Our soul is, in reality, free, joyous and powerful spirit. But in our present egoic state – i.e. in which our soul identifies with the body and in which we perceive ourselves as “John” or “Mary” – it is as though we had built an egohouse around our spirit, complete with walls and roof. In this way, it receives much less of the Sun’s vitalizing light.
This house with its walls and roof separates us from our source of power, which means that, despite our efforts here on earth, we remain all too human and, as humans, are weak. Our personal efforts alone will never suffice to save us from the consequences of our failings, or to raise us into the realm of Spirit. In short, we need the help of the Sun’s light.
This powerful light of the sun is God’s grace. In fact, according to Yogananda, the spiritual path is 25% self-effort, 25% the blessings of one’s Guru and 50% the grace of God.
Divine grace, then, is of supreme importance for us all. The indispensable requirement for receiving it is our love. But that love, as we shall see in this article, can be effectively deepened by yoga techniques, which help us to receive God’s grace in greater abundance.
Swami Kriyananda writes:
The secret of meditation is…
receptivity to God’s grace,
in full awareness that God’s power alone
can liberate the soul.
The very essence of yoga
Throughout his life, Swami Kriyananda taught that “yoga is cooperation with grace”. This inner cooperation is actually the very essence all yoga techniques and, indeed, of the entire yogic science.
He wrote an extensive series of “Lessons in Self-Realization,” at the end of which, as a conclusion, he stated: “Everything I have written about the spinal channels; the inner light; watching the breath to achieve concentration; gazing at the point between the eyebrows; raising the energy in the spine: well, everything in these lessons is only a means of cooperating with the way divine grace actually works in the body.”
Grace, the Masters teach, is not some capricious divine favor. Yes, it is the gift of God’s blessing, but it is one that we can consciously draw on by using specific yogic practices. Grace, far from being God’s whim, relates to His law of love and receptivity. It flows (both momentarily and constantly) into all those who have inwardly learned how to receive it. Yoga techniques teach us how to open our inner curtains, so to speak, to the sunlight of grace, which perpetually shines upon us.
The inner skylight
But where are these curtains that we have to open? We won’t find them on the ground floor of our inner house. Grace shines through the skylight in our inner “roof” and, consequently, we need to go upstairs. In other words, our job is to elevate our energy and consciousness if we want to receive the light of grace. During all the techniques suggested by Yogananda, the eyes are constantly raised in order to elevate our consciousness toward the skylight. All the techniques take us “to the roof”, because only in an elevated state (of the soul) are we able to open our curtains and let the sunlight of God’s grace enter.
However, have you ever asked yourself what grace actually is. Yogananda gives us an enlightening answer: “It is God’s power,” he says, “as distinct from any lesser power. Because God is the only Reality, His also is the only power in existence. Seen in this light, our merely human efforts are illusory. It is His power, even when we draw on it unconsciously, that accomplishes everything that we achieve in life. And our failures are due to lack of attunement on our part with that power. God’s grace flows into us the more we open ourselves to Him. It doesn’t come to us from outside. It is the operation, from within, of our own higher reality. Grace comes the more we live in soul-consciousness and the less we live centered in the ego”.(1)
The two directions of grace
Studying Yogananda’s and Kriyananda’s teachings, we realize that grace, or “God’s power”, flows in two directions. The first direction is outward, from God toward the world. Consider this: we are living solely by His grace at this very moment. We unconsciously exist, act and breathe by virtue of His grace all the time, and His grace “accomplishes everything that we achieve in life.” The more we elevate our consciousness, however, the more we can become aware of that grace, learning how to become channels of it.
The great masters and saints are our role models as they were powerful channels of God’s grace flowing outward into the world. In the Bible, St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr) provides an example: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts, 5:6). We are encouraged to do likewise: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
The second flow is inward, from the world back to God. It is a liberating power, which Swami Kriyananda describes as follows: “It is divine grace alone, finally, that lifts the devotee out of delusion and into Divine Perfection.”(2) In the Bhagavad Gita (18:73) Arjuna exclaims: “My delusion has been demolished! I have, by Your grace, O Krishna, regained the memory of my soul [smriti].”
