All of us have potential which is beyond even our wildest dreams, but most of this potential remains untapped. Each person has the capacity to experience different planes of consciousness, yet most of us live in the lower planes, without experiencing higher levels of existence, or even believing that they exist.
Many people are unhappy in the world, dissatisfied and yet not sure what is lacking in their lives. The basic reason for this unhappiness is our attachment to the material plane of existence. Once we gain a glimpse of higher spheres of consciousness, then our unhappiness and discontent automatically fade away.
There are various systems of yoga, such as raja yoga, kundalini yoga, etc., which are widely propagated throughout the world. All are aiming at transcendental states where one starts to commune with one’s inner being. Most of the systems emphasize the importance of concentration as a means of withdrawing consciousness from the outside surroundings and directing it into the innermost realms of the mind.
Without becoming too involved in the field of semantics, let us first of all define what is commonly understood by concentration. Concentration implies the focusing of one’s consciousness towards one point, either external or internal, to the exclusion of all other subjects or thoughts. Now this is not such an easy process, for our consciousness in connection with our minds is habituated to movement from one point to the next, from one object to another. Any attempt on our part to subjugate the consciousness and make it dwell on one point imposes strain on the mind resulting in tension and frustration at our failure to curb its wandering tendency.
If you observe yourself you will find that your consciousness has a natural tendency to have a diverse perception and to move from one object to the next. Try to concentrate on one thing for a few minutes and you will convince yourself of this fact. You will be conscious of a never-ending stream of thoughts, some that seem related to each other and others that seem totally unconnected. This occurrence of unconnected thoughts is known as distraction (vikshepa) and is a limitation of the mind.
Many systems of yoga tell you to place an object in front of you or to visualize an internal image, concentrate on it, and lo and behold you will start to explore the subconscious depths of the mind. Although the method is correct and can bring wonderful experiences, it takes no consideration of the wandering tendency of our consciousness, which makes concentration impossible for most people. Concentration is possible only if a person is very relaxed mentally and physically. Most people cannot relax, or if they do it is on rare occasions. For this reason the mind continually projects streams of differing thoughts to conscious perception. As such, to ask most people to concentrate is impossible. And if they try to concentrate, they will tend to try to suppress the disturbing factors in the mind and create more tension in themselves.
Concentration is something that occurs spontaneously in a very relaxed mind and body. Until relaxation is achieved, concentration, real concentration that is, remains impossible. A system is required which progressively leads a person to deeper states of relaxation, until concentration becomes the spontaneous activity of consciousness. This system is the system of kriya yoga.
Before we talk about kriya yoga, let us briefly discuss where concentration, relaxed concentration that is, will lead us. The fruit or culmination of deep one-pointed concentration is the occurrence of the spontaneous state of meditation. Most people have heard of meditation, yet very few people have actually experienced it. It arises only under conditions of almost abnormal relaxation (yes, abnormal is the right word, for most people never experience deep states of relaxation; even during sleep they are plagued by subconscious worries, phobias, fears, etc.) of both mind and body, together with a high state of conscious alertness. Many people think that they are meditating, but in fact they are probably not. Modern scientific instruments can even show whether a person is in a state of meditation or not. These instruments measure electrical wave patterns emitted from the brain. The frequency and amplitude of these brain waves indicate the inner state of mind.
During concentration there is a continuity of consciousness and this condition allows our subconscious forces to rise up. The hidden psychological patterns in the subconscious mind start to manifest. Normally, because of our mental distractions, we are totally unable to contact or express our inner power. During deep periods of concentration we start to understand the deeper aspects of our being.
So the fruits of concentration are substantial. Many people, whether they have experienced meditation or not, know that great things are in store for them if only they can concentrate deeply. Because they are not relaxed, however, they force their consciousness to dwell on one point. Of course they are only following the instructions of most systems of yoga or yoga teachers. They don’t realize that the systems of yoga are correct, but that they presuppose a reasonable level of relaxation, something that is not attained by most people today. The result of this forced concentration is greater tension and frustration. Meditation eludes them. To repeat: it is not the method that is wrong; its failure to bring results in most cases is due to the fact that people are not ready for the system. Most people have too many disturbances in their minds to be able to concentrate. Once the deep-rooted complexes have been removed, the ones that most of us are not aware of, then relaxation becomes possible; it becomes natural and deep. Meditation starts to occur spontaneously. No effort is required.
