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The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is

by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)

Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda

Purchase a copy of 'The Path'

Chapter 34
Kriya Yoga

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The truth in these simple words has been acclaimed equally by great saints of East and West. It is a truth which every devotee would do well to ponder, for in all religions it is a common delusion to believe that mere affiliation with a body of worshipers will be one's passport to salvation. Yet Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are my followers, for they shall see God." His message was universal: By the yardstick of inner purity alone is a person's closeness to God determined.

What is purity of heart? Jesus in effect defined it elsewhere as the capacity to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength.(79) And why is this capacity called purity? Simply because we belong in God; worldliness is foreign to our essential nature.

How, then, can one achieve such purity? Is self-effort the answer? Is grace? St. Paul said, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."(80) Fundamentalist Christians often quote this passage as an argument against self-effort of any kind, and particularly against the practices of yoga. But the Book of Revelation states, "And, behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be."(81) Do these Scriptures contradict one another? Not at all.

St. Paul didn't mean that self-effort is futile, but only that God is above bargaining. Outward "works," in other words, in God's namesuch as building schools and hospitalswill not in themselves win His favor. Love alone can win Him. For like attracts like, and God is Love. But as for those inner effortstrust, for example, and lovewhich lift the soul Godward, these are essential, else the Scriptures were written in vain. It is to this internal "work" that the Book of Revelation is referring above. (82)

To develop love for God, the first prerequisite is that no other desire hinder its free flow. This, then, is our first spiritual "work": to give up every desire that conflicts with our devotion. We need not destroy our desires so much as rechannel their energies Godward.

And it is in this true labor of love that the techniques of yoga serve most effectively. Wrong desires, it need hardly be added, could never be transmuted by technique alone. But just as the techniques of running are useful to those with a desire to be good runners, so the techniques of yoga can help devotees to control their physical energies, and to redirect them toward God. Yoga practice by itself won't give us God, but it can help us very much in our efforts to give ourselves to Him. The yoga science, in other words, helps us to cooperate with divine grace.

Take a simple example. Devotees naturally want to love God. Many, however, have no clear notion of how to go about loving Him. Too often their efforts are merely cerebral, and end in frustration. Yet Jesus hinted at a technique when he said, "Blessed are the pure in heart." For, as everyone who has loved deeply knows, it is in the heart that love is feltnot in the physical heart, literally, but in the heart center, or spinal nerve plexus just behind the heart. Christian saints have stressed again and again "the love of the heart." And yogis claim that love is developed more easily if, instead of merely thinking love, one will direct the thought of love upwards from the heart center, through the spine to the brain.

Take another example. Devotees attempting inward communion with God often find their efforts thwarted by restless thoughts. But long ago yogis found a technique for overcoming this obstacle. The breath, they discovered, is intimately related to the mental processes. A restless mind accompanies a restless breath. By simple, effective techniques for calming the breath, they found they could free the mind more easily for divine contemplation.

Thus, by its practical application of laws governing man's physical body and nervous system, the science of yoga helps one to become more receptive to the flow of divine grace, much as technical proficiency at the piano makes possible the uninterrupted flow of musical inspiration. And divine communion, as St. Paul said, comes not by "pleasing" God, overtly, but only by making oneself fully receptive to His love. That love of its very nature wants to give itself.

I referred to the ego in Chapter 32 as a vortex of consciousness that separates itself from the ocean of awareness by its own centripetal force. Once this vortex is dissolved, I said, self-awareness flows outward to embrace infinity. But now I should explain that it vastly over-simplifies matters to speak of the ego as but a single vortex. The fact is, egoic awareness gives rise to countless millions of subsidiary eddies: vortices of likes and dislikes, resulting in desires, which in turn lead to ego-motivated activities. Every such vortex draws energy to itself, and thereby also reaffirms and strengthens the ego from which it derives its energy. Until a desire has been fulfilled in action, or else dissipated by wisdom, it may remain dormant, like a seed, in the subconsciousness for incarnations. The stronger the mental tendency, the greater the ego's commitment to it. The amount of energy diverted toward these myriad commitments is incalculably great. Paramhansa Yogananda used to tell us, "There is enough latent energy in one gram of your flesh to supply the city of Chicago with electricity for a week. Yet you imagine yourselves powerless in the face of a few difficulties!" The reason we can tap so little of the energy potentially available to us is that most of what we attract to ourselves from the surrounding universe has already been "spoken for"; it is absorbed by countless eddies of prior egoic commitments.

