Paramahansa Yogananda, born in India in 1893, devoted his life to helping everyone he possibly could to realize the beauty, nobility, and true divinity of the human spirit (Yogananda 1946: 161). In 1946, he published his book titled The Autobiography of a Yogi, where he discussed the yoga science of meditation, the art of balanced living, and the underlying unity of all great religions (Yogananda 2007: vii). The spiritual book has circulated worldwide and it discusses the remarkable life story of Yogananda as he explores the world of saints and yogis, science and miracles, death and resurrection (Yogananada 1946: vii). The autobiography has allowed the spread of eastern spiritual thought on a global scale, opening up a discussion on yoga, meditation, and self-exploration. Kriya yoga is significant part of the Hindu tradition, and it integrates central concepts of the religion.
In Chapter 26, Yogananda gives a detailed account of his knowledge on the science of Kriya yoga and its involvement with karma, pranayama, concentration, and meditation (Yogananda 1946: 263-273). He looks to Patanjali, a philosopher and author of the Yoga Sutra on their study of Kriya yoga. Patanjali claims that Kriya yoga “consists of body discipline, mental control, and meditating on aum” (Yogananada 1946: 265). The chapter provides a detailed explanation of who should consider studying Kriya yoga and the effects that it will have on a yogi during this life, as well as in their next life.
Kriya yoga came to be widely known in India through the teachings of Lahiri Mahasaya, Yogananda’s guru’s guru (Yogananda 1946: 263). The Sanskrit word kriya comes from the root kri, which means to do, to act, and to react; the word yoga means the union of soul with God (Mangla 67). The concept of Kriya yoga is much more complex than most people believe it to be; it is a spiritual path of yoga, meditation, and ethical living. It was not until Yogananada set out across the world to enlighten and teach the ways of Kriya yoga to Westerners that his wisdom began to have an impact on millions of people.
The eventual goal in devoting one’s life to practicing Kriya yoga is to attain an uplift from human consciousness to cosmic consciousness; however, many do not achieve this goal because their life ends before they can reach it (Mangla 67). Kriya yoga is not for everyone; rather, it is only for those who are interested in seeking their soul and unifying it with God (Mangla 67). Unlike the Western concept of yoga which has been modernized over time and become popular for its physical aspects rather than for the spiritual growth, Kriya yoga is the complete devotion of oneself to their practice. When practicing and dedicating one’s life to Kriya yoga, an individual will experience joy, bliss, peace, happiness, and a soothing sensation in the spine (Yogananda 1946: 267).
Within Chapter 26, Yogananda explains the science behind Kriya yoga and why such feelings are created; he examines the science of breath and the effect that it has on the body: “it is a simple, psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonated 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” (Yogananda 1946: 263). When a yogi is advanced in their practice and have mastered breathing and meditation, they are then able to turn the cells into energy. It is very rare for an individual to completely master their practice, and many yogis dedicate lifetimes to achieving cosmic consciousness.
Yogananada discusses how a yogi who faithfully practices the techniques of Kriya yoga is generally freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibriums (Yogananada 1946: 263). The concept of karma plays an integral part in the Hindu religion. Bad deeds, words, thoughts, or commands lead to harmful effects that may not occur immediately, but may follow you into future lives through reincarnation. Karma represents the ethical dimension of rebirth, also known as samsara, within the Hindu religion (Olivelle). The doctrine of karma directs devotees of Hinduism towards the common goal of moksa, which is the release from the cycle of birth and death (Olivelle). Moksa provides the motivation to behave righteously according to dharma, and to live a moral and ethical life. A yogi who dies before achieving full realization carries the good karma of their past Kriya effort, and in their new life, they are naturally propelled toward their Infinite Goal (Yogananada 1946: 267).
As individuals continues to advance in their Kriya yoga practice, they come closer to reaching samadhi (Yogananda 1946: 266). Samadhi comes from a Sankrit word that is used in yoga to refer to the state of pure awareness when all mental functions have ceased, except for consciousness (McGovern 1). Yogananada describes it as a state of God-communion, where the devotee’s consciousness merges in the Cosmic Spirit (Yogananada 1946: 266). Reaching samadhi is not common among yogis, and even those that dedicate their entire lives to practicing Kriya yoga may never reach it.
Ancient yogis of India have discovered that the secret to self-realization and cosmic super-consciousness are linked to the mastery of breathing known as pranayama (Mangla 68). Pranayama is a breathing technique that helps a devotee tune their consciousness into the six higher centers of perceptions in the spine (Mangla 71). The breath that is responsible for keeing the heart pumping must be freed for higher activities through a method of calming and controlling the constant demands for breath (Yogananda 1946: 267). Yogananda claims that sleep is rejuvenating because the body becomes unaware of breathing, which allows them to recharge themselves by using the cosmic energies; they unknowingly become a yogi in their sleep (Yogananda 1946: 269). Breath rate has been linked to a person’s lifespan, and depending on a person’s emotional state, their breath rate can cause a short or long lifespan. Yogananda uses animal’s breath rate in comparison to humans to explain how it can impact the longevity of one’s life. A restless monkey breathes at the rate of 32 breaths per minute, in comparison to a humans 18 times (Yogananda 1946: 268). An elephant, tortoise, snake, or other animals that are known for their longevity have a respiratory rate of 4 times a minute (Yogananda 1946: 268). Yogis have associated the rate of breath with lifespan, and by slowing their breath, they come closer to reaching consciousness.
