what is the quickest way to self-realization? is it self inquiry?
—James, United States
That’s what my generation used to call the “$64,000 question!” (From a 1960’s game show, I think). Or, surely you’ve heard the Roman idiom: “All roads lead to Rome!”
Well, you are asking a good and valid question. Paramhansa Yogananda came to the US in 1920 (died in 1952) and brought the advanced meditation technique which he called simply: Kriya Yoga. He described the kriya technique as “the airplane route to God” in contradistinction to what he called (drawing upon his Indian heritage): “the bullock cart route!”
But speaking of transportation methods and roads that lead to “Rome,” it is also true that not only do all true spiritual paths and techniques lead to the same goal but even in life itself “the dice are loaded.” So I could respond by saying, “There is no one path that is best. It depends on what inspires you to dedicate yourself to it!”
“Self-inquiry” is a term used in the tradition that is sometimes called Gyana Yoga. I myself am a big fan of Ramana Maharshi (I recently visited his ashram in India for the second time). RM’s reply to your question would indeed be “Self-inquiry.” But he too taught that one should employ whatever approach suits one’s temperament, karma, and spiritual needs. “Self-inquiry” is an introspective approach. RM did not actually teach meditation techniques as such. A true non-dualist wouldn’t even practice meditation nor give his body any attention. (RM went through a stage early in life where he would only eat what was fed to him and he sat in a dark and dank basement, eaten up by insects but without noticing it.) But his life, and the approach he represents, presupposes a relatively high level of mental focus and power. The “gyanic” approach is wonderful and I embrace it also, but by itself it tends to be inadequate for modern life because few people are truly mindful, that is, few have even the semblance of control of their thoughts. (Memory and concentration are big issues in today’s digital culture.)
However, you have asked this question and you have asked it of us, at Ananda. And, our response, to be responsible (pun intended), is to say that our founder, Swami Kriyananda (personally trained by Yogananda), felt that Yogananda was the avatar of this new age, just as Jesus Christ was the avatar of the first two millennia in the West. While this is not a dogma, it is a belief or feeling. And why? Well, a few points for you to consider (on the topic of the efficacy of what Yogananda brought: Kriya Yoga):
- The Kriya technique was given to Lahiri Mahasaya by Babaji in 1861 to be revived from centuries of priestly secrecy and human indifference. Essential to the teachings of this lineage (Babaji/Lahiri Mahasaya/Swami Sri Yukteswar/Paramhansa Yogananda) is that planet Earth and humanity have ascended into the second (of four) ages (called Dwapara).
- Ours is an age of discovery of finer matters and electricities; technology; travel; communication.
- Religious dogmas, rituals, and sectarianism will gradually be replaced by a deeper understanding that each true faith tradition represents a call to go within and to seek and know God within you (and from that experience, therefore, within all creation). Yogananda said that in this age of another at least 2000 years, the concept and motive of Self-realization will be the dominant motivation of spiritual seekers no matter what faith tradition they embrace.
- The essence of God-contact within comes, then, from meditation. Kriya Yoga, more than physical (hatha) yoga, or breathing exercises, works with and towards the subtle, astral body’s energies to life our consciousness towards divine states wherein the Self can be realized.
- The practice of Kriya doesn’t, itself, require or prevent outward religious affiliation. It is given, however, in the context or relationship of discipleship to the lineage from whom it is received. But this doesn’t necessarily prevent continued participation in one’s cultural or given religion. The disciple-guru relationship can be seen, in our age (Dwapara), more like one’s personal teacher. (Like Jesus, great saints lived centuries after Jesus’ physical incarnation. Why? Because an ascended master is not barred by the lack of a physical form.) For Christians, Jesus is considered in this lineage, but for those in other faith traditions, they can continue to honor and practice their faith while having, in private so to speak, their kriya and kriya masters. One with no faith tradition but with sincere dedication to know the Self, Kriya is surely supreme! (There is a sentence in the “Autobiography of a Yogi” that says “Through the use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves.”)
You can find and read the Autobiography of a Yogi online for free (www.Ananda.org). Read Chapter 26, Kriya Yoga, to learn more about it. But I would remiss in not sharing my own life’s experience in urging you to investigate Kriya Yoga as “the airplane route” to Self-realization in this age.
Blessings to you on your journey,