Paramhansa Yogananda and Kriya Yoga: A Comparative Analysis
By Peter Holleran
"You must not let your life run in the ordinary way; do something that nobody else has done, something that will dazzle the world. Show that God's creative principle works in you."
Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was perhaps the equal of Swami Vivekananda in widely disseminating Indian yoga to the West. The Kriya Yoga path he taught was essentially an emanationist mystical path with similarities to both kundalini and shabd yoga. This essay will dissect its philosophy and practice and compare and contrast it with both shabd yoga and the path of jnana as espoused by sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton (PB), and others.
Yogananda was born Mukund Lal Ghosh into a devout Hindu family. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasay, the modern exponent of Kriya Yoga. The young boy Mukunda used to meditate with his mother in front of a picture of their guru, and on many occasions the image of the photograph would take on living form and sit beside them. At the age of eight Mukunda was healed of cholera when, gazing upon Lahiri’s picture, he was enveloped in a blinding light which filled the entire room. His mother died when he was eleven, and she left a message for him saying that Lahiri had told her that one day Yogananda would carry many souls to freedom and that he had actually been spiritually initiated or baptised by him during infancy.
Yogananda was, like so many great souls, a very mischievious, fun-loving, and strong-willed youth. He was also possessed of numerous yogic abilities from a young age. Once, while walking along a road with his brother and a friend, Yogananda (known as "Medja" by his friends and siblings) decided to have some fun. The group was overwhelmed by the horrible smell of some rotting, maggot-ridden rice wafting in their direction. Yogananda boasted that since he realized that God was in everything he could therefore eat some of the rice without coming to any harm. His friend, Surenda, mocked him, saying that if Yogananda could eat the disgusting mess, then so could he! Whereupon Yogananda calmly picked up a handful of the putrid rice and ate it as if it were the most delicious of treats. His friend ran, fearing his upcoming fate, with Yogananda in hot pursuit, but he couldn't outrun the future saint. Yogananda shoved a handful of the rice in Surenda's mouth and the boy promptly vomited and nearly passed out. Yogananda rubbed his chest, smiling, and Surenda recovered and conceded his defeat.
Yogananda lived in a rich spiritual milieu and met many holy men before accepting kriya yoga initiation from Sri Yukteswar. He liked to go to the temple at Dakshineswar and engage in devotion to the Divine Mother and Ramakrishna. Here he said that the radiance of Divine Light from the image of the Mother's body filled his own body, mind, and soul. Later he spent time with brother disciples of that great saint. He also received instruction as a youth in shabd yoga techniques from the brother of his brother-in-law, Charu Chandra Basu, who was a Radhasoami initiate, and practiced meditation on inner light and sound for some time with rapid and spectacular results, although he later always considered it complementary to his devotion to the Kriya yoga as taught by Lahiri Mahasay, and which he considered a superior path.
One personage of particular importance to Yogananda was Master Mahasaya, or Mahendra Nath Gupta (otherwise known as "M”, the author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), who blessed Yogananda with several breath-stopping mystical experiences, including his first experience of samadhi, similar in nature to the touch that Ramakrishna gave to Vivekananda:
"I experienced that the Center of the Supreme Heavenly Abode was actually a place deep within myself and that the place of experience within was spawned by the Same. It was as if the entire creation was emanating from my Being and the radiance of an incredibly beautiful Light was spreading through the Sahasrar. 'It is His river of nectar flowing through the world'. A flow of liquid nectar was rushing through body and mind - waves upon waves. I heard the Onkar Sound, the Sound of Brahman - the thunderous Pranava resonance - the First Pulse of the creation of the Universe. Suddenly, my breath came back into the lungs. Oh, if I could only express how my heart was filled with disappointment. I cannot tell you. That Great Being of mine was completely gone. Again I came back and was imprisoned by this insignificant and miniscule physical cage - this thing that cannot contain that Colossal Person of the Atman. Like the prodigal son described in the Bible, I left my Immense Abode of the Cosmos, and again entered this tiny 'pot' of the body." (Swami Satyananda Giri, A Collection of Biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga Gurus, Yoga Niketan, 2004, p. 255)
Yukteswar commissioned Yogananda to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga to the West and in 1920 he sailed for America. Except for a brief period in the 1930's, Yogananda remained in America for thirty years, teaching and initiating over 100,000 people into Kriya Yoga, and establishing the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) on the Mount Washington Estates in Los Angeles. One of the first Indian teachers along with Swami Vivekananda to come to America, Yogananda's intention was not, as he put it, to "Indianize" Westerners, but to awaken them to their own inherent spirituality. "Being a Westerner," he said, "is no excuse for not seeking God. It is vital to every man that he discover his soul and know his immortal nature."
A vital, energetic individual with a free spirit, Yogananda visited many famous people in search of spiritual influences and kindred souls. The Autobiography of a Yogi tells of his meetings with RabindranathTagore, Luther Burbank, Calvin Coolidge, Therese Neuman, and Ramana Maharshi. He also saw Anandamayi Ma, Mahatma Gandhi, and many other notable figures. While at the ashram of Ramana he met Paul Brunton and also an advanced disciple of the sage known as Yogi Ramiah. Yogananda considered Ramiah to be a fully enlightened soul. (1) Interestingly, it was to Maharshi that Yogananda sent a young inquisitive Robert Adams, when the latter questioned him on the limits of kriya yoga for attaining Self-Realization, and why he bothered to teach it. Yogananda’s response was, “I am doing very well, thank you, doing things the way I am,” but nevertheless recommended that Adams see Ramana.
Towards the end, Kriyananda recounts:
"During this last period of his life, he was very much withdrawn from outward consciousness. He hardly seemed even to have a personality. Truly, as he often told us, "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple but God..I won my liberation many lifetimes ago." To the monks...he said, "When I see that God wants me to be born again in another body to help others, and when I see that I am to re-assume a personality, it seems at first a bit like donning an overcoat on a summer day; hot, and a bit itchy. Then," he concluded, "I get used to it." (2)
When Yogananda died his body remained in a state of perfect preservation for twenty days afterwards, when his casket was finally sealed. This example of yogic super-regeneration was evident in the case of a number of saints, such as St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, as well as Sri Aurobindo.
His death itself was quite dramatic:
“Paramhansa Yogananda had often voiced this prediction: “I will not die in bed, but with my boots on, speaking of God and India.” On March 7, 1952, the prophecy was fulfilled. At a banquet in honor of the Ambassador of India, Binay R. Sen, Paramhansaji was a guest speaker. He delivered a soul-stirring address, concluding with these words from a poem he had written, “My India”: “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God - I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!” He lifted his eyes upward and entered mahasamadhi, an advanced yogi’s conscious earth-exit. He died as he lived, exhorting all to know God.“ (3)
Rajarski Janakananda (James "Saint" Lynn) succeeded Yogananda as president of SRF. Upon his death in 1951, Sri Daya Mata assumed the leadership, a position she still holds. Swami Kriyananda was forced to leave SRF in 1962 and he started his own community, the Ananda Fellowship in Nevada City, California, in the late 1960's. Roy Eugene Davis, ordained by Yogananda in 1951, started CSA, the Center for Spirtual Awareness, where he has blended Kriya yoga with a form of advaita in a refreshing manner different from the other ordained teachers of Yogananda. (His description of the stages of realization seems to differ somewhat from those of both Yogananda and his predecessors as well, as will be delineated later). As with many spiritual movement when the teacher dies, there were power struggles and controversies, none particularly earth-shaking, however, compared to other groups. Yogananda left no clearly agreed upon successor-guru, recognized no self-realized disciples, and, in fact, according to Sri Daya Mata, “before his passing on Paramahansaji said that it was God’s wish that he be the last of the YSS/SRF line of gurus.” This means that henceforth disciples would have to establish a relationship with him in their hearts as there would be no new master for a direct human guru-shisya relationship. Nevertheless it appears that Daya Mata, Kriyananda, Roy Eugene Davis, and others unmentioned were commissioned to teach Kriya yoga.
Swami Sivananda felt highly of Yogananda and issued this tribute: “A rare gem of inestimable value, the like of whom the world is yet to witness, Paramhansa Yogananda has been an ideal representative of the ancient sages and seers, the glory of India,” while His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, revered spiritual leader of millions in South India, wrote of Paramhansaji: “A bright light shining in the midst of darkness, so comes on earth only rarely, where there is a real need among men. We are grateful to Yogananda for spreading Hindu philosophy in such a wonderful way in America and the West.” (4)
The Autobiography of a Yogi is a wonderfully human account of a great soul and a fascinating story of a spiritual oddysey. To have a complete picture of Yogananda's life it should, however, be supplemented with The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi (now retitled The Path: One Man’s Quest on the Only Path There Is, by Swami Kriyananda. In this book, imbued with devotion, are given many, many details of day by day life with the Master, whereas in Yogananda's book we are for the most part introduced to the various people he has met. Little is revealed therein of the specifics of the sadhana which Yogananda undertook nor of the realization he gained. Even so, Autobiography of A Yogi is one of the most influential spiritual chronicles of the twentieth century and with its writing the author did countless people an immense service. Kriyananda says that Yogananda was an avatar, who had attained liberation many lifetimes ago. Yogananda's most famous book is also somewhat short on a detailed description of the nature, methods, stages, and goal of the Kriya Yoga path, especially as it compares with others, although I will try to explain it as best I can based chiefly on the above-mentioned book by Kriyananda and The Essence of Self-Realization by Yogananda. The path as outlined by Yogananda appears to be different than that described by his guru, Sri Yukteswar, in the latter's book, The Holy Science, which sounds much more like shabd yoga. The specific details for actual kriya practice are given out in the lessons that members of the Self-Realization Fellowship subscribe to.
