The Ananda Course in Self-Realization - Step 2
by Swami Kriyananda
by Sheila Rush
In The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, the original yoga science emerges in all of its glory-a proven system for realizing our spiritual destiny. The practice of raja yoga awakens us to our deepest reality of oneness with the Infinite. The key word here is practice. As a spiritual science, yoga is unique in that it encourages us to test the truth of its principles, not simply to believe. Using the many tools yoga gives us, we can determine first-hand whether it does in fact live up to its glorious promise. The "proof" comes in our growing experience of the love, joy, calmness, and courage of our soul nature. Yoga is thus empowering. It gives us the teachings, the tools, and the validation of our own deepening experience of the Divine to speed us on our inner journey to God.
The Art and Science of Raja Yoga was my first systematic introduction to yoga. Twenty-one years later, I am deeply grateful for this course and the opportunity to recommend it to others. Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. Yogananda, the first yoga master to live and teach in the West, brought with him the authentic, original yoga science of ancient India. For more than 50 years, Kriyananda has devoted his life to sharing these same teachings. The joyful enthusiasm with which he does so is a compelling invitation to yoga's inner journey.
The Art and Science of Raja Yoga gives us the balanced, comprehensive approach of raja yoga, which is also known as the "royal" yoga. The course is organized around seven topics-Philosophy, Meditation, Postures, Breathing, Routines, Healing, and Diet. It also includes in-depth discussions of the paths of karma, bhakti, and gyana yoga. Kriyananda excels in showing the interdependence of these seemingly separate areas and how all of them, when correctly approached, further our spiritual progress.
The main purpose of yoga postures, for example, sometimes thought to bestow only physical benefits, is to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Affirmations, visualizations, breathing exercises, healing techniques, the different paths of yoga, and, to a certain extent, diet are similarly helpful. What unites these various areas is raja yoga's inward, spiritual focus, which achieves its fullest expression in the practice of meditation. Meditation, as taught in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, gives us direct access to the inner world of Spirit. In the truest possible sense, meditation is yoga's laboratory and the primary means by which we test the truth of its teachings.
To prepare for the practice of meditation, the course offers numerous preliminary exercises that help us make the transition from the outer world of activity to the inner world of stillness. We learn how to let go of worries, physical and mental tension, and to focus the mind-skills that are helpful not only for meditation but equally in our daily lives. The meditation techniques of ancient India, presented by Kriyananda in step-by-step detail, turn out to be indispensable for quieting the mind, drawing it inward, and redirecting our awareness to the centers of spiritual awakening in the brain. Proper meditation, one soon discovers, is neither mechanical nor passive, but requires deep concentration and sustained, dynamic energy.
Meditation requires also what Kriyananda calls a "complete revolution" in "what are commonly looked upon as normal human attitudes." He explains: "The competitive drive, for instance, implies an assumption that success must always be exclusive, even to the extent of being determined by other people's failures. . . .Such an attitude will thwart the most earnest of efforts to progress in meditation, for it will pit one against the universe instead of harmonizing him with it. Right attitude is essential to right meditation."
The "right attitudes" referred to by Kriyananda are the universal moral principles of yoga, the yamas (the don'ts) and niyamas (the do's). One of the best known of these is ahimsa, or non-injury, popularized by the protest movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Ahimsa's proscriptions are directed not only against harmful actions, but also the harm caused by negative thoughts. The reasons go the heart of yoga. Kriyananda writes:
"The first step in the development of right attitude is to learn to see others not as rivals, but as friends. . . . The goal of yoga is to realize the oneness of all life. If I am willing to hurt the life in me as it is expressed in another human being, then I am affirming an error that is diametrically opposed to the realization I am seeking to attain. It is necessary if I would truly realize the oneness of all things, for me to live also in a way as constantly to affirm this oneness-by my kindness toward all beings, by compassion, by universal love."
To experience the deeper states of meditation where Spirit resides, we must first put ourselves on its wavelength. Kriyananda advises that at the start of each meditation, we send out waves of forgiveness from the heart to those we may need to forgive. This helps us to resolve conscious and subconscious feelings of anger that draw the mind outward, and to relate to the people involved with more kindness and understanding. By affirming love for all beings, we open ourselves to the gentle vibrations of divine love. Increasingly, as we practice the yamas and niyamas, in our daily lives and as part of our meditation, our journey to the Divine becomes not only a search for love but also its expression.
We are encouraged, also, to view yoga's moral principles as directional, their perfection as the end not the beginning of the journey. We can gain considerably in peace of mind and inner strength long before we actually perfect our attitudes. India's great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, offers the comforting reassurance that "even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal suffering."
Another subject thoroughly covered in this comprehensive course and equally basic to an understanding of yoga is energy. Matter in its essence is energy. Even the human body is not what it seems. Though superficially composed of flesh and bones, on a deeper level of reality it is composed of energy. Western scientists uncovered this truth only in the last century, but it has been known to the yoga tradition for thousands of years. According to Indian scriptures, the Earth repeatedly goes through cycles of higher and lower levels of spiritual understanding. Yoga originated in a higher age when ordinary people could grasp truths that modern science is only now discovering.
Countless vortices of energy make up our deeper reality. When these vortices work together in harmony we are healthy, happy, and life affirming. If we are unwell, depressed, or life negating, it is primarily because our energy is low, or because these vortices are out of sync with one another. The Art and Science of Raja Yoga gives us many ways to strengthen this energy and bring it into harmony-breathing exercises, healing techniques, yoga postures, affirmations, visualizations. Meditation, however, is the most powerful. Through meditation we become more sensitively aware of the body's subtle energies and increasingly able to harmonize and redirect this energy.
Until we are well along on yoga's inner journey, Kriyananda advises that we be careful about our "energy environment." As Paramhansa Yogananda said, "Environment is stronger than will power." Everything we do influences our energy. An environment of positive people, uplifting music, inspiring books and wholesome movies can greatly aid our spiritual efforts. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.
Yoga's more esoteric subjects, such as the chakras, the role of a guru, and astrology (which evolved as an extension of yoga) are also clarified in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga. The chakras are simply the body's energy centers, whirling spheres that distribute energy to various bodily areas. When our energy is uplifted, we tap into the spiritualizing influence of the higher chakras. Contrary to popular opinion, the influence of a guru is inward, not outward. The guru's energy (and that of any highly advanced spiritual teacher) is concentrated in the higher chakras. Just as a strong magnet can strengthen a weak one, so also does the guru magnetically strengthen and uplift the energy of those who are receptive. Astrology's stars and planets are best understood as outer symbols of the shifting patterns of our inner energy. Through the practice of yoga, we can lessen the impact of the heavenly bodies by redirecting the inner energy that relates to their movements. We can, that is, outwit the stars!
Yoga means "union." Through diligent practice, raja yoga helps us to achieve unity within ourselves on ever-deeper levels, first by bringing body, mind and soul into harmony, and then by expanding our sense of self to include all life and creation. "No man is an island," wrote John Donne; life is an interconnected reality. But inner harmony and universal kinship are not the end of our journey. Life has given us one destiny only-union with God. Through yoga we gradually learn to see beyond our bodies and personalities to the underlying energy, and beyond that energy to the divine consciousness that produced us all. The faithful practice of raja yoga brings a deepening attunement with that consciousness and ultimately, the realization that we are, and always have been, one with the Infinite.
Nevada City, California