of this nectar are felt by the higher consciousness, or by the subtle body or the astral body. As a result, you become calm and quiet, even if your mind was distracted, confused, wandering and vacillating a few moments before. Then everything stops and you feel total brightness. The eyes are open; you can hear sounds and see everything around you, but the mind does not move. It appears as if time, space and object have ceased, as if the whole universe has ceased to function. You feel a total full stop.

The main hypothesis or contention here is that you can influence the structure of the body, you can create a change in the energy forces, by altering the physical secretions. By altering the chemical proportions and the energy proportions in the body, you can create an effect on the mind which you may call shanti, dharana, dhyana or samadhi. This means that, even though your mind is totally undisciplined and you cannot handle it for a second, if you are able to create the correct proportion of secretions in the different areas of the body and mind, then the higher state can be achieved. Therefore the practices of kriya yoga do not require closed eyes and a steady posture. I am not criticising raja yoga because I teach that also, but I am talking about kriya yoga, and this is the main contention of kriya yoga.

Awakening of the chakras

Another important point regarding kriya yoga is the psychic centres or chakras in the body. There are six centres- mooladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddhi, and ajna chakra, situated at certain points. Why do you not awaken and energise them? Why do you waste your time quarrelling and fighting with the mind all day long, wrestling with yourself constantly, twisting your own neck? This is suicide! Awaken your chakras instead.

How do you awaken the chakras? Kriya yoga says that by moola bandha you awaken mooladhara chakra, by vajroli mudra you awaken swadhisthana chakra, and by uddiyana bandha you awaken manipura chakra. By jalandhara bandha you awaken vishuddhi chakra and by shambhavi mudra you awaken ajna chakra. Why not try these practices? Once the chakras are awakened, experiences will begin to flow.

Expansion of the mind takes place within, the moment you start practising your mantra. If you do not have a mantra, use Om. Om is not copyright material, it is free. Just practise Om in mooladhara chakra for one month, in swadhisthana chakra for one month, in manipura chakra for one month, in anahata chakra for one month. With practice you will strike at the right point. It may not happen immediately or even in ten, twenty or thirty days, but suddenly you will begin to feel it. After you have practised awakening the chakras through mantra or by concentration, there are many techniques in kriya yoga which you can practise.

These chakras are definitely the basis for the beginning of the expanded state of awareness, but for the most part they are beyond your reach. You cannot even bore a nail into them because you do not know exactly where they are. Each chakra has a contact centre. Swadhisthana has a contact centre at the root of the urinary organ or the clitoris. Manipura has a contact centre at the navel, anahata at the sternum, vishuddhi at the throat and ajna at bhrumadhya, the mid-eyebrow centre. Mooladhara and bindu have no contact point.

Now suppose you find yourself incapable of concentrating on manipura chakra or anahata chakra, you can utilise the contact centres. The contact points are switches and if you want to switch on this light, the contact point can be used. You should remember this.

Now we have some understanding about the chakras and contact points, but the problem remains, where is kundalini? Kundalini could have left its garage hours ago. Although the native town of kundalini is mooladhara chakra, we cannot be sure that it is still there, because incarnation after incarnation, the yoga minded people, the diligent aspirants, the disciples of gurus and the followers of faiths, have practised some sort of yoga in the form of religion or mysticism. By their practice in different lives and incarnations, they must have already undergone that event called awakening of kundalini. That is why I always tell people that, although the abode of kundalini is mooladhara chakra, she may not be there, but you will find her somewhere while practising kriya yoga. Maybe you will find her moving through swadhisthana, manipura or anahata, and then you can say, 'There she is!'

It is true that man is a spiritually developed being and the function of man during this lifetime is to go beyond and awaken that higher potential. That should be the prime purpose of everyone who wants to practise kriya yoga. So do not be afraid of awakening your kundalini. Man has led himself through thousands of adventures; he has spanned the oceans, climbed Everest, gone to the moon He has taken many risks. What is one more for a prize above all these?