Kriya Yoga is a form of yoga practice employing breathing techniques and meditation to free consciousness from the physical, astral, and causal bodies. It is not absolutely clear, to my understanding, from Yogananda's writings, whether the goal is dis-identification with these bodies or actual dissociation from them. In his autobiography and early writings Yogananda suggests that God-Union or Liberation takes place when the soul or disembodied attention has actually separated from these three "coils" and, correspondingly, from the three worlds (physical, astral, and causal or mental). Thus divested, he calls this state of the soul "cosmic consciousness", and seems, as far as I can tell, to mean something like traditional Nirvikalpa samadhi. Yet he also describes two states before this. The first is to become "superconscious", attuned with Aum, the vibratory power of creation on all levels, and feel the universe as ones own body (which actually sounds more like "Cosmic Consciousness" as generally defined). The second is to achieve "Christ Consciousness," which is realization of the all-pervading, still consciousness, the Kutshtha Chaitanya, the reflection in all things of the consciousness of God the father beyond creation. The further achievement of Nirvikalpa beyond manifest creation, moreover, is defined in such a way that it automatically ushers in a state of sahaj, or "the samadhi-meditation state of oneness with God both beyond and within vibratory creation at the same time." (5) This does indeed seem like classically defined sahaj, but, still, inasmuch as it is equated with a meditative state of oneness, instead of just "the One," it appears that it might be a high form of yogic transformation, wherein the soul has attained Kevailya or Nirvikalpa on the inside, and feels a sense of oneness on the outside, but hasn't penetrated into the Nous or the Bodhi state as strictly defined by the sages. The SRF literature states that these three progressive states (Superconsciousness, Christ-Consciousness, and Cosmic Consciousness) unfold after one penetrates beyond the spiritual eye. There is no clear instruction as far as my research has been able to find on exactly how this happens. So we can only make assumptions in the absence of Paramhansa Yogananda to answer our questions and semantic difficulties. Perhaps he would be as impatient with us as he was with Robert Adams!
Part of the difficulty in understanding all this is that Yogananda appears to have used the word "nirbikalpa" where sages like Ramana Maharshi used the term "sahaj", and "sabikalpa" where others used "nirvikalpa." Yogananda states:
"There are two stages of samadhi. In the first, the conscousness merges into the Infinite during meditation. The yogi cannot preserve that state, however, once he comes out of his meditation. That state is known as sabikalpa samadhi."
"The next state is called nirbikalpa samadhi. In this state of consciousness you maintain your divine realization even while working or speaking or moving about in this world. Nirbikalpa is the highest realization. Once attaining that, there is no further possibility of falling back into delusion."
[The astute researcher of spiritual subjects will point out that this claim is adamantly denied by many sages, in particular Ramana Maharshi, if the traditional definition of Nirvikalpa is assumed. Our difficulty dissolves if we simply accept that Yogananda used an unconventional definition of both sabikalpa and nirvikalpa samadhis. Whether this acceptance is justified the reader will need to decide for himself.]
"I made this distinction in a chant I once wrote:
"In sabikalpa samadhi yoga
I will drown myself in my Self.
In nirbikalpa samadhi yoga
I will find myself in my Self."
(The Essence of Self-Realization, 1990, p. 196)
The aforementioned three stages of Self-realization (Superconsciousness, or attunement with the vibratory current of Om, Christ Consciousness, and Cosmic Consciousness), Yogananda equated with the Hindu version (AUM-TAT-SAT) of the Christian Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in reverse. Yogananda says that one is a Master when he attains Christ Consciousness. Yogananda states:
"In my perceptions, just as I feel my own consciousness in every part of my physical form, I feel you all to be a part of me. Everything that is living I feel within this body. I know the sensations of all. It is not imagination; it is Self-realization. This consciousness is far beyond telepathy. It is awareness of the perceptions of every being. That is the meaning of Christ Consciousness." (6)
In his poem Samadhi, from Songs for the Soul, he gives hints of his realization.
And further he writes:
"When he reidentifies with his soul as individualized ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss, he then merges with the all-pervading ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss of Spirit - even as a droplet returns to the sea. Still, that individuality is never lost; that portion of Spirit eternally retains its "memory" of that individualized existence." (7)
This latter paragraph is consistent with Shabd Yoga wherein the purified soul merges further, losing its identity in the absolute, and then returns to be soul, and the idea of a "memory" of the individualized life is consistent with PB's idea of an ever-spiralling spiritual evolution, even after sahaj is attained, or Sri Nisargadatta's assertion that in liberation every 'I am' is preserved and glorified.' Fortunately there is so much good in the devotional writings of Yogananda that in my opinion it makes up for any difficulty I have with his terminology, and I find a growing appreciation for his greatness the more I read his writings and stories about him. It makes me long for the presence of my own guru.
It would certainly, however, be interesting for a current teacher of Kriya yoga to debate with a master of the Radhasoami school as well as disciples of the Maharshi, for the former gurus attest to the existence of at least four more planes beyond the causal, which in each case is defined as the mental or ideational seed-realm, and thus still in the domain of the manamaya and vijnanamaya koshas, while the latter consider the causal realm as the transcendental root or source of attention and ego-self along with the anandamaya kosha in the right side of the heart. Both of these schools, moreover, generally argue for and aspire to cosmic, and not transcendental, realization, and therefore are especially difficult to compare with the understanding of sages such as Ramana, Paul Brunton, Shree Atmananda, Adyashanti, etc., who feel such soul-realization to be incomplete and shy of the mark. The truth of the cosmos, these sages say, can not be understood until the transcendental heart or Self which is "no-self" is realized, and one also realizes that all is Mind. When this no-self realization occurs, as contrasted with states of union, is not clear in either the Sant Mat or Kriya teachings.
Kriya yoga as popularly presented as the modern form of Raja Yoga, and is a mystical school advocating ascension of the soul to the realms of light above. It is therefore similar to gnosticism as well as Shabd Yoga. It does not appear to recognize nor is mention given as far as I have been able to determine of Jnana and Sahaj samadhis, in spite of the fact that Sri Yukteswar is referred to as "Jnanavatar" Sri Yukteswar. The problem, as discussed above, may or may not be one of terminology only. Paramhansa Yogananda, like Swami Muktananda, speaks with special praise in Autobiography of A Yogi of the causal or super causal realm, the "abode of the siddhas", but in that famous book didn’t mention or emphasize the merits of Nirvikalpa samadhi, which is the fulfilment of this ascending process [although elsewhere he certainly did, and his guru, Sri Yukteswar, certainly did so also], nor did he, as far as I can tell, speak of advaita vedanta or realization in terms of awakening (bodhi) from the dream of unenlightenment in the precise manner of the advaitic sages. Perhaps he did not do this so as to get a wide audience of western beginners "hooked" with fascinating spiritual tales. Perhaps, also, these more advanced teachings were reserved for an inner circle, such as in Ramakrishna hiding a copy of the Ashtavakra Gita strictly for Swami Vivekananda. The specifics of attaining "Christ Consciousness" and "Cosmic Consciousness" are somewhat and sometimes vague, in my opinion, as will be further explained.
One problem, if we could call it that, with Kriya Yoga is the same one facing all mystical yogas. And that is, that the same phenomena can be experienced from different points of view, according to the sages. That is, just as the everyday waking world can be experienced from the vantage point of both enlightenment and non-enlightenment, the same is the case with subtle visionary phenomena and higher samadhis. The mystic, prior to Self-Realization, perceives all experiences from the ego's point of view. So the Kriya yogi who perceives, with his mind's eye, the rings of colored light with a bright white star in the center that represent the subtle planes of the cosmos (as Swami Kriyananda recounts in his book The Path, and as Yogananda mentions in many places) must still understand or "recognize" that experience (from the point of view of truth) for it to be conclusive in terms of spiritual maturity. The white light at the center of the inner vision can not truly be entered or penetrated without ego-transcendence except, perhaps, temporarily, or at the time of death, and in ignorance, and such ego-transcendence is first attained most fundamentally either through knowledge (jnana) or when the spirit-current or attention passes away from its apparent ascending or descending course in relation to the body-mind to make its way to its transcendent locus at the root of the body-mind in the heart. Then the being can awaken further to the truth of itself and the world as the unconditional and non-dimensional heart or consciousness or Mind itself (universal Self or Soul) as sahaj samadhi.
In other words, the quality of "awakeness" can be applied to every succeeding level or stage of growth. The heart or being or consciousness must awaken prior to the experience of the higher structures of the body-mind if passage through these stages is to be free and non-binding. The sage understands Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa samadhis; the yogi only experiences them. When he returns to earth he is for the most part the same as he was, except for the subconscious certainty that there is more than gross life, but he is not enlightened directly by such experiences (although they may be useful and, according to Kriya yoga, necessary for eradicating tendencies (vasanas)). This is not abstract theory alone, with no relevance to beginners on the Way, for the beginning may determine the end result.
