Karma Yoga and Hatha Yoga

From Yoga Chakra 5, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

20 December 2016

Sri Swami Satyananda developed six branches of yoga. Although he spoke on many other yogic subjects and taught practices; in general while teaching to people leading a regular householder social life, he gave six yogas. These yogas were the basis to develop and cultivate a spiritual discipline and awareness even while being involved in the world with family and profession, and performing all duties. In his public teachings, the yoga classes, he explained the way to practise these six yogas, and in his private teachings the intent and purpose of choosing these yogas became evident. Beyond this, the teaching of other yogas was given to specific individuals and was relevant for those to whom it was given. A group can be taught only up to a point, whereas the individual aspect of yoga is taught to the competent and qualified sadhakas who are guided into higher yogas.

When Sri Swamiji received the mandate from Sri Swami Sivananda to propagate yoga from ‘door to door and shore to shore’ and left the Rishikesh ashram, he did not arrive at a particular place and say, “I have received this order from my guru, therefore I am going to run a yoga centre. You contribute to it. You do this or you do that.” Unlike most people who go to others and say, “I have been instructed by my guru to do this and therefore I am collecting resources,” Swami Satyananda followed a different path.

He travelled for nine years without teaching yoga, after receiving the mandate from his guru. For all this time he observed the needs of society and contemplated, ‘Which yoga would be most appropriate?’ keeping in mind the guidelines of Swami Sivananda: yoga for head, heart and hands – intellect, emotions and performance. In the course of this process, he realized that the needs of people are threefold: physical, psychological and spiritual. In order to address these three needs, he chose six yogas.

These six yogas have been the hallmark of Bihar Yoga and Ganga Darshan Vishwa Yogapeeth. They are hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. The first three constitute the sadhana or the practice aspect: to change and transform, to cultivate a better nature, to attain mental peace and clarity. These are the yogas that one needs to perfect in life, and they move progressively from body to the psychological dimension to the spiritual dimension. Then he gave three more yogas: karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga, as the expressive aspect of yoga.

Evolving through karmas

The aim of karma yoga is to use karma, action, for conscious evolution. The phrase ‘conscious evolution’ refers to an inner state of mind and consciousness, an inner state of awareness, attention and observation. Although an action is being performed by the senses, the body and the mind, the effect is psychological.

In order to attain this inner state through karmas, one needs to develop a certain attitude. This attitude of a karma yogi is based on six ideas:

  1. Know every action as an opportunity to learn and to grow.
  2. Follow the dharma in karma, not the desire.
  3. Do your best, bringing out your own creativity, without competitiveness. Competitiveness takes place when people are self-centred. ‘How can another person do better than me?’ and you try to outdo the other person. That attitude is anti-yoga as it gives rise to jealousy and aggression. When you are competitive towards somebody, you are jealous of the achievement of the other person. So, bring out your creativity without the feeling of competitiveness. Just do your duty to the best of your ability.
  4. Non-expectation. Do the right thing as your duty. If the right result comes, it is a bonus, but do not have any expectations of the result. Usually you focus on the result and expect the right result, and in the process lose sight of applying the appropriate method. The karma yogi reverses this attitude.
  5. Be a non-doer. Have the feeling that ‘I’m not doing this for my gratification. I’m doing it as my dharma. I am only an instrument.’
  6. And last, always be happy while doing anything. These are the six attitudes that a karma yogi must cultivate. Are you able to do it?

Many of you say you do karma yoga, so ask yourself which of these six attitudes you have been able to apply in life. The reality is that for most people karma yoga remains a philosophy. To have that clarity where you can see your dharma in every situation and remain within the maryada, the appropriateness, to have that conviction that whatever you are doing is an opportunity to learn and grow, to have that drive where you give your best without holding back yet allow room for others, to have that objectivity where there is no expectation, not even for a pat on the back, to have that humility where you are not involving your ego at all and not thinking ‘I am doing it’, to have that optimism where you can maintain your happiness no matter the nature of the action – all this is not easy.

However, this is the path to peace and contentment in life, and that is why our rishis and sages have emphasized the importance of karma yoga.