Questions arise such as “How can most people learn to explore their minds?” “If they cannot concentrate what should they do?” “How can one attain meditational experience?” This is where kriya yoga comes to the rescue. Kriya yoga seems to defy or contradict the basic rules of yoga. It says that you should not try to concentrate your mind. Don’t make any effort to bring about one-pointedness. Leave your consciousness freedom of movement, but let it try to follow prescribed internal movements. Kriya yoga accepts most people’s limitations; if you are unable to concentrate then another method must be used to accomplish the same final result.
Kriya yoga is more interested in awareness than concentration. What do we mean by awareness? By awareness we mean conscious attention of thoughts or of objects, either external or internal, without necessarily being one-pointed. Simultaneously, and this is most important, the word awareness implies that the individual knows that his attention is at a particular place or on a train of thought. The word implies a relationship between the activity of perception and the perceiver. If a person does not know he is perceiving something, then he is not aware. Awareness implies that the individual does not try to suppress an ever-arising stream of thoughts, even if they have nothing to do with his direction of perception; he merely lets the thoughts arise and disappear, remaining as a witness to them. Other people might understand something different by the word awareness, but the previous explanation is what we mean. When a person is sufficiently relaxed, especially in the deeper layers of the subconscious mind, then awareness will lead to one-pointedness or concentration.
Kriya yoga does not presuppose concentration or even withdrawal of your awareness from the outside surroundings. As such, it is more suitable for most people today, since they are habituated to extroversion and to an awareness which tends to move here and there, and not dwell on one point to the exclusion of others. If you cannot concentrate and your conscious perception jumps here and there, it doesn’t matter – just carry on your kriya yoga practices without becoming worried or frustrated. Kriya yoga doesn’t ask you to withdraw your mind to one point; it asks you to do just the opposite – to actually move your awareness, to rotate your consciousness from one point to another.
The very word kriya means activity or movement, and in this context activity or movement of awareness or consciousness. The word kriya also means practical or preliminary and in this sense it means the preliminary practice which leads to yoga; yoga here meaning the culmination, the union, the final result of practice, not the process as we normally understand it. Thus as we have already explained, in contrast to other forms of yoga, kriya yoga does not ask you to curb your mental fluctuations, but asks you to purposely create activity in your consciousness. In this way, mental faculties are harmonized and flower into their fullest potential, and coordination is brought about between the nervous system and the brain.
The source of the practices of kriya yoga goes back into antiquity and slowly evolved over a period of time through practice and experience. Eventually the practices, or kriyas, were written down and can still be found in the numerous tantric texts. These were written in Sanskrit, and to date only a few have been translated into other languages. The full form of kriya yoga consists of a combination of over seventy kriyas. Out of these kriyas, about twenty or so are commonly known.
Kriya yoga has been taught to large numbers of people throughout the world. Many people have gained wonderful benefits, yet others have gained little or nothing even though they might have practised regularly and with enthusiasm. The fault generally lies in the sequence of the practices. If the sequence is wrong, then the system of kriya yoga loses its full power, for the different kriyas bear a close relationship to each other. As an analogy, consider music. There are a certain number of musical notes. If these notes are played in a certain order, then beautiful music can result. If they are played in another sequence, then ear-jarring noise can result. The sequence is of the utmost importance. It is the same with the kriya yoga practices.
Another important requirement of successful practice of kriya yoga is the correct preparation. Again, many people learn kriya yoga as their first introduction to yoga practices in general, and so gain little or no benefit because their bodies and minds are not ready and they lack the ability to perform basic yogic techniques. A full preparation is essential and includes the following:
1. Body control and sound health. This is a basic aim and is achieved through hatha yoga. By body control we do not mean the type of control that people in circuses have developed, but sufficient to perform yogic practices, including kriya yoga, with ease. Health, needless to say, is of utmost importance, not only for more advanced kriya yoga practices but for everyday life. If you have some disease or pain it is very difficult to think of anything else, let alone try to practise kriya yoga or any other higher form of yoga practice. For this reason, the initial aim of yoga should be to make you radiate health by removing existing ailments or by improving your present condition of health. It is by doing asanas, pranayama and various body cleansing techniques, as outlined in Book I and II, that we can attain this required state of vitality.
