Swami Niranjanananda: Yoga begins with hatha yoga: preparation and purification of the physical body and the pranas. Hatha yoga – the shatkarmas, asanas, pranayamas and pratyahara – belong to the primary education of yoga. Everyone is aware of the body because it is something which is physical, visible, and can be touched, felt, experienced.
When the primary education is passed, a student progresses to the next level, the higher secondary, which would be raja yoga, mantra, dharana, dhyana. This level must also be passed. After the body comes awareness of the mind. The mind is something that cannot be seen, touched or felt, but one can have glimpses of the mind because of the thoughts and desires that come up, and the various mental behaviours that manifest when one encounters these mental expressions. Then one realizes that there is something beyond the body, and it is known as ‘the mind’. Next, the university level of yoga education would involve combining the components of karma yoga – yoga of action; bhakti yoga – channelling of emotions; raja yoga – mind management, and jnana yoga – developing wisdom in life. The university level of yoga is where all these yogas merge in one act.
Then come the higher yogas like kundalini yoga and kriya yoga. All the preparation of the body, nadis, senses and brain takes place in hatha yoga. All the mental behaviours are adjusted through raja yoga so that by the time one comes to practise kriya yoga there are no worries about anything which is physical or mental, and the experience of developing kriya yoga can be properly focused on.
Kriya yoga’s function is not to make a better personality or a better yogi. Rather, it is to give access to the layers of consciousness which have not yet been tapped, or experienced. That is the psychic dimension of the human being. So when a person is learning kriya yoga it is because they have already gone through the processes of hatha yoga and raja yoga, they have had a glimpse of jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, and then, at the end, comes kriya yoga.
Beyond mind, there is another dimension of experience, and that is consciousness. The mind has been experienced, but not the consciousness. Even in the highest states of samadhi, one is pacifying and stilling the mind, but there is no direct cognition of human consciousness. Human consciousness is infinite, it is not confined to time and space, it is just a continuity of existence, it is just a continuity of experience.
With the practices of kriya yoga that point can be reached where one begins to access the dimension of consciousness. The energy, the strength, the force, which we encounter in that dimension is used to improve the quality of life in this dimension. So, kriya yoga is a practice which stands by itself, and it does not tinker with the personality, or the mental behaviour, or attitudes, rather it brings about an awakening of the dormant centres of personality.
One can’t expect a university degree by only completing primary education. No amount of hatha yoga, no amount of asana and prana yama is going to lead to that destination. Yes, one will feel good, the blocks will be removed, the stiffness
will go away, the muscles will become more flexible. But just because the blocks have gone away and one has become more flexible does not indicate that the aim will be reached. In fact, people in the circus perform better postures than yoga practitioners. They can perform better asanas than all those who are still trying to touch the nose to the knees after twenty years! So asana is not going to give one darshan of God. Prana yama is not going to give one darshan of God, no.
They have their purpose and once the purpose is over, it is time to move on to the next set of yoga practices. When studying at university, a student does not sit everyday learning how to write ‘a b c and d’, no, that phase is finished and done with. At that stage the mind must be applied in different ways. The same thing happens in yoga. Hatha yoga – asana, pranayama, the shatkarmas, the preparation of body and the preparation of mind – represent primary education in yoga. Raja yoga, mind management, represents the higher secondary level of yoga and the other yogas that merge into one to bring out a creative nature, a creative personality, represent the university training of yoga. In this way one can decide which class to be in, primary, secondary or university.
So how do people find the light to remove the darkness from the mind? Reality is not one, there are many realities, and each aspect of yoga is a stepping stone into another subtle yoga. Once a level has been perfected, then one dimension of a person’s nature has been covered, and it is time to move on to another class. The important thing is that one must attain perfection in the previous stage before moving on to the next. Until a stage of yoga has been perfected, it has not been mastered and no matter how hard one tries, the next level cannot be experienced.