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Peter Holleran - Paramhansa Yogananda and Kriya Yoga, A Comparative Analysis

Peter Holleran - Paramhansa Yogananda and Kriya Yoga, A Comparative Analysis

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Paramhansa Yogananda was perhaps the equal of Swami Vivekananda in widely disseminating Indian yoga to the West. The Kriya Yoga path he taught was essentially an emanationist mystical path with similarities to both kundalini and shabd yoga. This essay will dissect its philosophy and practice and compare and contrast it with both shabd yoga and the path of jnana as espoused by sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton and others. Yogananda was born Mukund Lal Ghosh into a devout Hindu family. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasay, the modern exponent of Kriya Yoga ...
Paramhansa Yogananda was perhaps the equal of Swami Vivekananda in widely disseminating Indian yoga to the West. The Kriya Yoga path he taught was essentially an emanationist mystical path with similarities to both kundalini and shabd yoga. This essay will dissect its philosophy and practice and compare and contrast it with both shabd yoga and the path of jnana as espoused by sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton and others. Yogananda was born Mukund Lal Ghosh into a devout Hindu family. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasay, the modern exponent of Kriya Yoga ...

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Paramhansa Yogananda and Kriya Yoga: A Comparative Analysis
ByPeter Holleran
"You must not let your life run in the ordinary way; do something that nobody else hasdone, something that will dazzle the world. Show that God's creative principle works in you." 
 Paramhansa Yogananda(1893-1952) was perhaps the equal of Swami Vivekananda inwidely disseminating Indian yoga to the West. The Kriya Yoga path he taught wasessentially an emanationist mystical path with similarities to both kundalini and shabdyoga. This essay will dissect its philosophy and practice and compare and contrast it withboth shabd yoga and the path of jnana as espoused by sages such as Ramana Maharshi,Paul Brunton (PB), and others.Yogananda was born Mukund Lal Ghosh into a devout Hindu family. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasay, the modernexponent of Kriya Yoga. The young boy Mukunda used to meditate with his mother in front of a picture of their guru, and on manyoccasions the image of the photograph would take on living form and sit beside them. At the age of eight Mukunda was healed of cholera when, gazing upon Lahiri’s picture, he was enveloped in a blinding light which filled the entire room. His mother died whenhe was eleven, and she left a message for him saying that Lahiri had told her that one day Yogananda would carry many souls tofreedom and that he had actually been spiritually initiated or baptised by him during infancy.Yogananda was, like so many great souls, a very mischievious, fun-loving, and strong-willed youth. He was also possessed of numerous yogic abilities from a young age. Once, while walking along a road with his brother and a friend, Yogananda (known as"Medja" by his friends and siblings) decided to have some fun. The group was overwhelmed by the horrible smell of some rotting,maggot-ridden rice wafting in their direction. Yogananda boasted that since he realized that God was in everything he couldtherefore eat some of the rice without coming to any harm. His friend, Surenda, mocked him, saying that if Yogananda could eatthe disgusting mess, then so could he! Whereupon Yogananda calmly picked up a handful of the putrid rice and ate it as if it werethe most delicious of treats. His friend ran, fearing his upcoming fate, with Yogananda in hot pursuit, but he couldn't outrun thefuture saint. Yogananda shoved a handful of the rice in Surenda's mouth and the boy promptly vomited and nearly passed out.Yogananda rubbed his chest, smiling, and Surenda recovered and conceded his defeat.Yogananda lived in a rich spiritual milieu and met many holy men before accepting kriya yoga initiation from Sri Yukteswar. Heliked to go to the temple at Dakshineswar and engage in devotion to the Divine Mother and Ramakrishna. Here he said that theradiance of Divine Light from the image of the Mother's body filled his own body, mind, and soul. Later he spent time with brother disciples of that great saint. Healso received instruction as a youth in shabd yoga techniques from the brother of his brother-in-law, Charu Chandra Basu, who was a Radhasoami initiate, and practiced meditation on inner light and sound for some time withrapid and spectacular results, although he later always considered it complementary to his devotion to the Kriya yoga as taughtby Lahiri Mahasay, and which he considered a superior path.One personage of particular importance to Yogananda was Master Mahasaya, or Mahendra Nath Gupta (otherwise known as"M”, the author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), who blessed Yogananda with several breath-stopping mystical experiences,including his first experience of samadhi, similar in nature to the touch that Ramakrishna gave to Vivekananda:
