There is a simple effective means to relieve suffering, overcome obstacles and enhance our experience of life. This method has been proven from age to age through its practical application. It is described at the beginning of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as quoted by Roy Eugene Davis in his commentary The Science of Self-Realization. "Intensive self-discipline, studious Self-inquiry, and surrender to God are the practices of kriya yoga." Here we define "kriya yoga" as actions that result in the experience of wholeness, union with our essence of being.
Why do many choose the path of Kriya yoga? It is a path of transformation. Transformation from ignorance, conditioned habitual behaviors, delusion, fragmented thinking and ultimately all suffering. The transformation is to peace, contentment, conscious mindful living, fulfillment through useful service and awakening through progressive stages of Self- and God- realization to total liberation of consciousness.
Let us examine the first leg of kriya yoga practice. The Sanskrit word used by Patanjali is "tapas" which literally meant heat, or to burn. In the Yoga sutras it is translated as Self-discipline, austerity, and right action. When we hear the word "discipline" it may have a negative connotation. We may feel that to be disciplined is to do without, to force an uncomfortable change for some future reward.
The word "discipline" evolved from “discipulus," in its original latin meaning, a pupil, student, from “discere” to learn. To be truly disciplined simply means that we are capable, and willing, to learn from and be transformed by our experiences. "Tapas," heat or burning, is required for all transformation. We assimilate food and through the tapas of metabolism the food is changed, cooked, finally becoming us. New ideas are assimilated, and we metabolize them using our mental "fire" or energy until they become part of us, informing and supporting our perceptions and choices.
Often what we learn reveals where it can be useful for us to change. If we are used to conditioned, habit bound behaviors, change may be uncomfortable, we may feel the "heat". If we are willing to experience the tapas, to be cooked, we grow in personal power and understanding and we move toward total freedom. Patanjali reminds us that progress on our spiritual awakening path depends on our level of intensity and interest. If we are motivated disciples, learners, then we keep ourselves in the line of fire, observing our actions, thoughts and behaviors, changing, growing, cooking, being transformed.
Part of our discomfort as we go through the process of change and transformation is our tendency to cling to what is known and familiar, and to be wary and frightened of the unknown. We do not know what life will be like when we are different. We cannot be sure of what to expect when we move out of our zone of comfort, we do not know how others will relate to us when we drop old non-useful habits and acquire new useful ones. We must be like a circus acrobat, willing to let go of the trapeze we are clinging to, trusting that as we fly through the air, the next trapeze will be there to support us and carry us forward.
We can learn to be comfortable with the unknown. The only way to learn to truly trust the supportive nurturing nature of Reality is to put it to the test, to be disciplined, to be willing to learn and make every necessary change, to remain in the line of fire.
Our disciplined actions can include the following dimensions:
- Physical - Get adequate rest, eat wholesome nutritious foods in the right amount and combination for your mind-body constitution, exercise on a regular basis, schedule your daily routine and activities to accomplish worthwhile purposes, maintain balance and be well ordered in all activities. Remember, you are God in action, always honor the gift of life by doing your best.
- Mental - Practice and develop powers of discernment, become a masterful practitioner of creative imagination, exercise your mind through problem solving, games and learning about new things, meditate to the stage of one pointed, unwavering, focused attention on a regular basis.
- Emotional - Develop compassion for those who are suffering, gratitude for the many blessings you have received, and continue to receive, forgiveness for any upsets that you still carry regarding the actions of others in your past, or your own perceived inappropriate behaviors, let go, give it all to God and develop an attitude of dispassion. Dispassion is the ability to move in harmony with life without being affected, distracted, or upset by what others do, or don’t do. It is to remain focused on what is of importance and to continue to fulfill our life’s purpose with an open heart and open mind.
- Spiritual - Practice the presence of God at all times, acknowledge and relate to the innate divinity, the spiritual essence within each person, appreciate and honor the inspiration, guidance and grace that has led us to where we are in life, and how this innate intelligence is actively directing us, leading us, orchestrating our future. Meditate until there are no more stories, no narration of past events, present circumstances, or future possibilities, until the mind becomes clear and thought free, then rest in silent awareness.
Paramahansa Yogananda said “You have to live life anyway, why not live in the highest way?” We live in the highest way by remaining in the line of fire, through our willingness to observe, to practice Self-discipline, learning from what we observe and making changes when necessary. We are in this world to awaken fully and to live effectively. Jazz musician Charlie “Yardbird” Parker said “You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” So it is with us. We learn our instrument through observation, experience, trial and error, and then we practice, practice, practice what we learn until it is fully cooked and assimilated. Then we don’t have to think about it, we just go out on the bandstand of our day to day life and live joyfully, in harmony with our destiny, fulfilling our purpose for being and sharing our consciousness with an awakening world.