Along with discussing pranayama and its relation to Kriya yoga, Yogananda also examines concentration and meditation. He claims that introspection, or sitting in silence, is a way of forcing the mind and senses apart, but it is not successful because the contemplative mind has a way of constantly being dragged towards the senses occurring in real life (Yogananada 1946: 270). A person does not realize the skill and practice required for concentrating for ten seconds, much less meditating for hours and hours. The individual practice of meditation can take a lifetime to master, and even then, an individual still has space to grow.
According to Yogananda, the most successful way to reach the Infinite is through Kriya yoga, by controlling the mind directly through the life force (Yogananda 1946: 270). Being able to have control over one’s mind and senses takes years of experience, but if a yogi is capable of this, they can begin to rid their soul of egoistic actions. Yogananada claims that an individual must disengage oneself from negative physical and emotion identifications in order to achieve soul individuality (Yogananada 1946: 271). In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, klesa is defined as the fivefold: avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (aversion), and abhinivesa (body attachment) (Yogananda 2007: 41). In order for a yogi to seek union with God, they must first rid their consciousness of these obstacles (Yogananda 2007: 41). Individuals do not often consider that what they think, feel, wills, and digests reflects onto their karma, but it does, and at time goes on, the negative karmic actions accumulate and will after a person’s next life. According to the Hindu religion, reactions, feelings, moods, and habits that people experience on the daily are merely effects of past causes, whether in a past life or not (Yogananda 1946: 272). By freeing oneself from the cyclicality of birth and death, one can achieve moksa, which is the liberation and release from life. Yogananda details the fog that unenlightened people live in, and when they begin to practice Kriya yoga, they work towards rising out of the fog into self-realization and enlightened thinking (Yogananda 1946: 263).
Yogananda’s book on his self-realization journey is important to the Hindu religious culture. He brought global awareness to the enlightened thinking that has existed in India for centuries, and influenced many to study and take up the yogi lifestyle. His description of Kriya yoga provides readers with a detailed insight on the elements that constitute it, such as karma, pranayama, concentration, and meditation (Yogananda 1946: 263). Kriya yoga, unlike Karma yoga or Jnana yoga is about the union with God, and cleansing the soul and spirit. Yogananda says:
Kriya yoga is the real “fire rite” oft extolled in the Gita. The yogi casts his human longings into a monotheistic bonfire consecrated to the unparalleled God. This is indeed the true yogic fire ceremony, in which all past and present desires are fuel consumed by love divine. The Ultimate Flame receives the sacrifice of all human sacrifice of all human madness, and man is pure of dross. His metaphorical bones stripped of all desirous flesh, his karmic skeleton bleached by the antiseptic sun of wisdom, inoffensive before man and Maker, he is clean at last (Yogananda 1946: 273).
Those that commit their lives to the practice of Kriya yoga master their mind and body, and they achieve victory over the last enemy, Death (Yogananda 1946: 270). Through the perpetuation of Kriya yoga throughout time, yogis have experienced a sense of disconnection from the world and a unity with the divine realms, which has brought peace, nonviolence, and liberation to the world.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Bapat, Sarita (2016) “Pyschophysiological Analysis of Kriya Yoga as per Patanjala Yoga Sutra.” Yoga Mimamsa 48:18-25. Accessed October 27, 2018.
Foxen, Anya (2017) “Yogi Calisthenics: What the ‘non-Yoga’ Yogic Practice of Paramhansa Yogananada Can Tell Us about Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85:494-526. Accessed October 27, 2018. doi:10.1093/lfw077.
Mangla, Dharam Vir (2003) Kundalini & Kriya Yoga. Geeta Colony Delhi: Geeta International Publishers.
McGovern, Una (2007) Samadhi: Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. London: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.
Miller, Christopher (2018) “World Brotherhood Colonies: A Preview of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Understudies Vision for Communities Founded upon the Principles of Yoga.” Yoga Mimamsa 50:3-15. Accessed October 28, 2018.
Olivelle, Patrick (2018) Karma: Britannica Academic. https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.uleth.ca/levels/collegiate/article/karma/44745. Accessed October 27, 2018.
Yogananda, Paramahansa (1946) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Yogananda, Paramahansa (2007) The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Zope, Sarneer and Rakesh (2013) “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for Health.” International Journal of Yoga 6:4-10. Accessed October 28, 2018. doi.10.4103/0973-6131.105935.
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Article written by Jaylyn Potts (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.