Once we have attained sufficient body control and health, then the practices of kriya yoga become very easy, for your awareness can follow the kriya yoga techniques without being continually disturbed by body discomfort or illness. We can actually forget the body and direct our awareness in other directions.
2. Proficiency in mudras and bandhas. These will be fully discussed in forthcoming lessons. However, as a brief description, we can say that both mudras and bandhas are methods of stimulating nerve plexuses and endocrinal secretions and for activating bio-energies in the body. Mudras are also sometimes intended as symbolic expressions of inner mental or psychic feelings. This is a very basic description.
3. Development of breath consciousness. What is breath consciousness? It is very easy and can be developed by anyone with practice. It is merely being aware of the fact that: “I am breathing in and I am breathing out”. This can be done even while you are talking, or working, or when the mind is engaged in other directions, as well as when you are sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. It can be done at any time and under any circumstances, even while you are reading these words and simultaneously understanding everything that is written. With practice it is possible to undertake all your daily activities and still maintain this breath awareness.
Awareness of your breath implies that you are simultaneously aware of your consciousness. In other words, if you are aware that you are breathing then you are automatically aware of your own awareness. Most people forget the fact that they are aware or conscious; they are so wrapped up in their thought processes and actions that they do these things automatically. So by being aware of your breath you continually know that you are aware of your conscious being; you no longer lose yourself in mental and physical activity. This is a very important point to remember.
As a slight digression, consider the difference between an animal and a human being. An animal eats food, sleeps and performs various other activities during the course of its life. A human being also eats food, sleeps, etc. but has one distinctive feature: the capacity to know that he is acting, whereas an animal performs various actions without knowing it. There is also a distinct difference between various stages of human development. All humans think, yet some who are more aware are able to watch themselves thinking. They are able to stand outside themselves and watch the thinking process occurring within their mind. This is the aim of breath awareness: to continually remind you of your ability to be aware of your consciousness and to be a witness or a spectator of your mental and physical activities. Breath awareness is an essential part of kriya yoga.
4. Location and familiarity with the psychic passages and chakras. A psychic passage is a pathway or channel in which your breath awareness, or psychic consciousness can flow or move. There are various different pathways, one of which is in the centre of the spinal column, from top to bottom. It is easy to describe the route of the psychic pathway, but the practitioner must develop and experience the flow of breath consciousness in the psychic pathway for himself. One must be aware of the breath and feel the movement of breath in the passage.
There is a good reason why this rotation or movement of consciousness is an integral part of kriya yoga. These psychic passages pass through various nerve plexuses in the body, particularly those pertaining to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The mere fact that you are aware of these places has a stimulating influence which awakens nerve impulses, which bring about psychological and biochemical changes in the body. This can be experienced even after a short period of practice in the form of calmness, tranquility and clarity of thought. The reason for this result is that these plexuses are connected directly to brain centres and to endocrinal glands. Of particular significance are the two parasympathetic nerve outflows in the region of the base of the spine and the top of the spine. The parasympathetic nervous system tends to reduce nervous tension, in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system, which tries to produce tension and the readiness of the mind and body to withstand external events. Awareness of the lower and upper parts of the spine or the spinal psychic passages is an important part of kriya yoga. This brings about relaxation of the body and mind by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Additionally there are many other factors involved, however they will be explained later.
Kriya yoga has been traditionally associated with secrecy, since its methods were always passed on from guru to disciple by word of mouth. Because of this system of teaching, many myths have arisen. People have come to the conclusion that kriya yoga is a secret system, meant only for the few. Some people have begun to believe that one must possess many special qualifications to learn and practise kriya yoga and that one must be a celibate with strict abstention from sexual life. All these ideas are totally wrong. Kriya yoga can be practised by all people without exception. Why should it be limited to a few chosen persons? We do, however, emphasize that adequate preparation is essential for positive results; but in this sense it is no different from anything else that you learn or study in life. If you want to perfect any skill, whether it is mechanical, medical or whatever, you have to start from basic principles and techniques.
