Kriya Yoga: Philosophy and Lifestyle Practices

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Kriya Yoga: Philosophy and Lifestyle Practices

The Sanskrit word kriya means "action." Yoga can mean the practices used to facilitate overall well-being and spiritual growth, or oneness-consciousness: the final result of practice. In Patanjali's yoga-sutras, a two thousand year old treatise on superconscious meditation, kriya yoga is defined as discipline of mental and sensory impulses, self-analysis, profound study of metaphysics (higher realities), meditation, and surrender of ordinary self-consciousness (egoism) in favor of God-realization.
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Kriya yoga is a concentrated approach to Self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment: complete awakening to full knowledge of the Infinite and of cosmic processes. It includes the most effective processes of all systems of yoga, with emphasis on wholesome, constructive living and superconscious meditation practice. The purpose of kriya yoga practice is to restore the practitioner's awareness to wholeness. This is accomplished by acquiring knowledge of one's true nature as a spiritual being; cultivating rational thinking, emotional balance, and physical health; purposeful living; and meditation.

To facilitate the unfoldment of innate qualities and elicit superconscious states, specific meditation techniques are taught and practiced. Beginning meditators are usually taught how to use a simple word or sound (mantra) to focus attention. After a period of preparatory study and practice, initiation into advanced meditation processes can be requested.

Although kriya yoga has been known and practiced for centuries, it was Roy Eugene Davis' guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, who first emphasized it in the west. Yogananda traveled from India to America in 1920 and lectured, wrote, and trained disciples for 32 years before his passing in 1952. His best-known book, Autobiography of a Yogi, is now published in multiple languages around the world.

Kriya Yoga is the cultivation of external and internal disciplines. Through the regular practice of Kriya Yoga one experiences greater physical relaxation and emotional peace. The goal of Kriya Yoga is to experience clarity and superconscious states of awareness, culminating in the awakening, or realizing, of the true essence of being. Kriya Yoga is a non-denominational spiritual practice open to anyone wishing to experience greater peace, clarity, and wholeness. 

How Kriya Yoga Is Learned

After being instructed in the basic philosophical concepts, lifestyle guidelines, and meditation routines, one acquires direct knowledge of what has been taught by attentive, sustained practice that provides opportunities for personal experience. Although the information about kriya yoga which has been promulgated during the past one hundred years has inspired many people, the best way to learn the principles and procedures and apply them effectively is to have the personal guidance and wise counsel of a competent teacher. Such a teacher of kriya yoga is one who has experienced its processes, whose spiritual forces are fully aroused, and who is Self- realized.

For the teacher-student (guru-disciple) relationship to be worthy of the teacher’s time and attention and of benefit to the student, one who desires personal instruction and assistance on the spiritual path should have the following qualifications:

  • Be sincere (honest, unpretentious, and dedicated).
  • Have a wholesome, constructive lifestyle.
  • Have respect for the tradition and teacher.
  • Be willing to learn and practice what is learned.
  • Have the intellectual capacity to learn and the functional ability to apply what is
    learned.

Sincerity and humility (complete absence of egotism) are essential if a person is to be receptive to learning. Egotism, dramatized as arrogant self-righteousness reinforced by mental perversity, is a common characteristic of individuals who, because they are insecure and provincial (small-minded), are inclined to resist new ideas even if information freely provided to them is for their benefit.

A wholesome, constructive lifestyle that nurtures total well-being and supportive personal circumstances provides a firm basis for the cultivation of spiritual awareness. If an individual does not respect the spiritual tradition through which life-transforming information is transmitted of the teacher who imparts it, learning cannot be experienced.

Receptivity to learning and diligent practice of what is learned will definitely result in satisfactory progress.