To understand these two directions, think of the sun: on the one hand, its nourishing sunrays stream outward toward all creatures, who receive the gift gratefully. On the other hand, its mighty gravitational pull attracts everything inward, back into itself.
Two strange yogis
There is a story of two great –but strange– yogis in India. One of them kept his arms constantly extended upward to the sky, chanting everywhere he went: “God’s grace, oh God’s grace.” The other yogi chanted that very same song, but constantly kept both arms extended forward in blessing. One day the two yogis met and were appalled by each other. The one with the arms extended upward exclaimed: “What is this bizarre gesture of yours all about? God’s grace takes us inward, lifting us up into His light.” The other, who had his arms extended forward, replied: “What kind of weird yogi are you? God’s grace blesses others outwardly, through us.” A heated argument ensued. It was a rather curious scene, with agitated arms brandished ever more upward and ever more forward. Fortunately, at that moment, Lord Krishna appeared and smiled: “O great souls, be at peace. From today onwards, both of you shall hold one arm up, inwardly soaring toward Heaven with divine grace. And let your other arm be extended forward, outwardly sharing divine grace with the world.” The two yogis followed his advice and soon entered into a state of boundless grace, living in it blissfully ever after. So, dear reader, if you should happen to meet an unusual yogi with one arm extended upward and the other forward, you’ll know precisely what he is up to!
The upward flow of grace within us
Grace, as Yogananda explains above, “doesn’t come to us from outside”, but operates “from within”. In our body, just as in the universe, we can discover two currents of grace.
One is a current of upward rising energy, which carries us toward the inner sun (the sun in our body is the spiritual eye). We all instinctively know the feeling: when we are uplifted, as if on wings of inspiration, and automatically look upward. When this upward current becomes strong, it becomes a river of bliss. In meditation, if the meditator is deeply interiorized, this upward flow of grace in the spine carries him to the paradise of divine union. A light may appear, or divine love may be felt, or there may be a feeling of expansion, or a sound may be heard. This must have been the experience of John Newton, when he wrote the famous song, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. It was the sound of grace, which he perceived during a state of divine inner upliftment.
As a young monk, Swami Kriyananda soon learned the lesson: “I had thought of myself as flying by my own strength, forgetting that, to soar high, the devotee must allow himself to be lifted on breezes of God’s grace… Cooperation with the guru’s efforts, and with divine grace, means doing what one can, personally, to direct energy upwards through the spine.”(3)
The downward flow of grace within us
The second current of grace flows in the opposite direction, i.e. “downward from above”, from the inner sun (spiritual eye) into the body. And again we all know the feeling. It is the feeling we have when we automatically turn our palms up, to receive a descending flow of blessings. It is the sensation experienced in all spiritual cultures throughout the world; the sensation of receiving a cascade of God’s grace from above, which enters into us, filling us.
Yoga techniques, as we said, are designed to help us cooperate with grace, but how?
Swami Kriyananda gives an illuminating answer: “The essence of spiritual development is, by deep calmness, humility, and love to increase our receptivity. Yoga practice is in this respect no different from other spiritual practices. Its difference lies in its practicality and in the awareness it develops of subtle energy currents in the body. This awareness helps one to attune himself to the inner flow of divine grace, enabling him to cooperate with that flow which, otherwise, he might find himself resisting in sheer surprise, owing to his ignorance of it, or to any fear he may have of the unknown.” (5)
The techniques of Yogananda’s path of Self-realization cooperate with grace in a number of specific ways:
1) Kriya Yoga: flowing with grace
Kriya Yoga is the technique par excellence for cooperating with grace, if it is practiced with love, first offering ourselves upward to God’s light, cooperating with His ascending current of grace, and then receiving His blessings through the downward current of grace. Kriya Yoga might, therefore, well be called Kripa Yoga, “the yoga of grace”, as it truly helps us to flow with God’s grace.
