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Religiousness in Yoga Part 16: Jñāna, Bhakti, Mantra, Rāja, Kriyā, Karma, Laya, Tantra, Haṭha, Kuṇḍalinī

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Jñāna Yoga

… inquiry in which we first hear, then we reflect, and then gradually we see the truth, is jñāna yoga … that jñāna is always there. Jñāna arrives automatically when something that is blocking it has been removed … We see the truth, we merge with the truth, and that is jñāna.

Part 2: Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti comes from the root bhaj which means “to serve; to serve that which is higher than ourselves.” I have already explained this in the context of Iśvara–praṇidhāna. By any means, we serve the Lord whom we believe is the final source of guidance and help … To see in everybody the highest truth, to believe we are working for him in all our actions, to think always of his name, to meditate on him, to go to his temples, to show great devotion towards him is bhakti yoga.

Part 3: Mantra Yoga

… A teacher who knows us very well might give us a mantra which has a particular connotation because of the way it has been arranged. If that mantra is repeated in the way it has been instructed, if we are aware of its meaning and if perhaps we want to use a particular image,mantra yoga brings about the same effect as jñāna or bhakti yoga … The mantra is not something we find in a book or something we buy. It is something that is given by a master only after great deliberation, after knowing us and knowing our interests and our needs. Otherwise a mantra will not be effective … To be effective it must be received properly and repeated over a long period of time.

Part 4: Rāja Yoga

… The word rāja means “the king who is always in a state of bliss, who is always smiling.” … Any process through we achieve greater understanding of that which appears mysterious and obscure in the beginning is rāja yoga.

… In each of us there is a king, puruṣa. Due to our actions, past and present, the puruṣa is suppressed … by the mind which is fed by the senses, reacting to hundreds of objects that they are constantly serving. Because of avidyā, puruṣa is pushed so low that it is almost as if it were not there. When this process is reversed, where puruṣa ascends to its true place, it is established as king. Puruṣa is the master and all other things serve him. That is called rāja yoga.

Part 5: Kriyā Yoga

… We have already discussed in detail kriyā yoga as the yoga of action, that part of yoga we can practice … in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, second chapter, first sūtra, it is described as consisting of tapas, svādhyāya and Iśvarapraṇidhāna. Tapas are practices such as āsana and prāṇāyāma to aid in the removal of physical and mental impurities; svādhyāya means inquiry and questioning; Iśvarapraṇidhāna is to leave the results of our actions at the discretion of the Lord.

Recently kriyā yoga has become popular in the context of what is called kuṇḍalinī. I will describe kuṇḍalinī later in detail.

Part 6: Karma Yoga

Karma yoga, so very important in the Bhagavad Gītā, is given the same definition as Iśvara–praṇidhāna in the Yoga Sūtra. We have to do our duty and doing our duty is itself more important than what we aim at getting from doing it … We must act in life, but we should not be disappointed by the results of our actions for we may often act imperfectly … This is similar to kriyā yoga.

Part 7: Laya Yoga

Laya yoga … When the puruṣa completely merges with the object of meditation, that is laya.

Part 8: Tantra Yoga

This Yoga has been given many meanings and there are many disputes over these meanings. Tantra yoga involves special techniques … emphasis is placed on kuṇḍalinī

Part 8: Haṭha Yoga & Kuṇḍalinī

One of the accepted concepts behind kuṇḍalinī is that we have certain passages in the body through which prāṇa can enter and leave. These passages through which prāṇa can enter when they are free from impurities, pass through the trunk and intersect at six points: at the eyebrow, at the throat, somewhere in the middle of the heart, at the navel, just above the base of the trunk and at the base of the spine. These passages, called nāḍīs, criss-cross throughout the trunk, one starting on the right and terminating on the left and the other starting on the left side and terminating on the right … There are many names for these nāḍīs. They are called ha and ṭha, as in Haṭha Yoga … or are they called iḍā, left, and piṅgalā, right …

… there is a central nāḍī, called suṣumnā. Normally the prāṇa enters only in the iḍā and piṅgalā nāḍīs. In Yoga the ideal position for the prāṇa is in the suṣumnā. When the prāṇa is in the suṣumnā, it is not outside the body. If it is not in the suṣumnā, it is because there is an obstacle blocking the passage. That obstacle is represented as a coil … If somehow the prāṇa enters the suṣumnā … ha and ṭha become one .. the word Yoga meaning here “to unite.” That is called Haṭha yoga.

The obstacle is called kuṇḍalinī because it looks like an earring worn by women in the olden days and kuṇḍali means “earring.” … Many books describe that which goes up as kuṇḍalinī. Kuṇḍalinī does not go up … bandhas are an attempt to direct the fire or hear of the body in order to remove the kuṇḍalinī bit by bit. That is why the spiral concept is suggested. Even though parts of it are slowly removed, still the kuṇḍalinī has the potential of blocking the suṣumnā.

… If you analyze what I have been saying, you will see that kuṇḍalinī is nothing but what has been called avidyā. In the same way that avidyā has become so powerful that it stops puruṣa from seeing, kuṇḍalinī blocks prāṇa the suṣumnā

It is called Kuṇḍalinī yoga when the emphasis is given to the concept of kuṇḍalinīHaṭha yoga when the division between ha and ṭha is removed … Tantra yoga when certain energies which are normally spent elsewhere can be used in such a way to help reduce the obstacle that blocks the prāṇatantra means “technique.”

Sometimes mantra have a beneficial effect in removing obstacles .. the body has five parts, each related to one of the elements of prakṛti. The throat represents ākāśa, space … The heart is vāyu or air … The navel … is agni or fire … The lower abdominal area is āp or water and the rectum is pṛthvī or earth … The eyebrow is the mind … the crown of the head, represents puruṣa. Together these seven things make up the cakras. In some books each cakra is given a beautiful notation … the navel cakra is represented by the syllable rum … the throat by hum … By placing our attention on these cakras, becoming involved in this concept and following certain practices … we can remove obstacles. Finally, what it all comes down to is that avidyā, here represented as a coil, must be removed … A dead serpent is always straight … It is said when the fire in the body is used to kill the serpent, the kuṇḍalinī straightens and the passage for prāṇa is clear.

Question: I have read that when kuṇḍalinī is released, it is like a powerful electric shock going through a wire. If the wire isn’t heavy enough to carry the current, it burns out. So they are saying it is dangerous and we must be prepared.

Response: … When a person sees the truth the only shock is that he sees he was a fool before!

these things must be made clear by someone who knows both the subject and the language. Otherwise there will be confusion. While it is used as a metaphor that the kuṇḍalinī is going up, really, it does not make sense. If we say kuṇḍalinī is an energy … then we have to accept the fact that we have two energies in life, prāṇa and kuṇḍalinī. Some also say that energy is sleeping. What is meant by this? Many of these ideas, I’m sorry to say, are based on incorrect translations. Kuṇḍalinī represents avidyā, and absence of avidyā represents absence of kuṇḍalinī.

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