If one does not yet have the intellectual capacity to comprehend what is taught, misunderstanding will result. Intellectual powers should be developed and improved. Conditions which restrict one’s ability to function effectively (a physical limitation, a learning disability, a severely imbalanced mind-body constitution, habitual neurotic behaviors, addictive behaviors, psychotic episodes, or other conditions which interfere with sincere desire to accomplish purposes) should, whenever possible, be corrected.

If a physical limitation or learning disability cannot be entirely overcome, teaching methods and spiritual practice routines can often be adapted to the needs of the sincere truth seeker. Obsessive neurotic or addictive behaviors or disabling psychotic episodes are major obstacles to learning and spiritual practice. Individuals who have these problems should not be involved with metaphysical studies or meditation practices until they have been restored to a functional level of psychological health. Neurotic or addictive tendencies which are only mildly troublesome can often be renounced by conscious choice and by practicing meditation daily to the stage of deep physical relaxation and mental peacefulness.

The Basic Practices And Guidelines

Kriya yoga practice is not for the superficially interested person who is merely curious. Emotionally immature; inclined to indulge in fantasy; or addicted to mental attitudes, moods or habitual behaviors which perpetuate illusions and delusions. Illusions are inaccurate or mistaken perceptions of words, ideas, feelings, things, or circumstances. Illusions which are believed to be true are delusions.

Illusions are inaccurate or mistaken perceptions of words, ideas, feelings, things, or circumstances. Illusions which are believed to be true are delusions. It should be clearly understood that, for optimum benefits to be experienced by study and practices of these principles, one must be disciplined in the practical application of what is learned, and fully committed to the nurturing and actualization of authentic spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is authentic or real when the effects of its transformative influences are evident in our lives. The results of attentive study and diligent, right practice are:

  • Enhanced intellectual and intuitive powers.
  • Psychological transformation.
  • Improved functional abilities.
  • Orderly unfoldment’s of innate knowledge.
  • Mental illumination.
  • Progressive clarification of awareness.
  • Spontaneous emergence of cosmic conscious states.
  • Self-realization.
  • God-realization.
  • Liberation of soul awareness.

The novice kriya yoga student should first become familiar with the philosophical concepts and the lifestyle regimens (and their purposes) upon which practice is based. Knowledge of beginning, intermediate, and advanced meditation practices and routines should then be acquired. It should be understood that although knowledge and practice of meditation methods is important, everything that is done to nurture total well-being and to live effectively is of equal importance. At each stage of progressive awakening to authentic Self- and God-knowledge, the devotee’s new state of awareness must be harmoniously integrated with the mind, personality, and body. This process is most effectively accomplished by appropriate, conscious living.

As skillful living becomes spontaneous, and proficiency in meditation practice improves, a sequential series of advanced meditation techniques can be learned. When these have been effectively practiced for a period of time and one is fully prepared, initiation, and instruction in more intensive meditation practices may be requested.

Kriya Yoga Guru Lineage

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Mahavatar Babaji

“Even in the world, the yogi who faithfully discharges his responsibilities, without personal motive or attachment, treads the sure path of enlightenment.”

—Mahavatar Babaji

There are several illumined masters on earth through whom planetary consciousness is infused with divine light. Many of them are assisted by Babaji, for it is his role to inspire people who are actively nurturing planetary consciousness, uplifting humanity, and ministering directly to seekers on the spiritual path. While, acknowledged as the spiritual head of the current era Kriya Yoga tradition, Babaji is not limited to his enlightenment movement. His influence flows to any agency through which God’s will can be done. He is fully illumined, with no karmic ties to the world, and embodied only to be a conduit through which enlivening forces can express to cleanse planetary consciousness.

Babji has been in his present body for several centuries and has been known by various names at different times and places. Lahiri Mahashaya confided to a few disciples that Babaji played the role of Krishna, writing in his diary, “The old baba (father) is Krishna.” When leading devotees in responsive prayer, Paramahansa Yogananda referred to Babaji as “Babaji-Krishna”, in affirmation of his understanding.

