From Yoga to Krishna Consciousness

Bridging the gap between modern yoga practice and God-realization

"Actually, all of the yogas delineated in Bhagavad-Gita end on this note, for Krishna is the ultimate destination of all the yoga systems, from the beginning of karma-yoga, to the end of bhakti-yoga is a long way to self-realization. Karma-yoga, without fruitive results, is the beginning of this path. When karma-yoga increases in knowledge and renunciation, the stage is called jnana-yoga, or yoga of knowledge. When jnana-yoga increases in meditation on the Supersoul by different physical processes, and the mind is on Him, it is called ashtanga-yoga. And, when one surpasses ashtanga-yoga and comes to worship the Supreme Personality or Godhead, Krishna, that is called bhakti-yoga, the culmination."
Srila Prabhupada, The Perfection of Yoga (p. 55)

If you practice yoga, even in it's most diluted forms, you know through your own experience the power and truth it offers. You may feel its effects on the physical, mental, emotional, energetic and perhaps even spiritual levels. Since you started practicing regularly, you probably feel more vitality, perhaps happier or more centered. Most people describe their yoga practice as enlivening, making it easier for them to get through their day, and relaxing. It is continuously being validated with modern science through it's applications in the fields of medicine and mental health as a complimentary practice. As a trauma sensitive yoga instructor, I teach about the self-empowerment we can cultivate simply through mastering the breath. So you can see as yoga practitioners, it is obvious we value the teachings of the Vedas since we regularly practice yoga and even try to assume more yogic lifestyles by following the yamas and niyamas. But how many people actually know where yoga comes from? Our modern yoga is a system derived from Vedic scriptures delineated by the all attractive form of Krishna. If you teach yoga, how often do you get to discuss the philosophy with your students? How many of them actually care? 

From my own experience, I'd say most yoga teachers do not go into the Vedic philosophy with students because we fear it will scare them away or make them uncomfortable. Living in a painfully politically correct society makes it a real challenge to discuss intense spiritual topics in everyday situations, like in yoga class. Nonetheless, I think it is necessary to inform students about the spiritual depths and potential of traditional yoga practice, educating them about the various paths, giving them the Bhagavad Gita, and encouraging them to explore with an open mind. After all, each student we receive comes to us for a reason; let us fulfill our cosmic purpose to it's fullest potential!  

Patanajali's Yoga Sutras are where the yoga practices we popularly use (asana & pranayama) come from; this is where you will find the 8 Limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga yoga as we practice it today. Patanajali developed his Ashtanga yoga system through study of the ancient Vedic texts; the Yoga Sutras are merely a random collection of aphorisms derived from Vedic scriptures coming together to support Patanjali's meditational yoga system. Of course there are many lineages born under his teaching, all of which claim some niche focus within the Ashtanga yoga system, but they all have the same general focus on the material platform. Patanjali's overall influence on the yoga of today has generally created a standard of focusing mostly on asana and pranayama, limiting the potential of our experience in yoga to the body.

In the 8 Limbs, he provides clear and condensed instructions on how to reach Samadhi. He prescribed a stair like process for very gradual training in controlling the senses, and focusing the mind for meditation. The purpose of meditation, according to Ashtanga yoga is spiritual realization, or enlightenment. In the West, we rarely ever use Patanajali's yoga system for it's intended purpose: spiritual realization. Because humanity is currently in an age of vice (Kali yuga), our natural human interests are swayed toward materialism, self-centeredness and ego boosting. This leaves little room for genuine interest in spiritual life, which requires a surrendering of the ego. Our collective consciousness is in a low tide, amplifying our material desires and muffling our spiritual awareness. Look at the way we treat yoga, for example: this ancient and sacred practice is watered down through interpretation, diluting the potency of the original teachings, and is continuously being further sorted through to suit our interests. We pervert the goal of yoga when we fail to use it for it's greatest purpose: self-realization. Due to the regular demands of living in the modern world, this natural cycle (Kali yuga) makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible to utilize Patanjali's meditational yoga system successfully.
The authentic birthplace of any lineage of yoga lies in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna delineates to Arjuna all the paths of yoga, all of which lead back to Him. Krishna describes and instructs Arjuna in three basic paths of yoga: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga.

