Kriya Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita

From The Golden Collection 2, Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Nowadays, it has become very common for people to give talks on the Bhagavad Gita, but as these speakers have borrowed their ideas from various books, their knowledge is mostly academic and, quite often, inaccurate. If you have to undertake a long and complicated rail journey you must consult a railway guide, and you cannot, of course, afford to refer to an inaccurate guide. The same applies to commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. After all, the Bhagavad Gita is our guide, our Book of Knowledge, for the tortuous journey through life; and misleading talks or commentaries can lead you nowhere. There are excellent commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita by various learned men down the ages, but each one of them wrote purely from the standpoint of the school of thought he represented. These writers, as a rule, have remained silent on the yoga techniques described in the Bhagavad Gita. However, I must say that Saint Jnaneshwar, and, in modern times, the followers of Sri Yukteshwar have written to some extent on this aspect of the Bhagavad Gita. As traditionally the guru instructs his disciple in kriya yoga by word of mouth only, we can easily understand why the great commentators have maintained a veil of secrecy over this subject when it occurs in the Bhagavad Gita.

In deference to our tradition, I, too, cannot speak very openly on the actual technique of kriya yoga, although a good number of those present here have already been initiated in it. Suffice it to say that it is a very advanced and powerful technique which both householders and sannyasis can practise.

Patanjali has defined kriya yoga as consisting of ‘tapas, swadhyaya and Ishwara pranidhana’, but I can assure those of you who have read this aphorism, that the real meaning of these words is quite different from what they have understood. Tapas here does not mean penance, swadhyaya does not mean the study of scriptures, nor do the words Ishwara pranidhana mean total surrender to God in the commonly accepted sense of this term. As you advance in practice, their real meaning will become clear to you.

There are cryptic sentences in the Bible to suggest that Jesus Christ was familiar with kriya yoga. There were occasions when he ‘went to heaven’ to contact his Father. And when he ‘returned to earth’, he would tell his followers that he went ‘by a ladder, first with eyes open and then with eyes closed’. Clearly, this refers to kriya yoga. Kabir, too, has sung of kriya yoga in mystical language. In recent times, Lahiri Mahasaya, followed by Sri Yukteshwar, Paramahamsa Yogananda and the present Daya Mata have kept up the tradition of kriya yoga.

There is a widespread belief that you attain yogic powers only after you have mastered the art of meditation culminating in absolute concentration. I can say from experience that this theory is not correct. In my early life I, too, believed in this theory in order to attain the laya condition of mind and body. I knew that out of the numerous chakras, psychic centres, in the body, a few were very important, and one nerve, in particular, acted as a channel for awakening the yoga shakti, the kundalini, within us. I also believed at that time that the laya condition of body and mind was a sine qua non to make any progress in this direction.

Now I know that although getting into the laya condition is very good for householders for relief from their worldly tensions, but for attainment of yoga shakti it is not absolutely necessary. The mind may wander when in meditation, but it should retain awareness of the yogic chakra concerned. People believe that without absolute concentration one cannot get samadhi. But this is not so.

There is an important chakra in us, when it is ‘touched’ samadhi occurs. The state of samadhi is somewhat similar to the unconsciousness of a drunkard or an epileptic whose eyes are open but the mind is vacant. We cannot say that their minds had become totally concentrated before they fell into that state of unconsciousness. The prana and apana yoga is the yoga of consciousness. Prana here does not mean the physical prana. Prana and apana are the two streams of consciousness. Prana flows down and apana flows up. These have to be united. Continuity is to be created in the same way as you keep the sacrificial fire going by throwing oblations, samidha, into it. This is kriya yoga.

The jivatma-paramatma yoga, uniting the individual soul with the Cosmic Spirit, is different. It is the yoga of the scriptures and has nothing to do with kriya yoga. Real sadhakas whether householders or sannyasis who wish to advance on the spiritual path should put implicit faith in the teaching of the guru even if it differs from scriptural teaching. The guru speaks from personal knowledge, and as far as scriptures are concerned, sadhakas are not always competent to understand their hidden, esoteric meaning. In the Bhagavad Gita all the different systems of yoga are mentioned, but I have specifically told you about kriya yoga because commentators are always silent about it.

The Bhagavad Gita can lead you to liberation, but only the guru can show you how. If you take the Bhagavad Gita merely as a book of moral precepts for right or wrong action, then the Bhagavad Gita loses much of its importance, because there are many other books available which teach you the science of success.

4 November 1964, Munger Speech given on the occasion of the All-India Yoga Convention