Sri Shyamacharan Lahiri (Mahasaya)

“Each person is responsible for his or her inner life -which is the creation of one’s thoughts, desires, feelings and ideas.”

—Lahiri Mahasaya

In the village of Ghurni of the Nadia district in Bengal, India, Shyamacharan Lahiri was born on September 30, 1828. As a young boy he would often seek out quiet places for meditation and contemplation. His family was devoted to God in the aspect of Shiva, and had several temples constructed for private and public worship.

At school in Varanasi (Banaras), Lahiri was exposed to the English, Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindu, Bengali, and Persian languages. Possessed of abundant vitality, he was active in sports and would often swim in the Ganges River. At eighteen years of age he was married to Kashimoni Devi. Although they did not begin their family until after he had been initiated by Babaji several years later, they became parents of two sons and three daughters.

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Lahiri Mahasaya, as he became known to devotes (Mahasaya is a title bestowed by disciples and means one who is large-minded or cosmic conscious), was employed as a clerk of the Military Engineering Department of the Government, which supplied materials for the Army’s road building projects. Lahiri also taught Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali to several engineers and officers of the department. Responsible in family and social matters by day, at night Lahiri met with truth seekers and Kriya Yoga disciples. By so doing, he demonstrated that it is possible to live a natural life and still attain the highest goal of Self-realization.

In 1861 Lahiri was transferred to Ranikhet, a forest region near Nainital in the foothills of the Himalayas. One afternoon, while wandering in the Drongiri Mountain area, he was hailed by a man who announced, “A saint wants to see you.” Following his new guide he was led to a cave form which a youthful appearing saint emerged and greeted him with the words, “Shyamacharan, you have come!” The saint was  Mahavatar Babaji, who had chosen the occasion to renew the guru-disciple relationship which had been established centuries earlier.

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Swami Sri Yukteswar

“When, by inference, the true nature of the universe and relation between it and one’s essence of being is known, and when one knows that lack of understanding causes souls to forget their true Self and experience suffering, one wishes to be relieved from misfortune. Freedom from bondage of that ignorance then becomes the primary aim of life.”

—Swami Sri Yukteswar

Because of his clear understanding, Swami Sri Yukteswar was often referred to by Paramahansaji as Jnanavatar (incarnation of wisdom). His monastic name, Yukteswar, means union with Ishwara, the ruling aspect of God in relationship to nature. Born in 1855, his given name was Priya Nath Karar. As an adult, Sri Yukteswar married, and managed properties inherited from his father. He and his wife had one daughter. His two main ashrams were at Puri, near the Bay of Bengal, and Serampore, near Calcutta. He was initiated into the swami order after the death of his wife.

This master of yoga was an accomplished Vedic astrologer, studied Ayurveda and, while a young adult, attended classes at a medical college. He was versed in the art of prescribing gemstones and metals to be worn for the therapeutic purposes and often advised disciples to do this when he discerned that it would be helpful to them. Sri Yukteswar carefully researched the theory of cycles (yugas) and published his findings in several journals. He also wrote a commentary on the first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, after conducting discussions with disciples on this scripture and asking Lahiri Mahasaya for his insights and comments.

An adept spiritual healer, Sri Yukteswar seldom openly displayed his yogic powers. Gentle and of quiet demeanor, his devotional nature was usually overshadowed by his practical observations and emphasis on the usefulness of intellectual development. When Paramahansaji, as a teenage disciple, thought of forsaking his family relationships, Sri Yukteswarji counseled, “Why exclude family from your love of God?” He was known to have sometimes visit disciples in his subtle form, appearing to them in dreams and visions in their time of need. Paramahansaji said of him: “He could have been the most sought-after guru in India if it were not for his strict training of disciples.” Once, when a visitor looked at a portrait of Sri Yukteswar and remarked that he appeared to be a fine man, Paramahansaji exclaimed, “He was no man, he was a god!”