Yet the writings of Paramhansa Yogananda are overflowing with great heart-devotion, and have done much good to many, many people - including even Robert Adams, who felt jnana without bhakti was dry and lifeless.
“God tries us in all ways; He exposes our weakneses, that we may become aware of them and transmute them into strengths. He may send us ordeals that appear insupportable; He may sometimes seem almost to be pushing us away. But the clever devotee will say: “No, Lord, I want Thee. Nothing shall deter me in my search. My heartfelt prayer is this: Never put me through the test of obliviousness of Thy Presence.” [Note: The test of a saint].
“Do not expect a spiritual blossom every day in the garden of your life. Have faith that the Lord to whom you have surrendered yourselves will bring your divine fulfillment at the proper time.” (8)
“The moment when Divine Mother beats you the hardest is the time you should cling tenaciously to Her skirt.” (9)
Yogananda’s principle guru, Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936) [he also took instruction from Swami Kebalananda, another disciple of Lahiri Mahasay] was described by his famous disciple as being a strict disciplinarian, an uncompromising taskmaster, and a man with forceful and candid speech. Yogananda felt that Yukteswar would probably have been the most sought-after guru in India if his methods and manner had not been so severe. Alas, such has been the fate of many true teachers. Nevertheless, Yukteswar was revered by those who understood his ways. It is worth noting that his reprimands and rebukes were not directed to casual visitors, but only to those who were devoted to him and to his discipline. Yogananda expressed gratitude for Yukteswar's "humbling blows", confessing that the hard core of ego is "difficult to dislodge except rudely." Yukteswar was also an excellent astrologer. He cast charts for both Satyananda and Yogananda and gave them each a protective amulet. He told them that it made no difference whether they believed in such things or not for the scientific principles would work irregardless. Yukteswar was fond of discussing astrology with eminent practitioners of the art, and to this end he would forward full-fare round-trip tickets to coax them to visit him. If they could not come then he would visit them. One of his most important theories was that the precession of the constellations in the 25,000 year “Great Year” cycle was due to our sun being part of a binary sun system with perhaps Sirius as its companion star. This is being born out by much contemporary research. Yukteswar also correllated this with the Hindu system of Yugas, and found errors in the calculation of those. Most importantly, he discovered that confusion with a greater or Maha-Yuga cycle led many people to conclude that we are in the dark Kali (Iron age)Yuga, whereas in fact we have been in the ascending phase of the Dwapara (Silver Age) Yuga since 1699 A.D..
Yukteswar established several Self-Realization Fellowship centers (known, in India, as Yogoda Satsanga - YSS) and appointed two successors: Satyananda for the East (10) and Yogananda for the West. He died on Mar 9, 1936, and in June of that year appeared in a "physically rematerialized body" to Yogananda and at least one other disciple. (11)
Sri Yukteswar shared the general yogic view, and the view of Kriya yogis in particular, that the ajna chakra or third eye is the center for spiritual realization. He said that "the essence of religion, pure consciousness, and the Supreme Lord reside in the "Cave" in between the eyebrows." (12) Kriya teachings argue that the vibratory pranic or life-current enters the body at the medulla oblongata (brain stem), which is "the main switch that controls the entrance, storage, and distribution of the life-force." (13). They consider the medulla as the twin pole of the ajna or agya chakra, Christ center, or spiritual eye. The prana then goes upwards into the higher brain and downwards from there to the various bodily centers (chakras). In the yogi much of it is stored in the sahasrara at the top of the brain. This is a unique view. The shabd yogins would say that both the the prana as well as the attention or surat, both enter the body from the top of the head, not the medulla.
Swami Kriyananda, in his rendition of Yogananda's commentaries on the Bhagavad-Gita, interestingly states:
"The sun in the body represents the light of the spiritual eye - or, alternatively, the sahasrara (the "thousand-petalled lotus") at the top of the head. The moon represents the reflection of that light in the ego, or agya chakra (the medulla oblongata), and therefore represents the human ego itself. Ego-consciousness is, in fact, centered in the medulla." (14)
For Ramana Maharshi, in contrast, the center for Self-Realization is the transcendental Heart (the "sun"), all-pervading yet felt or intuited prior to realization relative to the body as being in the heart on the right side, and from which the light above the crown (reflected in the brain - the "moon") emanates and, upon Realization, is recognized, free of egoic illusion. Ramana therefore would object to this kriya interpretation of the sun and moon as rendered from the Bhagavad-Gita. Ramana also simply said that the source of the pranas is the same as that of the mind, which is the Heart, and did not concern himself with any of the bodily centers, all of which he dismissed in advaitic fashion as existing in the mind and irrelevant for realization.
The Kriya path posits the physical, astral, and causal bodies/worlds, and teaches that when the attention is withdrawn from the outer body it enters three progressively deeper "astral" nadis: the sushumna, then the vajra, and finally the chitra. [The classic "ida" and "pingala" nadis are considered as more superficial, more to due with the breath, than the vajra and chitra nadis, which are deeper and luminous with astral light]. This is also a unique interpretation of the nadis:
"Passing through the chitra, the energy and consciousness enter the innermost channel, the brahmanadi, which constitutes the spine of the causal body. [this is interesting; one has not yet left through the top of the physical head, but he is supposed to be in the spine of the causal body] It was through the brahmanadi that Brahma, the Creative aspect of AUM,[elsewhere Kriyananda uses the word Brahman] in His aspect of Creator of individual beings and their three bodies, descended into outward manifestation. It is through this final channel of brahmanadi, therefore, that the soul must once ascend in order to become again one with the Spirit. As the yogi withdraws his energy up through this final channel, he is able to fully offer his separate, individual consciousness to infinity...The opening of the brahmanadi is at the top of the head. On reaching this point, the yogi becomes reunited with omnipresence, for the last sheath has been removed that closes him off from infinity." (15)
Vedantist V.S. Iyer, court philosopher of the Maharaja of Mysore, teacher of Paul Brunton and Ramakrishna monks Nikhilinanda and Siddeswarananda, by contrast, had this to say about this sort of view, from the point of view of truth:
“Some yogis teach that Brahman is in the top chakra of the skull; that therefore we must ascend there. This is childish.” (Collected Works, Vol. 1, ed. Mark Scorelle, 1999, p. 105)
We will hear more from Iyer later. Ramana Maharshi also adamently opposed this view.
This also appears a problematic and contradictory teaching for the shabd yogin, for according to that school a successful exit at the top of the head would only leave the soul at the threshold of the astral world, with astral and causal bodies intact and yet to be transcended. Therefore, the shabd yogin would not agree that "the last sheath has been removed." It is, of course, a traditional kundalini and raja yoga teaching [and indeed, even Ramakrishna taught this for a time, before he became a sage] that nirvikalpa samadhi and infinite consciousness is attained when one reaches the sahasrara, but there seems to be a big jump in logic here. There is much explaining needed regarding the subtle channel or "brahmanadi" between the agya chakra and the sahasrara. What exactly happens to the astral and causal bodies? How indeed are they transcended by the life energies, consciousness or attention passing from the agya chakra to the sahasrara, the sahasrara being defined as at the top of the head? If the sheaths are so transcended by this process then it seems that the astral and causal worlds would also have to be transcended, which then might suggest that such worlds are within the "brain-core", and not outside of it. But if that were the case then there would be no subtle or heavenly realms after death, and such a conclusion tradition says we must reject. What exactly, then, are the kriya yogis saying?
And, secondly, according to Ramana Maharshi, even repeated experiences of nirvikalpa samadhi would not give absolute freedom without continual checking of the the vasanas in the heart while in the waking state until the non-dual realization was stabilized. Thus, Ramana also would NOT agree with the claim of Yogananda that freedom for the yogi was secured, with no possibility of backsliding or "fall", once he reached beyond savikalpa samadhi to nirvikalpa samadhi. There are stories of yogis waking up out of nirvikalpa samadhi after years and years and still being the same as when they went into their trance. The end result would therefore appear to differ depending on the antecedent state, the maturity of mind and heart, of the individual.
The statement of Kriyananda's, "as the yogi withdraws his energy up through this final channel, he is able to fully offer his separate, individual consciousness to infinity", may, depending on one's understanding, be an example of what Ramana called a "deceitful strategem," i.e., an illusory individual presuming to offer his illusory self to a God from which he was never truly separate. There is no separate thing to be reunited with "omnipresence.