22 December 2016

Second level of hatha yoga

The second level of hatha yoga is balance of ida and pingala. It involves the application of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha to awaken and activate the pranas, to regulate the pranas, to enhance the force, flow and potency of the pranas, and to ensure that all the pathways of prana shakti are clear. When prana shakti controls the personality, you become extroverted. When the subtle component of prana shakti, which is known as chitta shakti, assumes prominence, then there is introversion. In extroversion there is conscious perception and connection. In introversion, there is rejection of the conscious perceptions and withdrawal from them. These two conditions are due to two forces known as prana shakti, the vital force, and chitta shakti, the mental force. One is the external force: the gross, the physical, and the other is the internal force: the mental, the subtle.

Prana is a whole subject in itself. After all, what is energy? Is the magnetic energy found in the cosmos different from the magnetic energy that you are able to recreate on Earth in a lab or is it the same? Is the electricity in cosmic clouds different from electricity in storms on Earth or Jupiter? No, they are made of the same tattwas, the same elements. Some may be bigger, some smaller, some may be more potent, some less potent, but the tattwas are the same in every place, and therefore the physical or manifest response of those elements is recognized as the same. Lightning will always be lightning whether it is on Earth or Jupiter or in some far distant nebulae. Water molecules will be the same whether they are on Earth or Mars or floating in a comet. They are the same elements; it is the different permutations and combinations that cause differences in the nature. Some water molecules may be sweeter, some more saline, some acidic and poisonous, but the basic formula is the same.

This energy, which is responsible for every action, is an act of Prakriti, Nature, creation, and is known as prana shakti. It is found in all the tattwas, and in the subtle aspect it is experienced as mental power, mental cognition, the emergence of buddhi or logic. Therefore it is also identified as chitta shakti. In the human body, these energies are controlled by two switches: ida and pingala. Both the macro-cosmic and the microcosmic prana shakti and chitta shakti are controlled by pingala and ida.

Pingala represents the pranic energy; ida represents the mental energy. In physical terms they have been associated with the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, the sensory and the motor cortex. The state of awareness in prana shakti and the state of consciousness in chitta shakti are different. Prana shakti is chetan, conscious, jagrit, waking. All the other states of consciousness are governed by chitta shakti, including swapna, dream, nidra, sleep, turiya, transcendence, and samadhi, super consciousness. Therefore, chitta shakti is subtle and has many levels, whereas prana shakti is more material. The whole realm of energy is known as mahaprana, the great vital force-field, in which we all live.

If prana shakti is twenty-five percent of your consciousness, comprising the conscious and the sensorial levels, chitta shakti is seventy-five percent, comprising the subconscious, unconscious and turiya levels. This is the reason that so much emphasis is given to the mind in yoga. In the raja yoga sutras of Patanjali, the second sutra is: Yogashchitta vritti nirodhah. It refers to the subtle level, not to the physical. Chitta vritti and chitta shakti are synonymous terms, as chitta shakti is a pranic force, but a subtle one. Chitta vritti is the manifestation of this subtle prana, creating a condition and a mood. Therefore the focus of yoga has been on management of chitta shakti and chitta vritti, as they cover a larger area of human personality and experience of life.

Hatha yoga seeks a balance between prana shakti and chitta shakti in the second stage. When these two are balanced, in harmony and in tune with each other, there is neither extroversion nor introversion; you are in a state of peaceful and blissful observation. I am not using the word contemplation; I am using the word ‘observation’. This is where the drashta component, the witness component becomes active, and sushumna, the third force, which is the balanced prana, begins to flow. Sushumna is a condition of drashta. Through the balanced prana of sushumna, you arrive at the drashta level and here you begin to disconnect and disassociate from your involvements and attachments.

What are you doing in the practice of pratyahara when you observe your thoughts, feelings, events and situations? What are you doing at that time? You are a witness, that’s all. You are not participating, you are not involving yourself; you are separate from the thoughts, feelings or events, and observing them. When the pranas are balanced and sushumna begins to flow, there is a natural separation or detachment.