"I experienced that the Center of the Supreme Heavenly Abode was actually a place deep within myself and that the place of experience within was spawned by the Same. It was as if the entire creation was emanating from my Being and the radiance of anincredibly beautiful Light was spreading through the Sahasrar. 'It is His river of nectar flowing through the world'. A flow of liquid nectar was rushing through body and mind - waves upon waves. I heard the Onkar Sound, the Sound of Brahman - the thunderousPranava resonance - the First Pulse of the creation of the Universe. Suddenly, my breath came back into the lungs. Oh, if I could only express how my heart was filled with disappointment. I cannot tell you. That Great Being of mine was completely gone. AgainI came back and was imprisoned by this insignificant and miniscule physical cage - this thing that cannot contain that Colossal Person of the Atman. Like the prodigal son described in the Bible, I left my Immense Abode of the Cosmos, and again entered this tiny 'pot' of the body." 
(Swami Satyananda Giri, A Collection of Biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga Gurus
 
, Yoga Niketan, 2004, p.255)Yukteswar commissioned Yogananda to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga to the West and in 1920 he sailed for America.Except for a brief period in the 1930's, Yogananda remained in America for thirty years, teaching and initiating over 100,000 peopleinto Kriya Yoga, and establishing the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) on the Mount Washington Estates in Los Angeles. One of the first Indian teachers along with Swami Vivekananda to come to America, Yogananda's intention was not, as he put it, to"Indianize" Westerners, but to awaken them to their own inherent spirituality. "Being a Westerner," he said, "is no excuse for notseeking God. It is vital to every man that he discover his soul and know his immortal nature." A vital, energetic individual with a free spirit, Yogananda visited many famous people in search of spiritual influences andkindred souls. The Autobiography of a Yogi tells of his meetings with RabindranathTagore, Luther Burbank, Calvin Coolidge,Therese Neuman, and Ramana Maharshi. He also saw Anandamayi Ma, Mahatma Gandhi, and many other notable figures. Whileat the ashram of Ramanahe met Paul Brunton and also an advanced disciple of the sage known as Yogi Ramiah. Yoganandaconsidered Ramiah to be a fully enlightened soul. (1) Interestingly, it was to Maharshi that Yogananda sent a young inquisitiveRobert Adams
 
, when the latter questioned him on the limits of kriya yoga for attaining Self-Realization, and why he bothered toteach it. Yogananda’s response was, “I am doing very well, thank you, doing things the way I am,” but nevertheless recommendedthat Adams see Ramana.
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Towards the end, Kriyananda recounts:
"During this last period of his life, he was very much withdrawn from outward consciousness. He hardly seemed even to have a personality. Truly, as he often told us, "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple but God..I won my liberationmany lifetimes ago." To the monks...he said, "When I see that God wants me to be born again in another body to help others,and when I see that I am to re-assume a personality, it seems at first a bit like donning an overcoat on a summer day; hot, and abit itchy. Then," he concluded, "I get used to it." (2)
When Yogananda died his body remained in a state of perfect preservation for twenty days afterwards, when his casket wasfinally sealed. This example of yogic super-regeneration was evident in the case of a number of saints, such as St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, as well as Sri Aurobindo.His death itself was quite dramatic:
“Paramhansa Yogananda had often voiced this prediction: “I will not die in bed, but with my boots on, speaking of God and India.” On March 7, 1952, the prophecy was fulfilled. At a banquet in honor of the Ambassador of India, Binay R. Sen,Paramhansaji was a guest speaker. He delivered a soul-stirring address, concluding with these words from a poem he had written,“My India”: “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God - I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!” He lifted his eyes upward and entered mahasamadhi, an advanced yogi’s conscious earth-exit. He died as he lived, exhorting all to know God.