When Paramahasaji was preparing to come to America, Sri Yukteswar said to him, “If you go now, all doors will open to you.” He expressed keen interest in the unfoldment of the work in America and, in 1935, asked Paramahansaji to return to India for a visit.

Sri Yukteswar left his body on March 9, 1935. In keeping with yogic tradition his body was buried in the garden of his Puri ashram. Instead of cremation, the general practice in India for the disposition of physical remains, the bodies of saints are usually buried because they are considered to have already burned the body when they renounced their worldly attachments. Their burial sites are considered, by devotees, to be significant places of pilgrimage.

Paramahansa Yogananda

“Discard the false belief that there is a separation between spiritual and material life. Perform duties skillfully. All constructive work is purifying if done with the right motive. If you sometimes fail to accomplish your purposes, don’t be discouraged; that is the best time to sow the seeds of success. In everything you do, express your limitless qualities.”

—Paramahansa Yogananda

Born January 5th, 1893, Paramahansa Yogananda’s parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya and devout practitioners of kriya yoga. At an early age he sought the company of saints and sages. He was first instructed in meditation practices by his father. After graduating from high school he met Sri Yukteswar in Banaras and was accepted for discipleship training. When, a few years later, Sri Yukteswar ordained him as a swami, he chose the monastic name Yogananda, “yoga-[oneness-] bliss”. After ten years of intensive yoga training with Sri Yukteswar, Pramahansaji was invited to visit America to speak at a Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, Massachusetts. Sri Yukteswar told him, “If you go now, all doors will be open to you.”

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Accepting the invitation, in 1920 he traveled by boat to America, spoke at the Congress, remained in Boston for three years to teach classes, and made plans to start his mission of introducing kriya yoga philosophy and practices to interested people in the West. With funds donated by his Boston disciples, an extensive lecture tour was scheduled. Starting in Town Hall in New York City, Paramahansaji traveled to many of the major cities of the United States, speaking to thousands of people and offering a progressive series of classes. Decades later, referring to those years of travel, he said, “I knew that only a few among the thousands of people who attended my lectures and classes would remain faithful to their practices. I was planting positive seeds (ideas) in their minds that would eventually be helpful to them. I was also preparing the foundation for the work that was yet to unfold.”

During Paramahansaji’s first visit to Los Angeles, in 1925, more than three thousand people attended his lectures. A hotel building and several acres of land the Highland Park district of the city was purchased as the site for the international headquarters of his organization, which he later named Self-Realization Fellowship. Accommodations were provided for disciples who wanted to live with him in an ashram environment and volunteer their services to maintain and expand the growing work.

As Paramahansa’s California work progressed, printed lessons were published and sent to thousands  of students in America and other countries.  His major literary work, Autobiography of a Yogi, first published in 1946, is currently available in more than seventeen major world languages.  It is estimated that well over one hundred thousand people were personally initiated into Kriya Yoga by Paramahansaji during his thirty-two year ministry.  Additional millions have since been blessed by reading his books and by learning Kriya Yoga practices from disciples ordained by him.

Paramahansa assured disciples that his teachings and spiritual influence would continue to benefit seekers of truth for centuries.  To those who asked about their future relationship with him, he said, “If you think me near, I will be near.”

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Roy Eugene Davis

Paramahansa Yogananda instructed Mr. Davis to “Teach as I have taught, heal as I have healed, and initiate sincere seekers in Kriya Yoga.” For the next 68 years Mr. Davis followed his guru’s wishes, selflessly sharing guidelines for effective living and rapid spiritual growth with hundreds of thousands around the world. 

In 1972 he founded Center for Spiritual Awareness as his ministry headquarters and retreat facility. Situated on 11 acres in the natural beauty of northeast Georgia the center includes six guest houses, Meditation Hall/Dining Room complex, Bookstore, Library, Shrine of All Faiths Meditation Temple, the Learning Resource Center, offices, and a warehouse. 

See Roy Eugene Davis Founder page for a more complete biography. 

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