Kriya Yoga - What's in the name?

Some readers have requested me to throw more light on the word "Kriya Yoga" as they find multiple meanings of the same in various resources. Actually speaking a practitioner need not know these details at all because more than the name your practice is more important. However, just to quench your inquisitiveness I am writing in bit detail about the same.

Confusion about the name "Kriya Yoga" arises mainly because various sources have used the term in slightly different contexts. For example, Patanjali refers Tapa, Swadhya and Ishwarapranidhana (Austerities, Self-study and surrendering everything to God) as Kriya Yoga. Shiva Samhita refers practices mentioned therein as "Kriyas". Followers of Shaktipata method of Kundalini awakening call the spontaneous practices post awakening as "Kriyas". For many the term indicates a set of practices as taught by Lahiri Mahashaya and Paramahamsa Yogananda. So at least today the word Kriya is used in varying contexts. What follows is my own rendering of the word Kriya.

One reason for the confusion about the meaning of the word Kriya is lack of precise translation. Many people confuse the word Kriya and Karma. In English many times Kriya as well as Karma is translated as action. By that sense people think that Kriya Yoga is related to or same as Karma Yoga. This is not the case though. There is a big difference between the word Kriya and Karma. The Sanskrit word Kriya refers to any action performed with the help of your body-mind equipment to yourself. Whereas the word Karma refers to any action performed with the help of your body-mind equipment in relation to others. Walking, running, laughing, sleeping, thinking etc. are thus Kriyas. On the other hand killing somebody, talking with your friend, hatred about someone, helping poor and needy are Karmas. In Kriya you do something to yourself whereas in Karma you do something to someone else. Got it?

Now let's see how the word Kriya is applied to Yoga. Most of the Yogic practices such as Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha, Dharana and so on make use of your body-mind equipment. That means they are Kriyas and not Karmas. So broadly speaking any flavor of Yoga that makes use of the body-mind equipment can be called as Kriya Yoga. So the usage of the term Kriya by Maharshi Patanjali, Shiva Samhita, Lahiri Mahashaya and Paramahamsa Yogananda finally conveys the same thing. More commonly, however, the word refers to a set of Yoga practices comprising of Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha and Meditation. Some people treat Kriya and Pranayama the same. This is not correct. Kriya as applied to Yoga refers to any Yogic practice not necessarily pranayama. Pranayama is just one of the Kriyas.

There is another dimension to the word Kriya. How you perform any Kriya such as say walking? Your will first decides that you would like to move from location A to location B. You also posses the knowledge as to how to walk. Combining these two faculties you then perform the actual act of walking. This means Jana Shakti (power of knowledge) and Ichha Shakti (power of will) produce Kriya Shakti (power of action). This is how you perform practices of Kriya Yoga also. You have desire for spiritual un-foldment, then you acquire the necessary knowledge about achieving this un-foldment. This combination then pushes you to do the practice the Kriya Yoga.

Here is one more angle to the word Kriya. An ordinary person always engages himself in doing something. This "doing something" is so common that people find it a terrible idea when you ask them to sit for meditation and flush all the thoughts. If you carefully observe the Kriya Yoga practices they never force you make the mind blank at once. They ask you narrow down the run of your mind. Instead of roaming randomly your mind is trained to rotate among six centers of consciousness. So at one hand Kriya Yoga satisfies your mind by not restricting its roaming too much at once. On the other hand they restrain the mind by allowing it to roam only across a narrow path. Thus Kriya Yoga harness the natural tendency of human mind to bring spiritual un-foldment. After regular practice your mind comes under control and its roaming becomes narrower further. So Kriya Yoga also refers to the technique(s) of achieving mindless state with the help of body-mind.

Whatever meaning you chose the fact pointed out by Shiva Samhita remains the same - "Without Kriya how could one attain success? Hence, Yogis should practice Kriya methodically."


Bipin Joshi is a software consultant, an author and a yoga mentor with more than 22 years of experience in classical yoga system of India. He is an internationally published author and has authored or co-authored more than ten technology books for Apress and WROX press. He has been awarded as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He has also written a few Marathi books including Devachya Davya Hati and Natha Sankentincha Danshu. Having embraced yoga way of life he also teaches Kriya and Meditation to selected individuals.

बिपीन जोशी लिखित देवाच्या डाव्या हाती आणि नाथ संकेतींचा दंशु या पुस्तकांची आपली प्रत आजच विकत घ्या. त्यांच्या अजपा योग मार्गदर्शनाविषयी अधिक माहिती येथे उपलब्ध आहे.


Posted On : 03 Mar 2008


Tags : Kriya Yoga

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