I had an interesting experience a few years ago relative to this energy-drain. Having, as I thought, seriously overextended myself in my work, I had reached a point of exhaustion. One evening I had a class to give, and half an hour before leaving for it lay down to rest. But I didn't sleep; instead, I reviewed in my mind as dispassionately as I could all the reasons I had for feeling so tired: the endless activities (daily lectures, classes, a radio program), the unceasing stream of correspondence, the constant telephone calls, the numerous requests for interviews, the incessant demands for decisions from people who could have made just as good decisions on their own. As I recalled each reason to mind, I reacted with an instinctive feeling of rejection: "Oh, noit's just too much!"

But then came the dispassionate challenge: "Is it? It is a fact of your life now, whether you like it or not. Why not simply accept it?" In each case, as I applied this advice, I felt as though I had closed some psychic door through which energy had been pouring from me in my anxiety to push the unwanted experience out of my life. As each door closed, I found more energy being retained in myself.

The results were extraordinary. By the end of that half hour my exhaustion had completely vanished; I was fairly bursting with energy! A friend who had seen me earlier that day and pleaded with me to cancel my class saw me now and exclaimed, "What a wonderful sleep you must have had. You look so refreshed!" Interestingly enough the subject of my class that evening was "Energization." It was perhaps the best I have ever given on this subject. Afterwards I still felt so full of energy that I stayed up until two o'clock the next morning, talking, reading, then meditating.

And the energy that I rechanneled that day was only a minute fraction of the energy pre-empted by millions of other vortices in my subconscious mind!

If we could only channel all our energy in any one directionif, for example, we could learn with our whole being to say Yes to life, instead of mixing so many "yeses" with "nos"our powers of accomplishment would be greater than most people deem possible. But it is important, at the same time, to channel this energy wisely. For if we use it to achieve goals that are external to our true nature, our very success will bring us disappointment.

To understand how to utilize rightly the enormous amounts of energy that are available to us, we must understand how energy functions in the body. Its main channel is the spine. The spine, like a bar magnet, has its north pole at the spiritual eye, and its south pole at the base, in the coccyx. In a bar magnet, all the molecules, each having its own north-south polarity, are turned in the same direction. In an unmagnetized bar the molecules, though similarly polarized, are turned every which way, and cancel one another out. A common man, similarly, may lack the dynamic power that one associates with human greatness, but it isn't because he has less energy than the mightiest genius; it is only that the "molecules" of his subconscious desires and impulses pull him in conflicting directions, and cancel one another out.

A steel bar becomes magnetized, not by the introduction of any new element, but simply by the realignment of its molecules. Human magnetism, similarly, results when the "molecules" of conflicting desires are realigned unidirectionally. Limited power can be achieved, for a time, by directing them one-pointedly toward any goal. Many modern psychiatrists, in fact, cognizant of this fact, have recommended to people that they seek fulfillment through the outward release of subconscious repressions. But deeper realities of human nature, and the fact that the very way our bodies are made reflects those realities, make it impossible for us to bring all our "molecules" into alignment until we adjust them to the north-south polarity of the spine. That is to say, all our desires and aspirations must flow upwards, toward the spiritual eye: the "doorway" to Infinity.