“ (3)Rajarski Janakananda (James "Saint" Lynn) succeeded Yogananda as president of SRF. Upon his death in 1951,Sri DayaMataassumed the leadership, a position she still holds. Swami Kriyananda was forced to leave SRF in 1962 and he started hisown community, the Ananda Fellowship in Nevada City, California, in the late 1960's. As with many spiritual movement when theteacher dies, there were power struggles and controversies, none particularly earth-shaking, however, compared to other groups.Yogananda left no clearly agreed upon successor-guru, recognized no self-realized disciples, and, in fact, according to Sri DayaMata,
“before his passing on Paramahansaji said that it was God’s wish that he be the last of the YSS/SRF line of gurus.” 
Thismeans that henceforth disciples would have to establish a relationship with him in their hearts as there would be no new master for a direct human guru-shisya relationship. Nevertheless it appears that Sri Daya Mata and Swami Kriyananda were consideredcomissioned to teach Kriya yoga.Swami Sivananda felt highly of Yogananda and issued this tribute:
“A rare gem of inestimable value, the like of whom the world is yet to witness, Paramhansa Yogananda has been an ideal representative of the ancient sages and seers, the glory of India,” 
while His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, revered spiritual leader of millions in South India, wrote of Paramhansaji:
“A bright light shining in the midst of darkness, so comes on earth only rarely, where there is a real need among men. We aregrateful to Yogananda for spreading Hindu philosophy in such a wondeful way in America and the West.” 
(4)The Autobiography of a Yogi is a wonderfully human account of a great soul and a fascinating story of a spiritual oddysey. Tohave a complete picture of Yogananda's life it should, however, be supplemented with The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi(now retitled The Path: One Man’s Quest on the Only Path There Is
 
, by Swami Kriyananda. In this book, imbued with devotion,are given many, many details of day by day life with the Master, whereas in Yogananda' s book we are for the most part introducedto the various people he has met. Little is revealed therein of the specifics of the sadhana which Yogananda undertook nor of therealization he gained. Even so, Autobiography of A Yogi is one of the most influential spiritual chronicles of the twentieth centuryand with its writing the author did countless people an immense service. Kriyananda says that Yogananda was an avatar, who hadattained liberation many lifetimes ago. Yogananda's most famous book is also somewhat short on a detailed description of thenature, methods, stages, and goal of the Kriya Yoga path, especially as it compares with others, although I will try to explain it asbest I can based chiefly on the above-mentioned book by Kriyananda and The Essence of Self-Realization by Yogananda. Thepath as outlined by Yogananda appears to be different than that described by his guru, Sri Yukteswar, in the latter's book, TheHoly Science, which sounds much more like shabd yoga. The specific details for actual kriya practice are given out in the lessonsthat members of the Self-Realization Fellowship subscribe to.Kriya Yoga is a form of yoga practice employing breathing techniques and meditation to free consciousness from the physical,astral, and causal bodies. It is not absolutely clear, to my understanding, from Yogananda's writings, whether the goal is dis-identification with these bodies or actual dissociation from them. In his autobiography and early writings Yogananda suggests thatGod-Union or Liberation takes place when the soul or disembodied attention has actually separated from these three "coils" and,correspondingly, from the three worlds (physical, astral, and causal or mental). Thus divested, he calls this state of the soul"cosmic consciousness", and seems, as far as I can tell, to mean Nirvikalpa samadhi. Yet he also describes two states beforethis. The first is to become "superconscious", attuned with Aum, the vibratory power of creation on all levels, and feel the universeas ones own body. The second is to achieve "Christ Consciousness," which is realization of the