There is a school of yoga which concerns itself with the psychological circuits of mind and emphasizes one-pointedness of concentration in meditation and the withdrawal of the mind from external objects. The method is to look at an object, close the eyes, withdraw the mind, forget everything, enter into meditation and pass into samadhi. This is a very popular system of meditation, but has anyone practiced it with success to this day?
If the practitioners of this type of meditation were brought to a scientist and he were to investigate the condition of their brain during this so-called meditation, it would reveal no remarkable change from normal consciousness. This would show that although their mind is withdrawn from external objects, the state they experience is not meditation, but sleep.
Concentration of mind or meditation practiced with effort can never lead to real meditation, but only to tension and deep sleep. This is the problem of yoga and the problem everybody who has been trying to practice meditation for a long time has come across. But now I am going to talk about a different branch of yoga, which does not presuppose one-pointedness, concentration of mind or withdrawal of consciousness from external phenomena. This branch of yoga is kriya yoga.
Kriya yoga is one of the easiest and most powerful of the methods known to us in yoga. The kriya practices neither demand one steady pose nor concentration of the mind. Even if one is unable to concentrate on one point and the mind is jumping all about, it does not matter in kriya; we let it do so. In fact, in kriya you are not trying to withdraw your mind to one-pointedness, you are actually trying to make movements; you create motion in the realm of your mind. You do not concentrate the mind but move the mind from one point to another in a particular order, which you should not lose sight of.
The word kriya means mental activity or activity of consciousness. In contrast to the other branches of yoga, in kriya you are not trying to quieten the mind, but create activity in the mind. This brings about the development of certain parts of the brain, activity in the nervous system and awakening of mental energies.
The practices of kriya are described in the Sanskrit texts of tantric literature, a few of which were translated by Sir John Woodroffe and which are now available in French, German and English. The total number of kriya practices is seventy-six. Out of these, twenty-seven are already known to most teachers of kriya. We can begin with five or seven kriyas, but those who are eager to practice kriya yoga will have to go through much preparation before they can even plan to learn it, or before they need a teacher.
The preparations for kriya yoga are perfection of breath consciousness, discovery of the psychic passage and preliminary kriya methods. Also, the aspirant of kriya yoga should have proficiency in a few mudras and bandhas.
First, I will explain breath consciousness in a few words. With your eyes open or closed, with your mind concentrated or oscillating, in lotus posture, standing or sitting – as you like, just become aware of the fact ‘I am breathing in and I am breathing out’. Keep this consciousness of breath uninterruptedly for three minutes at one stretch and then take a break. You don’t have to sit separately or exclusively for meditation. Even now while you are listening to my speech you can maintain this awareness of your breath uninterruptedly and then after three minutes you can stop the breath awareness.
When you are aware of breath you are aware of your mind; awareness of your breath is awareness of your own consciousness and it is awareness of your awareness. Whether you concentrate or not it does not matter, but remember the moment that you become aware of your mind, of your consciousness, you are aware of your awareness. This point you must remember again and again.
The next preparation is to discover the psychic passage, the pathway or road through which the breath, or psychic consciousness, can flow up and down. The path is the spinal cord from the bottom to the top, at the point where the pineal gland is situated. In this psychic path you practice conscious breathing with eyes open, and most important, you develop a consciousness of movement. There must be awareness of movement, up and down, and this movement is called kriya in yoga.
By this circulation of mind and consciousness from bottom to top and from top to bottom of the spinal cord, we awaken vitality and a magnetic current there. We also bring about revitalization of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which control the whole nervous balance. We pass our awareness up and down the spinal cord fifty times. This practice is very beneficial for people who suffer from mental breakdown, nervous imbalance, neurosis, or anxiety.
At the base of the spine there is a very important centre which in yoga is known as mooladhara chakra, and it is situated in the perineum, the area between the urinary and excretory systems. This is a very vital point and organ in the body. The parasympathetic nervous system connects the brain with the rest of the body through two centres. One centre is this mooladhara chakra, and from here impulses are conducted through the parasympathetic nervous system right into the brain. At the top of the spinal cord is the other very important conducting centre – the pineal gland, which in yoga we call the ajna chakra. Thus ajna chakra and mooladhara chakra are both carriers of impulses to the brain. The impulses travel through the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the whole endocrine system of the body.