Kriya yoga does not ask you to abstain from your sexual life. Why should it? Sexual activity is a natural part of life, so why abstain from it? Kriya originated from the ancient system of tantra, and of all the spiritual systems tantra is the most understanding regarding sexual life. In fact, under correct circumstances tantra has encouraged the use of sex as a means to evolve spiritually. Of course there is much written about the conservation of sexual energy and its sublimation into spiritual power. This idea has been sadly misunderstood. When people write about sublimating sexual energy and directing it into higher channels they generally miss the whole point. The transformation of seminal fluid into ojas or spiritual power is often mentioned but again misunderstood. Actually it is the transformation of sexual thoughts into spiritual directions that is implied here. Many people waste enormous amounts of mental power and energy continually dwelling on sexual fantasies and so on. If this same energy could be channelled into spiritual pursuits, then many fruits could be gained. It is not necessary to abstain from sexual relations. Continue your sexual relations, but don’t dwell continually on sexual thoughts. Direct your mind in other directions, not necessarily spiritual; towards work, study or whatever you are interested in. In this way you will find new dimensions of power in your thinking and physical activities. This is the meaning of sublimation of sexual energy. The practice of kriya yoga definitely does not ask you to change your way of life. From the experience of teaching different techniques of yoga, we have noticed a distinct and remarkable difference between people’s reaction to kriya yoga and other systems that require concentrated effort. When people try to concentrate they tend to become more tense and develop headaches, the opposite, of course, to what is intended. After a short time they become frustrated, start to lose interest in the practices and start to scratch, fidget and generally feel uncomfortable. They start to pen their eyes and their awareness begins to wander more than it did before the start of the practices. There seems to be a reaction to this concentration and their mind rebels and does exactly the opposite to what is intended. With kriva yoga, however, there is a noticeable difference. Because they are not asked to concentrate deeply, only to do their practices, the awareness seems to spontaneously become one-pointed and relaxed. The mind is like a naughty child. If you tell it to do one thing it will do exactly the opposite. So by asking it to concentrate, it wanders. In kriya yoga, by asking it to wander if it wishes, it seems to want to become one-pointed. From this state, meditation can spontaneously arise and your awareness can start to explore the vast layers of the subconscious and unconscious mind. When you begin to understand and to know what lies in the deeper recesses of your mind, the vast mental reservoir about which you are not normally aware, it is then that you can start to eradicate the phobias and fears, complexes and tensions which make your life unhappy. It is these subconscious, negative mental samskaras (impressions) which continually act below the surface of your normal consciousness and cause mental disturbances. Often you feel unhappy and depressed. Sometimes you may know, but generally you don’t understand why you feel this way, only that you do. The cause lies with these fears, phobias, bad memories, etc. By becoming aware of them, by delving into the mind you automatically start to neutralize their negative influence on your life. If you don’t know what the root cause of your unhappiness is, how can you rectify the situation? The more of these problems that you remove, the happier your life will become. This is also the way to cure emotional imbalances, nervous disorders and all the different types of psychological problems that plague people throughout the world. Other methods of making people’s lives happier have been tried but there is only one sure way – relax your mind, know your mind and throw out the rubbish that exists there.
The first obstacle in yoga is relaxation of the mind while being fully aware. If you can attain a sufficient degree of mental relaxation, then automatically your awareness will start to introvert, to explore the mind. This will probably occur on the superficial levels at first, but eventually you will start to see your deeper problems in the form of symbolic visions. This is the stage at which you really begin to remove your deeper problems. If you relax the mind and then sleep, you will gain nothing because you will not be conscious of your mind and its contents. Your awareness is not there.
We have found that the ideal method for the man of today is kriya yoga. Without suppressing the wandering tendency of the awareness and thereby causing more tension in the mind than was there to begin with, kriya yoga aims at making your awareness spontaneously one-pointed. In this way, your awareness automatically introverts and so starts to reshape the activities of the mind to eventually bring about a state of equanimity or tranquility. Kriya yoga allows you to filter out the morass, the quagmire of complexes, fears, etc. in your mind which make life an unhappy affair. No strain or mental effort is required to remove these problems. You merely do your practices and in the course of time your mind will become clearer.
There are no restrictions or barriers to those who want to practise kriya yoga. Your age, diet, social position, religion or whatever, will not bar you from practising. All you need is the interest and effort to change your life.
It is our intention to make the system of kriya yoga available to everyone who is interested, because large numbers of people are now ready to reap the benefits of kriya yoga, yet cannot because they lack knowledge of the system. If you feel that kriya yoga is for you, then we hope that you will sincerely take up the practices systematically illumined in this book, and will start today to prepare yourself for the subtle science of kriya yoga.
Continue to Hatha Yoga: Jala Neti