Karma yoga - action
Bhakti yoga - devotion
Jnana yoga - knowledge

Karma Yoga is essentially Acting, or doing one’s duties in life as per his/her dharma, or duty, without concern of results – a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. One cannot live in the world without performing actions, and thus a proper mindset should be established when doing these actions. Karma Yoga purifies the heart by teaching one to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching oneself from the fruits of one’s actions and offering them up to God, one learns to sublimate the ego. This is the difference between simply performing actions for personal gains, and performing actions without attachment (vairagya) as a spiritual practice where all fruits are given to God.

"Without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme."

Bhagavad Gita (3.19)

Bhakti yoga is based on the doctrine “Love is God and God is Love”. The Deity is the beloved and the devotee is the lover. In Bhakti yoga, everything is but a manifestation of the divine and all else is meaningless, including the Ego. When the Bhakta is blessed by divine grace he feels an undivided union and non-dual consciousness prevails. Bhakti Yoga is regarded as the most direct method to merge in cosmic consciousness.

This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. Through prayer, worship, chanting and ritual one surrenders himself to God or object of faith, channeling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love and devotion.

Jnana Yoga is the study of scriptural wisdom. is the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. Jnana literally means ‘knowledge’, but in the context of yoga it means the process of meditative awareness which leads to illuminative wisdom. It is not a method by which we try to find rational answers to eternal questions, rather it is a part of meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realization. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths – for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta the Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature.

All three paths lead the practitioner to a constant awareness of Source, and all three paths have their own unique relationship with Source. "Everyone has an eternal relationship with the Lord, either as master and servant, friend and friend, parent and child, husband and wife, or lover and beloved. These relationships are eternally present. The whole process of spiritual realization and the actual perfection of yoga is to revive our consciousness of this relationship" (The Perfection of Yoga, p. 50-51). If this unification is the stated goal of yoga, why would we use it for anything else? Is medicine intended for anything other than curing illness? 

If you are drawn to yoga, that is great! It is a soul urge to realize your true self. Celebrate your intuitive motivation to evolve spiritually! Despite my criticisms, asana and pranayama are indeed good to practice because they keep the body healthy. The other six limbs are also beneficial for their widespread practice improves the quality of our society, one person at a time. However, the point is to not stop there. This is the mistake most modern yogis make - we neglect the full potential of our practice and therefore stunt our own soul development. Recognizing that the meditational yoga system (Ashtanga yoga) is not the prescribed method for this age of Kali, we must understand that trying to find self-realization through this system will be very difficult. Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches that chanting is the best means of purification for self-realization in Kali yuga. The asana is still beneficial as it will help limber up the body so that it can sit comfortably in meditation for long periods of time, but asana is not the focus. Traditionally, this was the purpose of asana practice, to optimize the body for long periods of sitting meditation to gain self-realization (enlightenment). The only difference is that our meditation now, instead of being silent like in past yugas, should be japa (chanting). As Source is non-different from any of it's innumerable names, chanting is the easiest way to realize Source. And lucky for our short-attention spans, it is a simple practice!

The bridge between yoga and Krishna consciousness is clearly laid out in the Bhagavad Gita. Various paths are given based on which yuga, or time period, you are living in. Despite the recommendations of the Vedas, we are free to attempt any of these paths, and to even pick and choose bits and pieces, depending on what calls to us. 

I'm not saying to abandon your physical practice or throw away your mat.. just be aware of the deeper potential of yoga and invite in spiritual activities to your daily practice. Don't just take my word for it, try and see the effects you feel. Read the Bhagavad Gita, learn about the original yoga system and receive all of this knowledge first hand. If you're not in to Krishna, but are spiritual and/or religious and/or interested in the spiritual potential of yoga, check out my other article on the many faces of Krishna; it may help you better relate to all of this. Using your yoga practice to raise your vibration, for self-realization, or for union with the Divine is not limited to the image of Krishna as God or any particular representation of the Divine. Krishna is an image that some people relate to and others do not. Find the Cosmic Power that resonates most with you and allow your yoga practice to bring more clarity and connection into your life! That's what it's all about!


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