A Short History of Kriya Yoga Meditation
Kriya Yoga is mentioned in a number of Vedic texts, most often by referencing part of the technique. Specifically, the interested reader is referred to two Vedic texts: Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
These texts were originally composed in Sanskrit. In early days we did not have printing presses. Because of this, Sanskrit stanzas are highly compressed making it relatively easier to memorize or commit to parchment by hand. The compression together with the nature of the subject make it difficult to decipher the true meaning. However as a person deepens his or her meditation, true understanding slips out from in between the words and lines.
In addition to Vedic texts, we also have mythology. Mythological tales are an easier, but less precise way for societies to preserve and communicate spiritual knowledge. Some dismiss it as fantasy. But often historical events are interwoven with spiritual truths. For example in the epic Mahabharata, the blind king Dhritarashtra represents the blind mind. Our mind is constantly preoccupied with data feeds from the five senses and it’s own machinations. It is therefore blind to the nature of true existence, hence the “blind king/mind”. Thus the mythological tale of the Mahabharata is symbolic of our internal Mahabharata.
Each sentient self-aware being carries within it the complete blueprint for spirituality. All that is required is the right practice and the urge, will, discipline to practice. In this sense, Kriya is as old as the very first breath.
Beyond India and Vedic scripts, there are symbolic references in all the major traditions, in paintings, descriptions, sculpture and religious practice. During learning and practice we do not refer to these however. First of all there are too many and secondly, students of Kriya discover these for themselves as they progress in their practice. These intermediate “aha” moments are necessary validation that they are on the right track, but they are not necessary for learning and practice. Were they to be described, then the future “aha” moment could be contaminated by doubts – “did I make this connection because I heard about it? or did I imagine it?”.
In the last couple of hundred years, the teaching of Kriya Yoga Meditation has been revitalized and made available outside India through the efforts of realized Yogi’s, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Religion is based on rules and emotional belief. Kriya Yoga Meditation is not a religion, nor is it dependent on any religious belief. It is based on breath and demands unbiased practice. It does not care about one’s personal beliefs, sexual leanings, diet etc.
Like a lot of Vedic sciences e.g. Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda and Jyotish (Vedic astrology), Kriya is also well on its way to becoming commercialized and treated in a very superficial manner. Whilst the material benefits of practice are typically immediate, true spiritual realization and understanding takes life long practice. Prospective students are advised to use sound judgement and common sense when selecting a teacher!
Modern History of Kriya Yoga
In the 1900s, Kriya started to be made available outside India for the first time. The most famous Rishis /Sages in its propagation are:
It is said that Kriya Yoga in the 19th century was revitalized by an Himalayan Yogi known as Mahavatar Babaji Maharaj. Almost nothing is known about Babaji. There are no records of his birth or of any normal human life. Lahiri Mahasaya (1828-1895), his chief disciple, has described how he met Babaji and how he was taught Kriya Yoga in 1861.
One of Lahiri’s most accomplished disciples was Shri Yukteswar (1855-1936), also a married householder. Sri Yukteswar came from a wealthy land owning family. He was a great yogi and astrologer. He met his master, Lahiri in 1884 and like him, taught Kriya Yoga to anyone who showed motivation and had the discipline to practice. Amongst his brightest disciples, was Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the book “Autobiography of a Yogi”.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 – 1952) moved to the United States in 1920 and became famous, teaching thousands of Westerners, Kriya Yoga. He established the first centers of Kriya Yoga meditation outside India. His autobiography has been in translated into more than 30 languages and continues to sell.
The original 1946 edition is considered by many to be the most authentic and is available for free download as an ebook or as a pdf. Note that the ebook download will need to be unzipped before you can read it in your e-reader.
My Guru: Swami Shankarananda Giri
In my many decades of practicing meditation, I have met many teachers, some famous the world over. Swamiji, was the only one who’s depth of spiritual understanding and insight rang true and deep.
I met Swamiji in 1987. Only when he taught me the Kriya Yoga Meditation technique did I realize that I had already been practicing the Hong Sa form of meditation for over a decade.
Swamiji was very fortunate to have had the well known and respected Swami Hariharananda Giri as his teacher and guide. Swamiji has a rich, deep, intimate and intuitive understanding of spirituality, the scriptures, Vedic Cosmic astrology and Sanskrit. Over almost 40 years I have benefited from this lineage.
In 2016, I formally left his organisation in order to concentrate on my own spiritual practice and advancement; rather than pushing, I am now pulled by my inner self/prana. I have been fortunate to have helped him co-author “Kriya Yoga Darshan”, a 250 page book on spirituality and Kriya Yoga meditation.
I teach and guide students in the same way as Lahiri Baba and Sri Yukteswar, validated by my own direct experience, as opposed to just theoretical understanding.
I remain indebted to Swamiji for his guidance and many teachings. It is a rare gift to have had the occasion to work with Swamiji, one-on-one for so many years whilst writing books, on retreats or just staying at his ashram.