Kriya Yoga in The Bhagavad Gita
Excerpts from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Page 2 of 7
Kriya Yoga in The Bhagavad Gita (IV:29)
Other devotees offer as sacrifice the incoming breath of prana in the outgoing breath of apana, and the outgoing breath of apana in the incoming breath of prana, thus arresting the cause of inhalation and exhalation (rendering breath unnecessary) by intent practice of pranayama (the life-control technique of Kriya Yoga).
—The Bhagavad Gita IV:29
By the concentrated practice of Kriya Yoga pranayama—offering the inhaling breath into the exhaling breath (prana into apana) and offering the exhaling breath into the inhaling breath (apana into prana) — the yogi neutralizes these two life currents and their resulting mutations of decay and growth, the causative agents of breath and heart action and concomitant body consciousness. By recharging the blood and cells with life energy that has been distilled from breath and reinforced with the pure spiritualized life force in the spine and brain, the Kriya Yogi stops bodily decay, thereby quieting the breath and heart by rendering their purifying actions unnecessary. The yogi thus attains conscious life-force control.
The Bhagavad Gita clearly mentions in this stanza the theory of Kriya Yoga, the technique of God-communion that Lahiri Mahasaya gave to the world in the nineteenth century. Kriya Yoga pranayama or life control teaches man to untie the cord of breath that binds the soul to the body, thus scientifically empowering the soul to fly from the bodily cage into the sides of omnipresent Spirit, and come back, at will, into its little cage. No flight of fancy, this is rather the singular experience of Reality: the knowing of one's true nature and the recognition of its source in the bliss of Spirit. By Kriya Yoga pranayama or life control as described in this 29th stanza, the soul can be released from identification with the body and united to Spirit.
Pranayama (the Life-force Control)
Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words—prana (life) and ayama (control). Pranayama is therefore life control and not "breath control." The broadest meaning of the word prana is force or energy. In this sense, the universe is filled with prana; all creation is a manifestation of force, a play of force. Everything that was, is, or shall be, is nothing but the different modes of expression of that universal force. The universal prana is thus the Para-Prakriti (pure Nature), the immanent energy or force which is derived from the Infinite Spirit, and which permeates and sustains the universe.
In the strictest sense, on the other hand, prana means what is ordinarily called life or vitality of an organism on earth—the prana of a plant, an animal, or a man means the life force or vital force enlivening that form.
Mechanical principles are operative in every part of the body—in the heart, arteries, limbs, joints, bowels, muscles. Chemical principles are also operative—in the lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys. But to all of these activities do we not have to add something that is not mechanical or chemical in order to create and sustain life in an organism? That "something" is the vital force or energy, superior to other agents of life support. The vital energy utilizes mechanical force to pump blood, to move food along the digestive tract, to flex muscles. It uses chemical forces to digest food, to purify blood, to prepare bile. There is a wonderful connection and cooperation among the cells in all parts of the body. This is organization; and prana is the ruler of this organization. It is the superintending, organizing, coordinating, building, repairing power of the body.
Prana is an intelligent force, but has no consciousness in the empirical, nor transcendental, sense. It is the basis of the empirical consciousness, but soul is the conscious unit. Soul through ego dictates, and prana, its servant, obeys. Prana, neither grossly material nor purely spiritual, borrows from the soul its power of activating the body. It is the power lodged between soul and matter for the purpose of expressing the former and moving the latter. The soul can exist without prana, but the prana in the body cannot exist without a soul as its substratum.
Universal Prana: Energy that Pervades all Creation
Universal prana came into being in the following way:
At the beginning, One Great Spirit wished to create. Being One, He wished to be many. This desire of His, being omnipotent, had a creative force to go outward, to project the universe. It split the One into many, Unity into diversity. But the One did not want to lose His wholeness into many. So simultaneously He wished to draw the many back into Singularity. A kind of tug-of-war thus broke out between the wish to be many from One, and the wish to draw many into One—between projective force and indrawing force, between attraction and repulsion, between centripetal force and centrifugal force. The result of the pull between the two almighty opposing forces is universal vibration, the evident sign of the first disturbance of spiritual equilibrium before creation. In this vibration is blended the creative wish of the Spirit to be many, and the attracting wish of the Spirit to be One from many. Spirit, instead of becoming absolutely Many, or absolutely One, became One in many.
The universal prana underlying all combinations in creation is the basis of unity that has prevented the One Spirit from being irrevocably split into many. It pervades all atoms of the universe and every place in the cosmos. It is the primal, direct, subtle link between matter and Spirit—less spiritual than the Great Spirit, but more spiritual than the material atoms. This universal prana is the father of all so-called forces, which Spirit (in Its immanent form) utilizes to create and sustain the universe.
When different atoms coordinate into an organism—a tree, an animal, a human being—then the universal prana embedded in each atom becomes coordinated in a particular way, and we then call it specific prana, vital force or life. Though each cell—nay, each atom—of a man's body has a unit of prana in it, still, all the units of all the atoms and cells are ruled over by one coordinating prana, which is called specific prana, or life force.
Specific Prana: Life Principle in the Body
Specific prana enters the body with the soul (in the soul's astral encasement) at the time of conception. At the soul's command, the specific prana gradually builds from a primal single cell the body of the infant—according to that individual's astral karmic pattern—and continues to sustain that form throughout its lifetime. This bodily prana is continuously reinforced not only by gross sources such as food and oxygen, but primarily by the universal prana, the cosmic energy, which enters the body through the medulla ("the mouth of God") and is stored in the reservoir of life in the cerebrum, and in the centers of the spine, whence it is distributed by the functions of the specific prana.
Specific prana pervades the whole body and differs in its functions in different parts. It can be classified into five different pranas according to these functions:
(1) prana (by preeminence), or the crystallizing power that brings all other functions into manifestation;
(2) apana, or the power of excretion, the scavenger energy of the body by which bodily waste products are thrown out;
(3) vyana, or the power of circulation;
(4) samana, or assimilation, digestion, by which various foods are processed and assimilated for the nourishment of the body and for building new cells; and
(5) udana, or the power by which cells are differentiated in their functions (some growing hair, or skin, or muscle, and so on) by infinite disintegrations and integrations among themselves.
These five pranas, though separate, are interrelated and act in harmony and interdependence. In truth, they are but the one prana acting in five different but indissolubly connected ways.
The basis, or primary seat, of bodily prana is the nervous system and cells of the cerebrospinal axis and sympathetic system; but it is also in their infinite ramifications in the forms of cells, fibers, nerves, ganglia in even the remotest corner of the body. Thus prana works primarily in the sympathetic or involuntary system; but in addition, voluntary activities are possible only because prana, in its five constituent forces, pervades and works throughout the body. (pg.496-499)