Likes and dislikes, and their resultant desires and aversions, are the root cause of mortal bondage. The progressive stages of involvement with maya may be traced through the basic functions of human consciousness: mon, buddhi, ahankara, and chitta: mind, intellect, ego, and feeling. Paramhansa Yogananda explained these basic functions by the illustration of a horse seen reflected in a mirror. The mirror is the mind (mon), reflecting the image just as it appears through the senses, without in any way qualifying or defining that image. Buddhi (intellect) then defines what it sees, informing us, "That is a horse." Ahankara (ego) steps in next to say, "That's my horse." Up to this point we are not yet really bound by the thought of ownership; the identification, though personal, remains more or less abstract. But then comes chitta (feeling), which says, "How happy I am to see my horse!" Chitta is our emotional, reactive process, our likes and dislikes, and is, as I said, the true source of all our delusions. Thus, the ancient sage Patanjali, classical exponent of the yoga science, defined yoga itself as "the neutralization of the vortices ( vrittis) of chitta."(83)

Master once told me, "When I applied to the Maharaja of Kasimbazar for permission to transfer my school to his Ranchi property, he called in several pundits to test my knowledge of spiritual matters, since the request involved a religious institution. I could see they were all set for a theological bullfight, so I turned the tables on them. I said, 'Let us talk only of truths we have actually realized. An ability to quote the Scriptures is no proof of wisdom.' I then asked them a question for which I knew there was no answer in any text. 'We read,' I said, 'of the four aspects of human consciousness: mon, buddhi, ahankara, and chitta. We also read that these have their respective centers in the physical body. Can you tell me where in the body each center is located?' Well, they were completely stumped! All they knew was what they had read. I then told them, ' Mon (mind) is centered at the top of the head; buddhi (intellect), at the point between the eyebrows; ahankara (ego), in the medulla oblongata; and chitta (feeling), in the heart.'" (84)

"Blessed are the pure in heart," said Jesus, "for they shall see God." The teachings of the Galilean Master and those of India's great yogis were cut from the same cloth of Self-realization. Only when the likes and dislikes of the heart, and their resultant vortices of desire and aversion, have been dissolvedin short, when the heart has been purifiedcan Self-realization be attained. The vortex of ego itself is then dissipated with relative ease, for without objective attachments it soon loses its momentum, and is dispersed at last by the currents of divine inspiration.

Most efforts to transform oneself involve a laborious struggle to correct an endless array of individual faultsa tendency to gossip, over-attachment to sweets, physical laziness, and the like. The devotee must, of course, fight such battles as they present themselves to his mind. But to attempt to win the whole war in this piecemeal fashion would be like trying to realign each molecule in a bar of steel separately. Purely psychological efforts at self-transformation are a never-ending task. Even after one has succeeded, finally, in turning a few mental "molecules" in the right direction, there is no guarantee they'll remain turned that way once one leaves them to work on the next lot.

The way to magnetize a bar of steel is to introduce a south-north current into it, by placing it in close proximity to a magnetized bar. The way to become spiritually magnetized, similarly, is to place oneself in spiritual "proximity" to one's guru; that is to say, to attune oneself to him mentally. Because the energy of an awakened master flows naturally upwards, toward the spiritual eye, attunement with him generates a similar flow in the disciple.

But of course, more is involved here than passive acceptance of the guru's blessings. Any disciple, indeed, who relies on those blessings alone will make only negligible progress. For man is not inert metal; he can and must cooperate in the process of self-transformation. As Yogananda put it, "The path is twenty-five percent the disciple's own effort, twenty-five percent the guru's effort on his behalf, and fifty percent the grace of God." The guru needs the disciple's cooperation. And the disciple can cooperate best when he understands how this magnetic influence actually works in his body, raising subtle currents of energy through the spine to the brain. Cooperation with the guru's efforts, and with divine grace, means doing what one can himself to direct energy upwards through the spine.

The correlation between spiritual awakening and this upward movement of energy can be observed somewhat in ordinary human experience as well. When, for example, a person feels an increase of happiness or inspiration, or when he makes a firm resolution to do something wholesome and positive, he will, if he introspects, observe an accompanying upward flow of energy to his brain. He may even find himself standing or sitting more erect, holding his head higher, looking upward, turning the corners of his mouth up in a smile. On the other hand, if he feels depressed or discouraged, he will note a corresponding flow of energy, downward, away from the brain. He may even slump a little, look down at the floor, turn the corners of his mouth downward, and actually feel physically a little heavier.