The Kriya teachings involve the use of traditional Hatha Yoga means including asana (right posture) and pranayama (breath control), as well as the traditional Raja yoga components of pratyahara (abstraction of attention from the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (contemplation), and samadhi (transcendental absorption), with the goal being ascended absorption at the ajna center, passage through the central brightness within the spiritual eye, and finally Nirvikalpa Samadhi, beyond the sahasrar and the three bodies and worlds. Its practice of concentration of attention on the lights and sounds in the brain core is similar to that of Shabd Yoga, although the latter claims to take the soul much higher with a much less arduous sadhana. Kriya Yoga, on the other hand, makes claims for bodily transformation and rejuvenation that the latter does not. Sometimes this tends to get over-emphasized at the expense of the goal of realization itself. Much of the following would be considered totally unnecessary from the point of view of a sage like Ramana Maharshi. From an interview with Paramhansa Yogananda:
“The technique I had already received from two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya—Father and my tutor, Swami Kebalananda. But Master [Sri Yukteswar] possessed a transforming power; at his touch a great light broke upon my being, like the glory of countless suns blazing together. A flood of ineffable bliss overwhelmed my heart to an innermost core...."
"The Sanskrit root of kriya is kri, to do, to act and react: the same root is found in the word karma, the natural principle of cause and effect. Kriya yoga is thus union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain action or rite (kriya). A yogi who faithfully practices the techniques gradually freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibrium."
"Kriya yoga is a simple, psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonized and recharged with oxygen. The atoms of this extra oxygen are transmuted into life current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centers. By stopping the accumulation of venous blood, the yogi is able to lessen or prevent the decay of tissues. The advanced yogi transmutes his cells into energy."
"The kriya yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upwards and downwards, around the six spinal centers (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal plexuses), which correspond to the 12 astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man."
"Elijah, Jesus, Kabir, and other prophets were past masters in the use of kriya or a similar technique, by which they caused their bodies to materialize and dematerialize at will."
"Kriya is an ancient science. Lahiri Mahasaya received it from his great guru, Babaji, who rediscovered and clarified the technique after it had been lost in the Dark Ages. Babaji renamed it, simply, kriya yoga.”
The next to the last paragraph above could pose a problem, as the "similar technique" used by Jesus and Kabir, according to the Sant Mat gurus, would be Shabd Yoga, not Kriya Yoga! The Kriya organization promoted a theocentric myth that their yoga was a special dispensation to the "New Age" from the legendary immortal master named "Babaji", which presentation, like Theosophy, is representative of much occult mythology which became the manner of many early twentieth-century communications of traditional oriental esotericism in the Western world. Such yogic techniques have been taught and employed for centuries. It is time, is it not, for teachers to agree with Ramana Maharshi, who once said that in his system "it was all an open book"? Secret initiations and teachings are for a bygone era. The only true "secrets" are those which can only be known through real spiritual practice, that is, the realized experience of that which can nevertheless be clearly explained and pointed towards verbally and through the written word.
Another example of the occult slant to the presentation of the Kriya school is as follows. Swami Satyeswarananda Giri (a disciple of Satyananda) tells us that since his death Satyananda has appeared to him in a "resurrected" form on numerous occasions (see Swami Satyeswarananda Giri, Biography of a Yogi (San Diego, CA: The Sanskrit Classics, 1985)) . Yogananda spoke likewise about Sri Yukteswar in Autobiography of a Yogi. Their choice of language is interesting, inasmuch as this line of yoga teachers consider Jesus the Christ as a master of Kriya Yoga and the first guru in their lineage. The second is the immortal avatar Babaji, the third Lahiri Mahasay, and the fourth Sri Yukteswar. Self-Realization Fellowship households and centers often display photographs of Yogananda and the gurus immediately preceding him as well as that of Jesus in affirmation of this claim [not unlike the practice of many “Neo-Advaitins” who gain legitimacy by having a photo of Ramana Maharshi in their satsang halls.] Jesus, the original master, was resurrected, so was Sri Yukteswar, and so was Swami Satyananda. [To complicate matters Babaji was supposed to have been Krishna in a previous incarnation, which wouldn't set well with some of Sri Aurobindo's disciples, who felt that he had been Krishna in a previous life. Ramakrishna also claimed to have been Krishna]. Kriya yoga thus appears to be a popularized and even theistic version of an assortment of hatha, raja, and nada yoga techniques that have been taught since ancient times. Its domain is clearly experiential mysticism in the manifest realms, with a gesture towards the unmanifest and a mystical feeling of union with the manifest, but, it seems, without including an explicit, definitive recognition of the true Unborn as pointed to in high Buddhism or Advaita.
Interesting also is that, for all the emphasis given in SRF to the fact that Yogananda's body did not decay for weeks after his mahasamadhi, and also given the emphasis in Yogananda's teachings on how doing the Kriya exercises would prolong the life of the body and keep it more youthful, the Yogi himself died at the relatively young age of fifty-nine. If this was a conscious decision on his part it is still mysterious in light of his statement that he would be the last guru in the Kriya lineage. If this was so why then leave so soon? The great Sankara died at the age of only thirty-two, but according to Ramana Maharshi this was because of the fact that he worked incessantly and did not recharge his bodily vehicle by going into samadhi. The same argument, however, can not be made in the case of Yogananda.
As was the case with Sri Aurobindo, Paramhansa Yogananda was said to have been spiritually active in influencing world events, in particular the Korean War. Yogananda stated:
"When South Korea was invaded by the north, I myself put the thought into President Truman's mind to go to its defense. That situation was a threat to the whole world. Had South Korea fallen, the communists would have gone on to Japan, and would then have come up and taken the Aleutian Islands, from where they would have invaded Alaska and North America. The whole world, ultimately, could have been swept up into the materialistic philosophy of communism. For these reasons it was very necessary that South Korea be defended. That is why I have called this a holy war." (16)
Yogananda also commented on the role of sages in influencing the outcome of WWII. As Swami Kriyananda recounts:
"When Hitler first rose to power, Paramhansa Yogananda, for several reasons, saw some hope in that accession. One of those reasons was the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty, which had forced germany into virtual destitution. He also saw, as he told a few people, that Hitler had been, in a former lifetime, Alexander "the great" of Greece, who had shown an interest in the yogis of India. When Hitler allowed himself to be seized by ambition for power, however, that ambition distorted his potentially spiritual leanings. At that point, several masters began to work against him [Aurobindo, the Mother, Narayan Maharaj, and Meher Baba, to name a few who were claimed to have done so].....They..put the thought in Hitler's mind to make mistakes that led to his eventual destruction. They suggested to him from within, for example, to divide his forces and fight both in the east and in the west, and also in Africa. This they did by feeding the confidence he felt in his own ability to win "everywhere." Militarily, there was no need for Germany to divide its fronts. That self-division proved, for it, a fatal error." (17)
Yogananda said that Mussolini had been Marc Anthony in a past life, Stalin was Genghis Khan, and Churchill had been Napoleon (this might have been a small problem, as Sri Aurobindo was also said to have been Napoleon). When asked the same about FDR, he quipped, "I've never told anybody...I was afraid I might get into trouble!" (18)
Yogananda said that "the divine purpose behind the Second World War was to liberate the 'third world' countries, most of which were British colonies." Supposedly a part of this was karmic retribution against Churchill: as Napoleon "he wanted to destroy England. As Churchill he had to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire." (19)
Apparently, for Yogananda, as well as for Sri Aurobindo, the thought that the world bankers as well as secret societies and major power-elite actually funded the Russian Revolution, triggered WWI, orchestrated the Versailles Treaty and its inevitable repercussions, and also financially supported Hitler until several years into WWII, never crossed their mind. Whatever the divine plan was for the fate of the nations involved in these major conflicts, there was another plan that the sages and masters seem not to have been privy to, that of the Illuminati, who appeared to have achieved all of their major goals, to wit: the breakup of Germany as a major power, the fomenting of unrest in the Middle East, the handover of eastern Europe to the communists in order to create a Cold War, with the subsequent creation in the public mind of a need for a global governing body, first materialized in the incipient United Nations, and in dialectical fashion thus move a few steps closer to accomplishing their long-cherished New World Order. This topic is discussed in more detail within the article Sri Aurobindo and the Integral Yoga on this website. Divine plan or no divine plan, one obvious irony is that if the masters had not influenced Hitler to split his forces, but rather cooperated with his desire to make peace with England, he might have been able to prevail in his goal of stopping world communism and thereby avoid the consequences for humanity of both the Korean conflict and the Cold War - the outcome of which Yogananda said he had favorably influenced. "Who can fathom the mind of the Lord?", saith the psalmist.
Kriya Yoga is somewhat difficult to describe because there have been differences and modifications of the practices as it has been passed down from Lahiri Mahasay to Sri Yukteswar to Paramahansa Yogananda. Supposedly this has been to speed up and make more scientific the process to the attainment of Christ Consciousness and God-Realization. The above link opens into an extensive amount of material suggesting contradictions within the Kriya teachings, and cultic aspects of the organization, including scare tactics such as the threat of lifetimes wasted if you ever leave the guru and the fellowship (all too common among religious groups, invading the Radhasoami Mat, Auroville under the Mother, as well as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, fundamentalist Christianity, and many more), and the need to take an SRF loyalty oath, that the reader will be left to explore for himself. Here we will give Yogananda the benefit of the doubt, out of respect for the great devotional inspiration derived from his writings, leaving each individual to draw his or her own conclusions about guru politics.