In addition to these two vital centres at the base and top of the spine, there are other centres situated in the spinal cord: swadhisthana in the sacral region, manipura in the solar plexus region, anahata in the cardiac region and vishuddhi in the cervical region. These are four very vital centres in the body and these connect the brain with the body through the sympathetic nervous system.
The influx of our body sensations are carried from these four spinal centres via the sympathetic nervous system, and from the mooladhara and ajna centres via the parasympathetic nervous system to the brain. These centres carry shakti, or vital energy, and we stimulate this shakti by breathing in and out through this psychic path of the spine. The name of this practice, which is preparatory to kriya yoga, is ajapa japa.
The next preparation is the practice of mudras and bandhas. You must master them very well. The important bandhas are jalandhara bandha or locking the chin, uddiyana bandha or withdrawing the sacral plexus, and moola bandha, or controlling the inflexions of the mooladhara chakra or the base centre. When one completes these preparations, he can start the practices of kriya yoga with a master who knows the science very well and who can teach him what he needs out of the seventy-six or the twenty-seven kriya techniques.
I have been engaged in much research into the influence of yoga on the human body and brain, and I have had some very encouraging results. For instance, I have sometimes given kriyas to people suffering from suicidal complexes and terrific neuroses. I did not teach them the whole of kriya yoga, but just one or two kriyas. Their practice gave them a new lease of life. I shall not go into deeper details of kriya yoga, but I shall just give you a very simple technique. Sit in any asana, padmasana or siddhas ana are the best. Place both your hands on the knees and do nothing but concentrate on the perineum, the area between the excretory and urinary systems. Very slowly, contract it and then very slowly release it. Do this fifty times and then see what has happened to your depression. I wonder if you will suffer from depression ever again!
This technique of moola bandha is not very difficult and it is not actually kriya yoga, but it is most important in that it awakens the vitality or the prana shakti, which is lying dormant at the bottom point of the spine in all of us. This vitality is known as kundalini or the serpent power. I am giving this technique especially to those people suffering from nervous disorders, and the resulting tendency to commit suicide and to do all kinds of things to escape from life. I also suggest that people who have very restless and disturbed minds, who cannot concentrate even for a fraction of a second, should practice this technique. If, after practicing this, their mind is still agitated, they should try another exercise – vajroli.
Here, one concentrates on the lower abdomen or at the base of the urinary system and one slowly draws in the body there. Draw in the bladder, urinary system, kidneys and the whole of that area and then slowly relax it. One should contract and relax that area twenty-five times. Those who suffer from serious disorders, physical, mental and emotional, caused by sexual neurosis or from problems with hormones, such as blocks in hormone secretions, should practice this particular kriya or movement. This is because the pituitary gland, known in yoga as sahasrara chakra (the thousand-petalled lotus) is directly connected with the functioning of the urinary system, the kidneys and the genito-ovarian system. The posterior lobe of the pituitary produces two kinds of hormones, and by doing this particular kriya you not only control these particular organs in the lower body but also control and regulate the hormone secretion in the brain.
There is nothing secretive about kriya yoga. I could tell you everything about it, but one day is not enough. I need at least seven days to teach it to you. However, there is a common idea that there is something secretive in kriya yoga which the masters keep to themselves, and that everybody is not qualified for kriya practice. This is a myth. It is also commonly believed that kriya yoga should not be practiced by householders, by married people who do not practice the so-called celibacy. If this were so, I think that not only no man in Denmark, but no man in the whole world would be qualified for kriya yoga.
It is my belief that the state of celibacy is unrelated to sexual life, but that brahmacharya means conservation of the highest vitality not in the genital region but in the brain. The posterior pituitary produces hormones which are conducted to the gonads and ovaries and these produce the whole of what we call the marital and sexual life. Therefore, it is what happens in the brain which is of great importance, not what you lose in the sexual act. These hormones within the brain can be preserved not by the so-called brahmacharya or philosophy, but only by concentration or meditation or by the very powerful forms of vitality generated through kriya yoga.
Therefore it is a complete misunderstanding that kriya yoga, or any other yoga, is only for unmarried people and forbidden for those leading the marital life. It is not at all so. In the system of tantra, which contains much concerning kriya yoga, this is stated very clearly. It says, “Whether those who aspire to the awakening of the great shakti in themselves are married or unmarried, they are qualified for initiation into the practices of kriya yoga.”