all-pervading, still consciousness,the Kutshtha Chaitanya, the reflection in all things of the consciousness of God the father, beyond creation. The further achievement of Nirvikalpa beyond manifest creation is defined in such a way that it automatically ushers in a state of sahaj, or "the samadhi-meditation state of oneness with God both beyond and within vibratory creation at the same time." (5) This doesindeed seem like classically defined sahaj, but, still, inasmuch as it is equated with a meditative state of oneness, instead of just"the One," it appears that it might be a high form of yogic transformation, wherein the soul has attained Kevailya or Nirvikalpa onthe inside, and
feels
a sense of oneness on the outside, but hasn't penetrated into the Nous or the Bodhi state as strictly definedby the sages. The SRF literature states that these three progressive states (Superconsciousness, Christ-Consciousness, andCosmic Consciousness) unfold
after 
one penetrates beyond the spiritual eye. There is no clear instruction on exactly how thishappens. So we can only make assumptions in the absence of Paramhansa Yogananda to answer our questions and semanticdifficulties. Perhaps he would be as impatient with us as he was with Robert Adams!Part of the difficulty in understanding all this is that Yogananda appears to have used the word "nirbikalpa" where sages likeRamana Maharsi used the term "sahaj", and "sabikalpa" where others used "nirvikalpa." Yogananda states:
"There are two stages of samadhi. In the first, the conscousness merges into the Infinite during meditation. The yogi cannot  preserve that state, however, once he comes out of his meditation. That state is known as sabikalpa samadhi." "The next state is called nirbikalpa samadhi. In this state of consciousness you maintain your divine realization even whileworking or speaking or moving about in this world. Nirbikalpa is the highest realization. Once attaining that, there is no further  possibility of falling back into delusion." 
[The astute researcher of spiritual subjects will point out that this claim is adamantly denied by many sages, in particular RamanaMaharshi. Our difficulty dissolves if we simply accept that Yogananda used an unconventional definition of sabikalpa samadhi(samadhi "with form") and nirvikalpa (samadhi "without form"). Whether this acceptance is justified the reader will need to decidefor himself.]
 
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"I made this distinction in a chant I once wrote:"In sabikalpa samadhi yogaI will drown myself in my Self.In nirbikalpa samadhi yogaI will find myself in my Self." 
(The Essence of Self-Realization, 1990, p. 196)The aforementioned three stages of Self-realization (Superconsciousness, or attunement with the vibratory current of Om, ChristConsciousness, and Cosmic Consciousness), Yogananda equated with the Hindu version (AUM-TAT-SAT) of the Christian Trinity(Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in reverse. Yogananda says that one is a Master when he attains Christ Consciousness. [I mustconfess that while I can intellectually understand attunement with AUM, and the realization of Cosmic Consciousness beyondcreation, the concept of Christ Consciousness is something I do not understand where to place among the traditional descriptionof the various stages. Yogananda states:
"In my perceptions, just as I feel my own consciousness in every part of my physical form, I feel you all to be a part of me.Everything that is living I feel within this body. I know the sensations of all. It is not imagination; it is Self-realization. Thisconsciousness is far beyond telepathy. It is awareness of the perceptions of every being. That is the meaning of Christ Consciousness." 
(6)In his poemSamadhi, from Songs for the Soul, he gives hints of his realization.And further he writes:
"When he reidentifies with his soul as individualized ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss, he then merges with the all- pervading ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss of Spirit - even as a droplet returns to the sea. Still, that individuality isnever lost; that portion of Spirit eternally retains its "memory" of that individualized existence." 