Essentially, again, kriya yoga employs asana and pranayama techniques to move the subtle life energy up and down the spine, attempting to purify karmas associated with each of the six spinal chakras, with the hoped for result that this life force eventually collects at the third eye (ajna chakra) and from there proceeds to the sahasrar, which Kriya considers the doorway to the infinite. When the life-force collects at the ajna, a circle of colored rings appear, predominantly a golden ring around a blue sky, with a brilliant white star in the center. Concentration on that star leads to passage beyond it and beyond the "three coils", to eventual Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Repeated attainment of Nirvikalpa Samadhi eventually is supposed to lead to realization of the same in daily life, which, as stated, is called “cosmic consciousness” in the terminology of Yogananda. It is, essentially, realization of Nirvikalpa samadhi in the midst of daily life.
How that is achieved is not entirely clear. The assumption is that repeated immersion in nirvikalpa will bleed through into ones daily life and eventually and naturally create sahaj, although that specific word is not used or explained. Ramana Maharshi was adamant, as previously stated, that even repeated experiences of nirvikalpa samadhi would not necessarily lead to Self-realization, or what is known as Sahaj or sahaj samadhi, the “natural state”, without jnana and the eradication of the vasanas. Furthermore, here is what PB said on this basically yogic and Indian version of sahaj samadhi, versus its Ch’an and, in his language, philosophic version:
“The Indian notion of sahaja makes it the extension of nirvikalpa samadhi into the active everyday state. But the Ch’an conception of sahaj samadhi differs from this; it does not seek deliberately to eliminate thoughts, although that may often happen of its own accord through identification with the true Mind, but to eliminate the personal feelings usually attached to them, that is, to remain unaffected by them because of this identification."
"Ch’an does not consider sahaja to be the fruit of yoga meditation alone, nor of understanding alone, but of a combination seemingly of both. It is a union of reason and intuition. It is an awakening once and for all. It is not attained in nirvikalpa and then to be held as long as possible. it is not something, a state alternately gained and lost on numerous occasions, but gradually expanded as it is clung to. It is a single awakening that enlightens the man so that he never returns to ignorance again. He has awakened to his divine essence, his source in Mind, as an all-day and every day self-identification. It has come by itself, effortlessly.” (20)
[Note: do not be misled by the last sentence of this quote. Elsewhere PB says a man must work hard for this, but only that the final stage, that of irreducible insight into reality, comes effortlessly by grace].
It is not clear whether the final realization for the Kriya yogin is the same as realization herein defined. It appears to be in the category of the former or Indian version wherein something like nirvikalpa is attempted to be held onto as long as possible. This is also complicated by the claim of Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi that final liberation for a saint is usually attained from a higher astral world after death rather than from the physical plane. This concept has its counterpart in Sant Mat and even Buddhism, which speaks of a realm called Sukhavati from where the bodhisattvas attain their enlightenment. For the Buddha, however, enlightenment itself was beyond all such states and was, as he once remarked, "a tacit insight, nothing more.” It is a misconception common on mystic paths where an initial emotional approach leads to the view that stabilization of ecstasy is the final goal. PB elaborates on this point of view:
"The philosopher is satisfied with a noble peace and does not run after mystical ecstasies. Whereas other paths often depend upon an emotionalism that perishes with the disappearance of the primal momentum that inspired it, or which dissolves with the dissolution of the first enthusiastic ecstasies themselves, here there is a deeper and more dependable process. What must be emphasized is that most mystical aspirants have an initial or occasional ecstasy, and they are so stirred by the event that they naturally want to enjoy it permanently. This is because they live under the common error that a successful and perfect mystic is one who has succeeded in stabilizing ecstasy. That the mystic is content to rest on the level of feeling alone, without making his feeling self-reflective as well, partly accounts for such an error. It also arises because of incompetent teachers or shallow teaching, leading them to strive to perform what is impracticable and to yearn to attain what is impossible. Our warning is that this is not possible, and that however long a mystic may enjoy these 'spiritual sweets,' they will assuredly come to an end one day. The stern logic of facts calls for stress on this point. Too often he believes that this is the goal, and that he has nothing more about which to trouble himself. Indeed, he would regard any further exertions as a sacrilegious denial of the peace, as a degrading descent from the exaltation of this divine union. He longs for nothing more than the good fortune of being undisturbed by the world and of being able to spend the rest of his life in solitary devotion to his inward ecstasy. For the philosophic mystic, however, this is not the terminus but only the starting point of a further path. What philosophy says is that this is only a preliminary mystical state, however remarkable and blissful it be. There is a more matured state -- that of gnosis -- beyond it. If the student experiences paroxysms of ecstasy at a certain stage of his inner course, he may enjoy them for a time, but let him not look forward to enjoying them for all time. The true goal lies beyond them, and he should not forget that all-important fact. He will not find final salvation in the mystical experience of ecstasy, but he will find an excellent and essential step towards salvation therein. He who would regard rapturous mystical emotion as being the same as absolute transcendental insight is mistaken. Such a mistake is pardonable. So abrupt and striking is the contrast with his ordinary state that he concludes that this condition of hyper-emotional bliss is the condition in which he is able to experience reality. He surrenders himself to the bliss, the emotional joy which he experiences, well satisfied that he has found God or his soul. But his excited feelings about reality are not the same as the serene experience of reality itself. This is what a mystic finds difficult to comprehend. Yet, until he does comprehend it, he will not make any genuine progress beyond this stage." (21)
Another difference between emanationist paths, such as Kriya yoga, and philosophic paths, such as described by PB and as given in Advaita Vedanta and various forms of Buddhism, lies with the concept of matter. Kriya is a firm believer in matter as crystalized or condensed Consciousness. Even astral matter, which Yogananda terms "lifetrons", falls into this category. To the philosophic sage, all experiences, high or low, no matter how they are subjectively perceived, as dense or ethereal, are ideas in the mind - and ultimately, Mind - but to Yogananda this was the wrong way of perceiving things. He said:
"The human body - and all things else - are naught but a mass of condensed energy; and energy is "frozen" Cosmic Consciousness, or God. We should not call it mind. Mind is different. To say that everything is mind is incorrect. It is Cosmic Consciousness that causes us to be aware of different things, to have a consciousness of so-called matter and a consciousness of Spirit...You will know that the cosmic golden cord that binds the atoms is the tender consciousness of Spirit. It is with this cord that He binds the atoms to become the flower, or the human body." (22)
Thus, Yogananda is not a mentalist. He even criticizes the great Sankara of confusing "mind" with subtle matter. To Yogananda "thoughts" or "ideas" only begin in the causal plane.
"In the causal world, he knows that everything is made of idea-forms, or thoughts...he knows himself as soul (jiva), a manifestation of Para-Prakriti: Pure Nature." (23)
The advaitist would say at this point, "has anyone ever seen 'Para-Prakriti'? Can you prove its existence?" The answer is no. Then why use the term and suppose it leads one to truth? As a yogi Swami Yogananda - as well as Sri Aurobindo - took issue with the advaitins and their epistemology of Drik-Drysam-Advaitin, that everything seen or experienced (Drysam) is a presentation to and inseparable from the seer (Drik), Atman or Brahman. In this view everything is mental, even the soul, which reduces to a thought or concept in Mind. Yogananda might possibly be classified as a parinama-vada vedantist, in which the Mind projects out various levels or stadia, or even an advocate of Samkhya, believing in two primary substances: consciousness and matter (i.e., the primordial field of nature). Indeed, Roy Eugene Davis describes his schema of manifestation as Samkhya (although, it seems, without the extreme dualism of classical Samkhya). Yogananda would not likely have agreed with the ajata-vada vedantist who is a firm adherent to the doctrine of non-causality and that all is Mind; that 'things' are not produced by Mind, they are Mind. V.S. Iyer, teacher of Paul Brunton, had this to say about Yogananda:
"Swami Yogananda of Los Angeles visited me. He kept on saying "I am Brahman. All this is Brahman." I smiled but kept quiet. I ought to have said to him, "How can you prove that you are Brahman?" He would have replied, "I know, practice my method of yoga and you too shall know. To that I would have said, "How can you prove that your method is the correct one?" Such mystics will not reason." (24)
PB states, and this is generally the view of advaita vedanta, as well as Ramana Maharshi and sages such as Atmananda and Nisargadatta:
"The Theosophic doctrine that the physical world is an externalization of an astral plane or even the higher Platonic doctrine that it crystallizes a world of divine ideation is given to beginners as a help to give them a crude grasp, a first step towards the theory that the world is an idea, until they are mentally developed. When their mind is mature they are then told to discard the astral plane theory and told the pure truth that all existence is an idea."