I have been conducting classes for years on concentration and meditation, and also in kriya yoga. There seems to be a remarkable difference between the two. After five minutes of concentration and meditation, people start scratching and moving, and simply get tired. But, when in kriya yoga I ask them not to close their eyes or concentrate, and to move their body when they like, you will be surprised to hear that after twelve minutes they close their eyes and go into meditation and I have to pull them out of meditation.
In kriya yoga there are certain techniques for movement of consciousness. When I ask you “Do not close your eyes during these exercises”, I assure you that after fifteen minutes your eyes will be closed and if I ask you what you are doing you will say, “Swamiji, I am in a mood for meditation I cannot go further with this kriya. It is impossible.” I will say, “No, keep your eyes open and do not go into meditation. Remain out, do not go in.” But you will say, “Swamiji, please let me go in, I can’t remain out.” Have you ever known a system of meditation like kriya yoga where, in spite of the pull of the guru, the disciple is just pushing himself inside?
Kriya yoga practices are casual, neither very systematic nor very serious. You do not sit down and tense your body, no! The kriyas are as casual as when you talk to your son or husband or wife or when you read a book. In that same casual, relaxed way you sit down and start moving your consciousness.
Those who have had LSD experiences, when they practice kriya yoga, say at the end of the kriya practice they have had a good trip. However, whereas the LSD trip is not under one’s control, in kriya yoga one is in complete control; you can bring your mind back from its heightened state to normal work at any moment. In kriya, the bindings of time and space are transcended, but not the awareness; you are not lost in that so-called unknown and delusive eternity, your feet are completely and firmly planted. If you have no particular job to do, and no responsibilities and obligations to perform, the moment you have finished kriya yoga practices you can sit in meditation for ten hours, no problem; and if you do have responsibilities, then you are quite ready to take part in day to day life again. It is in this that the trip is completely under your control.
When I first came across kriya yoga, it was a very wonderful experience, but I did not teach it because I thought people were not in need of this science. One day a very unfortunate lady of very high family came to me. She asked if I had a way in yoga for committing suicide. I invited her to come and visit me if she liked, and sometimes in the morning when I used to practice a few items of kriya yoga, she also practiced them for fifteen to twenty minutes. This was many years ago, and now she has become one of the happiest women I have ever seen, and she has not become useful to herself alone but to thousands of people through community work. It is my belief that the whole change in her personality and its awakening and revival were due only to the few very insignificant kriyas which she practiced with me during those two or three months.
So there are two different systems of yoga. One is the concentration, meditation and samadhi achieved by withdrawal of the mind from external life. If you can do this system, please go on with it, but if you cannot and your mind plays like a rebellious child, then it is much better to adopt the second system and thereby preclude any friction and difficulty with the mind. Take a few kriyas, not many – five to ten – and these will help you to deal directly with the rebellious mind.
When I was in Paris this year, I gave kriya classes for three days. The people were so greatly benefited that after only three months they want me to give more classes in kriya to hundreds of students. When I asked them what made them decide to call me back to Paris so soon, the reply was, “The kriya yoga my uncle, my brother or my husband has been practicing has created such a great change in his life that I also want to learn and be benefited by kriya.” This is the reply of the people in Paris where I gave the first kriya yoga classes outside India.
Those who are eager to follow this systematic kriya yoga path should first practice asanas, pranayamas, some hatha yoga, some preliminary kriyas, ajapa japa, breath consciousness, mudras and bandhas regularly for four or five months and then they should learn kriya yoga from a qualified master.
Diet, status, creed or religious affiliations, age (young or old), mental condition (normal or abnormal), none of these are a barrier to kriya practice. If you are convinced kriya yoga is for you, you should take it up. Start the preparations immediately.
Kriya yoga is part of tantra and it is on this subject I shall speak tomorrow. Then you will know how close you are to a science given to mankind more than six thousand years ago, and you will understand how, in this age of tension, dissension and all kinds of social and mental problems, the tantra system and kriya yoga above all, can help us in our physical and mental difficulties and finally, in the unfoldment of our consciousness.
—Denmark, 1968, first published in Yoga from Shore to Shore