(7)This latter paragraph is consistent with Shabd Yoga wherein the purified soul merges further, losing its identity in the absolute,and the idea of a "memory" of the individualized life is consistent with PB's idea of an ever-spiralling spiritual evolution, even after sahaj is attained. Fortunately there is so much good in the devotional writings of Yogananda that in my opinion it makes up for any difficulty I have with this point, and I find a growing appreciation for his greatness the more I read his writings and stories abouthim. It makes me long for the presence of my own guru.It would certainly, however, be interesting for a current teacher of Kriya yoga to debate with a master of the Radhasoami schoolas well as disciples of the Maharshi, for the former gurus attest to the existence of at least four more planes beyond the causal(which in each case is defined as the mental or ideational seed-realm, and thus still in the domain of the manamaya andvijnanamaya koshas, while the latter consider the causal realm of both shabd and kriya yoga as not the true "causal” realm astraditionally defined as the transcendental root or source of attention and ego-self along with the anandamaya kosha in the rightside of the heart. Both of these schools, moreover, generally argue for and aspire to cosmic, and not transcendental, realization,and therefore are especially difficult to compare with the understanding of sages such as Ramana, Paul Brunton, Shree Atmananda, Adyashanti, etc., who feel such soul-realization to be incomplete and shy of the mark. The truth of the cosmos, thesesages say, can not be understood until the transcendental heart or Self which is "no-self" is realized, and one also realizes that allis Mind. When this no-self realization occurs, as contrasted with states of union, is not clear in the Kriya teachings.Kriya yoga as popularly presented as the modern form of Raja Yoga, and is a mystical school advocating ascension of the soulto the realms of light above. It is therefore similar to gnosticism as well as Shabd Yoga. It does not appear to recognize nor ismention given as far as I have been able to determine of Jnana and Sahaj samadhis, in spite of the fact that Sri Yukteswar isreferred to as "Jnanavatar" Sri Yukteswar. The problem, as discussed above, may or may not be one of terminology only.Paramhansa Yogananda, like Swami Muktananda, speaks with special praise in Autobiography of A Yogi of the causal or super causal realm, the "abode of the siddhas", but in that famous book didn’t mention or emphasize the merits of Nirvikalpa samadhi,which is the fulfilment of this ascending process [although elsewhere he certainly did, and his guru, Sri Yukteswar, certainly did soalso], nor did he, as far as I can tell, speak of advaita vedanta or realization in terms of awakening (bodhi) from the dream of unenlightenment in the precise manner of the advaitic sages. Perhaps he did not do this so as to get a wide audience of westernbeginners "hooked" with fascinating spiritual tales. Perhaps, also, these more advanced teachings were reserved for an inner circle, such as in Ramakrishna hiding a copy of the Ashtavakra Gita strictly for Swami Vivekananda, but I have heard no evidenceof this. The specifics of attaining "Christ Consciousness" and "Cosmic Consciousness" are somewhat and sometimes vague, inmy opinion, as will be further explained.The "problem", if one could call it that, with Kriya Yoga is the same one facing all mystical yogas. The same phenomena canbe experienced from different points of view, say the sages. That is, just as the everyday waking world can be experienced fromthe vantage point of both enlightenment and non-enlightenment, the same is the case with subtle visionary phenomena and higher samadhis. The mystic, prior to Self-Realization, perceives all experiences from the ego's point of view. So the Kriya yogi whoperceives, with his mind's eye, the rings of colored light with a bright white star in the center that represent the subtle planes of the cosmos (as Swami Kriyananda recounts in his book The Path, and as Yogananda mentions in many places) must stillunderstand or "recognize" that experience (from the point of view of truth) for it to be conclusive in terms of spiritual maturity. Thewhite light at the center of the inner vision can not truly be entered or penetrated without ego-transcendence except, perhaps,temporarily, or at the time of death, and in ignorance, and such ego-transcendence is first attained most fundamentally either through knowledge (jnana) or when the spirit-current or attention passes away from its apparent ascending or descending coursein relation to the body-mind to make its way to its transcendent locus at the root of the body-mind in the heart, awakening one tothe witness self. Then the being can awaken further to the truth of itself and the world as the unconditional and non-dimensionalheart or consciousness or Mind itself (universal Self or Soul) in sahaj samadhi.In other words, the quality of "awakeness" can be applied to every succeeding level or stage of growth. The heart or being or consciousness must awaken prior to the experience of the higher structures of the body-mind if passage through these stages isto be free and non-binding. The sage
understands
Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa samadhis; the yogi only experiences them. When hereturns to earth he is for the most part the same as he was, except for the subconscious certainty that there is more than grosslife, but he is not enlightened directly by such experiences. This is not abstract theory alone, with no relevance to beginners onthe Way, for the beginning may determine the end result.Yet the writings of Paramhansa Yogananda are overflowing with great heart-devotion, and have done much good to many, manypeople - including even Robert Adams, who felt jnana without bhakti was dry and lifeless.
“God tries us in all ways; He exposes our weakneses, that we may become aware of them and transmute them into strengths.
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