"How hard for the average mind to grasp this central fact, that the World-Idea is the world-creation. The one does not precede the other. The second is not a copy in matter of the first. Man has to work, with his senses and his intellect, when he wants to convert his ideas into objects, but the World-Mind does not need to make an effort in order to make a universe, does not in reality have anything to do at all, for Its thought is the thing. Some mystics and most occultists have failed to perceive this. Their realization of the Spirit did not bring the full revelation of the Spirit. This is because they have not thoroughly comprehended...its utter emptiness. Nothing can come out of the Universal Mind that is not mental, not even the material world which men believe they inhabit and experience." (25)
Even so, and while it is epistemologically consistent, even PB appears to hedge on this point a little bit, when he states:
"It is not quite correct to assume that we are the manifested forms of the perfection from which we emanate. More precisely, we are projecteds of a denser medium from the universal mind, appearing by some catalytic process in natural sequence within that medium. The cosmic activity provides each such entity-projection with an individual life and intelligence centre through an evolutionary process, whereby its own volitional directive energies are, ultimately, merged with the cosmic will in perfect unity and harmony." (26)
This form of mentalistic insight, howwever, that all arises in and as Mind, is how a sage like Papaji could make the enigmatic statement, "nothing ever happened." Yogananda would likely consider the causal body to be made of mind or mental "stuff", but it would still be, from his point of view, a subtle stuff, more subtle than the astral lifetrons, or the physical body, but still an actual condensation of Consciousness (which to the philosophers is Mind), rather than a presentation within or emanation from Consciousness. This becomes more than mere hair-splitting when one goes deeply into the doctrine of mentalism, and affects the very nature of the identity of Self or Soul and Ego. Similar problems emerge when studying the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. Are the differences in these teachings mere words? We will let the reader decide. [For more on this teaching of PB, see the article Elvis Was Not A Mentalist on this website].
For the shabd yogin, separating from the "three coils" of the physical astral and causal bodies, would not, as in kriya Yoga, lead the soul directly to the Purushottama, or nirvikalpa, but first to the "super-causal" dimension, where the soul is essentially aware of itself as a self-existing eternal 'entity' beyond mind and illusion (a 'drop' of consciousness), but still covered by a thin layer of anandamaya kosha, and confronting a dark void (Maha-Sunn) which it cannot cross to enter the eternal realms without the superior light of the Master. The help of the guru is needed to pass from there to Sach Khand, which is considered the Spiritual realm or true home of the Sants, and from which one then gets progressively absorbed by the Sat Purush past Alakh and Agam Loks, and into the nameless and formless Godhead known as "Anami". These regions are not mentioned on the Kriya path, nor, as mentioned, is the status of "Christ Consciousness", and Nirvikalpa Samadhi made crystal clear, at least to my satisfaction.
A good source to ask about all this might be Mukti, the wife of contemporary teacher Adyashanti, for she spent twenty years in SRF before studying the non-dual teachings under her husband. It is clear from her writings that she has moved on from the teachings of the Kriya school:
"Enlightenment is consciously being that which is entirely unmoving and yet moves all things. In order to know what is unmoving, consciously, one must end all investment in movements of mind and attend to what is always and already stopped. When one no longer invests in movements of mind, the searchlights of your attention withdraw back to source. Abiding as source is true stopping. This return to source—whether by letting energies withdraw and recede from outer attentions or by tracing movements of mind back to their origin—is the way Home. Often in spirituality, there are teachings that assert the need to focus attention on given objects of perception. You may have been taught to focus your attention on a goal, a mantra, your breath, the third eye, the hara, or on sensation, but it is the very assertion of focus and the assertion of the focuser, the “me,” that keeps you forever at a seeming distance from the root of attention: your Self as pure Awareness. In your natural state as Oneness, there is no need to focus in order to discover yourself—any more than point A can know itself by focusing on point B. Point A can only know itself by letting all focus, attention, and searching subside back to its origin."
Kriya thus differs markedly not only from the path of jnana, but also from Shabd Yoga, in that the latter teaches the aspirant to bypass the path of the prana (motor) currents and to instead concentrate the sensory currents at the third eye, ignoring the centers below. The upward course from here appears the same, in that one is to pierce through the big star, but in Kriya what comes after that, again, is simply said to be passage beyond the three worlds, while in Shabd Yoga a hierarchy of seven planes beyond is taught, with the Master or Master-Power being one’s chief aid in transcending from one plane to the next on to the highest goal. In Shabd Yoga, moreover, one is taught to cross the sun, moon, and then the big star leading to the first inner plane, although, to be fair, the experience of disciples vary. Lahiri Mahasay states:
“In the kutastha [soul center] there is darkness surrounded by a golden ring. A tiny star with the effulgence of the sun is in the center, which opens the door to Purushottama [the Supreme Being]. Purusha [the Cosmic Man] in the kutastha is Purushottama. When one goes through the door of the kutastha he realizes Purushottama.”
This sounds similar to the shabd yoga teaching of the soul upon reaching Sach Khand beholding and then merging in the Sat Purush, but, again, seemingly ignores the many intermediate regions before the Supreme.
I say seemingly because in the book, The Holy Science (SRF, 2006), by Sri Yukteswar, the Kriya path appears almost identical, once pratyahara is achieved, with that of Sant Mat. He even uses the term Surat Sabda Yoga (!), and stages of Trikuti, Daswan Dwar (the "door" between the material and the spiritual regions), Sunn, Maha Sunn, Alak, Agam , and Anami. Seven stages or planes of creation are mentioned (Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Swarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka, and Satyaloka), which correspond with traditionally delineated yoga stages which are even listed in Sant Kirpal Singh's The Crown of Life: A Study in Yoga, p. 54 (bhur, bhuva, swah, maha, janah, tapah and satyam).
The involvement with pranayama and kriya techniques, which Shabd Masters argue is a waste of time, are considered in the Kriya teachings as essential preparation to attain the state of pratyahara, whereby one can then catch the sound current and ascend further by attuning with the radiant form of the guru. In shabd yoga the boon of pratyahara is supposed to be given by the master at the time of initiation, with simple concentration at the spiritual eye from that point on all that is necessary. On the kriya path, the assumption is that more is required to become capable of concentrating there. From that point, in any case, the path is almost identical with shabd yoga proper, at least, according to The Holy Science. What I find even more intriguing is how Sri Yukteswar explains the inner phenomena of the great divide between the material and spiritual creations, in terms of passage beyond the" Atom" at the heart where the ego or sense of a separate self originates. I recommend this short book; to me it is metaphysically and cosmologically more revealing than that found in later books on that path).
Paramhansa Yogananda in his lengthy commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita [which he felt appropriate to write inasmuch as he considered Babaji to have been Krishna in a former life, and he Arjuna] loosely summarizes his views on the process of realization. I say loosely because the question of jnana, as in most mystical paths, is not mentioned or delved into in any detail, but only in a passing comment here and there. Yogananda was adamant that his viewpoint was more practical than that of the strict non-dualists. He said:
"Other Gita interpretations..are not fully rounded, as scriptures ought to be. Even Swami Shankaracharya's commentaries were one-sided in the sense that they completely rejected duality, though duality, for people living in the world, is a daily reality. [This doesn't seem to be entirely correct; Sankara rejuvenated religion at all levels throughout India, not just advaita]That is why Krishna says in the Gita that the path of yoga is higher than the path of wisdom, which Shankaracharya taught. [Iyer disagreed, saying that Krishna taught gnana yoga as the highest] The path of yoga accepts actual human realities, and works with them as they are, instead of dismissing them as non-existent. They are illusory, certainly, but for all that duality exists, as a dream exists. It just isn't what it appears to be." (27)
This is consistent with Yogananda's view on karma:
"Why live a bad dream by creating bad karma? With good karma, you get to enjoy the dream. Good karma also makes you want, in time, to wake up from the dream. Bad karma, on the other hand, darkens the mind and keeps it bound to the dreaming process." (28)
In fairness, however, I have noticed in Yogananda’s later writings, after he met Ramana Maharshi, references to a different viewpoint than the ascent back to God that he emphasized in his early years:
“Look upon this world as a dream, and then you will understand that it is all right for you to lie down on the bed of this earth and dream the dream of life. You won’t mind, because you will know you are dreaming...Dismiss this phantasm of disease and health, sorrow and joy. Rise above it. Become the Self. Watch the show of the universe, but do not become absorbed in it. Many times I have seen my body gone from this world. I laugh at death. I am ready anytime. There is nothing to it. Eternal life is mine. I am the ocean of consciousness...When you truly want to be released from this earth dream, there is no power that can stop you from attaining liberation. Never doubt it! Your salvation is not to be achieved - it is already yours, because you are made in the image of god; but you have to know this. You have forgotten it.” (29)
"The truth is, nothing is really created anyway! The Spirit simply manifests the universe. Ultimately, nothing causes anything, for nothing, in actuality, is even happening." (30)
"The simple thought that you are not free..keeps you from being free. If you could only break that simple thought, you would go into samadhi...Samadhi is not something one needs to acquire. You have it already. Just think: Eternally you have been with God. For a few incarnations you live in delusion, but then again you are free in Him for eternity! Live always in that thought....Evolution..is only a suggestion in the mind. Everything, in reality, is going on in the present tense. In God's consciousness there is no evolution, no change, no 'progress.' It is always and everywhere the same one reality." (31)
When asked by Roy Eugene Davis how many of the saints he had written about in Autobiography of a Yogi had attained liberation, Yogananda replied:
"Not many. Many saints are satisfied to experience the bliss of God-communion and don't aspire to liberation of consciousness." He then emphatically said, "You must go all the way!" (32)
Sri Yukteswar, while elaborating a seven-storied creation and the need to ascend to its heights, speaking of the last two stages wrote:
"In this state man comprehends himself as nothing but a mere ephemeral idea resting on a figment of the universal Holy Spirit of God, the Eternal Father, and understanding the real worship, he sacrifices his self there at this Holy Spirit, the altar of God; that is, abandoning the vain idea of his separate existence, he becomes "dead" or dissolved in the universal Holy Spirit; and thus reaches Tapaloka, the region of the Holy Ghost."
