Kriya Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Kriya yoga is one of the most important, practical aspects of tantra. Therefore, when we talk about kriya yoga, we must know something about tantra as well. In the science of tantra, the body, mind and spirit are comprehended as a continuous process of evolution and movement. This physical body is a manifestation of consciousness. It is not different from spirit, but a state of spirit.

Within this physical body flow the channels of energy or shakti. On the material plane shakti is known as prana and mind. Mind is one form of energy and prana is another. These twin energies are known in tantra as Shiva and Shakti, and in hatha yoga it is ida and pingala. Ida and pingala represent the mental and pranic energies permeating through and through this body. It is by these energies that we think and move.

The energy of ida and pingala flow through two nadis or passages within the framework of the spinal cord. These two nadis emanate from the base of the spinal cord at a point known as mooladhara chakra, and they terminate at ajna chakra in the medulla oblongata. These nadis are not merely psychic in structure, they are also physical. In the same way, mental energy is not only psychological, it is physiological as well. Similarly, the pranic energy is not only material energy; it is also higher energy.

Besides pranic and mental energy there is a third energy in this human body which is conducted to higher centres through sushumna nadi within the spinal cord. Whereas pranic and mental energy are physiological, psychological and biological, this third energy is spiritual. When pranas predominate we are physically active, and when mind predominates we are mentally active. However, when kundalini awakens and this energy is conducted through sushumna to the higher centres, we become spiritually active.

Therefore, the purpose of kriya yoga is twofold: i) the awakening of kundalini, the spiritual energy, and ii) the awakening of sushumna, the channel for the spiritual energy. The awakening of sushumna is very necessary because if sushumna is not awakened, then this spiritual energy may be conducted through the wrong channel. So it is not merely the awakening of kundalini which is important, but more important is the awakening of the channel through which this energy has to be conducted. You may be able to awaken the energy in mooladhara chakra through the different yoga practices, but if sushumna is not awakened at the same time, then this energy can be diverted or misdirected through ida and pingala as well. When this happens, the practitioner has many difficulties until the energy is properly channelled. Therefore, in the practice of kriya yoga we are very careful about this twofold awakening process.

Befriending the mind

One of the reasons for so many mental problems in the east and west is the way people try to control the mind. The practices of kriya yoga are designed in such a way that we do not have to confront the nature of the mind. The control of mind is an intellectual process, and it is against the very principle of spiritual evolution. Therefore, the entire range and background of kriya yoga is different from those schools of thought which stress control of the mind.

Let’s talk about the mind. A thought is not the mind; an emotional upsurge is not the mind. Those people who are trying to control the mind do not know exactly what the mind is. Mind is like an iceberg; a little bit is seen and a lot is not seen. Most people do not know what thoughts or emotions they have; they are totally unaware of their mental state.

Mind is a very powerful tool, and you must be very careful about how you deal with it. If you do injustice to the mind, if you fight with the mind, it becomes weak. Most of you think of the mind as a monkey, demon or monster, and when you meditate, you fight with yourself, you hate yourself. You don’t understand this, and therefore the type of meditation you have been doing leads to a process of negation and self-hypnotism.

Meditation has to be done with the mind and for the mind; it is not necessary that you forget all about yourself. We are not talking about the extinction of mind; we are talking about expansion of mind. The area of the mind evolved so far has to be extended further. We have developed the external, sensual, mental consciousness. We recognize a form, we hear a sound, we can feel a touch, that’s the area of the mind so far. Now we have to extend the internal area, the possibilities of the mind within. When we are aware and able to extend the possibility of mind internally, we should be able to maintain the external awareness at the same time. It is something like standing at the threshold and being able to look at the interior of the room and the exterior at the same time.

Therefore, in the practice of kriya yoga, the first and foremost thing is not to control the mind, because this is not at all necessary. Spiritual awareness can dawn in a man no matter what condition the mind is in. Spiritual illumination is not a condition of mind, it is different from the mind. You have been wasting your time fighting with the mind, you do not know the mind. If you knew the totality and the homogeneity of the mind, you would be surprised at what an error you have been making. The depth, the infinity, the power of the mind is so great that you can’t even think about it. Therefore, in kriya yoga, an absolutely friendly attitude towards the mind must be maintained. It is possible to evolve without the aid of the mind, but it is better to evolve through the mind.

The practices

Another important factor to consider is that many of the thoughts which you are trying to control in your spiritual life are biological products. Such thoughts need not be controlled by a process of counter-thinking. If you can properly balance your nadis, and hormonal secretions, 95% of the thinking process with which you have been fighting will be magically eliminated. When there is an imbalance between the pranic and mental systems, the mind is agitated, and when the mind is agitated you fight with yourself.

In kriya yoga we use mudras, bandhas and pranayama. For example: one of the important practices in kriya yoga is called khechari mudra. This can help us utilize a type of secretion or nectar in the body which creates a spiritual attitude. From bindu chakra in the cranial passage, this nectar flows, and it has to be tasted by the aspirant through the practice of khechari mudra. You may not taste it every day but you may taste it sometimes. When this happens, then you have no mind at all. Thoughts evaporate and tranquillity comes automatically.

When you practise kriya yoga the whole physical body is immediately controlled. Afterwards mental control comes by itself without trying to eliminate the conscious tendencies of the mind. Higher awareness can be apprehended even when your awareness is external. Homogeneous awareness is a potential in everyone, but in order to have that experience we must widen the capacities of mind and consciousness.

Total experience

In all the kriya practices you are asked not to worry about the behaviour of the mind. There is no emphasis on steadiness and tranquillity because the practices are dynamic by nature, not static. There is no passivity as you have in other systems of meditation. The mind and consciousness must remain active, not inactive. This is the difference between hypnotism and yogic experience. When the elements of the body and mind are directed towards inactivity, you are headed towards the hypnotic state.

Through the practices of kriya yoga, you are not deactivating the mind, you are stimulating the mind and pranas as well as each and every organ. Therefore, you don’t feel the same type of tranquillity which is created in the hypnotic state. Most people want to escape, and they are trying to find the easiest way, but I’m not for that. I know that the mind is troublesome, but we can channelize its dynamism.

There should be no effort at controlling the behaviour and tendencies of the mind. In kriya yoga, you are not aspiring for a state of absolute shoonya, but a state of absolute existence.

You want to be spiritually evolved and, at the same time, aware of the entire creation. Sensory, mental and spiritual experiences are a composition of one experience, but when you go inside and block off sensory and mental experience, that is an incomplete experience.

So let us have total experience, not partial experience. When you sit in an asana, close your eyes, switch off your mind and go into meditation – this is a partial experience. But when you are aware of the outside and the inside simultaneously, this is complete and total experience. This is the way for modern people, because you want to live this life as well, no matter how much you aspire for that life. Therefore, this life and that life, this consciousness and that consciousness, this awareness and that awareness must be intermingled.

So, in fact, kriya yoga does not lead to shoonya samadhi. Kriya yoga leads to expansion of consciousness and liberation of energy. The energy is in mooladhara. It is dormant and it has to be liberated. The purpose of kriya yoga is to awaken the kundalini and when awakening of kundalini takes place, the totality becomes superb and beautiful. You have a new sense, a new awareness and a new perception.

printed in YOGA, Vol.18, No. 4, (April 1980), talk given 9 September 1979 at the Zinal Conference in Switzerland