Yogananda describes this inner experience of grace as follows: “Feel the Spirit of God on the altar of the spine, for the spine is the altar of God, and there you must feel the glory of the universe… Your whole center of consciousness is in the spine, and the sensation of the spine when awakened is indescribable. That is where your heaven is. Your whole mind will never be concentrated on anything else but that… In order to know the soul, you must concentrate on the spine. Yoga tells you the science of life. Behind this engine room of the body is God. Behind the spinal centers [chakras] is God. If you concentrate there, you will find Him.”
The rivers flowing in ida and pingala (through the “spinal shrines” of the chakras) can, in fact, be felt as sacred energies, the energy of God’s grace. In his Master’s ashram, Yogananda used to sing a chant which describes the sacred aspect of the inner currents: “For thy weal’s (welfare’s) sake, all-pervading God flows as ida, then pingala, whenever thy breath blows. On the left, good ida, on the right pingala river.” In time, the Kriya Yogi enters (hopefully) into the fullest Kriya-grace, during breathlessness: “In the middle ever flows sushumna, Cosmic Redeemer.”
Whether you are a Kriya Yogi or not, during your practice of pranayama and meditation, try to experience what Swami Kriyananda describes: “Gradually, with the increase of devotional magnetism, God’s grace is attracted, to descend into human consciousness. The soul, soaring upward on rays of heavenly grace, passes through the portals of the spiritual eye and out into the infinite freedom of Spirit.”(4)
Other mystical traditions also work with that same dual flow of grace. Kriyananda writes: “Kriya Yoga is a particular kind of action or technique that draws on universal, central and, to some extent, commonly known facts of human nature. The Christian Hesychasts of Greece, centuries ago, drew on these facts when they counseled that the recitation of the well-known prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us,’ should be uttered in conjunction with the breath. The first three words, they said, should be uttered while inhaling, and the next four, ‘have mercy on us,’ while exhaling. The first part of the formula is an appeal. It is, therefore, offered up to Christ and to the superconscious with the upward–flowing energy. The last part is a request to receive grace into the body and into one’s self. It, therefore, accompanies the downward-flowing energy with exhalation, seeking to bring grace down to oneself.”(6)
2) Ananda Yoga: grace-stimulating asanas
Also try Ananda Yoga! Specific asanas help us to cooperate with the upward flow of grace, directing the divine current up the spine to the spiritual eye, to our inner sun. To feel the desired effect, let your posture express God-love as you deeply tune into the affirmation.
– Setu Bandhasana (the Bridge Pose). Affirm: “I offer every thought as a bridge to divine grace.”
– Parsvotanasana (the Side-Stretching Pose). Affirm: “I offer myself fully into the flow of grace.”
– Sarvangasana (the Shoulder stand). Affirm: “God’s peace now floods my being.”
This effort to direct our life-force upward is actually one of the main purposes of the yoga postures. Swami Kriyananda explains: “The general aim of Hatha Yoga is to use the body to push, or gently nudge, the energy upward toward the brain.”(7) How to do that properly is important, but is beyond the scope of this article.
Other Ananda Yoga asanas help us to cooperate with the downward flow of grace, from God into us. Again, to experience this, fill the posture with your heart’s devotion, as you concentrate on the inner experience of the affirmations:
– Ustrasana (the Camel Pose). Affirm: “With calm faith, I open to Thy Light.”
– Trikonasana (the Triangle Pose). Affirm: “Energy and joy flood my body cells! Joy descends to me!”
– Matsyasana (the Fish Pose). Affirm: “My soul floats on waves of cosmic light.” Swami Kriyananda specifies for Matsyasana: “One should feel that he is floating on waves of Cosmic Light, completely submissive to the ebb and flow of divine grace.”(8)
This is the highest form of asana practice according to Swami Kriyananda: “The highest purpose of yoga is simply to place oneself in a position to receive fully a downpouring of Spirit. If God’s grace is not experienced in the average human life, it is not because of divine indifference, but because man’s energies and attention are diverted elsewhere.”(9)
Through the centuries, the ancient Indian Scriptures have encouraged this grace-inviting attitude. Famously, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century) counsels: “In a clean spot, clean room and charming ground, [the yogi] should spread a soft asana [cloth to sit on]. Having seated himself on it, let him remember in his mind his Guru and his God. Having extolled the place and the time, let him take up the vow thus: ‘Today by the grace of God, I will perform pranayama with asana for gaining samadhi and its fruits.’ He should salute the Infinite Deva, Lord of the Nagas, to ensure success in the asanas.”
