The Yoga Tutor

The Kriya Yoga of Patanjali

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 465 ]

In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali claims that the final three niyamas: tapasya, svadhyaya, and Ishwara pranidhanani, together constitute kriya yoga. The perfection of these prepares and enables one to experience the higher realms of ashtanga yoga in dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. As Sadhana Pada, Sutra 1 states:

~ Sadhana Pada, Verse1
Translation - Austerity, Self-study and dedication to the Highest constitute the preliminary kriya yoga.

One must ask why it is that Patanjali has presented the necessity for, as this sutra suggests, preliminary measures on the yogic path. But as I.K. Taimni points out in The Science of Yoga:

"Anyone who is familiar with the goal of the yogic life and the kind of effort it involves for its attainment will realize that it is neither possible nor advisable for anyone who is absorbed in the life of the world and completely under the influence of the kleshas to plunge all at once into the regular practice of yoga."

The reason for this assertion stems from the fact that the outlook and approach to life of the worldly person and the yogic life are significantly different, and that any attempt to change drastically and suddenly from one to the other will only result in failure—in many cases leaving in its wake frustrations and disappointments that may further thrust one into the throes of a despondent worldly life.

Patanjali offers the directive of a preparatory period—one of preliminary self-training, whereby the sadhak gradually assimilates the philosophies and techniques of yoga and develops a degree of self-discipline which will make the ultimate entry into the yogic life an achievable effort. This 'preliminary yoga' also allows the student an opportunity to find out whether or not he/she is indeed suited for, and eager enough to embark whole-heartedly upon the yogic path. Taimni supports this notion:

"Many aspirants have very confused and sometimes totally wrong ideas with regard to the object and technique of yoga. Many of them [also] have exaggerated notions with regard to their earnestness and capacity to tread the path of yoga. Their ideas become clarified and their capacities and earnestness are tested severely in trying to practice kriya yoga. They either emerge from the preliminary self-discipline with a clearly defined aim and a determination and capacity to pursue it to the end with vigour and single-minded devotion, or they gradually realize that they are not yet ready for the practice of yoga..."

Patanjali uses the word kriya to mean "a precursor" or "preliminary action," which may seem confusing in light of the modern interpretation of the word, which typically refers to more mechanical practices. Taimni offers some final clarification:

"It [kriya yoga] is both 'practical' and 'preliminary'. It is preliminary because it has to be taken up in the initial stages of the practice of yoga, and it is practical because it puts to a practical test the aspirations and earnestness of the Sadhaka and develops in him/her the capacity to begin the practice of yoga as distinguished from mere theoretical study."

In the following sutra, Patanjali further elucidates the purpose of kriya yoga:

~ Sadhana Pada, V. 2
Translation - [kriya yoga] is practiced for attenuating Kleshas and bringing about Samadhi.

The pancha klesha, as we have discussed previously, are the hindrances to success in the spiritual life. Recall from our earlier discussions that these pancha klesha -- avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (cravings), dwesha (aversions), abhinivesha (clinging to life) -- are the motivating factors which drive humans to act in such ways as to produce and perpetuate karma.

Sage Patanjali is clear that the final three niyamas are the means to destroy these five mental afflictions. Thus, the practice of tapas, svadhyaya and Isvara-pranidhana are essential in attenuating these obstacles and laying the foundation for a yogic life...


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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