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
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