This is not some old-fashioned teaching. It is timeless wisdom. In fact, every sincere modern Hatha Yogi should start his session in this spirit: “Let my yoga be cooperation with grace.”
3) Energization Exercises: tuning into grace
Kriyananda advises us to approach grace gradually: “Wisdom, love, joy, peace, all divine qualities, as well as energy, are implied in the flow of divine grace. But they are perceived first, and most easily, in their lower manifestation, as energy. By learning how to attune oneself to the cosmic energy, one learns the secret of divine attunement on all levels.”(10) Therefore, as you practice Yogananda’s energization exercises, fully tune into that cosmic energy. Mentally open your medulla oblongata (the “mouth of God”), devotionally feeling that you are receiving the downward flow of “the ever-ready-to-help grace of God.”
Let Yogananda’s words inspire your cooperation with grace: “I live, move, and have my being in Spirit, as a fish lives in the water, and a bird in the air. I will consciously draw strength, health, and happiness from this all-enveloping Presence.”(11)
4) Hong-Sau: the spiritual eye as a door to grace
Meditation is pure cooperation with grace. In fact, to receive grace, Yogananda states: “the right spirit is an attitude of unconditional love for God. The right place is within yourself. The right way is in the silence of deep meditation.”(12) Especially effective is the advanced version of the Hong-Sau technique, in which the breath is visualized entering and exiting through the spiritual eye. Swami Kriyananda explains: “Spiritual aspirants should concentrate their gaze and attention from the beginning at that point. Thus, they will hasten the coming of ecstasy’s dawn. This practice will enable them to cooperate with the natural flow of divine grace.”(13)
5) Chanting: making grace shine brightly
Most importantly, all of the above techniques must be permeated with love for God, if we want to receive the light of grace. Techniques take us to the skylight, but it’s our devotion which opens the curtains. Chanting stimulates that opening process. Yogananda specifically promises that his Cosmic Chants “will bring God-communion and ecstatic joy, and through these the healing of body, mind, and soul.” And Kriyananda clarifies: “What Yogananda’s method of chanting accomplishes is to awaken in the mind the thought ‘In these ways I will cooperate with His grace.’”(14)
Go for the skylight!
So during this upcoming month, when we sit in meditation, let’s go straight to the skylight of our inner house and open wide the curtains. As we progress, the promise is that we will even learn how to exit the house (ego consciousness) altogether. The exit door is the skylight. Then we shall enjoy the full splendor of the sun, play in it and live as God intended us to be: entertained, joyfully free and forever basking in the light of His grace.
Let’s not wait for that glorious moment to come in the future, but rather let’s experience this state of grace here and now. Sit up and, in meditation, look upward, toward your inner skylight. Visualize yourself already receiving the bright light of grace as it flows through you as the vibration of AUM, the Holy Ghost or Divine Mother, and purifies you completely. To deepen this state, listen to and identify with the words of Swami Kriyananda as he recites one of Yogananda’s Whispers From Eternity. Turn up the volume and press the repeat button, immersing yourself deeper and deeper in that blessed state.
“Satisfy My Soul Hunger”
May amazing grace ever shine upon you,
(1), (12) Yogananda, The Essence of Self-Realization, ch.11, Saying 4; Saying 14.
(2), (4), (13) Kriyananda, Rays of the Same Light, Vol.3, p.77; Vol.2, p.75; Vol.2, p.75.
(3) Kriyananda, The New Path, p.346.
(5) Kriyananda, The Promise of Immortality, p.105.
(6) Kriyananda, God Is For Everyone, p.185.
(14) Kriyananda, Awaken Into Superconsciousness, p.184.
(7), (8), (9), (10) Kriyananda, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, p.216; p.303; p.229; p.255.
(11) Yogananda, East-West Magazine, Oct. 1933.