Spiritual awakening takes place when all one's energy is directed upward to the spiritual eye. Hence the saying of Jesus, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength": that is, "with all thy energy."

This upward flow is obstructed in most people by countless eddies of chitta, which, once formed in the heart, get distributed along the spine according to their anticipated level of fulfillmentthe lower the level, the more materialistic the desire; the higher the level, the more spiritual. These eddies, or vrittis, can be dissipated by a flow of energy through the spine strong enough to neutralize their centripetal force. Numerous techniques of yoga have as their main objective the awakening of this energy-flow.

Of all such yoga techniques, the most effective, according to Paramhansa Yogananda and his line of gurus, because the most central and direct in its application, is Kriya Yoga. This was the technique, they said, that was taught in ancient times by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. And Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, states that he gave this technique to humanity in an incarnation long prior to the one in which he taught Arjuna. Of all the techniques of yoga, Kriya is quite probably the most ancient.

Kriya Yoga directs energy lengthwise around the spine, gradually neutralizing the eddies of chitta. At the same time it strengthens the nerves in the spine and brain to receive cosmic currents of energy and consciousness. Yogananda stated that Kriya is the supreme yoga science. Beside it, other yoga techniques that work on calming the breath, concentrating the mind, etc., though important in themselves (Yogananda also taught a number of them), must be classed as subsidiary.

He often said that Kriya Yoga strengthens one in whatever pathwhether devotion, discrimination, or service; Hindu, Christian, Moslem, or Judaicone is inclined by temperament, or by upbringing, to follow.

A visitor who once came to his Ranchi school had been practicing Bhakti Yoga, the path of single-minded devotion, for twenty years. Though deeply devoted, he had never yet experienced the Lord's blissful presence.

"Kriya Yoga would help you," the Master suggested to him earnestly.

But the man was fearful of being disloyal to his own path.

"No, Kriya won't conflict with your present practices," Master insisted. "It will only deepen you in them."

Still the man was hesitant.

"Look here," Master finally said, "you are like a man who for twenty years has been trying to get out of a room through the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Kriya Yoga will simply show you where the door is. There is no conflict, in that kind of aid, with your own devotional path. To pass through the doorway you must still do so with devotion."

The man relented at last, and was initiated. Hardly a week passed before he received his first deep experience of God.

"I wasn't sent to the West," Yogananda often told his audiences, "by Christ and the great masters of India to dogmatize you with a new theology. Jesus himself asked Babaji to send someone here to teach you the science of Kriya Yoga, that people might learn how to commune with God directly. I want to help you to attain actual experience of Him, through your daily practice of Kriya Yoga."

He added, "The time for knowing God has come!"

(79) Mark 12:30.
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(80) Ephesians 2:8,9.
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(81) Revelation 22:12; italics mine.
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(82) In The New English Bible, St. Paul's words, "By grace are ye saved through faith," are rendered, "For it is by his grace you are saved, through trusting him." These words, through trusting him, help to emphasize the point that the right kind of self-effort is needed. For trust implies an active gift, and not mere passive acceptance.
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(83) Yoga Sutras 1:2. Chitta is usually translated, "mind-stuff." Paramhansa Yogananda himself, in his autobiography, accepts this translation. But in a series of classes on Patanjali, and in private discussions with me, he defined the word more exactly as I have given it here.
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(84) I have referred earlier to the fact that love is experienced in the heart center. It may be of interest to note also that intense intellectual effort is often accompanied by a slight frown: evidence that energy is being directed to the point between the eyebrows. Again, note how pride tends to draw the head backward: a sign that energy is being focused in the medullary region. That is why we speak of a proud person as "looking down his nose" at others.
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Chapter 35

Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee

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