"In this manner, being one and the same with the universal Holy Spirit of God, man becomes unified with the Eternal Father Himself, and so comes to Satyaloka, in which he comprehends that all this creation is substantially nothing but a mere idea-play of his own nature, and that nothing in the universe exists besides his own Self. This state of unification is called Kaivalya, the Sole Self." (33)
These views, however, are closer to the Sant Mat view than the ajata doctrine of Maharshi, or the 'nothing ever happened' viewpoint of Papaji.
In another link, a kriya practioner gives a detailed description of the basic, and to my mind quite complicated, kriya techniques. One thing that is distinctive is that sounds that are to be listened to beginning at the third eye by the shabd yogi are listened to progressively beginning at the muladhara chakra by the kriya yogi:
“The sounds of the chakras are discribed as: root chakra--hissing, 2nd chakra--crickets, 3rd chakra--pan flute or deep throated whistling, 4th chakra--tinkling bells or heavy gong, 5th chakra--high pitched whistling, 6th chakra--glorious trumpets, crown chakra--thunder followed by the AUM.”
The final sound they listen to is thunder, heard from the ajna chakra to the sahasrar. Sometimes the big bell is listed as heard at the heart chakra. In shabd yoga, in contrast, the big bell comes from overhead and pulls the soul up above the lower centers into the astral world. Also, in kriya yoga, the pineal pland or third eye center is spoken of as linked with the medulla oblongata, and collection of the pranas between the two is considered necessary for ‘lift-off’ to the sahasrar.
Kriya places attention to the mechanics of energy in the body, and speaks of cleansing the karmas in the "pranic centers" (bodily chakras), but does not place an emphasis on jnana. Both this path and the above, along with Surat Shabd Yoga, speak of final passage of consciousness through the heart of the cosmos into a divine realm or domain. The differences to be made explicit are in what happens before and after passing beyond that central luminosity or "Bright Star." Only in Sant Mat, in this writer's opinion, is what lies afterwards made clear (as far as possible), and even then, according to sages or jnanis, a question exists regarding the finality of ones understanding, especially when returning to the realms of creation. For as PB emphasizes, once again,
"Enlightenment, philosophically found, is both an experience and an understanding." (34)
It is both of these, simultaneously, as one single insight. Would passage through the various inner regions into a Divine Domain, then, be complete enlightenment - even when coupled with the experience of the "cosmic body" as one's own when re-entering the planes of manifestation? To be as accomplished of a mystic to be faced with such a question is no small achievement, but is it liberation itself? We would answer that it could be - but it would depend on what happens along the way. As PB forthrightly states:
"When you awaken to truth as it really is, you will have no occult vision, you will have no "astral" experience, no ravishing ecstasy. You will awaken to it in a state of utter stillness, and you will realize that truth was always there within you and that reality was always there around you. Truth is not something which has grown and developed through your efforts. It is not something which has been achieved or attained by laboriously adding up those efforts. It is not something which has to be made more and more perfect each year. And once your mental eyes are opened to truth they can never be closed again." (35)
Can there be one single method for attaining this? No. The only method, if it be called as such, is sincerity. Edwin Smith (Jah Jae Noh) writes:
“How, then, does the student finally come to truth? Since everything a student does is unconsciously aimed at avoiding truth, it is only through constant confrontation with truth that the student finally understands, accepts. In effect, truth simply outlasts the student. No matter what the student tries to do, truth keeps on “coming at” him until he finally wears out and surrenders. But this process obviously requires that the student persists. It requires that the student be dedicated, sincere....Since everything he does only avoids truth, he surrenders to That Which Is, Reality, Truth, God. He allows himself to be “done” by Reality. His activity is to not inhibit the process of Truth...He does all this in the faith that it is alright....."
"Among sincere students, any “method” will serve to promote spiritual realization. Among the insincere no method will serve. Thus, methodology is irrelevant to realization. Methods are illusory, serving only to pacify and gratify the mind. That which accounts for the realization of some and not others is readiness. Readiness is the activity of surrendering at each moment to the flow of guidance, until that form appropriate for realization is presented....It is the dedication and sincerity of the individual which acounts for even the possibility of realization....All methods are merely activities performed while waiting for divine presence to make itself known to you...."
"The mind can be lead countless times into the heart, yet it can refuse to believe or accept what is experienced. To this extent no learning takes place. So faith is the vehicle, the mode of learning. Understanding, which is the mind’s acceptance of the heart, is the activity of faith.” (36)
As mentioned earlier, Roy Eugene Davis has been teaching Kriya Yoga for over fifty years, and, IMO, uses different terminology and different ordering in describing the stages of the path than his Master did. He also says that Yogananda did not teach only Kriya Yoga, but Bhakti and Jnana as well to those qualified for such approaches, much as Ramakrishna had. Further, in seeming contradiction with Yogananda's assertion above that the great Sankara was wrong in both his philosophical teaching and in implying that jnana was superior to yoga, Davis says that in the Kriya school it is taught that not only Lahiri Mahasay, but Sankara himself was initiated by Babaji !
Davis teaches standard Kriya practices, but also visualization techniques, and advaitic practices. This is refreshing from my point of view. He advises disciples, no matter what level of experience they have achieved, to understand that enlightenment can happen at any time, and that it is not an "attainment":
"The very idea that this ideal state is to be attained or acquired is a delusion, an invalid belief. Self-realization is not a state or condition to earn or possess. It is a realization to which we awaken, to discover that, at our core, we have always been enlightened, knowledgable, and free." (37)
(Actually, as we have seen, despite all of his esotericism, in later years Yogananda said much the same thing).
Davis teaches that the soul is an individualized ray or unit of God's consciousness. He says:
"It would not be accurate to say that we are God, for we are not. What is true is that "God is us." Our role is to consciously know ourselves as we really are, as spiritual beings in relationship to God. When we are fully conscious of what we essentially are, and what our true relationship with God is, we are Self-realized." (38)
There is a subtle dualism implied here, akin to the Muslim idea of "fellowship with God" rather than "union" or "Oneness" with God. For those familiar with the works of PB, Davis is in good company on this. PB wrote:
"The Sufi term "companionship with God" is more accurate than the Christian-Hindu "union with God"...It is humbler to admit, with Muhammed, "I am a servant of God, I am but a man like you," than arrogantly to assert with the Advaitin, "I am the infinite Brahman." It is better to say modestly with Jesus, "the Father is greater than I," than to announce with the Sufi Mansur: "I am God." (38a)
For those familiar with the philosophy of one such as Plotinus this is not necessarily a problem, or an impediment to a non-dual position. Much of it hinges on ones definition of Soul or Atman, which has been dealt with in depth elsewhere on this website, and is beyond the scope of this article. Davis does say that when the 'individualized soul' becomes fully awake, it knows itself as the non-dual Self.
The interpretation by Davis of the Kriya cosmology is as follows. The reader will have to refer back to earlier portions of this article to see where this varies from the schema put forth by the other Kriya gurus.
In his introduction to his book Self-Knowledge, a transliteration of Sri Sankara's Atma Bodhi, a classic advaitic text, he diagrams the sequential processes of cosmic manifestation as follows. He follows more or less of a Samkhya schema which he considers consistent with Sankara's commentaries as well as Kriya tradition.
Krishna Prem, widely recognized even by Ramana Maharshi as highly knowledgable on Indian philosophy, and who studied Sankara in the original Sanskrit, also accepts in his Gita commentary the idea that Sankara followed the basic Samkhya framework - from Parabrahman to Atman and Mula Prakriti, Mahat, Buddhi, Manas and the whole scheme of Indriyas and adhibhutas and the so-called external or material world of "purely" adhibhuta. For Sankara, however, the word Samkhya basically meant one who 'discriminated the real from the unreal'. Being an advaitin, he nowhere accepted the strict Samkhya dualism as such, nor did he accept the yogic view that samadhi was the sufficient means for liberation. Davis seems to be in agreement with these views. As Michael Comans states:
"At the beginning of his commentary upon the Gita, Sankara makes a significant statement concerning the relation of Sankhya to Yoga. He says that Sankhya means ascertaining the truth about the Self as it really is and that Krsna has done this in his teaching from verses 2.11 up until 2.31. He says that sankhyabuddhi is the understanding which arises from ascertaining the meaning in its context, and it consists in the understanding that the Self is not an agent of action because the Self is free from the sixfold modifications beginning with coming into being. He states that those people to whom such an understanding becomes natural are called Sankhyas. He then says that Yoga is prior to the rise of the understanding above. Yoga consists of performing disciplines (sadhana) that lead to liberation; it presupposes the discrimination between virtue and its opposite, and it depends upon the idea that the Self is other than the body and that it is an agent and an enjoyer. Such an understanding is yogabuddhi, and the people who have such an understanding are called Yogins. From this it is clear that Sankara relegates Yoga to the sphere of ignorance (avidya) because the Yogins are those who, unlike the Sankhyas, take the Self to be an agent and an enjoyer while it is really neither. They are, therefore, in Sankara's eyes, not yet knowers of the truth."] (38b)
In spite of his advaita, Davis inserts many comments in his writings purporting to illustrate that Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita primarily espoused Kriya Yoga as the means for realization. But as Krishna points out, in shloka 10, chapter 10, "I give Buddhi Yoga, the Yoga of discrimination, to those ever-devout who worship me with love, by means of which they come to me." (38c)
According to Davis, in the Kriya cosmology first there is the Transcendant, Absolute Reality, infinite and without attributes. Then there is the 'Radiant Field' of the Absolute with three constituent attributes, i.e., the three gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas. Emanating from this is the 'Field of Primordial Nature' ('OM', the creating vibratory current responsible for creation of all the lower worlds), with time, space, and fine cosmic forces. Then there is the 'Field of Cosmic Mind', which is the:
"Field of individualized units of pure consciousness produced by the blending of the Radiant Field (Oversoul) and the characteristics of the Field of Primordial Nature. Souls have Self-Awareness, intellect, mind, and ego (a sense of self-identity)" (39)
Finally, there are the causal, astral, and material realms.
