Kriya Yoga: One Step at a Time

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

When people come to yoga they want to learn everything immediately, but a considerate yoga teacher doesn't teach everything immediately. It has been our experience that many people have learnt different yogas, including kriya yoga, then because of lack of perfection have reached a point from which they cannot progress. So we have decided to teach the kriyas in stages, allowing people time to perfect or fully experience each stage.

Even if you study the traditional aspect of the kriyas, you will find that the practices have been divided into three groups: pratyahara kriyas, dharana kriyas and dhyana kriyas. It is advisable that you perfect the pratyahara kriyas and the dharana kriyas before attempting to move on to the advanced dhyana kriyas.

After all, what is kriya yoga? Kriya yoga is not a group of practices which leads to an instantaneous awakening of the pranas and an instantaneous awakening of kundalini. No. In kriya yoga you will find combinations of asana, pranayama, concentration and visualization. If it was up to us we would not be teaching the kriyas to anyone at all. We teach under compulsion because there are many practitioners of yoga who attain a certain level and need a push to go further in the practices.

The subtle dimensions of personality

In kriya yoga where many different components are combined, the result of awakening is experienced in the physical body, in the psychic body and in the pranic body. These are the three main bodies which are activated, awakened and stimulated in kriya practice. Yoga says that there are five different dimensions or koshas in the human body: annamaya kosha, the physical body or the body of matter; pranamaya kosha, the body of energy; manomaya kosha, the body of mind or mental experiences; vijnanamaya kosha, the body of cognitive faculties; anandamaya kosha, the body of bliss.

The physical practices of hatha yoga, asana and pranayama, influence and alter the performance of annamaya kosha. If we go deeper into the practices of mudra and bandha we find that pranayama kosha is stimulated. Then if we go deeper into the practices of raja yoga, pratyahara and dharana, we will find that manomaya kosha is activated. Vijnanamaya kosha is activated by the practices of dhyana.

In kriya yoga where we combine asanas, breath awareness, breath control, visualizations and willpower, we are approaching four different dimensions of our personality, excluding anandamaya kosha, at the same time. The awakening of the subtle dimensions of personality is not easy to handle. We can’t handle the fear, anger, frustration and depression that we experience every day, yet we still want to go deep into our consciousness, and think that we can handle the psychic changes that take place.

I think this is a great human misconception. If we can handle our anger, fear, frustration, jealousy and hatred, then we are ready for kriya yoga, otherwise not. When we don’t have the ability to channel and direct the mental and emotional forces which govern our life, how can we handle and direct the psychic awakening of which we have absolutely no concept right now?

The need for guidance

We not only have to learn and practise the kriyas but at the same time we have to be aware of how to handle the situations which come up with either prana or chakra awakening. When the chakras are awakened, when the consciousness is purified, when the instincts are manageable and under control, then at that time kundalini awakens.

Kundalini is the transcendental force. Kundalini is not prana; prana is an aspect of kundalini. Kundalini is not consciousness, although the power of kundalini can change and alter the structure of consciousness. Kundalini is the transcendental force which awakens only after the physical and mental energies are purified, only after, as Paramahamsaji used to say, the dross of the mind has been removed. When the energy is pure and the consciousness is pure then the transcendental energy and consciousness, in the form of kundalini, manifest in the life of a sadhaka.

Therefore, you should be happy that you are being given the opportunity to move stage by stage, step by step.

Fast evolution

Kriya yoga is not a system by which you can evolve faster and quicker. It will give you an opportunity to experience yourself with a different vision and viewpoint, but you will have to continue working with karmas and samskaras.

I feel that those people who have gone through and perfected the practices of hatha yoga and raja yoga, and who have in the course of their lives overcome the basic samskaras and karmas of life with the practices of jnana yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and dhyana yoga will have better results when they practise kriya yoga. If however you begin to practise kriya yoga without having gone through the initial stages of purification, things will be stirred up even more and you will have to face your samskaras and karmas in the form of happiness, joy, depression, crying and frustration, sometimes with a very open feeling, sometimes in a very closed way.

You will have to face the mind stuff. As the consciousness changes, you have to handle both the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. In this process you are dealing with your own samskaras and karmas which bind you to the earthly plane. You definitely cannot bypass the samskaras and karmas unless you are an exceptional and extraordinary person.

The most important thing is your commitment to the practice of the kriyas. Swami Sivananda used to say, and still says through me, “One ounce of practice is better than tons of theory.” There is a statement in the Yoga Sutras that a practice which is done regularly, for an extended period of time, and with faith, prepares the ground for higher realization. There are three concepts here. Regularity, without a break; for an extended period of time, allowing the practice to purify, harmonize and balance the inner structure of the personality; and faith, the conviction that eventually we will experience the result of the practice.

December 1994, Ganga Darshan, Munger (Extracts) Printed in YOGA, Vol.7, Issue 1 (January 1996)