Did Yogananda Water Down Kriya Yoga?
It’s not uncommon to hear people make the claim that Paramhansa Yogananda diluted the Kriya technique, or that he changed it for Westerners. Sometimes it’s done through a conscious intent to deceive and promote one’s own Kriya teacher, sometimes out of ignorance. Either way it’s an unfortunate sign that the world of Kriya Yoga is not free from narrow sectarianism.
First, I’ll let Swami Kriyananda answer the question:
Did Master “dilute” Lahiri Mahasaya’s—and Babaji’s — kriya technique? Did he teach kriya differently in India from the way he taught it in America? No! I state this denial as an unequivocal fact. I took advantage of several opportunities to check out the differences that have been claimed between Master’s Kriya and that of other lines from Lahiri Mahasaya. Some differences do exist, but they are superficial.
In fact, there are at least superficial differences between all the different lineages that teach Kriya Yoga. Lahiri Mahasaya himself often took a very individual approach with his Kriya disciples.
What Yogananda did was to teach certain components of Kriya in a progression. For example, he taught his Kriya students to add the technique of khechari mudra only after they had been practicing the central Kriya technique for some time. Read Paramhansa Yogananda and Khechari Mudra for a more complete description of how Yogananda taught khechari mudra. Yogananda taught the Kriya techniques just as Lahiri Mahasaya taught them.
In fact, contrary to the claims of his detractors, Yogananda enhanced the effectiveness of Kriya with his energization exercises. He also explained the technique in a way that modern minds could best understand and apply the central concepts.
Which is the “best” Kriya Yoga?
Because some Kriya teachers and students boast that theirs is the best or only true version of Kriya, I’m often asked the question, “Which is the best Kriya for me to learn?” My answer is usually, “The way that your Guru gives Kriya to you is the best.”
First, the technique of Kriya cannot be separated from the Guru/Disciple relationship. In Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, he describes how Kriya was reintroduced in modern times when it was given by Babaji to Lahiri Mahasaya. It was given only after Babaji had blessed Lahiri and reaffirmed their connection as Guru and Disciple.
The technique of Kriya is not effective by itself — it needs the blessings of the Guru. That aspect of the Guru/Disciple relationship is a component of any valid Kriya initiation to this day. So the proper question to ask yourself is, “Who is my Guru?”, and then learn and practice Kriya the way that your Guru gives it to you.
Second, true spiritual teaching is individual. Lahiri Mahasaya guided his various disciples in different ways in how they practiced Kriya — not with the basic technique so much as in what should be given emphasis, along with the number and order of the different techniques. But the differences were enough that it causes quite a bit of consternation in those who would prefer a more rigid form to their religion.
“By their fruits ye shall know them”
Not all Kriya teachers or Gurus are equal. Without a certain amount of discernment, one can easily be swayed by confident claims and promises, including the subject and title of this blog. Speaking more generally, how does one know if a teacher and teaching — not just on the Kriya path — is a good one or the right one?
The biblical advice, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” can be applied to a teaching, a teacher, and their students.
When I first visited Ananda Village in December 1976, I already knew about Kriya and had been practicing some of the meditation techniques taught by Yogananda. I wanted to learn Kriya Yoga, and soon! When I met a few residents of Ananda Village, I knew right away that I wanted to receive Kriya through Ananda. The people that I met had light in their eyes, along with deep joy, humility, and graciousness. I was witnessing the fruits of a true spiritual practice. My first thought was, “I want what they have.”
If you are looking into a particular spiritual path, look at the results that the teacher and teaching are producing in the students. Instead of depending on great claims of exalted spiritual states, look for the most essential and true spiritual qualities:
- Are they humble and kind?
- Do they have love for God?
- Do they show respect for other teachings and teachers?
- Are they calm and centered?
- Do they have joy and energy?
- Do they have respect for the sacredness of the Guru/Disciple relationship vs. trying to draw people away from their Guru to follow themselves?
- Are they free from narrow dogmatic thinking?
- In the case of Kriya, are they part of a spiritual lineage that descends from Lahiri Mahasaya — a lineage that can be verified?
I can say — perhaps not objectively!—that Kriya Yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda has shown extraordinary effectiveness. I see it every day in my own life, and in the countless Kriya yogis who I’ve served over the years in my role at Ananda’s Kriya Sangha. In the end, the only relevant test of a teaching is “does it work?”
Not a casual decision
The decision on how and where to learn Kriya should not be a casual one! I’ve been surprised at the number of people who learned it from a teacher only because that teacher just happened to be passing through their town. Others choose a teacher because they found one who would casually dispense Kriya at their very first meeting. I haven’t been surprised at the confusion that some of these people have later expressed to me.
The choice of teacher and teaching on the spiritual path may well be the most important decision that one ever makes, certainly for the serious spiritual seeker. Choose wisely!