The progression to Enlightenment, then, proceeds through the following stages (keeping in mind, as he says, that "awakening", being beyond time and space, can happen at any time in the process):
The first stage is Superconsciousness, which is described as awakening to 'higher realities and the experiencing of subtle and refined states of consciousness'. Then comes Cosmic Consciousness, which, in short, is an awareness of oneness or wholeness, the realization of the 'omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience of the universal Consciousness'. Supposedly this is a realization beyond the causal level. Then comes God-Consciousness:
"The reality of God is known as God is - as the only expressive Being, Life, Power, and Presence from which the worlds and souls emanate...The soul is liberated from all former restrictions." (40)
Finally, there is Enlightenment:
"Flawless realization (with knowledge) of the allness of Consciousness: from the field of pure Existence-Being (that which is Absolute, unmodified, or pure), to God, Cosmic or Universal Mind, the primordial field of unmanifest nature, and the causal, astral, and matter realms. When established at this stage there is no other level to experience and nothing more to know. Fully enlightened souls live in the world only to fulfill evolutionary purposes and to assist souls to their higher good." (41)
To conclude, he writes:
"Grace is the enlivening life (spirit) of God supporting and transforming creation. It expresses throughout the field of nature and from within every soul. It directs the course of evolution and awakens souls from their sleep of mortality." (42)
With the latter statement one can find no argument.
Autobiography of a Yogi. Complete on-line book.
The Path: One Man's Quest on the Only Path There Is, by Swami Kriyananda. Considered a companion biography to Autobiography of a Yogi, includes many accounts of the Master's interactions with devotees. A really good read, imbued with devotion and the spirit of the quest.
Medja: The Early Life and Family of Paramahansa Yogananda. Wonderful book for the amusing and interesting childhood and early manhood of the future yogi-saint. Written by his younger brother. Recommended.
1. Paul Brunton wrote highly of the enigmatic Yogi Ramiah in A Search in Secret India. He elsewhere confessed, moreover, that on one occasion Yogi Ramiah affirmed to him "You have learned all about yoga. There is nothing more for you to learn about this practice." (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1987) Vol. 8, 5.34)
Swami Kriyananda (Donald Walters) quotes Yogananda as implying that he felt that Ramana's disciple Yogi Ramiah was more realized than Ramana himself:
"I also met another fully liberated soul," he told me. "His name was Yogi Ramiah. He was a disciple of the great master, Ramana Maharshi. It does happen, occasionally, that a disciple becomes himself more highly advanced than his guru." (Swami Kriyananda, Conversations with Yogananda (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publications, 2004), p. 108)
The only other saints Yogananda recognized as liberated were Babaji, Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya, and two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Pranabananda and Ram Gopal Muzumdar. Walters elsewhere relates that he felt Yogananda was relatively quiet in his meeting with Ramana because he realized they each had two very different roles to play, and he didn't want to call attention to himself. Nevertheless, the following interesting conversations occured between Walters and Yogananda:
"He once told me, "When I met Yogi Ramiah, in Ramana Maharshi's ashram, it was a true meeting of souls. We walked hand in hand around the ashram together. Oh! If I'd remained in his company another half hour, I could never have brought myself to leave India again! He represented everything that is, to me, the true India. It is why I love that country so much."
"Paul Brunton, whom I met there, was another disciple of Ramana Maharshi's. Brunton once told me that, during meditation one day, Yogi Ramiah had materialized before him and asked him to send him my photograph. He wanted to put it in his room. It is sitting there still." I asked Master, "If Yogi Ramiah was fully liberated, did he have disciples also?" "He must have had," the Master replied. "One must free others, to become completely freed oneself." "How many does one have to free?" I asked. "Six," was his reply." (Ibid, p. 225-226) [This comment is interesting in light of Radhasoami guru Baba Faqir Chand's comment that Baba Sawan Singh had told him that his own disciples would become his guru].
"Sri Yogi Ramiah, whom I (Walters) met in 1960 in India, said to me, "Always ask yourself, 'Who am I?" This was the fundamental teaching of his great guru, Ramana Maharshi. "That wasn't what my own Guru taught us," I replied. Sri Rama Yogi [the name Ramiah was called at that time] smiled wryly. "If all the disciples of the great masters really understood what their gurus taught, there would not be the bickering one finds everywhere in religion!" I reflected, then, that of course the Master had said repeatedly, "Know who you really are. You are not this little ego: you are the infinite Self." (Ibid, p. 228)
2. Swami Kriyananda, Conversations with Yogananda (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publications, 2004), p. 220, 359
3. Paramhansa Yogananda, Journey to Self-Realization, Vol. III (Los Angeles, California: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1995), p. xxii
4. Ibid, p. xx
5. Ibid, p. 425, 436-7
6.Yogananda, op. cit., p. 171
7. Ibid, p. 186-187
8. Paramhansa Yogananda, The Master Speaks, p. 25, 94, 92
9. Ibid, p.
10. Swami Satyananda (1896-1971) and Paramhansa Yogananda were both commissioned by Sri Yukteswar to accept disciples and teach Kriya yoga, Satyananda for the East and Yogananda for the West, Yogananda once remarked that while he himself could not follow the rules of Sri Yukteswar, a strict disciplinarian, Satyananda could. For fifty years he was the spiritual head of tha Yogoda Satsangs in India, teaching and initiating seekers into Kriya yoga, as well as building schools and hospitals. He also spent considerable time traveling throughout India gaining the darshan of many noble souls, including devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, such as Swami Brahmananda, Swami Abhedananda, and Swami Saradananda, as well as Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Yogiraj Gambhirnath, and women saints Anandamayi Ma and Brahmajna Ma. He was considerably impressed with Ramana Maharshi, as was Yogananda. (One can only speculate if the latter's contact with the sage had anything to do with his decision to make himself the last in the line of Kriya gurus, despite the movement's continuance).
11. Paramhansa Yogananda, The Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1972), p.
12. Swami Satyeswarananda Giri, Lahiri Mahasay: The Father of Kriya Yoga (San Diego, CA, 1983), p.
13. Paramhansa Yogananda, Journey to Self-Realization, Vol. III (Los Angeles, California: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2005), p. 432)
14. Swami Kriyananda, The Essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, Nevada City, CA: Crystal-Clarity, 2006), p.475
15. Ibid, p. 229-230
16. Swami Kriyananda, Conversations with Yogananda (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publications, 2004), p. 316
17. Ibid, p. 317
18. Ibid, p. 318
20. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.141
21. Ibid, Vol. 13, Part 1, 4.125
22. Paramhansa Yogananda, op. cit., p. 342-3
23. Paramhansa Yogananda, The Essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, op. cit., p. 308
24. V.S. Iyer, Collected Works, Vol. 1 (ed. Mark Scorelle, 1999), p. 108-109
25. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 3, 3.65, 3.57
26. Ibid, Vol. 6, 1,131
27. Swami Kriyananda, op. cit., p. 348
28. Ibid, p. 372 29. Paramhansa Yogananda, op. cit., p. 35, 41, 59
30. Swami Kriyananda, op. cit., p. 37
31. Ibid, pp. 367, 348
32. Roy Eugene Davis, Self-Knowledge (Lakemont, GA: CSA Press, 2010), p. 35
33. Sri Yukteswar, The Holy Science (Los Angeles, California: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2006), p. 85
34. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.8
35. Ibid, 2.77
36. Edwin Smith (Jah Jae Noh), Do You See What I See? (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), p. 59, 66, 56, 146
37. Roy Eugene Davis, An Easy Guide to Meditation (Lakemont, GA: CSA Press, 1995), p. 22
38a The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, 1.78, 1.164
38b. Michael Comans, The Question of the Importance of Samadhi in Modern and Classical Advaita Vedanta
38c. Ramesh Balsekar, Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj (Durham, NC: The Acorn Press, 1982), p. 206
39. Roy Eugene Davis, Self-Knowledge, op. cit., p. 11
40. Roy Eugene Davis, An Easy Guide to Mediation, op. cit., p. 39-40
41. Ibid, p. 40
42. Ibid, p. 43